The Joe Abercrombie First Law Trilogy Reread

Rereading Joe Abercrombie’s First Law Trilogy, Last Argument of Kings: “Open the Box”, “Dark Paths”, and “Reckonings”

I promised three chapters this week and I will deliver! For brevity’s sake though, I’m going to keep the summaries pretty short. Thankfully there’s quite a bit of combat type stuff in these three and that generally means shorter recaps.

I also think it’s important to point out that I am now going to work while it’s still dark outside. This is one of the great crimes in American labor. It makes Bayaz’ law breaking minor in comparison. So say we all.

On to this week’s chapters!

 

“Open the Box”

Summary: Logen and his men reach the Agriont where the Gurkish gather thickly. The Gurkish charge. The Northmen respond in kind. During the tussle, Logen is knocked to the ground and stands up as the Bloody-Nine, the Dogman in his sites.

Glokta strides through the streets, heading toward the University. He passes Bayaz, ringed in sawdust, with Ferro beside him. Cosca ushers him past the Magi, only to run into Jezal. Glokta notices Maorvia among Jezal’s entourage. Ardee, lagging behind Glokta, sees Jezal and the once lovers greet each other. In that moment, the world explodes.

West surveys the progress of the battle. At great cost the Union Army has pressed the Gurkish against the Agriont, General Kroy reports. West reports that Poulder is dead. Kroy takes it hard. Before any further discussion can be had an explosion rocks them and dust rises above the Agriont.

The shockwave goes through the Bloody-Nine as well, knocking something loose inside his head and returning Logen to his body. From the mass of debris spinning above, masonry pelts the ground. The fight goes out of everyone and they watch the chaos above.

Inside the Square of Marshals, where Bayaz and Ferro stand, the Gurkish barrage dies down. Into the silence, step Khalul’s hundred led by Mamun. Ferro opens the box at Bayaz’s command, and holds forth the Seed. The Eaters taunt Bayaz, accusing him of murdering Juvens, a fact Bayaz does not entirely deny. Before they can attack, Bayaz pulls on the power of the seed and sows destruction.

Important Characters Introduced: None.

Minor Characters Introduced: None.

Quotes to Remember:

A man can be fearless on his own doorstep, against enemies he understands, but take him long miles over the salty sea to strange places he never dreamed of, he’ll take fright at every empty doorway.

I don’t know about y’all, but all empty doorways scare me. Even my own. I mean who knows what’s lurking in those shadows? Cats. Raccoons. Ninjas. My children.

He was the Great Leveller, and all men were equal before him.

The way Logen refers to himself as the Bloody-Nine… the Great Leveller. Sounds like a title doesn’t it? Or an appellation? I’m still flogging my dead horse about the Bloody-Nine as demonic possession. I can’t let it go.

Analysis: It’s never expressly said, but I presume the explosions are on account of the Gurkish artillery barrage. And I guess the Dogman has to be pretty darn thankful for it since the Bloody-Nine was about to cave his brain in. I want to spend a little bit of time on that moment. For a moment, Logen is the Bloody-Nine, ready to go on a rampage. He starts to call himself the Great Leveller, as I mentioned above in the quote. The passage where he snaps out of it is here:

…and a great noise washed over him, tore between the dead men and the living, spit the world in half. He felt it knock something loose inside his skull.

Notice that big, tore between the dead and the living? To me, this is a reference to the Other Side. The noise tore that link between the two, and it brought Logen back, or sent the Bloody-Nine (Great Leveller?) packing. The evidence is mounting dear reader! You cannot deny my logic any longer! Well, sure you can, but I won’t like it.

Throughout the next few chapters we’re going to see this kind of blocking where the various characters move past each other on the way to their goal. It makes for some fun symmetry between the character transitions, but really all seems a bit superfluous. For example, we see Jezal and Ardee run into each other in the Agriont. What purpose does it serve other than a way to make Glokta and Jezal walking from point A to point B more interesting? I’m not sure why we needed to see them walking at all.

Just cut to the chase Abercrombie. These chapters all feel a bit bloated.

 

“Dark Paths”

Summary: Jezal hurries through the gates, even the aged Marovia moving quickly. As they move to safety, a white figure dives from above and lands before them. The Eater attacks, mowing down twelve knights of the body before it’s brought down. They move deeper into the palace, only to find more Eaters waiting.

At the University, Glokta has the gate bashed in by his mercenaries. Inside he finds Sult’s Practicals waiting, including Vitari. Glokta threatens Vitari’s children with a bluff to get them to stand aside. She agrees. Moving deeper into the University, they find a door with black iron rivets.

The Eaters are as surprised as Ferro at the power Bayaz commands. Mamun screams, but to no avail. Bayaz summons forth the power of the Seed and sweeps the Eaters away, creating a cacophony of winds that begin to tear apart the city, forming a tornado above them.

Logen moves into the Agriont, Shiver stalking behind them. Dogman and Grim and a few other follow. Jezal’s barricaded room is no protection and he’s beset by Eaters once again.

Important Characters Introduced: None.

Minor Characters Introduced: None.

Quotes to Remember:

‘May God admit us all to heaven.’

Continually struck by how unmentioned God goes this entire series until the Eaters show up. I can’t tell if it’s being deployed as “the bad guys may not be that bad, they believe in God!” or “man things that believe in God are really screwed up!” I suppose it’s open to interpretation.

‘God smiles on results.’

Now this is just creepy. Bayaz sure has a way of perverting things, doesn’t he?

Analysis: Although most of the conversation happened in the previous chapter, it comes to a head here. Mamun asks after Zacharus, and Cawneil, and Yulwei. Interesting he does not ask after Yoru Sulfur. What do we make of that? Based on the carnage in Marovia’s office, it would seem reasonable to assume that Yoru might indeed be Eating. Is Yoru unknown to Mamun? Or does Mamun know exactly where Yoru is and what he’s up to?

Mamun also, again, accuses Bayaz of murdering Juvens and caring only for power. Bayaz, again, doesn’t refute it entirely. He even goes so far as to say the Juvens was an idealist, which had no chance of working. You cannot save the world that way. And the victor writes history. Bayaz killed no one. This is tantamount to an admittance, I think.

When it becomes clear that Bayaz will break the First Law, Mamun is shocked. As though the First Law is more inviolate than the Second. Bayaz is above rules now it seems. Now in this chapter, we get to see the power of the Seed and what comes of breaking the First Law. It’s not pretty.

As far as the rest of the chapter is concerned, lots of moving about, not much to discuss, frankly. Except, perhaps, that Logen continuing to go deeper into the Agriont after fulfilling his oath to Marshal West seems strange. Out of what loyalty is he doing this? Just a death wish? It seems to me that’s the case.

 

“Reckoning”

Summary: Logen agrees with Red Hat now. No Northman should die for the Union—no one but the Bloody-Nine. He creeps deeper into the Agriont, looking for Jezal or Ferro. He finds an Eater instead. They fight. Before the Eater strikes a deathblow, Shivers attacks, then Grim and the Dogman as well. Grim takes a massive blow, flinging him across the room. Overwhelmed by numbers, Logen is able to kill the Eater.

Even with Grim near death, Logen leaves his friends in search of Jezal and Ferro. They need his help. With Dogman by his side, Grim dies.

Outside, Collem West learns that the Gurkish are the on run. But as they approach the Agriont, he sees a massive hole. The Gurkish are inside the palace. But, the image before him is strange, a formless whirling. Then, a black column rises above the citadel, pulling more and more into itself. His horse dumps him and the Tower of Chains begins to shift, raining down stone. Everything goes black.

Behind the black riveted door, Glokta finds the Adepti and Arch Lector Sult, calling forth some grim ritual. Cosca, for the first time in his life, throws a dagger across the room and hits his target—the center of the Adeptus Demonic’s forehead. He dies and with it his ritual. Glokta arrests Arch Lector Sult on charges of treason.

Jezal confronts the Eaters, side by side with Gorst. Before they can attack, High Justice Marovia dashes between them a cuts through the Eaters with a weapon of Kanedias’ make. Before there eyes Marovia becomes Yoru Sulfur. With a bang, the door bursts open and Logen Ninefingers stumbles into the room.

No buildings remained around the Square of Marshals. Bayaz drunk on the power of the Seed, seems unwilling to end the tumult. Insulating within a bubble of calm, Ferro sees to the Other Side where voices call to her. They offer to fill the void inside her. They ask her to trust them. Trust. A word only liars use. She puts the Seed back in the box and closes its lid.

Important Characters Introduced: None.

Minor Characters Introduced: None.

Quotes to Remember:

‘Once you set your mind on killing, it is hard to choose the number of the dead.’

I really like how each of these Eaters seems to have their own personality. It goes back to something I wrote about Abercrombie way back when Gorst first appears. There’s never a character on the page who doesn’t seem REAL.

Better to have an empty space in her, than to fill it with this.

Odd. Especially since Ferro has been filling that empty space with vengeance and hatred up til now. I can’t quite wrap my head around what stopped her from unleashing hell. More pat fantasy would have her think of Logen, and what they shared. But, there’s none of that. It’s interesting.

Analysis: I can’t imagine West is dead. Seems like one of those George R.R. Martin tricks of, “and all faded to black.” He’s another one who keeps doing dumb things. Let’s be honest, they’re all doing pretty dumb things. What I’m enjoying about that though is where in most fantasy novels our character do dumb things and are rewarded for their valor, Abercrombie’s characters seem to be rewarded with death and dismemberment. Feels a lot more appropriate, doesn’t it?

Also, Jesus Christ, I had forgotten how much of an absolute dick Logen Ninefingers is. He pulls his friends into a fight to the death. One of them is dying. And he ditches him to go chase down Jezal and Ferro, two people he barely knows. Seriously dude. WTF? I kind of hope Shivers sticks a shiv in him.

Did anyone else find the Glokta confronting Sult a bit anti-climactic? I mean the demon summoning there seems wholly unconnected to what’s going on outside. Sult is running his own game and the demon summoner drops dead from a Cosca #ForeheadKnife. Then…. nothing. Nothing? What the heck was all the build up for? Where’s the big twist that Sult was working for Bayaz? I feel very underwhelmed by this resolution. I pray there’s more to come here.

 

Next Week: “After the Rains” and “Answers”. Do you think we’ll get some?!

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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