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 4 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!
Toben (Fisherman) is killed by the Rheni’s Dream—the ship from the prologue—which, encased in ice, smashes his skiff. The Stormriders head toward Malaz.
Agayla goes to Toben’s hut where she finds Toben’s wife frozen dead.
Agayla meets Obo overlooking the shore and tells him Toben was overcome. Obo blames Surly for outlawing the magic which had kept the Stormriders away. Agayla says Surly didn’t know, nobody knew. When he threatens to return to his tower Agayla says because he’s “anchored” himself to his tower, he has no choice but to commit to stopping the Stormriders. He says the two of them aren’t enough and she replies she’s asked another to help. At first he thinks it’s “that raving maniac” but Agayla says that one has chosen another path.
Temper flashes back to the assault on Y’Ghatan before Dassem’s death. Temper tells his friend Point that Dassem has sworn this is his last battle. Point scoffs then mentions how Dassem has a close connection to Hood. Dassem exits his battle tent with A’Karonys, Bedurian, Nightchill, and Hairlock, while Surly stays in the tent. The battle commences with Dassem at one point handing off control to his sub-commanders, including Whiskeyjack. Temper asks him if it’s truly his last and when Dassems replies in the affirmative Temper wonders how he can “just walk away.” Dassem answers Hood has more than enough people to do his work and that Hood “made a mistake,” that all that ever mattered to Dassem had been taken.
In the final push, the Y’Ghatan patroned champion Surgen fights with Dassem then Temper sees a “flash” and Dassem reacts as if wounded while Surgen is also startled by whatever it was. Dassem wounded, his guards fight to protect him with Temper taking on Surgen long enough for their squad to be rescued.
Temper awakes to find the cultist leader standing above him holding Temper’s helmet. The cultist says his people had watched Temper’s fight with Rood the Hound and had “intervened” then healed Temper. The cultist refuses to tell Temper who he is but says the two of them have the Claws as a common enemy. While the cultist converses with another, Temper starts to make connections to the Shadow Cult and the Talons and Kellanved and Dancer. The cultist leader shows Temper the Deadhouse and calls it a door, telling him he who passes through will command the Shadow Warren. He asks Temper to help the cultist help someone who will try to enter before dawn. Temper refuses and is allowed to leave.
Temper is escorted to Mock’s Hold by two cultists. He realizes the group has gathered for the Return of Kellanved, though Temper believes it’s to gain the Empire’s throne back, not some Warren. The cultists leave him at the Hold, telling him he’ll only find death there. Temper enters, thinking back to how Dassem always spoke warily of the Emperor and then he remembers the times he himself saw him, and the Emperor’s power. He flashes back again to Y’Ghatan.
In the flashback, Temper awakens wounded in an infirmary tent. Ferrule is there and tells him via sign that the Claws and Surly have made their move and Dassem is in danger. The two of them kill the Claws in the tent, then go to where Dassem is kept. Inside that tent they find Dassem near death and Surly and more Claws, including Possum. Surly tells them Choss has been promoted to HIgh Fist and that Dassem is no longer needed, that Y’Ghatan is about to fall. Surly and Temper clearly know each other’s outward courtesy is false and when Surly exits the tent, leaving her Claws behind, a fight ensues in which Dassem seemingly kills Possum. The three of them escape and Dassem then separates to “travel” west. Later, the official story is put out that all three died at Y’Ghatan.
Kiska goes to Lubben’s room. He tells her there’s a take-no-prisoners “war” going on above them in the Hold. He offers her refuge but she refuses, so he gives her a dagger. As she climbs higher, she comes across lots of dead: Ash’s mercenaries, Artan’s guards, Claws and one dying mercenary who tells her Surly is above. As she starts to head down she sees Temper fight two Claws, one of whom turns out to be Possum. Temper kills one Claw then Possum disappears. Kiska runs upstairs and into a room, where she finds Artan and Hattar. The three of them watch as Temper comes up then meets a cultist who converses with him. The cultist waves a hand and Corinn appears on the floor, barely conscious. Temper picks her up and leaves. When the cultist turns to face their direction, Artan recognizes him.
We go slightly back in time to Temper’s point of view. He climbs the Hold, passing the same bodies Kiska did just before him. He kills one Claw, then comes across Possum and another Claw. He kills the strange Claw and taunts Possum, who disappears. Dancer appears (the cultist Kiska and the other two had watched Temper converse with) and tells Temper they are on the same side and that he doesn’t want Temper to ruin the carefully scripted night. Temper asks about Corinn and Dancer agrees to give her to him in return for Temper returning to Pralt, the Cult leader, and doing what Pralt says, which will involve a fight of some sort. Temper agrees and Corinn appears. Temper picks her up and before leaving asks if Dancer and Kellanved are back for the Empire’s throne. Dancer answers the Empire was merely a short-term tool to achieve “greater things.” Temper brings Corinn to Lubben and heads out.
Amanda’s Reaction to Chapter Four:
Alright, the opening scene is very dynamic and all, but what on earth has the Fisherman achieved? All I can tell is that he went out in the sea, sang a bit and was then killed. I will want to see a great deal more from him in the future to make his sections even slightly worthwhile. Right now they just feel like filler—or an attempt to make the book more mystical and mysterious.
I do prefer Obo on this encounter—he and Agayla “fit” together, since it is clearly a meeting of equals.The Stormriders really intrigue me—clearly they have been assaulting the island for many, many years and just as clearly talent has been generated on the island for helping to rebuff them. So Surly’s purge of all the talents on the island—whether deliberate or not—has helped to open the path to the Stormriders.
Hmm, who has Agayla asked? I am thinking that the person she has not asked is Kellanved. Now I confess that I have taken a look at the list of characters from the front and I’m thinking we’re going to see Tayschrenn help out with the Stormriders.
I had an odd moment of not being able to make clear the following quote—anyone fancy helping?
Across the lines mixed Gral, Debrahl and Tregyn of the Y’Ghatan guard rode back and forth...
[Bill’s interjection: Gral, Debrahi, and Tregyn are the enemy groups/tribes/clans.]
Why was Dassem saying that that would be his last effort? The hints about Lanesh (the Bloorgian priest) suggest that Dassem might have heard something that made him chary of any more conflicts.
Hmm, I don’t know whether it is because we suspect that Surly ordered Dassem’s death, but straight away I feel as though he is to be trusted and is one of the good guys. Will be interesting to see if I maintain this view as I see a little more of him. Also, I got all excited about the cameos from Nightchill and Hairlock and the others who we encountered in Gardens of the Moon.
Point murmured, “I wish the old ogre was still around. He always kept that bitch in check.”
So Surly is hated by those following her! And who on earth is the ogre? I can’t think of anyone from GotM who would really fit that description...
Okay, I’m disappointed at the first major battle scene of the book. I’ve enjoyed the one on one fights, where Esslemont seems to have more control over the events—but I’m a little...bored by the large battle involving the Sword.
What I am loving is all the little name drops of those we’ve already encountered—here Whiskeyjack is a sub-commander of the third army!
I’m interested to hear more about Dassem’s connection with Hood, which has been whispered more than once, including:
Temper thought of all he had heard whispered from so many sources—of Pacts and Vows sworn to the Hooded One himself.
Also, who made a mistake? And what has been taken from Dassem? And why does he have nothing left to lose? All very, very mysterious....
Nice to hear some compassion from Temper in the event of war:
Although they were the enemy, Temper found himself pitying the soldiers ranged against them.
This shows the power and relative confidence of the Third Army as well.
Can I just mention as well how cute and clever the names are of those who protect Dassem the Sword? Temper, Point, Ferrule, Quillion, Hilt, and Edge. I do feel a little daft that I had to see them all together to make the connection though!
Then Hood’s Own Paths cracked open upon them.
What is it that flashes and strikes down Dassem? Is this something we’ll discover soon? What has given their opponents the backbone to stand against the Malazan professionals? And why are the Malazan regulars not managing to push through and join them in battle?
Is a patroned champion someone who the gods are protecting?
Having decried Esslemont’s lack of skill in the larger battle scenes, he really comes into his own in the epic fight between Surgen and Temper. I really felt myself warming to the grizzled Temper, and respected the loyalty he showed to Dassem in his attempt to battle the patroned champion.
I knew I liked these skinny guys in the ash-pale robes. *grin* And what healing power do they have that they are able to bring Temper back from the very brink of death after his duel with Rood?
“Yes. This night is ours. We control the island two or three nights every century.”
Just in the event of a Shadow Moon? Where do they come from? So far this chapter is definitely throwing up a number of questions! And the following passage only hints at some of the answers:
...the healing, the undeniable fact that they must’ve done something to yank him free of the hound, and the man’s claim that they ruled this night, put Temper in mind of what he’d heard of the cult that worshipped Shadow.
A ha! A little bit of a reveal concerning religion as well:
The rest of that dusty theology just made his head numb: Old versus New; the rise and fall of Houses of influence; the eternal hunt for Ascension.
Interesting to see that some common soldiers, such as Temper, see it as nothing more than hokum—especially considering the fact that in most cases the “normal” people accept the presence of Warrens and gods.
*shudders* I don’t like the mention of Kellanved’s monstrous actions:
Never seen Kellanved murder thousands when he brought down a city wall, or his pet T’lan Imass warriors slaughtering entire towns. Good riddance to that wither-legged Dal Honese elder and spook of a partner, Dancer!
Wow, what a way to end a section and make you want to read on:
...and he remembered that other night. The night close to a year ago when he and Dassem died.
Entertaining scene with the fight between the Claws and Temper and Ferrule, although distinctly grim when Ferrule virtually loses his ear! Tough guys, these guards of the Sword!
I really enjoyed finally seeing Surly for an extended period - isn’t she a nasty piece of work? She knowingly offers what she won’t ever give; and signals the death of the Sword. The conversation betweem Surly and Temper shows a little of the politics and machinations that went on during Surly’s rise to power.
Why did Dassem reject Hood? I think that this is central to the whole mystery of the First Sword. And what? Dassem doesn’t actually die? We’re going to meet him again? I do sincerely hope so—in a lot of ways, in the little I’ve seen of him, he’s sort of a Druss type character. Where is it that Dassem has headed? To Hood?
Hmm, and back to Kiska—shame that, after the exciting stream of flashbacks from Temper, I sort of sighed at the idea of spending more time with the younger character. She is just very naive, and less interesting than the veteran.
Ugh, I do hate how all corpses seem to have the “stink of voided bowels”—I know it’s realistic and all, but it does sound horrible! I’m just being a sensitive girl. *grin*
Ha, I can’t resist saying this—but Lubben is just showing THE most sense of the whole lot right now by insisting on staying hidden. I do like that he gives Kiska his dagger. Does anyone else play “guess the corpse!” when reading novels? At the moment Lubben has “eventual corpse” written all over him—I hope I’m wrong!
Hood’s breath! At this rate no one would be left alive.
Hmm, sort of worried that this could be used as the tagline for the entire Malazan series...
Oh, how I love seeing Temper from Kiska’s perspective—he must look an absolute sight in that armour, all gouged from his duel with Rood. I also love the fact that we see the sequence from first Kiska’s eyes and then Temper’s. The balance of inexperience and jaded veteran is a really nice touch. And I enjoyed the comedy of Temper hearing Kiska scurrying up the stairs but believing it to be Possum.
“By the Autumn Worm. It is he.” The wonder in this statement means that the cultist must be someone that Artan really didn’t expect to see—Dancer or Kellanved? Ahh, seeing the scene from Temper’s perspective reveals it is Dancer. Now this is interesting: finally coming face to face with one of the most mysterious and charismatic characters of the series so far.
And here we have the blatant reason why most of us readers are more scared and fascinated by Kellanved and Dancer than by Surly:
To his mind most people, like Surly, viewed control—political or personal—as the highest ambition. But men like Kellanved and Dancer were after Power, the ineffable quality itself.
Bill’s Reaction to Chapter Four:
I liked the scene with Fisherman, though I agree it doesn’t do much to advance plot. It does, however, set a great tone at the start of this section. And I love the image of the ship encased in ice crushing the skiff. Followed by the equally sharp if more domestic image of his wife frozen and the knitting shattering.
Obo is just all-around a great character here—who doesn’t like a grumpy old man? And I like how we get such a relatively unique view on the Emperor, “that raving lunatic”—not just from Obo but others as well. It’s a fresh approach to the usual image of emperors we get in fantasy—either regal types of strong bearing or wise political manipulators. We rarely get just “freaking insane.”
As to what’s going on with Dassem, we’ll get more of his backstory in Erikson’s books and I don’t want to spoil too much here. Those references to Hood are important, though, as is his comment that “He made a mistake” and a later that Dassem’s had everything taken from him. The “He” is Hood and the “everything”—well, he still has his swordsmanship, his title, his army, so you can deduce it’s something more personal.
I confess that one of my least favorite repeated aspects of these novels (both Esslemont’s and Erikson’s) are the sword duels where both fighters are moving at superhuman speed, ignoring near-mortal wounds, etc. They just never do very much for me, to be honest. More specific to this scene, I felt it a bit anticlimactic, felt the retreat could have been played more powerfully. And the scene with Temper’s grip on Surgen would have had stronger effect I think had it not been so fully telegraphed with his scene with the barrack bully earlier. [Amanda’s interjection: Wow, I didn’t even make that connection with the barrack bully!] Just a prior sense of his strength would have been better than such a one-to-one correspondence.
I also liked Temper’s indifference toward the religions, especially as we see so much of the other side of things in the Erikson books. And I like as well the nuance that he doesn’t think all of it is bullshit, just that it all gets too complicated. He’ll stick to his two soldiers’ gods thank you very much and someone else can pay attention to all that ascending/descending stuff. BTW, Amanda, we haven’t done as much filing away in this book as GoTM, but both Togg and Fener will play major roles in later books, so set those names aside for the future.
It does the reader good service to remind us now and then that Kellanved isn’t some kindly old crazy uncle who comes out at major holidays. We see that with the slaughter by the Hounds in the early scene in GoTM and now, as you mentioned, we get more reference to it. Empires, after all, aren’t created via exchanging pleasantries. One specific slaughter of a town by the T’lan Imass will also get mentioned throughout the Erikson books, along with some question as to just how that got ordered.
It’s a small thing, but while I like the flashbacks, I much prefer when we just get them, with the white space providing us with the transtions. All the “and then he remembered” feels a bit clumsy to me.
The fight scenes between Temper/Ferrule and the Claws I found more enjoyable than the earlier fight/battle scenes. There’s a strong sense of tension and Temper’s wounds actually had an effect on his fighting. I hate those movie fights where the character takes ridiculous amounts of punishment (broken ribs, broken nose, gouged eye, etc.) and yet fights on as if all that blood was fake. Oh wait....
While I like the interplay between Surly and Temper itself, I don’t care for how that situation ends. Along with the “taking-too-much-punishment” pet peeve, I also hate the “bad-guy-dumbly-underestimates-his-opponent” play. It just beggars belief that Surly, if she truly is trying to settle things, wouldn’t ensure Temper and Ferrule (let alone Dassem) are put down. Taking one of her best Claws with her, let alone not seeing it to herself, just wasn’t plausible to me. If she’s playing this as some scam, seems there were better ways to do so, though that possibility gets far too complicated to go into at this early stage.
Will we see Dassem again? Let’s just say that when asked what he’ll do, you’re given a big, big hint.
The double pov of Temper’s scene is my favorite part of this section, for those reasons you mentioned. Taking us out of Temper’s pov is important because that intimacy we get via the pov, together with his world-weary, self-deprecating view runs the risk of us not quite getting just how formidable a person he is. Even the flashbacks when he’s fighting are at a remove. But seeing it through present-day Kiska’s eyes opens the eyes of the reader as well. Kiska’s musing on just what he might be made me flashback to the LOTR scene with Samwise Gamgee heading up the tower stairs in the last book when an orc was coming down, and the orc, rather than seeing a little hobbit, sees some grandly terrifying figure out of myth and legend. Tolkien geek moment.
Along with Kiska’s pov, I like how we’re privy to Artan’s surprise at first Temper—”a ghost out of the past indeed”—and then shock—“By the Autumn Worm. It is he.”—at Dancer’s appearance.
Speaking of formidable, look how supremely dismissive Dancer is of Temper, this guy who regularly takes on Claws with some success. And how Temper is fully accepting of that dismissal.
I found Temper’s reaction to Dancer’s line: “One last service from the last shard of the shattered Sword” to be perhaps the most moving point of the whole book:
The Last? Something stabbed at Temper’s chest. Truly the last? . . . Ferrule—even Dassem—dead?
The crushing weight of that realization, the way it makes him lower his weapons (unheard for a professional soldier of his caliber) in a sign of true surrender—not to Dancer but to the burden of being the last—really moved me. It’s flashes like these that make me eager to continue watching Esslemont’s development as a writer.
Oh, those “greater things” Dancer says he and Kellanved are after. Boy will we have talk about that in novels to come....
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.