Malazan Reread of the Fallen

Malazan Re-read of the Fallen: House of Chains, Prologue and Chapter One

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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 the Prologue and Chapter 1 of House of Chains by Steven Erikson (HoC).

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.

Prologue

The prologue opens on a scene of devastation due to flood, a “drowned world,” with bloated corpses being fed upon by small black crabs. A city lies mostly under water due to the flood, seemingly caused by a “warren’s sundering.” The new sea arose due to a river from another realm — a massive river filled with silt and giant catfish and water-spiders—that had been shunted into this one and left to flow for months. Those that didn’t drown were done in by plague, before the rent closed the night before the book’s opening. Silt had piled up against a huge wall that had held back the waters, due perhaps to sorcery. The wall was set at regular intervals with large iron rings at the top. Trull Sengar is being dragged to the wall by his “captors,” whom he also names brothers and kin, by whom he had stood through “all that had happened, the glorious triumphs, the soul-wrenching losses.” He is chained to the wall, a steel plate lodged in his mouth. Then he is shorn ritually: his hair cut and scalp rubbed with a cream to keep him permanently bald, his forehead scarred by a circle with a slash through it to break the circle. The Shorning represents him being cast out, as if he had never existed at all. His captors speak of how Trull has betrayed one of them in particular, intoning that Trull had told them that the unnamed speaker that was betrayed had “severed your blood from ours . . . served a hidden master . . . betrayed our people.” The one betrayed refutes this accusation by listing his accomplishments: “the southlands are aflame. The enemy’s armies have fled. The enemy now kneels before us and begs to be our slaves. From nothing was forged an empire.” And to continue growing stronger, he tells his brothers they must continue to search and when they “find what must be sought,” they are to deliver it to him. He asks if they understand this requirement as well as the sacrifice he makes for their people and his brothers answer yes, and agree that Trull had not only spoken against their seeming leader but had also defended their enemies, calling them “the Pure Kin and [saying] we should not kill them.” When they agree Trull betrayed their brother, their leader says Trull betrayed them all, and there is a momentary hesitation before they agree to this as well, though Trull hears doubt in their voices. Trull thinks to himself this was clever as the leader now “shares out this crime of yours.” His captors leave and Trull thinks how Nature fights “but one eternal war . . . to understand this was to understand the world. Every world. Nature has but one enemy. And that is imbalance.” He muses how the wall holds back the sea, but only “for now,” for the “flood would not be denied.” He thinks he will drown soon, but not much sooner than his own people, for “his brother had shattered the balance. And Nature shall not abide.”

 

Amanda’s Reaction to the Prologue:

Had a very brief look at the Dramatis Personae before kicking off the read — some familiar names there (seems like we’ll finally get to know Adjunct Tavore) [Bill: Yes, it would seem that way, huh?], and LOTS of unfamiliar names again. Looks like we’re being given a whole different section of the tale now.

Straight away, in the Prologue, we’re shown “the 943rd Day of the Search” — this is not a measure of time we’ve seen before, hence we know that we’re dealing with something new.

And what a nasty first paragraph! Check out those words: “bloated,” “heaped,” “putrefying” — we’re not being given a pretty picture at all, are we?

More imagery, with the river/sea/searching — we’ve had exposure to people/beings in various other books associated with the sea and searching….

Hmm, trying to remember if we’ve seen a river that was pushed through a warren — I’m thinking about the Silanda right now. Was that warren not formed of a river/sea? Or am I misremembering? [Bill: Nope — the Silanda is exactly what you should be thinking.]

Brother versus brother. Kin against kin. That never ends well.

What could those massive iron rings have been used for before being turned to a captivity device? Oh, and look! Barely a page into the novel and our first experience of chains! Not something we’ve seen the last of, I’m sure — metaphorically and otherwise!

A hidden master and Pure Kin… Both points that will have great import, I reckon.

So, as Bill points out below, it’s all questions! We’ve taken a major step to a new people and place, and we are now, once again, hurrying to catch up rather than remaining in the comfort zone of familiar characters.

 

Bill’s Reaction to the Prologue:

Talk about a downer of an opening: death and destruction of an entire world, bodies decomposing and fed upon, flood, plague. We’ve heard of sundered warrens before; time will tell us whether this is the same event or not and what caused it. A few concrete items to keep in mind for later:

  • A river diverted from another world
  • Giant catfish
  • A massive wall with iron rings every fifteen paces or so
  • Crabs feasting on corpses

The prologue of course raises some basic questions:

  • Who is Trull Sengar? We’ve seen Erikson veer away from storylines before and here is a major swerve. Trull will, no surprise, become a major character.
  • Whom did he betray?
  • What is this new empire?
  • What do they seek and for what purpose?
  • Who is the hidden master the leader supposedly serves (according to Trull seemingly)?
  • What enemy has this new empire just defeated?
  • Who are the Pure Kin?
  • How did the leader, Trull’s brother, supposedly shatter the balance?

All of these questions will be answered in time (some in less time than others). But I will mention now that we’ve had reference in our past book to a people seeking, ever seeking. Anyone remember?

Along with lots of questions, the prologue also offers up a few common themes: the idea of balance and imbalance, opposition (sea and wall, a sundered warren, brother versus brother) and the area between, where things either split apart or come together (or, more philosophically, both): a shore.

I like this way of opening a novel with new characters, new setting, and a whole lot of questions. Keeps us on our toes as readers.

CHAPTER ONE

SCENE 1

Centuries ago, before the “Seven Gods opened their eyes,” a dog, displaying no wounds or sign of rabies, suddenly turned on people mysteriously, killing two and wounding one. The dog is put down by a group of warriors who stab it to death with spears. The people consider how madness “could remain hidden, buried far beneath the surface. The surviving victim, a baby, is brought down to the “Faces in the Rock” — the “Seven Gods of the Teblor,” where he dies soon after.

SCENE 2

Karsa Orlong revels in his grandfather’s tales of raids on Silver Lake, of “farms in flames, children dragged behind horses . . . small ears nailed to every wooden post.” The tales confirm for Karsa his grandfather’s bravery and his father’s cowardice and smallness. This despite his father, Synyg, defending his horses against the other clans’ raiders and doing a good job of training Karsa in the “Fighting Dances” and the use of his bloodsword as well as other weapons, so that Karsa, though young, became the best warrior of his clan. Karsa has sworn he will be more like his grandfather than father and that he will lead his people back to the old ways, beginning by leading his two friends Delum Thord and Bairoth Gild on another raid of Silver Lake like his grandfather did in his youth. He believes that in the decades since his grandfather’s raid, Silver Lake has grown from its previous two farms to perhaps as many as three or four, offering more potential victims. He vows before his gods, particularly Urugal — his own clan’s god — to slaughter the inhabitants of Silver Lake and bring glory and pride back to his people the Teblor. He thinks how Dayliss will offer her blessing to his raid and then take him as husband, now that he is a “warrior in truth,” having arrived at his 80th year.

SCENE 3

After Karsa leaves the glade of the gods, seven figures rise from the ground, some “missing limbs, others stood on splintered, shattered, or mangled legs. One lacked a lower jaw . . . Each of the seven, broken in some way. Imperfect. Flawed.” They reflect on how they had been sentenced to inhabit a sealed cavern for centuries, left behind “as was the custom of their kind. Failure’s sentence was abandonment . . . When failure was honorable their sentiment remains would be placed open to the sky,” but these had failed dishonorably. Their rebirth came about from “breaking a vow and swearing fealty to another.” Their kin, those that had left them in the cavern, had marked the site with carved faces and their ritual of binding had “lingered in this place with a power sufficient to twist the minds of the shamans of the people who had found refuge in these mountains.” The seven’s freedom is so far limited to the glade, but their freedom would soon “break free of its last chains” as “service to the new master promised travel . . . and countless deaths to deliver.” Urual (Urugal to the Teblor) says that Karsa will “suffice.” Sin’balle (Siballe) is more skeptical, saying the Teblor don’t even know their true name, to which Ber’ok says “their ignorance is our greatest weapon.” Urual agrees, saying it is their ignorance of “their legacy” which made it so easy for the seven to “twist” the Teblor’s faith. Sin’balle points out they thought Karsa’s grandfather would “suffice” too but failed. Haran’alle says the seven were too impatient, and too weakened by the “sundering of the Vow.” Thek complains their new master hasn’t given them enough power, but Urual says he “recovers from his ordeals as we do from ours.” Urual says in any case, if Karsa fails they will turn to Dayliss’ unborn child (Bairoth is the father), which maks Emroth complain that it will take another century due to the long lives of the Teblor. Urual thinks of Emroth’s “Soletaken proclivities, and its hunger that had so clearly led to their failure so long ago. He tells Emroth to stay close to Dayliss’ unborn child and she says she is already influencing it, saying “what I make within is neither a girl nor a child.” They all return to the earth as night falls.

SCENE 4

Karsa goes home and finds his father Synyg grooming his (Synyg’s) horse Havok. Karsa complains his own horse is not there and they rehash an obviously old argument that Karsa’s horse isn’t ready for the journey. Karsa is surprised when his father says he is giving Karsa Havok. His father then tells him Bairoth and Delum are waiting at the river’s ford, and also that Dayliss blessed Bairoth. Karsa asks if his father will bless him and Synyg says Karsa’s grandfather Pahlk has already done so and Karsa should be satisfied with that. When Karsa presses him, Synyg asks what he should bless: “the Seven Gods who are a lie? The glory that is empty? . . The slaying of children?” He adds that Pahlk his more interested in his own youthful “glory” than in Karsa’s. Karsa rides away to meet his two friends. Bairoth and Karsa spar a bit over Dayliss, then the three head out.

SCENE 5

Watching the three depart are twenty-three “silent witnesses,” blood-kin of the three friends who had been sacrificed in the glade to Siballe, who called them her “Found.” They dwelt unseen among the Teblor, though some suspected, such as Synyg, or Synyg’s wife and Karsa’s mother, who was considered a threat by the Found and so dealt with via “extreme measures.” Each of them had been scarred along the left side of the face by Siballe. One of them, watching Karsa and the other two leave, says one only will return.

SCENE 6

Synyg is cooking when his father, Pahlk arrives and he offers him dinner. The two clearly do not like each other. Pahlk is surprised that Synyg gave Karsa Havok, and when Synyg says “Havok deserved a final battle, one I knew I would not give him,” Pahlk says “as I thought . . . for your horse but not for your son.” He continues that Karsa is ashamed of Synyg and that is why he came to Pahlk. Synyg mockingly asks for more of Pahlk’s raid stories and Pahlk says Synyg sounds more and more like Karsa’s mother, “that damned woman.” When Pahlk finishes his bowl of food, Synyg throws it into the fire and tells him with Karsa gone, if Pahlk ever comes to his door again he will kill him. He then throws him, literally, out of the house.

SCENE 7

Karsa and his friends head off toward other clan’s lands and Karsa thinks how he doesn’t plan to sneak through them but to “carve a bloody path.” When Bairoth says his horse needs to rest, Karsa mocks him. Delum also says his horse needs a rest and Karsa gives in: “Two weighted chains about me, then . . . So be it.” At camp, Delum suggests traveling only at night by lower elevations but Karsa says they’ll travel by day and when Bairoth says Karsa will put them into war, Karsa agrees, saying “we shall gather souls.” Karsa does not like Bairoth’s mocking tone, his seeming unwillingness to follow. Bairoth says Karsa doesn’t get the humor and that he is indeed content to follow Karsa. Bairoth then instructs Karsa in politics, how the elders who did not bless this journey will claim they did when the three return, how the facts will be rewritten and the villagers will all “remember” lining the street to see the three off. As they sleep, Karsa wonders if Bairoth’s clever mind and mouth will help him in actual battle.

SCENE 8

They comes across a group of nine Rathyd, another Teblor clan. Karsa plans an attack though his friends are skeptical of the odds. Karsa leads and kills or fatally wounds all but a single “youth” (forty years old). Bairoth and Delum arrive behind him and begin to cut the limbs off one of the Rathyd that Karsa had sliced a leg off of. The youth runs away. When Bairoth complains about Karsa letting the youth escape, Karsa says he did so on purpose to trick the Rathyd into looking for three warriors on foot (they had hid their horses before attacking). Delum then complains that the youth will grow up recalling the horror of this night and will lead his people, becoming “an enemy for the Uryd, an enemy to pale all we have known in the past.” Karsa tells them that “one day . . . that Rathyd warrior shall kneel before me. This I vow, here, on the blood of his kin.” Bairoth says it is the impossible, for “no Rathyd kneels before an Uryd.” Karsa replies it will happen, and they can “witness” his vows becoming truth. They take trophies (ears, tongue, a bear fur and skull) and then prepare to ride out.

SCENE 9

They continue on, killing a few more Rathyd and taking their horses. Karsa’s wounds from the first attack are already healing, a common ability of the Teblor. Karsa tells his friends they will attack the Rathyd village while their warriors are out hunting for them. He will then lead the avenging Rathyd toward the neighboring clan’s lands and start a war between the Rathyd and the Sunyd.

SCENE 10

The three find the village filled only with elders, women, and youth. They attack and kill many and then round up the women. Two “eager” ones go off with Bairoth and Delum. The chief’s wife mocks Karsa’s belief his clan’s women would act differently. Karsa names himself and his lineage, and when he talks of how her people must curse his grandfather, she laughs and tells him Pahlk “bowed his head to beg passage.” She asks how many women they will mate with and he tells them all of them, since they are young and have blood-oil. She says the blood-oil will indeed keep them stimulated enough, will last for days, but that for the women the effect will “haunt” them for months. When Karsa’s turn arrives and the chief’s wife offers her daughter, Karsa takes the wife instead, though she says her husband will curse him for it.

SCENE 11

Karsa takes the chief’s daughter last. He tells her their village is done and the women should go live with his clan, and that she and her mother should go to his own village to raise his children and wait for him. She asks if she wants to know his name and unaware of how it shames her, tells her no, he’ll just call her Dayliss. He impregnates both her and her mother.

SCENE 12

After riding onward from the village, they come across a pack of Rathyd dogs. Karsa grabs and dominates the pack’s leader, Delum kills one dog that doesn’t submit, and they now have control of the pack. Delum tells Karsa he now believes Karsa will do all he says and Karsa tells him he will not be content to lead just their clan but all their people, who have “slept for far too long” and whom he will lead against the outlands.

SCENE 13

They start to cross a walkway above untrustworthy, sodden ground and Karsa tell them that sixty years ago, when his grandfather had met with the other Elders, “the river of ice filling the Fissure [a geographic feature to the north of the Teblor valleys] had died suddenly and begun to melt.” When Bairoth says the elders never said what they found up there, Karsa says Pahlk had told him of “beasts that had been frozen in the ice for numberless centuries . . . The river had a black heart . . . but whatever lay within that heart was either gone or destroyed. Even so, there were signs of an ancient battle . . . weapons of stone.” They are interrupted by the appearance of Rathyd warriors behind and before them on the walkway. They kill all but a few who run away. When Karsa tells Bairoth that it was his (Bairoth’s) act that led to victory, Bairoth is surprised and tells him “I am content to follow you, Warleader.” To which Karsa replies in his mind, “you ever were . . . and that is the difference between us.”

 

Amanda’s Reaction to Chapter One:

All of those themes from the Prologue are reflected in this poor dog that has turned to madness: plague/illness; turning against those he had favoured; betrayal; trapping the beast. I love the way that Erikson pursues all his themes throughout the whole of a novel — it makes for an incredibly cohesive reading experience.

In addition to this, we have a sense of the attitudes of the Teblor — harsh, warrior-like, shamanic leadership. And we can also see something that is occurring across the whole of the world — the awakening of gods.

Heh, I always glance over Bill’s summaries before I begin my read, to gain a sense of how much reading I have to do — and also to give them a little proofread — so I’m aware that Karsa will be heading out on a journey soon. And here we have Erikson giving us a little taste:

Evidence that Silver Lake was real, that it existed in truth, beyond the forest-clad mountains, down through hidden passes, a week — perhaps two — distant from the lands of the Uryd clan. The way itself was fraught, passing through territories held by the Sunyd and Rathyd clans, a journey that was itself a tale of legendary proportions.

Again, this is a great example of how tight Erikson’s writing and theming is — he’s already planting the seeds of what kind of journey Karsa will have to undertake.

Now, Karsa… That name is mightily familiar. Is it just because I’ve seen people refer to him in the comments sections? Or is he someone we’ve heard about in previous volumes? If so, I imagine it was pretty throwaway and something I’d have done well to remember!

Hmm, I’m finding a lot of similarities between Karsa and Kiska — from the name to the attitudes towards their elders; their arrogance crossed with naivety. I hope that Karsa doesn’t end up irritating me to the same extent! “Karsa would not do as his father had done. He would not do…nothing. No, he would walk his grandfather’s path.”

“We have counted coup.” Not sure what this means? [Bill: It’s a warrior code concept — a risky achievement to be proud of versus an enemy, one that gains you admiration/respect among your fellow warriors. For instance, killing an enemy from afar with a bow and arrow is one thing, but sneaking into their camp and stealing their horses right from underneath their noses, or getting in close in battle and slicing a lock of hair is much more impressive.]

The Seven Gods sound as though there are distinct enmities and issues between them — and as though the Teblor only follow one of the Gods:

None of their children knelt before them, after all, to voice such bold vows.

With sections like these, Erikson effectively uses fantasy to explore the fact that religion can cause hate and war.

After the massive epic scale of the last two novels — travelling across continents — the start to House of Chains is incredibly localised and ignorant of what is going on in the wider world. For Karsa, Silver Lake — a mere two weeks or so travel — is considered very distant. The Teblor have not associated with outsiders:

The world beyond the mountains dared not encroach, had not attempted to do so in decades. No visitors ventured into Teblor lands. Nor had the Teblor themselves gazed out beyond the borderlands with dark hunger, as they had often done generations past.

The name Teblor sort of reminds me of Toblakai. I’m wondering if the Teblor are an offshoot of some other race we’ve already encountered. [Bill: Good call!]

Heh, this really is microscopic — two farms at Silver Lake have expanded to four over the last four centuries!

“For him, and him alone, Dayliss would unsheathe her Knife of Night.” More echoes of “Night of Knives”! What is this unsheathing business?

And now we find that Karsa is considered young at eighty years of age — this is raising a lot of questions.

“Each of the seven, broken in some way. Imperfect. Flawed.” You know what immediately occurs to me? The fact that the Crippled God would currently welcome these to his following. [Bill: Yep!] This extract enforces that feeling: “All that was required was the breaking of a vow, and the swearing of fealty to another.” And — betrayal comes again, after the events of the prologue.

“Teblor. They know naught, even their true name.” Huh! Definitely wondering which people they belong to!

Oh dear — I see trouble ahead, what with Karsa believing that Dayliss will be his and “Bairoth’s child” in her womb… And, even worse: “What I make within is neither a girl, nor a child.”

*sigh* Yep, Karsa is already starting to peeve me — the seven gods indicated that they were unable to influence Synyg, and I just get more of a sense of rational thought from the father who is kind enough to give his best horse to his son. I dislike the way Karsa disregards the magnitude of this gift, and feels he knows better than his father.

And now Karsa lies to his friend (follower), saying that his father gave his blessing for the trip… Karsa is either a bad sort or completely naive.

Gosh, this is a very dark beginning, isn’t it? Siballe’s taking of the sacrifices to create her own hidden tribe, and their foreboding premonition that only one will return from the raid to Silver Lake. I’m accustomed to dark from Erikson, but this is taking the biscuit. *grins*

Ouch, what a bitter confrontation between Synyg and his father.

Long before the Faces in the Rock awoke to proclaim to the elders, within dreams and trances, that they had defeated the old Teblor spirits and now demanded obeisance; long before the taking of enemy souls had become foremost among Teblor aspirations, the spirits that had ruled the land and its people were the bones of rock, the flesh of earth, the hair and fur of forest and glen, and their breath was the wind of each season.

Hmm, here is our first (or my first, anyway, I’m having a slow start to the novel *grins*) indication that the Seven are not the true gods of the Teblor — that they have swept in and are now using the people of the Teblor for their own ends, and that of their master.

Ah! More chain references: “Two weighted chains about me, then.”

I’m curious about the fact that the Teblor no longer suffer disease — there must be a reason for this, and I’m assuming it will be an important point otherwise it wouldn’t have been mentioned by Erikson.

I do like Bairoth Gild, however. He speaks sense! Especially with observations such as, “They will be feeling invincible, and this will make them careless.”

“The blade’s wood was deep red, almost black, the glassy polish making the painted warcrest seem to float a finger’s width above the surface.” I know it is referred to as wood, but the red aspect of it reminds me of otataral. Any connection? [Bill: Only a direct one. Nice catch.]

A suitably explosive, bloody and nasty battle scene, to reflect the seven gods who are currently guiding the Teblor. And now some ominous premonition that I’m sure we’ll see come to fruition — possibly — by the time we reach book ten: the treatment of the youth by Karsa, the youth who will become a leader of his clan, a leader who Karsa determines will one day kneel before him.

Oh, I don’t like rape. Even when the women pretend to eagerness, it still remains rape. I don’t like the treatment of the chief’s daughter. In fact, I find myself disturbed by the entire beginning of House of Chains. There is not much enjoyment to be found so far.

Hmm, I’m also finding some cliches here. The three young men, two of whom doubt their leader to start with. Now one of them has been converted to the cause of the leader. I feel there will be death and betrayal in the future for Bairoth, as both Karsa and Delum turn on him.

A river of ice? Jaghut?

I have to say, this has been an odd start to a Malazan novel. By far the most difficult, I’d say. I hope that it picks up a little!

 

Bill’s Reaction to Chapter One:

Unless the ghost of this mad dog comes back to form and plays an active role (granted, something that is not beyond the pale in this series), chances are we’re being set up for something more metaphorical with this scene of the dog going crazy and killing several Teblor before being killed himself. So which character will be playing the role of Meg Ryan’s Sally and ask, “Is one of us supposed to be a dog in this scenario? Who is the dog? I am? I’m the dog?” (And let’s be honest folks—none of you saw a When Harry Met Sally reference coming in a Malazan reread.)

So early on we have two possible candidates: Trull, if we’ve already met the dog, and Karsa, if the dog presages the character. Of course, it could be someone else, or it could be more than one person. We’ll see….

Those gods are not painted in the gentlest of light, are they? “rock,” “hard,” “visage,” (rather more intimidating than face) “carved,” “cliff.” And I love that horror-movie closing line — da da duh!

The use of the word “children” throughout these early pages in reference to the glee with which the Teblor kill them is darkly disturbing, and one wonders if Erikson is really going to go there with a character pov who revels in the killing and torture of children. After all, the first mention is of the “glorious” way in which the children would be “dragged behind horses for leagues.” And then eventually we realize that yes and no — “children” being not small kids necessarily but the regular run-of-the-mill short-lived folks who seem as children to the long-lived Teblor, which came as a relief to me. But for a while there, I recall sweating that one out; I mean, I like “grey” and all, but a hewer of children was gonna be a tough character for me to wrap my reading mind around happily.

I like how we’re very early on given a sense that Karsa’s POV is going to be a bit suspect, as I think many of us would find fault with his description of his father as having a “pallid, empty legacy” because he tended horses rather than killed children. Especially as we’re told immediately that Synyg had fought bravely and fiercely against raiders and was a good teacher of martial arts. And anyone who declares that glory is found not only in the killing of children but in the “vicious perpetuation of feuds” is clearly someone most readers will think is about to get some life-coaching from the author. Later, when we are told of the inwardness of Karsa and his people — that they haven’t been out of the valley, had no contact with the outside world — this merely emphasizes his lack of a full perspective on things.

Along with the harshness of the descriptive language surrounding the gods mentioned above (and added to here: “shattered,” “eager for blood,” “cruel,” “bestial”), we get a subtle hint that these gods might have some issues, when we get a simile comparing the air to “like a breath of the gods, soon to seep into the rotting soil.” We usually think of a god’s breath bringing life — breathing life into the clay that becomes human for instance — but here the breath is linked with decay rather than life. With the “soil” perhaps being the people themselves.

So a few things on these gods, some of which, sorry to say, may qualify as spoilers, but in my mind not terrible ones and not ones that can’t be guessed at this stage. But I think it adds to our discussion as we continue and so I’m going to make the call and go ahead and spoil them — feel free to disagree. Fair warning (beyond the regular twice-weekly fair warning we post each time).

Okay, Amanda has already made a stab at the idea that these gods would make good candidates for the Crippled God. So it isn’t far to move us onto the idea that they already are. I think when Erikson gives us “broken in some way. Imperfect. Flawed,” we’re pointed in a pretty clear direction. Each of those words is on their own associated with the CG quite clearly in prior books. Separated, given to us alone, there wouldn’t necessarily be a connection, but when an author throws three heavily-loaded words at you in immediate succession, emphasizing the latter two by putting them in their own sentences. So yes, these are agents of the CG; he is indeed the one to whom the “swear fealty” and the one who is their “new master.”

The other thing about the gods that we should pick up on as readers is their physical description bears some obvious similarity — in both visual and linguistic terms — to how we’ve seen the T’lan Imass described: missing limbs, “splintered,” “shattered,” lacking jaws or pieces. We get some cultural connection as well, I think, though to be honest, I’m blurring a bit here and so may be getting ahead of myself. I’m pretty sure we’ve had discussions of the T’lan Imass view toward failure, and I think (though less confident) that we’ve heard something of what their kin do to them when they are too ruined to continue moving. “Mossy Bone,” “Lichen for Moss,” “Antler,” and their split names also are hints to their Imass background, as is the reference to one of them having “Soletaken proclivities.” And finally, I’m pretty sure the only time we see “Vow” capitalized is in its association with the T’lan’s Ritual of Tellann. We’re also told bluntly by both the seven themselves and the narrator — “where no gods had ever dwelt” — that these are not true gods, but opportunists who “twisted their [the Teblor’s] faith” to their own ends. This, combined with their harsh descriptions, might be enough alone to start the reader leaning against them, but their discussion about warping the unborn baby in Dayliss’ womb is probably going to clinch that feeling. It’ll be interesting to see if we keep that view of them going forward.

Another reason to question Karsa’s insightfulness as we see his father as not such a bad guy when he offers up Havok. And someone who can surprise Karsa — which speaks perhaps more to Karsa’s lack of true knowledge rather than to Synyg’s unpredictability. Then even more reason to esteem Synyg’s views over Karsa’s when he is clearly aware the Seven Gods are in fact a lie while Karsa swears to them wholly, and his refusal to fully countenance his children’s sacrifice to the “gods.”

Hmm, after that little scene with the mad dog, hardly an auspicious omen to have that dog moaning as the three Teblor head out “to glory.”

A bit creepy, that scene with the sacrificed brothers and sisters, eh? Dark indeed, as Amanda says. As well as the implication that not only do mothers and fathers regularly, ritually kill their own children, but that these children were involved in the killing of Karsa’s mother: “on occasion more extreme measures proved necessary when true risk was perceived. Such as with Karsa’s mother.” How solid a society can one have if its foundation sunders the basic connection of parent-child in both directions?

So we’ve got Karsa referencing a prophecy (cuz what’s a fantasy without a prophecy) of one who would unite the Teblor, and now we have another foretelling — that only one of the three will return. Based on this being Karsa’s pov, I think we’re on safe ground as thinking this doesn’t bode well for the other two.

Ouch indeed, Amanda, on the scene with father and son. It’s Jaghut ice-cold.

Yes, file those “Two weighted chains” he refers to his friend as. And remember that in fantasy, metaphor doesn’t have to stay simply metaphor….

Karsa is clearly not the brains of this group — that would be Bairoth, who has to instruct him in political reality. And thus the education begins….

A “bloody and nasty” scene for sure, Amanda. Look at the level of gore and detail in that scene — even for Erikson this is pretty concentrated brutality and horror, especially the cutting off of the Rathyd’s hands and feet, described as a “game” (by the way — we’ll see something similar later). You can almost feel Erikson working really, really hard to set these Teblor, and Karsa in particular, as a character that will be extremely hard for the reader to empathize with and root for. Is this going to stay this way, or is he setting us up to show us a pre-journey Karsa to allow us to chart his changes to a post-journey Karsa (with multiple stops along the way)?

“Witness if you dare.” Hmmm, if Karsa is irking you now Amanda, just think of hearing this another gazillion times *grin*

This scene in the village continues in the highly disturbing vein. That said, I’m not so sure the women (those first two at least) are feigning eagerness. Anyone else?

The attempted education of Karsa continues, though not so happily or so easily. He tries to deny the reality of what the chief’s woman tells him of the Uryd women and of Pahlk’s “glory.” I like that she “studies” him then just concedes, clearly noting he is not at this stage ready to actually face reality or learn anything.

And for the first time, we get a slight hint of Karsa as slightly more complex — the mother’s description of him as “surprisingly gentle.” A discomfiting thought attached as it is to what most readers will read as simple rape. Then we get his suggestion she and her mother take themselves (and his kids as is foreshadowed — file) to his village and wait for him — this complicates the whole “simply rape” thing just a bit. Then this if followed by his sharply cruel rejoinder to the daughter that he doesn’t care for her name and will call her another’s. Erikson is walking a fine line here I’d say, playing with fire a bit with this character and it’ll be interesting to see the take on him as me move on.

Karsa as alpha dog, leader of his pack. Metaphor anyone? Does this also link him more tightly to the mad dog of earlier? Or is Erikson playing a bit with our heads with that scene here?

River of ice — glacier — is usually associated with the Jaghut. And an ancient battle would conjure up the T’lan Imass if the Jaghut are fighting (and we know there were T’lan Imass in the area via the Seven Gods), as would stone weapons. A question is what lay in the “black heart” of that glacier and was it “destroyed” or “gone”?

Another surprise from Karsa — his willingness to take on the wounded dog and his vow that “one day she will lie grey-nosed and fat before my hearth.”

This is, as you say Amanda, a “difficult” start to this book. It begins in bleakness with Trull, but we’ve seen bleak before. But giving us the pov of a character who revels in gory slaughter of children, who ritually rapes, who is all for the ritual sacrifice of his own brothers and sisters, who spurns his own father — as mentioned before, it’s a big risk. We’ll see if it pans out for most of us or not.


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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