Malazan Reread of the Fallen

Malazan Re-read of the Fallen: Memories of Ice, Chapter 18

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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 18 of Memories of Ice by Steven Erikson (MoI).

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.

Note: The summary of events will be free of major spoilers and we’re going to try keeping the reader comments the same. A forum thread has been set up for outright Malazan spoiler discussion.

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

SCENE 1

Quick Ben awakens after days. Talamandas says Quick was raving at times and had talked of opposing the Crippled God and trying to save Burn. Talamandas says he is impressed by Quick’s “integrity.” He catches Quick up on the Capustan events and then asks how Quick plans on taking on the CG without his powers. Talamandas says he and his gods can help, that they are willing to make sacrifices to “armour” Quick from the CG’s poisons; Talamandas will be his shield, impervious as he is to the CG’s poison. When Quick Ben warns him he may take odd paths and won’t waste time explaining, Talamandas says the Barghast gods trust him “because they like you . . . in your fevered mind you revealed the way your mind works—you wove a net, a web, yet even I could not see all the links . . . your grasp of causality surpasses my intellect . . . Perhaps my gods caught a glimmer of your design . . . triggering an instinctive suspicion that in you, mortal, the Crippled God will meet his match.” Quick Ben agrees to the alliance and asks if Talamandas knows who it is that Quick has sensed “shaping its own opposition to the Fallen One.” Talamandas says there are some Elder Gods, but that their response is “reactionary . . . a kind of fighting withdrawal. They seem incapable of changing the future, only preparing for it.” When Quick says that seems pretty “fatalistic,” Talamandas replies that has always been “their perennial flaw.” The scene ends with Quick musing that “it’s not really their battle. Except for maybe K’rul . . . “

SCENE 2

Talamandas asks what Quick knows of K’rul and Quick responds that he knows K’rul made the warrens and that all who used magic “swim his immortal blood.” Talamandas is stunned by Quick’s knowledge: “no-one knows all about that! No one!” Quick continues with “K’rul is in even worse shape than Burn . . . makes that fatalism a little more understandable. And . . . all the last surviving Elder Gods have lived under a host of nasty curses for a long, long time . . . Your Barghast gods aren’t ready to go it alone . . . The Elder Gods have been on the defensive—tried to go it alone— . . . but that wasn’t working, so they’ve gone looking for allies . . . who was at work refashioning you into something capable of shielding me in the warrens? Hood, for one, I’d imagine . . . And Fener’s thrown you a bone, or Treach, or whoever’s on that particular roost right now—you can hit back if something comes at you. And I’d guess the Queen of Dreams has stepped in, a bridge between you and the Sleeping Goddess . . . so you’re all ready to go, but where? How? And that’s where I come in.” Talamandas admits they’re all relying on Quick to do “whatever it is you’re planning to do,” which Quick acknowledges but then he refuses to say just what that might be. The two exit the tent and Talamandas tells Quick the Bridgeburners are still at the Thrall probably. He also says the Barghast are no longer fighting amongst themselves as much since the gods have spoken to the shamans, and that the Barghast will march south against the Pannion with the others. Quick Ben says it’s time to contact his allies in the western army.

SCENE 3

The Malazans break the Pannions. A messenger tells Whiskeyjack that Brood has won the south flank, Septarch Kulpath (the Pannion leader) was killed, and the Barghast and Rhivi have broken their opponents as well, with help from the Tiste Andii who took out a Mage Cadre. Whiskeyjack tells the messenger to inform Brood that 200,000 Tenescowri remain nearby, but that he and Dujek do not want “an unmitigated slaughter of these peasants.” Korlat appears out of a warren and says she needs Whiskeyjack to come to Dujek’s command tent.

SCENE 4

At first it is full dark in the warren (Kurald Galain—warren of Darkness), but then a grey sliver appears and Korlat warns that the fact that the CG’s poison affect even Kurald Galain “does not bode well.” Whiskeyjack asks what Rake is planning to do about it and what’s taking so long, and Korlat responds “we’re a patient people” and says he’ll act at the “propitious moment.” Whiskeyjack says, like how he’ll use Moon Spawn against the Pannion Seer, and she replies yes. When Whiskeyjack says Korlat seems to have a lot of faith in Rake, she clarifies it is more like certainty based on prior action than faith. And then, when Whiskeyjack asks how she feels about him, she says he is also comforted by certainty there as well, comforted actually in “every facet of that question.” She wants to know if she should ask him the same and he says she shouldn’t have to, but the answer is the same. They step out of the warren in Dujek’s tent to find Quick Ben waiting. He tells Whiskeyjack that he (Quick) can travel the warrens safely now, the White Face Barghast hold Capustan, the Barghast will march with them against the Seer, the Bridgeburners are fine and at the Thrall with Humbrall Taur and survivors, including a few Grey Swords, whom he says acquitted themselves unbelievably. Whiskeyjack says they’ll get there after figuring out what to do about the Tenescowri army and Quick Ben relates the atrocities that army was involved in, mentioning specifically that their leader Anaster skinned the Prince and ate him in the throne room. Whiskeyjack says any who can be charged and convicted of such crimes will get military executions, a punishment that Quick Ben points out is far more mercy than what the Tenescowri showed to their victims. Whiskeyjack agrees and says it’s lucky then for the Tenescowri that the Malazans captured them. Quick, though, says he is worried about how the surviving populace will react to such mercy, then leaves. Korlat says Kallor will not like this, but Whiskeyjack doesn’t think Brood will care much what Kallor says. When Korlat says horrors to answer horrors is an ancient law, Whiskeyjack says he “doesn’t hold to it . . .We become no better then.” As he speaks of the logistical difficulties in dealing with the Tenescowri, Korlat realizes he actually would rather just leave the Tenescowri. When she asks, Whiskeyjack senses something else behind the question, “the whisper of a hidden wedge, poised to drive itself between us.” He answers they’ll take the leaders, including Anaster, but the “real criminal” is the Seer, “who would starve his followers into cannibalism, into madness. Who would destroy his own people. We’d be executing the victims—his victims.” Korlat points out that would argue for forgiving the Pannion armies as well, and Whiskeyjack answers that he and Dujek agree that “we are not here to annihilate a nation. The armies that impede our march to the Seer will be dealt with. Efficiently. Retribution and revenge are distractions.” Korlat wonders “what of liberation?” and Whiskeyjack says that’s “incidental,” and then he expresses surprise, saying it seemed Brood saw it the same way when they planned to “strike for the heart.” But she says he misunderstood, that “for over a decade the warlord has been waging a war of liberation—from the rapacious hunger of your Malazan Empire. Brood has now shifted his focus . . . is here to free the Pannions.” Whiskeyjack responds you can’t free people from themselves and she answers Brood means to free them from the Seer’s rule, to which Whiskeyjack says “who exalted the Seer to his present position?” Korlat expresses confusion then, saying “yet you speak of absolving the commonality, even the soldiers of the Pannion.” And Whiskeyjack tries to clarify by saying “neither I nor Dujek will willingly assume the role of judge and executioner should we prove victorious. Nor are we here to put the pieces back together for the Pannions . . . [to do that means] we must occupy.” Korlat laughs at that and says “is that not the Malazan way?” Whiskeyjack objects that “this is not a Malazan war” and when Korlat says “Isn’t it?”, he tries to use the “we were outlawed” cover story but realizes Korlat knows (or suspects) that isn’t true and that “he had just failed a test. And with that failure had ended the trust that had grown between them.” Korlat walks out after giving him a smile of “pain and regret.”

SCENE 5

After she leaves, Whiskeyjack thinks to himself “Should I have told you, Korlat? . . . That we’ve got a knife at our throats and the hand holding it on Empress Laseen’s behalf is right here in this very camp and has been ever since the beginning.” Dujek enters and Whiskeyjack immediately tells him Brood knows the Malazans aren’t outlawed. They both realize coming clean now is a bit of an insult. Just as Dujek says “the alliance is in trouble,” Artanthos interrupts to tell them Brood is calling a counsel.

SCENE 6

The Mhybe reflects on how the wagon bed has become her whole realm. She thinks of how the Nathii bury their dead in wooden boxes similar to the wagon bed. She feels dead, awaiting an end, but is upset others won’t let her end it: “They were keeping it away. Playing out their own delusions of mercy and compassion . . . Gestures of malice . . . scenes of torture. The Rhivi woman who takes care of her is brain-injured and the Mhybe thinks how before the woman became her caretaker she had helped prepare the corpses, and wonders if she even knows the Mhybe is alive (the Mhybe also considers it malicious to have put this woman as her caretaker). As the woman sings, the Mhybe believes she does so to keep away the terror she must feel, surrounded by “unknowns, amidst things she could not comprehend.” The Mhybe thinks she would rather live in this woman’s world of terror than face “my daughter’s betrayal—the wolves she has set upon me, to pursue me in my dreams. The wolves, which are her hunger . . . There have been no rituals severing our lives—we have forgotten . . . the true reasons for those rituals. I ever yield. And you suckle in ceaseless demand. And so we are trapped, pulled deeper and deeper.” She begs the spirits to kill her, to end this “cruel parody of motherhood,” the bitterness of hating one’s own child, of “remain[ing] a young woman in this aged body.” The caretaker accidentally hurts the Mhybe while brushing her hair and when the Mhybe hisses in pain and looks at her, their eyes meet: The woman who looked at no one was looking at her. I a young woman in an old woman’s body. She, a child in a woman’s body—Two prisons in perfect reflection.”

SCENE 7

Kruppe and Silverfox talk. Silverfox asks about how her mother is doing and Kruppe suggests she ask herself, but Silverfox says she cannot, that she is nothing but “an abomination for my mother—her stolen youth in the flesh.” She tells him things are worse since Korlat told the Mhybe of the Ay and Kruppe asks if Silverfox is beginning to “doubt the journey undertaken.” Silverfox answers it is too late for doubts; theirs (her and Kruppe’s) journey is done and it’s now up to the Mhybe to make hers. Kruppe objects that Silverfox is lying; “your journey is anything but done,” but decides to let it go. He asks of the battles and she summarizes events, ending with Brood’s call to counsel. Kruppe says he’ll attend but when asked, Silverfox says she has other things to deal with. They are about to part when she says she now has a “sudden urge” to go with him to the meeting, a “part” of her wishes to though she can’t tell which part of her it is (Tattersail, Bellurdan, Nightchill). Kruppe suggests she goes, for “if a rift is imminent, your personage could prove essential, for you are the bridge.” She says she doesn’t trust Nightchill and he says most people have parts of themselves they don’t trust (save him of course).

SCENE 8

Rake enters Brood’s tent where Korlat, Brood, and Kallor await the Malazans. Korlat says the alliance is at risk and Kallor complains “we’ve been lied to from the very start” and suggests attacking the Malazans immediately, while they’re still recovering from today’s battle. Rake ignores Kallor and tells Brood if he’s talking about the fact of “the hidden hand of the Empress—the daggers poised behind the backs of Dujek Onearm and Whiskeyjack,” then if the allies do intervene, it should be to help them, unless Brood suddenly thinks them incompetent militarily, which today’s battle would seem to belie. Kallor says nobody questions their ability, but “this was to be a war of liberation.” Rake says “don’t be a fool” and Brood replies it isn’t so foolish a statement. But Rake interrupts “the Pannion Domin is just another empire . . . and represents a threat. Which we are intending to obliterate. Liberation of the commonality may well result, but it cannot be our goal.” He goes on to defend the Malazan Empire:

The Domin is an empire that sows horror and oppression among its own people . . . consider those cities and territories on Genabackis that are now under Malazan rule. Horror? No . . .Oppression? . . . Malazan laws are, if anything, among the least repressive of any empire I have known. Now. The Seer is removed, a High Fist and Malazan-style governance replaces it. The result? Peace, reparation, law, order . . . Fifteen years ago, Genebaris was a fetid sore on the northwest coast, and Nathilog even worse. And now, under Malazan rule? Rivals to Darujhistan herself. If you truly wish the best for the common citizens of Pannion, why do you not welcome the Empress? . . . Brood, you and I, we have fought the Malazans as liberators in truth . . . Our motives aren’t even clear to us—imagine how they must seem to the Empress? Inexplicable. We appear to be bound to lofty ideals . . . We are her enemy, and I don’t think she even knows why.

When Kallor responds that there wouldn’t be a place for any of them in the Empire, Rake says of course not, “We cannot be controlled. The truth laid bare is we fight for our own freedom. No borders for Moon’s Spawn. No world-spanning peace that would make warlords and generals and mercenary companies obsolete. We fight against the imposition of order and the mailed fist that must hide behind it, because we’re not the ones wielding that fist.” When Brood points out he has no desire to do be the fist, Rake asks, “then why begrudge” the ones who do? Korlat is stunned but incredibly proud of Rake: He is the Son of Darkness. A master worth swearing fealty to—perhaps the only one. For me. For the Tiste Andii.” Brood simply sighs and asks for a drink while Kallor says he’ll hold back his “disgust” and discuss the logistics of the march to Coral, suggesting the army split and march as two parts. Rake says now that makes a sensible subject for the meeting and Brood dryly mentions how surprised the Malazans will be by the choice of subject. Korlat thinks she has done Whiskeyjack a disservice and hopes she can make up for it. The Malazans enter and Dujek apologizes for being late, saying he was just told the Tenescowri are marching toward them, preparing for a battle at dawn. Rake says “leave that to me.” When Dujek asks if Rake means to send the Andii against the Tenescowri, Rake says “Hardly . . . I mean to scare them witless. In person.” Brood then pours drinks and says they have another issue, dragging it out humorously (to those who know) so Whiskeyjack and Dujek continue to think it’s about their lie. Korlat refuses to let them dangle, so brings up the march and division of armies. Whiskeyjack and Dujek are a bit confused, but Whiskeyjack offers up his view on the division, which he says is complicated by the Barghast joining, the possibility that some Capustan forces will want to join, as well as by the possible presence of Silverfox and the Imass. Kallor spits out “If we allow the bitch and her T’lan Imass into this war . . . we will have lost all hope of guiding it.” Whiskeyjack says his “obsession” is “twisting” Kallor’s mind. Kallor answers “And sentiment has twisted yours soldier. Perhaps a day will come when you and I can test our respective resolve.” Brood interrupts and says we can decide disposition when all the commanders are present. He then asks Rake about Moon Spawn and Rake says “We will rendezvous at Coral as planned,” and adds that a mysterious force at least partially made up of a T’lan Imass, a she-wolf, and a “very large dog.” is assailing the Seer from the south and that the Seer has fled to Coral. When the Malazans suggest the Imass must be a Bonecaster, Rake says no, he is a warrior with a sword and Bonecasters do not carry weapons. He also tells them the wolf might be an Ay and the dog “rivals those of Shadow.” They all realize that this means when they get to Coral they will face the Seer himself and the battle will be “fraught with sorcery.”

SCENE 9

Silverfox and Kruppe, on their way to the meeting, sense the “storm” has passed. Silverfox says she’ll go deal with her own business now and asks Kruppe not to tell anyone of her departure for a while. Kruppe asks if the Gathering has come and she says yes and she wants it to be private. Kruppe asks if he can come and she agrees. When his mule arrives, she wonders “who else will be witness to the Gathering through you?” He swears only him. When Silverfox asks about the mule, he says the mule will merely sleep through it, and Silverfox’s answer is “Sleep is it? No doubt, to dream.”

SCENE 10

Rake asks Whiskeyjack to walk with him after the meeting. Rake asks about his leg and when Whiskeyjack admits it hurts, Rake says Brood would heal him, to which Whiskeyjack gives his usual response: “when there’s time.” Rake points out there has been plenty of time, but moves on. He’s happy to hear Whiskeyjack has heard from Quick Ben, and even happier to see Whiskeyjack’s effect on Korlat: “I had not expected to find in her such renewal. A heart I’d believed closed for ever. To see it flowering so . . . ” When Whiskeyjack worries out loud he may have wounded her with his deception, Rake says only momentarily. He says he defused the anger and Whiskeyjack eventually figures out Rake and the others still need the Malazans. Rake admits perhaps more than ever and says they need pretty much everybody, including Paran as Master of the Deck. Whiskeyjack asks what that role means and Rake explains “The Crippled God has fashioned a new House and now seeks to join it to the Deck of Dragons. A sanction is required. A blessing . . . or conversely a denial. Whiskeyjack wonders who blessed the House of Shadow then, but Rake says “there was no need. The House of Shadow has always existed, more or less. Shadowthrone and Cotillion merely reawakened it.” When Whiskeyjack asks if Rake means for Paran to deny sanction to the CG’s House, Rake says “I believe he must. To grant the Fallen One legitimacy is to grant him power. We see what he is capable of in his present weakened state. The House of Chains is the foundation he will use to rebuild himself.” Whiskeyjack points out that Rake and the gods “took him down” before via the Chaining, but Rake replies that it was “costly” and that Fener, who is now “lost to us” was vital in that Chaining. When Whiskeyjack asks how Fener was lost, how he was as Rake described “torn from his realm [into] the mortal earth,” Rake says “by a Malazan.” He goes on to explain in detail:

A once-priest of Fener . . . his hands were ritually severed. The power of the Reve then sends those hands to the hooves of Fener himself. The ritual must be the expression of purest justice, but this one wasn’t . . . there was a perceived need to reduce the influence of Fener, and in particular that High Priest, by agents of the Empire—likely the Claw . . . the High Priest’s penchant for historical analysis was another [factor]—he had completed an investigation that concluded that the Empress Laseen in fact failed in her assassination of the Emperor and Dancer . . . [who] ascended . . . in any case, those severed hands were as poison to Fener . . . He burned the tattoos announcing his denial upon the priest’s skin, and so sealed the virulent power of the hands . . . eventually the priest would die, and his spirit would come to Fener to retrieve [the hands]. That spirit would then become the weapon of Fener’s wrath, his vengeance upon the priests of the fouled temple, and indeed upon the Claw and the Empress herself . . . but . . . the High Priest has, by design or chance, come into contact with the Warren of Chaos—an object, perhaps forged within that warren. The protective seal around his severed hands was obliterated . . . and finding Fener, those hands, pushed. . . and now the Tiger of Summer ascends to take his place. But Treach is young, much weaker, his warren but a paltry thing, his followers far fewer in number.

 

When Whiskeyjack says Trake’s ascension is a heck of a coincidence, Rake says the Elder Gods foresaw at least some of this and were involved because “The Fall destroyed many of them, leaving but a few survivors. Whatever secrets surround the Fallen One—where he came from, the nature of his aspect . . . —K’rul and his kind possess them. That they have chosen to become directly involved . . . has dire implications as to the seriousness of the threat.” Whiskeyjack says he now understands Rake’s suggestion re Paran’s sanctioning (or not), but warns him Paran “doesn’t take orders well.” Rake asks Whiskeyjack to help convince him and Whiskeyjack says he’ll try. Rake asks then if Whiskeyjack ever finds the voice of river to be “unsettling” and when Whiskeyjack says he finds it calming instead, Rake says “this points to the essential difference between us,” which Whiskeyjack takes to mean between immortals and mortals. He suggests some drinking and Rake thinks it’s a good idea. Whiskeyjack hopes the ale will allow Rake to “find the voice grown calm” but as he looks at Rake, with Dragnipur on his back “like an elongated cross, surrounded in its own breath of preternatural darkness,” he doesn’t think the ale will work.

SCENE 11

Quick Ben prepares to enter a warren, with Talamandas riding his shoulder. He enters Rashan and moves toward an estate, which Talamandas recognizes as belonging to the necromancers who ripped him out of his barrow. Quick Ben says he wants to talk to them “to take their measure.” He also wants to test Talamandas’ ability to protect him from the CG’s poison. He tries to decide between using Hood’s warren or Aral Gamelon, a demonic warren, as he senses both kinds of sorcery in the estate. He chooses Hood’s warren and sees all the deaths of the city, piled and layered for generations. He realizes though all he is seeing are echoes, that the dead have been taken through Hood’s Gate, “blessed . . . their pain ended.” As they move to the estate, they are challenged by a chained Sirinth demon which Quick offers a deal to: he breaks its chain and it leaves peacefully. As he examines the chain, he finds it curious it is in High Korelri script. He frees the demon and escapes its attack, as well as that of the undead guards. Quick uses the D’riss warren (Path of Stone) to enter the estate building. He comes to a room where Bauchelain is reading in a chair, Reese is tending a fire, and Broach in rook form is on the mantel. Bauchelain makes it clear he knows there is a visitor in the house and Quick Ben steps out of the wall to face him. Bauchelain tells Reese to get wine for him and his guest and offers Quick a seat, which he takes. Bauchelain is impressed Quick freed and then escaped from his demon, mentioning he never frees his demons, which shocks Quick somewhat. Bauchelain says “I hold no sympathy for mere tools.” Reese returns with drink and two glasses and when asked, says he tried some down below to make sure it was “flowery” as Bauchelain ordered. When he says it was “thick . . . like iron,” Bauchelain sniffs it and tells him it’s blood from Korbal Broach’s “collection.” Reese, nervous, asks whose blood and after Quick explains to him why Reese thinks it important, Bauchelain sniffs again and guesses virgin blood because “it’s woody.”

SCENE 12

Paran examines the Barghast canoes in the Thrall. He is coming to understand his pain finally: “He was not a aman who welcomed power, but it had been thrust upon him . . . knowledge of the inter-connectedness that bound all things and everyone to everyone else . . . an adjudicator. A mitigator of power whose task was to assert a structure—the rules of the game—upon players who resented every challenge to their freedom . . . pressured by every influence imaginable . . . transforming even the easiest and most straightforward of decisions into a a nightmare.” He thinks how Gruntle has struck up a seeming friendship with Hetan, which he thinks they’re acting on now, “much to the disgust of the woman Stonny.” Itkovian has led his troop to the barracks to prepare for tomorrow’s retrieval of the underground refugees and Paran thinks it will take some time and doing for Capustan to recover. As he thinks on the apparent fragility of the Deck, and then on Treach’s ascension and Gruntle, he suspects the “Elder Gods had not orchestrated matters to the degree Nightchill had implied., that opportunism and serendipity was as much responsible . . . Otherwise, against the Elder Gods, none of us stand a chance, including the Crippled God. He thinks of the long chain of many links that would have had to lead to what happened and decides “unless we are all playing out roles that are predetermined and so inevitable—thereby potentially knowable by such things as the Elder Gods—unless that, then, what each adn every one of us chooses to do, or not to do, can have profound consequences. Not just on our own lives, but on the world—the worlds, every realm in existence.” And he recalls how Duiker had made the same argument. He doesn’t see how his normal uncertainty, scepticism, purposelessness, and other flaws will make him a good Master: “gods, talk about the wrong choice . . . Paran comes across Cafal, who refers to him as “The One Who Blesses.” This makes Paran reevaluate his role: “Adjudicator, I’d thought. Obviously more complicated that that . . . I think I dislike this notion of blessing. But . . . how else does a Master of the Deck conclude arbitration?” Paran says he was sensing there is a secret in the canoes and Cafal, taking him to one of the boats, shows him a hidden compartment with a remarkably preserved sword inside. Paran suggests it must be sorcery but Cafal says no, they just used to be master craftsfolk and employed “metals that have yet to be rediscovered,” but “we have lost the ancient knowledge.” Cafal tells Paran they swords will be given to children so they can grow up attuned to them. Paran guesses another secret—that the Barghast will learn the canoe-making art again and no longer consider the land their home. Cafal says he is correct, and adds that Taur wants Paran to bless the Barghast gods. Paran says the gods don’t need it, and when Cafal says nevertheless, Paran admits he doesn’t know how. He suggests Cafal gather the shamans and talk about it. He adds that he’ll have to think about the blessing because he is “a cautious bastard.” Cafal tells Paran one with power must act decisively and Paran says he will, but not precipitiously. As Paran leaves, Cafal warns him the Mask Council doesn’t like the idea of him (they have yet to sanction Keruli being added to the Council). He says Keruli will probably also ask Paran’s blessing on K’rul’s behalf.

SCENE 13

Bauchelain asks Quick Ben why he entered their estate. Quick begins with a discussion of demonic summoning, calling it the “rarest and most difficult discipline among the necromantic arts . . . [its] power from Hood’s own warren is deeply tainted with Chaos.” He stops to ask Bauchelain why he thinks summoning is “death-aspected” and Bauchelain replies it is because summoning is “the assertion of absolute control over a life-force . . . The threat of annihilation is inherently death-aspected.” Quick continues, mentioning that the warrens are poisoned and Bauchelain says there are “many flavours to chaotic power. That which assails the warrens has little to do with the elements . . . with which I am involved,” though he admits the “infection is an irritant . . . that threatens to get worse [and] perhaps . . . I shall need to retaliate upon whomever is responsible.” He adds that Broach, because he works more with Hood’s warren, is more affected and thus more annoyed/concerned. Quick offers to reveal the party responsible and when Bauchelain assumes Quick is looking for allies against that entity, Quick Ben says no and in fact he’ll reject offers of such from Bauchelain. Bauchelain asks if Quick Ben puts himself on a level with gods, then, and Quick says “I don’t rival gods . . . but sometimes I beat them at their own game.” Bauchelain says he is growing to like Quick’s company, and that he has been a “worthy diversion,” but unfortunately Broach wants to kill Quick Ben. Quick warns Broach should stay on the mantle and when Broach begins sembling out of rook form, Quick uses sorcery to throw him through a wall. Bauchelain asks if he’d like more wine and Quick says yes, and then apologizes for the mess he caused. Bauchelain tells Quick he was impressed, that Bauchelain had never seen six or seven warrens used at once. He asks if Broach will live and Quick answers it would have been rude to kill him. Bauchelain says his curiosity has been piqued, which is too bad for Quick as that often “result [s] in regrettable violence to the one being questioned.” He tells Quick Ben has has concluded that Quick is “used up” thanks to his unleashing all those warrens and says things will go better if Quick Ben just tells him everything he wants to know. Quick says that isn’t possible, though he will reveal the one behind the poison is the Crippled God. Bauchelain tells Quick Ben it’s too bad he didn’t hold back some of his power and Quick answers “But Bauchelain, I did” and strikes Bauchelain with his power.

SCENE 14

Quick Ben meets Reese in the front hallway and tells him the necromancers need him. Reese asks if they’re still alive and when Quick Ben says yes, Reese complains about how nobody ever just kills them. Quick and Talamandas leave.

SCENE 15

Bauchelain wakes in the garden where Reese dragged him and Broach. Reese tells Bauchelain he also put out the fire. Bauchelain offers him a bonus, but Reese says it’s just his job and leaves. Bauchelain wonders what clothes he has left to change into.

SCENE 16

Quick Ben and Talamandas move to the Thrall, employing Serc, Path of the Sky. Quick draws on Talamandas’ power, saying he needs to find the sticksnare’s threshold, what he can take in case of emergency. As he touches Talamandas’ power, he finds what he suspected: “Hood’s. Through and through. Of the Barghast gods barely a drop . . . wonders what’s drawing on their energies? There’s a card in the deck, in the House of Death, that’s been a role unfulfilled for a long, long time. The Magi. I think it’s just found a fact—one painted on a stupid acorn. Talamandas, you may have made a terrible mistake. And as for you, Barghast gods . . . never hand your servants over to another god, because . . . that god’s likely to turn them into weapons aimed directly at your back . . . Lucky for you I’m here.” Quick Ben draws hard on the power and “pulls”, calling on Hood and then “within his clenched hand was the rough weave of cloth . . . The breath of Death flowed over the wizard . . heavy with rage. And, in the clutch of a mortal, entirely helpless.” He demands Hood tells him what he’s up to, threatening to drag Hood all the way through so “Fener won’t be the only god who’s fair game.” Hood tells Quick Paran must not sanction the House of Chains, and says the CG is finding “adherents among the pantheon . . . Poliel, mistress of Pestilence aspires to the role of Consort to the King in Chains. A Herald has been recruited. An ancient warrior seeks to become Reaver, whilst the House has found, in a distant land, its Mortal Sword. Mowri now embraces the Three—Cripple, Leper, and Fool—which are in place of Spinner, Mason and Soldier. Most disturbing of all, ancient power trembles around the last of the dread cards.” Quick tells Hood Paran isn’t dumb and blind, and in fact probably sees more clearly and objectively than Hood. In any case, his concern is the poisoned warrens. Hood warns Quick he’s being led astray, that “the Seer is at the heart of an altogether different tale.” Quick says he’d already guessed that and still plans on taking down the Seer, which Hood says will gain Quick nothing. Quick says he’ll call on Hood again, warning him that the young gods Hood seeks to take advantage of won’t stay young and weak for long (the Barghast gods, Treach) and that since the young gods have held up their end of the bargain, Hood must as well, including releasing Talamandas. And he mentions how Hood screwed up once already with Dassem Ultor. Hood grudgingly accepts what Quick says, though mentioning “You will be mine one day, mortal,” to which Quick replies “let’s just luxuriate in the anticipation, shall we?” before releasing Hood back to his realm. Talamandas comes back, unaware of all that just happened. They continue to the Thrall.

SCENE 17

Paran imagines his home in Unta, with his parents dead, Felisin in the prison mines, and Tavore as adjunct. He wonders if she ever rides by or think of it, though he knows she was “cold-eyed, hers a brutal rationality, pragmatism with a thousand honed edges.” And he thinks how Felisin will be unshielded “from the worst of human nature . . . taken under wing . . . by some pimp or pit-thug. A flower crushed underfoot.” He assumes Tavore has a plan to rescue Felisin, but it will be too late—Felisin will be child no more—and thinks it would have been more merciful to have simply killed her, “and now I fear you will some day pay dearly.” He thinks “Hood feels close tonight.” Gruntle appears and the two seems to have a natural bond. When Paran says he thinks Trake “chose wisely,” Gruntle replies “not if he expects piety, or demands vows . . . I don’t even like fighting.” But Paran says that makes him a wiser choice: “reluctance to unsheathe those swords and all that represent seems a good thing to me.” Gruntle says if it weren’t for what happened to Stonny and Harlo, he’d have hid in the tunnels, then asks why the Malazans are here fighting. Paran wryly answers “we ran out of enemies” and when Gruntle asks if fighting is that important to him, Paran replies “no, it isn’t. But for men like Dujek Onearm and Whiskeyjack, it’s the sum total of their lives. They’re makers of history . . . the soldiers . . . are the physical will of the commanders they serve, and so are their own makers of history, one soldier at a time.” Gruntle asks what happens when the commanders are idiots, and Parans says generally the Empire has good ones, though “my own noble class has made destructive inroads on that tradition . . . The Empress has finally recognized the rot, however, and has already acted upon it, though likely too late.” Gruntle points out she just outlawed one of her best, and when Paran says it was “politics,” Gruntle says it “has the sound of a feint to me.” Paran says he can’t say. When Gruntle says Paran may be too open for his own good, Paran opens up even more and tells him of the impending choice re the House of Chains, adding he’s leaning toward listening to the single voice inside him—his own—saying he should sanction it, despite all the voices saying it’s a really bad idea. Gruntle tells Paran he felt his god recoil at that, but he could care less and when Paran asks why it doesn’t scare him, Gruntle says “Right now, the Crippled God’s outside the whole damned game, meaning he’s not bound by any rules . .. he just keeps kicking [the board] whenever he gets the chance.” Paran says Gruntle is right, if he sanctions the House of Chains, the CG becomes “bound.”

SCENE 18

Quick Ben appears on the Thrall plaza and heads for Paran and Gruntle, while Talamandas makes himself unseen. After Paran introduces the two, Gruntle says Quick Ben smells of death and he doesn’t like it, but since a Bridgeburner saved Stonny, he’ll wait to see if the smell wears off. Quick Ben tells them Brood is calling a meeting of all the commanders, including Paran, Gruntle, Taur, and whoever leads the Grey Swords. When Quick Ben brings it up, Paran tells Quick he has yet to decide on the House of Chains and Quick shouldn’t try to pressure him. Quick Ben says he has no intention to; in fact, Hood just tried it with him and it “riled” him. When he says it just made Quick want to do the opposite, Gruntle laughs and says he likes this night’s company. Quick goes on to tell Paran that his sickness isn’t from resisting the power but from resisting himself, and he should listen to his instincts. Paran asks if that advice comes from Quick Ben or Whiskeyjack, and Quick says it’d be the same were Whiskeyjack there. Paran admits he and Gruntle had pretty much come to the same conclusion, and he thinks the gods might get angry. Gruntle says “let ‘em,” and Quick Ben thinks “one more thing, Hood. You and your fellow gods have been calling out the rules uncontested for far too long. Step back now and see how us mortals fare. I think you’re in for a surprise or two.”

SCENE 19

The Capustan survivors exit the tunnels as the Grey Swords stand guard, giving them mental reassurance as well as physical protection. Itkovian thinks the contract with the city is almost ended adn wonders what the Grey Swords will do, having been cut down from seven thousand to three hundred and having lost Fener, which makes them merely a mercenary company seeking gold. He thinks “what I need is fanatics . . . not Trake’s . . . There were two other war-aspected gods . . . northern gods . . . in [Hetan’s’ eyes I was a wolf. Very well then . . . Having made his decision, he sends the recruit for the captain, saying “We three have a task before us.” As she rides off, he wonders at the feeling of emptiness he has, “as if he personally was to have no part to play in what was to come beyond this act of preparation—no subsequent role in what had to be done . . . a new Reve.”

SCENE 20

Itkovian, the recruit, and Captain Norval ride to the Barghast camp, where a group of old women await him. They sense his “soul is nothing but ashes”, but one says “he would promise a firestorm to a frozen forest. Togetha and Farand, the lovers lost to each other for eternity, the winter hearts that howl . . They come closer—only not from the north, oh no, not the north.” Itkovian points to the recruit and calls her the Mortal Sword, but the old woman says no, another has been found and besides, the recruit has “too much caring” in her hands; she will be Destriant. And Norul Shield Anvil. When Norul is confused, Itkovian explains: “It must be done . . . Togg, Lord of Winter, a god of war long forgotten, recalled among the Barghast as the wolf-spirit, Togetha. And his lost mate, the she-wolf, Fanderay, Farand in the Barghast tongue . . . A Reve must be proclaimed, kneeling before the wolf god and the wolf goddess . . . The Grey Swords are remade.” He tells the two he cannot be part as he is Shield Anvil to Fener and Fener is gone. He advises them to seek “fanatics . . . people with nothing left to their lives . . . People who have been made lost . . . you will find the people you seek, sir, among the Tenescowri.” And as he sees her face, he feels guilt that he gave her no choice.

 

Amanda’s Reaction to Chapter Eighteen:

Hmm, the Hold of the Beast is from the “long-lost Elder Deck”? The Barghast Gods are some of the Elder Gods, or did I misunderstand? Sometimes I am reluctant to attribute truth to the excerpts we’re given in fear of being misdirected! After all, the author of the piece can only tell what they know.

Here is an interesting piece of commentary from Erikson—the idea that within any army or force or empire, no matter how evil, you can find gems: “Within the rotting corpse hide diamonds! Pure of heart and stalwart with honour, yet besieged within their own house by the foulest of masters.”

And now Quick Ben is offered an alliance, protection as he uses the poisoned warrens because the Barghast Gods like him! Ye Gods, I’m not sure whether the friendship of such powerful beings should be sought or run from!

You know something? I like the clear contrast between the behaviour of the Barghast and the behaviour of their gods. The Barghast are almost as children, led by instinct, whereas their gods are given to contemplation and thought. I wonder how much of this difference is due to the fact that the Barghast have not had the guidance of their gods for so many, many years?

Wow, and here an inkling of just how far Quick Ben surpasses other beings in terms of intellect: “In your fevered state, you revealed the way your mind works—you wove a net, a web, yet even I could not discern all the links, the connecting threads. Your grasp of causality surpasses my intellect, Ben Adaephon Delat. Perhaps my gods caught a glimmer of your design. Perhaps no more than a hint, triggering an instinctive suspicion that in you, mortal, the Crippled God will meet his match.”

Ha, it’s amusing to see Quick Ben drop into conversation something that has clearly been this deep dark secret! And then more secrets: “And if that’s not enough, all the last surviving Elder Gods have lived under a host of nasty curses for a long, long time.”

Where DOES Quick get his knowledge from? [Bill: shampoo rinse repeat this question for the next 7000 pages) *curious* I like this, because Erikson is actually holding his hand out to his readers and making sure that they are all up to speed, that they have realised these secrets already. Makes sure everyone is on board, which gives me reason to suspect that these matters (the Elder God curses, K’rul’s blood being the warrens, the fact Quick said “last surviving Elder Gods”) are all going to be of massive import for both the rest of this book and the rest of the series.

Also massively amusing to see Quick Ben reveal the fact he knows he is being used—plus identity of the gods who have stepped into the fray against the Crippled God.

I’m getting the impression that the army of the Pannion seer is all about numbers, and little else. Certainly when faced against skilled opponents, they seem to go to pieces. “The details before the commander were precise in following the Malazan doctrine of set battles, as devised by Dassem Ultor decades past.”

Oooh, this statement gives me chills—didn’t we see this at Pale? “There was a Mage Cadre active in he engagement, at least at the start, but the Tiste Andii nullified them.” Suddenly it’s all okay when the Tiste Andii fight on our side… Erikson once again blurs the ideas of “sides” in war.

Some Malazan soldiers might be great thinkers, but some are not. *grins*

“But sir, I am Dujek’s liaison to the Black Moranth—”

“And are they here?”

“Uh, no sir.”

I think I must have mentioned sufficient times how much I LOVE the relationship between Whiskeyjack and Korlat? No? One more time? For reasons like this:

“He resisted an urge to draw her into his arms, and was disconcerted to see a glimmer of prescient knowledge in her eyes.

“Not in front of the troops, surely,” she murmured.

He growled. “Lead me through, woman.”

Mind, all the exchanges involving Whiskeyjack are damn fine. I like this one here with Quick Ben—again, the shorthand of two people who have worked together for a long time, and an interesting perspective on matters we’ve already been party to.

Even stronger is the conversation between Whiskeyjack and Korlat as they discuss the fate of the Tenescowri. I’m all… conflicted. I saw this screaming horde tear into the Grey Swords. I saw them, led by Anaster, butcher and eat a Prince I had come to respect. I saw them begin to destroy the very soul of Toc. And yet…. I think I am on Whiskeyjack’s side. They were victims of the Pannion Seer and his foul influence, surely? It’s hard.

Hmmm… “Should I have told you, Korlat? The truth? That we’ve got a knife at our throats. And the hand holding it—on Empress Laseen’s behalf—is right here in this very camp, and has been ever since the beginning.”

Tayschrenn? And here is a sentence that says a great deal in not very much: “Ah, standard-bearer, your timing is impeccable…”

I wonder whether this will have great import?

“I, a young woman in an old woman’s body. She, a child in a woman’s body.” Are they going to do some kind of switch?

If Kruppe is—as we suspect—a tool of K’rul, or allied to K’rul, [Bill: good change of vocab.] Kruppe, I think we can safely say, is not a “tool.” Well, okay, some readers may think him a “tool,” but not a tool “of” someone else, then it is very interesting that there is such an alliance and expert knowledge between Kruppe and Silverfox. They are quite clearly both working towards a particular result for the Mhybe, and Silverfox is willing to reveal elements about the triad of souls within her. Why such an alliance?

Ouuuuu! I luuuurve Anomander Rake, and never more so than here [Bill: oh, you’ll love much more than this . . . ] where he dispassionately lays out the idea that the Malazan occupation is probably the best thing for the cities/empires in question. I’m both blown away and saddened by the fact that he is willing to realise that there is no place in said Empire for people like Rake and Brood, because there is no way to control them. They are, in essence, elemental forces, given to capricious decisions—and always thinking of themselves over all others. It takes a very fine man to even realise that, let alone vocalise it to others.

And then this—just brilliant:

“Leave that to me,” Anomander Rake drawled.

[…]

Dujek asked, “You are offering to set your Tiste Andii against the Tenescowri, Lord?”

“Hardly,” Rake replied. “I mean to scare them witless. In person.”

I think Rake has just answered the eternal question ‘You and whose army?’

Ha, how mean of Brood and Rake to tease Whiskeyjack and Dujek so! (but also a little funny…)

Does Erikson overuse this word?

“I sense the imminent convergence of the T’lan Imass…”

Is Kruppe’s mule just a mule?

“Lass, the mule’s capacity for sleep […] is boundless, unaffected and, indeed, admirable.”

[…] “Sleep, is it? No doubt, to dream.”

Is this a crazy reference to Burn, or am I waaay out? It’s just the pointed reference to sleeping and dreaming, both of which have been used to describe Burn in the past.

Even Rake is mentioning Whiskeyjack’s leg! Yes, there is such a thing as being stubborn—but there is also such a thing as taking it far too far… If everyone around you is bringing it up—and if you have capable allies in an alliance who can take on your duties—surely you would pause and think about having it healed. This awful weakness in Whiskeyjack makes me worry endlessly.

Wow, so Heboric’s hands being taken was the beginning of the weakness in Fener? A horrific misstep by the Claw… He was supposed to live and die, with all that power being taken into Fener and then unleashed on those Claw who caused the problem. But instead Heboric came into contact with the jade statue—which we now hear is fashioned from Chaos, or connected to same—which pushed Fener from his place among the pantheon. A horrible coincidence, that this would occur as the Crippled God starts stirring? Or part of his plan?

Quick Ben uses the warren of shadow with great efficiency and expertise, and confesses that he prefers to stay hidden—a legacy of his time as High Priest of Shadow? Did this occur before or after he took all those additional souls within him?

When Quick moves into the warren of Hood himself, and sees all the gentle deaths from years previously in Capustan, but can find no hint of the recent traumas, that made me both smile and feel sad. I’m guessing it was as a result of Itkovian’s work, cleansing the city, allowing all the souls to pass on in peace.

Quick Ben is curious as a cat, isn’t he? Poking his nose into the affairs of Bauchelain and Korbal Broach? I do like the way he answers Talamandas’ question of ‘why are we doing this?’ with ‘Because it’s fun.’ The different use of the warrens is entertaining—does this mean that, although Quick Ben has the capability of using all those warrens, he can still only use one at a time? He seems to have to release one before he can use another…

Here, finally, I am starting to see the appeal of Bauchelain. His nonchalant acceptance of Quick Ben’s presence, his analytical descriptions of how he intended to use the demon to kill the one who would free him…. His reactions to events occurring are always entertaining.

Paran’s throughts on his new power are incredibly well-written—from his physical reaction to trying to reject the power granted to him; to his musings on how much the Elder Gods actually had to do with the serendipitous ascendance of Trake. I love this:

“Players in the game, wanting no others. Players outside the game and wanting in. Players to the forefront and ones behind, moving in the shadows. Players who play fair, players who cheat. Gods, where do I begin to unravel all of this?”

Surely this could be a paragraph to sum up all the behaviour of the characters within the Malazan Book of the Fallen?

And surely Paran is, in fact, exactly the correct choice to be the fulcrum—purely because he doesn’t see himself in that role and self-doubts. All the time he is “plagued by uncertainty” he will take the time to think over decisions and choices. Think of someone with towering self-confidence in that role! For all the I do love him and his attitude Rake would make a terrible Master of the Decks….

Looks like there is more to Paran’s new power than he realises as well: “Adjudicator, I’d thought. Obviously more complicated than that. The power to bless?”

The sword of the Barghast and those metals that are yet to be rediscovered—and might have been had sorcery not become so prevalent: is this a discussion on the fact that science was once the manner in which people operated in Erikson’s world? Have they moved away from science because of magic? Would be an unusual way round to do this in literature!

Also, those Barghast-children wielding swords? I can see them having a role!

Okay, big cheers now for Bauchelain—seems as though Quick Ben brings out the very best in him. I especially appreciate his dry question ‘More wine?’ just after Quick has unleashed the powers of his warrens (and, yes, looks like he can use all of them at once). And the ending to their conversation is awesome!

Has there ever been a finer character committed to paper than Quick Ben? Ever? He is so totally cool and badass—and I’m getting a little bit fangirl in my posting at the moment! Hopefully next week you’ll return to the scheduled programming, but for now I’m practically bouncing up and down and ‘squeeing!’ at each new scene that I read.

Here, I love that Quick Ben misinforms Talamandas of what he wants to do, to enable him to test what power is controlling the Sticksnare. And his confrontation with Hood—his quiet warnings, and his sharp ability to guess what the God of Death intends to do—is absolutely made of win. We’re also given some extra details about the formation of the House of Chains, which is continuing apace. Seems like none know yet that the ancient power circling one of the cards is Kallor.

The quality is maintained in the chat between Paran and Gruntle—and the fabulously straightforward perspective brought to the consideration of the House of Chains. Because, of course, we haven’t contemplated the fact that it might be a good thing (or, at least, I didn’t—cleverer readers might have!) The Crippled God and the House of Chains would be bound by the same powers that control the other Houses—a level playing field can only be a good thing, right?

And the mortals kick back against the gods! “You and your fellow gods have been calling out the rules uncontested for far too long. Step back, now, and see how us mortals fare… I think you’re in for a surprise or two.”

The Grey Swords look for a new god—and think about wolves… And the Mortal Sword has already been found? Is it that he’s currently suffering the embrace of the Matron? And the new Grey Swords dedicated to Togg and Fanderay will find their new recruits within the Tenescowri—those who have been lost. I love how all the little blocks slot into place. *smiles*

 

Bill’s Reaction to Chapter Eighteen:

Talamandas has an interesting take on the Empire: an “empire of murderers” that is ruled by a “malevolent, spiteful Empress who sits on a blood-stained throne.” Despite its seeming power and strength, Talamandas calls it a “rotting corpse” with a few diamonds in it, and then says it is always the way, the empires get prettied up and transformed by historians into a house that “shine [s] and sparkle[s],” which allows everyone to ignore the rot and so not see how the empire “burns.” A prediction, perhaps, of what will happen with the Malazan Empire?

Interesting description of Quick Ben from Talamandas: “your mind works—you wove a net, a web . . . your grasp of causality surpasses my intellect.” We’ve gotten several very recent references to how Kruppe and Quick Ben are it seems different not just on a scale of intelligence but a kind as well. Kruppe seems almost removed from reality—able to dream reality almost or contain it. Here are his words: “for whom the world is nestled as a pearl within . . . the confines of his . . . brain . . . for whom the world is naught but a plumage dream of colours and wonders unimagined, where even time itself has lost meaning.” And Quick Ben seems able to hold reality in his head as a network. Seems they’d make a staggeringly effective duo.

I also enjoyed Quick’s casual drop of arcane info in this conversation. And how Talamandas’ frustration can easily stand in for the reader’s—good natured frustration. As I put to your question about where does Quick Ben get his information—that’s going to be a bedeviling point throughout the entire series. And I mean the entire series. Some of it we can guess simply comes from his souls’ (the ones we know) knowledge and experience, personal knowledge as well as the fact that one of them was a “scholar” so probably dug up a lot of old knowledge. But that only goes so far….

I also enjoyed this conversation because we get to see Quick Ben think—similar to what we’ve seen in a few other scenes, such as a Kulp monologue—we get to watch smart people lay out points and connect them.

We also get a sense of the alliance of gods that is forming (and if we have an alliance on one side, no reason not to think there is an opposed alliance on the other—something Hood later confirms for us). So far, at least, then, we’ve got K’rul, Hood, Treach/Trake, Fener, Burn, and the Queen of Dreams. Only some of whom we’ve seen directly or seen much of—we can probably assume then we’ll see the others and perhaps more as alliances grow or shift.

We get a sense of another type of intelligence that has been working for the Empire—the military intelligence, as Whiskeyjack oversees the Malazan tactics on the field, tactics created by Dassem Ultor decades ago. As a small detail, I found it interesting the decision to attack using smaller squads so as to delay a rout/retreat. It seems almost counter-intuitive—seems you’d want your opponents running as quickly as possible—but then that allows them to reform down the road with more of them then they would have had if you could have just kept killing them. It’s a tiny detail, and one I’m not even sure is right in actual military workings even if it has a logic to it, but I’m less concerned about the actual military credence of it than the fact that it shows me an author working and thinking—not just taking the easy way out of having his army simply “rout” the other. It’s similar to the earlier scene I pointed to that gave us a richer sense than usual of the difference in fighting on horseback. We’ve all seen the cliches, the repeated same-old descriptions of battle scenes, and it’s nice to go beyond that surface repetition here.

We’re given Whiskeyjack and Dujek’s moral stance re: the Tenescowri army early on, in throwaway detail fashion, but obviously it will play a role later and even more so in the next chapter. Whiskeyjack’s defense of treating them with military rule to Quick Ben builds on that, as well as gives us yet another example of one of those “diamonds” in the Empire that Talamandas talked of.

We get a quick reminder of the fact that Moon’s Spawn is hidden away somewhere—something to keep in front of the reader for later. And in that same conversation I like Korlat’s characterization of Rake-her correction of WJ when he says she has “faith” in him. After all, after centuries of that faith being born out, at some point it has to stop being faith and just become accepted knowledge: sun came up today, Rake did something cool….

Note how Erikson makes the upcoming rift between Whiskeyjack and Korlat more intense by having it follow a scene where their attraction is made so clear—both in serious words and playful ones as you point to Amanda. Without this scene, we’d recognize the pain of the rift intellectually, but with this scene we feel it much more as readers.

Last chapter we had Itkovian talking about the level of brutality. Look at the echo between him and Whiskeyjack

Itkovian: “what the Pannions had delivered had in turn been delivered upon them. We are all pushed into a world of madness, yet it must now fall to each of us to pull back from this Abyss.”

Whiskeyjack: “horrors to answer in kind.”

And then we get answer to Itkovian’s question of how we “pull back from the Abyss”—we simply choose, when we have choice, not to answer horror with horror. It doesn’t mean one doesn’t fight, or fight to win, but it means when one has time or opportunity (as opposed to on the battlefield for instance) to choose, one chooses a different path. It’s a very simple, very optimistic view (Star Trek played off of this concept I don’t know how many times—with Kirk (often shirtless) tossing aside a knife, a phaser, etc. and saying today we’re not gonna kill just cuz we can). How can you not like Whiskeyjack (and Dujek) for this stance? Or for his/their refusal to stand as both judge and executioner. I think liking them for this is unavoidable, but agreeing with them is not. I think Amanda, you’re meant to be conflicted. We could have had this dialogue prior to horror of Capustan—after all, we’ve known for some time the Tenescowri are peasants—untrained, mostly unarmed. Erikson could have had Dujek tell the alliance well prior to engagement—oh, and if we come across the peasant army, try not to slaughter them. Instead, we’re forced into a much more complex interaction with Whiskeyjack’s arguments precisely because we, as readers, have seen the horrors he has not. As I said, while I think it’s almost impossible to like the idealistic stance, witnessing the atrocity makes it harder to agree with it.

Then, of course, things get muddier when he starts discussing how they also won’t pick up the pieces once they win (assumption there) in Coral—the heart of the Domin—cuz then they’d be administrators and that means they’d have to occupy and that would be like adding another piece to the Empire, and of course we all know we’re not an Empire army anymore cuz we got outlawed and—whoops. What was that last part again, Korlat would like to know? Sorry Whiskeyjack, you failed your test, Mr. “Wide-eyed Stupid.” And again, that pain and regret in both Korlat and Whiskeyjack as they realize this is made all the more poignant by the scene we just shared with them in the warren. Luckily, Erikson will soon turn this on its head as Korlat’s alliance-breaking news re the big bad evil Malazan Empire is flipped by Rake (whether that’s the last flip on this subject I will not say).

We’re given yet another reason to like both Whiskeyjack and Dujek—their ethics over realizing that “confessing” a lie once someone has found out you’ve been lying doesn’t gain you any points and certainly not any “absolution.”

We had a back and forth some time ago on the reread order (which, again, in our defense I have to point out was delivered by the authors themselves, not us) with regard to the “spoilage” re: Tayschrenn being Artanthos. Here we see an interesting repercussion of this. On the one hand, the lines re: WJ have some suspense to them if we don’t know Arthanthos = Tayschrenn and then Artanthos’ entrance doesn’t really mean much. On the other hand, knowing doesn’t hurt the suspense, as we still have some suspense of just what Tayschrenn might do, while his entrance and Whiskeyjack’s lines re: “impeccable timing,” as well as Dujek’s lines “we’re right behind you” offer up some sly, wry humor.

The Mhybe’s lines “Victory is an illusion” as she listens to the mourning among the Rhivi and Barghast (the “victors”) echoes what we experienced as Itkovian rode through the city streets thinking: “Dear Fener, find for me the victory in this . . . a city has been killed.”

I liked how her world has shrunk to the wagon bed and her blanket—it all become a “personal landscape”. Doesn’t this often happen to many at the end of their lives? We move out of our large houses into smaller ones, then from those into assisted living apartments even smaller—giving up our country/world-spanning travels, then our cars, our bus rides save for the once-a-week or biweekly Bus for the Elderly to the mall or symphony—then are moved into a nursing home room where maybe we wander or are wheeled into a common room and a cafeteria, then eventually our world shrinks to the width and length of a bed. Imagine if, like the Mhybe, our bed were made not of linens and metal, but of wooden slats that rose over our heads—who among us wouldn’t think, lying in there, unmoving, that we were already in our coffins at that point?

By the way—we get a lot of this in the series—someone mentioning a group of people from far off, rumors of them, tales of them—and then we eventually meet them. This way we get a sense of this as a full world—groups of people don’t just rise up as needed—they’ve always been there and now we just finally ran into them. We’ll see the Nathii down the road.

Now, I really love that imagery and metaphor here. But, and we’ll still be going back and forth on the Mhybe, the former caretaker of the dead is just a bit much for me. It just seems impossible to me that among all these smart people—all these people whom we’ve been presented as so concerned about the Mhybe—that nobody raises a hand and says “really? We really want to make the corpse-preparer the one she has to see everyday? During our suicide watch? Really?” The thing here is, we don’t need the woman to actually be taking care of the Mhybe. The Mhybe knows her so can just recall her or, since there would be lots of corpses around now—see her working from a distance and then call up the reflection, etc.

In that line, I find her musings on Silverfox as “every daughter” etc., to be a bit repetitive. I think sometimes you’ve just got to trust the reader. And this isn’t a particularly difficult metaphor. I can accept that the Mhybe thinks this—I don’t think the thoughts themselves are forced or implausible, just the opposite—I just don’t think we need as readers to be shown these thoughts in so many lines or ways. For instance, the lines on the rituals are good and different and would have been sufficient—but we get them in between lines saying basically the same thing, on top of earlier and later (I think) similar lines—some judicious paring I think would perhaps have gone a long way toward making her storyline more palatable to the many who complain about it.

Here again, the fact that Silverfox knows something about the Ay in particular has greatly increased the Mhybe’s anxiety/pain, but is either ignorant of why (doesn’t know she dreams of pursuit) or unconcerned with why strikes me a bit false or implausible. Or if not her, then Kruppe.

Ahh, the Rake entrance. Even slight and subtle as this one is in comparison to him pressing down on Baruk’s house, for instance, is so fun—with the lanterns going out then flaring back into life.

I love how Rake simply completely ignores Kallor’s suggestion to attack the Malazans. Doesn’t even deign to respond to it.

And Kallor just having to sit there when Brood says “while Kallor has uttered foolish statements in the past . . . ”

Rake’s speech re: the Empire is another great example of things being turned upside down. But it raises some possible questions for discussion. If Rake thinks the Empire is mostly an improvement, why has he intervened to stop them or hold them back? Was it overreach by the Empire—it was an improvement in many places, but Darujhistan for instance was doing fine? Was it the need to give his Andii something to do, to hold off despair? Was it pure selfishness, to keep themselves free? Did something shift in his view when Laseen took over the Empire? Are his motives, as he says, even unclear to him? Does he not buy what he is saying but needs to convince them because, as Whiskeyjack guesses later, Rake still needs the Malazans? Or is it part of some long-range (and let’s face it—these kind of folks can think lonnnnnnnnnng-range) plan? Or is it just a convenient arbitrary plot flip by the author? Talk amongst yourselves.

And note how we are granted a moment’s pity for Laseen—waging a war against implacable enemies, watching them kill her soldiers without having a clue as to why they are her enemies

We’ve gotten this image of the Empire earlier by the way—this idea that the Empire, by definition, isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Perhaps it’s merely a tool and how it is wielded is the question. We’ll see another empire later and maybe we can compare.

Think about Korlat’s reaction to Rake’s announcement: “stunned,” “off-balance.” Remember, this is a guy she has spent centuries with. Centuries. Yet he still surprises her. Think what that says about Rake. I think I’m just going to start abbreviating: TATIR—The Awesomeness That Is Rake.

I’m moved as well by her pride in him, her devotion.

And after being so moved, we get a nice break with Brood’s: “pour me another” response.

And then the comic relief, though yes Amanda—somewhat cruel, at Whiskeyjack and Dujek’s expense as Brood drags out the fact that the alliance is not in trouble. And how cute of Korlat to put an end to it.

And the dry comedy of Rake’s plan to scare the hell out of the Tenescowri “in person.” “Person,” of course, being somewhat loose.

Seems a lot of unnecessary bogging down in logistical detail, doesn’t it—all this how the army splits who goes where. Hmmmm.

Remember the visual face-off with Whiskeyjack and Kallor on horses? Here we get: “perhaps a day will come when you and I can test our respective resolve.” Yes, perhaps indeed. It’s like there’s a wall between these two and they are hurling threats (mild, unspoken, quiet, through glances, etc.) at each other and little by little, the bricks in the wall are being removed. What happens when the wall no longer separates them?

“A T’lan Imass, a she-wolf, and a very large dog.” C’mon, who doesn’t smile/chuckle/laugh at “a very large dog.”

Yes, the mule. The damn mule. (or mules, if we count Pust’s). It’s a mystery, huh? And always a big tease. I do think Silverfox edges near and gives us a clue with the dreaming part. And when Silverfox asks if anyone “will be witness through you,” at the Gathering, and Kruppe responds “Through Kruppe?”, I take that as a technical denial, with the emphasis on Kruppe (avoiding responding re the mule). And then when Silverfox pins him down on the mule, I read it as another technical denial, nobody will witness through his “eyes”—which may be technically true, but I’m not sure means nobody will witness. But as I said, it’s just a mystery. Like Quick, a long, long mystery.

Poor Whiskeyjack—thinks he’s getting Korlat and it turns out to be Rake. Sigh.

I don’t know. Maybe it’s just me reading too much. But the two of them—Whiskeyjack and Rake. Snow in a warm wind. Moths (and where do moths go, what are they attracted to). Seems some pregnant imagery to me.

Whiskeyjack’s leg. Again.

Obviously the sanctioning of the Crippled God and House of Chains is a big deal. We get one view from a character who is, I think for many of us, one of the all-time favorites of the series, which means we’re tipped toward this view by our response to Rake in general. But even here, I think we get a glimpse of doubt. When Rake says sanctioning him will give him power, it’s hard I’d say not to think “how much worse could it be?” Not to say we think Rake is wrong, but there’s a little nagging question as to his logic there. And I like how Whiskeyjack right away warns him that Paran isn’t a guy who takes well to authority/orders.

All of this interrupted by the huge explanation of Fener’s fall, which is the pattern in the series—a mystery even alluded to obliquely, abstractly, that remains a mystery for a while, then gets a piece filled in, then another, and eventually is fully explained in clear solid terms. Not always, but a definite pattern and one that is reassuring I think to readers who know they can fight through the mystery and abstraction and eventually arrive, often enough if not always, at a decent understanding.

Ideas on the sound of the river conversation? It’s such a lovely, evocative image I want to hold my own for the comments section.

Dragnipur. Cross. Does that image ever end well?

I really enjoyed seeing the use of the warrens from Quick’s p.o.v.—how the warrens changed what one saw and how we get to learn a bit more about each of them.

And I absolutely love the conversation between Bauchelain and Quick Ben. Just one of my favorite scenes. The back and forth, the sly humor, the dryness of it all, the urbane sophistication, the mutual flattery, the wine, the wine that isn’t wine, Quick having to explain why who/what it was is important, the punch line “woody,” the nightshade reference and Quick’s reaction, Bauchelain’s polite “well, sorry but I’m gonna have to torture you now,” his seemingly sincere regret Quick Ben hadn’t saved some of his power, Quick’s “oh, but I did,” Reese’s reaction to yet another person not killing his masters when they may have had the chance. The “alase” and “quite welcomes” and “thank you’s” and pleases and “do go ons” and sighs. The “I don’t rival gods. But sometimes I beat them at their own game.” All of it. Love this scene. Love it.

I find it interesting that Paran’s power as Master of the Deck is described as “sensitivity to unseen currents, knowledge of the inter-connectedness that bound all things and everyone on to everyone else.” One, it has echoes of Quick Ben’s power as described by Talamandas—seeing that web of connections. Two—it has a sense or idea of “empathy” at its core, a word that I’ve said repeatedly is important in this series. And so a character whom we’ve already seen show empathy on several occasions is given a sort of “super-empathy” as a massive bit of power.

It’s also a hint to his ultimate decision re the CG when he thinks he has to force “a structure, rules, upon players who resented every challenge to their freedom to do as they pleased.” He’s thinking here not of the CG at all, but of Rake, Elder Gods, etc. But it sets us up for the idea that not being in the game means the CG doesn’t have to be so bound, and so he has the most freedom of any of the others, unless Paran “binds” him—almost another “chaining” but in much more subtle fashion, and perhaps much less malicious or one-sided, or self-serving—a more even-handed chaining so to speak.

I think his musing on fate and pre-destination come just in the nick of time for the reader, as it’s getting hard not to start to see these things piling up (Fener’s fall, Trake’s rise, etc.) and who wants to read a book about a bunch of mindless pawns being moved around on a board by higher beings who know all and can see/predict all? Where’s the fun in that? It’s why Superman in my mind is the most boring of all superheroes—not only can the guy not lose the war; he can’t even lose a battle in the war. Which is why the writers had to invent kryptonite—they realized all-powerful and invulnerable was a deadly dull concoction. So Erikson needs this scene here I’d argue—he needs to reassure the reader that these characters’ choices and acts actually have meaning beyond fulfilling a predestined outcome (why I’m not a big fan of prophecy storylines). And what a great existentialist process Paran goes through—in the end, “what each and every one of chooses to do, or not to do, can have profound consequences. Not just on our own lives, but on the world” (and because this is fantasy, we get a super-existentialism—”the worlds, every realm in existence”). True freedom to choose, and its accordant consequences, is a terrifying concept, one that can lead to paralysis in some. This is one of those “depth” moments I love in these books.

And then we get a Duiker reminder. Let’s not forget him. Let’s not have a big emotional response to what happens to him and then move on cuz we’ve got books to get through. Erikson doesn’t cheapen his characters’ deaths and traumas by letting the reader forget them so easily.

Paran and blessing. File.

So we’ve got Quick Ben telling us several times he’s willing to take on the gods themselves, and now we get a great concrete example of just how far he is willing to go when he takes on Hood. Literally grabs him—a great image—and threatens to pull him down, something we’ve just been reminded via the Rake speech to Whiskeyjack is possible and dangerous. That line too, “in the clutch of a mortal, entirely helpless” gives us some pause when we consider the gods and their power.

So then we get some references to positions of High House of Chains—some clear and some not so much. My own view is the positions aren’t really all that important, but let’s list them as Hood gives them to see if people want to have some fun.

Poliel, Mistress of Pestilence. Pretty clear. We’re being set up here for things to come with regard to her.

We’ve seen the Herald already—Gethol. Also very clear.

“An ancient warrior seeks to become Reaver.” Now this is interesting as “ancient warrior” would make one think of Kallor—yet we saw Gethol speak of the position of King with Kallor, and in fact, Gethol even addresses him as such. So is that a deception on the CG’s part? A change? Or is the “ancient warrior” someone else?

A Mortal Sword from a distant land. I can think of one or two that we’ll meet.

As for the Cripple, Leper, and Fool—well, we’ve had references to some cripples and Leper, and certainly seen some fools. And we’ll meet more of all.

Finally, the most ominous: “ancient power trembles around the last of the dread cards.” I can think of someone whom we’ve yet to meet that certainly makes a lot of people tremble.

How sad is that scene with Paran moving through his memories and fears regarding his sisters. And all’s I can say is it is so much more poignant on a reread. So much more. Let’s all try to remember this later.

“Hood feels close tonight” indeed.

Boy, that whole “secret outlawing” thing is just falling apart, eh?

I like the inherent respect in “their own makers of history, one soldier at a time.” Don’t dismiss the grunts—they make history as much as the big boys/gals—just in a different, less flashy fashion. And together, in the aggregate, they are a force to be reckoned with. As we’ve seen. As we’ll see.

We’ve already seen some of the effects of the bad commanders (Aran). We’ll have to see if more show up.

I enjoy the bonding between Paran and Gruntle, and then how Quick Ben slides in as well, even after Gruntle takes an immediate dislike to him due to the smell of Hood on him. It’s quite appealing their sense of mischief and trouble-making, the “screw what the big boys want” kind of attitude. Summed up so nicely by Quick Ben’s closing lines—step aside and let the mortals have a shot—you may be surprised.

Lots of hints to the Grey Swords being connected to wolves and the wolf gods. And we’ve seen the two lovers separated. Now, the question is, will we see them reunited? The shoulderwoman says they’re getting “closer.” And not from the north—which leaves three directions but really implies the opposite so the south. Hmm, who is coming from the south? And we know we’ve got a Toc wolf. We’ve got wolves in the Mhybe’s dreams. It’s all coming together. Literally, perhaps.

Great, another burden for Itkovian to carry. And, by the way, have we mentioned, he is “not yet done?”


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.

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.

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