The Joe Abercrombie First Law Trilogy Reread

Rereading Joe Abercrombie’s First Law Trilogy, Last Argument of Kings: “Tomorrow’s Hero” and “Nightfall”

There’s a moment in “Nightfall,” this week’s second chapter, that had me wondering about the birth of the term grimdark. When did we start using it? Who coined it? I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I can’t help but wonder if it began with this quote below. It’s taken from a passage where Logen is considering his despair at once again marching to war, the only things he’s ever known.

Nigh time, and a grim one. Grim for the cold, and the drip, drip of thin rain, and all the hard miles that needed slogging over before dawn. Grim most all for that waited at the end of it, when the sun came up.

What do you think? Is it possible this is the quote that spawned the term?

On to this week’s reread…

 

“Tomorrow’s Hero”

Summary: Draped in the raiment of royalty, Jezal marches through a recently destroyed district of Adua’s center city. The weight his decision pushes down on him as Varuz describes the sad state of affairs as it relates to the city’s remaining defenses.

Jezal asks about Marshal West. Varuz regrets to inform his majesty that almost all contact with the outside world is cut off. None of their scouts have made it through and returned with information. They do know that the storms are slowing all sea traffic, making it terribly unlikely that West hasn’t been significantly delayed. To top off their run of black luck, plague is running rampant in the Agriont, with no recognized cause or cure.

As they ride, Jezal notices a bombed out shell of a building that was once the Guild of Mercers. Nearby a group of the destitute huddle, including a woman he mistakes for Ardee. After realizing his mistake, he offers her the cloak of his back, for which the crowd lauds him. In a pique, he demands they get closer to the fighting. Varuz agrees reluctantly.

At Arnault’s Wall, a blast tears apart the wall, opening a breach for the Gurkish to enter. Jezal, seeing no one else to repel them, rushes forward against Gorst’s objections. During the skirmish, the King is knocked from his horse. Gorst wades into the enemy to rescue him, cutting through the Gurkish like he is threshing wheat. They retreat to the Agriont.

In the Agriont, Bayaz and Ferro work to build…. something. While Varuz congratulates the King on his charge, Bayaz scolds him. Harod the Great was a fool who took orders. He did not charge into the enemy. Jezal has a responsibility to stay alive. The King is confused.

Ferro reminds him that he seems to have a skill for always making the wrong decision.

Important Characters Introduced: None.

Minor Characters Introduced: None.

Quotes to Remember:

Looking at them was as horrifying as seeing an old lover open their mouth to reveal two rows of shattered teeth.

What a fantastic image, right? This one really spoke to me. I feel exactly what he wants to me to.

Courage can come from many places, and be made of many things, and yesterday’s coward can become tomorrow’s hero in an instant if the time is right.

What came first: the chapter title or the pithy quote?

Analysis: Isn’t Jezal dan Luthar just the most pathetic character? He’s now angry with himself for turning down the Gurkish offer and condemning his people to die. He’s even upset when the people cheer him for giving up his cloak because he knows, what we know. He’s a fraud.

However, this is not news. I won’t belabor the point. The point I found interesting, during Jezal’s review of the shell of Adua, is Varuz’s comments about the plague. Overnight, two Knights of the Body died. Their bodies withered, their teeth rotted, and their hair fell out. The physicians have never seen anything like it. Gurkish magic is afoot, perhaps? It seems likely to me, although why? They clearly have the siege in hand. Any action by the Eaters would surely be more direct, wouldn’t it? This is probably just a red herring.

Once the battle at Arnault’s Wall is joinined, I really enjoyed to things. First, watching Gorst fight is just cool. He’s the Lan Mandragoran or Garrett Jax of the First Law Trilogy. We want to see him fight, but the author holds it back to keep the moments interesting. Second, Abercrombie does such a wonderful job at describing the chaos of battle and the confusion brought on by being knocked from a horse or struck on the head.

Finally, what the hell is Bayaz up to with his “circle”? While Jezal is moaning about whether he did the right thing or not, Bayaz is hollering at workers to build something based on his black book. What could it be?

 

“Nightfall”

Summary: Generals Poulder and Kroy sit in a council of war, quivering with anger over the Gurkish incursion. For once, they agree. As they declare their intents to repel the Gurkish scum, Pike enters, presenting a Knight Herald, named Fedor dan Hayden, to Marshal West.

West asks how things stand inside the city. Fedor admits they are dire. All the western districts belong to the Gurkish. They breached Arnault’s Wall and the defenses are about to break. Varuz advises they break through on the eastern side with a sharp attack.

West quickly orders a battle plan, which includes Kroy to send scouts forward and his division to attack from the northeast. The Northman, he asks Dogman, will support Kroy’s division. Meanwhile, Poulder’s men will approach from the southeast. The Navy will attack simultaneously from the harbor. All agree, surprising West with their ease.

The meeting breaks up and the Dogman stands with West, sharing in his misery. West apologizes to the Northman for everything–Tul, Threetrees, Cathil, and all the rest. Dogman absolves him. No one is ever at fault.

Back in the Northern camp, Dogman finds Logen and shares with him the plan. Logen still hopes to be a better man. Dogman disavows him of it. They are murderers and will never be anything else.

Important Characters Introduced: None.

Minor Characters Introduced: Fedor dan Hayden

Quotes to Remember:

Play the man of stone for too long and you are left a man of straw.

I guess all my quotes this week are just bits that spoke to me. There’s little in any of them to highlight something about the story, but I think they all say something about the meaning of it all.

There aren’t many wounds that ever heal all the way, and there are some that hurt more with every day that passes.

Preach.

Analysis: When Fedor, the Knight Herald who brings new to West, gives his report, he does something odd. He says the “Emperor” holds the western districts. Not, the Gurkish scum. As I read that, I got the distinct feeling that Fedor was not sent by the Union, but a spy sent by Mamun. He is, after all, functionally directing the battle plans of West’s army. I might be reaching here, but it stood out.

My favorite scene in the chapter is when Poulder and Kroy make to leave the command tent. If you’ll recall, in previous chapter, they once exited a tent and bumped into one another trying to be the first through, like children racing to a plate of cookies. In “Nightfall” almost bow to one another, brought together by the Gurkish invasion. I always find adversaries realizing they might actually love one another as much as they hate one another heart warming. There’s probably something wrong with me. It’s super cute.

There’s no doubt my least favorite scene is when Dogman becomes morose and rejects Logen’s idea of being a better man. Dogman has throughout the series been something of a balancing force. He does bad things, but he does them knowingly. He isn’t as self loathing as Logen, nor is he remotely as black as Dow or Grim. He is, as Logen often reminds us we all have to be, realistic. But, sometimes being realistic means being really fucking depressing, which is what we get here in “Nightfall”. Dogman systematically shatters Logen’s hopes to be someone better. He says it is impossible.

That hurts, bro.

 

Next Week: The last chapter titled “Questions”! West engages the enemy.

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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