Malazan Reread of the Fallen

The Malazan Re-read of the Fallen: Gardens of the Moon, Chapters 4 and 5

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Welcome to the Malazan Re-read of the Fallen! Every post will start off with a summary of events, followed by reaction and commentary by your hosts Bill and Amanda (with Amanda, new to the series, going first), and finally comments from Tor.com readers. In this article, we’ll cover Chapters 4 and 5 of Gardens of the Moon (GotM). Other chapters are here.

A fair warning before we get started: We’ll be discussing both novel and whole-series themes, narrative arcs that run across the entire series, and foreshadowing, so while the summary of events may be free of spoilers, the commentary and reader comments most definitely will not be. To put it another way: Major Spoilers Next Eight Months.

Another fair warning! Grab a cup of tea before you start reading—these posts are not the shortest!

CHAPTER FOUR
Setting: Pale

SCENE 1
Tattersail meets with Whiskeyjack, Quick Ben, Fiddler, and Kalam to tell them Hairlock is insane. They reveal their suspicions about Sorry being connected to Shadow as well as their theory that Shadowthrone and Cotillion are in fact Emperor Kellanved and Dancer. We learn that Shadow’s throne was originally occupied by a Tiste Edur, but had been empty for millennia until the Emperor and Dancer’s deaths. Fiddler senses something happening, possibly involving Sorry, and the squad takes off.

SCENE 2
Paran awakens before Hood’s Gate but before he is claimed by Hood, Oponn (the twins of Chance) interfere to have someone close to Paran take his place in death’s realm in the future. After they leave, Shadowthrone arrives and agrees to let Paran live so he can use him to find out who opposes his plans. Paran wakes in front of the Bridgeburners looking over what they had thought was his corpse; they bring him to the barracks.

SCENE 3
Tattersail does a Deck reading, which includes the Mason of High House Death in a prominent position, and predicts a confrontation between the Knight of Darkness and High House Shadow.

SCENE 4
Whiskeyjack and Dujek discuss their belief that the Empire is trying to kill the Bridgeburners. Dujek tells Whiskeyjack the Bridgeburners have his permission to “walk” (desert); Whiskeyjack responds that the soldiers will back Dujek.

SCENE 5
The Bridgeburners and Tattersail meet and discuss that Hairlock is being chased by Hounds through the warrens, that Sorry probably tried to kill Paran and is a tool of Shadow, and that some outside force (a god or Ascendant most likely) intervened in opposition to Shadow and plans to use Paran somehow. Tattersail agrees to nurse Paran back to health while the Ninth Squad head to Darujhistan.

SCENE 6
Gear, a Hound of Shadow, chases Hairlock out of the warren and tracks him to Tattersail’s room, where it attacks. Hairlock tries to steal Gear’s soul, but Paran wounds the Hound with his sword Chance and it retreats. Paran and Tattersail both hear a spinning coin. End of Book One.

Amanda’s reaction to Chapter Four
The poem about the Bridgeburners at the start of Chapter Four by Toc the Younger is very pretty, etc., but someone with more of a knowledge and appreciation of poetry is going to have to dissect it on my behalf—Bill, perhaps! I think these poems will be something to come back to when I’ve read more of the book(s) since their events and characters will be known to me in greater depth.

Hairlock has “chewed holes in his own Warrens and he’s tasting Chaos”—here are more hints about the magic system and the way it works. And again:

“He needs to slip through the Warrens the unconventional way – the regular paths are all trip-wired.”

Last of all:

“Hairlock’s using the power of Chaos, the paths that lie between Warrens, and that’s unhealthy…”

These little snippets are both making the magic clearer and more ambiguous. I can see what Bill meant, though, when he hinted that the Warrens were not just a handy transportation method! I also note the points regarding “Chaos” that some of the commenters following this re-read have made—where the term “chaos” might be a GotM-ism.

We also hear from Quick Ben of the Bridgeburners that they are aware of Tayschrenn’s possible ambitions towards the throne of the Empress. The problem is that no one is quite clear on whether Tayschrenn and Laseen are operating in unison, or whether Tayschrenn is planning to take the throne. Tattersail also voices her suspicions about the fact that the Second, including the Bridgeburners, are planning to proclaim Dujek Onearm Emperor.

There is a nice observation about Whiskeyjack:

“His impassive expression fell away, revealing a war of emotions. He keeps his world bottled up, but the pressure’s building. She wondered what would happen when everything broke loose inside him.”

I can’t imagine the sort of pressure that Whiskeyjack would be under: a product of the previous Emperor, disliked by the current Empress, handed deadly missions which many of his squad don’t come through alive, monitored and watched constantly, contemplating mutiny…tough job!

Erikson keeps up the grim, relentless descriptions of war in casual throwaway lines:

“The sapper’s mismatched uniform still carried the stains of the tunnels. Someone else’s blood had splashed thickly on the front of his tunic – as if a friend had died in his arms.”

I’m really enjoying the combination of Kalam and Quick Ben—Erikson shows well the easy completion of each other’s sentences of two companions who have spent a great deal of time together.

It’s very interesting that the Bridgeburners are willing to share their suspicions about Sorry, yet Tattersail doesn’t trust them enough to give them the information about the Virgin of Death from her Reading with Tayschrenn. Unless it comes up later, she doesn’t even mention the fact that she did the Fatid with the High Mage who is their enemy.

“It certainly seems,” Tattersail said, “that since its arrival in the Deck and the opening of its Warren, Shadow’s path crosses the Empire’s far too often to be accidental. Why should the Warren between Light and Dark display such…obsession with the Malazan Empire?”

I just have no idea what this means [Bill’s interjection: Actually, based on your identification of Shadowthrone, ya kinda do.], but it intrigues me enough to record it. Interestingly, it is also pointed out that the Warren of Shadow was closed and inaccessible for millennia, until 1154th year of Burn’s Sleep (the last year in the reign of Emperor Kellanved). Significant? I think so!

The mystery of Quick Ben thickens [Bill’s interjection: Oh, how often you’ll be saying that!]: he knows an awful lot about the situation, and his sorcery has a flavor that Tattersail doesn’t even recognize. Another god?

Mention was made of Hood, the god that Dassem betrayed (this was referred to back in the Prologue—y’all keeping up okay? *grin*). This next extract is worth mentioning on two counts:

“All at once other Ascendants started meddling, manipulating events. It all culminated with Dassem’s murder, then the Emperor’s assassination, and blood in the streets, temples at war, sorcery unleashed.”

Firstly, Dassem’s death helped, in some part, bring about the current situation. Secondly, I’m now completely on board with Bill’s frustration and confusion with all the different terms! What are Ascendants? Sorcerers? Mages? Gods?

Nice scene with Paran—people really don’t stay quite dead, do they? Not sure about this sentence:

“Oponn, the Twins of Chance. And my sword, my untested blade purchased years ago, with a name I chose so capriciously…”

Was it just me who flicked back through all of Paran’s scenes to see whether this sword was mentioned as something important prior to this? For those who didn’t, I couldn’t find anything—anyone in the know want to shed any light?

And we’re back to not understanding a word of what is going on! I think Oponn made a deal to keep Paran alive and, in exchange, someone close to Paran has to die in his place? Okay, we have mention of Ascendants again—this time connected to Shadowthrone (who I believe is Ammanas, because of the Hounds). So Ascendants are “potential” gods, maybe? But then Paran says to Shadowthrone:

“The day you die, Shadowthrone…I will be waiting for you on the other side of that gate. With a smile. Gods can die, can’t they?”

So Shadowthrone is a god? And also an Ascendant? *joins Bill in sulking about all the terms* I do think that I have worked out that Paran convinces Shadowthrone to leave him alive and in thrall to the other god under the “better the devil you know” principle.

Erikson writes black, sarcastic military humor extremely well (either as a result of being in the military himself or reading a lot of war fiction).:

“Hell of a night,” the first marine said.

“You got a thing about stating the obvious, haven’t you?”

The Readings that Tattersail does seem to reflect matters happening in the Warrens and involving the gods:

“She sensed an immediacy to this reading. High House Shadow had become involved, a challenge to Oponn’s command of the game.”

In this Reading the Mason of High House Death could be *anyone* and I suspect Erikson is throwing in a few red herrings immediately, with Fiddler making reference to when he learnt the stone-cutting trade!

It is nice to hear about Tattersail from an external point of view:

“She’s a survivor – and loyal. It’s not common news, but she’s been offered the title of High Mage more than once and won’t accept…”

Makes you wonder why she hasn’t accepted? And also reveals the extent of Tattersail’s skills as a mage.

The discussion between Dujek and Whiskeyjack resonates with unspoken loyalty. They’re talking indirectly about the mutiny and the future of the Bridgeburners. I really enjoyed this scene, particularly the feelings revealed by the switch in fortunes between Whiskeyjack and Dujek. Also, Whiskeyjack (having been taken down by political machinations and demoted to a lowly position) must have sympathy for Dujek, knowing that he is suffering a similar slip in fortunes and clash with the Empress.

Interesting concept of healing here, that “shock is the scar that bridges the gap between the body and the mind” and that healing the flesh on its own will not heal the trauma of a painful wound. Paran’s mind might not be what it was, after the shock of being half-dead and then being pieced back together by the god who wishes to use him.

We get our first proper look at the Moranth in this chapter—including the Quorls, which are alien and insect-like. Erikson drops in another of those throwaway lines that will probably turn out to be important in six books time!

“There was one among you,” Whiskeyjack said, “one-handed. He was five times marked for valor. Does he still live?”

Whiskeyjack observes that if the Moranth ever had a thirst for power, the Malazan Empire would suffer greatly—but the color factions “marked an ever-changing hierarchy” with immense rivalry.

We also receive an insight into just how much Sorry puts the squad on edge and is not properly accepted (after a truly shocking flashback torture scene description that is shocking when you bear in mind Sorry’s age and sex—sure, she’s being ridden by a god, but it still leaves you sickened by the image).

“Though the woman had been with the squad for two years, still his men called her a recruit…Recruits were not Bridgeburners. The stripping away of that label was an earned thing…Sorry was a recruit because the thought of having her inextricably enfolded within the Bridgeburners burned like a hot knife…”

It is a badass scene at the end between the Hound Gear (the Seventh) and Tattersail. We also see the taint of Hairlock’s new magic and Paran reveals to Tattersail the god that has claimed him. An entertaining end to the first book.

I gradually feel as though some of these strands are beginning to come together. During some passages I still have no idea what Erikson is writing, but I am starting to grasp other elements. The main thing I have learnt is: Don’t trust anyone! [Bill’s interjection: Bingo!]

Bill’s commentary on Chapter Four
The poem you mentioned doesn’t give us quite as much info as some of the earlier chapter-opening texts, but it does offer some tantalizing hints to the drama of the Bridgebuilder name. As for the poetry itself, well, it’s always a mixed bag I’d say with Erikson. This one’s a bit too tongue-tripping in its use of alliteration for me: “tattooed tracery the tales a tracking…“ If the poem were longer I hate to think of where we would have gone:  “Remember! Roared Rake in rampant rage”. Though to be fair, he does show a more subtle touch: “hard/arch, line/side/vanishing span.” But enough poetry analysis; he isn’t aiming for Frost here after all.

What a great opening line to a chapter:

“Hairlock is insane.”

And how can you not love Quick Ben’s response:

“Of course he’s insane…he’s got the body of a puppet!”

[Amanda’s interjection: I have to say, I do love the way that Erikson begins his chapters, whether with prose or snappy dialogue—they certainly drag you in and get you reading!]

I’m glad you’re enjoying the humor Amanda, that “black sarcastic military humor” as you call it. It’s one of my favorite aspects of the series. Not only does it break up incredibly grim scenes—the old “comic relief”—but it also does such a great job of characterizing these people and also making us empathize so much more with them. Not just the funny part, but also that sense of resigned camaraderie that deepens the connections between them and makes us feel their losses (and there will be losses) all the more deeply.

The opening scene is actually pretty clear-cut, at least on the surface. We get some pretty straightforward explanation/recap/theory about Sorry, about what happened to the First Sword, and, as Amanda points out, about their suspicions with regard to the High Mage and perhaps Laseen. It’s all speculation of course, and later we’ll get some counter-information in typical Erikson fashion, but the clarity (if not certainty) of this opening scene is a welcome respite from the more arcane name-dropping in the previous chapter.

Even the next scene, despite the otherworldly setting and presence of several gods (or is it Ascendants?—right there with you Amanda) is relatively straightforward as Oponn intervenes with Paran’s entry in Hood’s gate (and what a fantastically creepy image of that gate formed from writhing bodies), the arrival of Hood’s agent (humorously disappointed in the “unimaginative” choice of death’s face), and Paran’s clever play against Shadowthrone (better the devil you know…).

We’re also nicely set up with some suspense here as we’re now wondering who the “someone close” to him is who will die in his place. His sister we’ve already met? The one we haven’t? Someone we don’t know yet? The great thing about such a pronouncement is it’ll be tough to know, even if somebody close to him dies. If that’s the one mandated here then we’ll always be on the edge, asking “was that death the one, or was that just a ‘normal’ one?” We’ll certainly come back to this one. [Amanda’s interjection: I must admit, this wasn’t a point that occurred to me—whether we’d end up questioning if that person close to him died a natural death or not. I’ll be sure to bear it in mind!]

There is an odd little bit in this scene that’s worth highlighting and that’s Paran’s reaction to the Hounds:

“He was slow to realize he had bared his teeth.”

It isn’t often you get a human character doing this, so a little red flag should probably go up at such an odd description. When an author has the character himself realize it, thus bringing even more attention to the detail, it’s likely a good idea to file this one away for future thought. [Amanda’s interjection: Again, completely oblivious! Just goes to show you need to analyse the words more carefully in this book than in normal fantasy fiction. I have duly filed this away. Thanks Bill!]

Tattersail’s Deck reading brings us back into the more arcane and obscure, the more jargony, with Knights and Masons and Houses, but her musings on it are pretty clear—lots of death and some of it personal, possibly even her own. With what we’ve just heard with regard to Paran, one has to wonder if this is part of that. We get an echo of what we’ve just seen at Hood’s Gate, then, a few pages later, Tattersail’s reading has its own echo in the conversation among the Bridgeburners, as we learn that both Fiddler and Whiskeyjack were once masons.

This is pretty typical Erikson as we’ve already seen, all these echoes. Sometimes they’re direct, like here with the mason references or earlier with the mother’s lament in poem form echoed by Rigga’s lament to Sorry. These sorts can emphasize an idea (the sorrow of war) or clarify what happened earlier (Oponn’s intervention). Other times the echoes come from slightly different directions, bouncing around you so things sound almost the same but not quite so you’re never quite sure what you’re hearing and what direction the “true” source is. Rather than serving to clarify, they more often than not confuse.

The confusion is made worse when those echoes span entire books, so you’re reading a scene that you vaguely recall parallels another from, say, 4000 pages ago, but it’s been years since you’ve read that earlier scene so who knows what you’re really recalling. Some readers will hunt down that scene ruthlessly. I confess to a more lazy attitude. I’ll tell myself, “Hmm, this sounds familiar. Probably kinda important if he’s bothering to retell this scene from a different angle.” Then, with admittedly only a small sense of guilt, I’ll shrug and move on, figuring that either it’ll come back to me (rarely), that what I was supposed to figure out will eventually get explained anyway, perhaps when some character as clueless in the book as I am in life needs clarification from his mates (occasionally), that I’ll get it on a re-read (more likely when the sum total of books don’t weigh more than a medium-sized mammal), or that some sucker will volunteer to read the books and explain it to me in a blog posting (wait).

What sort of reader are you Amanda, in these sort of cases? Anyone else? [Amanda’s interjection: Oh man, I am such a lazy reader! I will often read forums and Wikipedia in order to see what other people made of books with extensive themes that carry through multiple volumes—I have been enjoying Leigh’s WoT reread on this very blog for that very reason *wink*—so I think one or either of us needs to man up a little and keep good notes so that we can come back to these situations!]

A lengthy post on a single attribute of Erikson’s writing, but it’s one of my favorite aspects of his style. Some may find it repetitive, but I find it stimulating as I try to piece things together.

This chapter post is getting long so just a few more quick points. We get a key line to the entire series when Tattersail warns Quick Ben:  “…power draws power. If one Ascendant parts the fabric here and now, others will come smelling blood.” You can be sure this is going to be replayed again and again, with some trying to avoid it and others hastening it. [Amanda’s interjection: This line made me think of sharks circling—ruthless killers with their own interests. A good example of how Erikson’s imagery can be very successful.]

Sometimes, I admit, Erikson can try a bit too hard. Such is the case, for example, with this description of Sorry near the end of the chapter:

“She’d raised her hood. Despite the dawn’s burgeoning light her face remained in shadow.”

Pretty sure we didn’t need that one.

It’s a tribute, I think, to Erikson’s skill at concisely creating real characters, even minor ones, when the deaths of the two guards who let the Bridgeburners through with Paran’s body is a sad scene. It’s easy to create characters whose deaths are doled like so many cards in a game of War and whose endings evoke a collective shrug (think “red shirts”). It’s much harder to make us feel a sense of loss even for a pair of characters given a total of about a page of book-time. That’s good stuff. I’m curious as to whether you had any reaction to their deaths, Amanda. [Amanda’s interjection: I feel heartless—I sort of slid over that passage, acknowledging that it had happened, but it didn’t really cause me any grief. I wonder if a) This is as a reaction to the altogether grimmer fantasy that is written these days (after all, in someone like Eddings’ work, so few people died that when people did it really affected me) and b) this is why authors such as GRRM seek to shock with deaths in their books now, in order to gain a reaction from jaded readers who shrug at death in literature?]

The Hound’s attack is another example of good writing in that so much of it was set up earlier: Paran’s sword, Tattersail’s ability to stand up against it even for a little bit (“she’s a Master of her Warren”), the Hound itself (“Was this what Hairlock was doing? Drawing a Hound after him?”), and Hairlock’s use of chaos magic. In a chapter that mentions the Mason, it’s not a bad time to tip a hat to Erikson’s own superior brick-laying abilities when it comes to plot.

 

 

CHAPTER FIVE
Setting: Darujhistan, on the continent of Genabackis

SCENE 1
Kruppe dreams of walking out of the city and encountering 6 beggars in an inn on a hilltop. The beggars are consecutively presented as either his Gifts, Doubts, Virtues or Hungers, and a seventh figure may be his Humility. They mention the “youth at whose feet the Coin shall fall,” and Kruppe also hears the spinning Coin.

SCENE 2
Crokus Younghand, a young thief, breaks into an estate, stealing the jewelry of a beautiful young maiden, Challice d’Arle. Before he leaves, he admires her sleeping form. Nearby, an assassin named Talo Krafar is injured by a crossbow bolt and, trying to ambush his supposed hunter, shoots at Crokus exiting the d’Arle estate, but Crokus avoids the bolt when he bends down to pick up a dropping coin. Moments later, Krafar is murdered on Krul’s Belfry, and two of his killers set off after Crokus, who has a series of lucky coincidences as he manages to escape from them. The killers—apparently assassins with magical abilities—mention that an Ascendant meddled, and that they want no witnesses.

Amanda’s reaction to Chapter Five
The first “Rumor Born” segment of poetry makes me think somehow about the Moon’s Spawn, the floating home of Anomander Rake. I don’t know if this is intended! The second segment talks about the hooded shadow and the knotted rope, which is all to do with Cotillion. Hey, look at me go! I’m totally interpreting these poems now! (Probably not even close to the actual meanings, but I get points for effort, right?)

The dating convention has changed at the chapter heading, which totally lets us know that we’re now reading about a whole different place. This next section takes us to Darujhistan (which I can see becoming a real pain in the arse to keep spelling correctly!) At the moment I don’t know if this date corresponds to what we’ve seen in Pale, or if we are moving to an earlier or late period in time.

Is it just me who finds it extremely difficult to immerse myself back into a novel when the switch in viewpoints is so fundamental? It feels almost as though starting a completely new novel, and takes me a little while to get on board with a new set of characters. I wonder whether this is a factor in making Erikson’s books feel so challenging to read?

We meet the loquacious, garrulous Kruppe, a diviner dreaming his way out of Darujhistan and away from the “dark, brooding smudge in the sky above it…” Is this Moon’s Spawn, or the smoke from fires? It’s entertaining how much we can establish about the character of Kruppe before he even opens his mouth—rotund and unused to walking; more concerned about his own wellbeing than anything else; a focus on wine; trying to deny his own power. This is one of Erikson’s greatest strengths: his characterization is sharp and vivid, providing us constant tiny details so that we are able to fix these characters in our minds.

The same theme of the ever-spinning coin is mentioned by Kruppe (whose annoying habit of referring himself in the third person is already grating on me, no matter that it helps cement his personality).

Within his dream Kruppe enters an inn, peopled by a half dozen beggars who must be more than what they seem, especially since they refer to him as “hapless one” and he greets them with “…do not think he is bereft of contributions to this honored gathering.” There is also mention of the beggars’ spokesman tasting Kruppe’s particular flavor, which sounds like a reference to his Warren. The beggars speak to him of the Spinning Coin, which is becoming a theme to the book (the idea of chance, I guess?)

I’m not entirely sure whether Kruppe is talking to himself! The beggars are referred to as Gifts, Virtues, Doubts and Hungers. Kruppe’s arrogance and lack of humility is particularly marked by the point where he questions how the gods have remained alive so long. I just want to mention here my thought that the gods in this book seem so…ordinary at the moment. I’m used to Gods being omnipotent and unkillable—these gods appear to be far less than such, and might be why the small letter at the start of the word. It sounds very much as though the game started by the gods will play out in Darujhistan, especially because the Spinning Coin is to fall at the feet of a youth whom Kruppe seems to know.

Erikson gives us a stark rendering of the atmosphere in the city of Darujhistan: an underworld bathed in blue light from the gasses drawn from caverns beneath the city; over twenty thousand alleys; “…a world webbed with empty clothes-lines and the chaotic shadows they cast.”

We switch to the viewpoint of Crokus Younghand, a thief attempting to rob the D’Arle estate for the gems brought as courting gifts to the youngest daughter. I do love me a roguish thief of a character and I’m hoping Crokus will prove to be such—or maybe Erikson plans to overturn this particular cliché of a character?

I don’t know if I’ll be alone in this, but I’m finding Chapter Five the least graceful of the chapters so far; the abrupt switches in viewpoint (we rapidly meet our third new character in the form of Talo Krafur—although how amusing that he is given a full name and some history, and then bows out so quickly!) and the long paragraphs of dense information about the new situation. Although we’re given plenty more information by Erikson than usual, it feels as though it is coming too thick and fast to process effectively.

I am interested in the idea of the rooftops being “…the assassins’ sole domain, the means by which they traveled the city for the most part undetected. The rooftops provided their routes on missions of unsanctioned…activities or the continuation of a feud between two Houses, or the punishment for betrayal.” I am slightly amused on two counts: the first is the image of these packed rooftops, with loads of Assassins wandering back and forth; and the second being the idea that no one has worked out how the Assassins travel on their missions!

“An assassin war had begun this night.” This means political unrest, two or more factions, and a vaguely organized assassin’s guild. Which is a much more familiar concept in fantasy books these days—maybe when Erikson wrote it, it was still a fresh idea? Does anybody else know? Which novels prior to GotM introduced a guild of assassins?

I’m a little squeamish about Talo’s wound and the amount of blood it’s producing: “horrifying volume”!

Aha!

“The word of Pale’s fall to the Malazan Empire had been on the tongues of everyone for the past two days.”

Now we know the timeline corresponds, despite the very different date convention.

One thing that occurs to me is that I’m struggling to know whom to root for! I like both Whiskeyjack and Tattersail well enough, but they have Hairlock and Sorry amongst their ranks. (Although Sorry can’t be said to be on their side, really!) In opposition to them are Lorn and Paran, both of whom are given realistic motivations so that you understand why they are doing what they’re doing. And now we’re being presented with sympathetic characters in Darujhistan who will more than likely end up on the other side of a conflict from our Bridgeburner friends. This is without even considering the future viewpoints of Anomander Rake and Caladan Brood, which I’m sure we’ll encounter. I guess Erikson is exploring the notion that in a conflict it is never a matter of being good versus evil.

Crokus is saved from the crossbow bolt of Talo by the Spinning Coin falling at his feet, which leads us to assume he is the youth of whom Kruppe speaks at the start of the chapter.

Those who kill Talo are intriguing, to say the least! We’re handed a number of mysterious details that don’t tell us a great deal: they have oddly shaped eyes, they sniff the air, they can sense power, and they do magic in an ancient language. It sounds as though they are also involved in the “secret war with the Guild,” so they have their fingers in the pie that is Darujhistan. Just a couple of other points: the commander of the hunters is female, and one of the hunters has killed an Ascendant in the past. I am most curious about these! [Bill’s interjection: You left out one other important detail—they came from above. Put that together from something you’ve already mentioned and you’ve got where they’re coming from!]

I don’t know how much of a can of worms I’m opening here, but I’m very impressed by Erikson’s portrayal of women so far: in all ways, they seem exactly equal to the men. We’re not seeing stroppy women, or princesses in need of rescue, or eye candy buxom barmaids. Erikson has not lovingly described his women in tight leather or inappropriate battle outfits. In fact, Tattersail represents curvy women everywhere! Long may this refreshing take on women continue…

Bill’s comments on Chapter Five
My guess is, Amanda, that it isn’t just you who finds the constant switch in viewpoints a bit off-putting (anybody else out there?) I actually like those multiple shifts in my novels, though of course it needs to be done well.

I’m guessing Kruppe is the kind of character that people either love or hate (or love to hate). Myself, I love him. No matter how grim or apocalyptic the context, his language and syntax often cracks me up. I can see, though, how for some he might be the Jar Jar Binks of the Malazan world, and so I credit Erikson for taking a risk with him. I have to imagine he knew how polarizing Kruppe might be in style, especially that third person deal, which I find more annoying in person (or back with Bob Dole) than I do with Kruppe.

I found his whole dream meeting, filled with substance as it was—the spinning coin, the foreshadowed confrontation with gods, etc.—to be a wonderfully understated bit of humor, such as when his aspects (if such they are) nod at the conversation but “mostly remain intent on the bread and cheese,” and Kruppe’s dismay when faced by “his own” dancing language turned on him—“Kruppe is too clever by far.”

I’m glad you mentioned the description of Darujhistan, one of the more evocative and original with regard to a fantasy city that I’ve seen.  Rather than the usual focus on towers (always a stand-by way to make a fantasy city “beautiful,” even better if they’re “impossibly slim”), you have this wonderful focus on the light, the blue-green glow of the city. It’s an easy thing to just take for granted and ignore, but if you slow yourself down and really visualize our characters moving through Darujhistan at night, it adds a rich texture to all that happens. Of course, it’s also a major plot point down the road, but you gotta love when aesthetics and pragmatics fall into line.

Here we get more evidence of Erikson’s careful brick-laying. Beside the description of the gas lighting that will play a part later on, and Talo’s blood dripping in the belfry (he does bow out quickly, Amanda, but not before awakening a god!), we get a casual aside about Crokus’ uncle and a tiny detail about the clotheslines hanging above the streets of Darujhistan. Both, naturally, play a big role in the ensuing action, no matter how insignificant a throwaway line they seem originally (Really? Clotheslines? You’re interrupting the action to tell me about clotheslines?).

By the way, remember how I mentioned that you really need to think about that Darujhistan glow to get its full impact?  Stop for a moment and picture those cloaked assassins floating slowly out of the sky, cloaks like “black wings,” and now re-visualize them so instead of just dropping out of a regular old dark night sky they’re dropping down out of this unearthly blue-green glow. Yeah, see?

And come on, you’ve gotta love that chase scene. Crokus’ uncle’s deadpan “Evening, Crokus” when Crokus is whipping through his uncle’s room on his way out of the window, as if fleeing for your life from non-human assassins is a nightly occurrence—you almost expected his uncle to ask him to pick up some ale on his way. We go from the fearsome Tiste Andii assassin—cloaked and daggered and crossbowed—felled by a mighty cat, to all the near-misses and quarrels flying as Crokus keeps “stumbling,” then back to the deadpan delivery to close it with:

“Rough night, Crokus?”

“No, nothing special.”

I think you raised two excellent broader points Amanda. One is the idea that it isn’t always clear who to root for: sometimes you’re happy when someone wins, sometimes you’re happy when someone loses, sometimes you’re hoping for some kind of win-win situation, sometimes you just wish the two sides can get together and have a beer (and that just might happen) and sometimes after an event you’re left wondering “was that a win or a loss?” Grey is definitely the predominant color here, rather than black and white.

The other point was his portrayal of women. I never really noticed it, just sort of took his non-condescending portrayals for granted, but your comment will have me paying more attention as we go along. Anybody else have some thoughts on the topic?


Bill Capossere writes short stories and essays, plays ultimate frisbee, teaches as an adjunct English instructor at several local colleges, and writes SF/F reviews for fantasyliterature.com.

Amanda Rutter contributes reviews and a regular World Wide Wednesday post to fantasyliterature.com, as well as reviews for her own site floortoceilingbooks.com (covering more genres than just speculative), Vector Reviews and Hub magazine.

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