The First Law

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The First Law
UK hardback covers for the trilogy
  • The Blade Itself
  • Before They Are Hanged
  • Last Argument of Kings
Author Joe Abercrombie
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre Fantasy
Published 2006 – present
Media type Print

The First Law is a fantasy series written by British author Joe Abercrombie. It consists of a trilogy and three stand-alone novels set in the same world.

The trilogy is published by Gollancz in the UK and Pyr in the USA. The stand-alone novels remain with Gollancz in the UK but will be published by Orbit Books in the USA.[1]


The trilogy
# Title Pages UK release UK hardback ISBN
1 The Blade Itself 536 4 May 2006 ISBN 978-0575077867
2 Before They Are Hanged 441 15 March 2007 ISBN 978-0575077874
3 Last Argument of Kings 422 20 March 2008 ISBN 978-0575077898
Standalone books
  • Best Served Cold (June 2009)
  • The Heroes (January 2011)
  • Red Country (October 2012)[2]
Short stories
  • "The Fool Jobs" – appeared in the Swords & Dark Magic compilation (June 2010) and features Curnden Craw and his dozen in events prior to The Heroes.
  • "Yesterday, Near A Village Called Barden" – appeared as an extra in the Waterstone's hardcover version of The Heroes and focuses on Bremer dan Gorst on campaign prior to The Heroes.
  • "Freedom!" - appeared as an extra in the Waterstone's hardcover version of Red Country and focuses on the liberation of the town of Averstock by the Company of the Gracious Hand.
  • "Some Desperado" - appeared in the Dangerous Women anthology (December 2013) and features Shy South on the run during her outlaw days before Red Country.
  • "Tough Times All Over" - appeared in the Rogues anthology (June 2014) and follows courier Carcolf and the circuitous route one of her packages takes through the city of Sipani.


The trilogy is set in an epic fantasy world at war, reminiscent of medieval-era Europe and the greater Mediterranean world.

  • The Union contains the provinces of Angland, the Midderlands, Dagoska, Starikland and the city of Westport in Styria.
  • Gurkhul is an empire to the south of the Union.
  • The North is referred to as such not only by The Union (for whom it really is to the north) but also by those who live there, who refer to themselves as Northmen.
  • Styria is a large island to the east of the Union containing multiple warring factions.

The books of the trilogy do not contain maps, as Abercrombie prefers not to use them.[3] However, the three stand alone novels do contain their own local maps.

Plot overview[edit]

The plot involves three major powers:

  • The Union, a large kingdom similar to Western Europe.
  • The Gurkish Empire, which is similar to the large Middle-Eastern empires of antiquity.
  • The Northmen, a rough alliance of several northern tribes with Viking and Anglo Saxon overtones under the leadership of a warrior-king named Bethod.

There are two major theaters of war. The first takes place in the north between the Union and the Northmen, who invade the Union's northern province of Angland. The second is in the south between the Union and the Gurkish Empire, who attempt to annex the Union city of Dagoska. The trilogy centers on the fortunes of a variety of characters as they navigate through these and other conflicts.

The Blade Itself[edit]

The title of the first book is taken from a quote by Homer in The Odyssey: "The blade itself incites to deeds of violence."

Before They Are Hanged[edit]

The title of the second book references a quote by Heinrich Heine: "We should forgive our enemies, but not before they are hanged."

Last Argument of Kings[edit]

The title of the third book refers to the words Louis XIV had inscribed on his cannons: "Ultima Ratio Regum," which is Latin for "the last argument of kings."

Standalone books[edit]

Best Served Cold is set in the same universe as the First Law series, roughly three years after the trilogy. It takes place in Styria, focusing on a different set of characters. Some are minor characters from the original trilogy given more depth and others are new characters. Major characters from the trilogy sometimes appear in cameos or are mentioned in passing.

The Heroes focuses on a three-day battle set in the same world as the First Law trilogy, about eight years after events of the trilogy itself. Union commander Lord Marshal Kroy leads the Union forces against the much smaller Northern army led by Black Dow. The story features many characters seen in previous First Law novels like Bremer dan Gorst, Prince Calder, and the Dogman.[4]

Red Country is set about thirteen years after the First Law trilogy and revolves around a youthful female protagonist who is hoping to bury her bloody past, but she’ll have to sharpen up some of her old ways to get her family back. Her journey will take her across the barren western plains to a frontier town gripped by gold fever, through feud, duel and massacre and high into the unmapped mountains.

Major Characters[edit]

  • Logen Ninefingers, infamous barbarian warrior of the North named for his lack of finger. Nicknamed the "Bloody-Nine" after losing a finger in battle during a berserker-rage, he strives to turn from the path of senseless violence he has followed for so long.
  • Sand dan Glokta, a dashing young swordsman before his capture and torture by the Gurkish. Now crippled, he has become a torturer himself in the Union's Inquisition.
  • Jezal dan Luthar, a self-centered, immature nobleman and swordsman training reluctantly for the greatest tournament in the nation.
  • Ferro Maljinn, an escaped slave from the south who puts her thirst for revenge over all else.
  • Collem West, a low-born Major of the Union army, he is quick to anger and constantly worried for his younger sister.
  • Dogman, a loyal member of Logen's band, a skilled scout with sharpened teeth and an incredible sense of smell.

Other Characters[edit]


  • Bayaz, First of the Magi, a wizard from an older time, his magical skill is only outstripped by his political savvy.
  • Malacus Quai, Bayaz's apprentice who grows disillusioned with his master.
  • Yulwei, a black man with long grey hair and a rich voice. He mainly spends his time in Gurkhul.
  • Yoru Sulfur, an odd man with Heterochromia iridum.
  • Khalul, a Magus who is the religious leader of Gurkhul, he has created an army of Eaters and is Bayaz's bitter enemy.
  • Zacharias, a nature-loving Magus who lives in the Old Empire.
  • Cawneil, a book-loving Magus who tries to remain glamorous despite her age, she had previous relationships with both Khalul and Bayaz.


  • King Bethod, an charismatic and ruthless leader. An excellent military tactician who intends to conquer Angland after he has defeated almost every clan in the North. He is Logen's bitter enemy after he betrayed him and his band of men. He has two sons, Calder and Scale.
  • Threetrees, an elderly member of Logen's band, a skilled and inspiring leader in his own right.
  • Black Dow, a sharp-tongued member of Logen's band who is famed for his ruthlessness.
  • Tul "Thunderhead" Duru, a giant member of Logen's band, he is extremely tall and strong.
  • Harding Grim, a laconic member of Logen's band.
  • Forley the Weakest, a member of Logen's band, nervous and cowardly but acts to keep the group together and stop them fighting each other.
  • Caul Shivers, a bitter Northman, he searches for vengeance against Logen for butchering his brother many years ago.
  • Crummock-i-Phail, regarded "the maddest bastard in the north" he leads a clan of Treemen, he wears a necklace of finger bones around his neck and has his three children carry his weapons around for him (unable to tell his daughter from his sons), he seems friendly if crazy.


  • King Gluslav the Fifth, the obese, senile king of Adua, his health is rapidly failing and his mind is slipping.
  • Crown Prince Ladisla, the vain and foppish heir to the throne.
  • Ardee West, sister of Collem West, bored with her station in life and what is expected of her gender.
  • Arch Lector Sult, the elderly leader of the Inquisition, manipulative and greedy.
  • Practical Frost, a practical in the Inquisition, a strong albino with a lisp.
  • Practical Severard, a practical in the Inquisition whose eyes always appear to be smiling.
  • Practical Vitari, a practical in the Inquisition, she is a fearsome fighter with fiery red hair.
  • Lord Chamberlain Hoff, a loud and impatient man who conducts the duties of the otherwise incapable king.
  • High Justice Marovia, leader of the King's Justice, an elderly man and Sult's bitter rival.
  • Brother Longfoot, a talented Navigator whose constant talking gets on his companions nerves.

Adua Military

  • Grand Marshal Burr, leader of the King's army, a skilled commander and mentor to Collem West who suffers from indigestion.
  • General Kroy, a snooty and by-the-book commander who is the bitter rival of General Poulder.
  • General Poulder, a flamboyant commander who is the bitter rival of General Kroy.
  • Jalenhorm, Kaspa and Brint, the drinking buddies of Jezal dan Luthar and Collem West, they often play cards together.


  • Nicomo Cosca, a notoriously treacherous, but generally good-tempered mercenary who turns up repeatedly under different employers.
  • Carlot dan Eider, Magister of the Spicers aka "The Queen of Merchants", a beautiful, intelligent and skilled diplomat.
  • Korsten dan Vurms, the ambitious son of the elderly and incapable Lord Governor.
  • Haddish Khadia, spokesman and religious leader of the natives of Dagoska.
  • General Vissbruck, leader of Dagoska's army, mostly he is considered "an ass".


The Blade Itself was released to very positive reviews. Writing for The Guardian, author Jon Courtenay Grimwood said that "for once, the novel comes close to living up to its publisher's hype",[5] and Strange Horizons's Siobhan Carroll said that "fans of character-driven epics who are willing to take their heroes with a grain of moral ambiguity should add this novel to their "must read" list."[6]

Reviews for Before They Are Hanged were more mixed; while Fantasy Book Review stated that it was "hard not to try and read it in one sitting" and that it "does not disappoint",[7] The SF Site raised the concern that the female characters were largely one dimensional and that Abercrombie should have "taken a little bit more time with it and maintained the level of craft that he managed with his first book."[8]

Last Argument of Kings was well received by critics, with Publishers Weekly saying that "readers will mourn the end of this vivid story arc."[9] SFX's David Bradley gave the book a five star review and stated that Abercrombie "signs off the trilogy on a high, interspersing breathless skirmishes with thriller-like moments."[10]

Eric Brown reviewed Red Country for The Guardian and said that Abercrombie was "tipping his hat to the Western genre but continuing his mission to drag fantasy, kicking and screaming, into the 21st century with his characteristic mix of gritty realism, complex characterisation, set-piece scenes of stomach-churning violence and villains who are as fully rounded as his flawed heroes" and concluded that the book was "a marvellous follow-up to his highly praised The Heroes."[11]


  1. ^ "Blog Entry". 7 August 2008. 
  2. ^ Abercrombie, Joe. "Joe Abercrombie - Books". Archived from the original on 21 Jan 2013. Retrieved 21 Jan 2013. 
  3. ^ "Blog Entry". 2 October 2007. 
  4. ^ "Fiction Review: The Heroes". Publishers Weekly. 13 December 2010. Retrieved 13 October 2011. 
  5. ^ Grimwood, Jon Courney (10 June 2006). "Murderous Impulses". The Guardian. Retrieved 8 August 2012. 
  6. ^ Carroll, Siobhan (16 August 2006). "Strange Horizons Reviews: The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie". Strange Horizons. Retrieved 8 August 2012. 
  7. ^ "Before They Are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie". Fantasy Book Review. Retrieved 8 August 2012. 
  8. ^ Enzinas, John (2007). "The First Law, Book Two: Before They Are Hanged". Retrieved 30 August 2012. 
  9. ^ "Last Argument of Kings: The First Law, Book Three". Publishers Weekly. 7 July 2008. Retrieved 8 August 2012. 
  10. ^ Bradley, David (28 March 2008). "BOOK REVIEW Last Argument of Kings". SFX. Retrieved 8 August 2012. 
  11. ^ Brown, Eric (2 November 2012). "Science fiction roundup – reviews". The Guardian. Retrieved 6 November 2012. 

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