The First Law

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The First Law
The First Law covers.jpg
UK hardback covers for the trilogy

  • The Blade Itself
  • Before They Are Hanged
  • Last Argument of Kings

AuthorJoe Abercrombie
CountryUnited Kingdom
Published2006 – present
Media typePrint

The First Law is a fantasy series written by British author Joe Abercrombie. The First Law is the title of only the original trilogy in the series, but is also used to refer to the series as a whole.[1] The full series consists of a trilogy, three stand-alone novels, a number of short stories, and a second trilogy, titled The Age of Madness, the third book of which is scheduled to be published in September 2021.[1]

The original trilogy is published by Gollancz in the UK and Pyr in the United States. The stand-alone novels remain with Gollancz in the UK but will be published by Orbit Books in the United States.[2]

Published Works[edit]

The First Law Trilogy
# Title Pages Words UK release UK hardback ISBN
1 The Blade Itself 529 191,200 4 May 2006 ISBN 978-0575077867
2 Before They Are Hanged 539 198,300 15 March 2007 ISBN 978-0575077874
3 Last Argument of Kings 603 234,100 20 March 2008 ISBN 978-0575077898
Standalone Books[3]
# Title Pages UK release UK ISBN US ISBN
1 Best Served Cold 534 June 2009 ISBN 978-0575082458 ISBN 978-0316044967
2 The Heroes 506 January 2011 ISBN 978-0316123358 ISBN 978-0316044981
3 Red Country 451 October 2012 ISBN 978-0575095823 ISBN 978-0316187213
The Age of Madness
# Title Pages (UK) Pages (US) Words [4] UK release US release UK ISBN US ISBN
1 A Little Hatred 471 480 177,800 19 September 2019 17 September 2019 ISBN 978-0575095861 ISBN 978-0316187169
2 The Trouble With Peace 506 512 195,300 September 15th 2020 September 15th 2020 ISBN 978-0575095915 ISBN 978-0316187183
3 The Wisdom of Crowds 560 TBA TBA September 2021[5] TBA ISBN 978-0575095960 TBA
Short Stories
  • "The Fool Jobs" – appeared in the Swords & Dark Magic: The New Sword and Sorcery anthology (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.
  • "Skipping Town" – appeared in the Legends: Stories in Honour of David Gemmell anthology (November 2013) and features the couple pairing of Shevedieh (Shev) and Javre, Lioness of Hoskopp.
  • "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. It also features Shev and Javre.
  • "Small Kindnesses" - appeared in the Unbound: Tales by Masters of Fantasy anthology (December 2015) and features Shev and Javre.
  • "Two's Company" - first appeared online on (January 2016),[6] featuring Shev and Javre, a "female Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser style thief and warrior odd couple."[7]
Short Story Anthology
  • Sharp Ends: Stories from the World of the First Law (April 2016),[8] collection of all short stories from the First Law continuity (8 previously published, 5 original to the collection):
    • A Beautiful Bastard†
    • Small Kindnesses
    • The Fool Jobs
    • Skipping Town
    • Hell†
    • Two's Company
    • Wrong Place, Wrong Time†
    • Some Desperado
    • Yesterday, Near a Village Called Barden...
    • Three's a Crowd†
    • Freedom!
    • Tough Times All Over
    • Made a Monster†

† story first published in Sharp Ends

Timeline by Story Arc[edit]

The Original Trilogy story arc (with characters Logen Ninefingers, Jezal dan Luthar, Sand dan Glokta, Dogman, Collem West and Ferro Maljinn):

  • 566 (spring): A Beautiful Bastard (short story)
  • 570 (summer): Made a Monster (short story)
  • 575 (spring-autumn): The Blade Itself (novel 1 in the trilogy)
  • 575-576 (autumn-spring): Before They Are Hanged (novel 2 in the trilogy)
  • 576 (spring): Hell (short story)
  • 576-577 (summer to winter): Last Argument of Kings (novel 3 in the trilogy)

The Best Served Cold story arc (with characters Monza Murcatto, Nicomo Cosca, Castor Morveer, Friendly, Caul Shivers and Cas Shenkt):

  • 579-80: Best Served Cold (novel)
  • 580: Wrong Place, Wrong Time (short story)

The Heroes story arc (with characters Bremer dan Gorst, Prince Calder, Curnden Craw, Finree dan Brock, Tunny and Beck):

  • 574 (autumn): The Fool Jobs (short story)
  • 584 (autumn): Yesterday, Near a Village Called Barden (short story)
  • 584: The Heroes (novel)

The Red Country story arc (with characters Shy South,Lamb, Ro South and Temple):

  • 584 (summer): Some Desperado (short story)
  • 590 (summer): Freedom! (short story)
  • 590: Red Country (novel)

The Shevedieh, Javre and Carcolf story arc:

  • 573 (autumn): Small Kindnesses (short story)
  • 575 (summer): Skipping Town (short story)
  • 576 (summer): Two's Company (short story)
  • 587 (autumn): Three's a Crowd (short story)
  • 592 (spring): Tough Times All Over (short story)

The Age of Madness Trilogy story arc (follows 7 characters), begins in 605:

  • A Little Hatred (novel 1 in the trilogy)
  • The Trouble With Peace (novel 2 in the trilogy)
  • The Wisdom of Crowds (novel 3 in the trilogy)

Book Titles[edit]

The titles of the works derive from many sources, including real-world quotes or phrases, and in-world references.

The First Law[edit]

The title of the original trilogy is a reference to a law put forth by the legendary half-Demon Euz from the series, which stated, "It is forbidden to touch the Other Side direct," the Other Side being the realm of Demons, from which magic power derives.

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."

Best Served Cold[edit]

The title is a reference to the phrase "Revenge is a dish best served cold," which originated with the French diplomat Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord.[9]

The Heroes[edit]

The title is a reference to an in-world monument consisting of many large, upright stones on the top of a hill, called "The Heroes", where it is said that a legendary hero of old is buried. The monument is a central part of the setting for the book.


The First Law series is set in an epic fantasy world at war, reminiscent of medieval-era Europe and the greater Mediterranean world. Long ago, the world was inhabited by both Demons and Humans. Then, hundreds, or thousands, of years ago, in the Old Time, a legendary half-Demon, half-Human with great magical powers, named Euz, banished the Demons from the world. Magic still exists, which relies on connections to the Other Side, where the Demons live. However, Euz left behind the First Law: "It is forbidden to touch the Other Side direct."

  • The Union contains the provinces of Angland, the Midderlands, Dagoska, Starikland and the city of Westport in Styria. It is a powerful kingdom reminiscent to Western Europe.
  • The Gurkish Empire is a sprawling empire to the south of the Union, similar to the large Middle-Eastern empires of antiquity.
  • 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 continent to the east of the Union containing multiple warring city states and factions.
  • The Old Empire is a former world power to the west of the Union, now reduced to a patchwork of squabbling warlords all vying for the throne.
  • Far Country is a near lawless frontier region to the north of the Old Empire and west of Starikland province.

The books of the trilogy do not contain maps, as Abercrombie prefers not to use them.[10] However, the three stand alone novels do contain their own local maps and a World map was finally produced in full on the cover of the Sharp Ends short story collection.

Plot Overview[edit]

The First Law[edit]

The plot of the original trilogy involves three major powers: The Union, the Gurkish Empire, and the North, recently united under King 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 trilogy follows the stories of six point-of-view characters, whose paths often intersect.

The Blade Itself[edit]

The book introduces the six main characters of the trilogy. Logen Ninefingers is a legendary Northman, who earned a fearsome reputation working from Bethod. Logen played a pivotal role in bringing Bethod to power, primarily through a series of ten duels, following a Northern tradition of dueling to resolve a conflict. However, Logen and Bethod had a falling-out, forcing Logen and a small crew of friends to flee. The book begins with Logen's crew being attacked by Shanka, violent, orc-like, ape-like creatures described as "something between a man and an animal". Logen is separated from his crew, and sets off on his own path. He eventually meets Bayaz, a powerful Magus who is centuries old, who enlists Logen's help for a journey he plans to take.

Before They Are Hanged[edit]

Last Argument of Kings[edit]

Standalone Books[edit]

The three standalone books are set in the same world as the trilogy. Some of the major characters are minor characters from the original trilogy while several major characters from the trilogy sometimes also appear in smaller roles, cameos or are mentioned in passing.

Best Served Cold

The first of the standalone books takes place roughly three years after the trilogy. It takes place entirely in Styria, an island continent reminiscent of Italy during the Italian Wars, focusing on the vengeance of a betrayed mercenary leader.

The Heroes

This book focuses on a three-day battle set in the same world as the First Law trilogy, about seven years after events of the original trilogy. 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 such as Bremer dan Gorst, Lord Marshal Kroy, and the Dogman.[11]

Red Country

The last of the three 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.

The Age of Madness[edit]

The Age of Madness takes place 15 years after the end of Red Country. The Union has begun to see rapid changed with the onset of an industrial revolution.

A Little Hatred[edit]

The Trouble With Peace[edit]

The Wisdom of Crowds[edit]

Major characters[edit]

  • Logen Ninefingers, infamous barbarian warrior of the North named for his missing 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 years of torture by the Gurkish. Now crippled, he has become a torturer himself in the Union's Inquisition.
  • Jezal dan Luthar, a self-centred, immature nobleman and swordsman training reluctantly for the greatest tournament in the nation.
  • Bayaz, First of the Magi, a wizard from an older time, his magical skill is only outstripped by his political savvy.
  • Collem West, a common born officer of the Union army. Intelligent and diligent but quick to anger and 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.
  • Ferro Maljinn, an escaped slave from the south who puts her thirst for revenge over all else.

Other characters[edit]


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


  • Bethod, a 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.
  • Black Dow, a sharp-tongued member of Logen's band who is famed for his ruthlessness.
  • Caul Shivers, an amicable Northman who carries a bitter need for vengeance.
  • Crummock-i-Phail, regarded "the maddest bastard in the north" he leads the Hillmen (a collection of Northmen that live in the high mountains), he wears a necklace of finger bones around his neck and has his three children carry his weapons around for him (unable or unwilling to tell his sons apart), he seems friendly if crazy.
  • Forley the Weakest, a member of Logen's band, nervous and cowardly but well liked for his decency, he acts to keep the group together and stop them fighting each other.
  • Rudd Threetrees, an older veteran member of Logen's band, a skilled and inspiring leader in his own right.
  • Tul Duru "Thunderhead" , a giant of a northman and member of Logen's band, he is extremely tall and strong.
  • Harding Grim , a masterful archer and member of Logan's band who is well known for hardly saying anything.


  • Ardee West, sister of Collem West, bored with her station in life and what is expected of her gender.
  • Practical Frost, a practical in the Inquisition, a strong albino with a lisp.
  • King Guslav the Fifth, the obese, senile king of Adua, his health is rapidly failing and his mind is slipping.
  • Lord Chamberlain Hoff, a loud and impatient man who conducts the duties of the otherwise incapable king.
  • Crown Prince Ladisla, the vain and foppish heir to the throne.
  • Brother Longfoot, a talented Navigator whose constant talking gets on his companions' nerves.
  • High Justice Marovia, leader of the King's Justice, an elderly man and Sult's bitter rival.
  • Practical Severard, a practical in the Inquisition whose eyes always appear to be smiling.
  • Arch Lector Sult, the elderly leader of the Inquisition, manipulative and greedy.
  • Practical Vitari, a practical in the Inquisition, she is a fearsome fighter with fiery red hair.
  • Mauthis, a representative of the banking clan Valint and Balk. A remarkably cold individual, he causes numerous problems for Glokta when he presents him with the demands of his mysterious masters.
  • Bremer dan Gorst, a muscled soldier and duellist. Despite his size and reputation he has a very high-pitched womanly voice that he's sensitive about.

Adua Military

  • Lord Marshal Burr, leader of the King's army, a skilled commander who suffers from indigestion. Mentor to Collem West.
  • General Kroy, aloof 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, Union officers and the drinking buddies of Jezal dan Luthar and Collem West, they often play cards together.


  • Carlot dan Eider, Magister of the Spicers aka "The Queen of Merchants", a beautiful, intelligent and skilled diplomat.
  • Haddish Kahdia, spokesman and religious leader of the natives of Dagoska.
  • Korsten dan Vurms, the ambitious son of the elderly and incapable Lord Governor.
  • Nicomo Cosca, a notoriously treacherous, but charismatic and generally good-tempered mercenary who turns up repeatedly under different employers.
  • General Vissbruck, leader of Dagoska's garrison, reasonably competent though 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",[12] 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."[13]

Reviews for Before They Are Hanged were also positive; Fantasy Book Review stated that it was "hard not to try and read it in one sitting" and that it "does not disappoint".[14] Best Fantasy Reviews said it was "an excellent book, and accomplishes a fairly rare feat – the middle book of a trilogy that does a hell of a lot more than provide a stop gap between the beginning and the end."[15]

Last Argument of Kings was well received by critics, with Publishers Weekly saying that "readers will mourn the end of this vivid story arc."[16] 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."[17]

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."[18]


  1. ^ a b
  2. ^ "Blog Entry". 7 August 2008.
  3. ^ Abercrombie, Joe. "Joe Abercrombie - Books". Archived from the original on 21 January 2013. Retrieved 21 January 2013.
  4. ^ "Blog Entry". 28 February 2020.
  5. ^ Abercrombie, Joe. "The Wisdom of Crowds Cover Copy - Joe Abercrombie". Retrieved 3 January 2021.
  6. ^ "Two's Company". 12 January 2016.
  7. ^ "Blog Entry". 12 January 2016.
  8. ^ Abercrombie, Joe. "Sharp Ends".
  9. ^ Maurel, Chloé (2020), "" Mémoire du monde ", le registre de l'UNESCO répertoire des fonds d'archives remarquables du monde entier", Encyclopédie des historiographies : Afriques, Amériques, Asies, Presses de l’Inalco, pp. 1157–1169, doi:10.4000/books.pressesinalco.34461, ISBN 978-2-85831-344-0, retrieved 8 March 2021
  10. ^ "Blog Entry". 2 October 2007.
  11. ^ "Fiction Review: The Heroes". Publishers Weekly. 13 December 2010. Retrieved 13 October 2011.
  12. ^ Grimwood, Jon Courney (10 June 2006). "Murderous Impulses". The Guardian. Retrieved 8 August 2012. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  13. ^ Carroll, Siobhan (16 August 2006). "Strange Horizons Reviews: The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie". Strange Horizons. Retrieved 8 August 2012.
  14. ^ "Before They Are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie". Fantasy Book Review. Retrieved 8 August 2012.
  15. ^
  16. ^ "Last Argument of Kings: The First Law, Book Three". Publishers Weekly. 7 July 2008. Retrieved 8 August 2012.
  17. ^ Bradley, David (28 March 2008). "BOOK REVIEW Last Argument of Kings". SFX. Retrieved 8 August 2012.
  18. ^ Brown, Eric (2 November 2012). "Science fiction roundup – reviews". The Guardian. Retrieved 6 November 2012. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)

External links[edit]