Malazan Reread of the Fallen

Malazan Re-read of the Fallen: Deadhouse Gates, Chapters 16 and 17

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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 16 and 17 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 Sixteen

SCENE 1

The Chain nears the Vathar River. List tells Duiker that the head of Korbolo Dom’s army has been spotted trying to beat them to the river (Reloe’s army is behind the Chain) and that Duiker is to ride ahead of the Chain with the Foolish Dog clan. At a meeting, Coltaine asks Duiker if he’s seen the sapper captain and says he’s beginning to wonder if they even have one. Bult tries to spear a lapdog that’s been tormenting him. Nether joins Duiker to ride ahead.

SCENE 2

On the ride, Duiker thinks he sees the cattledog Bent carrying the little lapdog in its mouth. The forest is filled with swarms of migrating butterflies which Duiker hopes might slow Dom’s army, but Nether tells him a mage is clearing their path by opening a warren and letting the butterflies vanish into it, meaning the enemy army is no longer hindered by the shapeshifters in the warrens. They reach the river crossing and see a burned ship riding there (Silanda). Duiker recognizes Gesler and Stormy from when he and Kulp were in the village, but notes they and Truth have a strange bronze coloring to their skin.

SCENE 3

Dom’s advance arrives but rather than attacking sets up a camp nearby and starts cutting down trees. Duiker tries to convince Stormy and Gesler they’re back in the army now. Stormy and Gesler tell them about the Silanda, the headless Tiste Andii and undead rowers, and how they had but then lost Heboric and the others. They decide to scout Dom’s group using the Silanda’s dory.

SCENE 4

They see Dom sending archers and soldiers across the river via ropes spanning the cliffs.

SCENE 5

The rest of Dom’s forces arrive and fell more trees and set up on both sides of the river crossing. Duiker wonders why he hasn’t attacked and Nether guesses he’s waiting for Coltaine to show. Nether says the Silanda will take as many wounded as it can to Aren. She says Coltaine asks if Duiker wants to go with them and when Duiker immediately says no she tells him Coltaine had said that would be the response and wonders how Coltaine knows people so well, adding he’s a mystery as much to the Wickans as to the Malazans.

SCENE 6

Coltaine arrives. He, Lull, Bult, and others meet with Stormy and Gesler. Lull says he knows of Gesler being demoted from captain to sergeant and now corporal and recalls that Stormy was once Cartheron Crust’s Adjutant. Gesler threatens to punch Lull if he even thinks about promoting Gesler, then Bult, and Coltaine. Coltaine punches Gesler and breaks his hand bloodying Gesler ‘s nose. Nil senses from Gesler’s blood that Gesler has nearly Ascended (and yet Coltaine bloodied him). A messenger arrives from Dom and offers to allow the refugees to cross the river unhindered. The nobles agree, making Duiker suspicious they had already been in communication with Dom’s army. Coltaine rejects the offer. Stormy tells Gesler things don’t seem right.

SCENE 7

Felisin tells Leoman she will not dance to Sha’ik’s music. Toblakai returns having killed a giant white bear. Leoman pressures Felisin to perform the ritual. Felisin intones: The Toblakai “is pure faith yet shall one day lose it all,” Heboric will rediscover faith, Leoman is a “master deceiver” but searches always for hope despite his cynicism, and Felisin is as a crucible newly emptied. She tells Leoman to open the Book and he sees nothing in it but when Toblakai looks he weeps. Heboric refuses to look or touch it. Toblakai wants to kill him and when Felisin says “do it” (knowing he won’t be able to), Heboric’s hands flare visible and catch Toblakai’s wrists and send the sword flying, then Heboric throws Toblakai as well. Felisin tells Heboric he was never forsaken, he “was being prepared.”

SCENE 8

Fiddler’s group crosses the threshold into a forest. They see a huge boulder with red hand/paw prints on it. Mappo accuses Pust of it being more of his deception, but Icarium says the markings are real, but are Tellann (associated with the T’lan Imass), though the boulder is usually found on a hilltop. Pust wonders if Mappo’s sack is another piece of the warren. As they move forward Mappo wonders at how the number of roots seems too many for the number of trees. They come to a plain at the end of the forest, the plain covered in roots (despite the lack of trees): Tremorlor. Icarium senses the Azath is under siege by the warren trying to pull free and the Shapeshifters. They decide to rest a bit before continuing on.

SCENE 9

Mappo asks Rellock why he agreed to take Apsalar into such danger. Rellock says she needs reasons and learning, that simply being granted, “knowing” by the god’s possession isn’t enough. He says like fishing, you “learn no place safe.”

SCENE 10

Mappo hears Icarium and Apsalar talking. Apsalar says they’re both alike, both with protectors who can’t really protect them, especially from themselves. Icarium says it’s different with him and Mappo. Apsalar asks him what he’ll do with his memories when he finds them and he asks what does she do with hers. Apsalar says most of them aren’t actually hers: she has a handful of her own, some from a wax witch who protected her and then Cotillion’s. She says Cotillion killed to “fix things” and saw himself as honorable, as well as actually felt some sympathy for Laseen along with desire for vengeance. She then tells Icarium that though he thinks his memories will bring knowledge and understanding, in reality they tell us nothing about where we’re going and are a weight we can’t get rid of. When Icarium replies he’d accept that burden, she tells him not to say that to Mappo unless he wants to break Mappo’s heart. Icarium says he doesn’t understand but would never do that to Mappo. He repeats he doesn’t understand and when Apsalar says, “Yet you wish to,” he weeps.

SCENE 11

As they prepare to continue, Mappo asks Icarium if he really wants to risk imprisonment by the Azath. Icarium says Mappo too will need to be wary, but that they need trust the Azath recognizes them as non-threats. He adds he can sense the Azath suffering and means to help it fight because its cause is just. Mappo thinks the Nameless Ones, his tribal Elders, and even his younger self would have given Icarium up to the Azath due to the risk he offers the world but he is unsure he can. Icarium senses Mappo at war with himself and tells Mappo he would give up his life for him. Mappo reveals the truth of the First Empire city to Icarium, that Icarium has destroyed entire cities and peoples and that Mappo’s job has been to prevent him from doing so again. Icarium says the Azath knows this and so must take him prisoner and that such would be suitable punishment. He asks Mappo to let Icarium be taken without resistance.

SCENE 12

The others clearly know what just happened between Icarium and Mappo and Fiddler tells him it was inevitable. Icarium tells them all to make no effort to save him should the House try and imprison him. Pust says the House need take him first to have his strength to fight off the shapeshifters. Icarium asks if he can fight without going crazy and Mappo says he does have a line to cross. Fiddler tells Icarium to hold himself back until the others have done all they can do. When Pust objects Crokus asks him what happens if Icarium kills the Azath (the idea of which stuns Icarium) and Shadowthrone sends the five Hounds of Shadow (two were killed by Rake in GoTM). Fiddler and Mappo make eye contact, sharing a distrust of the Hounds/Shadowthrone. Icarium says he welcomes them. They enter the House’s maze.

SCENE 13

Gesler and his group say goodbye and tell them they’ll try to convince Pormqual to help them. Sormo asks Duiker about List’s visions, says the warlocks sense nothing of the land. Duiker tells them there were a war fought there and that List’s visions of it come from a Jaghut ghost. Tumlit arrives and tells them another messenger from Dom arrived secretly and the nobles/refugees are going to cross. Coltaine tells his leaders to not contest the crossing and tells Duiker to send the sappers into the refugee group. Duiker and his nameless female marine join the refugees. Dom’s army has made a floating bridges packed with pikemen and archers. The rebels start slaughtering the refugees as they’re blocked at the ford, while the army is fighting in the rearguard. The arrows eventually taper off as the rebels run out or as the sappers push back on one side (Dom hadn’t planned on soldiers coming through with the refugees and the archers are only lightly armed). The desperate refugees attack the floating bridge when it nears them and the bridge sinks. Sormo uses sorcery to kill the rebels but then is killed himself. Butterflies in the hundreds of thousands converge on him. The refugees swarm Dom’s soldiers where Duiker is. Duiker comes across Nethpara and starts to strangle him but is prevented by someone who knocks him out.

 

Amanda’s Reaction to Chapter Sixteen:

Interesting wording by the Nameless Ones in the extract from Patterns in the Azath: they say Tremorlor “is said to lie within Raraku.” This seems to be evidence that even the Nameless Ones know little about the Azath or their locations.

Butterflies just don’t seem as grim as moths or flies, so the start of this chapter feels vaguely hopeful – I’m not sure that will last though… Erikson has used insects throughout this novel in order to emphasise matters beyond simple creatures, and I like the motif.

The Chain of Dogs was stretched, exhaustion straining its links.

We’re now seeing explicit mention of the Chain, a mantle and description accepted by the tired men and women under Coltaine’s command.

Okay, so here is a fine example of where Erikson drops something casually into the writing that is very likely to become important at a later stage:

Large, angular boulders had been placed in roughly concentric rings: the summit’s crown. He had seen such formations before, but could not recall where.

I love and hate List’s condition, and the fact he firmly disregards it as he tries to keep up with the Chain:

“Corporal, you’re a fool.”

“Yes, sir.”

It’s wonderful that Duiker tries hard to protect him, by ensuring that Coltaine orders List not to ride with the Foolish Dogs.

Constant reminders of the pain and suffering of the Chain, told in stark yet sympathetic ways:

Two notches up on her girth straps, the bones of her shoulders hard against my knees, yet fitter than most.

Huh! Do butterflies migrate like birds in reality? Or is this something Erikson dreamt up? *smiles*

[Bill’s interjection: A few years ago I drove through a butterfly migration—literally. The sight was stunningly beautiful, the sound of their bodies being struck and killed by the hundreds by the car horrific.]

*grins* Such dark humour!

“Do you ride in the same fashion, Corporal? Tug one way, tug the other.”

And after that first mention of the stones on the hillside we now have List starting as he sees then and muttering “Hood’s breath.”

I really love the way that certain tiny elements of the story are followed through, such as the lapdog who is now surviving feral amongst the cattle-dogs, and treating them as though he is in charge. We also see Bent carrying the tiny lapdog in his mouth. For me, the little details like this are massively rewarding.

It’s entertaining that the sappers are working as hard as possible to go without a captain—if, in fact, it is true they don’t have one! We’ve not really heard from their point of view, after all. [Bill’s interjection: They get even more entertaining.]

I just want to pick up on the environmental point that Bill made last time out—Erikson does accurately portray a land in turmoil, including in environmental matters:

To either side the bracken and dead trees gave way to stands of young cedars, too few on this side of the river to be called a forest. Of mature trees only stumps remained.

I like the fact that the Chain of Dogs also has these canine characters along for the ride—tireless and impatient. They sort of represent the Wickan character, even if the actual Wickans are too exhausted to present the same.

Interesting news: the warrens are not contested, and have not been for three days. This is going to affect the fact that, up until now, Coltaine at least had magic on his side.

Oh welcome back Gesler, Stormy and Truth! I’m so glad they were not victims of the fire! And I adore this quote:

“Let’s just say I’ve had my fill of imperious little girls.”

Felisin would hate to be dismissed so thoroughly!

Another update on the refugee numbers as well—up to forty-five thousand.

It breaks my heart that none of them know Kulp’s fate yet, as they talk about him in a rough fashion. I am impressed both by Gesler’s willingness to stand up to a character like Duiker, and the historian’s insistence that the three are back in the Imperial Army. Does it feel to anyone else as though Duiker suddenly is less impartial and objective? He seems utterly loyal to Coltaine at this point.

Because we travelled alongside the Silanda and the people aboard her, I feel it’s made us blase about what really happened! Duiker’s response provides the best reaction:

A part of the historian wanted to throttle both men, cursing the soldiers’ glorious and excruciating love of understatement. The other part, the rocking shock of what he was hearing, dropped him with a jarring thud to the muddy, butterfly-carpeted ground.

We have already seen Baudin with the strange new bronzed hue of skin—here we are told:

That the warren of fire they had survived had changed the three men was obvious, and went beyond the strange hue of their skin. Stormy and Truth were tireless at the oars, and pulled with a strength to match twice their number.

Whatever changes apply to Gesler, Stormy and Truth must also have applied to Baudin.

I am no tactician! I have no idea at what Korbolo Dom’s plan is concerning getting rid of all the trees… [Bill’s interjection: Cornering the toothpick market? New cruciforms for when he finds “those damn kids”? Lots and lots of fifes for the army? A shrubbery?]

Coltaine knows here that his face-off against Korbolo Dom might well be the end of him, since he makes it clear that the wounded soldiers are to be carried free of the conflict and Duiker is offered the same. Mark Duiker’s continuing loyalty—without even thinking about it, he refuses to leave with the wounded.

It is awesome that Coltaine is as much a mystery to the Wickans as he is to the Malazans:

“And no less a cipher to us, Historian. The clans do as he commands and say nothing. It is not shared certainty or mutual understanding that breeds our silence. It is awe.”

Ooh, Gesler and Stormy were once very high in the ranks—and part of the Emperor’s Old Guard! How did they escape the cull and the vanishing of all the rest?

Oh HELL! Gesler has almost ascended?! What does this mean? And OH HELL!!! Coltaine knocked him down… *breathless* Now wait… Dancer and Kellanved ascended by first dying… didn’t they? So, if Baudin has almost ascended as well—because he went through the same flames—and then died, would he have actually ascended? How do you ascend anyway? And what benefits does almost ascending give you? I guess that would be the greater strength shown by Stormy and Truth while pulling the oars. [Bill’s interjection: Cue discussion on what Ascension means in 3, 2, 1….]

Hmm, hands up, who else doesn’t trust the offer of Korbolo Dom? Or is this just me being all cynical? My cynicism and dislike of the nobles is certainly increasing word by word, that’s for sure! After all Coltaine’s efforts, why do they dishonour him so by communicating with the renegade Fist—someone they wouldn’t spend even the smallest amount of time with usually?

Apt was Sha’ik’s third guardian, right? I wonder why she allowed the demon to depart?

Okay, something else tickling here although I might be reading WAY too much into it. When Leoman talks about Dryjhna and Raraku, he says:

“We are born from darkness and to darkness we return.”

Is this ANYTHING at all to do with High House Dark and someone taking up their position? Is the broken and torn warren within Raraku Tiste Andii or Tiste Edur related?

Hmm, it seems that even without the ritual Felisin is already being claimed by the Goddess, with prophecies issuing from her and a command for her companions to also open the book. Would be interesting to know what they all saw!

Oh my word….

“Let me kill him, Sha’ik Reborn. Let his blood seal this ritual.”

“Do it.”

Is this just Sha’ik now? Or is there a remnant of Felisin remaining who it quite willing to see harm done to Heboric? [Bill’s interjection: Who is Sha’ik and who is Felisin will make for some interesting parsing.]

So… I believe that Heboric belongs to two people/ascendants/gods now—one is Fener (with that bestial and furred hand of his). The other provides him with the hand that is the hue of dried blood—who though? The Crippled God? The Nameless Ones? Raruka/Dryjhna? The latter seems quite likely being as Felisin has already seen visions of blood while Dryjhna prepared her.

Oh, I adore Pust! This is just so funny:

“Words are too precious to be wasted, hence my coy silence while they hesitate in a fit of immobile ignorance.”

I’m going to put it out there and say right now that I think Pust is guiding every step the companions take. He is as manipulative as a spider [Bill’s interjection: Irony alert!], urging them to do what he least wants them to do, because he realises they will therefore do the reverse. He is sneaky and impossibly clever, in my mind.

I really enjoy the way that warrens are scented differently, have different colours associated with them and appear different when people enter them:

The Trell stood with the others in a forest of towering trees, a mix of spruce, cedar and redwood all thickly braided in moss. Blue-tinged sunlight filtered down. The air smelled of decaying vegetation and insects buzzed.

Details like this give me, as a first time reader, a real feeling of trust in Erikson—if he has thought right the way down to these tiny details, then I believe he knows his world inside out. It makes it ever more believable despite being a made-up secondary world. I wonder how much of the role-playing build of the world contributed to all these details being mapped out—that fact that Erikson and Esslemont would have wanted to know every small thing they were playing within?

Despite his planning, Pust does not know everything—he does not know which warren Mappo’s sack is part of.

“I have never seen an Azath manifest itself in this way,” Mappo said. “No, not an Azath, but I have seen staves of wood…”

Mappo must be thinking here about the Nameless Ones who set him on his path with Icarium, surely?

I like the way that Rellock understands Apsalar needs to find her own motivations, likes and dislikes—the way any child does as they grow to adulthood. So far Apsalar has been guided by those of Cotillion and now it is time for her to discover who she really is.

And once again Erikson leaves me marveling—this time the passage where Apsalar describes the three sets of memories warring within her. Those gentle, stark images of life as a fishergirl; the fiercely protective aura of an old seer woman; and this new presentation of Dancer—of a man who performs assassinations not for coin, but in order to fix matters; a man who has a strange sort of sympathy for Laseen, since he understands she is merely trying to fix matters. And then the picture of Mappo weeping in the dark, as Icarium also cries for what he wishes to know. Just brilliant.

Umm, I think I have something in my eye: *brushes away a secret tear*

Should Tremorlor take you, the world is freed of a vast threat, but I lose a friend. No, I betray you to eternal imprisonment. The Elders and the Nameless Ones who set upon me this task would command me with certainty. They would care nothing of love. Nor would the young Trell warrior who so freely made his vow hesitate – for he did not know the man he was to follow.

And, okay, yes, I’m actually crying properly at this scene between Icarium and Mappo. Through most of the novel I have wanted Icarium to be whole, but now with his pain and Mappo’s anguish I wish Mappo hadn’t told him what he truly is:

“No. I cannot walk free with this knowledge—you must see that, Mappo. I cannot—”

“If Tremorlor takes you, you will not die, Icarium. Your imprisonment is eternal, yet you shall be… aware.”

“Aye, a worthy punishment for my crimes.”

The Trell cried out at that.

Oho! Some massive development with Crokus here as well—we should not forget that he was also a plaything of the gods as well. Here he demands that Shadowthrone enters the fray, because he realises that all is lost if Icarium destroys the Azath.

Heh—do we have an indication here that Pust was playing a little bit without the complete knowledge of his god? Certainly Pust seems remarkably discomposed at the idea of everything escaping the Azath if Icarium does destroy it—and then Baran the Hound knocks him down. Reprimand or truly a gambolling puppy?

Here we do have an indication that the return of the warrens has made life much more difficult for Coltaine’s army:

Sorcerous wards prevented the Wickan warlords from discovering the nature of that activity.

It should be mentioned—probably not for the first time—that Erikson’s dialogue, particularly between his soldiers, is brilliantly written. Realistic, dark humour and bantering back and forth. I’ve lived in a military environment for some of my life, and the self-deprecation and deliberate understatement are perfectly pitched.

Here we are— the cutting down of the trees has been revealed as floating bridges—all the better with which to attack the helpless refugees, of course. Thanks to Duiker’s unique viewpoint, we are really thrown into the chaotic nightmare of the milling refugees waiting for a horrible death:

Arrows ripped through the clouds of whirling butterflies, descended on the mass of refugees. There was nowhere to hide, nowhere to go.

This is a beautifully contrasting picture of life and death, grace and gruesome fate.

Erikson is not letting up in this chapter AT ALL, is he? *cries some more* The pictures of death unending is harrowing—refugees and soldiers who have been through hell already only to die because some nobles believed they knew best. I am so bloody angry right now. So bitterly angry and upset.

“Hood’s breath, they’ve [butterflies] come for him. For his soul. Not crows, not as it should be. Gods below!”

I wonder what implications this will have for Sormo’s future reincarnation. Butterflies are so damn fragile, after all….

And godammit, who stopped Duiker from killing Nethpara? Alright, I can’t abide the thought of Duiker suffering afterwards from pangs of conscience, but I would cheer to the rafters at all these nobles suffering the same death they have dealt on those who protected them.

Phew, I feel like I’ve gone through the mill good and proper with this chapter. I simply cannot believe the scale of these achievements.

 

Bill’s Reaction to Chapter Sixteen:

We’re now firmly into running bit territory with the two dogs (Bent and the lapdog) and the mysterious sapper captain. Look for more to come.

One has to wonder if we’ll ever see those butterflies again, as they aren’t necessarily being killed but are vanishing into a warren.

Erikson once again shows a good balance of movement as we shift from the humor of the dogs and sappers to the tragedy of Nether’s black hands and loss of innocence, then between beauty and tension via the ride through the forest, then back to humor with Stormy and Gesler, especially Gesler’s “certain dryness” when he tells them their ship’s crew is “dead,” as well as their “recounting” of what happened on their journey. (Imagine the entire Book of the Fallen told via these two!)

It’s interesting to come so far here under the assumption that Coltaine’s apparent aloofness and sense of mystery is simply the Wickan nature only to find he’s as much an enigma to them as to the Malazans.

While we knew Stormy and Gesler had worked their way down the ranks, we get a sense of from just how high a height as we learn Stormy was Cartheron Crust’s Adjutant. That’s a name we heard before, very early, as the High Fist prior to Pormqual. Akin to a surprising number of Old Guard, Cartheron Crust drowned “just like his brother Urko”. Wink wink. Remember the name….

“I’ll give the Fist’s crack-thong a yank too if you ask sweetly.”

I’ve got nothing to say about the line; I just like saying it.

Lots of info comes about via an unusual method, as Coltaine punches Gesler and from the blood pouring from his nose Nil and Nether realize Gesler has “almost ascended.” Which of course, makes one wonder what that means for the man who knocked him down and bloodied him (though it shattered his hand to do so). And if Gesler has nearly ascended, Duiker makes the clear leap to that meaning Stormy and Truth have as well. Keep that in mind.

From all that we’ve heard and seen of Korbolo Dom (go ahead and check the summaries; I’ll wait…), does anyone really buy the “Korbolo Dom wishes only peace,” opening line from his messenger? Didn’t think so. The council’s quick acceptance, hinting at underground communication between the nobles and Dom doesn’t do much for his credibility either.

One has to wonder what a man is capable of who believes so firmly, as Leoman says, that “we are born from darkness and to darkness we return.”

Rule number 817 of fantasy—always pay attention to the prophecies:

Toblakai is “pure faith, yet he shall one day lose it all . . . “

Heboric “shall one day discover it [faith] anew”

Leoman, “the master deceiver . . . is ever searching the darkness for hope.”

We’re gradually seeing Heboric’s hands’ power. Earlier we saw him use them to fling Kulp into the air and climb down the cliff. Now he uses them to stop Toblakai’s sword mid-swing and then toss Toblakai like a rag doll. Remember, this is the guy who just killed a giant white bear twice the size of the usual ones he hunts. And this is even more impressive when we later see what Toblakai is capable of.

If Felisin is correct, and Heboric is being “prepared” the question of course that arises is “for what”? Followed by what does that mean for Fener being dragged down to the mortal realm?

More references to the shattered warren, and then even a theory by Pust that Mappo’s Wonderful Magical Traveling Sack might even be yet another fragment of the warren.

Based on what we saw at the close of GoTM, we should be familiar with the root imagery associated with the Azath. Note too that Mappo is familiar with it as well via the wooden staves carried by the Nameless Ones, yet another link between them and the Azath. As well as yet another reference to the Azath as possible entity.

I like Rellock’s conversation with Mappo—some true wisdom in some of his lines. Such as “Knowing ain’t enough” and “You learn no place safe.” He’s been a bit of a mystery obviously, but here we see what he’s doing is parenting. It’s also a bit of a thread to Mappo and Icarium, for after all, isn’t Mappo’s job to keep Icarium in a place of safety? An island of ignorance? An echo that obviously continues with Apsalar and Icarium’s conversation. They make an interesting pair: the millennia-old Icarium who is, thanks to lack of memory, really a child. And the young girl who thanks to piles of memories is really a much older person. And we get some of that aged wisdom in her advice to Icarium, her insight that in some ways he’s chasing a pipe dream if he hopes discovery of his memories will lead automatically to understanding and knowledge of what is to come. They’re not all glitter and gold memories; they can be a heavy burden. That conversation, with its attendant listener, is just so tragic at the close, with Icarium weeping and Mappo struggling to hold back his own tears. One just wants these two to head off into the sunset side by side and one just fears so much that in this world that may be an impossibility.

I like the revelations we get of Dancer, who is a character that slowly, gradually, is revealed to the reader across multiple books and who remains one of my favorites. We’ve known him as the efficient killer but here that efficiency is tied to the idea of “fixing” things, which leads to the question—since we’ve been led to believe he and Shadowthrone are up to something, what is Dancer trying to fix? I also really like how the simplistic emotion and motivation of vengeance on Laseen is made more rich and his character thus more complex by his accompanying sense of empathy. I’ve said before that I think compassion is a key driving force behind this series and I think empathy goes hand in hand with it. It’s something to think of—a recently mortal Ascendant who experiences empathy (think of Heboric’s earlier words re the long-lived Ascendants)—what might such an empathic force aim at?

Empathy rides as well with Icarium, who feels Tremorlor’s suffering and wishes to help it, despite the risk incumbent in doing so. Face to face with what drives his love for his friend, is it any wonder Mappo tries to turn him back, despite his vows? I have to say, on my first read, I did not see Mappo’s revelation of Icarium’s past coming here. I visualize Icarium’s face as Mappo’s words must strike him like swordblows: “you have destroyed cities, entire peoples. Once you begin killing you cannot stop…” This scene is utterly heartbreaking as Mappo tries to goad himself into knocking Icarium out, taking him away and just going on with their lives as always. Again, just visualize Mappo curled on the ground, and Icarium lifting him to his feet so his friend can escort him to eternal imprisonment. Maybe even most heartbreaking is Icarium’s naiveté and innocence as he worries what the others will think, wholly unaware that they know exactly what is going on.

And once again, a stunning indication of Icarium’s power: “what if Icarium kills the Azath?” I love Pust’s response: “Such is the vastness of his [ST] genius that he can even outwit himself.” Great line. And then, release the Hounds!

I like Fiddler and Mappo’s non-verbal communication—this is how close these two have come in such short time.

Chapter Seventeen

SCENE 1

Two privateers are following Kalam’s ship. Kalam can’t get to the bottom of the captain; he feels he’s trying to tell Kalam something. Kalam thinks of a warren he’s heard of that can lay a glamour on one’s mind. Time seems to be moving strangely aboard ship. Elan accuses the treasurer of being and helping a thief, and points out the crates below have the High Fist’s seal on them, not the empire’s. Elan tries to engage Kalam in conversation but Kalam refuses. He goes up top to find the crew preparing for a storm as well as using the storm to turn on the pirates. The captain tells Kalam it’ll be a night for knife work. Kalam seeks out the marine captain and asks if they’re loyal to the captain or the treasurer. At first she wants nothing to do with him, but when he tells her he’s a Bridgeburner she and Kalam come to an agreement whereby she implies they’ll support the captain. Kalam tells her to leave the treasurer’s bodyguards to him. One of the marines says he never believed the outlawing of Dujek and Kalam thinks the soldiers may be right. Ragstopper rams a pirate and battle ensues. Kalam finds the First Mate with his throat cut and the captain wounded (the captain killed one of the bodyguards) Elan helps Kalam with the captain the two agree that the treasurer is in league with the pirate ships (one of which is now destroyed) and the two agree to work together to protect the captain and stop the treasurer.

SCENE 2

The treasurer takes command and plans to surrender. Kalam gets the marines and crew ready. Elan kills the other bodyguard and they lure the raider in with a knife to the back of the treasurer. Battle starts as the pirate board and an enkar’al appears on board via a pirate mage and starts killing marines. Kalam severely wounds the enkar’al so the marines can kill it while Elan deals with the mage. Kalam and Elan and the marines win the battle.

SCENE 3

They load the treasurer with sacks of coin and toss him overboard.

SCENE 4

Felisin puts on Sha’ik’s clothing. Leoman still doesn’t fully trust she is Sha’ik and continues to press the ritual, though he accepts she has come into some power Felisin puts him off. He warns her the High Mages will be trouble and she says she knows.

SCENE 5

The captain seems overly affected by his wound, having a hard time getting words out. Kalam again gets the sense the captain is trying to tell him something. More marines have died despite having a ship’s healer. They appear to be moving due to tradewinds but the captain tells Kalam there aren’t any in this area. Kalam again thinks of the glamour warrant.

SCENE 6

They spot Tavore’s fleet heading to Seven Cities. Elan asks Kalam if he wishes to be with the soldiers, if he’s caught between two desires. Elan tells Kalam the two should work together and mentions Kalam’s previous partners. When Kalam replies, “What makes you think I am alone now,” Elan gets nervous.

 

Amanda’s Reaction to Chapter Seventeen:

Hmm, is Seglora one of the D’ivers or Soletaken?

One who was many on the blood trail…

You know how in films there is often a nice quiet scene after a climax of high drama so that the audience can get their breath back? I think we’ve just reached that as we join Kalam onboard ship. Of course, it doesn’t make me feel any more friendly towards Kalam’s storyline, since the pace careered from breathless to virtually stationary!

We are given some mystery surrounding the drunken captain, although I think we should bear in mind the suspicious nature of the person who regards him. In fact, Kalam observes:

“Ah, now I’m veering into the absurd. Paranoia’s the assassin’s bedmate, and no rest comes in that clamouring serpent’s nest.”

Heh, I feel that this adequately describes my attitude as well—sometimes I almost know I’m believing something utterly crazy, but I just can’t help myself. I’m paranoid about trying to capture every single clue within these books, and, in some cases, am simply creating more confusion for myself!

The whole discussion about how much time has passed also speaks to me directly. I now have no idea how much time has passed in this novel—the timelines are far from clear. [Bill’s interjection: Anybody have anything to say to Amanda regarding timelines?] People stay in warrens for weeks; the Chain of Dogs crawls along for months. Curious that Kalam—a person who should really be ultra aware of his surroundings—has a completely different idea of how much time might have passed.

Elan isn’t exactly making friends with the treasurer, is he? Even despite the truce that seems to exist between them. Snipes towards the treasurer concerning thievery obviously strike a little too close to home.

Kalam is distinctly unfriendly, non?

“You wrong me, Kalam. I am not your enemy. Indeed, we two are much alike.”

The assassin paused in the portalway. “If you’re seeking friendship between us, Salk Elan, you’ve just taken a long step back with that observation.”

[Bill’s interjection: Also says a lot about how he views himself, non?]

Hmm, not quite sure what this plot point is all about:

A sea battle in a raging storm, and the captain expects the marines to board the enemy craft, to stand on a pitching, wave-whipped deck and take the fight to the pirates. This is beyond audacious.

Sounds like madness to me….

Who is the grizzled veteran? Let’s start guessing! I’m going to suggest… Temper!

Is it intentional that Erikson now uses animal analogies to describe the ships facing off against each other? I’m just wondering, considering this novel is so strongly about shapeshifters.

Hmm, so the treasurer planned this little mutiny—taking out the captain and senior officers so that he can take control of the ship. I think this might be the moment where Kalam and Elan realise that they are both pulling in the same direction. Heh:

“Meaning we’d better work together.”

“Aye, for now. Just don’t expect me to kiss you good night, Elan.”

“Not even once?”

And here is sounds as though the treasurer is not just acting against the captain, but also double-crossing Pormqual! So who is he working for…?

Eep—a quick reminder of just how ruthless Kalam can be:

“Stick to the rules, Lieutenant. Leave murder to those whose souls are already stained.”

For me, this also indicates a degree of self-loathing in Kalam—a reference to the fact that he thinks he is damned for what he has done.

And now the double-crossers are feeling a taste of justice! *cheers* Elan is pretty damn ruthless as well, isn’t he? It does seem as though he and Kalam are two sides of the same coin—Kalam dark and self-loathing and gruff; while Elan is light and humorous and enjoys his work.

It does seem as though they underestimated the raiders a little though, what with this appearance of an enkar’al. I don’t—really really don’t—like the use of erroneous apostrophes. Not even Erikson is safe from my wrath on this matter. Honestly, why use it? It just makes it feel like cheap fantasy. [Bill’s interjection: And it really slows down my typing in these summaries/commentaries!]

Wow, and here we suddenly see evidence of Kalam’s supreme abilities as a killer. What is more surprising— since we’ve seen Kalam in action before—is the talent of Elan. Truly, Kalam might be well-matched here! Not only did Elan take down a mage—Otataral or magely abilities himself?—but he also pitched in to take down pirate after pirate in unison with Kalam. Who is this chap? And how is Kalam—who came from the area, after all—not aware of someone this capable?

I love Erikson’s vocabulary—I glory in words like “refulgent”; it makes me feel constantly challenged.

So… I’m confused—how often have you heard that? Did Felisin open the book? Is she actually reborn as Sha’ik? Or is she just going to pretend to be such? This quote made me wonder:

“It were best you matched the attire. Precisely.”

She smiled. “To aid in the deceit, Leoman?”

What has afflicted the captain of the ship? What is his name?

Elan asks an interesting question of Kalam when he talks about his conflicted loyalty—we’ve already seen that Kalam is torn between his homeland and the requirements of the Malazan Empire. Is there any part of Kalam that wishes to be back under the umbrella of the Imperial Army?

And, lastly, an intriguing little snippet about Kalam’s past of partnerships. How I giggled at Kalam’s little pretence at not being alone on the ship.

Despite the big old sea battle this still felt very much like the calm before the storm—especially with the arrival of Tavore in Seven Cities… [Bill’s interjection: Oh, you’ve got a while before you get to that particular storm.]

 

Bill’s Reaction to Chapter Seventeen:

This is a relatively short chapter that mostly moves a plot line along, so not a lot of commentary on this one.

I like how the back and forth meandering conversation in the opening of this chapter really mirrors the confusion inherent on board ship.

It’s an interesting exchange between Kalam and an unnamed marine, a “grizzled veteran” who puts together who Kalam is and then when asked who he is answers “nobody sir, and been that way a long time.”

Speaking of the marines, yet again we see an example of the strength of the Malazan Marines—the ability to think for themelves. Here’s a case where it clashes with actual orders and chain of command. Let’s just say it won’t be the last time.

More than just a few references in this chapter to Elan and Kalam being alike, including Elan saying it himself at one point and the captain telling Kalam “you and that poncy skulker . . . two of a kind.”

Kalam’s justice for the treasurer is a good reminder that although we root for these characters, we shouldn’t forget that they can be at times cold and hard killers, not just in battle, but in cool, calculated intent.

I love the way Kalam plays Elan at the end with the threat of Quick Ben being on board: “What makes you think I’m alone now, Salk Elan?”

I can see why you say you don’t find Kalam’s storyline as compelling, Amanda, as the Chain of Dogs. It does lack a lot of the Chain’s built-in wallops: the non-stop threat of disaster, big battle scenes, emotional ceremonies, sapper humor, etc. But if you’re fidgeting a bit during Acts I and II, it’s got a great finale.


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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