Malazan Reread of the Fallen

The Malazan Re-read of the Fallen: Night of Knives, rest of Chapter 3

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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 Chapter 3 of Night of Knives by Ian C. Esslemont (NoK) from the section beginning with “Temper shouldered…” to the end of the chapter.

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!

Rest of Chapter Three

SCENE 1
Temper carries Coop to Seal, an army veteran healer. While there he borrows Seal’s great-Uncle’s armor, to use along with his helmet (which has been made clear is quite recognizable). He heads off after Ash’s group toward Mock’s Hold.

SCENE 2
Kiska leaves Agayla’s. She flashes back to the Mouse riots when she interrupted a trio of thugs beating an old man. She won the fight but had been scared at how close it had been and recalls vowing it was the last time she’d risk herself for another. Back in present time, a Hound howls and she flees, leaping off a temple of Fener at one point, to a priest’s amazement. She sees a group of cultists and decides to follow them to see if they’ll lead her to her target (the one who met w/ Oleg and to whom Agayla has written). She finds one killed and notes a bird’s claw tattoo on the corpse. Moving on, she finds her target surrounded by bodyguards who themselves are surrounded by cultists. She watches the ensuing fight but then is taken from behind, gagged and tied up and hooded.

SCENE 3
Unhooded, she finds herself in a room in an inn. Her captors are Ash and Corinn’s group (Kiska vaguely recognizes Corinn). Before things can progress much farther, the inn is attacked by a Hound. The Hound kills almost everyone (Ash and Corinn seemingly escape). The last veteran left pulls out a munition and Kiska escapes into the street just before the room explodes.

SCENE 4
Temper hears a scream and finds a girl who begs him to help. As he holds her, she changes into a demon snakewoman. Temper is saved by Edgewalker, who advises Temper to stay indoors before leaving.

SCENE 5
Temper washes himself in a fountain then heads toward Mock’s Hold then runs from a Hound’s howl. He comes across one of Ash’s gang staggering toward him who dies in front of him then grabs him and tells Temper the Hound had been following him and now is on Temper’s track. Temper runs.

SCENE 6
The Hound attacks Temper, mauling him badly. Temper manages to wound the Hound, then passes out as it prepares to spring.

SCENE 7
Kiska is in shock and debates hiding for the night but rejects the idea and heads toward Mock’s Hold to find her target.

SCENE 8
Kiska climbs a back way into Mock’s Hold, a crevice she’d found as a child. As she enters, she is grabbed and tied up by her target’s main bodyguard. She tells him she has a message for his boss from her Aunt. Her target questions her as to what her Aunt does at Winter’s Turn. When Kiska answers, “she weaves,” that seems to reassure her target, who introduces himself as Artan and his bodyguard as Hattar. He shows Kiska the message, a drawing of a Stormrider, and asks what she sees. He appears surprised a bit when she says she sees ice, then tells her he’s met Agayla several times a long time ago. Kiska tells Artan the message from Oleg, that Kellanved is returning for the throne of Shadow, not the Empire and that Edgewalker seemed to confirm this. She tells him a bit more but Artan says it’s just theory and too abstract for him to worry about. They leave her tied up and move on. She gets loose and plans to follow them.

Amanda’s Reaction to the Rest of Chapter Three:
Amused by the fact that the “ancient cranequin-loading siege arbalest” (what the heck?) is not even loaded—adds a moment of levity to what is rather a charged scene to that point! Although it does strike me that a seasoned soldier like Temper would notice that sort of thingI guess I can cut him a little slack since the literal Hounds of Hell are roaming the streets…

Also noticed that Temper was asked to demonstrate that he bleedsI guess this is to show that he is one of the living rather than the walking undead.

“Ghosts don’t bleed, Temper.”

I love the description of the helm and the wispy memories it prompts in Temperthis clearly has strong links to his past. Lucky that he’s already been recognised by some of the Bridgeburners! Also, Seal recognises the helmet, so I’m guessing that he is from Temper’s past as well?

Whatever Seal had seen or been through during his career as medicer for the Malazan Army, it must’ve been soul-destroying to have left scorn in one still so young.

How poignantand here Cam is using the same technique as Erikson i.e. bringing home to you the heartbreak of war and the devastation it must leave in those involved.

We also hear a little more about the ongoing Malazan War, where Kellanved has already invaded the Unta kingdom and annihilated the Iron Legion. I tell you what, the constant little details and history just astound me…

Wow, Seal is cynicalI mean, you can see why he would be, but it is painful to read his complete distaste in warfare and killing.

Oh, I do drift between loving the descriptions and rolling my eyes at them. Here we have too many details in the passage concerning animals:

It looked more like the attack of a predatory cat such as the catamounts of the Seti Plains, or the snow leopard of the Fenn Ranges […] it reverberated from a beast the size of a bhederin.

Too much! Way too much! This passage could have finished at “predatory cat.”.

I don’t even have children, but I can empathise with poor Agayla as she has to let Kiska go. Agayla knows how dangerous it is to be abroad on this night and no matter how capable Kiska is, it is going to be a long night for Agayla to wait to see if she stays alive. Kiska doesn’t seem tohave the same appreciation or empathy with her aunt (and I am disapproving, but understanding, of the factI didn’t empathise with my elders when I was young!)

The moon leered down like a mocking eye.

I do love thisit perfectly fits the mood of the night, and the way that you feel something horrific is proceeding. Same as the fact that Kiska is not quite sure on the streets this nightit shows an otherworldly element, also showcased by the skipping back and forth into the Shadow Realm.

The fisherman that Kiska rescued during the riots? The same fisherman who is out on the seas during the Shadow Moon? Especially since he manages to scoot off quite quicklyuse of a Warren?

And for once we’re given more than a hint about what Kiska is actually capable ofa mere slip of a girl managing to take down two hardened soldiers and scare a third is pretty good going. Not massively realistic, but I appreciate the kick ass nature of this youngster.

She vowed then that would be the last time she ever stuck her neck out for anyone.

Three comments on thisthe first is that the prose is clumsy and colloquial (quite rare in these Malazan books); the second is that I can’t actually see Kiska sticking to this; and the third is that it shows a real comparison with Temper who carried Coop to safety.

One roof-hugging tatter of vapour, opalescent silver, darted suddenly between buildings just to her right. As it arced down it took on the semblance of a giant lunging hound…

I am definitely enjoying the horror bent of this tale. The nightmarish qualities of the town are really being brought alive by Cam’s talents. Would quite like to see his efforts with a straight out horror novel!

Hmm, the section about the tattoo is interesting. Sounds like there are at least two factions at play this nightI suppose those who wish Kellanved and Dancer to make their ascension, and those who don’t? Or maybe just people hoping to take advantage of such a powerful night. It is also interesting that Kiska knew about the Claws but not the Talons. Is this because the Talons are just too old an organisation and are being removed? Or is it because the Claws are just more open about their activities? It gives a good observation on whether fear is caused more by shadows in the night, or by the open threat that you know is coming but can’t combat. Your thoughts?

Three extraordinarily tall and thin cultists in ash-pale robes now stood to one side. Where in the Queen’s Mysteries had they come from?

Three points concerning this quote as well! First of all, these figures are incredibly intriguingwant to know who or what they are. Second, Kiska knows all about Warrens (according to some of her thoughts at the start of the book), so why doesn’t she assume Warren magic immediately here? And third: after seeing words like “shit” etc, it is now equally jarring to see “Queen’s Mysteries” in place of something like “hell.” As far as I am concerned, either use made up cusses or realistic cusses, but don’t flit between the two!

Who is this man that Oleg told Kiska to find?!

I know it’s wrong, but I am laughing a little at the fact that the all-knowing Kiska, who believes herself to be so capable, is kidnapped and carried like a sack away from the escalating battle!

Although I am definitely not laughing at the idea that Kiska might be killed here by the Bridgeburners just for being curious. In fact, that leaves me rather choked up! Especially the dignity she shows in the face of death.

Oh, the whole scene with the Hound is just terrificgory and thrillingly nasty as we watch youngsters and veterans being taken down with the same ease. Also, just want to point out the youth who screams:

“Kellanved! Protect me! I invoke your name!”

Now, is this young soldier screaming this because Kellenved was his Emperor? Or is it known at this point about Kellanved’s attempts to align himself with Shadow? [Bill’s interjection: “Invoke” implies a view beyond the secular.]

And that veteran! Is that someone we know from GotM? Carrying the munition I wonder if it could be either Fiddler or Hedge!

Nice little misdirection there by Mr. Esslemont, by showing the young girl running towards TemperI did think it was Kiska! (But then that is also because I’ve forgotten what Kiska looks likewere we told or is she just a little unmemorable?)

I am beginning to really look forward to any encounters with Edgewalkerhe is certainly the most mysterious of those characters we’ve found in NoK.

It resembled an Imass warrior, though taller and slimmer.

I don’t feel so bad now about musing on whether Edgewalker was one of the Imass when we first met him… [Bill’s interjection: Nice bone for Esslemont to toss you, so to speak.]

Dear Lord, how about poor Temper being targeted by the corpse so that he, too, would be hunted and killed by the Hound? The stuff of nightmares! At least it looks as though Temper has some kind of idea about how to deal with it. Although…

The beast hauled him to a wall and shook him as a terrier might a rat.

Maybe not! Is it just me who wasn’t quite as scared of the Hounds in GotM because Paran had that connection with themI mean, it isn’t as though they were fluffy puppies or anything, but they didn’t create this chilling impression as they do right now in Cam’s work. [Bill’s interjection: Oh, just you wait! And these aren’t even the worst hounds.]

The biggest night of her life and she was hiding in a shitter.

At times Cam’s humour is more crude than Erikson’s, but still works to break the tension.

This is an excellently written encounter between Kiskatia Silamon Tenesh and Artan (those other two names of Kiska’s are tickling at the back of my mind and I’m not sure why. I’m pretty certain I saw them in Gardens of the Moon though…) Also, liking the extra hints about Agaylashe also reads the Deck of Dragons and…weaves. Not too sure on why she weaves on Winter’s Turn… It also looks as though Agayla is warning Artan about the Stormriders? The night is definitely heating up!

Bill’s Reaction to the Rest of Chapter Three:

In Temper’s defense re: the unloaded arbalest, it’s quite dark (he had to “squint” and “could just make out Seal”), he could barely even tell it was an arbalest, and he’s looking up (so the bolt would be mostly covered from his view). Though when Seal gets closer, as even Temper says, he should have noticed it.

I like the imagery surrounding the helm as well, especially the description of it as Temper’s “severed head of his alter-ego.” Even the metaphorical dead in these books don’t stay dead. It’s also a great allegory to how hard it is to ever truly leave our past behind.

Seal is another of those minor characters in the novel that, as you say Amanda, keeps ever in front of us the costs of war. His bitterness and cynicism, one assumes is well-earned. I find it interesting Temper’s musing that “whatever Seal has seen or been through” while in the army, which in some ways almost seems to imply there was something “really bad,” but perhaps the question is less “what bad thing did Seal see to make him so bitter?” and more “how does anyone seeing any of what they see not end up so bitter?” His need to mute his pain and bitterness via drugs is just another painful aside.

I’m with you on the animal roll call Amanda—two is okay, three is one too many…

Here is a scene with Kiska where I think we see some of that fearfulness that others think is too lacking in her. In a few short pages, she feels the moon “leering” and “mocking,” tries to squeeze “reassurance” from her weapon, is “shaken to her very core” (a phrase a bit overused in fantasy I’d say), is recalled to one of the most harrowing and vulnerable moments of her young life, feels her flesh “crawl with dread” (add to the overused list), recognizes she’d gotten “more than she bargained for,” and wants to “hide.” I’d say that’s a fair run of lack of confidence.

And then, in what I’d label true adolescent fashion, the fear and dread eventually meld into excitement. Their brains really do work differently!

Talons. Claws. We’ll hear/see more of those on many occasions.

I love that scene when Kiska is captured by Ash. Here again I think we see some of her naivete but also her surprising strength. The way she is shocked not by the pain of the slap but by the “casual brutality” of it—the innocence of that line even at this point in her life is a bit heartbreaking I think. As is her realization that her life was casually decided:

Fear no longer clenched her throat. She wanted to cry. Grotesquely enough, what stopped her was something she never would have suspected: pride.

And with her innocence and sorrow over a life cut too short we get that great contrast w/ the dry dark humor and stoicism of the last remaining veteran standing before the Hound—no tears, no screaming, no invoking the gods—just outclassed man and what men have tried to make into an equalizing weapon:

“It’s just you and me now, boy.”

“Boy”—what a great understatement—spitting in the face of death (or Hood). And giving Kiska her chance to flee even as he does so. In GoTM we talked about that line “don’t mess with mortals” and we see Esslemont’s version here as well.

I admit the scene with the she-demon doesn’t do much for me as it seems so familiar to other fantasy stories. But what saves it for me, and what makes me happy it’s included is the arrival of Edgewalker. Imagine what must be going through Temper’s head as he gets up to thank the stranger that saved him from a demon to see Edgewalker—a walking cadaver, dessicated…dried flesh curled back from yellow teeth, its eye sockets empty and dark. And how cute is Edgewalker’s need to ensure that Temper doesn’t blame Shadow for the she-demon? It’s those little moments that bring a character, even one as small as Edgewalker, to unique life.

The next sections, both Temper’s and Kiska’s, felt a bit overlong to me, though I enjoyed Temper’s fight w/ the Hound, especially as it seemed commensurate with their relative abilities. Temper’s final blow with the dirk, for instance, being a mere “wasp sting” rather than seriously wounding the Hound or driving it away.

Kiska’s movement toward the hold and climb, as mentioned, also seemed a bit long, and her arrival while her quarry was still there a bit providential (though again, I appreciate how easily she’s taken down by Hattar. None of that preternaturally adept youth here).

More mystery about Agayla: the fact that Artan knows and clearly respects her, that he’s met her several times. Clearly there’s much, much more to this woman than Kiska realizes. Few people, or things, are as they seem in these books…


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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