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 6 and the Epilogue 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!
Kiska wakes up in Seal’s room. Seal tells her he healed her, Hattar, and Tayschrenn, though he says Tay pretty much took care of himself. Seal says he has a message from them to her, but Kiska guesses it is that they are down at the wharf. Seal says yes and she heads out.
Kiska finds Hattar and Tayschrenn loading up the boat to leave and asks to be taken. They agree to take her into service. She heads off to tell Agayla and her mother.
Kiska finds Agayla exhausted. Agayla guesses Kiska is leaving. When Kiska mentions seeing Agayla (when she was in the warren), Agayla says it was just a dream/vision. Kiska says goodbye and as she heads to her mother’s, wonders how Agayla knew the name “Artan.”
Temper heads up to his post on the Hold, passing Lubben on his way. He hears that Larkin (the barracks bully) is under arrest for refusing to stand his post last night. He arrives at his post and pretends to Chase that he has no idea what happened last night as he was too drunk. Chase tells him there was an assassination attempt on an imperial official but that somehow the garrison didn’t hear a sound and the night watch saw/heard nothing. Chase takes off. Temper muses on how he’s proud he still had “what it took” and more importantly, found something left “worth fighting for.” He looks forward to seeing Corinn and hopes she won’t be leaving, especially as Temper will be spending a “long while to come” at the Hanged Man. He sees Tayschrenn’s cutter heading out.
Amanda’s Reaction to Chapter Six:
Stewing broth, huh? Reminds me of the entry for food in Diana Wynne Jones’s “A Tough Guide To Fantasyland”:
Stew (the Official Management Terms are thick and savory, which translate as ‘viscous’ and ‘dark brown’) is the staple food in Fantasyland, so be warned. You may shortly be longing passionately for omelette, steak, or baked beans, but none of these will be forthcoming, indoors or out. Given the disturbed nature of life in this land [...] Stew seems to be an odd choice as staple food, since, on a rough calculation, it takes forty times as long to prepare as steak.
Y’all have read this gem of a book, yeah? If you haven’t, I insist you go and buy a copy RIGHT NOW. Go on, me and Bill will wait for you to catch up. *grin* [Bill’s interjection: Second that rec!]
Anyway, where were we...?
Amused by Kiska’s reaction to the fact that Seal burnt her clothes! It is just like a teenager. Either that, or because she is from a poor family, and doesn’t have many more sets of clothes! I guess either could be the interpretation here but I prefer the first.
Pah! Now not amused by Kiska at all, with the way she behaves towards Seal. He is proud of what he has accomplished, clearly, and she doesn’t even bother to thank him properly—not for the healing or the stew. Just wants to know about Tay and Hattar. I am thinking that she is aware they might leave without her and wants to be involved and taken away from Malaz Isle, and is concerned that she will be left in the same position before the night started. But, seriously, being self-obsessed is taken to the nth degree here by Kiska.
And why is Kiska so smug about knowing that Tay and Hattar are down by the wharf? Why does Seal make the reaction he does—laughing and calling her clever? I’m stumped by that. After all, Tay and Hattar are important folk who have things to do away from the island so it is clear they’ll be departing via the wharf at some point. Have I missed something?
The residents of Malaz greeted the dawn like stunned survivors of a typhoon and earthquake combined.
I can imagine the way they would be reluctant to even peer around their doors, having enjoyed a night of the walking dead and the unearthly howls of the Shadow Hounds.
Oh my, here we go again... Having been told that she lacks discipline Kiska then makes retorts towards the person making the decision as to whether she will be allowed to go. I just can’t get on board with Kiska. (And I am aware that I am sounding like a broken record at this point...) Thing is, I’ve read books with annoying teens before—and the writing has served to make you empathise with them, rather than just want to throttle them! I am merely annoyed with Kiska here and struggling to understand why I’d want to read anything else about her.
Curious as to where Agayla knows Tayschrenn from. And why is Tay sometimes called Artan? From his childhood? I would be glad to read more about Tayschrenn and his history.
Sub-Fist Pell has made not a single on-screen appearance in this novel. Not exactly an inspirational leader of men, hey?
Hmm, Chase says to Temper:
“Well, it’s just Chance, you know. The Twins of Chance and age.”
Makes me wonder whether Oponn has actually entered the game at this early stage?
But he couldn’t keep a satisfied grin from his lips; he’d done it again—stepped into the gap. Held the wall.
I love this last, introspective scene with Temper and the fact he’s so proud of himself. He’s regained his pride and shown his strength, and knows he still has something worth fighting for. Will be interesting to see if he retains this feeling when the Guardianship comes to the fore.
I love the symmetry of this last scene as well, with Temper watching the sea and noting the odd behaviour of the weather vane. Whatever I might think about some of Esslemont’s writing, the structure of Night of Knives is damn fine.
Bill’s Reaction to Chapter Six:
I like the immediate shift in tone that opens this chapter, with Coop simply trying to get his apron back. After the events of the night, it’s a nice tension reliever and effective signal that things are pretty much back to normal mundane life.
To be honest, I’m not quite sure of why Seal has such a reaction to Kiska’s guess re: the message—seems a bit over the top to me. I can’t come up with anything to explain it.
Hmm, you’ve read books with teens and you didn’t want to throttle them? That’s why they're called “fantasy.” :) I do buy into Kiska’s portrayal as pretty much like a teen; the annoying aspect I just live with as verisimilitude.
One thing that did bother me though was that Kiska’s pain seems to have subsided perhaps a bit too quickly, at least without notice of such. She couldn’t even stand at Seal’s and yet she walks all the way down to the wharf and then the only thing that stops her running (on her way to Agayla’s) is a side stitch. I know she’s been healed but the memory of her severe pain from standing is only a page old.
I also thought the departure scene with Agayla seemed a bit rushed and abrupt to me. It’s hard to imagine Agayla wouldn’t have given her some advice. I would have liked to have drawn that out a bit more, both because it would have been more in character I think and also for its emotional potential.
And finally, I could have gone without Temper’s self-appraisal. I would have liked Esslemont to leave that up to the reader. Certainly we all know he “stood the gap” and I think we’re pretty clear on him finding something to live/fight for again. This whole paragraph seemed a bit unnecessary to me. The same holds true slightly as he watches the cutter leave (am I getting cranky or what?). Let us make the connection that he saw it arrive and now he’s seeing it go—those sort of things I think are more richly felt when the reader gets them on their own.
The nod to his “long while” at the Hanged Man, however, which I assume refers to his acceptance of the Guardianship of the Deadhouse, seemed a good nod to the reader.
Edgewalker finds Kellanved and Cotillion in Shadow. Kellanved reshapes shadow (Edgewalker thinks how they can “create whatever they wished from the raw stuff at their disposal”) into a keep. He then proposes a walk around the realm with Edgewalker as guide. Edgewalker says he doesn’t take Kellanved’s orders and when Kellanved threatens to set the Hounds on him Edgewalker says they would not attack him as they are “all kin. Slaves to Shadow.” Kellanved says he understands and that while Edgewalker is slave to Shadow, Kellanved “commands” Shadow. Edgewalker says nothing in reply to that. Kellanved and Cotillion disappear. Edgewalker leaves wondering why none of the claimants to the Shadowthrone ever learn or wonder why the throne is often so empty, though he also looks forward to the change and possible “progression” this new claimant might bring to the realm.
A young boy and girl find a scaled man of some sort wedged into rocks and half-buried in sand at the beach. The creature grabs the boy then lets go. Later, the children lead their grandfather to the place. They stay back while he looks, then he comes out and tells them it was gone, though the girl sees something odd in her grandfather’s eyes. As they leave, the old man thinks of how he had killed the creature and how before he had done so it had spoken to him in Korelan and asked him four times “why are you killing us?” And the old man recalled his surprise that the creature’s blood had been warm and red.
Amanda’s Reaction to the Epilogue:
Ooh, following comments from some of our gang after last week’s instalment, it is noticeable that Kellanved says:
“What in the Word of the Nameless Ones do you want?”
He and Tay have both said this. Who are the Nameless Ones? And what is the connection between Tay and Kell, apart from being part of the Old Guard?
“For the nonce”: ack, this is the first time that either Erikson and Esslemont have brought in words like this. For the record, I don’t like ”alas,“ ”forsooth,“ or ”nonce.“ I do like ”rapscallion" though! *grins*
So, we now have Shadowthrone and Cotillion instead of Kellanved and Dancer... Even more scary! Shadowthrone is showing hints of that madness, with his giggling, and both are able to “create whatever they wished from the raw stuff at their disposal.”
Edgewalker is a slave to the House? Would that be the Shadow rather than the Deadhouse? Is he in the same straits as Jhenna, or a slave to something else?
And how much does this fit into the arc of the entire series?
How many times, he wondered, had he heard that very same conceit from a claimant to the Throne? Would they never learn? How long, he wondered, would this one last? Why was it none of the long chain of hopefuls ever bothered to ask why the Throne should be empty in the first place?
And why the emphasis on “...progression”?
I’m guessing the creature found by the children is one of the Stormriders? It doesn’t speak their language, and is extremely eerie looking. Is Pyre on Malaz Island?
Oh! “Why are you killing us?” Now that certainly is a turn up for the books!
Bill’s Reaction to the Epilogue:
We’ll find out more about the Nameless Ones (though par for the course, not as much as we’d like) soon, and even see some of them. They play a major role in the series.
The Epilogue, ironically enough, felt less like an epilogue to me than the preceding few page with Temper. I loved the meeting between Edgewalker and the dynamic duo, beginning with the “old habit” of Kellanved’s illusion distracting someone while Dancer hangs out behind them.
Edgewalker’s expositional thought on how the two can create what they need from Shadow is a bit unneeded, as we just saw Dancer do that and are about to see K. do the same. On the other hand, I thought his explanation of how he and the Hounds are “slaves to Shadow” does need to be said, and I like how what he doesn’t say—in this case not replying to K’s claim to “command Shadow”—is just as important here as what he does say. That will start to rear its head I think in the latter books of the series, so it’s a good line to point out. The section on previous claimants is slightly overdone; a simple “why don’t they ever learn?” would have sufficed, but I do like his hint and sense of excitement at the possibility of “progression.” We’ll find out more of the history (and boy is it history) of the Shadow Realm as we continue.
As for the final scene—it’s a nice bit of cliffhangery-type ending. The main storyline is resolved, but the author leaves us with a continuing mystery (the Stormriders) that just got a lot more mysterious. This little scene was my favorite part of these last two chapters and the most effective I thought.
Amanda’s Reaction to Night of Knives:
This first encounter with Esslemont’s side of the Malazan world has sure been a bumpy ride. For every Temper there was a Kiska, basically. *grins* I don’t think I need to re-emphasise my dislike of the young naive character. She was an effective tool in Esslemont’s hands to help any info-dumping go smoothly and feel realistic, but, by all the Gods, she got annoying damn quickly.
My overriding impression of the novel is that is was basically a novella to start with, and got padded out to fit a novel length. There isn’t a great deal of real action here, in terms of moving along the story, and the biggest scene by far is the ascension of Kellanved and Dancer, but I found myself rather confused about it rather than thrilled.
At times the prose was weak when it should have been exciting, with clumsy exposition and characterisation.
With that said, I did enjoy a lot of what was on show here. I loved the horror aspect of the novel—something that we haven’t seen from Erikson in the same way. Anything involving Temper, especially the flashbacks with Dassem and the final showdown between him and Jhenna, was just brilliant. I also enjoyed seeing an entirely different perspective of Tayschrenn compared to Gardens of the Moon—I join other people now in finding him entirely intriguing. Definitely more to come.
My favourite character from Night of Knives was definitely Temper—from his grizzled resignation to his flash of pride to the potential of what is yet to come. How about you? And why?
In summary, this will never be my favourite part of the Malazan series, but I have not been deterred from Esslemont’s future works. I think this was a slightly simplistic read in comparison to Gardens of the Moon—however, I do firmly believe that Esslemont can only improve going forwards, and I’m looking forward to Return of the Crimson Guard when we hit that as part of the re-read.
So, onto Deadhouse Gates.... I am apprehensive, pleased, excited, and already confused :-p
Bill’s Reaction to Night of Knives:
The first time I read this I was, to be honest, disappointed somewhat. I was less so now, but I think part of that was simply coming in with that previous knowledge and thus somewhat lowered expectations. I’m with you Amanda, and several of our readers, that the plot is a bit thin and a bit “bumpy.” I felt at times it was rushed, at times overly abstract, at times too much happened off stage (though I liked the off-stage portrayal of the big confrontation), at times stretched or repetitive. Thus the “bumpy.”
The strength of the book for me lies in its character and choice of POV. I liked the structural counterpoint of the world-weary knows-too-much Temper and the oh-so-eager-and-naive Kiska. Age and youth. Cynicism and optimism. Taciturn and overly talkative. Grieving and unscathed.
What I felt I was seeing in NoK was an author relatively new to his craft, still trying to feel out how to pace a novel: what scenes to select, which to omit; where to go slow and where to speed up; where to show and where to tell, when to let the reader find the meaning and when to help them along or just tell them. It was rough, but the potential was clearly there. Return of the Crimson Guard has, I think some of the same flaws, improves on many of them, and manages to find a few new ones. But I do think it is a better book, Amanda. And my assumption is Stonewielder will continue that progress and I’m very much looking forward to getting my hands on it (wink wink hint to our Tor overlords).
As for Deadhouse Gates—buckle up!
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.