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 Chapters 12 and 13 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!
Duiker rides with the army and catalogs its many losses, deprivations, the seeming futility, the rumors swirling. Captain Lull finds him to tell him he’s “volunteered” to go after the new enemy commander that been harassing them with such deadly effectiveness. Lull notes that Corporal List, alongside Duiker, is feverish for lack of water and has Nether take him to a healer. Lull tells him they anticipate another battle on the other side of the next river they’ll cross (roughly nine days).
They meet Lull’s squad and Nil, who has narrowed down the war leader’s position somewhat. Nil tells Duiker the Malazan professional soldier is the deadliest weapon he has seen. The warlocks call a hiding fog down while some sappers set off a munitions diversion. As they head out, Duiker thinks it’s been a long time since he’s actually fought, his perk as Imperial Historian being not fighting in the front lines, as well as being given alchemies to extend his life He recalls the Emperor pulling him out to make him historian, assigning Toc the Elder to teach him to read and write (Kellanved said he had other plans for Toc the Elder). Duiker thinks sadly of how Toc the Elder vanished after Laseen took over and how Toc the Younger had been lost in the Genabackan campaign. The warlocks open a tunnel in the ground and the squad heads downward, much to Duiker’s dismay. The tunnel slowly fills with water so they travel through a stream, until they finally exit near a campfire of a half-dozen Tithsani warriors, the ground strangely frosty. The war leader and Semk with his mouth sewn shut enter the camp. The marines kill the warleader and several of the warriors, while a clawed beast is called from the earth by the warlocks and kills a few others, but the Semk is unbothered by arrows and starts to kill the beast while more Tithansi warriors arrive. Nil is unconscious and the other warlock being killed by sorcery. Duiker realizes the Semk is being controlled by a surviving piece of the Semk god the Malazans had thought they’d killed earlier. Sappers use munitions to try and open a route out. A woman marine carries Nil while Duiker covers her. They’re attacked and Duiker kills two but the third is killed by a Claw weapon (the second evidence of such a killing) and when Duiker, after getting back to camp, asks Lull what other secrets Coltaine is keeping, Lull tells him he’s sure Coltaine doesn’t know about any Claw but he’ll want to.
Duiker tells Coltaine, who is surprised by the news while Bult is skeptical. Sormo enters and tells them the Semk god was indeed killed and torn apart, but that one of the pieces had corrupted the earth spirit that had devoured it. He says the other spirits will deal with it and blunt its attacks. He says this sort of magic is ancient, from before warrens when magic “was found within.” When Coltaine mentions water rationing, Duiker reminds them the tunnel they created had water in it and they realize they’ve been suffering needlessly.
The warlocks open pits and tunnels and dole out water.
Kulp, Felisin, and Heboric have been trapped by the Whirlwind sandstorm for three days. Kulp feels it’s almost as if the goddess singled them out. They take shelter in caves the storm has carved into a mesa. They discover it’s a buried city and move farther in. Heboric, weak and feverish, mutters about how “They tried it here . . . and paid for it . . . There was retribution . . . a cleaning-up of the mess . . . First Empire . . . They came and put things aright. Immortal custodians.” They find a hole above that will lead them in farther, so Felisin climbs a quartz pillar (despite incredible pain), then Heboric uses his ghost hands to first throw Kulp through up through the hole then to climb up the rope they lower for him.
Felisin watches Heboric fearfully. She feels “emptied, with nothing left in me to rebuild.” Kulp figures out the room they’ve entered was once flooded. Finding a door he pushed against it and when it falls more easily than expected, he plunges through the opening and down steps, breaking his nose. The new room is filled with what Felisin first takes as sculptures, but are actual people. Heboric tells them their children “chose the path of the Soletaken” as an “alternative to Ascension” and that the elders had tried to create a new, safer version of the ritual for their children. He also says they’d extended their lives via alchemies, but the ritual killed them. The city was later flooded, after the “immortal custodians [the T’lan Imass] had already come and gone.” As they head toward where Heboric says water may be in the city, Felisin thinks that she has some of Hood in her or with her, wonders if that’s where her dreams of rivers of blood come from. They find more bodies in the streets, these ones partially veered, killed by violence, the shapeshifting ritual gone madly out of control until stopped by the Imass, whom Heboric says have a “bond” with Soletaken and D’ivers. He also identifies the city as First Empire. Heboric theorizes the shapeshifters they’ve met are heading to the ancient gate and tells them the undead dragon they saw while on Silanda was a T’lan Imass bonecaster. They find a fountain and Heboric tells them that due to the alchemies in the water there will be “benefits” from drinking it. They drink.
Kalam’s group appears lost. Kalam can’t figure out why that haven’t exited the Imperial Warren, despite his visualizing Aren in detail. They see clouds and prints and then smell the scent of shapeshifting. Investigating a pit, Kalam realizes they’re walking on a huge layered bed of ash from an entire land being incinerated, including living beings—“millions.” At the bottom he also finds strange mechanisms which remind him of Icarium’s machine in Darujhistan. Keneb says he’d heard a rumor that Icarium had been seen, then tells Kalam that Deck readers had lately been unable to get past the first card, which kept coming up as Obelisk, an Unaligned card, and that one Seer had said it was due to Icarium.
Kalam’s group comes across a sunken road and decide to camp down there. Keneb tells Kalam about Minala, that her husband would beat her, force heal her, then beat her again. Keneb says he didn’t know about it until the very end and was on his way to the husband when the attack came. When Kalam asks how her husband died, Keneb refuses to say. He then says Minala had set herself up as protector of Selv and the kids, but now feels unnecessary with Kalam around. Kalam says he doesn’t think she trusts him.
Fiddler and the others are following Apsalar as she tries to catch up to Servant, on his way to Sha’ik’s body. The place is rife with Sha’ik’s warriors as well as Soletaken and D’ivers. Two warriors suddenly appear and before Fiddler can do anything giant spiders swarm over them and kill them. They come across another warrior, this one killed by Apsalar. Mappo tells them they are now walking the Path of Hands. As they continue, Fiddler ponders Apsalar as Sha’ik and thinks while her skills would be useful, they don’t offer what she needs to lead, and he thinks he’s known only a few that had such skills: Dassem Ultor, Prince K’azz D’Avore of the Crimson Guard, Caladan Brood, Dujek, Tattersail, Whiskeyjack. Fiddler worries about Crokus, how upset he seems about Apsalar going off without saying anything. He also suspects Apsalar’s father was a willing participant in putting Apsalar in this position.
Pearl and Lostara have stopped before a portal as Pearl tries to decide whether to explore it (a “detour”) or continue after Kalam. He also informs Lostara they are being followed. He decides to do the detour as “assistance is required,” even though Laseen has made dealing with Kalam a priority as she thinks he presents a “personal risk.” He tells Lostara they will be attacking Whirlwind soldiers (helping Coltaine), and she agrees to go. He warns her to stay unseen and to also stay away from a Semk demon. They enter the fight and Lostara kills some Tithansi warriors. They face the Semk demon (the one with his mouth sewn shut in scene 2) who throws them aside, badly hurting Lostara. Pearl stands between her and the demon, though he seems to Lostara to consider himself dead already. Then Apt suddenly appears with the boy atop her. She plunges her hand into the demon’s body and pulls out an object and flings it away. Pearl thanks Apt, opens a portal, and Lostara goes unconscious.
Amanda’s Reaction to Chapter Twelve:
The poem at the start of Chapter Twelve reveals (although I think we already knew) that the desert Raraku was once a sea, although I don’t think they mean a proper sea, since they use the colour ochre to describe it! I think it is mostly there to give the indication of great antiquity and Raraku seeing change come and go.
Why is the number seven an omen? Any reason we’ve encountered so far and that I’ve forgotten? [Bill’s interjection: Coltaine leads the 7th Army] [Amanda’s reply: D’oh! Sometimes I astound myself with my own forgetfulness!] Or just demonstrating a little superstition on Duiker’s part? Another beautiful image, with the rising dust, the achingly blue sky, the feral creatures.... Plus there is also a sense that any creatures might be D’ivers or Soletaken at this point (maybe not goats though!) and that lends a real sense of menace to any scene.
Fifty thousand refugees! Wow, that number has increased just a little... And what vivid imagery:
The back end of Coltaine’s train was a bleeding wound never allowed to heal.
And even more that shows just what a doomed position Coltaine appears to be in:
...a bloodied and battered serpent that refused to die...
A slow, calculated slaughter. We’re being toyed with.
Erikson really emphasises the pain and suffering that the creeping “city” of refugees are going through—right down to issues with food and water:
Each night the encampment became an abattoir of screaming beasts, the air alive with rhizan and capemoths drawn to the killing stations.
Does Duiker regret having returned to Coltaine in order to be present and record matters of history? He certainly has his doubts that noting down what is occurring will make any difference to the future!
Long enough to set the details down on parchment in the frail belief that truth is a worthwhile cause. That the tale will become a lesson heeded. Frail belief? Outright lie, a delusion of the worst sort. The lesson of history is that no-one learns.
The lesson is also that the history presented depends on the victors of the day—if Coltaine’s army goes down in the desert and is killed, Duiker’s history will be for naught. The victors will be prepared to rewrite history, so that they are presented in the best possible light. Over the years, and in our world, written histories have been used as massive forms of propaganda, and a method of controlling what the commoners will end up believing as truth. We are left with the suspicion that, without knowing the point of view of the Tithansi and the army of peasants, we have an unreliable narrator in the form of Duiker and the point of view he represents.
Here you have again some heartbreakingly lovely prose, which really hammers home the loss:
Like the light of an oil lamp, dimming, dimming, winking out. The moment when the struggle’s already lost, surrendered, and the tiny heart slows in its own realization, then stops in mute wonder. And never stirs again.
Mud-bloods! Which came first—Malazan or Harry Potter?! *grins*
It will be interesting to see how many of the rumours and whispers talked about through the army actually end up being true by the end of the Chain of Dogs. I doubt very much that the Council are eating babies, or that Coltaine is, in fact, in Laseen’s pocket—but some of the talk of demons and Hood and how they are part of the Whirlwind, some of that is likely to have at least a hint of truth about it by the end of the novel, in my opinion.
Duiker is far more defeatist here (with good reason!) that at any other time I’ve seen him. His wry humour is absent as he declares he shall record their names in the List of the Fallen before they’ve even gone to find the warleader, and his tired resignation that their efforts will come to nothing anyway.
It’s also extremely unlike Duiker to be so uncaring about someone as he is List during these eleven hours where they have been trying to work towards to river and—finally—water. Makes me really sad to see Duiker reach this point—as well as List, obviously!
I find it slightly amusing that water and survival are deemed “mothering” the refugees by Lull! Amusing in a dark way obviously... In fact, Lull is generally a rather humorous character in a deprecating fashion—he says
“More likely on the other side—the trail winds through some rough country—we’ll find trouble there.”
As though they are not experiencing any trouble at the moment...
We are given a hint of trouble ahead as well, when Duiker says:
“I get a sense [...] that the cause of protecting the refugees is cooling among these people...”
If the Wickans leave, the refugees will be left high and dry.
You know, sometimes in fantasy books the descriptions of the food makes me want to be out on the road picnicking on bread and cheese—here, not so much...
The woman was using a flat blade of wood to collect the thick bone fat and marrow that congealed on the surface, scraping it into an intestine to be later twisted and tied off into sausages.
[Bill’s interjection: There’s a reason they say watching legislation be created is like watching sausage being made and not, say, watching some guy whirling pizza in the air.]
It’s enormously interesting that Nil says:
“We could shatter Kamist Reloe now—if not for the refugees whom we are sworn to protect.”
And yet Coltaine has been protecting them for months—and holding together different factions to do so. That is honour and duty right there.
Ooh! What’s wrong with Nil’s fire? *curious*
Hmm, is this the first time we’ve seen reference to alchemies that can extend a person’s life? So far I believed that Ascendants were long-lived, Tiste Andii by virtue of their race etc. But I’d had no inclination that the common man could also have their live extended...[Bill’s interjection: I think you mean “normal” man, the “common” man not so much with the extending lives via alchemical means.]
It’s nice to see a little background to Duiker—the fact he was soldier first and foremost, and knows how to handle a blade. In fact, he was an untutored soldier who was taught to read by Toc the Elder—how cool is that? Also, I note that Kellanved said to Duiker:
“I’ve something else in store for him.”
This was about Toc the Elder—I wonder if this “something else” is what he’s been doing all the time since his disappearance? A little more Duiker characterisation, and all done easily through the telling of the story: he’s afraid of enclosed spaces. How rare is it to find a character with a phobia in a novel? I can’t think of any off-hand, but I’m sure other authors have written them!
Also, isn’t it funny how a phobia can take away all reason? For so long, Duiker has been struggling with thirst—presented with water, but underground, and all he can think about is being buried alive! *grins*
This is a truly lovely quote and sums up much of what we’ve seen of these chaps so far:
What makes a Malazan soldier so dangerous? They’re allowed to think.
The frost on the ground: surely something Nil should have been more concerned about? It seems to me that ice in the Malazan world usually heralds something not-fun...
Ugh, does anyone find that sometimes Erikson’s descriptions of gore go a little too far? Or are you all busy glorying in it while I cringe?
Strips of flesh and blood flew from the warlock—in moments there was only bone and cartilage where his face had been. The sight of the boy’s eyes bursting had Duiker spinning away.
Here, see, the cold heralds the Semk god not entirely destroyed and causing mayhem amongst the Malazans—not-fun!
Another mystery to work through as well—who is/are the Claws backing up this particular mission? Especially considering that no one within Coltaine’s camp knows who they are or who they belong to...
I love the sappers. *grins* Faced with the remnant of the Semk God, they merely discuss the finer points of why their weapons didn’t take him down. And the sergeant takes an arrow in the lungs and dismisses it: “The other one’s fine.” They are made of win!
I also love the “romance” of the moment where Duiker thinks about the female marine:
Ten years younger, I’d have the nerve to ask her... well, never mind. Imagine the arguments at the cooking fire...
Erikson doesn’t really do romance, does he? [Bill’s interjection: Oh, just you wait. Just .You. Wait.]
Hmm, just want to make sure I’m following this right: the Semk god was destroyed. The Wickans have been using earth spirits to get round the whole D’ivers in the Warrens business. One of these earth spirits swallowed part of the Semk god’s essence and went rogue, meaning that suddenly the earth spirits couldn’t help in the same way they had been. Am I all up to speed here?
It is a wonderful scene where the refugees finally receive water—I particularly liked:
For once, the spirits of the land were delivering a gift untouched by death. Their pleasure was palpable to Duiker’s senses...
*sighs* I really do try to absorb everything in these books, but it will never work. And I swear I fill up my head with useless things like Kulp thinking:
As if the Whirlwind’s deliberately attacked it. Why lay siege to a rock?
...and wondering whether this is something I need to retain, or whether it is just a character’s idle musings and nothing that will be relevant in the future! [Bill’s interjection: A and B: they are idle musings and yes, you do need to retain them.]
I’m having a thought.... You know how we associate the Whirlwind with red, and Sha’ik with red and things like that? I was wondering how that translated to the rivers of blood that Felisin is currently dreaming about. I’m getting a sense she is gradually under possession or influence, at the very least, and I’m thinking we have a candidate right there to be Sha’ik’s rebirth. Am I warm? [Bill’s interjection: Well, red is a warm color.] It would certainly allow her to fight against the Malazan Empire and the forces that put her where she finds herself.
I am struggling with Heboric’s pronouncements as they try to climb to the cave—I really don’t know what he’s going on about... Retribution, immortal custodians, “something” tried there... [Bill’s interjection: Always good to remember that Erikson often answers these kinds of direct mysteries in not too long a time.] Sounds like it could be important, so I will try to remember this bit! Strikes me this might be as a result of the jade stuff. “The past is an alien world.” Really? The Tiste Andii? Their ilk?
Kulp seems to have a strange sort of respect for Felisin:
This is a hard, hard creature. She surpasses us all, again and again.
Eep, Heboric is becoming more and more mystical, what with his ravings and those invisible hands. I don’t blame Kulp at all for feeling slightly hysterical! I’m not sure I like the new mystical Heboric—he makes the section very complicated to read. I think at least some of those dead people took the form of Soletaken, but not sure. We do at least get confirmation that becoming Soletaken is another way of achieving Ascension.
Oh, Felisin has a different thought about those rivers of blood—she believes that it is Hood who has claimed her. That is possible as well, I guess.
“There is a bond between the T’lan Imass and Soletaken and D’ivers.” Have we seen this already, what with Tattersail being reborn into the snow fox?
I will be interested to see what benefits are brought to these three as a result of drinking the alchemy-ridden water. I suspect it will have consequences!
You know how in novels with split storylines there is always one you like the least? For me it’s the Kalam one. I sort of like him as a character, but this whole wandering around with a family feels so redundant and slows the pacing of the chapter to a crawl. I want to read about everything else that is going on whenever we arrive back at Kalam. Am I completely alone on this? *suspects she might be*
Anyway... what is blocking the warren?
I also think Minala should cut Kalam a little bit of slack! He is trying his best to help them out, when he had no real requirement to do so. He has used up some of the magic provided by Quick Ben to try and get them to civilisation—and all she can do is moan!
The Imperial Warren reminds me of nothing more than the Ways in the Wheel of Time—the same boring passage through a perpetual twilight. *yawns* And what’s this? Bestial creatures somewhat like... Trollocs? Intruding in the Warren? It is incredibly rare that Erikson ever writes anything that feels much like anything else, but here we seem to be treading a well-worn path. I sincerely hope that Erikson can overturn these tired old tropes. [Bill’s interjection: Oh, just you wait. Just .You. Wait.]
Spice again—D’ivers or Soletaken are around!
With all this death in the Imperial Warren—striding on the remains of millions—surely this Warren is being used carelessly by the Malazans? I would want to know a hell of a lot more about what it was all about before I travelled by it. Could it be that they are using something that actually belongs to Hood? In the list of Warrens at the back of the book, Hood’s Path is mentioned but the Imperial Warren is not....
So Obelisk has links to Icarium?
I like all the unobtrusive indications of how clever these characters are, such as Kalam using his horse as a fixed point to knot his rope to. This intelligence is presumed to be shared by the readers and is one of the reasons this should be considered one of the pre-eminent fantasies.
Kalam and Minala are falling in love! You can tell by Kalam’s vicious hatred for a man he’s never met:
I expect your death was a quick one, Colonel Tras. Be fickle, dear Hood, and spit the bastard back out. I’ll kill him again, and Queen turn away, I’ll not be quick.
Kalam is fast to criticise Keneb for letting those awful, awful events happen to Minala—perhaps because of his burgeoning feelings. It doesn’t seem very fair considering he doesn’t know the full circumstances.
Oh, I really don’t think Fiddler should assume Servant’s death, just because the going is difficult—as I’ve been told, death should never be assumed until the body is seen, and maybe not even then. *grin* [Bill’s interjection: And even then, there’s death and then there’s “death”—not to mention “Death” and “death?” and….]
Here we have another reference to Icarium’s reputation: he and the D’ivers/Soletaken have a mutual agreement to not get involved in a fight. The same D’ivers/Soletaken that are running rampant across Raraku and wreaking death and destruction.... Yeah, have I mentioned that Icarium is a bit bad ass?
Ugh, spiders... Now they’re MY phobia. *shudders*
Does it mean that the blood from the man has been sucked into the desert?
Do you know—those names that Fiddler contemplates would be exactly those I’d also think of. But we can also add Coltaine now surely? And Rake might fit that list too... How about Kellanved as he was—could he have led armies, or was that what Dassem was for?
Pearl is the last surviving Claw? Wasn’t the same said of Toc the Younger? Am I completely wrong going down this path?
How does Pearl know the situation beyond the walls of the warren? He knows about the demon and the weather conditions and who is involved in the skirmish—magic?
Wow, the battle between Pearl and the Semk is so cinematic—and Apt’s appearance on the scene made me give a little cheer. Not the usual reaction when a demon comes onscreen in a fantasy novel!
Bill’s Reaction to Chapter Twelve:
OK, at some point you’ll have to figure that all these references to Raraku once being a sea will play out in some fashion. I’m just sayin’.
I don’t have a lot to say about the military details save to say that I like that Erikson gives them to us, as opposed to using the usual vague generalities. I can’t say I complain much in other fantasies about “massive” armies, or “huge” armies, those that inflict or suffer “massively huge” losses. But it does at times surprise me at how authors can at times lavish so much worldbuilding detail on the landscape without telling us much of anything about the amorphous blob of an army they have marching through it. Do I “need” the level of detail I get in Erikson with regard to numbers and deployments, etc? No, not really. Can I see how some might wish for less? Sure. But does it add to the sense of verisimilitude and three-dimensionality? I’d say so. The same holds true, for instance, with the details on the thirst/starvation or the dying children. Easy enough to convey in a phrase or two if all one’s intent is to convey content.
Duiker’s despairing thoughts, “this historian, now witness, stumbling in the illusion that he will survive . . . “ while more eloquent and more wreathed in experience, sound a bit similar to Felisin’s despair as well: two marches, two paths, both seeming aimed at an inevitable conclusion.
And how bleak a line is this?
“...the lesson of history at that no one learns.”
And how hard to refute? Though it doesn’t take long to get to one even darker: “Children are dying” is bad enough, but for me, the darker line is Lull’s follow-up:
“That’s a succinct summary of humankind, I’d say.”
Children don’t fare well in Erikson’s world (oh, wait for it...) and my guess is some might see that as cheap or exploitative—an easy way to get an emotional response. The same could be said perhaps for the portrayal of rape. But in my mind, the opposite is true. It’s a little bit cheap to give the gloss of “gritty” warfare etc. and pat oneself on the back for showing all that dark stuff like blood and terrible wounds and so on but do so with eyes squeezed half-shut, leaving out all that other stuff we know goes on in such chaos but we’d prefer not get mentioned.
Just as we get more information regarding numbers than in most epic fantasy, we get more of an actual human feel for this army. We listen to its labored breath; we eavesdrop on the soldiers’ theories, such as how all the blood spilled has the goal of letting Laseen, Sha’ik, and Coltaine ascend; we meet at least some of the actual soldiers beyond the “main” characters, spending time with List, with Duiker’s unnamed marine.
For the first time we get some mention of how Duiker’s managed such spryness despite his advanced years—“the various alchemies that keep me tottering of well past my prime.” We know Ascendants and mages have advanced ages, some races as well, but it appears humans can also have their lives extended by “alchemy.”
More wisdom from Kellanved: “no one who’s grown up amidst scrolls and books can write of the world.” Sometimes it’s hard to imagine that walking aphorism that was the old Emperor is that crazy guy we see as Shadowthrone, huh?
Toc the Elder—another one of those Old Guards that mysteriously vanished. Keep an eye out for those guys....
Toc the Younger—remember our last sight of him?
“Tunnels collapse. People get buried alive. All perfectly reasonable, possible, probable, inevitable.” File.
Lots of praise for the Malazan soldier in this chapter. Nil calling the “Malazan professional soldier . . . the deadliest weapon I know.” And then Duiker replaying a theme we’ve seen before: “these soldiers aren’t idiots. Plan for any eventuality . . . What makes a Malazan soldier so dangerous? They’re allowed to think.”
I like the early set-up that something was rotten in Tithansi/Semk campfire land: the warriors bundled in furs, their breath “plumed,” the “thin patina of frost” on the ground. And I like too how Duiker is unnerved by it and Nil the warlock “shrugs.” And speaking of unnerving, how horrific is that image of the Semk with his mouth sewn shut? (And, we learn later, all his other orifices as well?)
I also like the structural play with Duiker noting the presence of a Claw before we get Pearl and Lostara’s conversation about exiting the Imperial Warren to help Coltaine.
We’ve seen Duiker’s toughness, his riding ability, his experience and knowledge. It’s good to finally see the actual soldier in him come out in this scene, his training resulting in quick reactions that allow him to deal with being attacked by three Tithansi (with a nod to Pearl for taking out the third).
After such an intense scene, it’s a good pivot move to the sappers who can always be relied upon for some welcome comic relief:
“Can’t breathe blood, Sarge—“
“I shared a tent with you, lad—I’ve breathed worse.”
It’s an interesting reaction, to say the least, from Coltaine to Duiker’s news of a Claw around:
“He stood . .. . as if suddenly unsure that no-one hovered behind him, invisible blades but moments from their killing thrust.”
Doesn’t say much about Laseen’s rep, or the view of her decision-making/priorities if you ask me.
We get more sense of the variety of magic in this world when Sormo explains how the warlocks have gone back to pre-warren magic, “when magic was found within.” Which prompts the question, did this magic exist because magic-users couldn’t access warrens, didn’t know of warrens, or there were no warrens? And if the latter, where did the warrens come from?
I really like the scene where Duiker comes up with the “hey guys, we have water” as it shows these people as human. They’re not infallible; they’re not omniscient. They’re exhausted, beset by innumerable problems, and they can make foolish mistakes or be blind to what appears to be obvious. Along with that, I love that we don’t get simply the obvious human element: quenched thirst and relief, but the spirits’ joy in being called upon to preserve life rather than end it, to do something steeped in life-giving water rather than in blood and gore. These tiny little swerves by the storyline into the unexpected, giving us a startling or just peculiarly angled view is what makes this series feel truly original, rather than feel just like an exemplary version of the same old same old.
We’ve already commented on Kulp’s sensitivity, smarts, and insightfulness, so probably a good idea to take notice of his comments on the Whirlwind:
“As if the Whirlwind’s deliberately attacked it [cliff]. Why lay siege to a rock?
“[It’s] as if the mad goddess has singled us out.”
“The wind was a hand at their backs”
I think we see some interesting changes in Felisin beginning with her active rather than passive dismissal of Baudin. In this scene she shows more spunk and humor (dark but humor) than we’ve seen before. And again, from the ever-insightful Kulp, as he watches her climb, “she surpasses us all.”
Once again, rather than just toss out what I think, I’ll throw something out there: anyone want to theorize on why Felisin watches Heboric climb the rope with “fear racing unchecked within her.”
If Kulp has been consistently insightful since we’ve met him, Heboric has certainly come alive with the perceptive comments now, so I’d say we should read “barriers are never as solid as one thinks” (said when Kulp breaks through the door much more easily than expected) on more than just the literal level.
Soletaken are certainly a major plot point in this book (and will become even more so by the end), so it’s nice to get a view, however removed, of some of its history: the First Empire’s children seeking Ascension via the old path of shapeshifting, the ritual gone wild, the T’lan Imass stepping in and ending it at great cost to themselves. Lots of intriguing bits of the past there and as usual, we’ll get some of it fleshed out as we continue on through the series.
A small aside—note the reference again to “alchemies” that extend aging.
The Imperial Warren has always been described in terms of ash, but that’s always been a bit abstract. Here with Kalam’s observation we start to dig into the mysteries of the warren a bit more:
As Duiker walks through the camp, a large cattle-dog runs by with a lapdog in its mouth, chased by several nobles. One of the nobles, Pullyk Alar, seems about to challenge Duiker when List rides up and interrupts, calling Duiker to a meeting. As they head to the meeting, they come across another group of nobles who watch as Lenestro whips one of his servants. Duiker steps in and stops it and tells Lenestro they’re taking the servant to the healer and he won’t be returned. When Lenestro protests Duiker shakes him and Lenestro faints. When Nepthara protests List tells him Lenestro was lucky Duiker, whose name is “among the Noted on the First Army’s Column at Unta”, didn’t just kill Lenestro. As they continue on toward the meeting, List confesses he doesn’t believe they’ll get to Aren. In the meeting, Sormo says a strange demon badly damaged the Semk demon and that Nil had seen Apt and the boy. It remains a mystery. Coltaine tells them they’ll have to go through Kamist Reloe’s army on the other side of the river P’atha and that Duiker will ride with the marines. Told of the servant problem, Coltaine decides to use some of the gold they’re carrying (the soldiers’ pay) to just buy all the servants.
At night, Coltaine joins Duiker where he sits and tells him their scouts are having a hard time seeing what Reloe has planned. He also says there is a second army that he plans on beating to the next river, Vathar, by two days, though the river is still months away. When Duiker asks if that second army is Sha’ik, Coltaine says no and says perhaps she hasn’t released the Whirlwind yet because she’s heard Tavore is assembling the Malazan legions in Unta and preparing to leave for Seven Cities. Coltaine leaves and Duiker roams the camp. He finds Wickans putting heavy armor (unusual for Wickans) on their horses and themselves. Duiker continues wandering, watching soldiers preparing the morning’s battle. He finds Corporal List and Captain Lull with the marines. Lull tells him that the refugees are being held back from the battle, guarded by the Weasel Clan. Captain Chenned and Captain Sulmar shows up and Sulmer says the sappers have all deserted, but Lull suspects they’re up to something. Chenned exits with an old-time phrase (“save me a patch of grass when you go down”) and Lull informs him that Chenned’s father was in Dassem’s First Sword (as was Temper from NoK).
Duiker marches forward with List and the unnamed female marine from the Semk demon night. Reloe had built a ramp before Coltaine’s army with steep sides forcing Coltaine’s army toward only one exit (and uphill). List seems to resent not having been in the mix of things due to being assigned to Duiker. The Seventh marches up the ramp and engages, but before Duiker gets involved, he’s turned by List to watch as Nil and Nether lead a single horse into sight and stand with their hands on it. Then Duiker enters the fighting for a while until the signal to split. The sappers, who had buried themselves in the banks of the ramp overnight, suddenly appear, throw munitions into the first line of Reloe’s army, then the heavy cavalry Duiker had seen last night charges up the ramp over sappers lying on the ground with shields on their back. Duiker realizes the charge hand been unnaturally strong and fast and sees Nil and Nether still standing to either side of the single horse. Eventually Reloe’s army breaks and runs. Lull appears and tells Duiker that Coltaine’s group is mocked for its noble-born, the army is called the Chain of Dogs because Coltaine “leads yet is led, he strains forward, yet is held back, he bares his fangs, yet what nips at his heels if not those he is sworn to protect.” Duiker looks up and sees that Lull has lost an eye and his nose due to a mace wound.
The Weasel Clan had used some of the refugees as bait, losing hundreds of them, which outraged the refugees and especially the nobles. The land’s spirits had destroyed the Semk demon and the Semk god’s remnant. The Weasel Clan slaughtered nearly the entire Tithansi tribe, as well as the peasant army. Duiker recalls coming across Nil and Nether, their hands covered in blood, with the mare which though still standing was dead and he is horrified that despite its sacrifice giving strength to the cavalry and saving lives, it died with “a dumb beast’s incomprehension at its own destruction beneath the loving hands of two heartbroken children.”
Kalam’s group comes across an ash-covered dome. When Kalam wipes some ash away it reveals a symbol he recognizes from a Genabackis battle against one of Brood’s company, the one led by Kallor, who called himself High King and claimed to have “once commanded empires, each one making the Malazan Empire no larger than a province . . . [and] to have destroyed them by his own hand, destroyed them utterly . . . made worlds lifeless.” More focused, Kalam is able to open a portal into Aren.
While the others rest and bathe, Kalam sits in the main room of an Aren tavern where he meets a Napan ship captain who tells him some mysterious stranger calling himself Salk Elan has booked Kalam passage aboard his ship, Ragstopper, to Unta. The captain says he’s sailing in two days with twenty marines, the High Fist’s treasurer, and much of Aren’s treasury.
Kalam tells Minala he’s going to go (though he can’t figure out how Elan knew Kalam would be in Aren, let alone in that tavern needing to get to Unta) and that she and the others should get out of Aren. He gives her the stallion and says he wishes things could have been different. He leaves with the captain of the Ragstopper.
Lostara leaves Pearl to go report to the head of the Red Blades in Aren. In the streets she is arrested by a group of High Fist’s soldiers as all the Red Blades have been for treason.
Minala says goodbye to Keneb and takes off after Kalam.
Amanda’s Reaction to Chapter Thirteen:
Well, the extract at the start of this Chapter only emphasises something we’ve already seen—the Wickan cattle-dogs are NASTY! But I’m sure we’re about to have the point pushed home. *grins*
Ick, the noblemen really aren’t presented well at the start of this chapter, what with Pullyk Alar’s attitude and then the whipping. Mind, I don’t think we’ve really encountered any nobles who have proved to be pleasant characters! [Bill’s interjection: Tumlit isn’t so bad among this current group.] The only person who has appealed to me at all who is noble-born is Paran, and that’s only since he’s become a “proper” soldier and thrown off the shackles of his rank and class. Are there any nobles that you’ve liked? Is this the only area where Erikson shows a preference for one type of person over another?
Yay, Duiker! *waves cheerleading pom-poms* At least we can rely on him to do the right thing and shake the noble until his teeth click. *vicious grin* I also like the way that it is common knowledge about Duiker’s background—surely a reason for the soldiery to take him to their hearts?
Haha, enjoyed this exchange:
“There’s great need to maintain the illusion of order, List. In us all.”
The young man’s expression turned wry. “I missed your moment of sympathy back there, sir.”
It is impressive just how seriously Duiker takes understanding the plight of the ill and the helpless—he doesn’t shy away from pain and suffering, and wants to know the truth of the world. I have a real weakness for this sort of character in my literature!
Nice to have more background dropped idly into the story—the game of belt-grip, the soldiers playing it in a way to spit defiance at Hood and their enemies.
We’ve skipped on a few days here—they are almost at the river and hanging on for an impending battle. Looks as though the sacrifice of seventeen soldiers was not entirely in vain.
Awww, Duiker and the unnamed marine are falling in love too! I like this subtle interplay:
There was a look in her pale eyes that seemed to lay an invisible hand against his chest, and Duiker was stilled to silence, though he managed a smile.
I want to just give Coltaine a fierce hug when he also does the right thing—buying back the slaves from the nobles, recognising that they aided the Empire and so deserve the protection of the Empire. This tale is literally littered with heroes.
There are a lot of references to dragons, of a sudden.... [Bill’s interjection: Have I used the phrase “wait for it” yet?]
“Sha’ik knows... the dragon has been stirred awake, and moves ponderously still, yet when the full fury comes, it shall scour this land from shore to shore.”
Coltaine has absolute implacable confidence—I suppose he needs it in order to believe that he will have victory. He states categorically that they will beat Kamist Reloe’s army—and is already thinking about his next destination, which is months away. Got to admire that, even if Coltaine is not easy to actually like.
I’m seeing symbolism in everything:
A young capemoth was in the winged lizard’s mouth, its struggles continuing even as the rhizan methodically devoured it.
But who is the capemoth and who is the rhizan?
“You’ll look intimidating enough,” the historian said.
The Wickan caught the scepticism and his grin broadened.
Heh. Does Duiker not know Coltaine AT ALL?!
You know—the descriptions of the troops are alright, but sometimes I find them a little dry and the pacing slows down to almost nothing. It’s rare right now for me to criticise Erikson, so take this with the respect it’s intended!
The mention of the Hissari is wonderful:
Coltaine held them in absolute trust, and the Seven Cities natives had proved themselves again and again with fanatic ferocity—as if they had assumed a burden of shame and guilt and could only relieve it by slaughtering every one of their traitorous kin.
Hah, Sulmar has a decent line in insults—for those in the commentary collecting insults, here are a few:
“Hood rot the cowards one and all! Poliel bless them with pestilence, pox their illegitimate brood with her pus-soaked kiss!”
It strikes me that Erikson probably had fun coming up with these!
“Oblivious feast”—what an evocative term for death...
I like some philosophising—although not as much as Bill, I think! [Bill’s interjection: Few do according to my friends at the bar.] The particular phrase that struck a chord with me was this:
Why do the survivors remain anonymous—as if cursed—while the dead are revered? Why do we cling to what we lose while we ignore what we still hold?
The battle is what it is—but Erikson does show the dust and nerves and reality of marching to war.
The contrast between the mare before and after the battle is incredibly marked, and it reminds me of the young soldiers like List—those who go eagerly but nervously to battle, head held high, and then return on their shields...
These sappers remind me somewhat of Norse berserkers—absolutely stunningly mad, and all the more fun to read because of it. *grins* What a tremendous scene as the heavy cavalry fly towards the infantry!
Oh my god—Lull’s injuries... and what he says!
“Coltaine’s Chain of Dogs. He leads, yet is led, he strains forward, yet is held back, he bares his fangs, yet what nips at his heels if not those he is sworn to protect?”
I feel positively numbed at the end of the battle—tired and heartbroken. There is no glory here.
Ooh, Kallor! I remember that name! Didn’t he and Caladan Brood have a very cold falling-out in GotM? And there is a temple devoted to him within the Imperial Warren....? That fills me with foreboding.
I’m deeply amused the Kalam tries to fake the fact he knows how to exit the warren, even though he’s only just guessed—and that Minala sees right through him.
I’m even more amused by the exchange between Kalam and the Ragstopper captain! They fall into easy banter so quickly—and the captain provides a veritable raft of information—such as Decks all showing Hood’s Herald and the question over whether the High Fist is casting someone else’s shadow. There is no way that Coltaine isn’t who he says he is—and might have had another name, in an earlier part of his life? Someone who Duiker mentioned as being able to command armies; someone who still holds the loyalty of part of his Sword; someone who would also be Hood’s Herald? Is Dassem Ultor back on the scene?
Ahhhh, Kalam does give Minala the stallion.... Even Erikson is predictable now and again. *grins*
I might be missing something but I’m not sure what is going on with the Red Blades loyalty—it’s probably something that has happened within this book that has slipped my mind, please remind me? [Bill’s interjection: No, this is pretty much a surprise I think.]
And I’m pleased to see Minala go after Kalam—I think she can teach him the meaning of humanity again, and he can teach her that not all men are the same as her husband. And I like a love story, however unconventional it might be! [Bill’s interjection: Oh, if you think Minala and Kalam are unconventional, has Erikson got a love story for you later....]
Bill’s Reaction to Chapter Thirteen:
Remember those two dogs!
The description of Lenestro, “he looked like a frothing ape performing the traditional Kig’s Mirror’s farce” is a tiny little thing with no plot importance whatsoever, but once again we get that sort of rich detail that makes this world feel fully existent beyond the little bit of story we’re getting. (Okay, a dozen or so books may not seem little, but considering the geography and history of this world....) It’s like those references Tolkien throws in to past stories and events (“When Beren...,” etc.) and it’s a sign of an author concerned about creating that kind of richness just as its lack is a sign of one who does not.
Continuing the dark theme, we’ve got List’s matter-of-fact:
“It still astonishes me that they persist in the notion that we will survive this journey.”
And yet, the soldier stands firm.
Here’s some more of that philosophizing we mentioned in our last conversation, with Duiker musing on the role the gods play, standing between mortals and death—a soothing intercession—until death actually actually nears and they step back behind the gates and watch and wait.
In the briefing, notice the clever slip-in by Erikson of a Tano Spiritwalker, which should remind us of the one we’ve seen and who has yet to play a major part in the story. Reading Erikson is a two-way street: he’ll remind you of those things you’ll need reminding of, drop some clues here and there of how to connect some dots or see some future events, but you’ll need to read with attention.
A little bit of info from Coltaine as to what’s happening back in the Empire: Tavore is readying an army to “scour this land from shore to shore,” though of course, the implication is that will come a bit late for Coltaine’s group.
By now, of course, we should know that when we get some odd details, we should suspect something’s up. Here we get the Wickans pulling out the heavy armor and when Duiker can’t figure out the purpose, the red flag should be flipping up in our heads saying Coltaine’s got something planned. And our faith in his ability to do was just prompted again by the conversation where he tells Duiker he plans to arrive at the River Vathar, months of travel away, precisely “two days before” the second Sha’ik army that’s out there.
This whole scene reminds me a bit, though in an askew way, of the scene in Henry the V where Henry wanders the camp the night before the battle and we see the soldier’s preparations—their anxieties and fears and other emotions—before they meet the vastly superior French force. It has a bit of that same melancholy feel to it, that same sense of quiet, tense anticipation.
I also like how the world impresses itself upon Duiker as he waits the battle with Lull and List via the morning dew on the spider webs: the way perhaps that thinking of one’s possible imminent death slows the world and makes much of what we took for granted or thought mundane sharply, vividly beautiful.
So Chenned’s father was in Dassem’s First Sword. Who remembers who else was in the First Sword?
Did anybody really think the Sappers “lit out”? Anyone? Didn’t think so.
And more philosophy as Duiker moves forward with his unnamed female marine and thinks to himself how he does not wish to know her name, that names are a trap of pain and sorrow and accountability and guilt:
The unnamed soldier is a gift. The named soldier—dead, melted wax—demands a response among the living . . . a response no-one can make. Names are no comfort, they’re a call to answer the unanswereable. Why did she die, not him? [...] Name none of the fallen, for they stood in our place, and stand there still in each moment of our lives. Let my death hold no glory, and let me die forgotten and unknown. Let it not be said that I was one among the dead to accuse the living.
Again, I know people have different responses to these moments. But as I’ve said before and I’m sure again, these slow-down moments of introspection are one of the series’ aspects that make it stand out among the genre. I can get good battle scenes from lots of authors, and I can get good battle scenes that depict the cruelty and horror of war in a non-perfunctory or obligatory sense from a smaller number of writers, and I can get good, horrific battles scenes that have an emotional impact from an even smaller group. But there just aren’t many authors in the genre that force me to think. And those that do usually do so via structure or boatloads of characters or devious plotting. I can think of only a tiny, tiny handful that make me think in terms of culture, society, human nature, etc. China Miévelle is one off the top of my head. I’d have to really sit down though to come up with others. Here, Erikson eschews the easy path when trying to evoke a response to battle—not via the dead and dying but instead through the prism of the living.
That’s not to say he avoids having these soldiers deal with impending death. For a few pages later we get Duiker again:
We go to partake of death. And it is in these moments, before the blades are unsheated, before blood wets the ground and screams fill the air, that the futility descends upon us all. Without our armor, we would all weep.
But even here, it’s a deeper, broader feeling than the tried and true presentation of the soldier’s pre-battle fear of dying, fear of pain: It’s that sense of collective “futility” that makes this so hard to bear, because it bears with it such a sense of burden of waste, the idea that all this death and pain is for naught, and carries within it as well the implication that the futility also means it will be repeated, again and again and again. How much darker and sad is that than simple fear of individual death?
As for the battle itself, I don’t have much in the way of commentary save to say one of the things I appreciate about Erikson’s battle scenes is that they have a sense of solid clarity and precision to them that I find sometimes lacking in other books, where the battles seem more abstract, or sort of shadowy set pieces. I never feel lost or at a remove in the Malazan battle scenes.
And what a great moment to get our title, and what an appropriate mouthpiece: a soldier, a ruined face.
And it’s typical Erikson I’d say, to rob us of the cheap novelistic thrill of rejoicing in a big battle scene’s results, with:
There was no explanation possible for the dark currents of human thought that roiled in the wake of bloodshed . . . the sacrifice of one animal to give close to five thousand others . . . was on the face of it worthy and noble. If not for a dumb beast’s incomprehension at its own destruction beneath the loving hands of two heartbroken children.
Tell me you don’t feel dirty after reading that. I defy anyone to whoop it up at Coltaine’s victory after that line, a nice Dulce et Decorum est moment.
So more mystery stripped away from the Imperial Warren. With the symbol on the dome revealed, Kalam uncovers a connection between the Imperial Warren, the incineration, and Kallor, whom we met in GoTM and whom Kalam recalls:
call[ed] himself . . . the High King with out a kingdom. Thousands of years old . . . perhaps tens of thousands. He claimed to have once commanded empires . . . [and] to have destroyed them by his own hand . . . Kallor boasted he had made worlds lifeless.
Again, stay tuned.
By the way, I do like how Erikson, though we’ve left the setting and some of the characters of GoTM behind this book, how he never lets us forget them for very long.
After the intensity and darkness of Coltaine’s battle and the devastation implied at by the existence of the Imperial Warren, it’s nice to get some humor again. The scene with Kalam and the Ragstopper captain is a great routine. By the way—look for little hints and asides regarding that captain as we continue with him.
The treasurer, and half the treasury, leaving the city, Hood’s Herald appearing regularly in the local Deck readings, shadows in the palace, Red Blades arrested...there are lots of “slippery things” going on this city. And remember this city is the refuge Coltaine is aiming for.
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.