The Joe Abercrombie First Law Trilogy Reread

Rereading Joe Abercrombie’s First Law Trilogy, Last Argument of Kings: “Questions” and “The Day of Judgement”

Remember that promise that I wouldn’t miss anymore weeks after my long break? I’m sorry! I have a really good excuse. Speaker John Boehner resigned last week and it absolutely decimated my attention for anything else. I work a politically associated field, and I spent the rest of the week figuring out who is likely to succeed him. As I trolled through the delegation to find the answer, I was finding myself looking at a lot of folks who reminded me of Bayaz, a few whom called up associates to Jezal, and one-or-two that might be best put alongside Glokta. Sadly, I found few even as well oriented for the job as Collem West might be.

It was at this point that I realized, that like the characters in the First Law Trilogy are not qualified to be magnanimous leaders, there not be any leaders in Congress ready to assume the Speaker’s gavel in the House of Representatives. Of course, then I found myself considering the American political system as a classic case of grimdark. I think this analogy may hit disconcertingly close to the truth.

 

“Questions”

Summary: Glokta waits in the shadows of night blanketed Adua. Out of the shadows, Nicomo Cosca emerges, a squad of hard men behind him. Glokta bids them wait and knocks on the door of Ardee’s home. She needs to leave, it is no longer safe. Cosca, laying eyes on the woman for the first time, declares his love then proceeds to embarrass himself with his lack of prowess. They leave together, guarded by Cosca’s men.

They arrive at their destination, the tumbledown home once used by Glokta for private tortures of Mercer conspirators. Severard and Frost wait outside. As Severard stands, the mercenaries spread out, surrounding the Practical. Glokta no longer trusts the man. It is time to find out the truth. Before he can even be questioned, Severard makes a break for it, but gets not a step before Frost clamps down on him. Glokta orders him taken downstairs. Before following, he orders Cosca and his men to prepare themselves. He expects the Arch Lector’s men will be along soon and should be greeted with all the courtesy they deserve.

Ardee follows Glokta into the depths. As they pass the cells, Brother Longfoot calls for his release. Glokta denies it and suggests Ardee wait here, rather than join in him in Severard’s torture. She agrees. Inside, Glokta begins his work, denying Severard’s pleas for mercy. In moments, the former Practical begs mercy and tells all. He has been informing Valint and Balk of Glokta’s doings. But Glokta continues, what did Servard tell the Arch Lector? He insists he told him nothing. He has never spoken to the Arch Lector. Who then could it be?

In the moment of Glokta’s realization, Practical Frost breaks Severard’s neck and steps close to the torturer. With Ardee’s help, Glokta manages to unleash the hidden blade in his cane and stab his former servant to death. Cosca joins them and informs Glokta of the Arch Lector’s attempt above. It failed. Outside, Glokta spies Gurkish moving among the streets. They have finally broken through.

Unable to return to the Agriont overland, Glokta heads to the sewers, Ardee, Cosca, and the mercenaries in tow. Unsure of the route, Brother Longfoot finds himself on work release.

Important Characters Introduced: None.

Minor Characters Introduced: None.

Quotes to Remember:

Wine can keep a happy man happy, on occasion. A sad one it always makes worse.

Truth. I remember this one time in college…. wait… nevermind.

‘…I’m onto the third and it doesn’t get any easier. Too many damn wizards. I get them mixed up with another. It’s all battles and endless bloody journeys, here to there and back again. If I so much as glimpse another map I swear I’ll kill myself.’

This just made me giggle. Joe Abercrombie! Master of Subtly!

Analysis: Welp, the title is “Questions” so we pretty much new what was about to go down before we even read it right? Someone’s getting a finger chopped off! And sure enough it’s Severard. The betrayer of Glokta! Except, he isn’t alone. Turns out both Frost and Severard have been selling out our favorite member of the Inquisition, and neither, seemingly, for reasons relevant to the plot. They did it because they wanted to or had no other choice. This is appropriate I think, but a little disappointing for me. As readers we always want everything to have meaning.

Good news though! Cosca’s back. I’d totally forgotten Glokta had put him on retainer. He provides such necessary comic relief with his insistence of awesomeness backed by nothing. At least Ardee clearly gives no fucks about him. Add in the return of the Brother Longfoot and the bit I quoted about from Ardee’s reading habits, and this “Questions” is about as close to comedy as the First Law is every likely to provide.

Soak it in while you can. Things are probably going to get pretty bleak from here on out.

 

“The Day of Judgement”

Summary:

Lord Marshal West observes Adua through his eye-glass, waiting for word of the disposition of his forces preparing to charge. As he hears reports, there’s a disturbance where Poulder’s troops should be awaiting his word. The General has ordered the charge, well ahead of the other flanks. West can do naught but order the charge before he’s ready. The battle for Adua has begun.

Inside the Agriont, Jezal the King and his advisers, Varuz and Marovia, watch the Gurkish overrun their home. Although Jezal would ride forth into the Gurkish horde, they won’t let him. To unseal the Agriont’s gates would be to invite the death of all those within it. All seems lost until someone spots movement to the east. It’s Poulder’s cavalry charge. They’re saved. Maybe.

On the ground, the Northmen begin their charge, but somethings wrong. It’s hardly a charge at all. Logen looks at his men and finds them without menace. Red Hat approaches the King of the Northmen and expresses their displeasure with fighting for the Union. It’s not their fight. Logen headbutts him and apes the Bloody-Nine, daring anyone to challenge him. Soon enough their formed up, with fire in their step. They charge the Gurkish position, doing more damage with their appearance of ferocity than with their blades. The Gurkish flee.

In the sewers, Glokta and his band are guided by Brother Longfoot. Above they can hear the the Gurkish running through the city. It seems the defenses are weak. Glokta and Ardee banter back and forth as Glokta comes to grips with the betrayal of his most trusted aides. Ardee assures him it has everything to do with his personality.

Bayaz and Ferro wait together at the Square of Marshals, its entire expanse covered in sawdust. Between sits the Marker’s box and the Seed inside it. Feigning a confidence Ferro knows is false, Bayaz waits for the Hundred Words to spring his trap. Ferro adjusts her knives.

Important Characters Introduced: Sawdust?

Minor Character Introduced: None.

Quotes to Remember:

Everything beautiful has a dark side, and some of us must dwell there, so that others can laugh in the light.

He’s so over dramatic. Glokta has this self-pitying side to him that comes out every so often. He makes excuses for what he is. He is evil so others need not be? Come on. Give it a rest, dude.

‘Because you’re a ruthless, plotting, bitter, twisted, self-pitying villain?’

It seems Ardee agrees with me.

Analysis: What the hell is Bayaz doing with a plaza full of sawdust? Is he worried about the blood of the Hundred Words staining the grout in his pavers? I mean, he probably picked them thousands of years ago for their excellent quality, sourced of the finest free-trade limestone. Or has he soaked the whole damn square in nitroglycerin and its one giant stick of dynamite? Who knows!

Logen and Glokta continue to get doses of reality from Dogman and Ardee respectively. In fact, what I noticed most in this chapter is that every one of our main characters is being betrayed by their subordinates. West’s plan goes to shit when Poulder charges. Jezal’s desire to charge is blunted by Marovia. Logen’s authority is challenged by Red Hat. Ardee calls out Glokta for what he is. And Ferro is… er… ok… it falls apart at the end. While this “theme” may not be present really, it led me to another discovery.

When Marovia challenges Jezal, the King notices Marovia’s eyes, which are different color, “one blue, one green”. This is odd, right? Well, Marovia is not our first character to suffer from this odd affliction. Jezal noticed it once before, when he faced the Tanner. His eyes were different-colored too, “one blue, one green”. It seems to me that our good friend Yoru Sulfer has done something with Marovia. Is it to protect Jezal? Or something else?

Bayaz has a plan in place and we have no idea what it is. I guess we’ll have to keep reading.

 

Next Week: The battle is joined in truth.

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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