The Joe Abercrombie First Law Trilogy Reread

Rereading Joe Abercrombie’s First Law Trilogy, Last Argument of Kings: “Authority” and “The Circle”

Welcome back to the reread of the First Law Trilogy. It’s the moment we’ve all been waiting for, fight fans: Fenris the Feared and the Bloody-nine go toe to toe this week. Two men enter the Circle; one man leaves. If you’re not excited for this, I question your aptitude as a fan of Joe Abercrombie.

There’s also another kind of fight—one that makes me deeply uncomfortable as a reader.

 

“Authority”

Summary: King Jezal dan Luthar observes a meeting of the Closed Council. Tempers are high as the Gurkish get closer and closer to Adua. lord Marshal Varuz is presenting on the situation. It is grim. The Gurkish ma be outside the gates of Adua within the week. They have approximately 50,000 troops already en route, with more landing every day. The Union strength, without Lord Marshal West’s army, is around 10,000. The nobles have not sent men, nor do they seem willing to do so. Lord Chamberlain Hoff suspects this is a result of Lord Brock’s machinations.

Bayaz suggests that they arm the peasantry, anyone willing and able to fight must be given a weapon. Jezal seems to agree, but wonders after West’s army. Varuz informs him that even if West set to return the moment he received his orders it would be a month before he arrived, which means, at the very least, a siege of several weeks in Adua. Hoff suggests the Closed Council evacuate. Bayaz disagrees. Jezal echos him.

However, when Bayaz suggests they abandon the outer wall, in favor of the shorter inner wall. Jezal outright refuses. He will not abandon one inch of Adua to the enemy. The Closed Council is uncomfortable with his assertiveness, but no one challenges his order. Meanwhile, the Inquisition is torturing anyone with Kantic blood. Marovia and Sult argue back and forth about civil rights.

Later, Gorst interrupts the King to report on Queen Terez. She’s packing with her ladies to flee Adua. Jezal returns to their rooms and finds the evacuation well underway. He tells them they cannot leave. Countess Shalere, the Queen’s closest confident, gets in Jezal’s face. He responds by backhanding her to the floor. He is the King. He refuses to be spoken to and treated like a servant. He has been too generous with Terez. The time for her to object to their marriage was months ago. Her ladies may leave, but the Queen stays. The people will not tolerate her leaving without widespread panic.

Important Characters Introduced: None.

Minor Characters Introduced: Countess Shalere (we’ve seen her before, but this is her moment to… er… shine?)

Quotes to Remember:

There was an uncomfortable silence, the displeasure of the First of the Magi hanging over the group as heavily as the storm clouds hung over the city.

If there’s such a thing in the First Law Trilogy as a “dark lord,” quotes like this make me think it’s Bayaz. He begins as the wizened wizard shepherding our heroes, and ends as something else all together.

‘The time to raise objections to my parentage, or my person, or to any other facet of our situation, was before you became Queen of the Union! Despise me all you wish, Terez, but you… go… nowhere.’

Thoughts on why this quote makes me uncomfortable below.

Analysis: So, things begin here with a little catch-up of what’s going on at the front. We saw Ferro participating in delay tactics, and now we know that there’s little hope of delaying anything. The Gurkish are coming and we’re in for a siege. Where’s Cosca?! In any case, we get to see Jezal continue to test his limits with Bayaz, seemingly with success. Of course, the highlight of the chapter is Jezal’s interactions with his wife. And it makes me deeply uncomfortable.

Why? Because the way the chapter is written, and how the conflict til now with Terez has been framed, makes the scene, of Jezal striking a woman and taking his wife “in hand,” a fist pump moment (pun unintended). Jezal asserts himself. He’s not taking anyone’s shit anymore! There’s no question that the entire thing is framed from the beginning to support Jezal in this conflict. And yet… he’s hitting a woman. He’s ordering his wife around like a servant. It’s all jumbled up because we don’t get to see Terez’s point of view. To us, she’s being unreasonable. To Jezal, she’s being cruel. Which is it? By not showing us, it feels like Abercrombie is making Jezal’s reaction sensible and understandable. Two things which, when applied to an abuser of women, make me deeply uncomfortable.

 

“The Circle”

Summary: I’m going to eschew my traditional summary here because this chapter is a beast. And honestly, most of it is useless for “summary” purposes as a great deal of it is Logen grunting and Dogman thinking about being quiet. So, generally, here’s what happens:

The Union soldiers debate the barbarism of the North. Janelhorm thinks the Circle is awful. Pike thinks it’s pretty elegant.

West talks to Logen about the impending battle. They come to the conclusion that no one gets what they deserve. No one has to pay for what they’ve done. West agrees to hold shields for Logen during the Circle. Sad to say that Logen has few friends among his own.

Meanwhile, Dogman, Dow, and Grim, infiltrate Carleon. They’ve going to kill Caurib. They kill some people on their way. Dow continues to be a dick. Dogman is about to piss himself the whole way.

Logen heads to the Circle. Everyone whispers his name. The Feared enters. Fear washes over everyone. Crummock announces them and tells them to recite their deeds. Logen gets to use his sword. The Feared wears armor that covers his vulnerable side. They start fighting. And they do it for a while. Logen mostly gets his ass kicked. The Feared’s blue side is invulnerable. Logen cuts off a blue arm. The Feared picks it up and reattaches it. At one point, West cheats and loosens the Feared’s armor during a scrum. Logen becomes the Bloody-nine. Everything changes. The fight turns in his favor. Until the Feared gets him in a bear hug.

Inside, Caurib catches Dogman and Grim approaching her. She controls their minds. Dogman is about to stab Grim, who bares his breast. Dow splits Caurib’s head in two.

Outside, the Feared is immediately weakened by Caurib’s death. The Bloody-nine gets an arm loose enough to stab the giant’s side. His presses his sword slowly through the Feared’s body, through the blue and into the vulnerable flesh beyond. The Feared dies. And the Bloody-nine marches on Bethod. He smashes the King’s head on the stones until it breaks open. Then the masses declare Logen Ninefingers King O’ the Bloody North.

Important Characters Introduced: None.

Minor Characters Introduced: Pale-as-Snow

Quotes to Remember:

‘With these signs great Glustrod marked me out as his chosen. With his hands I tore down the statues of Aulcus. Now I kill little men, in little wars.’

I find it interesting that Fenris is actually a thinking creature. Up until now he’s been identified only as a thoughtless monster. Does he feelings? Is he lonely? It opens a pretty big can of worms to find out he’s got memories.

Maybe they’d forgotten how to be their own men, and now they needed someone else to tell them what to do.

Heavy is the head that wears the crown, Logen.

Analysis: Longest. Chapter. Ever.

Everything in ‘The Circle’ is pretty self explanatory. There isn’t a lot of subtext floating around. Logen is really scared. Then he’s getting his ass kicked. Then he’s the Bloody-nine and kicks ass. Then he almost dies. Then he murders all the ‘bad guys’. While at the same time, Dogman almost murders his friend, but Dow saves the day with an axe to magus’ face. To me, the most interesting parts of the chapter are the Feared, the Feared’s relationship to Caurib, and how they got together in the first place.

We know the Feared is thousands of years old. He was created by Glustrod (or at least augmented). He tore down the statues of Aulcus. Which means, he was there during the war between brothers. Was he there when the Seed destroyed it? How did he get from there to here? Caurib is at the root of it to be sure.

I think it’s always been assumed that Caurib was an agent of Khalul. She appears to be an Eater, based on her abilities, but we have no proof of that. She’s also able to control minds with ease. We see that she has the power to augment the Feared’s strength or pain tolerance. Once she’s kill by Dow, the Feared weakens. His blue side remains invulnerable (seemingly), but the Bloody-nine breaks his hold. Was she controlling the Feared’s mind to ignore pain? Or was she pumping power into him? How does any of this work? Argh! Was the Feared following her only because she was forcing him to as she almost forces Dogman to kill Grim? And why give Bethod control of any of this?

My theory is that Caurib has nothing to do with Khalul. She’s an agent of Bayaz. We know that Bethod agreed to let Logen live for a price. What price? I would argue the price was the Feared. To let his champion go free, a man of such martial power, Bethod would have to have something even more fearsome. Caurib must then be an apprentice of Bayaz, not Khalul. Make sense?

I’ll note that watching Logen go toe to toe with the Feared only makes me more certain that the Bloody-nine is the work of the Other Side. I don’t know how or why or when, but I’m sure.

 

Next Week: Glokta tortures some Kantic innocents. Logen tries to get comfortable.

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

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