The Joe Abercrombie First Law Trilogy Reread

Rereading Joe Abercrombie’s First Law Trilogy, Last Argument of Kings: “The Seventh Day” and “Too Many Masters”

Abercrombie rereaders, thank you for your patience. I’ve been traveling for work the last few weeks and trying to get these written has been a challenge. I have a particularly hard time writing while in a hotel room. I find them to be one of the Circles of Hell. And I’m like Brother Longfoot. You can’t shut me up when I’m comfortable, but torture me a little and I’m a gibbering mess!

Anyway, the first chapter this week is terribly sad as we lose one of the few characters who seems to have a heart. The second chapter we watch Glokta squirm under the thumb of Valint in Balk. Unfortunately, we’re no closer to finding out what the hell the bank is all about.

“The Seventh Day”

Summary: The Easterners attacked at night on the sixth day. Black Dow caught three and burned them where all could see. Such isn’t Dogman’s style, but there’s no place for mercy in war. Grim and Dogman look over the valley where Bethod’s forces await. They wonder what the seventh day will bring.

At the wall, everything on Logen’s body hurts. Those around him begin to lament that they have had enough of fighting. Even Crummock’s people seem weary. Black Dow approaches. Logen goads him for his burnings and predicts that today will be the day Bethod sends his best.The Carls will charge.

From Dogman’s perch, he confirms what Logen predicted. Dogman orders the archers to fire into the mass of well disciplined Carls, but finds the maneuver near pointless due their tightly locked shields. Bethod’s men respond with bows of their own and men begin to drop. Before anyone can stop them, the Carls are at the gate, then they’re inside it. Tul Duru announces he’s going to the gate and Dogman suspects he’s decided to die on his own terms.

From not so far away, Lord Marshal West and Captain Jalenhorm can see the battle. The Northmen are holding against Bethod. West must make a decision–charge with a weary cavalry or wait for the infantry to catch up. He makes his decision to throw the dice. If he waits, the Northmen will surely die and he may miss his only opportunity to crush Bethod. The charge is ordered.

Logen cannot stem the tide at the gate. He goes down in the press of bodies. Mud all around him, Logen begins to lose consciousness. He hears a roaring and he’s lifted from the mud. Someone asks if he’s alright. Logen can’t answer. He’s in the arms of Tul Duru Thunderhead, who says he’ll keep Logen safe. Logen tries to push him away, but can’t. A moment later, through a bloody smile, Logen cuts his throat. As Tul Duru tumbles to the earth, the Bloody-Nine rises up and starts dealing death.

Friend and foe flees from his presence. Word spreads through the ranks–the Bloody-Nine is here. Like a lumberjack in a forest, the Bloody-Nine carves his way to the gate, ignoring any wound. As men lay down their weapons before him, the Bloody-Nine whispers they are forgiven. He cuts them down anyway. He reaches the gate and sees shining horsemen obliterating the remainder of the Carls and thralls. The Bloody-Nine hears the cheers of victory and Logen closes his eyes and breathes.

Important Characters Introduced: None.

Minor Characters Introduced: None.

Quotes to Remember:

Mercy and weakness are the same thing in war, and there’s no prizes for nice behavior.

Abercrombie says lots of things like this throughout the series. He seems to want to underscore the idea that there is something brave or laudable in war. There are no points to be one for chivalry or the ‘rules of war’. I’m not sure I agree, but it’s quite clearly a recognition that fantasy has too often allowed war to be a glorious thing. Consider the battles here to be the polar opposite of that, as opposed to something realistic and authentic.

Their deaths were written in the shapes of sweet blood on the bitter ground. Their deaths were whispered in the buzzing of the flies on the corpses beyond the wall. Their deaths were stamped on their faces, carried on the wind, held in the crooked line between the mountains and the sky. Dead men, all.

A peek inside the head of the Bloody-Nine. It’s not pleasant.

Analysis: There’s an encounter in “The Seventh Day” between Logen and Black Dow. Dow asks Logen when he decided that Bethod was no longer worth serving. Logen doesn’t know, but guesses that Bethod got worse over time or Logen got better. Dow thought it was because there wasn’t room for two bastards as big as them on one side. Logen replies, there’s plenty of room for Dow and him on this side. That my friends is big old slice of foreshadowing.

Spoiler. There isn’t room for both.

Of course, the highlight (more appropriately the lowlight) of the chapter is the rise of the Bloody-Nine and the murder of Tul Duru Thunderhead. Sadly, these two moments are one and the same. In previous chapters we’ve had a chance to look at Logen’s relationships with his crew.

We’ve seen Tul Duru as the peacemaker. He’s kind hearted and loyal. The words he speaks before Logen betrays him are, “It’s alright, I’ve got you.” He’s carrying Logen to safety. He’s soothing him. Then the Bloody-Nine kills him. Because to “touch the Bloody-Nine [is] to touch death, and death has no favourites, and makes no exceptions.” To be killed because of a kindness is almost too much to bear. Abercrombie inserts a kernel of tenderness and stomps all over it before we can even appreciate it happened.

For me, this is one of the hardest, if not the hardest, death in the series for me. Almost every one else dies on their terms. Not Tul Duru. He’s cut down by his friend, who can’t control himself. Heart. Broken.

And what do we make of the end of the chapter? Is the Bloody-Nine giving forgiveness or demanding it for himself? Is he saying ‘you are forgiven’ to Logen? Is the Bloody-Nine forgiving Logen for killing Tul Duru because without the Bloody-Nine no one else would have lived? Or is he forgiven everyone he kills like some avenging devil sending each and every man to heaven or hell as he deserves? I prefer to think it’s the former.

 

“Too Many Masters”

Summary: The banking hall is cool and shadowy in spite of the hot summer sun. Glokta observes they must be cleaned than the House of Questions, but suspects there is even less truth. He sees no gold or wealth just pens, ink, and reams of paper. Even the bankers themselves are plain, unlike the Mercers or Spicers, who flaunted their wealth.

Glokta approaches a clerk and demands to see Mauthis. The clerk is taken aback, but complies and leads the crippled man to the stairs. Glokta winces, but ascends. Mauthis sits behind a huge desk. Glokta guide hands the head banker a sheet of papers, which he examines and signs in due course, muttering about Talins. The final sheet he declares due in full.

Mauthis recognizes Glokta and the pair begin to discuss Glokta’s new requirements. The bank is not pleased with his recent investigations and wish them to stop. Mauthis makes it more clear. His inquiries into the person of Carmee dan Roth—how she died, and the nature of her relationship King Guslav the Fifth—must end. Glokta wonders who talked. He expresses to Mauthis that how can he comply when Arch Lector Sult commands him to investigate and Valint and Balk does the opposite? Mauthis’ only response is that he does not wish to be on the wrong side of Valint and Balk.

When will this end, Glokta asks. When will the strings the loan placed on him be paid in full. Mauthis whispers that it will never end. When his employers are paid they always get what they’ve paid for. Mauthis is worried for Glokta. He implores him to comply. But, there is one more thing. Valint and Balk wish Glokta to spy on the Arch Lector. They want to know what he’s doing in the University. The new demand makes Glokta sputter. He is shown the door.

As he leaves, Glokta wonders who revealed his line of questions to the bank. Who knew the questions he asked? Who has already given him up to save their skin? Who loves money most of all?

Important Characters Introduced: None.

Minor Characters Introduced: None.

Quotes to Remember:

So this is what true wealth looks like. This is how true power appears. The austere temple of the golden goddess.

A rather overt jab at the religion of the Union, eh? They worship wealth and nothing more.

What is it about power, that is has to be higher up that everyone else? Can a man not be powerful on the ground floor?

Oh, Glokta. Never change.

Analysis: I could have quoted like five pithy lines from Glokta above. I’ll indulge myself in one more.

Convey me to the high priest, that I might cleanse my crimes in banking notes.

Every once in a while Abercrombie becomes very overt in his commentary. And the comments in this chapter, or really any time Valint and Balk is discussed, it seems that Abercrombie is comparing capitalism to religion. It feels almost like he’s equating our modern obsession with money in the way that another culture might be obsessed with the gods.

So, Valint and Balk, once again, want Glokta stop investigating something connected to Bayaz. Is this because Arch Lector Sult is constantly trying to find out about Bayaz and the bank wishes to stymy him? Or it because the bank is connected to Bayaz himself? Either way, it’s quite clear that they do not want Glokta to discover any irregularities in the story Bayaz told before the Open Council. Is this proof that Jezal is not actually Guslav’s son? Maybe. I never thought it was terribly likely anyway.

Now they want Glokta to spy on his boss directly and report back to them. Things aren’t looking good for our favorite torturer. We knew something weird was going on at the University. It seems odd given the bank’s deep connections that they don’t know either. But then, as Glokta realizes at the end of the chapter, maybe the mole in the House of Questions is rather close to home. It seems to me it could be none other than Severard.

In a world driven by greed, where the only thing anyone worships is gold, there are no honest men. Or maybe more to Abercrombie point, there cannot be honest men.

 

Next Week: Lord Marshal West wins his first battle. Jezal realizes his new life is even worse than he thought. This will bring us to the end of Part I.

Justin Landon used to run Staffer’s Book Review. Now he kinda blogs at justlandon.com. Find him on Twitter for meanderings on science fiction and fantasy, and to argue with him about whatever you just read.

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