Malazan Reread of the Fallen

Malazan Re-read of the Fallen: Reaper’s Gale, Prologue

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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 of Reaper’s Gale by Steven Erikson (RG).

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

SCENE ONE

Kilmandaros wanders through Kurald Emurlahn in “the age of sundering,” past dragon carcasses and wraiths trapped in their blood. The dragon blood hardens and sinks through worlds. Kurald Emurlahn begins to fragment as civil war continues and “scavengers” arrive to pick over the pieces. Kilmandaros arrives at a rent beginning to close (having been partially sealed by the last one to pass through) and steps through it.

SCENE TWO

The setting is now the “ruined K’Chain Che’Malle demesne after the fall of Silchas Ruin.” Gothos tracks Mael and Kilmandaros as they fight Scabandari even as he seals the area with Omtose Phellack. He muses on how all things must end, including species and civilizations. He arrives at where Scabandari has been trapped, badly wounded. Gothos and Kilmandaros discuss her “children” losing their way and then Gothos explains Kilmandaros can’t simply kill Scabandari because Gothos’ ritual has “denied” death in the regions. Instead he’ll prepare a Finnest to take Scabandari’s soul. She kills Scabandari (punches a hole in his skull) and Gothos takes the Finnest with his soul in it as payment.

SCENE THREE

Kilmandaros meets Rake at the rent. When she says he isn’t welcome in Kurald Emurlahn, he replies he has no interest in claiming the throne or avenging Scabandari’s betrayal of Silchas Ruin and after pointing out that she is “besieged” and Edgewalker is “committed elsewhere,” offers his help. He warns her the war now involves Soletaken and feral dragons. Kilmandaros says she wants to drive the “pretenders” out and leave the Throne of Shadow empty. He agrees and they exit, sealing the rent, then begin “cleansing” the realm.

SCENE FOUR

The setting is the Awl’dan during the last days of the Letherii Empire. Preda Bivatt with a troop (The Drene legions) of soldiers investigates the landing of massive war canoes months or years ago. She calculates about a half-million disembarked here and wonders where they went. She wants to look closer, especially at the prows, which have seemingly been dismantled.

SCENE FIVE

Still in the Awl’dan, a red-masked rider comes upon a battle scene between the Drene and a group of foreign soldiers. The victorious Drene have taken the dead and headed home, but wolves have eaten only the hearts from the corpses of the unknown soldiers. He notes their black and white uniforms, some with wolf-heads as sigils. His investigation is interrupted by the arrival of his two “companions,” described as powerful taloned killing machines.

 

Amanda’s Reaction to the Prologue

Once more into the breach, dear friends… Welcome back to the re-read!

Well, talk about an impact right from the word go! That first sentence really does lay down the tone, doesn’t it? We’re right back into the tragic, gruesome, epic world of the Malazans: “In a landscape torn with grief, the carcasses of six dragons lay strewn in a ragged row reaching a thousand or more paces across the plain, flesh split apart, broken bones jutting, jaws gaping and eyes brittle-dry.” It gives the reader a few questions, chief amongst them: what is able to kill six dragons like this?

Didn’t the Forkrul Assail have extra joints? I seem to recall that!

Whoever this beast is, it doesn’t seem to have a fondness for dragons, going by the growling and twitchy hands. Oh hell, whenever I see the word twitchy now I think of 50 Shades of Grey. Help me.

Draconean blood hardening and falling into different realms — will I have seen the evidence of this in previous novels. I thought for a moment that it might be where otataral comes from, but that is the jade statues, correct?

Who was the first to walk through the rent? Before Kilmandaros?

This is a fantastic description of how the Kurald Emerlahn fell into pieces, squabbled over by any who sought to use the power. It also seems to suggest that Kurald Emerlahn is never be returned to its original power and all in one piece; that it can’t be healed? Is that so? I also like the mention a little later of the fact that the death of this realm equates to a promise to all other realms — this could happen to them too; no realm is safe.

There is a very fatalistic tone to Gothos’ thoughts — things end, races die, loss of innocence. I do love his: “He would not permit himself a melodramatic laugh…”

It’s good, this bit in the ruined K’Chain Che’Malle demesne, as we see how Scabandari ended up with a busted skull — the skeleton that the Sengar brothers find in Midnight Tides.

So Kilmandaros is the Elder Goddess of the Forkrul Assail? And her children, according to Gothos, are losing their way. We’ve seen the Forkrul Assail on a couple of occasions now, and oblique references to them, and it makes me wonder whether what we’ve seen has been them directionless — and what it going to happen when they find their way again….

I can’t help but be amused by how cranky Kilmandaros is, especially when she refers to Mael as a boiled crab, but she isn’t a character to warm to, is she? What role is she going to take in proceedings from here on?

Yay Rake! Pleased to see him again! Let’s hope there is LOTS of Rake in this book! So why isn’t Anomander Rake welcome in Kurald Emurlahn?

Interesting that Rake knows of Edgewalker — I like these casual mentions of characters that we’ve seen now and again. It keeps them in mind and reminds us that we know very little of their story — yet. And what on earth is Edgewalker up to that he can’t manage to help out with the failing Shadow Realm?

The image of all those war canoes spread across the beach, the idea that upwards of half-million somethings have landed and then vanished makes me shiver somehow. “Errant’s blessing, who is now among us?” Indeed.

This slaughtered army, come upon by the mysterious masked man (a mask of scales?) carries the sigil of Togg and Fanderay. I thought we’d already seen their army, or at least their Mortal Sword? Are these the ones we met then?

And why is this man being accompanied by K’Chain Che’Malle?

 

Bill’s Reaction to the Prologue

Hi all and welcome back! Thanks for your patience as we recharged our batteries. We also want to thank Steven for his question and answer—sorry I missed it, but I had no net contact for much of my vacation. So now after some camping, some family visits, and (according to my family) too many museums and art galleries, I’ve whetted my Malaz appetite with Forge of Darkness (cheap tease, I know), and am ready to jump back into the re-read with both feet. And so away we go….

We’ve heard a lot about the sundering/shattering of Kurald Emurlahn and that opening paragraph is a pretty vivid evocation of what has so far been a pretty abstract concept—the dragon corpses, the blood dropping through worlds, the wraiths trapped eternally, the rent. I also found it a striking image, though far less concrete, that not only did scavengers take pieces of the shattered realm, but that actively tore pieces free—I picture a group of hyenas ripping apart the flesh of some carcass they came across.

Note the description of Kilmandaros having “extra joints”—we’ve seen that description several times.

The lines of the fall of Emurlahn have some environmental relevance nowadays perhaps:

It had not been imagined . . . than an entire realm could die . . . That the vicious acts of its inhabitants could destroy everything. Worlds live on, had been the belief—the assumption—regardless of the activities of those who dwelt upon them. Torn flesh heals, the sky clears, and something new crawls from the briny muck. But not this time.

Well, we certainly know by now that Gothos belief that the Jaghut were not in fact, “in their perfected brilliance. . . triumphant in eternal domination.” Eternal, after all, is a pretty long time.

Also, as an aside, kinda hard to picture a “young, naïve” Gothos, isn’t it?

That’s such a classic Erikson tease, with Gothos pulling something, “an object” out and having both Mael and Kilmandaros surprised by it, then having Mael calling it a “rather curious choice,” and then of course never showing us the thing. Well, “never” meaning not this chapter at least.

I do so enjoy nearly all the Jaghut scenes in this series.

Speaking of enjoyment, I do remember how happy I was to so early on see Rake again.

So here we learn that Edgewalker has been attached in some fashion to Kurald Emurlahn for quite a long time. And Rake’s line begs the question as to what could be so big that Edgewalker is elsewhere committed while the realm literally falls apart?

I love Rake’s dry discussion of Silchas’ fate: “I almost envy him his new-found isolation” and, in response to Kilmandaros arguing that Silchas will be angry over Rake’s indifference: “You might be surprised.” Perhaps, the reader hopes at this point, we’ll have a chance to find out in this book. And perhaps my favorite of his lines in this chapter: when Kilmandaros warns him their enemies will “forge alliances. They will war against us,” his reply is “I have nothing better to do today.” How can you not love this character?

So two big questions obviously arise with regard to the canoes—whose are they and where are they? Those disassembled prows are something we’ve seen before….

The more mysteries in the ensuing scene:

  • Who is this masked man?
  • Who/what are his two companions? (That one is probably not too mysterious—taloned, killing machines… we’ve seen this before…
  • Who are these soldiers the Drene fought with? (We do know some wolf-associated folks)
  • What, if anything, is the significance/consequence of the wolves having eaten the hearts?

That’s a pretty strong prologue—opening with a scene of death and devastation and closing with a scene of death and devastation, with the sound of “talons hissing through grass” and ravens overhead. Perhaps Reaper’s Gale is not going to be the first feel-good hit of the series?

Just a few other quick notes—nothing major with any of these but I do like how Erikson squeezes in some mention of a few items very quickly and unobtrusively:

  • A Meckros City
  • Bluerose
  • The Bolkando Kingdom
  • The shore

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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