Like the last time, I just can’t get into this book. I can appreciate the characters and the writing and the depth. I do think that the “Say one thing for Logen Ninefingers, say …” is funny. I can see how the grit and darkness can be enjoyed. But man, I just don’t like it. It’s not even the brutality, I think it’s mostly the pacing and the sense of impending doom without any sort of hope for help. I absolutely believe Abercrombie will let all of this civilisation fall and make us watch, and like, I get enough of that IRL.
This book is part of the 2022 Backlog Incident.
Beware: full spoilers! Also probably incomplete and possibly incomprehensible.
Logen Ninefinger, whose name strikes terror blah blah, used to work for Bethod, King of the Northmen, in return for aid against the Shanka, non-human enemies. His entire family is dead. He has some small knowledge of rural magic, but it’s been vanishing. Bayaz is a great magus, ancient. He summons Logen via his annoyingly insecure apprentice Quai.
Glokta serves as torturer, crippled by being tortured by enemies in the war, cycnical and twisted and anti-social. Walking hurts him, everything hurts him. His teeth were partially broken so that he can only eat soup. But he’s also clever, and effective, both as a torturer and as administrator.
Jezal dan Luthar is an arrogant young dude, recently turned captain, training to be a champion in the big tournament. Major West is likeable and has risen from non-nobility. He foists is sister Ardee off on Jezal. He’s appointed to the new Marshal’s staff, which is rough on a commoner, and also puts him right at the centre of the beginning war. But he also … violently assaults his sister? wtf
Ferro Maljinn in the Empire is being hunted. One of the magi, Yulwei, rescues her despite herself, and takes her up to meet Bayaz, fighting some Eaters along the way. Brother Longfoot is an absolutely unbearably enthusiastic navigator-monk, joining them aswell.
Plot: The king is useless, the Union under attack, both from Bethod, King of the Northmen (over ownership of Angland) and the new Emperor of the Gurkish. Then the great old chancellor dies, who kept the council in balance. Glokta is tasked by the Arch Lector to arrest the Master of the Mint as part of a coup, and made Inquisitor Exempt (huge powers, but also the obvious sacrifice if things don’t work out). Meanwhile, Logen’s old gang sees the rising threat of the Shanka and returns (at peril of death) to the Northmen to warn them. They fail and decide to turn South to fight Bethod.
Logen meanwhile is depressed and tired and overwhelmed and openly says that he will just follow, that he’s tired of making his own decisions. Bayaz denies Bethod help and returns to the city, but as he’s an ancient legend, everybody thinks it’s a scam. He’s fun and all, and also rigs the tournament to end in favour of Jezal, while Glokta is investigating him.
History lesson: Kanedias was the Master Maker. He created the Shanka in his war against his brother, the great Juvens, whom he killed in the end. Juvens was avenged by his apprentices, the Magi. Kanedias flees to his house, which is besieged for twelve days, until Bayaz found a way inside. Kanedias killed many of the Magi, and even his own daughter, Tolomei, until Bayaz killed Kanedias, the last son of Euz, buried him and his daughter, sealed the tower and took the key. So, to prove his identity, Bayaz unseals the House of the Maker, taking Glokta and Jezal.
Anyway, it turns out there are tons of Eaters to the south, Shanka to the north, and Bayaz is trying to find the mysterious Seed, which may help, but will probably also doom at least him. (Yulwei disagrees strongly.) Jezal is packed off with them. Logan is attacked and finally turns into his old berserker Nine-Finger self. Whereas Glokta is made Superior of Daguska, a city that is at the southern border, with disappearances and a beginning war.
The first law of the wizards, by the way, is that it is forbidden to talk to devils / directly interface with the Other Side. The second law is that it is forbidden to eat the flesh of men.