The Joe Abercrombie First Law Trilogy Reread

Rereading Joe Abercrombie’s First Law Trilogy, Last Argument of Kings: “Sweet Victory” and “Rude Awakenings”

This week marks the end of Part I of Last Argument of Kings. Each part of Abercrombie’s books begin with a pithy quote, and this part began with Paul Gauguin’s: “Life being what it is, one dreams of revenge.” Thus, it would seem, that Part I is about how crappy life is and how our characters might want to take revenge on fate for making things so shitty. Pretty accurate summary I’d say.

All of our characters have seen a down hill trend in their life. Logen has become the Bloody-Nine in truth once more. Jezal is trapped in a loveless marriage. Glokta is being squeezed between two powerful factions. Perhaps Collem West has seen an improvement, but really he’s just been asked to take on a responsibility he isn’t ready for. Will Part  II give them the revenge on life they desire? It remains to be seen. In the meantime, let’s finish up Part I with this week’s chapters.

 “Sweet Victory”

Summary: Lord Marshal West confronts victory, Sergeant Pike by his side. Poulder reins his beside them and reports that while casualties were high, Bethod’s forces were routed. Hundreds of Shanka were killed, and many more fled. The Union has 5,000 Northmen as prisoners. Bethod not among them.

West cringes as Poulder announces that Crown Prince Ladisla has been avenged. The Marshal orders Poulder to care for the prisoners with respect and heads toward the Dogman’s encampment. Along the way he finds his old friends Brint and Kaspa, the former weeping, the latter dead.

At the gate, Black Dow recognizes his old pal Furious. The rugged warrior is surprised to learn that West leads the Union army, but is happy to show him his recent black work. Above Dow swings three bodies–named men of the North who fought on the wrong side.

Inside the camp, Dogman gets his shoulder put back together by the tender hands of Harding Grim. He notices West approach and Dogman thanks him for finally relieving them. West recognizes they were late, but suggest better late than never. Dogman tells him Tul Duru is dead. West asks where Bethod is. Dogman figured the Union had him. They quickly realize the war isn’t over until Bethod is dead or captured. Bethod will head to Carleon and so must they. But first, Dogman has a friend to bury.

Logen stands apart as Tul Duru is buried. A circle opens up around him, a man’s length from everyone, just as it did during his time with Bethod. He can’t remember all the details of the battle the day before. He can’t remember whether it was the Bloody-Nine that killed Tul Duru or not. He remembers enough to guess at the truth. Black Dow speaks up over Tul’s grave and declares himself less with the giant dead.  Logen wants to weep, but finds he can’t. He wants to care. But maybe that isn’t who he is. Wanting doesn’t make a thing rue. The Bloody-Nine cares for nothing.

Important Characters Introduced: None.

Minor Characters Introduced: None.

Quotes to Remember:

‘There you go, Tul Duru Thunderhead. Look no fucking further. I’m less, now that he’s gone, and so are all o’ you.’

Who knew Black Dow could be such a sap?

If you want to be a new man you have to stay in new places, and do new things, with people who never knew you before. If you go back to the same old ways, what else can you be but the same old person?

I like this sentiment quite a bit. It rings true doesn’t it?

Analysis: God! This chapter! What isn’t going on here? Let’s do a quick review.

  1. West begins to feel immense guilt over the decisions he makes that result in the loss of life.
  2. Logen begins to lose touch with the man he wants to be and is becoming the man he has always been.
  3. Black Dow shows genuine emotion, admitting that he’ll miss Tul Duru.
  4. The war isn’t over. We’re going to Carleon. Do we all remember what happened in Carleon?

So, where does all this leave us? I would argue that this chapter is where many of our “heroes” are no longer “refusing their call.” Unlike in the traditional heroes journey, where this “call” is to “adventure,” in the First Law the call is to “return to their base selves.” Logen has been refusing the call for a long time. He’s been denying who he is, in order to be a better man. But, in fact, he realizes there’s no changing who he is and that he must embrace it to finish the job and kill Bethod.

Black Dow has been suppressing himself too. The shackles of behavioral control are being shrugged off. First Logen, then Threetrees, and now Tul Duru. Is there anyone left to stand in Dow’s way from being the blackest asshole in the North?  And then West, who fashions himself a good man pulled up by his bootstraps, but in reality he’s ruthless. He doesn’t want to be, but, increasingly, he knows that’s exactly who he is.

It’s a fascinating deconstruction of the heroes journey, and one that would probably make Joseph Campbell do a barrel roll or two in his grave.

On to Carleon!

“Rude Awakenings”

Summary: Jezal smiles as he wakes up from a dream that put him in Ardee’s arms. A frown sets in when he realizes where he is, curled up on the floor by the fire, far from his lady wife’s bedroom fortress. In public she shows a marriage filled with burgeoning affection. In private she abuses the King and denies him. He worries that others might begin to notice, but thus far no one has. And who can he go to with the truth? Certainly not Bayaz who he has told time and again to stay out of his private affairs.

Queen Terez snaps him from his reverie, demanding he answer the knock at the door. Jezal struggles from his place on the carpets. Outside, Gorst stands in full armor, worry etched on his hulking face. He brings news. The Gurkish have invaded Midderland.

Ferro awakes to similar news. In a room adjacent to Bayaz’, Ferro presses her ear against the keyhole, listening in to his conversation with Yulwei. The latter reports the Gurkish invasion. Ferro’s heart beats faster. Yulwei asks if Bayaz is ready. They could not be less ready, Bayaz indicates. He wonders whether Lord Brock has turned traitor to allow the Gurkish through his lands. Yulwei thinks it likely. Khlalul has not come north though, prefering to send Mamum, his right hand and the many Eaters they’ve recruited. Yulwei urges Bayaz to flee. The old magus declines. They would follow him.  And even without the Seed, Bayaz has plans.

Ferro’s has heard enough. She breaks down the door between rooms and demands to know when she will be able to kill Gurkish. Soon, Bayaz admits. In fact, he offers her a place with the first wave of Union troops who will be sent to slow the Gurkish approach. Ferro agrees with glee.

Important Characters Introduced: None.

Minor Characters Introduced: None.

Quotes to Remember:

‘To tinker with those forces… to bend the First Law, if not to break it. The last time that thing was used it made a ruin of Aulcus and came near to making a ruin of the whole word. It is better left buried.’

How many times have we read that the Seed destroyed Aulcus? In fact, we’ve heard it so many times I’m starting to wonder if Abercrombie is going to undermine the truth of it at some point. Did Bayaz blow up Aulcus? Makes me wonder!

Thousands of Gurkish, and ready for war. The smile tugged at one corner of Ferro’s of mouth,  then grew, and grew, until her cheeks were aching.

Is this the first time Ferro’s smiled? It seems like it.

Analysis: This is a bit of a transitional chapter. Ferro has been sitting on the bench for a while and Abercrombie needs to reactive her. Thus, there’s a whole half chapter restating things we (mostly) already know (Bayaz wants to break the First Law, Khalul is a dick, Bayaz is a dick, Aulcus goes boom, etc.). The one new piece of data, of course, is that the Gurkish have invaded and Lord Brock has likely turned traitor. Thus, Ferro has some people to go kill.

That said, there’s a hilarious moment where Ferro breaks the door down and Bayaz wonders why she didn’t knock. It really is an absurd action for her to take.

As for Jezal’s bit, again, nothing much we don’t know here. Terez wants nothing to do with him privately. She has her ladies in waiting who protect her. There is one in particular who is very hostile toward Jezal. The evidence is pretty obvious that Terez isn’t merely angry at being treated like chattel. She’s gay. What’s odd, is that she doesn’t seem to rebelling against being married off, only that she’s expected to have sex with her husband.  I wish we were given both sides of that equation. It’s genuinely interesting that Abercrombie made the choice to have a gay character, but I feel like the way its deployed doesn’t allow her to make a statement about the nature of her station.



Next Week: Ferro marches to confront the Gurkish. The Union army in the north realizes its fighting a two front war.

Justin Landon used to run Staffer’s Book Review. Now he kinda blogs at 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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