Malazan Reread of the Fallen

Malazan Re-read of the Fallen: Return of the Crimson Guard, Book Two, Chapter Four, Part Two

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 readers. In this article, we’ll cover the first half of Chapter Three of the second part of Return of the Crimson Guard (RotCG).

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 spoiler thread has been set up for outright Malazan spoiler discussion.

Note: We will split Chapter Five at the roughly halfway point (pg. 456 in my print and Kindle versions) as follows:

Friday’s post ends with “Toc bowed: ‘I thank you, Imotan of the White Jackal.’”

Wednesday’s post begins with “Nait threw another handful of dried dung on to the fire and sat back in disgust.”

My print version separates these sections with some asterisks.

Also, Amanda will be catching up with her posting in the comments section this week.


Book Two, Chapter Four, Part Two


Back in the Otataral pit, a Wickan witch, Su, tells Ho that Yath found Grief and Treat “poking around down at the excavation” and that he plans to kill them and “introduce them to our guest down below.” As they head down, Su tells Ho she knows his secret, she can “smell” it on him—“the old ritual . . . the forbidden one.” He pretends not to know what she means and she relents, but says he could end all the trouble if he just brought “forth a fraction of what sleeps within,” which she believes possible despite the presence of Otataral. He thinks she may be right but fears the madness that would come.


They reach a large cavern and find Treat and Grief surrounded by a group of armed men, though neither looks concerned. Yath accuses Ho of conspiring with the two. Su, meanwhile, notices something about Treat and Grief that makes her laugh, something else she “smells.”


The group take Treat and Grief farther down to another cavern to show them part of a jade giant—the mouth—and looking on Ho thinks of how inconceivably large the entire statue is if just the mouth is this big. He thinks how they’ve been studying the thing for 30 years and learned nothing. They bring them to the mouth’s opening and Grief realizes it leads to a throat (immeasurably long, Ho’s group have discovered) and he says he hears a “sighing or whispering.” Ho tells Su he heard “screams of the insane” and she responds she heard “Inconsolable weeping.” Yath does something and a burst of air comes out of the mouth, hurling Grief across the cavern. To everyone’s amazement (and to Yath’s dismay) Grief is alive. Yath orders them killed but Grief says they are allies and offers them a chance to escape to Quon and take vengeance on the Empire. Yath scorns the idea due to the Otataral, but Grief meets all their objections, saying the only thing stopping them is the proximity/location on the island, adding if they go to the mine-head, he and Treat will have them out in a few hours. They head out.


Ho asks Su about Treat and Grief but all she says is “there are Malazans and there are Malazans.” As they talk, she notes how it is she’s never seen him angry, and wonders where his anger, along with his ambition, went to. He refuses to answer.


Ho arrives at the mine-head where a crowd has gathered and learns Treat and Grief climbed the wall a while ago. Grief brings down the platform and tells them five at a time can go up. None move at first but eventually people agree to see what’s up there, Ho and a scholar named Devaleth Omptol among them. They go up and Ho learns that all the ore they’ve been mining for the last few decades has just been dumped  as worthless. Grief leads him to the guards, who are imprisoned but alive. Ho wants to gain his revenge on the chief officer, but Grief says he can’t allow that; the men surrendered to him and thus have his protection. When the officer mocks Ho, he slaps him unconscious, to Grief’s surprise. Grief says they have a ship coming tonight.


Ghelel joins Commander Ullen (to whom she’s been growing closer) and Jhardin. The two tell her they’ve been discussing rumors of what happened at Unta, where a pirate army trying to rob Imperial Arsenal supposedly blew up half the city. Jhardin dismisses them, but Ullen and the mage Bala think there’s more to them than first appears. As they discuss tactics, Ullen explains that their army has to defeat Laseen while she can afford to just wait for their alliance to fall apart, which would happen if they can’t take Li Heng. Ehra, a very young girl, a Seti scout, arrives, frozen and suffering from exposure. She reports to Ullen and Ghelel tries to give the girl her cloak and convince her to stay to warm herself, but the girl refuses and leaves. Ullen tells Ghelel the girl is used to it, and when Ghelel angrily asks if that means she and the Seti are “less than us . . . Coarser? Feel less than we do?” he says that’s not what he meant. He continues, saying the girl’s group had captured a runaway from the raiders and the prisoner sketched the raider’s sigil on the cloth Ehra has just delivered. Ullen looks at it (the Crimson Guard sigil) and is shocked and dismayed, calling for Jhardin and Captain Tonley to attend him immediately. He orders Jhardin back to his command south and orders Tonley to send the news to Urko at Command. Jhardin tells Ghelel they leave in an hour. She tells Molk to get ready and why and he disappears.


On the march, Ghelel asks Jhardin if he believes the news and he says yes. When she asks why Ullen was so afraid, he tells her Ullen served on Dassem’s staff and as Choss’s adjutant. Ghelel realizes he must have fought in the wars of consolidation and is upset he hadn’t told her so and also upset at herself for not knowing he was worthy of respect/faith simply based on Urko choosing him. She wonders where Molk has gone then sees flames ahead and yells the raiders (The Guard) are taking the monastery. Jhardin orders a ride to the bridge.


The Guard are already holding the bridge by the time they near it. Ghelel and Jhardin ride ahead to parley, meeting up with Cole and Lean of the Guard. Ghelel asks passage south and the Guard says all who wish to go south may, but none may come north. Jhardin asks if they expect a “flow of desertions” and is told yes.


Hurl tells Storo Liss is watching east, saying there is a “blank spot where there shouldn’t be.” Storo dismisses it and says the besiegers now have enough soldiers to attack. She tells him Silk says they’re ready.


Silk, Rell, Sunny, Jalor, Hurl, and Storo all meet at the temple. Hurl notes that Silk has removed all the Malazan gods and spirits and he says the temple has been reconsecrated to the city itself. They follow a long tunnel underground, past a series of wards and barriers that have been removed. They meet Ahl and his brothers Thal and Lar at the end where there is a well with a huge chain held up by two longswords. Silk says pull the swords and Ryllandaras will be released even farther underground where he can make his escape to the northern plains. Silk has Rell do it and after he does so tells him he should keep and use the swords. Just before they leave, they hear words echoing up from the well.


Bill’s Reaction to Book Two, Chapter Four, Part Two

Here’s a pretty big hint that Ho is more than he seems, from Su: “I smell you . . . I smell the old ritual on you magus. The forbidden one . . . Everyone thinks it lost . . . Just bring forth a fraction of what sleeps within, magus.” We don’t have a lot of things referred to simply as “the ritual,” and “forbidden” and “lost” would also be a few clues to just what she is referring to here. Later we get another clue: “I don’t recall ever seeing you angry. Where did your temper walk off to?” And then we have to wonder how Ho has the strength to backhand a man off his feet.

I do like the bit of humor that centers around Yath in this section. It begins with Ho’s joke about his killing Grief and Treat by talking them to death, and then continues with his so confident statement that Ho is Malazan because he’s from Li Heng, the “very centre” of the Empire, a statement so ignorant (especially with what the reader knows is now happening at Li Heng) that Ho can only stare dumbstruck for a moment.

And so now we get the big reveal about what is at the bottom of the pit, what the scholars are studying—a Jade Statue. But as is often the case in this series, with the reveal come more mysteries: Why a throat? What is the noise the magi here? Why do they hear something different?

We’ve had Yath mentioned as dangerous, murderous, overall not so nice, but here’s something a little different: “Yath laughed and howled like a madman possessed.”

And we’ve obviously had lots of clues that Treat and Grief were not what they were. Now we’ve got Grief surviving what clearly was a death blow. Or, does he? Note how Ho doesn’t say that Treat slapped his “near-dead” or “seemingly dead” friend but his “dead friend’s face.” Su gives us more clues with the “hard to kill, these two” and the “Come recruiting?” (one might also argue the name “Grief” is kind of a funny clue).

Yath: “Believe me Mezla, I want revenge upon your Empire more than you can possibly imagine.” File.

I like the little scene where Grief realizes that leaving the prison isn’t as easy as he has assumed it would be. I actually wish it had been a bit longer.

The scene with the Seti girl in Ullen’s tent shows us again just how naïve Ghelel is when it comes to war. A good heart, but little understanding.

I like the sense of urgency when Ullen learns of the Crimson Guard—thought that was conveyed nicely. As well as another little aside via Ghelel and Tonley that the Guard may have outlived themselves, the same sort of thing we saw Shimmer wonder as she walked down the streets of Unta and saw simple confusion.

Lean and Cole’s response to the “legitimate army or mere brigands” was a nice bit of humor to vary the tone in this section, coming after the urgency of the Guard information and before the scene with Ryllandaras being released.

I’m glad we got Hurl’s line about Shaky in this scene when they’re heading underground, after Silk performs his bit of magic and she thinks “were Shaky with them he’d be asking something like ‘How’d he do that?’” One of my favorite aspects to this series is that the dead aren’t forgotten, something I think we see far too often in other novels—folks being killed and an immediate response and then 50 pages later it is as if they never existed. It’s rare in this series that we don’t see how death has long-term affects on people, how people are mourned for weeks, months, years, and lives.

The journey does a nice job of conveying just how scary Ryllandaras is, as we see all the ways he’s meant to be kept down there—warrens and hug stone blocks and copper barriers and silver and iron etc. I am a bit surprised as we pass through all these that we don’t get some interior monologue from Hurly wondering if this is such a good idea or not.

And if she didn’t wonder then, you might think she’d wonder at those words that float up. Just a little creepy….

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


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