Malazan Reread of the Fallen

Malazan Re-read of the Fallen: Midnight Tides, Chapter Twenty-Five (Part Two)

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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 first half of Chapter Twenty-Five of Midnight Tides by Steven Erikson (MT).

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.

A quick note on our schedule for the next couple of weeks:

Friday 2/24: 2nd half of Chapter Twenty-Five
Wednesday 2/29: Epilogue and Comments on the whole book
Friday 3/2: Steven’s Q&A thread
Wednesday 3/7: Break
Friday 3/9: Break
Wednesday 3/14: Begin Bonehunters

All set? Good!

 

Chapter Twenty-Five (Part Two)

SCENE ONE

Udinaas heals from Kettle’s blood as she and Wither talk. Silchas crawls up from the swamp and Kettle gives him the swords as Wither introduces himself as Killanthir, Third High Mage of the Sixth Cohort. When Silchas says the Wyval is fighting off Sheltatha Lore but won’t survive, Wither says he wants to help it. Silchas gives him permission and Wither dives in. Silchas likes the swords and tells Kettle it’s time to do what he promised (with regard to the Tarthenal gods).

SCENE TWO

Corlo worries that even an Avowed can die (“a matter of will” he believes) and he knows Iron Bars is almost done while he himself is “used up.” Shurq and Harlest appear.

SCENE THREE

Ublala kills one of the gods but then is knocked down, stunned. Silchas shows up, distracting Iron Bars enough that he gets knocked down and his shoulder shattered. He sees/hears Silchas kill the gods then Silchas tells Iron Bars “You did passably well” and wonders why he hasn’t gotten back up yet.

SCENE FOUR

Rhulad enters the throne room, with Mosag behind him, along with Fear and Trull carrying the large sacks from earlier. Mosag orders the sacks opened to reveal the Prince and Queen terribly deformed by Mosag’s sorcery, horrifying all the Sengars. Rhulad orders them taken away then tells Ezgara to yield the throne. The First Eunuch Nifadas pours two wines, gives one to the king and drinks the other. Ezgara tells Brys to step aside, but Brys refuses. Brys fights Rhulad and surgically cuts him to pieces so he cannot move, slicing tendons, muscles, and ligaments. The king tells Brys to kill him, but Brys say no, the Ceda specifically said not to. Trull is stunned at the skill and precision. Rhulad begs his brothers to kill him. Trull asks Mosag, but he says he cannot, “only the sword and only by the sword.” Brys takes a goblet of wine and Trull recognizes him as Hull’s brother. Rhulad calls for Fear and Mosag informs him Fear just walked away. Rhulad begs Trull to do it and Trull hesitates, then hears the Queen laugh. Turning he sees Brys start to drink the wine, then Trull notices the King is not conscious and Nifadas appears dead. He tries to warn Brys not to drink, but too late. Brys tells Trull they’ll take Rhulad and hide him away, but Trull responds it is “too late” for Brys and he should send the guards away; the Edur will deal with their Emperor themselves. Trull apologizes for not warning Brys in time. As Brys staggers Mosag tells him the King was already dead when Brys fought. Brys dies. Trull tells Mosag someone will kill Rhulad as he commands, Mosag says no they won’t.

SCENE FIVE

Tehol comes to and Bugg tells him they’re in a crypt under the river. Tehol says he should be dead and Bugg agrees, then adds Chalas died protecting Tehol and he (Bugg) killed the Edur. Tehol realizes Bugg magically healed him and wonders how he can continue the “conceit of being in charge.” Bugg offers to make Tehol forget the events of the day and admits to being Mael. Tehol wonders why Bugg didn’t stop the invasion. Bugg says he doesn’t much like Lether and offers up several criticisms and says he’s seen it all a million times before. They share advice then Tehol wonders why Mael took on Bugg’s persona and Bugg replies being eternal can be boring but being with Tehol was “an unceasing delight.” Bugg then says it’s time to make Tehol forget.

SCENE SIX

Fear walks through the city, thinking he’d wanted to believe in simplicity. He marvels at Brys’ ability and weeps for him and others, including Trull whom he realizes he’s abandoned to a horrible choice. He thinks of himself as a coward and knows he has shared the same doubts as Trull but didn’t voice them. He stumbles across Mayen’s corpse, looking at peace. He pulls out the knife, recognizes it as Udinaas’ and thinks he killed Mayen.

SCENE SEVEN

Trull covers his ears against Rhulad’s weeping, Mosag drags himself to the throne, and Brizad stands watching. Rhulad tells Trull all he wanted was to be included and Mosag says Rhulad wanted respect. The Guardian from under the sea, of the forgotten gods, enters and stands over Brys. Brizad tells him Brys was poisoned and the Guardian, looking at Brizad, tells him he knows all his names, then asks if Brizad/the Errant “pushed” Brys into that position. Brizad replies then asks if Mael knows the Guardian is there. The Guardian says he will talk to Mael soon. The Guardian worries that Brys knew all the gods’ names and now they are lost, but Brizad says they are not, but will be soon. The Guardian says he needs someone and takes Brys, killing Rhulad out of mercy on his way out. Trull throws Mosag off the throne and tells him to let Rhulad know he went to find Fear.

SCENE EIGHT

The Wyval and Wither climb up from the Azath barrow, Wither carrying Udinaas. Silchas tells Shurq he is Andii not Edur when she mistakenly identifies him as such and when asked says he is now free to take care of things he needs to. Kettle asks if she can join him and when he agrees, Shurq suggests he had made a promise to the Azath about Kettle. Silchas says as long as she stays with him Kettle will be safe. Shurq and Silchas discuss his need to get out of the city without being noticed and Iron Bars suggests Seren escort Silchas and the others)out (she is someone who knows all the secret ways in and out.

SCENE NINE

The Guardian finds Bugg in the crypt (Tehol is asleep) and accuses him of abandoning them. Bugg, seeing Brys body thinks Tehol will grieve his brother’s death greatly, then apologizes to the Guardian. The Guardian transfers the names of the gods from Brys to Tehol then takes Brys with him as another Guardian in the deep.

SCENE TEN

Feather Witch enters the throne room after helping Uruth with Binadas. The Chancellor, Triban Gnol, had sworn fealty to Rhulad. She makes eye contact with Brizad and notes his “interest” in her. Rhulad orders Udinaas found. She finds a severed finger (Brys’) lying on the floor and thinks a witch who possesses it might have power.

SCENE ELEVEN

Seren sits in her house, sick of it all, wanting to be gone. Fear and Trull appear at her door.

SCENE TWELVE

Trull finds Fear and tells him Rhulad has returned and explains how. He thinks he and Fear can guide Rhulad, but Fear rejects going back, saying this is all the work of Scabandari Bloodeye and he is going to find Bloodeye’s spirit and free it. He thinks Seren can help get him out of the city and they head toward her house. Trull warns they are being manipulated and when Fear says “what of it” he has no reply.

SCENE THIRTEEN

Fear tells Seren he needs her help while Trull thinks he is falling in love with Seren, has fallen in love with her already. Seren asks if Trull will come with them and when he says he cannot she appears “wounded.” He says he will wait for their return though and she asks why they’d come back Fear answers to end the tyranny about to start under Rhulad. Trull gives Seren his sword, across the threshold (the Edur proposal) and she accepts it, knowing what it means. She says she just takes it as a weapon and he says yes, (thinking “no”). When she accepts “the gesture was without meaning now.” Trull leaves.

SCENE FOURTEEN

Fear is about to speak to Seren about what just happened when they are interrupted by Kettle appearing to say Iron Bars had told her Seren would help her and others get out of the city. Fear recognizes Udinaas and Wither tells him Udinaas did not betray Rhulad or kill Mayen, but was used by the Wyval now overhead. Silchas, hooded, calls himself Selekis of the Azath tower. Seren invites them all in.

SCENE FIFTEEN

Shurq finds Tehol and Bugg on Tehol’s roof and points out one of Tehol’s eyes is now blue. He says he’s still plotting the fall of the Lether economy and tells her to deliver Shand, Hejun, and Rissarh to the islands. She leaves to head off and be a pirate.

SCENE SIXTEEN

Tehol tells Bugg he’s glad Bugg didn’t make him forget because now he can grieve.

 

Amanda’s Reaction to Chapter Twenty-Five, Part Two

This first scene where Silchas Ruin emerges from the tatters of the Azath is a little anti-climactic after building to it for much of the book. Although I should really cut him some slack — he must be a bit disoriented and has these two new swords to work with!

The whole Avowed thing is pretty damn cool — but I can see there being holes in the idea so big you can drive a truck through them. Already here we see that Avowed’s can die, but it takes a “certain” amount of damage and a “matter of will” can keep them alive. I imagine this fluidity makes it easy for Erikson/Esslemont to play around with the degrees of death.

After seeing Iron Bars manage himself against five horrific gods for at least a little while, it is then astonishing to hear this: “It had been said, by Guardsmen who would know, that he was nearly a match to Skinner.” I now want to meet this Skinner. A lot.

Now this is more of the entrance I expected from Silchas — striding into the fray through a cloud of steam, dispatching gods (with a little nibbling help!) and then telling Iron Bars that he fought “passably well.”

Have to say, Silchas’ entrance might have been decent, but this one by Rhulad into the throne-room entirely surpasses it. It is full of foreboding and very dark, with the rattling coins and the hulking figure.

You know something? I’ve been ignoring those sacks in the past chapter or so, despite all the nudges from you guys. And now, as Hannan Mosag brings them forward, I’m getting the same feelings as I got when I watched Seven and saw Brad Pitt receive THAT box… This isn’t going to be pretty, is it?

Worse. Worse. You guys were so right. The princess and her son did NOT deserve this fate — this ruined skin and horrible awareness.

And then the scene is made even more traumatic and distressing — first the fight between Rhulad and the King’s Champion, then the realisation that the Sengar brothers can’t kill Rhulad, and then the fall of Brys. This is tragic, tragic, tragic. And, I confess, a tiny bit confusing — is it Hannan Mosag who has planted the poison? Did the Letherii king decide that he would rather die by his own hand than by Rhulad, since he thought that Brys couldn’t win the fight?

Thank you! Thanks so much, you guys, for not making a whisper about Tehol still being alive.

I’ve been waiting for this conversation, between Tehol and Bugg. It’s just brilliant that Tehol has known for so long that Bugg is more than what he seems and then says this:

“But this changes everything.”

“It does? How?”

“Well, you’re supposed to be my manservant. How can I continue the conceit of being in charge?”

“Just the same as you always have.”

Aww, I, too, prefer the name Bugg! Mael has too many connotations.

Oh ye gods, this conversation is an utter delight. So full of meaning, such depth of feeling, so much affection and respect. If I hadn’t already adored this odd couple (Yes, yes, y’all were right waaaay back at the beginning of the novel when you said it would come!) then this scene would have sealed it. My favourite part? “My association with you, Tehol, has been an unceasing delight. You resurrected in me the pleasure of existence, and you cannot comprehend how rare that is.” [Bill: My favorite part as well.]

From highs to lows. The scene with Fear is stark and desolate, laid bare to show the ultimate suffering of one who finds everything has been torn away from him. I’ve been frustrated by Fear at a few points during Midnight Tides, but no one, least of all him, deserves this fate. You know something, though? I feel Mayen does deserve her fate — not so much the death, but the peace and the freedom. She might not have the freedom she wanted, but at least she rests now.

Hannan Mosag shows his true colours here, his mocking, as he says, “Respect, Trull. That is what he wanted. Where does that come from, then? A sword? A wealth of coins burned into your skin? A title? That presumptuous, obnoxious we he’s always using now? None of those? How about stealing his brother’s wife?”

Okay, the Guardian…? Help. I have no idea. If it’s a RAFO, then say, but I wouldn’t mind a little steering if it’s okay to know now. I wonder if this means good news for Brys? I think the Guardian is a follower of Mael, going by the barnacles and whatnot.

So Kettle is going to head off with Silchas Ruin. I suspect they are about to be joined by one Seren, considering Iron Bars’ words. And I simply love this:

“Thinking of things before I do does not bode well for a good working relationship,” Shurq Elalle said.

“Apologies, ma’am. I won’t do it again, I promise.”

Ah. No. No good news for Brys. He’s about to become a barnacled eternal Guardian, which is bound to put a spanner in anyone’s works. And Tehol now carries The Names, whatever they are! [Bill: The forgotten, well, nearly forgotten, gods.]

I think the most important part of Feather Witch’s observation here is the following, “The world has drawn breath…and now breathes once more. As steady as ever, as unbroken in rhythm as the tides.” One empire exchanged for another. Oh, and I have filed the severed finger….

Alright, you know how I usually comment as I go along? Well, from the moment that Seren finds Fear and Trull at her door I just could not stop reading to the end of the chapter! I saw that pushing and prodding of Fear and figured that the Errant was behind it, that he wants Fear to go questing for Scabandari Bloodeye — and that he then also puts him in the company of the only Tiste Andii who can tell him what actually occurred.

But the bit that caught at my heart the most was Trull and Seren — that moment where she clarifies that the sword is simply a weapon, rather than a declaration of love and intention is heartbreaking. After everything they’ve suffered, surely these two deserve to be together.

And then the knowledge that Tehol has one blue eye — thanks to The Names? — and is also still aware of Bugg’s true nature.

This was a deeply satisfying climax to the novel, with hints and threads of what is yet to come. Just the Epilogue, and I don’t think it will be able to do enough to dislodge Midnight Tides from being right up there with Deadhouse Gates and Memories of Ice for me. Epic stuff.

 

Bill’s Reaction to Chapter Twenty-Five (Part Two)

I like how Silchas is introduced in this scene so as to add some tension and nervousness for the reader as to whether he is about to turn out to be a bad guy. He arrives first described as a “blood-drained corpse,” his first words are “the swords,” his eyes are “cold, cold eyes, deep red,” Kettle “cowers” before him, when she mentions his promise to help he repeats “help” as if he’d never heard the word or made such a promise, he seems unconcerned about the Wyval’s death (the one that saved him) — “I fear he will not survive, but he keeps her occupied,” he twice responds to Wither with “as you like,” — as if he is utterly indifferent to events now that he is free, and he focuses yet again on the swords. Erikson keeps us in suspense all the way to the very last line: “Child, get behind me . . . It is time to fulfill my promise” until we get that he is going to be true to his word. It’s a really cleverly constructed, almost diabolical scene.

Skinner. Remember that name, the name of another Avowed. And you know, Amanda, I’m not really sure you do want to meet him….

I love that introduction of Shurq and Harlest — “one them clawing the air and hissing” — and then Harlest, attached to a dying Tarthenal god getting dragged past Iron Bars’ eyes — especially as mentioned last post we don’t get to laugh a lot in these last few chapters.

It’s an interesting way to have Silchas wipe out the Tarthenal gods “off-stage” — we see only the results and not the action. I think this actually makes him seem more not less incredibly good. What do you all think of this choice?

That is a foreboding entrance by Rhulad. And so appropriate, the death of Lether announced by the clink of a coin. Live by the sword, die by the sword; live by the coin, die by the coin. And a bloodstained coin too, of course, which may as well be the flag of Lether.

And the metaphor made literal continues with the presentation of the bodies — this is what “corruption” looks like, what it does. This is what “using” does.

Mosag did not plan the poison, Amanda. In my interpretation, it was planned by the King and First Eunuch. Note how the king downs it in “three quick swallows” (not usually how one drinks wine), how Nisall’s eyes “narrowed on the First Eunuch” in suspicion, Nifadas’ words that Brys’ fight will be the final act of our kingdom. Anyone think differently?

Later we get some nice foreshadowing/set-up as the king leans “drunkenly” (Really? After one cup of wine?) and Nifadas speaks in a “strangely dull” voice. We should be pretty clued in that something is up when the king “slumps,” but definitely by the moment when the king is looking half-asleep with Nifadas senseless on the floor and both the Chancellor and Nisall are reacting with “sudden realization.”

More subtly (if intentional) are these lines from much earlier:

From Silchas’ conversation with Brys: “You leave me without hope,” Brys said. 
”I am sorry for that. Do not seek to find hope among your leaders. They are the repositories of poison.”

Or Rhulad to Nifadas at their first meeting: “…the poisonous words you would have me swallow.”

While this event caught me by surprise when I first read it, reading this book so closely this time around knowing what was coming makes me think we should in some ways not be surprised (after the fact) because “poison” permeates this novel. Everyone is poisoned, it seems. Udinaas is “poisoned” by the Wyval and by “spite,” Lether is “poisoned” by coin and greed, the Edur are “poisoned” by Lether at first and then by corruption, Trull is poisoned by suspicion of Rhulad and later by doubt, Rhulad is poisoned by ambition, Mayen is poisoned by white nectar, Seren is poisoned by Buruk, Hull is poisoned by “lack of forgiveness,” Menandore and her sisters are “all poisoned by the mother’s blood,” Dresh Lake is poisoned, the Crippled God “poisons,” greed “poisons,” coin “poisons,” the mind is “poisoned by fear and malice,” uncertainty “work (s) its insidious poison,” “suspicion becomes a poison,” “Chaos . . . dwells like a poison in every one of us,” and power is like a “shroud of poison” over all. That’s a lot of poison.

Now, I’ve got to say while I love the concept of what Brys does, a big, big part of me just doesn’t buy it as I read it. While there are times I have issues with the power levels in a relative sense, it isn’t often that I have plausibility issues. But this is one of them (the Seguleh are another but that’s down the road). I’m with Trull: “It is not possible,” but I’m curious as to others’ reactions.

And again, metaphor made real in fantasy, this time via Rhulad: Live (or be reborn) by the sword, die (only) by the sword.

And now we get the first hint as to the aptness of Fear’s name perhaps as he is afraid of what to do here, and then abandons Trull to it, and then we later learn he shared Trull’s doubts but feared to voice them.

I know some folks complain about all the “philosophy” in these books. But I am a thorough fan of moments such as these, when Bugg stops to do some social criticism about the “betrayal of commonality” and the fetishism of competition. (Oh, don’t get me started on competition!) I find his little lecture on monuments being “a testament to the common, to co-operation, to the plural rather than the singular” a pretty original thought (at least in my reading), a different path than the much more common criticism of such kingly monuments, which usually runs along the Ozymandias path of their folly in the scope of time. Though I confess to feeling a bit cheated by where the discussion ends up — which basically is “I got nothing.” Though to be fair, I’m not sure what Erikson could have.

And you’ve got to love the temerity of a just-about-dead mortal giving advice to the god who healed him: “Live to your potential.”

Along with that line you pointed to in this conversation, Amanda, which I said was also my favorite, my second is this one “I can be very selfish at times” — which is so simple, so understated, yet says so, so much. This is, after all, a god saying this.

Funny, but as much of a plausibility issue I had with Brys not-killing Rhulad, Fear stumbling across Mayen’s corpse in an entire city never makes me think twice unless I stop to actually, you know, think about it. It’s a painfully poignant, quietly sad scene amidst all the more noisy bloodshed.

We saw the Guardian earlier, Amanda, when Brys was sent to the deep among the repository of forgotten gods. Brys is the one who gave him that sword of Letherii steel. I love his casual dismissal of Mosag: “You can try.”

And how about that — a long period of tyranny begun by an act of mercy, an act of mercy itself spawned by Brys’ earlier act of mercy. Oh, the ironies….

Silchas, Azath, Kettle, promise. File.

I’ll give you this, Amanda, we haven’t seen the last of Brys. And file that finger for sure. But don’t forget it’s only one of two.

Feather Witch. Errant. Interest. File.

And now a moment’s reveal — Feather Witch gave Mayen the knife that killed her. Knowing what would be done with perhaps?

How ironic is that “fervent prayer to the Errant” from Feather Witch?

Who would have thought, knowing as we all do how Trull ends with Rhulad, that at the close of this novel it would be Trull heading back to save/guide Rhulad and Fear abandoning him? As Wither notes, “this is unexpected.” He keeps us on our toes, this Erikson guy.

Only a weapon. Right. Only a weapon. Sure.

So this book comes somewhat to resolution, but really sets us up for lots of adventures to come. Which we’ll talk about next week as we hit the epilogue and then wrap up the novel before being joined again by Steven. Hope you’re all honing those questions!


Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.

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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