The Joe Abercrombie First Law Trilogy Reread

Rereading Joe Abercrombie’s First Law Trilogy, Last Argument of Kings: “Charity” and “Better Left Buried”

Oh baby! It’s starting! The second chapter this week is like… the best. It’s the culmination of all the crap we’ve wondered about Bayaz. We learn the truth! Or something approximating it. I can barely contain my excitement, knowing I have to get through Jezal and Terez scratching at each others’ faces.

In the words of Big Moe, “It’s about to go down.”

“Charity”

Summary: Jezal and Varuz watch helplessly as the Gurkish continue to penetrate into Adua’s inner core. Casamir’s Wall has fallen and several of the city’s districts with it. The army is fighting house to house and street to street now, just as Jezal said they would at his fateful speech. It is only a matter of time though before the reach Arnault’s Wall, and then the Agriont itself. Jezal asks how many have been lost already. Varuz answers near a thousand. It’s a number Jezal can barely comprehend. He orders the Agriont open to the wounded and homeless. Bayaz disagrees. How will they know who is a spy? Jezal rages back; he will not leave his people without protection. The Agriont will be opened, but not yet the palace.

Back in the palace, Queen Terez sits alone at the window. Her companion, Countess Shalere did not leave with the other women, but is away for now. Jezal enters, dirty and forlorn. Terez scolds him for treading dirt into their chambers. They argue. In the end, Jezal wonders why they cannot be civil to one another, even if there is no love between them. She wonders why he keeps trying. For a moment, her hatred seems to ebb, but then she touches his face and declares him despicable. The sooner the Gurkish burn Adua to the ground, the happier she will be.

Jezal stands to leave. It turns out getting everything he wanted–power, fame, and a beautiful wife–is not a prize worth keeping.

Important Characters Introduced: None.

Minor Characters Introduced: None.

Quotes to Remember:

‘This damn fire-powder has changed all the bloody rules. A wall that would have stood they can bring down in an hour.’

Turns out Khalul is quite the tinkerer, in addition to being a god fearing man. How can Bayaz hope to survive this? There must be something else up his sleeve. (Psssst… read the next chapter.)

It can be a terrible curse for a man to get everything he ever dreamed of. If the shining prizes turn out somehow to be empty baubles, he is left without even his dreams for comfort.

I like this. But, does it come up a bit short? Getting everything you ever dreamed of also robs you of the ability to dream of more. And, in Jezal’s case, it means your dreams were awful shallow. Sure he’s gotten everything he wanted, but what he wanted are not the things that will deliver happiness in the end.

Analysis: In the comments last week, there was some skepticism that my theory about Jezal being mentally clouded or manipulated by Bayaz was unconvincing. This week seems to prove that out a bit. Bayaz, if he was in full control of Jezal, would certainly allow the Agriont to be opened to just anyone. He’s an elitist at heart, and deathly afraid of Gurkish spies. Jezal overrules him and gets his way. This is event further supported in the next chapter where Bayaz rages to Ferro and Yulwei about Jezal’s new found intractability. I think I’m willing to let this idea go. Sadly.

The war is going poorly outside the Palace, but it’s possible Jezal’s war inside his own chambers is going even worse. Terez hates him. There’s nothing he can do to change that it seems. Correct me if I’m wrong, but the only evidence we have so far about why Terez hates him is she (a) hates Adua and (b) thinks Jezal is boorish. She finds him disgusting. She finds his country unappealing. It does not seem to be about anything larger than that, thus far.

 

“Better Left Buried”

Summary: Ferro arrives at the Agriont, returning from the thick of the fighting. Yulwei sits there, worried where he was always calm. He tells her if she would stop killing, God might find a place for her in heaven. She sneers. Bayaz enters in that moment, angry at the King’s defiance. Yoru Sulfur and Quai follow behind him.

Bayaz asks Yulwei what he has seen beyond the walls. He speaks only of death and Khalul’s Hundred who feast in preparation of being loosed on Bayaz. Bayaz is disconcerted by this information and declares they must return to the House of the Maker. The Magus did not find the Seed, but other artifacts of power remain inside the House that might yet saved Adua. Yulwei sees it as a futile effort, but agrees to accompany him nonetheless. Ferro offers her company as well, but Bayaz rejects it and orders Quai to join them. Yoru will not. He has other business.

Alone in the room, Ferro made her own choice and chases after Bayaz in the shadows. She overhears his conversation with Yulwei, who wonders if Yoru Sulfur remains loyal. Bayaz believes so, despite his dangerous studies into changing skin. Bayaz believes that unless it runs counter to the First or Second Law, anything is fair game to defeat Khalul. Yulwei is glad Bayaz did not find the Seed.

Inside the House, many memories return to both men. Yulwei asks Bayaz to tell him again what happened the day their master died. He asks if Bayaz killed Juvens, as Khalul says he did? Bayaz repeats a story he has told many times. Kanedias and Juvens fought over Bayaz’ fate, and Juvens was killed.  Yulwei nods and declares that Mamun and Khalul lie and they will defeat the Eaters together.

As Bayaz and Yulwei separate to search the House, Ferro sees a black ball suspended in the hall. She climbs to it, unable to turn away. When she touches it, it falls to the ground. She rushes to it and cradles it in her hand. Bayaz stands in one of the archways and names the rock. It is the Seed. Here, in the House of the Maker, all this time. He orders Ferro to flee, to take it to the box in his room where it can be held. Exposed as it is, they are all in danger.

Quai, tells her to wait. He tells her to stay. Before he can grab the Seed, Bayaz whips him across the room with his Art. Before Ferro can move to go, Quai rises, unhurt and unmollified. The thing wearing Quai’s face is not Quai at all, but Tolomei, daughter of the Maker, once lover to Bayaz. Bayaz is stunned, but not as stunned Tolomei was when he killed her. But, she did not die. Beneath the earth she made the same deal as Glustrod once did. She will throw open the gates to the Other Side and return to the Old Time.

They battle. Yulwei joins the fight, as does Ferro. None can stand before Tolomei’s power. Bayaz, willing to sacrifice anything and anyone, pulls down the roof atop both his brother and his former lover. Ferro flees to Bayaz’s rooms, where she finds the box and Yoru Sulfur. She seals it away, stunned to find her broken bones and torn skin healed. Bayaz enters, as battered as Ferro was a moment ago. He is alone.

Ferro asks where Yulwei is, a good man who saved her life in the desert. Bayaz replies that ‘good men will only go so far long dark paths.’ From beneath his robe he produces the Divider and passes it to Yoru. In exchange, he hands Bayaz a black book, wrapped in old oilskin. Ferro had seen it once before. He declares they will walk a dark path together, to vengeance. Ferro agrees. IF she gets her vengeneance, what does it matter who killed who a thousand years ago?

Bayaz agrees with a lupine smile.

Important Characters Introduced: None.

Minor Characters Introduced: None.

Quotes to Remember:

‘A strange thing, though. I could have sworn, as I lay there, that it was Kanedias who fell first, and Tolomei second.’

It seems Yulwei knew the truth, but Bayaz convinced him otherwise. What else is Bayaz lying about? More on this shortly.

Trust. It was a word that only liars used. A word the truthful had no need of.

Ferro knows what’s right. Bayaz is a big ol’ liar. His pants are on fire. (Side note, Tolomei really should have set his pants on fire. Real missed humor opportunity, right?)

Analysis: We haven’t had a chapter this long and this chock full of good stuff in a long time. I’m giddy! Let’s just put all the things we learned on a table real quick, cool?

  1. The Seed was in the House of the Maker all along.
  2. Tolomei has lived in the House of the Maker for like a thousand years.
  3. Tolomei killed Quai and took his face so she could steal the Seed from Bayaz when he found it.
  4. Tolomei says Bayaz killed her, which Bayaz admits!
  5. Yulwei witnessed this truth all those years ago, but has been convinced by Bayaz that he’s wrong.
  6. Tolomei wants to execute Glustrod’s plan.

Wow! So, all this time, Malacus Quai has been, in fact, Tolomei, which explains all the times Quai said something particularly insightful. Meanwhile, we now know, unequivocably, Bayaz has been lying for thousands of years about what happened in the House of the Maker. He killed Tolomei to hide some secret and, then, killed Kanedias as well. But, what’s the secret? Why not continue to live with Tolomei, who was willing to betray her father for Bayaz? And, how did Bayaz kill Kanedias, who, supposedly, just killed Juvens?

Was it the Seed that did these deeds? Or the Divider? Or something else?

What we didn’t learn:

  1. Whether or not Bayaz is telling the truth about the death of Juvens.
    • Yulwei asks Bayaz to reconfirm he did not kill Juvens. Ferro believes that the answer feels almost rehearsed, a statement he has given many times before. Yulwei seems to be trying to discern whether or not Bayaz is telling the truth, seems to think he is, and then commits to Khalul and Mamun’s interpretation of the events as lies. But, we now know Bayaz lied about the death of Tolomei. We also know Bayaz killed Kanedias. There’s a mathematical expression at work here. If Juvens > Bayaz, and Kanedias > Juvens, how can Bayaz > Kanedias be true?
  2. What Yoru Sulfur is up to.
    • We know Yoru plays “dangerous games” with his art. He’s a shape shifter, as we have just seen Tolomei do. He also doesn’t want to engage the Eaters directly, as Yulwei and Bayaz do. He is playing another angle. Keeping the “wheels turning” as he says to Ferro. He takes possession of the Divider, a device capable of killing anyone or anything. Is his game to infiltrate the Hundred and murder Mamun? Or, is Yulwei’s suspicion of his motives accurate and he’s going to betray everyone?
  3. What’s the story behind the black book?
    • We’ve seen the black book a couple of times. Logen noticed Bayaz reading it early on in the series. Logen asks about it and Bayaz gives him no meaningful response, refocusing instead on Logen’s interest in the First and Second laws. What’s in the book? And how is it connected to the Seed? I’m convinced it belong to one of the son’s of Euz. But, which one? Did Bayaz kill Kanedias for it? Did he steal it from Juvens, who took it from Glustrod for safe keeping? Many secrets may lie at the heart of the book.

Finally, there’s one other issue of interest to me. It’s Yulwei’s belief in God. The only other characters I recall speaking of God are the Gurkish, who only speak of God because of Khalul and Mamun. What do the Magi know of God? Do they speak of Euz or something else? As I’ve mentioned before, Adua and the North are seemingly atheistic. And Bayaz shows no interest in the divine. Or maybe Bayaz just fashions himself divine. Regardless, I find Yulwei’s interest here fascinating.

 

Next Week: Jezal takes the fight to the Gurkish himself. The Army returns from the North.

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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