Malazan Reread of the Fallen

Malazan Re-read of the Fallen: Deadhouse Gates, Chapters 10 and 11

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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 10 and 11 of Deadhouse Gates by Steven Erikson (DG).

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.

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

Chapter Ten

SCENE 1

Duiker is still following Coltaine’s army, unable to catch up, continually impressed by what Coltaine has done so far but still certain it will end in annihilation. Realizing that Coltaine’s vanguard will cross the Sekala River that night, he decides it will be his last chance to catch him. Making a dash between two rebel camps, he manages to reach Coltaine’s defenses. We get a quick time check from Captain Lull—it’s been three months that Duiker has been chasing Coltaine after his exit from Hissar. Duiker is escorted to a briefing with Coltaine, Bult, Captain Chenned (the captain from the wall in Hissar as they watched Coltaine’s arrival), Captain Lull, Captain Sulmar, Sormo and other young warlocks, and others. Coltaine sets plans for the crossing of the river and Sulmar tries to get the nobles’ priority treatment to cross first. Two nobles, Nethpara and Tumlit, interrupt and Nethpara presents a list of grievances, a request to cross earlier, and a complaint that the soldiers are getting more food rations. Tumlit wants to know why there are so many more wagons being used for wounded and why the sappers/engineers are crawling all over the wagons. Bult, at Coltaine’s command, throws them out. Others are dismissed. Coltaine asks Duiker about Kulp because Sormo can no longer sense him. Sormo says the warrens have become “difficult” due to Soletaken and D’ivers “infest[ing]” every warren and that he has been forced to turn to older ways, including enlisting the land’s spirits. Luckily, Reloe has no Elder knowledge and so can’t use magic against them. Coltaine tells Duiker they head for Ubaryd, a two-month journey. Duiker then tells them his story (leaving out his rescue attempt of Heboric) before heading to bed.

SCENE 2

Duiker is woken by Corporal List and warns Baria Setral (the Red Blade Commander from earlier) that he’d heard the Semk tribe (with sorcerers) have joined Reloe’s army and will be making that flank tough on whomever is defending. As the crossing continues and skirmishes then the battle begins, Duiker and List make their way to a wall on the oxbow island in the river to observe. On their way, they meet Nether, a young girl (reincarnated warlock) of about nine or ten. She helps them make their way then goes on to face the Semk sorcerers. As Duiker and List head for the bridge, another young warlock, Nil, raises ancient zombie soldiers from prior battles on the land. The undead soldiers are followed by women and children, the women killing the children yet again as they had ages ago when they faced an inevitable loss. Nil alone sees both sides, sees that it was a clan war—kin killing kin over the “Antlered Chair.” Nil tells Duiker the Wickans had done the same until united by Kellanved’s contempt for their infighting and feuds and it was that which gave him their loyalty. The battle rages more fiercely as the Malazans are driven back to the river. Duiker is sure there has been mass drownings and they’ll all be killed due to the river holding them up, but the sappers have built a road across the river using the wagons and so the Malazans are able to cross swiftly and easily. One of the engineers, Cuttle, then blows the road with the peasant army vanguard still on it, leaving a trench and trapping Keloe’s army on that side of the river, leaving one army left to fight on the other, the Semk, who eventually retreats.

SCENE 3

The Malazans fortify their camp while Coltaine holds another meeting which recounts many losses (including the Setral brothers and the Red Blades). Sormo says they were lucky that the Semk god was such a cruel Ascendant as it uses its wizards to channel its power and rage, unconcerned with killing them as it does so. He adds that the god will simply choose more and “more extreme measures” will be needed to deal with it. Lull informs them that Ubaryd has fallen and the Malazan fleet left it, with tens of thousands more refugees fleeing toward Coltaine’s army. Bult says they have no choice now but to aim for Aren, 270 leagues away, and that they shouldn’t count on Fist Pormqual marching out of Aren to help them.

SCENE 4

Nether wakes Duiker in the middle of the night and he follows her to where Sormo and Nil wait. Sormo shows him a cliff of ice with bodies in it, tells him it is Jaghut sorcery and that the Semk god is within it. The warlocks have called the land’s spirits and offered them pieces of the Semk Ascendant’s flesh and thus of its power. Sormo says it is actually mercy of a kind for the Semk Ascendant as all its undying anger will dissipate, though it will hurt the Semk wizards. Sormo allows the Ascendant to escape the ice and it is torn apart by the spirits.

SCENE 5

As they return to camp, Nethpara and Tumlit arrive with another noble, Lenestro. They are angry because Coltaine conscripted their servants, Tumlit because he is concerned about them, the other two because they have no servants. The chapter ends with the camp’s dogs all howling and Duiker, covered in blood, walking under a blood-red sky.

Amanda’s Reaction to Chapter Ten:

I like the extract from the start of Chapter Ten attributed to Duiker, and concerning Dassem Ultor. It makes me think we can start to identify others able to lead by examples with ten thousand at their back: Whiskeyjack, Coltaine, and Dujek. We see others able to lead half a dozen, of whom Kalam is probably the best example. It’s a decent comment on integrity and ability and respect.

Alright, Duiker is one guy—albeit with a tiring horse—and he is being offered aid from the Tithansi. How is Coltaine keep his straggling refugee army, his “stumbling city” ahead of pursuit? This is truly a feat of superhuman proportions—and vaguely unrealistic! I magic involved? Or is Coltaine just THAT good? The fact that even Duiker—an historian—is astonished suggests that this is a real achievement by Coltaine.

Every now and then I find myself once again marvelling at the quality of the prose—Erikson is able to easily draw a scene with a few well-placed sentences:

The dying day spread shadows across the land. The brightest of the night’s stars glittered in the sky’s deepening blue. Wings of capemoths rose with the heat that fled the parched ground, like black flakes of ash.

I like the differences highlighted between the Tithansi encampment, and the shanty town of the peasant army. I also find the fact that they’re mere wagon-widths apart and not fighting yet a little odd—why would the Tithansi not have got straight down to the killing, after having chased them for months?

Duiker is a bit of a hard bastard as well, isn’t he? Following the refugee army for three months, with only the merest assistance from others? For a historian, that’s fairly impressive! And imagine being so out of touch for that time, not knowing who might be alive or dead.

Straight away we’re introduced to the fact there are politics in this makeshift army:

“Forget the captain,” Lull said. “He ain’t bothered showing for one of these yet.”

Mind you, this is a sapper captain—and it strikes me that many regular soldiers don’t really comprehend sappers and their work. Here we have a brief mention of the fact the sappers are fussing with the wagons—which turns out to be an important plot point during the forthcoming battle. There goes Erikson with his bricks again. *grins*

A black feather cape? Is there meaning behind that? Crows? Because, seriously, if Coltaine isn’t wearing that for some symbolic reason, I can’t believe it offers more protection that a good old leather cloak? Feathers?

I hate to say, but even if I were the sapper captain and brave to the point of madness, I would not make a point of crossing Coltaine…

I also really like here that the war council sounds realistic—why I’m surprised that Erikson has achieved this, I don’t know. *grin* Here we have an extensive description of a ford, something I can’t believe many other fantasy authors would bother to do, even though the specifications of a crucial ford would be of paramount importance:

“The crossing’s about four hundred and twenty paces, not counting the shallows on both sides, which add another twenty or so. Average depth is one and a half arm-spans. Width is between four and five most of the way, a few places narrower, a few wider. The bottom’s about two fingers of muck over a solid spine of rock.”

Honestly, have you ever read anything else of this nature described so thoroughly?

Here we have a concrete example of Coltaine’s leading by example, which links into Duiker’s extract from the start of the chapter: he has the integrity to make sure the wounded cross before the able-bodied. The slimy unctiousness of Nethpara is in stark contrast, and ensures we immediately fall on the side of Coltaine in this exchange.

There is possibly some comment to be passed at how much Malazan armies—and their opponents—rely on magic. While the warrens are infested with D’ivers and Soletaken, they seem unusable, and suddenly the armies have to rely on the skills, cunning and knowledge of their mundane commanders.

Now this is a comment I absolutely adore—and it rings 100% true in real life:

“Ah, Fist, it’s the curse of history that those who should read them, never do.”

I love the continuity that we catch up with List, who amused us previously as the one who kept dying in the mock engagements.

What did Duiker forget to tell Coltaine? What is in the drink? Who made the drink? Which old woman? Even the simplest part of the novel—where I figure that I will receive the answers within the next page or two—offers up plentiful questions!

See—immediately, we’re told that Duiker forgot to tell Coltaine about the Semk on the Guran side of the river. I actually don’t like this… I know Duiker was tired and all the previous night, but I do think that he would have remembered something as important as this! Especially if this tribe has magic users, since it was a fact they discussed the night before…

I become more and more impressed at Coltaine—the fact he started buying herds for food on the first day of his arrival shows remarkable foresight.

Do you know something? When I hear serpents in fantasy novels, it equates to dragons:

As if we stride the spine of an enormous serpent…the land awakened, the land eager to show its power.

Haha, I love this *grins*:

The young man looked dour. “I kept dying in the war games. Gave me lots of time to stand around and eavesdrop.”

I agree with List—that Duiker is too quick to see doom, especially since he has since the results of previous engagements where Coltaine bloodied the enemy good and proper.

The child mages creep me out a little—these children with the dark ages behind their eyes and the ability to raise the dead.

The undead warriors that passed near him bellowed and shook their weapons in salute—or gratitude. Like them, the boy was laughing.

Oh, and how is this for foreshadowing?

“Hear that laughter—that song—do you hear the language? These warriors have had their souls awakened. Those souls must have remained, held by the spirit, never released to Hood. We’ll pay for this, Corporal. Every one of us.”

This is so painful *cries*:

Half-formed expectations, held by desperate need, had insisted that the killers were…Jaghut, Forkrul Assail, K’Chain Che’Malle…someone…someone other.

No, Duiker, sometimes it’s brother versus brother in warfare…

“There is little good in people. Little good.”

All sappers are wonderful characters!

“Clear out, you flyblown piles of gizzards! We got work to do!”

This is some of the best writing I’ve seen so far—at the same time as punching the air in triumph, you’re sickened by the scale of human destruction:

The peasants on the river simply vanished. Then reappeared a heart-beat later—even as the concussion struck everyone on shore with a wind like a god’s fist—in blossoms of red and pink and yellow, fragments of flesh and bone, limbs, hair, tufts of cloth, all lifting higher and higher as the water exploded up and out in a muddy, ghastly mist.

Heh. Ghoulish humour from the sapper:

“Hood’s toes, we’re back to digging with shovels.”

It’s interesting that the Red Blades fought so hard for Coltaine, considering the situation under which we first met them.

I hate the idea of how despairing everyone must feel at managing to survive another skirmish with Kamist Reloe—barely—when they find out that their destination is now in enemy hands. The knowledge as well that they are unlikely to receive aid must gnaw at them—it seems like an exercise in futility to try and stay alive!

Ice, ice and more ice—and I’m programmed to think Jaghut at this point! It sounds as though the Jaghut raised an actual ice age against their enemies. [Bill’s interjection: Yep.]

I find Duiker’s last observation very dark:

Warding gestures were being made as he passed. Duiker feared he had inadvertently become a harbinger, and the fate he promised was as chilling as the soulless howls of the camp dogs.

 

Bill’s Reaction to Chapter Ten:

Of all the commentary on war, I think one of the most subtle, and one of the saddest, is this observation from Duiker:

Birds filled the torchlit air . . . it seemed they had acquired a taste for blood.

Subtle for its depiction via such a small detail of the near-total ecological effect of war—the way it affects/corrupts everything. And sad for its use of birds—so often the image of spring, renewal, new life, good cheer, etc.

Still in that vein is Duiker’s observation later about List:

An image of List as a boy . . . flashed into Duiker’s mind. Flipping rocks. A world to explore, the cocoon of peace.

Another image of innocence to contrast with the horror of war. Though I also think it’s as well a nod to the inevitable loss of innocence, war or no war. How we lose that sense of wonder and exploration, as well as that sense of safety; how the world changes from one filled with strange unexpected beauty to one filled with peril.

Since we’re on the subject of List, and you mentioned him as well Amanda, I’ll say here that this is one of the aspects I like about such long series. That one gets to actually know, care about, bond with, etc. characters beyond the handful of main characters and List is a great example of that. It’s yet another way Malaz feels like a more full and more real world—this sense of people who feel like actual people coming in and out of stories, as opposed to the narrow focus we tend to get on 3-5 characters with little time spent on others outside that circle save as plot points.

Always a good idea to pay close attention when people give longer speeches than usual filled with details you’re not quite sure of the need for. Such as Sulmar’s lines about the wagons, Chenned’s exhaustive description of the river crossing, and Tumlit’s observations about the wagons and the wounded. As you say, more “bricks.”

We’ve clearly seen Coltaine’s foresight with the training back in the city but like you, Amanda, I like how it’s trumped by the information that he started buying herds etc. the day of their arrival.

I love (while being horrified) that scene with the raised dead. What a great way to concretely show the abstract theme that’s been alluded to again and again—that history is replete with the horrors of war, that history is never paid attention to by those that should pay attention. Here is history come “alive” in all its horror and atrocity. And how typical is that kneejerk need by Duiker to view the atrocity as the action of the “other,” the desperate need to believe “we” couldn’t do such things.

We get more information on how Kellanved got the allegiance of Coltaine, and who would have guessed it was neither bribery or intimidation, not even negotiation. It was “contempt.” Shame. Mockery. It was holding up a mirror to how petty and small they were in what they viewed as their “grand” battles.

Another favorite scene in this chapter for me is Duiker’s riding to the hill with the standard and then pulls out the trite soldiers who “died defending the flag” we’ve all seen and read a million times. And then we get the soldier blinking his eyes and looking at the standard as if he didn’t even know what it was or that it was there, saying

“Hood’s breath, think we’d fight to save a piece of cloth on a pole? . . . Nordo took two arrows. We held off a squad of Semk so he could die in his own time.”

Then, when Duiker gives the soldier the chance to, as Congress would say, “amend his remarks,” the soldiers tells him to write it “just like that.” We like to romanticize soldiers as fighting for all these abstractions and ideals, and Erikson shows us here they have more concrete and personal reasons for doing what they do in battle.

As a quick aside, how do you think Laseen would react to hearing, “We ain’t just a Malazan army any more. We’re Coltaine’s.” Hmmmm.

Another quick aside, that description by the soldier of Coltaine as “cold”—that’ll be a recurring term throughout with regard to leaders. Just something to keep an eye on, who is referred to as “cold” and who is not.

The battle debriefing shows us yet another example of Erikson refusing to let us be comfortable with our simplistic views of characters and/or refusing to offer up characters that allow for simplistic views. We’ve seen the Red Blades, and particularly the Setral brothers in such a way as to make them potentially easy villains. And yet here they are, fighting “with demonic ferocity, holding the front ranks, purchasing with their lives . . . The Red Blades had shown valor.” How much easier it would be on us all if we could just dismiss those guys as repugnant, with no good qualities? Couldn’t they have cut and run or something? It reminded me of Sawark in Skullcap riding off to his certain death because duty required it of him. People in Erikson’s world are actual people, not types. They come with ugly and beautiful intertwined for the most part, and can switch at any moment from one to the other, as just about everybody we know can.

And so at the meeting we get what has seemed almost inevitable—the march to Aren. The long retreat, 270 leagues, through hostile territory, guarding refugees, completely on their own (well, for the most part). This is the stuff of legend, we’re being set up for here.

Erikson does a nice job of evoking the sounds of the war camp beyond the obvious cries of the wounded which so many authors would leap to and then leave it there:

Thousands of voices made the dreadful gelid sound. Wound troubling exhausted sleep, the soft cries of soldiers beyond the arts of the healers and cutters, the lowing of livestock, shifting hooves underscoring the chorus in a restless, rumbling beat. Somewhere out on the plain north of them rose faint wailing, wives and mothers grieving the dead.

And with these sounds as the backdrop, we get Duiker’s musings on death’s aftermath, those left behind to grieve:

The dead were gone through Hood’s Gate. The living were left with the pain of their passage. Duiker had seen many peoples . . . yet among them not one in his recollection did not possess a ritual of grief. For all our personal gods, Hood alone embraces us all, in a thousand guises. When the breath from his gates brushes close, we ever give voice to drive back that eternal silence. Tonight, we hear the Semk. And the Tithsani. Uncluttered rituals. Who needs temples and priests to chain and guide the expression of loss and dismay—when all is sacred.

First, what a nice unexpected touch to have the enemy be the ones they hear grieving. Second, note the characterization of Hood here—much more positive than we usually get with him via the word “embraces.” I know some out there don’t care for Erikson’s books due to the bouts of philosophy in them, but for me it’s what makes them stand out, these moments where events slow down and characters think bigger thoughts.

Things in ice. Lots of things in ice.

We’ve obviously had references to the Jaghut use of ice earlier, and here we get a bit more detail, how they used it to cover whole continents in an attempt to “stem the tides of invading humans, obliterating races we have yet to see but which will play central roles to come: K’Chain Che’Malle (mentioned in GoTM if you recall) and Forkrul Assail. And we get a look ahead (far ahead):

“The highest of Omtose Phellack, these rituals never die, Historian . . . Even now, one is born anew on a distant land, and those rivers of ice fill my dreams, for they are destined to create vast upheaval, and death in numbers unimaginable.”

While it’s a true pleasure to hate the nobles, I’m glad Erikson gives us Tumlit to counter the usual spoiled noble characters such as Lenestro and Nethpara.

Chapter Eleven

SCENE 1

Aboard Silanda, Kulp enters his warren to try and find a way to shift them out of the flooded Elder warren and into the real world. His warren has felt the passage of intruders, though luckily they are gone when he enters. As he tries to figure out if he can use Meanas to “trick reality” into letting them through, he feels a massively powerful presence nearing. He exits for a moment to tell Heboric to get everyone ready, then returns as the warren itself or someone in it (perhaps Shadowthrone, perhaps the Hounds) seems to react with “outrage” at whatever is nonchalantly passing through, one which seems to Kulp to have the power of Rake or Osric, though the former is on Genabackis and the latter rumored to have gone to a far southern continent a century ago. A massive dragon appears, though one unlike Rake or Osric’s draconian forms, and one which, Kulp realizes, is undead. As it passes, he uses Meanas to put Silanda into its wake, though the portal opens much wider than he’d planned, “wounding” his warren and flooding it with the water from the Elder warren. Shadows come to try and heal the wound and stem the water, but it appears futile. Calling on Shadowthrone and all other Ascendants, Kulp tries to “fool” reality into healing the rent. As he thinks he’s dying of the unsuccessful attempt, the dragon adds its power to his and the wound begins to seal. The dragon leaves him when other Ascendants join their power in as well (though only as if it were a “game”), and then, the wound sealed, they drop Kulp like he was nothing. After some rest, Kulp readies himself to try and move them out of the dragon’s wake into the real world.

SCENE 2

Felisin, having watched and felt all this, now watches as they continue in the dragon’s wake, thinking how small they all were in relation to all that power, and how little in control of their lives. The dragon opens a portal and leads them into a realm of fire (to “sear the fleas from its hide” Felisin thinks). Baudin wraps Felisin in his arms to protect her and jumps overboard onto sand in a narrow gorge, though not before she sees Heboric fall overboard. The fire disappears as they land and Felisin realizes they’re back in the real world (thanks to the buzz of flies). Baudin looks “gilded. Tempered.” In Felisin’s eyes, it looks like he “feels” again. Baudin says he’s heavier and that something has changed. They make their way out to a range of hills over a valley and find Heboric and an unconscious Kulp beside him. Heboric tells them they’re on the mainland of Seven Cities. Kulp comes to and speculates the warren of fire (or fire between warrens) may have been chaos. He also notes that Felisin’s scars are fading. Felisin says the marines must be dead as they went below decks and the ship was on fire. When Felisin tells Baudin to go away, Heboric slips and says he would if he could, which lets Kulp figure out Baudin is her bodyguard. It all comes out:

Felisin is Tavore’s (the adjunct’s) sister.

Baudin is a Talon.

The Talons were formed as covert external military by Dancer.

The Claws were formed as secret internal police by Surly and when she became regent she sent the Claws after the Talons.

After they fought it out the Claws won, though some Talons went underground.

Tavore sent Baudin to protect Felisin and then get her out of the prison.

Baudin didn’t because she “didn’t want to go.”

Baudin’s father witnessed Dancer and Kellanved’s ascension in Malaz City.

Felisin tells Baudin to go away and he does, angering both Kulp and Heboric (as well as causing a strange “twist” in Felisin’s heart). Kulp gives Heboric the choice of sticking with her or not and he says yes, he owes her his life. When a sudden sandstorm of sorcery strikes, Kulp realizes they’re in Raraku. The storm covers them.

SCENE 3

Mappo tells Fiddler Sha’ik was killed, assassinated by Red Blades according to Pust’s Deck reading. When Fiddler (who knows Deck readings) says he didn’t think Decks could be that precise, Mappo agrees. Fiddler is frustrated by Pust constantly delaying their departure, and thinks how Pust reminds him of Quick Ben—plans within plans. He tells Mappo he feels old and used up (recall Pust’s reading re the “weary sapper”) and that he knows Pust is up to something but can’t figure it out. Mappo thinks it has to do with Apsalar and Fiddler agrees. Mappo suspects Pust wants to force Apsalar into being the vessel for Sha’ik’s reincarnation and points out she’s has a lot of Dancer’s abilities and memories and recovering more memories of her possession time. Mappo suddenly realizes that Pust has been laying a false trail to the Path of Hands to divert the Soletaken and D’ivers from the real one in the temple (he also gives a mini-lecture on the shapeshifters to Fiddler). He also thinks Pust knows about him and Icarium, and plans to use them. Fiddler guesses as the last line of defense in case the shapeshifters discover the true gate. When he says they could just leave, Mappo says Icarium has his own quest so they’ll stay, and Fiddler tells him Pust is using their sense of honor and duty, knowing they’ll try and prevent the shapeshifters. Mappo suggests Pust will do the same with Fiddler’s group. They go to join the others, agreeing not to tell them of their suppositions.

SCENE 4

On their way out, Fiddler confirms that Icarium is obsessed with time, that he builds constructs to measure it all over the world (remember GoTM), that he is nearing his goal and that Mappo’s vow is to keep him ignorant of his past. When Fiddler says without one’s past, without history, there is “no growth,” Mappo agrees. Fiddler wonders how Icarium remains friends with Mappo, and so generous in general, without memories. They find Crokus assaulting Pust in front of Apsalar while Shadows gather (to protect Pust). Fiddler separates them and Crokus says Pust wants Apsalar to become Sha’ik. Fiddler says it’s up to her and when Apsalar says she won’t be used by an Ascendant again, Pust says she won’t be a tool but would command. She says no, Pust notes she’s still linked to Dancer, and then the two of them exit. Icarium enters and Mappo tells Crokus and Fiddler they think Servant is Apsalar’s father. They realize Shadowthrone took him as leverage and that Servant has gone after Sha’ik’s body. Mappo asks if Fiddler will go with him after Servant and Fiddler agrees.

SCENE 5

Mappo collects an odd weapon formed of the large long-bone of a massive skeleton dug up by his clans centuries ago, a bone that had its own sorcerous power that was then enhanced by Trell witches. He also has a sack that is its own private warren (into which he has sometimes stuffed entire people). Icarium tells him Apsalar has gone after her father. Mappo, and then Icarium, theorize that perhaps Sha’ik planned this from the start and/or also that Shadowthrone and Dancer had never planned on a possessed Apsalar going after Laseen, but a once-possessed one now having his skills but without him (detectably) in her taking the role of Sha’ik, defeating the Malazans, thus forcing Laseen to come and then killing her, putting Apsalar on the throne with Dancer and Kellanved as patron gods. Icarium says he feels he’ll find answers at Tremorlor and asks Mappo how it will change him, if Mappo will reveal his memories. Mappo tells him Icarium is not dependent on Mappo’s memories and shouldn’t aim to become his “version” of Icarium. Icarium says he thinks Mappo is part of his hidden truth and Mappo fears this statement because it is further than Icarium has ever taken this line. They agree that Icarium may have a decision to make at Tremorlor.

SCENE 6

Fiddler is waiting outside. He senses tension between Mappo and Icarium and thinks changes are coming to them all. He’d caught Crokus practicing knifework earlier, showing improvement and a colder air. They head out.

SCENE 7

Kalam is observing Korbolo Dom’s camp, circled by rows of crucified prisoners. He hates the feeling of helplessness, of having no effect. He thinks of how the Empire’s threat was always “we deliver your destruction back on you tenfold,” and hopes that if he kills Laseen a better will take her place and he and Quick Ben have someone in mind. He returns to the others (Keneb is worse) and tells them they can’t go through or around. He pulls out a rock from Quick Ben, a “shaved knuckle.” He breaks it and they end up in the Imperial Warren which extends far further than the rumors he had heard. He decides to use it to head toward Aren (rather than Unta).

SCENE 8

Lostar Yil, following Kalam, faces the portal as Pearl exits. He alludes to “primitive” presences using it and that this portal in this place shouldn’t exist. The two of them enter the warren.

SCENE 9

Seven hours later, the portal is still open. Dom’s camp is up in arms as 1300 Malazan children that had been crucified had disappeared. Shadows are all over the place. Apt appears holding a young boy, his face chewed and pecked, lacking eyes and a nose. Shadowthrone appears with the Hounds and after saying he was surprised as he’d thought to have lost Apt to Sha’ik, he asks what he’s supposed to do with all these kids, growing angry as he presses her. Apt appears to answer that Kalam wanted to save them and Shadowthrone says of course he did but knew it was impossible, that only vengeance was possible, but now Shadowthrone has to exhaust himself to heal them all. Apt seems to suggest servants. Shadowthrone scoffs at first but then seems to get an idea, something about the “ambivalence in their scarred, malleable souls.” He agrees to take them but Apt says she wants to keep the one boy. He wonders how Apt will resolve possible conflict between the boy and protecting Kalam and she has an answer of some “nerve.” Shadowthrone agrees but says while he can heal the body, the mind will retain scars and the boy will be “unpredictable.” He heals the boy but gives him a single, Aptorian eye rather than human ones at Apt’s request. Shadowthrone worries aloud about Pust’s ability to pull off the deception with regard to the shapeshifters and the Path of Hands. Apt and the boy enter the warren to keep after Kalam.

Amanda’s Reaction to Chapter Eleven:

And so we begin the Chain of Dogs…

The strangers, intruders that Kulp has felt within Meanas—I’m guessing these were also D’ivers and Soletaken, considering what we’ve heard about all warrens being affected. Hmm, there are two ways to enter warrens then; either they can enter completely, as the Silanda currently is stuck in the warren of the mad mage, or they can just put their mind within the warren, as Kulp does to seek a solution. And I think we’ve seen instances where mages remain entirely in the here and now, and merely pull through power from their warren? Yep, this isn’t exactly the easiest magic system in the world to figure out! “The Will and the Word” from David Eddings feels a long way away right now. *chortles*

From the fact that Kulp curses the fact he is not a practitioner of another warren, I’m also going to assume that the mage does not pick the warren—rather, they will have affinity with a certain warren. Ha, must be quite galling to realise you are a magic user and then get stuck with one of the “lesser” warrens!

We also have it mentioned that there are massively different degrees in strength and ability with using the warrens:

Kulp had heard of High Mages who—it was rumoured—had found ways to cheat those illimitable laws, and perhaps the gods and other Ascendants possessed such knowledge as well. But they were as beyond a lowly cadre mage as the tools of an ogre’s smithy to a cowering rat.

Oh boy. OH BOY! Did anyone else get breathless with the arrival of the FREAKING UNDEAD DRAGON?! And that information about Rake—yep, just a little mention and my crush comes back to full force:

Oh Hood, Soletaken or D’ivers…but such power! Who in the Abyss has such power? He could think of but two: Anomander Rake, the Son of Darkness, and Osric. Both Soletaken, both supremely arrogant.

Ha, poor Kulp! Yes, he’s so got this under control, right?

I may have just destroyed my own warren. If reality can’t be fooled. Of course it can be fooled—I do it all the time!

And that scene where Geslar waves at the dragon as it looks at them with “dead, black eye sockets”—*falls over laughing*

Oh hell—calling on all the Ascendants and Shadowthrone to help? Not Kulp’s most sensible thought, surely? I love the comparison between the dragon’s indifference and the Ascendants malice.

Ascendants, grasping Kulp’s outrageous intent, swept in to join the game with dark glee. Always a game. Damn you bastards one and all! I take back my prayers! Hear me? Hood take you all!

Trust Felisin to bring me back to earth with a thump:

Look at us. A handful of destinies. We command nothing, not even our next step in this mad, fraught journey. The mage has his sorcery, the old soldier his stone sword and the other two their faith in the Tusked God. Heboric…Heboric has nothing. And as for me, I have pocks and scars.

Baudin saves Felisin—burning, “tempering” himself in the process—and she cannot raise a single word of thanks. She just refers to him as the thug. I felt a flicker of amusement at their exchange about whether they can smell Otataral—the thought they might have gone through the nightmare just to end up stranded back on the island.

“Something’s changed.” How has Baudin been affected by his journey through the bronzed flames of the undead dragon?

Surely Geslar, Stormy and Truth are not dead? Surely not?

Aha! I mean, I’d had hints from the commenters, but Baudin has been charged with watching over Felisin. Well, that explains why anyone would want to stay with such a caustic and nasty little individual. (Yep, that’s right, I’m erring on the side of dislike towards Felisin right now!) It still doesn’t explain why he went through the act of sex with her… *frowns* I think that’s the part of this story I’ve been the most disturbed by so far still.

And how can Baudin get it so wrong:

“Can’t pull out a person who don’t want to go.”

I imagine that Felisin would have done anything to leave Skullcap.

Oooh! Who is Baudin’s father? From Night of Knives, we do know there were a number of Talons in Malaz City—I wonder if Esslemont named Baudin’s father or gave us any clues?

I am glad to see a hint of remorse from Felisin as Baudin walks away from her—a “twisting in her heart.”

Fiddler and Mappo together are awesome for conversations that move the plot forward—both of them have been involved with power plays and Ascendants; both of them know plenty from the history of the land—and yet none of it feels like information forced on the reader. It feels like two knowledgeable individuals talking and sharing that knowledge, incredibly natural and readable.

For instance, we have here talk about Apsalar being reborn as Sha’ik. Both are now familiar with the fact that Cotillion had once taken over Apsalar, so they know that Shadow was involved with the girl—and now Shadow might be pushing her to a new role.

The lass was finding her memories, it was true. And they weren’t shocking her as much as Fiddler would have expected—or hoped.

From what I remember about Whiskeyjack’s musings on Sorry and her behaviour, I also would have hoped Apsalar would be finding it difficult to cope with the knowledge of what she did while under Cotillion’s influence!

And then we have a whole HEAP of information about shapeshifters—the fact that they were old even in Elder times.

“No one species can claim propriety, and that includes the four Founding Races: Jaghut, Forkrul Assail, Imass and K’Chain Che’Malle.”

The thought of an Empire of shapeshifters rising up and creating a ferocious Empire is pretty scary!

Another wonderful little throwaway sentence from Erikson:

“Whatever evil you let ride becomes commonplace, eventually. Problem is, it’s easier to get used to it than carve it out.”

Fiddler sees the same dichotomy as me between the Icarium of the stories and the Icarium we’ve seen:

A Jaghut-blood wanderer around whom swirled, like the blackest wake, rumours of devastation, appalling murders, genocide. The sapper mentally shook his head. The Icarium he was coming to know made those rumours seem ludicrous. The Jhag was generous, compassionate.

“We’re in the dark, Trell.” Alright, how did they not notice this? Or is it more a commentary on their state of mind and Pust’s plans for them?

I love the idea of the bhok’arala worshipping Pust, and treasuring the rocks that he throws at them!

And Fiddler’s thoughts on the delicate relationship between Mappo and Icarium are both sad and poignant. His reflections on how Icarium remains so generous resonate particularly. And the part where Mappo says, sadly: “Some burdens are willingly embraced” makes me almost tear up. Mappo and Icarium are just BRILLIANT.

I had my first real laugh out loud moment at Pust’s attempts to convince Apsalar to take on the mantle of Sha’ik:

“She wavers, she leans—see it in her eyes!”

“I do not,” Apsalar said coolly.

“She does! Such percipience in the lass as to sense my every thought—as if she could hear them aloud! The Rope’s shadow remains within her, a linkage not to be denied! Gods, I am brilliant!”

Ooh! Mappo has a Mary Poppins bag! I would kill for one of them—I could finally fit as many books in there as I wished to carry with me (currently I carry around three books at all times, and my poor tote is feeling the strain!) And I’m amused at the idea that he’s stuffed people who annoyed him into the warren behind the bag—would also be interested to know which warren this is!

It may be that the Rulers of Shadow simply saw an opportunity here, a means to take advantage of the convergence—the dagger is honed, then slipped in amidst the tumult.

Yes, or Shadow could have planned this all along. Cotillion and Shadowthrone aren’t exactly working hand in hand right now—this could have been Shadowthrone’s plan rather than Cotillion’s?

“I had a sudden vision of Emperor Iskaral Pust…” *faints* What an idea!

*heartbreak*

They studied each other, their eyes searching the altered reflection before them, one set plagued with innocent questing, the other disguising devastating knowledge. And between us, hanging in the balance, a friendship neither understands.

This is all about change right now, isn’t it? The change of Servant, the potential change of Apsalar, the change wrought in the friendship between Mappo and Icarium, the change to Icarium’s attitude in his quest for the truth, the change of Crokus into something just a little more deadly…

Oh…the image of that poor Malazan boy, eaten but still living…. *retches* And poor Kalam, with the knowledge of his helplessness weighing heavy on him.

To whisper lies—your death won’t be forgotten, the truth of your precious life which you still refuse to surrender because it’s all you have. You are not alone, child—lies.

Who do Quick Ben and Kalam think should hold the throne of the Empire??

Is it just me who is amused by Quick Ben’s audacious use of the Imperial Warren—a use that was intended to allow Kalam into the throne room to kill Laseen? Also, is it just a typo or is the Imperial Warren the only one capitalised? Is the Imperial Warren just one that was appropriated—and empty Warren if you will? I just can’t work out how it fits into the general warren system…

Pearl? Is this someone we’ve met before? Possibly someone who was snatched away in a previous book? I wonder if this might be Toc the Younger returning to the game?

I didn’t realise Apt was female. *smiles* And I am enjoying this act of mercy on behalf of the demon—also, she has done something that she realised Kalam wished he could do. Did she do it for him?

 

Bill’s Reaction to Chapter Eleven:

Nothing to say about the opening poem at this point, save to not forget it.

As for the actual opening of the chapter, let’s just say, intended or not, it may be the best example of dark humor (and I mean dark) in the entire series, or perhaps it the darkest best humor.

I like how we’re privy to Kulp’s thought process. Too often in books or film we get characters simply doing. Or characters facing a decision and simply deciding. We rarely get the actual process. But much as we got in more physical terms with the choreography of Kalam’s attack on the eight men he killed, here we get the choreography of Kulp’s thinking: his initial frustration over how “his” warren just can’t provide what others (Denul or D’riss, say) could, then his almost scholarly mulling over what warrens are, the rules that seem to work within them (“the primordial elements asserted an intractable consistency across all warrens”), the knowledge that more powerful practitioners can supercede those laws, the desire for “elegance” which leads him to Fisher’s line about poetry and sorcery, the slow stumbling toward the possibility of tricking reality, and then the solution itself as the massive presence of the dragon (Olar Ethil) makes itself felt. This slowing down the pace and taking us into not just the mind of the character ala “He was hungry” but along for the mind’s ride brings them more richly and fully to life. It reminds me somewhat of one of my favorite aspects of the first Iron Man movie—the way we saw Tony Stark actually working on designing the suit: throwing away designs, thinking through problems, etc., rather than just have him do it or “show” it via a 30 second musical montage. I like seeing smart people think. And this analogy Kulp makes use of with the pressure and wake of the dragon’s power being akin to water and thus a means of escape is smart. Let us revel in his mind.

I especially in this section like the line, “what’s real versus what isn’t is the synergy within a mortal’s mind” quite a bit. It sums up the human state quite well, I’d say.

A bit later we get more speculation about the cognizance of warrens as Kulp can’t figure out if the “outrage” he senses at the dragon’s presence is from Shadowthrone, the Hounds, or “perhaps warrens truly are alive.”

While the comparison of the dragon’s power to Osric doesn’t mean anything to us, having read GoTM, we certainly should gasp a bit when Kulp compares the dragon to Rake. Recall, for instance, Rake’s entrance into Baruk’s: lights dimming, walls cracking, lancing pain in Baruk’s head.

Speaking of Osric—yet another throwaway line for the future:

Osric was reputed to have journeyed to a continent far to the south a century or so back

And you’ve got to love how a lowly cadre mage talks about these legendary beings.

The fact that it is an “undead” dragon of “primordial antiquity” is a piece of knowledge to file away as well.

Talk about playing with matches. Remember that Kulp thinks of himself as a “lowly cadre mage” and yet he’s now done “damage on a cosmic scale.” Things can scale up quickly in this world.

And c’mon, who didn’t laugh at Gesler waving to the dragon when it “twisted to cast its dead, black eye sockets in their direction”? I love replaying that moment again and again in my head.

And, continuing a thread we’ll refer to again and again—this surprisingly equal battle (not always literally) between gods and mortals, who just sometimes stubbornly refuse to worship them with the respect one might expect (just as some gods refuse their worshippers).

And just when we’re enthralled with the wonder of undead giant dragons, blown away by the idea of “cosmic damage,” swept up in Kulp’s heroic effort to close the portal, joined by said dragon as well as gods and Ascendants, just when we’re riding this high, here comes, yes, Felisin:

Like fleas on its hide, that’s all we were to it [the dragon] . . . Look at us. A handful of destinies. We control nothing, not even our next step in this mad, frought journey.

Ah, Felisin, can always be counted to throw a little light and joy our way….

Of course, the world sometimes has its own way of correcting Felisin. And so, just as she mocks Baudin, he enfolds her in his arms and carries her through fire to save her life, all as he himself burns so that Felisin can “smell him burning, the leather shirt, the skin of his back, his hair.” Though, as we’ve been set up for in the past few chapters, saving may not be what Felisin wants, a mindset that continues as she “almost welcomed the bites of fire.”

Nice use of space on the page to create some further tension when they go overboard. The single sentence with Baudin carrying them over the rail, then a pause with the phrase “They fell,” which forces the reader to wait a moment to find out what happened to them.

And there’s those flies again.

I mentioned back a ways that I though Erikson had employed some well-known transformation imagery when the trio of Baudin, Felisin, and Heboric had escaped (the water, the tunnel, the emergence from underground) and we’re seeing these transformations come about. Heboric has his hands and his warring warrens, and now Baudin’s experience with the fire has left him “tempered” and “heavier” and with the feeling that “something’s changed.” Two down, one to go….

By theway, note Felisin’s reaction to his announcement: fear.

With all the somewhat tiring belittling that Felisin does, I have to admit I found her response to Kulp’s “I’m no Ascendant after all”—”I’ll say”—quite funny. Cracks me up every time.

And finally we get the big reveal about Baudin as Heboric lets slip how Baudin would leave if he could. Then things happen pretty quickly. Kulp learning who Felisin is, leaping to Baudin being a Claw and being corrected, Duiker’s mini history lecture on the birth of the Claws/Talons and how they differed (Talon external special ops, Claw internal secret police), the war between the two ending with the Claw victorious and the Talons greatly reduced and driven underground, then back to present-time revelations such as how Felisin was supposed to be rescued soon after arriving at Skullcap, how Dancer and Kellanved ascended (news to characters if not readers). Then, in even more abruptly quick fashion, Felisin ordering Baudin to leave and him doing so (and echo of her fear at his changing, note her reaction to his just leaving without objection: “the twisting in her heart.”) And if you thought the revelation that Tavore never meant for Felisin to be long in the prison would soften Felisin’s view toward her sister, well, the whole “I will find you in my river of blood” thing might make you think twice.

I love the slowly burgeoning relationship between Mappo and Fiddler. I am hard-pressed to come up with any other author who does pair-bondings (in all their forms) as well as Erikson. And I don’t limit that to genre authors. There’s an ease and naturalness to his characterization of such pairs that I just respond to.

Fiddler’s note that Pust reminds him of Quick Ben makes ones wonder if Shadow draws out that sort of thinking/personality or are those sorts of personalities drawn to Shadow. (I’m going with the latter, myself.)

The revelations come pretty quickly in this chapter, as well. Fiddler’s sense that Pust is planning on using them as pawns. Mappo’s theory that Push wants Apsalar to become Sha’ik and lead the Whirlwind. Apsalar’s recovery of Dancer’s memories as well as her time of being possessed by him. The idea that the Deck of Dragons and its houses are predated by Holds. (Another word to file away—you may want to give it its own drawer.) Mappo’s realization that Pust is leading the Soletaken on a false trail, his (akin to Duiker earlier) mini-history lecture on Soletaken history and desire for dominance and Empire, his further realization that Pust knows about him and Icarium (though to be honest I can’t say this seems all that surprising to me), the announcement that Servant is Apsalar’s father.

I like the little detour into human nature and systems theory as well, when Mappo says an Empire of Soletaken would be “ferocity unlike anything that has been seen before,” and Fiddler takes issue with the idea that it would be uniquely so, arguing that “nastiness grows like a cancer in any and every organization—human or otherwise . . . nastiness gets nastier. Whatever evil you let ride becomes commonplace . . . easier to get used to then carve it out.” (A particularly timely observation nowadays perhaps.) This is an idea that will echo throughout the series I think—the confronting of evil and carving it out versus “getting used to it.”

Fiddler thinks of how the Icarium he’s met can’t be the Icarium of genocide rumors, or at the least, those acts were “ancient” as “youth was the time of excess . . . This Icarium was too wise, too scarred, to tumble into power’s river of blood (heh heh: ‘river of blood’)” But of course, Icarium has been prevented from scarring or the wisdom of age/experience because he has no memories. As well as by keeping him purposely ignorant of his past, which perhaps calls a bit into question that particular line of thought as to how to deal with him, something Fiddler himself implies later in the chapter: “That notion frightens me Mappo. Without history there’s no growth.”

I want Mappo’s bag o’ plenty!

And who do you think he’s stuffed in there?

Lots of theorizing about schemes within schemes with regard to Shadowthrone and Dancer and Apsalar, perhaps even ending with Apsalar on the throne (or, in a nightmare moment—Iskaral Pust). Let discussions ensue….

Once more, we enter the fraught emotional relationship of Icarium and Mappo, Mappo’s pain and fear underlying all of his words, the conversation ending with some pretty heavy foreshadowing: “When the time comes, you shall face a decision.” Yes, he will.

I mentioned earlier the transformations of the trio of Baudin, Heboric, and Felisin, but they are hardly alone in this as Fiddler notes: “Changes are coming to us all, it seems.” (Which, by the way, can be written both big and small in regards to this series.) Crokus is honing his inside knife work and turning colder; Apsalar is integrating her possession memories as well as Dancer’s and becoming someone wholly herself; Mappo and Icarium have a changed relationship.

Korbolo Dom. Nice with the crucifixion.

Votes for whom Quick Ben and Kalam had in mind to take over the empire if Kalam manages to kill Laseen? (I have my own idea.)

I like Kalam on the anthill: “I lie with the weight of a god on their world and these ants don’t like it. We’re so much more alike than most would think,” but part of me wished Erikson had let us get that analogy, though part of me also likes seeing that Kalam thinks in that fashion as well. By the way, I also like that Erikson doesn’t do what far too many authors do, come up with a scene for a “cool” metaphor and then drop it once the metaphor part is done. But these ants aren’t pure metaphor as Kalam has to spend a few minutes back at camp plucking them off. Nice touch.

More of Erikson’s realistic portrayal of war on the soldier class as Kalam muses on the difficulty of re-integration when there is no more war, the problem inherent in having built up armor that no longer is needed for protection but now becomes more of a hindrance: “Gods, I don’t think my sanity would survive peace.”

Speaking of realism, I liked Kalam’s little aside about the silliness of the fantasy trope involving ensorcelled gems etc, a point I admit always bugged me.

Quick Ben’s little rocks and acorns. I want those too.

Here’s another mental realignment for the reader regarding the place of magic in wider society and “regular folks’” knowledge of it. Even Kalam was unaware of the extent of the Imperial Warren; in fact, he wasn’t even close to approaching the truth regarding it. Of course, as we’ll learn eventually, there’s a lot more to the Imperial Warren than those who travel it and allegedly “know” it think, too. And then we get Minala’s viewpoint, clearly not an unintelligent woman: “I’d always believed all those tales of other realms were nothing but elaborate inventions . . . “

Nice irony: “Quick Ben, there could be a Claw riding your shoulder right now . . . “

Gotta love Apt. And how we were set up for her being the type to save the crucified children by the earlier sense of her wanting to go after Minala and the other survivors of the bandit attack. As so often happens, small or incomplete scenes blossom more fully later on.

And I’m pretty much a fan of any scene with Shadowthrone:

“Is Cotillion a kindly uncle?” Hmm, good question, let’s see shall we?

“Have you gone entirely insane?” Speaking of irony.

And how fast is that for Shadowthrone to go from flying off the handle at the situation Apt presents him with to figuing out “long-term benefits” from it. Did I mention I like smart?

And c’mon: “Can anyone find reliable, competent help these days?” Truly one of the classic single lines in a series filled with them.


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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