The lovely Lynn of Lynn’s Books and I have been buddy-reading again (the best medicine for blogging block I’ve yet found), and we invite you to read our musings, squeaks of surprise and mutterings of foreboding as we tackle the first book in Abercrombie’s First Law trilogy, The Blade Itself.
If you’ve come here first, you will find below the second half of our epic discussion. For the first half please visit Lynn’s blog here. If you’re visiting after having read the first half there, then hello! welcome! and enjoy!
So, to continue where we left off… (and with a massive SPOILERS warning!):
Week 3 – Next to Never Bet Against a Magus (inclusive)
Lynn: I loved the start of this week’s reading with Glokta having something of a lightbulb moment in relation to Sult and his scheming ways. I love reading his internal thoughts – it’s such a good way of letting us know who Glokta really is. I also thought it was interesting that Sult didn’t want Glokta to pursue any line of inquiry relating to Valint and Balk.
Mayri: It’s an excellent moment, but one that also made me afraid for Glokta – he can see what’s going on, but he’s kind of caught up in it all, like a fly in a web.
As you say, his internal thoughts give us a sense of who he really is and even though he’s a forbidding character, I want him to get the better of Sult. I don’t like to think of him being manipulated… does that make sense?
Lynn: Yes it does, it’s the way I feel too.
Mayri: And I’m worried about what this Goyle character is going to bring to the story. He sounds like bad news for our inquisitor.
Lynn: Logen had a strange meeting with an Eater plus an encounter with Ardee or at least that’s who I’m guessing the woman who referred to herself as ‘nobody’ was.
Mayri: I thought it must be Ardee too. And I’m getting more and more curious about what she’s doing.
As for the Eater(s), I ‘m not so sure I want to know anything about them, but I’m getting chills…
Lynn: But, getting back to the scene with the eater. I must say I laughed out loud when Glokta went to interrogate the strange guests. So funny not to mention absolutely refreshing to have people converse with Glokta without any fear. I don’t think he knew what to make of it at all. It was interesting that he immediately saw the intelligence in Logen. Do you think that Logen’s luck (at surviving battles and fights) might be connected to the possibility of him having some magical ability?
Mayri: I hadn’t considered this, but now you’ve mentioned it I like this very much!
Lynn: And Glokta – for one moment he almost believed the explanation for the blown away wall – it is such a strange world, half full of machinery and invention and the other half still holding on to Gods, magic and spirits. My thoughts are a bit jumbled here aren’t they – sorry, I seem to be jumping all over the place.
Mayri: No, no, I like the way you put that: it is a world that’s half superstitious and half forward-looking, and I think that’s done very well.
I liked Glokta’s initial scepticism – the whole interview between him and Logen, Bayaz and Quai had me teetering between laughter and dread!
And what an impossible task Glokta’s been given, to prove Bayaz a fraud.
Lynn: Haha, yes indeed, particularly as Bayas is – well – Bayaz!
The meeting with Logen’s old crew was very interesting – and serious. They’re certainly a grim lot in fact it’s this side of the story that really does help me to see how Lord Grimdark got his name.
Mayri: Hard agree! I felt Glokta’s visit to the University also epitomised that grim dark element – so much knowledge, but none of it appreciated, just left to moulder with these old men in an abandoned area of the city. This is not a hopeful world.
Lynn: This issue with Bethod going to war with the South leaving the North unprotected is interesting. Why would he do that?
Mayri: This confuses me a bit too, and I’m sure I’m being stupid, but it seems like the world is on the edge of a massive war. I’ve drawn myself a rough map to get some idea of where everyone is and it seems like the Union is facing battle on all sides. I wonder if something larger is at work? Why else would Bayaz be up and about? And wanting to head into the Old Empire (in the West ish?)? What’s going to be there?
Lynn: I was trying also to put my finger on something. There was the whole discussion about this Tower that belonged to the Maker and Bayaz now having the key. Wasn’t Ardee interested in the Tower or have I just made that up.
Mayri: I don’t remember… (Later addition: HA! YES, YOU’RE RIGHT!! PAGE 79, WHEN SHE’S MAKING JEZAL ALL UNCOMFORTABLE:
“Sealed?” Ardee moved very close to him. Jezal glanced around nervously but nobody was looking. “Isn’t it strange that nobody goes in there? Isn’t it a mystery?” He could almost feel her breath on his neck. “ I mean to say, why not just break the door down?”).
Lynn: I wonder what the significance of the backstory is – there was a missing chapter relating to a ‘daughter’ and then talk of a missing seed – could the ‘missing seed’ perhaps be the daughter of the maker – it feels like a stretch.
Mayri: A seed meaning a child, a daughter, that makes a lot of sense to me! I like the way you think!
Am now side-eyeing Ardee so hard!
Lynn: I was particularly thinking of Ferro – could she be the missing daughter – she is definitely an unusual one and it seems like she’s going to play a very definite role?
And now we have Longfoot seeming to join the party. I’m so curious to see how all these threads come together. And of course Longfoot and Logen almost end up in a very dodgy situation if not for Logen’s ‘luck’.
Mayri: The case for Logen’s odd magic strengthens!
I like Longfoot, and I feel like he’s been popped in here to lighten an otherwise increasingly bleak outlook. Not that I think he’s a throwaway character, I just appreciated the timing of our introduction to him. Because right after we meet him Ferro faces those two Eaters, sent by ‘Khalul’ – is this our big bad? – and why does Ferro have to be brought in alive? What does she know?
Lynn: Oh, of course, Longfoot is going to find a fast boat – and Yulwei and Ferro are also destined to travel the seas so it looks like they will all meet up. Excitement. Why doesn’t Ferro feel any pain? What is Yulwei – a God?
Mayri: At the moment I’m assuming Yulwei is a magi like Bayaz. Maybe equally as old.
But yes, everyone seems to be on a collision course and I’m really looking forward to the moment they all meet!
Lynn: Then we meet Goyle – I don’t like him, I can’t deny it.
Mayri: Yeah, he’s definitely bad news! Him and his three Practicals. Creep. I’m already hoping he dies horribly.
Lynn: The only remaining question is what possible motive could Bayaz have in interfering with the outcome of Jezal’s sword fight?
Mayri: I. Do. Not. Know. But I don’t imagine Jezal’s going to like it when he finds out.
And Jezal’s dad was spooked too when he saw Bayaz, wasn’t he. That’s interesting.
Lynn: I am a raging mess of questions with every little by way of answers. The next few chapters are going to be most interesting.
Mayri: Absolutely. I’m kind of dreading getting to the end because it doesn’t feel like there’s enough book left to answer all the questions we have. And cliffhangers annoy the heck out of me, so please don’t let there be one!
Wow, there’s so much going on! I’m loving this!
Week 4 – The Ideal Audience to the end
Lynn: So, where shall we begin?
OMG – Logen trying to eat the plants at the fancy pants ball. My lord that made me snort – and it was great when he got talking to West, he really opened up and showed how smart he is.
Mayri: Me too! I loved these two things being put together too – Logen may not know the niceties, but that doesn’t make him a stupid barbarian and woe betide anyone who makes that judgement. (As we shall see!) Interesting that he didn’t look to see what others were doing for his cue.
Lynn: Meanwhile Jezal, seated in the place of honour secretly wishing he was sat with the two of them rather than under the scowling attention of Glokta who suspected him of cheating.
Mayri: Ha! He’s my favourite character to hate in this book, but I did feel a little sorry for him here – he’s being drawn into something and he’s got no idea. Then again, neither have we.
Lynn: Then came the Shakesperian play and Bayaz with his mounting temper – reveals the key – take that Sult (plus another little snort when Bayaz did his party piece – just to Sult’s chair and not affecting anyone else.
And didn’t we know this Maker’s tower would become involved somehow. I confess I’m not quite certain of the significance just yet. What an impressive building though – I can’t say I envied them that walk across a narrow bridge with not a handrail in sight and a long drop promising to those who stumbled. Gods I hate heights. I can’t go near a cliff edge – this would have been like personal torture for me. And if that wasn’t overwhelming enough the building seems to ooze menace and threat, enchanted with a spell the translation of which is roughly to deter people – in Bayaz’s words ‘‘‘get you gone’ – or ‘none… shall… pass’” – literally was that a LotR’s nod?
Mayri: I squeaked out loud at this bit and gave Abercrombie an invisible high five!
But yeah, the Tower was worth waiting for! I loved the menace and seeing it through Logen, Jezal and Glokta’s eyes was a treat – if these three are scared, then it’s definitely scary!
Lynn: I have to say, the way this scene was written was brilliant. I was totally immersed. And the revelation about the Shanka – made by the Maker using metal and clay.
Mayri: So this whole Tower sequence kind of gave us a glimpse of some of the power and magic this world used to have right? Bayaz mentioned before that magic is leaking out of the world, and when we see the Tower in all its creepy, incredible, inexplicable glory it made me think how much this world has changed – to the point where they barely believe what they’re seeing and are still inclined to think Bayaz is a crazy old man, even though they’ve seen what he can do. (And what he can do seems to be only a ghost of what he might have been able to do in the time of his Master).
Lynn: And what is this, even Bayaz seems to have a strange respect for Glokta – which makes me feel better for liking him!
Mayri: It’s so hard not to like Glokta! I don’t know how it’s been done because he’s really not a good man!
Lynn: I’ll leave it there for now – I feel like I’m writing a shambolic essay.
Mayri: OK, let me pick it up here:
I really liked Bayaz and the Chief Warden’s exchange when he went to open the Tower. Bayaz was speaking in grandiose terms, very aware of the significance of what he was doing, while the Chief Warden was almost Monty Pythonesque in his replies, with no sense of occasion!
Lynn: Yes, this scene did stand out a little – it put me in mind of Blackadder but Monty Python also hits the spot now you mention it.
Mayri: Wow, I haven’t seen any Blackadder in years! You’re right! Very Blackadder-ish.
This bit got me thinking about how Abercrombie is playing with fantasy tropes – he’s given us a lot of the familiar fantasy trappings: the world, the Shanka (who I just keep thinking of as orcs), a couple of mysterious old men, a couple of potential heroes, hints of a world-changing backstory that continues to have repercussions on the world etc. Then, he skews each thing, sort of knocks the pomposity out of it all. It’s all a bit more practical, a bit dirtier and bloodier than high fantasy would have painted it.
I know this is what grimdark is, but I really admire how it’s done here.
Lynn: Exactly this. It’s like you’ve summed up grimdark in a nutshell. Take all your basic tropes and make them a bit grubbier. Lose the high fantasy shine a little. I think the reason why Abercrombie does this so well is because he has such a great sense of humour (for me at least) and he’s not afraid to take all sorts of things that fantasy readers are familiar with and just tip them off kilter a little. He definitely comes across as someone with tongue firmly in cheek.
Mayri: I do love his sense of humour! Glokta’s response to the Tower perhaps sums it up best:
“The whole place was a colossal waste of effort as far as Glokta could see”.
Lynn: I love the way Glokta seems constantly on the brink of just believing everything and then manages to cling on at the last minute to all his doubts.
Mayri: On a tangent: I was shocked by what happened between Ardee and her brother Major West. I’m no longer so sure that Ardee is up to something. If she was treated badly by her dad then a lot of her actions make sense through that lens – she’s got more freedom than she’s had previously.
I admit to being disappointed though, I want her to be more than this.
As for West, I liked him well enough until now. Now I’m appalled! And disturbed because he seemed a good guy.
Lynn: Yes, that also really took me by surprise and, like you said, it casts Ardee’s behaviour in a different light. I so wanted her to be plotting something though. I just didn’t see it coming at all. And it does take some of the shine off West. You can dress it up how you like, that he’s worried about her, under pressure, etc, etc, but it’s just so much bad! I thought it was interesting the conversation with Glokta in which a few home truths are revealed and he asks his old friend to look after his sister. Not quite sure he really knew what he was doing with that particular request but time will tell.
Mayri: I’m hopeful still.
But let’s get to the ending because holy heck it was awesome!!
Lynn: It was. It really was.
Mayri: Ferro has been thrust into the group (her assessment of Logen, Malacus and Bayaz made me smile – this is no Fellowship of the Ring, huh?) and Yulwei has gone (disappointed, I hope he comes back).
Lynn: Me too, I really wanted Yulwei to stick around but I guess he’s delivered the necessary person (as clearly expected). Plus, I think he was such a competent character that there was the possibility of the others never needing to lift a finger to survive with him around!
Mayri: Ha! A very good point!
And then she and Logen get attacked by herds of Practicals, which was awesome! I loved the chase and all the fighting, but that last fight, when they were cornered and Logen … changed … was just phenomenal. I had noticed Logen’s disassociation from the title The Bloody-Nine, but hadn’t really considered what he might mean. Until now.
I loved loved LOVED how Logen’s fighting style changed here, suddenly he’s fluid and graceful and unstoppable. I want to know everything about this!
Lynn: Yep, this was such a revelation. Is he a berserker, is he possessed (is that why he can speak to spirits). I confess I’m absolutely fascinated by this particular reveal. I need more.
Mayri: Yes! More more more!!
And finally, Glokta is being sent into a hornets nest in Dagoska. I’ve not been paying enough attention to understand the significance of this, but I think the Gurkish fleet is heading that way, or something? Either way, Glokta’s in the sh*t again, me thinks. Guy can’t catch a break!
Lynn: Yes, I’m also with you here. Not quite sure of the significance other than Glokta being sent back to a place where his torturers are heading.
Mayri: I can’t wait to read on!
Lynn: Yes, yes, let’s schedule our next book in very soon 😀
Mayri: EXCITED!!!! 😀