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 2 and Chapter 3 up to the section beginning “Temper shouldered...” of Night of Knives by Ian C. Esslemont (NoK).
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, so while the summary of events may be free of spoilers, the commentary and reader comments most definitely will not be. To put it another way: Major Spoilers Next Eight Months.
Another fair warning! Grab a cup of tea before you start reading—these posts are not the shortest!
The fisherman tells his wife he needs to go out because things are “all out of balance.” His wife fears for him. He lights a brazier and heads out, asking her to sing for him.
Fisherman reaches his skiff and sets the brazier in an iron stand on the boat. When he realizes the boat is covered in ice, he lays a hand on it and melts the ice, then takes the rowboat out to sea into the hail and waves and wind, none of which appear to touch him or his boat. He faces north into the storm and sings.
Kiska loses sight of the graycloak that had seemingly popped out of a warren and is tailing the mysterious person who had arrived on the imperial message cruiser. She follows him to a meeting in a manor courtyard, which she spies on. She sees her target sitting with an old man.They talk for a while then her target leaves to walk to the front of the estate. She turns away for a moment then turns back to see the mage she’d lost track of rising from the old man’s body then disappear. She goes to the body, stabbed twice in the back and obviously dead, and is rifling it when it grabs her.
Corinn calls Temper into her room and tells him what she’s about to do is meant to save his life. She reveals she’s a Bridgeburner and that she recognized him from Y’Ghatan and the Sword’s fall. Before they can really talk, Ash (a comrade of Corinn) appears and announces Temper is his prisoner.
Temper is sat in the common room with Coop (barkeep), Trenech (dimwitted giant), and Faro Balkat (old man), who appears to be asleep with his eye open. Ash and his mixed band of veterans and thugs—about 30—are seemingly waiting for something. Temper flashes back to Dassem Ultor thrust through at Y’Ghatan. A hound’s massive cry echoes through and discomfits everyone. Faro Balkat announces “The Shadow Moon is Risen.”
Kiska suddenly finds herself in a canyon, where she speaks with the “dead” old man. He tells her they’re in the Shadow Realm and also on Malaz—the two realms are overlapping in a Convergence. He tells her his name is Oleg and he was a scholar who shared his knowledge with Kellanved (a master of Warren manipulation, Oleg says), who then betrayed him and left him for dead. He informs her the Emperor is returning with Dancer to the island tonight to enter the Deadhouse to claim Shadow, though Laseen and the Claws think he’s returning to reclaim the Empire’s throne. He tells her to tell the man he was speaking with in the courtyard that Dancer and Kellanved must be stopped, that Kellanved plans to “lose all to gain everything” and his “victory will be sealed by his defeat.” Also that “transubstiantion” is the time to strike and “entomb” the Emperor. Kiska returns to the courtyard. The grey cloak assassin reappears and tries to strangle her—to “send her to [his] master.” Oleg’s shade casts a spell at the assassin and drives him off. She decides to head to Agayla’s. As she decides, she hears a hound baying and screams.
Ash and most of his men depart, leaving a few behind to guard the prisoners. The guards get jittery and a fight appears about to ensue when the hound’s baying and the seeming disappearance of the outdoor guards pulls the inside guards together.Faro appears to be casting magic. When one of the guards threatens to kill Faro, Trenech kills the guards. Faro tells Temper and Coop to leave and that “Shadow—and Others—come.” Coop faints and Temper begins to carry him away.
Amanda’s Reaction to Chapter Two:
We start here with the Fisherman—name given as Toben, but I have my suspicions that this is not always his name. The Fisherman’s wife is blind—am I digging too far when I wonder if she is the Seer we met at the start of Gardens of the Moon who protected Sorry from the ravages of Cotillion?
For a moment he stopped to listen; he thought he heard the hint of a hound’s bay caught on the wind.
Yes, the realm of Shadow is close this night.
I love all the descriptive work by Esslemont during the Fisherman’s section—the melting of the ice on the boat, the fact that the weather and waves are not touching him. Very curious and intrigued about this character and what he is trying to achieve—is it protection? Or is it summoning?
Kiska “smelled the Warrens” and knew the names for two of them—now I’m not going to suggest she has some special talent, clearly this is just a reference to her being suspicious that Warrens are involved. But it brings it up again my thought that magic really is completely immersed in Malazan society. Everyone knows about mages and Warrens, and seems to understand most of the consequences around Warrens. This is curious to me—how did they find out about it? Why is the knowledge so far-flung? (Hmm, probably not the right word to use there, but hopefully you grasp what I mean!)
I’ve had my first moment of feeling a twinge of empathy for Kiska—her fierce attempts to rise up from a poor upbringing no doubt partly inspires her desire to be part of the Army and make something of herself.
We really get a lot of hints that Mock’s Hold is a backwater in these times, what with the mage’s purge and the grim Mouse. Also:
Now they served merely as provincial retreats for the aristocratic families that had transferred their interests north, across the Strait of Winds, to the Imperial court at Unta.
Kiska paused in the shadow of an ancient pillar, a plinth for the marble statue of a Nacht, the fanged and winged creature once said to have inhabited the island.
Now, going by usual rules of writing (as in, don’t put a gun on the mantelpiece in Chapter 1 unless said gun will be used) I am hoping we either see the statue come to life or Nachts appear over the course of this night!
Hmm, now not warming to Kiska—she’s heard all manner of lurid stories about nights involving Shadow Moons and yet she simply thinks that this one is the first in her lifetime and so why shouldn’t she be out and about? Someone with that disregard for stories (in a world where people wield magic freely and nightmares walk) really should suffer for it! Although, again, I do sympathise with her when she thinks:
her home’s backwater superstitions shamed Kiska.
This reinforces the view we’ve already been given of Mock’s Hold being a small place, living in the past—if you throw in the fact that Kiska’s mother prays to a local sea cult (Chem) as well.
Yep, I really am enjoying Esslemont’s use of language and I can see what people meant when they said he seriously considers words as he writes:
Kiska tightened her cloak, tried to shake off her dread like the rain from its oiled weave.
It is much easier enjoying the novel when you relax into the fact this is just a shared world and not an Erikson-like book!
So, who are the two people meeting in the garden? [Bill’s interjection: Now, that would be telling!] Clearly the older of the two had told the man from the message cutter that a Shadow Moon was coming, hence his vindicated tone. I laughed at the fact that Kiska hears what she assumes is just a dog baying at the moon, and thinks that people in Mock’s Hold will be worried it’s a shadow hound—while the reader has a pretty firm suspicion that she is listening to a shadow hound!
What was the old saying? Claws only travelled on business.
What a great way to create terror whenever Claws appear! Just a mention of Claws—we’ve seen little hints about them and their training and abilities, and I have to say how much I like them as a part of the novels. These trained killers and spies are incredibly cool!
Kiska is such a child!
Time passed and eventually, though with an odd reluctance, Kiska had to admit that she wasn’t about to be murdered.
Here I imagine this reluctance was due to Kiska wanting to test and prove herself, and be the centre of attention to a certain extent. This are all recognisable traits in young people (and certainly not limited to them!) so I do think Esslemont is doing a fine job with her characterisation going by the little dribs and drabs of information we’re being given.
Ye Gods! The ending to that section with Kiska, with the man saying:
“But I am dead, you see [...] and the Shadow Moon is risen”
is so creepy and vivid. Truly the stuff of nightmares!
Hmm. Corinn says:
“The barracks! You’re supposed to have stayed.”
Did she try to engineer him staying within the barracks?
“I saw the Sword broken”—this must be a reference to Dassem and his assassination? [Bill’s interjection: Yep.]
The old man appeared asleep, sagging against the wall, eyes staring sightlessly. A drop of saliva hung from purple-stained lips.
The man seems dead! Or certainly not “present.” Wonder if he relates to the old man that Kiska has been following?
*giggles* Okay, you can sometimes be jarred from a book for the oddest of reasons. I read the part about the veterans in the pub smoking their clay pipes and straight away thought that the smoking ban had clearly not hit the Malazan Empire yet! Anyone else been jarred out of books for silly reasons like that?
I’m enjoying all the little details about the different races of the Empire—their skin hues, and the types of clothes they wear and swords they carry. It all adds into the flavour and I think that Esslemont is putting this into the story with skill.
Gosh, the little flashback scenes relating to Dassem are brought to life magnificently. Because we already know of Dassem and what happened to him through mentions in GotM, it really adds weight to the scenes where we catch glimpses of it. I am so keen to know more—what betrayal it was and who managed to get through the guard of Dassem.
Eek, we have another completely creepy end to the section—in fact, so far NoK is ticking all of my boxes in terms of chilling horror! I am actually quite nervous of reading further. My tolerance for horror is not that high, and so far I can exactly imagine the events Esslemont has portrayed like a movie—right down to the music that would be used to ramp up the tension!
Interesting little tidbit:
“You’re still on your wretched little isle. And at the same time, you are here. Two realms overlapping. Two places at once. What is called a Convergence.”
Oh, and count me as one of those who does not enjoy realistic swearing in books—as Cam does here. I think we had this discussion during GotM, in fact! It really doesn’t read well, especially when a more flavourful curse can be produced. In fact, it makes me think a little less of an author—with all the vocabulary at their disposal and with the delicious detail of their world, and the best they can come up with is “shit”?
Hmm, if Oleg wants to be the master of the path of Shadow, he really should learn to be less afraid of those hounds. Again we find an example of hearing events from one source. Sure, we hear that Kellanved stole Oleg’s work, but I’m sure this isn’t the whole of the story. Having said that, Kellanved is shaping up to be a pretty distasteful individual, so Oleg might be entirely right!
When I read a book and meet a character for the first time, I like to either align myself with them or decide to dislike them. Both Erikson and Esslemont make this extremely hard. After all, I’m supposed to feel liking towards Kiska, I’m assuming, which means Oleg should be “the enemy.” However, his experiences with Kellanved make me feel sympathy! Hard to know where to stand.
A little hint that time in the Deadhouse moves differently than without it. Kellanved has made:
strange discoveries that have taken him a hundred years to understand
while within the Deadhouse.
“Tell him Kellanved plans to lose all in order to gain everything.”
Apart from his life, what can Kellanved lose that means all? After all, we’ve seen that death doesn’t need to be a hindrance...
Oh, and I think we meet Dancer here! The person garrotting Kiska? He is using shadows to fade in and out, and has skill with assassination and plans to send Kiska to his master.
I’m enjoying Temper’s viewpoint. He has enough military background that his musings are intelligent and can convey much to the reader without it coming across as merely info-dumping. The part where he analyses what the Bridgeburners are present for helps the reader along.
I’m really starting to get a little suspicious of Trenech and Faro—these chaps are clearly much more than what they seem! Both of them dozing during time of great terror. There’s no chance they are Kellanved and Dancer, no? I know they don’t have the same appearance—actually, I don’t, because I’ve never read descriptions of the former Emperor and his bodyguard. I’m only assuming they can’t be Kellanved and Dancer because no one has yet remarked on the similarity between these two and those two. *wink*
Having said that, the appearance of sorcery and Faro’s odd words—his warning to Temper—do lend weight to the idea that this might be who they are. Let’s hope we find out soon. Heaven help me, I can find myself being drawn in and gripped by another Malazan novel. *grins*
Bill’s Reaction to Chapter Two:
I think the image of Fisherman out there alone in his skiff facing the storm and glaciers and hail and stormriders is a great visual—one well worth lingering over and picturing in one’s mind.
On the statue of the Nacht, we will indeed see the Nachts later. But one of the great aspects of this novel is that unlike Checkov’s rule, we will see things that are mentioned but never witnessed again, but that serve as background detail to give this world depth and dimensionality.
Funny, Amanda, but I’m totally with Kiska on the whole wanting to be out on this night of all nights. She a teen who grew up in a tiny section (“the filthiest, lowest, and most disease-infested locale“) in a tiny city on a tiny island with (seemingly) a somewhat stifling mother and all around her she hears news of great events unfolding: war and magic and emperors and stormriders, imperial cities, foreign lands with exotic cultures,etc. And she’s barred from it, perhaps for life. And tonight—some of that mystery comes to her. Even better, it might even bring with it a chance for escape. For, in her mind, “life.” It makes perfect sense to me that she’d be out and about. Plus, I like how she sees some of those stories through her own prism. Those stories of people who have disappeared don’t conjure images in her head of murder or death or slaughter but instead of people doing what she wants to do—take advantage of the night to escape. She isn’t totally disconnected: she feels “dread” and “fear” and “anxiety,” but I can absolutely see where she’s coming from.
I love that line as well about the Claws: that they “only travel on business.” Some of that great dark humor that makes this such a fun world to spend time in. I also like, in both books, how the two authors have more than one such group of assassins. I always found it a bit odd those fantasy worlds where there was a single assassins group, as if no leader or leader wannabe would think that perhaps having his/her own such weapon might be useful. So we’ve got the Claws and the Talons and the Cultists (“assassins all”) and the local assassin guild in Daru, etc. There’s a lot of young boys and girls doing some “wax on wax off” out in the world...
Kiska’s acts in the garden are wonderful depictions of that mix of adolescent hubris and childishness: the wish to match herself in battle with a killer and the scream of terror. While I’m sure that scream is nearly all the result of a corpse grabbing her by the hand, I’d not be surprised that a tiny part is the result of realizing that sometimes, the adults are actually right. How scary is that?
I thought the descriptive passage of the motley band in the inn was a skillful way to introduce the mix of races and conquered groups and thus do a bit of world-building. Skillful because it made perfect sense in the context of scene: Temper would of course be carefully scrutinizing everyone in the group, looking for points of weakness or danger, places to poke and prod, possible allies, etc. So to settle on individuals or small groups for a time and catalog who they were, what they were like, feels natural, rather than an artificial moment of authorial intrusion.
I love the echo between the corpse’s word and Faro Balkat’s words: ”The Shadow Moon is risen.“
One of my favorite aspects of NoK is the Convergence—the way the settings bleed from one to the other as the realms/worlds overlap.
Seriously now, who doesn’t want to read the book dealing with Kellanved and Oleg working together and then, well, not? Or Kellanved and Dancer in the Deadhouse? That whole scene with Oleg is just such a tease. Esslemont shows a good sense of balance here, I’d say, with giving us enough of that backstory and foreshadowing as to what Kellanved and Dancer are up to without it turning into a massive info dump. Enough to get the necessary info out, enough to tease, but not overdoing it. Finally, before leaving Oleg, I just wanted to say I love the line “his extravagant madness.” And sorry Amanda, but I’ll need to see a bit more from him before the sympathy comes. (Maybe it’s the whole “it’s my throne, mine, mine I say!” aspect of him that throws me a bit.)
Good reading on Trenech and Faro being more than they appear. (Never turn your back on sleeping old men or drooling man-idiots, it appears.) We’ll see just how much more by the end. As for some of your other surmises... [Amanda’s interjection: I just got a big old RAFO, hmm? *winks*] [Bill replies: Oh yeah!]
Temper’s veteran, insightful point of view makes for a nice contrast for Kiska’s inexperienced adolescent one, both stylistically and emotionally; making such two contrasting characters the narrative linchpins was a good decision by Esslemont.
Part of Chapter Three
Out on the sea, Fisherman fights glaciers and stormriders and stormrider mages. He is succeeding but appears overmatched.
On her way to Agayla’s, Kiska is overrun again by shadows and Convergence and finds herself back in the Shadow realm, where she sees a glacier. Edgewalker appears and says he “walks the borders of Kurald Emurlahn [shadow].” He says he will send her back but before he does she tells him of Oleg and his belief someone would try and take Shadow’s throne tonight. Edgewalker says many have tried and all failed, ”even those who succeeded for a time. Myself included...“ A Hound bays and Edgewalker says it has her scent and she needs to run. When she asks about entombment, he tells her it is the “price of failure. Eternal enslavement to Shadow House.” He sends her to Obo’s tower back in Malaz as protection against the Hound, though when she arrives the tower is no longer ruins and the land no longer has a city on it. Obo, an old man, tells her the hound is gone and to basically “get off my lawn” and goes into his tower. She realizes a nearby stone tomb is on the same spot as the Deadhouse would stand in Malaz City. She steps over a low wall around the tower’s grounds and is back in modern Malaz. She runs to Agayla’s home (whose door appears to have magical protections) and Agayla lets her in.
Kiska tells Agayla everything save her meeting with Edgewalker and Obo. Agayla tells her she knew Oleg and then tells her a tale of the Empire’s VIPs: that with Dassem’s death at Y’Ghatan (which some suspect Surly and the Claws had a hand in), Surly is next in line for succession; that Dancer and Kellanved haven’t been seen for years working on magic research and that some think them dead; that the two have been prophecied to return; and that in that belief many “parties and interests have gathered.” She tells Kiska her grey-cloaked assassin isn’t a Claw but a Shadow Cultist.
Kiska flashes back to the riot scenes when Surly outlawed magic, when Agayla had faced down a mob that came to arrest her for being a witch and then tells Agayla she won’t be locked away again as she had been that night. Agayla, distracted by ice forming over a basin of water near the fire and resigned to Kiska going out and trying to deliver Oleg’s message to the man she had tailed, gives her another message to deliver to him and tells her to do what he says after he’s read it. She tells Kiska to wait while she prepares some things.
Amanda’s Reaction to Part of Chapter Three:
Remember we’re just heading through to the new section that starts “Temper shouldered...” The rest of Chapter 3 will be completed in next week’s post!
And back to the Fisherman. Again my confusion about who to root for—I instinctively feel as though the Fisherman is a decent chap, I have no idea why, and so the fact that the Stormriders are attacking him makes them bad. Right? I guess we’ll see. Another very cinematic scene anyway, with the walls of ice rising and cresting through the waves and then slipping underneath them, and the mages casting cyan lightning at the skiff. Tremendous stuff. And what about the rather homely rhyme the fisherman is chanting? Any relevance?
Huh, ”gelid“ means cold or icy... It doesn’t look like it should mean that, if you see what I mean.
Interesting that there is a glacier in the realm of Shadow when Kiska returns to it—could there be a link between the Stormriders and Shadow? I don’t like the way that Kiska is currently in and out of the Warren—I can see why she had to go back to Malaz (so that Dancer could be shown to be present) but it all feels a little jumpy at the moment.
Also, she has just mysteriously jumped back into the Warren of Shadow, and her only real response is to reflect on how the world is so big and how much she still needs to experience—it’s all about her, her, her! At least she feels cold horror at the sight of Edgewalker.
We finally have a name for the Shadow Warren: Kurald Emurlahn. The fact is has Kurald appended to it makes me think it is one of the first Warrens. And news that the glacier does not belong in the Shadow Warren as well!
And another couple of gems dropped into the conversation between Edgewalker and Kiska. (Who just seems a little too calm about the whole affair—maybe she’s in shock?) Entombment means “eternal enslavement to Shadow House.” And Kiska has been told to head to Obo’s tower, which is currently an empty ruin with Obo being a myth—in GotM we saw another ancient being and location come back to life, remember?
Hmm, having said that, Obo is a little bit of an anti-climax, isn’t he? A doddering old man. I mean, appearances are often deceiving, but... And where has Kiska gone this time? She’s a regular little globe-trotter in this section!
At least we hear from Kiska that she now feels entirely outclassed. This is character growth from our first meeting with her.
I do love the homeliness of Agayla’s house, and the description of the herblore. It is warm and safe and a mile away from the trials that Kiska has been suffering. Having said that, the fact that Agayla once knew Oleg is something that would certainly disconcert me, if I were in Kiska’s shoes. Mind, if I were in Kiska’s shoes, I would be a gibbering mess by now, rather than irritated at the fact that her aunt has suggested she’s sticking her nose into business that doesn’t concern her!
Oops, maybe that assassin Kiska met wasn’t Dancer *shamefaced* #stillnotquitegettingeverything
And Agayla is not actually a blood relative of Kiska? Who might she be...? Also, was that a cameo of Whiskeyjack, in Agayla’s flashback to the night of the riots? The action is certainly ramping up now—doesn’t it feel horrible breaking in the middle of a chapter? We’ll try not to do this again!
Bill’s Reaction to Part of Chapter Three:
It appears you’ve been well-trained in not leaping to conclusions by this world, as most would just automatically take Fisherman’s side against the Stormriders [must not leap ahead...must resist...]
Funny how you have such a different reaction to the jumps between Malaz and Shadow.
I love those little droplets of oddness we get in these books. Edgewalker’s slow nod at hearing the name Malaz Island: ”An island now is it?" It serves the reader well to always be reminded of the scale of time within which many of these beings move. Edgewalker is old; he isn’t Grandpa.
I have to chuckle as well at Edgewalker’s studied understatement: “I suggest you stay indoors.” Like she might get a bad sunburn or something.
And then the, perhaps a bit pompous and self-knowing, mysterious pronouncement re: those who have tried to take the throne of Shadow: Countless have tried. All have failed. Even those who succeeded for a time. Myself included.
Lots to chew over in that single line of the book, for this book and others.
And again, c’mon. Who hasn’t experienced in their childhood the old guy throwing up a window to yell at you damn little kids to get off his damned lawn? What a great introduction to Obo, the famed mage of myth. It’s moments like these, that leaven the dead seriousness of the other, that can make a book sing along.
The scene with Agayla is well done in several ways. One, as you point out Amanda, is its sense of warmth and coziness. In both style and pace and tone and language it’s a welcome break from the pellmell chaos we’ve been experiencing as readers. Good authors know how to vary the speed of a story and while I’ve got some issues with Esslemont’s writing overall in NoK, this week’s section I think he’s shown a deft hand through all these scenes. The same is true with Agayla’s exposition, which is relatively brief, gives only what really needs to be known, and is once again inserted naturally into the context of the plot. Kiska, the boldly impetuous and impudent adolescent, is finally feeling overmatched and so needs some help and explanation. And thus we get it as well as readers. As opposed to those conversations I can’t stand where character A explains to character B something that the reader is well aware character B already knows. Boy, I hate that!
BTW—no shame in thinking a skilled assassin roaming the streets tonight wiping out an opponent of Kellanved’s might be Dancer. And no, that wasn’t Whiskeyjack; he’s named by his soldier. [Amanda’s interjection: Oops, completely missed that!] Though we will see that Seven Cities veteran again...
Finally, just as Trenech and Faro are more than they appear, we get hints of the same holding true for Agayla—who seems to know a lot about a lot, knows a lot of odd people, and feels comfortable in sending a message to an Imperial higher-up. Mysteries inside mysteries...
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.