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 and Chapter 1 of Deadhouse Gates by Steven Erikson (DG).
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.
Another fair warning! Grab a cup of tea before you start reading—these posts are not the shortest!
Setting: Utna during the 9th year of Laseen’s reign as Empress.
A priest of Hood, covered with flies as part of a ritual, heads toward a line of shackled prisoners, most of them nobles culled by Laseen as examples. In the line are Felisin, sister to Paran as well as to the new Adjunct Tavore; Heboric Light Touch, a handless defrocked priest of Fener arrested for his “revised history”; and Baudin, a crude ferocious killer. Hood’s priest tells Fener he has a secret to show him, then the flies disappear and there is no priest under them. Tavore appears with her personal aide T’amber and sees Felisin but makes no sign beyond simple recognition. Felisin thinks how Tavore, to show her loyalty and make up for Paran’s seeming treachery, chose between Felisin and their mother for the slave ships, though their mother died anyway, soon after their father.
The line of prisoners is “escorted” to the ships, but the crowd is allowed to vent their anger on the nobles with little fear of the guards and the march becomes a gruesome killing parade, with fewer than a third of the prisoners surviving. Felisin is kept alive by Heboric holding her up and pushing her forward while Baudin killed or maimed everyone he comes in contact with. At the end, he tosses the crowd the decapitated head of a noblewoman so they may pass. The guards finally intervene and escort the survivors to the ships.
Amanda’s Reaction to the Prologue:
Straight off the bat, we’re told that this is the Year of the Cull—knowing what we already do about the culling Laseen performs, this gives the opening to Deadhouse Gates a real sense of dread. This is only reinforced by our first sight of the servant of Hood; a shambling misshapen mass of flies.
It is incredible to see immediately the difference in prose between Erikson and Esslemont—we’re back to the dense intricate workings of sentences, rather than the more straightforward and direct delivery of the latter. On the one hand, I’m relaxing back into the wonderfully deliberate choice of words that Erikson displays—on the other, I find myself straight away tensing up and wondering if I am picking up everything I should do! Amazing how the work of an author can have such an affect on your mood as you read.
We have a number of insights into Hood in that second paragraph of the prologue—the Thirsting Hour, the ritual of stripping naked and bathing in the blood of executed murderers, “enjoying the mortal dance that marked the Season of Rot’s last day.” I suspect he’s not an easy god to be in the service of...
I’m also curious about the Season of Rot—it is mentioned that this “Season had come an unprecedented three times in the past ten years.” So does this mean that certain gods and their Seasons reach ascendancy, depending on the actions and events of the world? What has caused the Season of Rot to come so often? Since it is the last ten years, this is basically from the time that Laseen conspired for the Malazan throne—is this to show that there is rot in the Malazan Empire?
Ugh, more gross emphasis of rot with the abandoned mule crawling with flies, bloated and still taking its time to die.
And now we meet Felisin, whom we encountered so briefly in Gardens of the Moon—will be interesting to see more of the sister of Paran. [Bill’s interjection: actually, you’ll see lots more of the sisterS of Paran.]
I find great sympathy in the following passage—it showcases great realism:
The last day of the Season and its Thirsting Hour had been a time of remote revulsion for her, irritating and inconvenient but nothing more. Then she’d given little thought to the city’s countless beggars and the stray animals bereft of shelter, or even to the poorer residents who were subsequently press-ganged into clean-up crews for days afterwards. The same city, but a different world.
And this isn’t wartime—this is just the Malazan world that needs to be endured by its inhabitants!
Interesting that Felisin notes the Cull victims were the charges of the Empress now and therefore untouchable by the priest of Hood. How does Laseen have this much power? Or is it that Felisin has little understanding of the way the world works?
I love this priest of Fener on my first encounter with him—a bundle of wry amusement, unusual appearance and dry verbosity. Hope he stays! With all that said, I have no idea what he means when he says this:
“Queen of Dreams, is this self-centred youth I hear from those full, sweet lips? Or just the usual stance of noble blood around which the universe revolves? Answer me, I pray, fickle Queen!”
All I know from this is he is mocking Felisin.
“Felisin had until now been too self-absorbed...” Is this Felisin’s usual state? Am I going to get annoyed by another naive young character? [Bill’s interjection: hmmm, quite possibly...]
It is creepy that the flies vanish, and there is nothing underneath. And surely this doesn’t bode well for the priest of Fener, since Hood’s “servant” has said:
“Yet it seems that while the Boar of Summer has no love for me, he has even less for you.”
Finally—FINALLY—we have a character in the Malazan novels who is asking some of the questions I want to ask! Felisin wonders:
Was that Hood himself? Had the Lord of Death come to walk among mortals? And why stand before a once-priest of Fener—what was the message behind the revelation?
Here’s a question from me: does Paran know that his sister is being culled? Okay, timeline.... are the events of DG immediately after those of GotM?
I think I’m beginning to answer my own question in terms of whether Felisin is going to annoy me—although I’m amused more than anything at her reflection on the fact that she thought she would be culled with people of good blood.
There you have it, the very attitude the peasants hungered to tear down, the very same fuel the Empress has touched to flame-
Ye Gods! So Felisin is the sister of the new Adjunct—and yet she is still in chains and ready to be culled. AND is refusing to speak to her sister about it or appeal! We had evidence that Lorn shed (or tried to shed) all of her past life when she became Adjunct—here is very telling evidence that the Adjunct becomes an extension of the Empress. Condemning your own sister! And it is referred to as a “sisterly spat,” which is ghoulishly funny.
Oho, now I like Heboric, the ex-priest, even more: it sounds very much as though he has written something that goes against the Empress—“a philosophic divergence of opinions.” If he really did say that the Empress was a murderer and criticised her of bungling “the job” (no idea what this could mean—unless it meant something to do with Kellanved and Dancer), it is a wonder that Heboric is still alive.
Ah, here we have a little hint about the timelines (apart from the fact that Tavore is now Adjunct, of course!)
“Your brother disappearing on Genabackis took the life out of your father... so I’ve heard.”
So they don’t know what has happened to Paran—but there are rumours of treason.
I’m intrigued about T’amber—we know that Erikson doesn’t choose his words lightly, so when he writes: “Where she’d come from was anyone’s guess” we know that this is likely of great import! [Bill’s interjection: Yep!]
Heboric’s analysis of the process in which the highborn were arrested and tried tells the true story behind why Laseen does the Cull (and why he believes in this case she didn’t put a foot wrong). The poor suddenly adore the Empress; the controlled riots and looting allows them to give voice to their dissatisfaction; and then order is reimposed with the poor feeling as though they have won.
Heboric comes from the same place as Kiska did in Night of Knives—is this relevant?
Oh, sometimes Erikson takes you to places you wish you didn’t have to see:
His right ear had been torn off, taking with it hair, skin and flesh.
[Bill’s interjection: What comes after the ear being “torn off” is where most writers don’t go—leaving it abstract and less effective—not Erikson.]
Wow, and I’m dragged right back into the Malazan world with this Prologue. I found it easy to become immersed than with Night of Knives, because there were peripheral names that I recognised and it didn’t feel completely as though I were starting from scratch. On to Chapter 1!
Bill’s Reaction to the Prologue:
This is a greatly grim opening to this book, beginning with the harsh cold brevity of “Year of the Cull”—how does that not send chills down your spine? Then a litany of horror and darkness via images and language: “shambling,” “misshapen mass of flies,” “seething lumps,” “frenzied clumps,” “staggered,” “blind, deaf and silent,” “blood,” “Season of Rot,” sky “more grey than blue,” “pestilence,” yelped like a thing near death but not near enough (how about that not near enough?),” the abandoned mule that “kicked feebly . . . bloated with gases.” Not exactly E. Nesbit or Edward Eager territory we’re entering here, eh? And let’s just say that grim as this opening is, it is an appropriate tone-setter for what is to come. You’ve been warned!
I really enjoy Felisin’s typically adolescent “the universe revolves around me” attitude, as when watching Hood’s priest she thinks “His eyes were ten thousand eyes, but she was certain there were all fixed on her.” Tell me that’s not how an adolescent thinks (whether fixed for good or bad). And I enjoyed equally Heboric’s wry puncturing of said self-importance. It’s also telling to note the non-verbal reaction of Baudin, who when made aware of the priest’s movement toward them stands and eyes him, prepared to act, though there’s no sense he believes the priest is coming to him.
Another small detail I liked is Felisin’s reaction to the flies from the priest moving to her legs: “she pulled her tunic’s hem close around her, clamping her legs tight,” an image of prudishness/chastity in stark contrast to what is to come from Felisin.
I particularly like several single lines here:
“What could drive a person to such viciousness?”
with regard to Tavore. Not for the viciousness but for the very first time of many, many, many times someone will wonder what is driving Tavore to do the things she is doing.
“The Empress made few mistakes,”
for the opposite reason—one of the few times I’d say someone can make that statement about Laseen.
Some part of Felisin’s mind held on to sanity, held with a brutal grip in the face of a maelstrom
for that last word and one of its synonyms and how it foreshadows what’s to come.
And then, after we get a scene that horrific opening set us up for (and one which also sets us up for larger-scale events in the book): the march through the rabid crowd, Felisin’s literal and metaphoric stripping (of clothes, dignity, purity, past life), Baudin’s decapitation of Lady Gaesen, the manacles holding nothing but forearms (an interesting mirror of Heboric). And then the line that promises so much more: “her lessons had begun.”
Lots of introduction of of people and themes/topics in this prologue: Duiker who defends Heboric, the Boar god Fener, Tavore and her omnipresent aide T’ambor, Red Swords (note how quickly Baudin identifies them and how he’s made uneasy by Heboric commenting on his observation), Baudin’s “effortless” killing and hatred of “making deals with bastards.” We’ll see all of these shortly and Erikson does an efficient job of bringing them into the story quickly as already-existent elements of this world. That, together with the setting of tone and the way scenes here parallel later ones, makes this a great prologue. Nobody can say Erikson hasn’t prepared us.
Setting: Seven Cities continent, the desert of Raraku, roughly one year later.
Mappo Runt and Icarium watch from a distance as an Aptorian demon, sent by Shadowthrone but now controlled by Sha’ik, moves in the desert where somewhere Sha-ik’s army in encamped near a waterhole. They speculate it had been sent as a scout by Shadowthrone due to an oncoming convergence and decide to track it out of curiosity.
Mappo and Icarium rest in some ruins in the Holy Desert Marks on one of the columns informs them that a D’ivers in rat form (Gryllen, Mappo guesses) is “on the trail,” of the convergence, which involves “gates opening” and ascension. They guess many other shapeshifters, both D’ivers and Soletaken, are as well. Mappo asks Icarium what he will do if the gates do open (musing to himself that answers can be a curse) and Icarium says he hopes he’ll learn who he is, why he’s been alive for centuries but has no memories of his life. A Soletaken in wolf form appears (Ryllandaras, brother of Treach, whom Mappo says thinks he killed Ryllandaras when he was in jackal form), but when it realizes it is Mappo and Icarium it is clearly afraid. It goes after the aptorian demon.
Setting: HIssar, City on east coast of Seven Cities
A group of Wickan horsemen is disembarking. Watching are Duiker, Imperial Historian and Mallick Rel, advisor to the High Fist Pormqual and a Jhistal priest of Mael (Elder god of the sea) who has risen to his current position over a lot of conveniently dead bodies. Duiker says he’s interested in the tradition of shipping prisoner mages to mine Otataral on Otataral Island (they usually go mad) and that some mages are in the next shipment of slaves. The 7th squad’s lone surviving cadre mage, Kulp, appears with an unnamed captain. Duiker explains that the new Fist, Coltaine, led a Wickan uprising against the Empire and that Kellanved somehow obtained his loyalty. Laseen dumped him in some backwater but now that Seven Cities seems about to rebel, he’s been named Fist and sent here. When trouble seems ready to erupt between the Wickans and the Hissar guards, Coltaine steps in and stops it cold.
Setting: The Kansu Sea, off Seven Cities coast
Fiddler, Kalam, Crokus, and Apsala (with Moby, Mammot’s familiar) are sailing to the coast, where they plan to cross overland. Their boat is attacked by a Soletaken dhenrabi who says they had the misfortune of witnessing its passage. Fiddler blows it up with a crossbow munition. Crokus asks if it’s true Fiddler’s squad tracked Quick Ben through the desert w/ Kalam as the guide but that Kalam and Quick Ben had actually been setting a trap, though Whiskeyjack had figured it out. Crokus demands to know what they’re doing and Fiddler and Kalam tell Apsalar and Crokus that Kalam is going to try and kill Laseen.
Amanda’s Reaction to Chapter One:
I won’t analyze the two poems that kick off Chapter One, except so far as to mention that both set the scene for a desert—dry winds and sand both being mentioned.
We’ve moved on a year from the events in the Prologue, and we have a new measure of time to take note of:
The Sixth in the Seven Years of Dryjhna, the Apocalyptic.
Straight away we’re introduced to Mappo Runt—and I’m thinking he’s supernatural, or immortal or suchlike, thanks to him eating the envenomed cactus. Oooh, ooh! Mappo is with Icarium—now this is a name I recall from GotM—someone that Anomander Rake knew and had argued with, right?
I immediately enjoyed the gentle nature of their jibing, and laughed at the fact that Icarium had tried to disguise himself in a tribe of very short people. These two are aware of Shadowthrone and talk about “the convergence” being months away. Clearly they are knowledgeable and, equally clearly, they have moved into the game for a reason. Gods? Ascendants? Whichever, they are being drawn by power—and, if the same power as demonstrated on the Night of Knives (which was also a time of convergence, am I right?), then it is going to be a wild ride indeed.
The aptorian mentioned sounds like some kind of demon entity, with the wrong number of longs and hairy all over! And reference to Sha’ik... A person who has taken a demon scout from Shadowthrone (if I read it correctly) is someone to be watched!
Oh! More characters who have wandered the Malazan world for many thousands of years:
...and the thousand years that capered like a gleeful goat behind Mappo’s eyes.
I like Mappo—I like the fact he’s referred to as “Runt” even though he is apparently huge; I like the fact he refers to himself in third person; and I like the potential humour of this character.
“Unlikely pair...” indeed! Half-blood Jaghut and full-blooded Trell.
Just want to mention Erikson’s sterling world-building—not a moment passes him by where he is able to emphasise it a little more. In one paragraph here, as night comes to the desert, we have reference to bloodflies, capemoths and batlike rhizan lizards. These are great in terms of adding flavour, and being close enough to our world and the reality of it that Erikson does not need to spend paragraphs describing the creatures he chooses to create.
From the Holy Desert had emerged the legend of Dryjhna the Apocalyptic.
Strikes me that this character is a sort of Nostradamus for the Malazan world.
Interesting that this half-blood Jaghut thinks to himself:
“Not all pasts can be laid at our feet...”
Is this reference to the Jaghut Tyrants who the world, and the fact that the war between the Jaghut and the Imass destroyed much? [Bill’s interjection: This was Mappo’s thought.] [Amanda’s reply: Ha, that was me being too clever for my own good!]
Ha, and I thought I was vaguely following events right up until this particular exchange:
Icarium came over, wiping dust from his hands. “Down near the base, a scattering of tiny clawed hands—the seekers are on the Trail.”
“Rats? More than one set?”
“D’ivers,” Icarium agreed, nodding.
“Now who might that be, I wonder?”
It is as though Icarium and Mappo began talking an entirely different language, and it reminds me that I’ve barely touched the surface of what is to come in the Malazan read!
“In seeking your eternal goal, we find ourselves walking into a most disagreeable convergence.”
What is Icarium’s eternal goal? Is he looking to Ascend? It seems he is most in search of answers if this quote is anything to go by:
“I have lived centuries, yet what do I know of my own past? Where are my memories? How can I judge my own life without such knowledge?”
Okay, I have a little insight into D’ivers now—this is a shapeshifter that has moved into many bodies, rather than a Soletaken that just shifts into one body. And there is mention of a spicy scent connected to D’ivers, which I guess I should just note for the future. I’m almost sure I remember someone mentioning the scent of D’ivers during our GotM read.
Ack, and then a tumbling of information during the encounter between Ryllandaras, who takes the form of six wolves, and N’Trell (this is how Ryllandaras refers to Mappo—is it a title? An insult? A description?) Apparently Ryllandaras’ brother, Treach, tried to kill him. Ryll has taken the form of jackals rather than wolves before. Ryll hasn’t spoken for a long while, and is generally uncertain. I don’t know if bright blue eyes is a mark of D’ivers, or just something unique to Ryllandaras. Once again, I am eavesdropping on a conversation taking place between players who know what is going on, and feel no need to tell me. *grin*
The fact that both Mappo and Icarium are cautious of Sha’ik, and believe that soon her (?) name will be known is of interest to me.
Okay, and now a complete change and switch of scene! This time we’re meeting Duiker—someone we had reference to in the Prologue; a person who defended Heboric; the Imperial Historian.
Is it just me, but as soon as you see reference to a man who is fat, scented and oiled, you believe that they are going to be playing a sly role, usually to do with trading or espionage? [Bill’s interjection: No, it’s not just you.] One of those fantasy tropes that sneaks in here and there... Wonder if Erikson will follow the trope, or turn it on its head? Here the smooth, soft-spoken man is a Jhistal priest, so I guess that is an immediate difference.
Politics, politics, politics in this section where Duiker talks to Mallick Rel. I’m not even going to attempt to summarize this. I’m trying to take it all in, but right now all I’m really getting is that Coltaine has arrived in Seven Cities to take command of the seventh. He wouldn’t have been Laseen’s choice normally, because he was a favourite of Kellanved (surprised he’s still alive, to be truthful) but now she needs him because Dujek has buggered off and Tavore is untried as Adjunct. And it sounds like the Seventh aren’t keen on their new commander. Ha, I did manage to summarise to some extent! Sure I missed bits though!
Yes! Finally catching up with old comrades as we come to the storyline involving Fiddler et al. Poor Fiddler! Seasick and missing the squad of Bridgeburners:
Still, the squad was all he’d known for years. He felt bereft out of its shadows. Just Kalam for old company, and he calls that land ahead home. And he smiles before he kills. And what’s he and Quick Ben got planned they ain’t told me about yet?
Oh man, I love this scene with the flying fish and the dhenrabi—and more emphasis here that the spicy scent applies to all shapeshifters, Soletaken as well as D’ivers. And some real comedy value in seeing Fiddler say:
“You picked the wrong fisherman.”
It’s nice to see once again the real relationship between members of the Bridgeburners. Here we have Fiddler and Kalam able to communicate with just a glance. *grins* I also love that Kalam has been drunkenly telling Crokus stories about various escapades of Quick Ben.
When Crokus demands some answers about why they have come to the Seven Cities, he receives the answer that Kalam is going up against Laseen in an effort to kill her. Somehow I anticipate that a) this plan is fraught with trouble and b) we are not hearing the full story....
Bill’s Reaction to Chapter One:
I’ll hit the poems slightly, but before doing so, I just want to point out that “Raraku,” the name of the Holy Desert, brings with it certain associations as it’s also the quarry on Easter Island where the statues’ stone came from, so the name carries with it Easter Island’s sense of mystery, of age, of past civilizations, or ruins, and of gods and myth.
The opening poem introduces a similar sense of age and a buried past with the fact that the desert was once sea, which will also play an important plot role.
The second poem more directly introduces a major plot point: the Path of Hands and the journey by Soletaken and D’ivers to reach it in order to ascend. The poet is someone we’ll meet later on.
Icarium and Mappo are introduced as characters for the first time in the flesh, though you’re right Amanda; we do know them from GotM—from Rake’s conversation with Baruk we learn both have been around for some time and that Icarium builds time devices:
“In the future, I’d suggest you heed Icarium’s gifts—all of them. A thousand years is not so long a time, Alchemist. Not so long a time. Icarium last visited me eight hundred years ago, in the company of the Trell Mappo, and Osric—or Osserc, as the local worshippers call him.”
It isn’t important in itself that Icarium is disguised (though badly according to Mappo) as a Tanno Spiritwalker, but as is often the case with Erikson, we’re being introduced to something so when we later hear of it (or in this case meet him) it already feels an embedded part of this world.
On the other hand, that aptorian demon they’re watching is going to be very important.
Icarium’s line “I am driven by curiosity” is much larger than in reference to this single demon, as we’ll find. Curiosity is in fact his whole existence.
I too love the interplay between the two of them; Erikson does these duos quite well I think, and does them in distinctive fashion: Mappo and Icarium, Hedge and Fiddler, Tehol and Bugg, and others. Mappo and Icarium’s (and several others as well) is tinged with tragedy, which makes its gentle nature even more affecting.
You can see Erikson’s archaeology side coming out in the description of the ruins and tells and past civilizations, a concept we see again and again throughout the entire series—this sense of epic historical time and cycles and what’s left behind.
I’m with you Amanda on Erikson’s world-building—there are so many examples of those tiny bits—animal names, food names, etc—that make this a fully-formed world rather than some sort of fantasy short-hand saying “we’re not in Kansas anymore, now on to our story!”
You’ve got the D’ivers/Soletaken distinction down Amanda, and you’re right—that spicy scent is always a good clue—sometimes it appears in unexpected places. :)
Treach and Rhyllandaras will both be important as we continue on in the series. (Back to that filing cabinet!)
If you want a sense of Icarium’s power and reputation, note Rhuyllandaras’ immediate change in attitude upon figuring who these two are:
“I am tempted to match wits with you N’Trell, before killing you . . .”
“I am getting bored, Mappo,” Icarium said.
The Six wolves stiffened as one, half flinching . . . “we’ve no quarrel.”
We also, in that scene, get a sense of Mappo’s role, a hint that he isn’t simply Icarium’s friend, as he thinks Rhyllandaras needs to go before “you unleash all that I am sworn to prevent.” And that word “unleash” has the connotation of something wild, uncontrollable at times, held back.
And some dramatic organ music please for Icarium and Mappo’s shared thought when Rhyllandaras says Sha’ik’s name means nothing to him: “It will soon.” Duh Duh Duh!! :)
And now to another plot strand...Mallick Rel. Boy I hate Mallick Rel.
Mael—god of sea reference—file away!
Yes, politics is going to play a big role coming up with this army. Note the captain’s “oh crap” when he let fly his unfiltered view of Coltaine and Mallick Rel (Boy, I hate Mallick Rel.) says “thanks!”
Nice summary of Coltaine’s appointment. My favorite aspect of it is how he rebelled against Kellanved and Kellanved suborned him and nobody knows how. And I love his first appearance: “The tall one with the lone long knife.” Great entrance on stage!
We’ll hear more soon about Duiker’s “research” on the Otataral Island mines and mages, but we should recall this is where those Aran slave ships from the prologue are heading.
It is good to get back to the old gang. The humor does a good job of giving us a break from that bleak prologue and the tension afterward, with the pronouncement that dhenrabi are never seen in shallow water [“Until now.”] and Fiddler’s [“You picked the wrong fisherman.”] I was just waiting for someone to say “we’re gonna need a bigger boat.” :)
Here are a few other quick notes in this very short scene on elements that are barely mentioned but are setting us up:
- - another reference to Mael, the Elder god of the sea
- - “religious wars are no fun”
- - the quick reference to the story of Kalam and Fiddler and Quick Ben et. al in the desert
- - Kalam’s homeland connection to Seven Cities
- - Apsalar’s smile
Oh, we never get the “full story”...
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.