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 18 and 19 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!
Fiddler’s group comes across the bodies of four Nameless Ones who appeared to be guarding the entrance. Icarium, looking at their staves, says he has seen these before in a dream, which he then recounts: he arrives at the edge of a Trell town that has been utterly destroyed, with Great Ravens feasting on the corpses. A Nameless One appears and from the power still pouring from her staff, Icarium realizes she has destroyed the town. She tells Icarium he must “not wander alone.” Her words recall horrible memories of past companions, “countless in number,” sometimes individuals and sometimes large groups, all of them betrayed and all of them eventually failing in keeping Icarium from doing what he does (he wonders if he himself killed many of them). The Nameless One’s staff flares and Icarium finds himself alone with his pain and memories gone. And then he wakes from the dream. Mappo thinks it’s impossible, that someone has tainted Icarium’s dreams. When Mappo identifies them as Nameless Ones, Icarium looks hard at him. Apsalar says the cult was supposed to be extinct. Pust says they claim to be Servants of the Azath and that Kellanved and Dancer’s Talons had purged them from the Empire. Just as Pust was about to say something about the Deadhouse, Apsalar stops him from revealing any more, which makes Icarium wonder if that was her or Dancer doing so. Apsalar says she’s tired of everyone wondering who she is, “as if I have no self.” She says she is “not a slave to what I was. I decide what to do with my knowledge.” Icarium apologizes and asks Mappo what more he knows about the Nameless Ones. Mappo says it’s rumored they date from the First Empire and it is they who recruited Icarium’s guardians, though nobody knows why (Rellock guesses guilt).
Fiddler views hordes of arms and limbs and demons, Ascendants, etc. caught in Tremorlor’s roots. They can hear battles on all sides of them as they move through the maze, along with the Azath’s roots and branches being broken. Fiddler looks at how close Blind stays to Icarium and thinks he and Mappo are both suspicious that Shadowthrone had made a deal with the Azath that it wouldn’t take the Hounds and they’d help it take Icarium. Suddenly Messremb charges but not at the group; instead it attacks an enkar’al Soletaken about to attack. Mappo kills the Soletaken, but Rood attacks Messremb and pushes him against the maze wall where he’s held by a green-skinned arm around his neck. Rood tears one of Messremb’s arms off as Mappo is restrained by Icarium from going to help him. Icarium tries to comfort Mappo by telling him he’s being killed by the arm and so he won’t be imprisoned for eternity in the Azath.
Fiddler thinks there’s no way they can survive this, with thousands of shapeshifters there, meaning only the strongest will survive to the end. Shan arrives with lots of wounds. Icarium senses Gryllen coming and Mappo tries to hold him back. Fiddler turns to see Gryllen approaching as a “seething, swarming wall.”
Felisin’s group is stopped by a young girl standing guard at the entrance to Sha’ik’s oasis camp. She is an orphan and thus nameless (nobody to speak for her in the naming ritual) and Felisin says if they will fight and die for her all the orphans have earned names and she herself will speak for them all. Heboric says the ancient city was destroyed by invaders. Leoman tells them there are 40, 000 “of the best-trained cavalry the world has ever seen.” Heboric says it doesn’t matter as the Malazan Empire always adapts its tactics, pointing out it’s already defeated a horse culture—the Wickans. When Leoman asks “how” Heboric says he doesn’t know—he isn’t a military historian—but Leoman could always try to read Duiker and others who were. Leoman has in fact and reels off the Malazan tactics. A crowd begins to gather and follow them, drawn by Felisin. Over Leoman’s objections, Felisin decides to address the crowd. Felisin wonders at how the goddess has been so amenable to a deal with Felisin: she will grant power to Felisin yet allow Felisin to remain Felisin, seemingly confident she’ll eventually give in. She tells the crowd that all but Aren has been liberated and that the Empress has sent a fleet commanded by her Adjunct. As she speaks, she reads the thoughts of the three High Mages, none of which kneeled when the crowd did. Bidithal had found the other Sha’ik as a child and “used [her] so brutally . . . broker her within her own body.” She says she has reserved a place for him in the Abyss but he will serve her until then and forces him to kneel. Febryl tried to poison her three times and years ago had fled from Dassem Ultor and betrayed Seven Cities but she will use him as bait to identify those who are against her and forces him to his knees. L’oric is a true mystery to her/Sha’ik, and has strong sorcerous shields she cannot pierce. He is a “pragmatist” and judges her every act and decision. He drops to one knee—a “half-measure”—of his own volition, which makes Felisin smile. She tells the crowd they will march and then raises the whirlwind into a giant column of dust and sand that towers overhead as the standard of Sha’ik’s army.
Fiddler’s group retreats from Gryllen, who has grown to encompass thousands or tens of thousands of rats, but end up trapped. Icarium throws Mappo to the ground and draws his sword. The sky reddens and forms a vortex. Shan attacks Icarium but gets swatted aside like he’s nothing. Fiddler reaches into his munitions bag for one of his last cusser and throws it but it was the conch shell from the Tano Spiritwalker Kimloc. Music fills the air and now it’s Gryllen who tries to retreat but begins withering, devoured, giving the song even more power. Everybody’s down on the ground, the Hounds cringing, Icarium knocked unconscious by Mappo. A wall of water appears, filled with the wreckage of the past: the remains of sunken ships, ancient metals, bones, etc and the wave buries them then disappears, the music gone to silence. Fiddler looks up to see the Hounds surrounding the unconscious Icarium and Mappo standing over the body to protect him. Fiddler tells Pust to call them off and Pust says this was the bargain. Fiddler shows Pust his bag and says he’ll fall on his own cusser and kill the Hounds if they don’t back off. Pust looks to Apsalar, but she agrees with Fiddler. They see the House just ahead and Mappo gently picks up Icarium and carries him.
Amanda’s Reaction to Chapter Eighteen:
I just wonder—reading the poem at the start of Chapter Eighteen—whether this is the first time to Path of Hands has been used.
Nameless Ones = Priests of the Azath, although Mappo does acknowledge this is a clumsy way to define them. So... Azath, Nameless Ones, Ascendancy, jade statues, warrens—these are the parts of the series that will only be truly revealed by the end of The Crippled God, and maybe not even then? [Bill’s interjection: Truly revealed? Not so much. More revealed? Some of them.]
It’s upsetting that Icarium confesses to dreams where he suffers pain:
“No, the pain is within me, as of a knowledge once gained, then lost yet again.”
Wow, Icarium’s dream is so dark... It seems as though he has killed countless companions, and yet must still never walk alone to ensure his rage is kept in check. Mappo is brave but, I bet, fatalistic about the fact he is likely to die at Icarium’s hands.
But is Icarium’s dream truth or not...? Mappo thinks:
Impossible. A twisting of the truth. I saw the slaughter with my own eyes. I spoke with the priestess. You have been visited in your dreams, Icarium, with fickle malice.
So who has been sending Icarium these dreams? Everyone is being manipulated, aren’t they?
Interesting trickle of information here about the fact that Shadowthrone—as Kellanved—scoured the Empire to remove the Nameless Ones. And they, in turn, resented Kellanved’s ascension through the Deadhouse. Oooh! Loving that people still aren’t one hundred percent about who speaks from Apsalar’s mouth.
She makes it clear that it is only her speaking and not Cotillion—and that she is now choosing what to do with her memories. She is choosing her cause. And has told Iskaral to stop talking... Apsalar is suddenly feeling like a pivotal character, in terms of what she knows and what she plans to accomplish.
After her soft talk with Icarium, I really hate her harsh words towards him:
“Possessing these memories enforces a responsibility, Icarium, just as possessing none exculpates.”
Has Mappo been alongside Icarium for 94,000 years? [Bill’s interjection: No, he’s had lots of companions.] If so, why did he never think to ask the Nameless Ones why they were so concerned with choosing Icarium’s guardians?
Such beautiful prose:
The shock of that unmanned him, mocking his audacity with an endless echo of ages and realms trapped within this mad, riotous prison.
Here Erikson is exploring once again the idea of human beings leaving very little impact on the universe, the insignificance of existence. Fiddler is looking at these demons and Ascendants and alien creatures that the Azath holds safe from the world, and realising that human beings are only one tiny part of a massive world. I wonder if this is Erikson’s archaeological nature coming through—during digs etc he must have seen the remains of ancient civilisations and lives that are as nothing in this modern age.
Also, I just want to put this out there... At the moment we sort of see the Azath as benevolent, because in Gardens of the Moon the Azath grew and captured the Jaghut Tyrant, and pretty much saved Darujhistan from devastation. So, my thought is concerning the Ascension of Dancer and Kellanved through an Azath—either the Azath are neutral and just thrive on power, or they are actually malignant and manipulative, or Dancer and Kellanved are actually a good thing for the Malazan Empire (i.e. them leaving the Empire and taking positions as Shadowthrone and Cotillion). My head is getting all twisted up. Ooh, here’s another possible theory—I wonder if particular Nameless Ones have control over particular Azath, and the Azath takes on the nature of the Nameless One—hence can be either benevolent OR malignant? Okay, okay, I’m just musing out loud! I know y’all are going to say READ AND FIND OUT!
Ah, politics and manipulations and secrets... Has Shadowthrone struck a deal with the Azath? To bring Icarium into its grasp? After all, Shadowthrone has been using Pust to make sure that the group make their way to Tremorlor... Have to say, I wouldn’t want those ancient killers being so close to me—especially not knowing what they have planned, and what instructions they have been given by Shadowthrone...
Poor Messremb—even though he’s only been a very peripheral character, I still feel sore at his loss. And the fact that Rood eats his arm is just so icky. The phrasing of it makes it even worse:
placidly devouring the severed paw...
It’s interesting that Fiddler thinks on the group as minor players: here we have a sapper of the Bridgeburners, one of the few who has survived hell; a lad educated by a coven, and taught by assassins, once possessed by Oponn; a fisherman taken by Shadowthrone and given a new arm (what else has he been given?); a fishergirl taken by Cotillion, with all that master assassin’s memories; a Trell that can destroy a Soletaken with one sweep of his arm; and Icarium himself... Not exactly minor players, any of them.
Icarium’s sudden surge of anger stilled the air on all sides—as if an entire warren had drawn breath.
This helps to convey the magnitude and power of Icarium’s rage.
His gaze held on Icarium, as the edge they now all tottered on finally revealed itself, promising horror.
Leoman knows well the tactics he should use to defeat the Malazans. I wonder whether that knowledge of his will prove important before the end of the novel [Bill’s interjection: Better to say novels]...
“Know your enemy better than they know themselves.”
I like the fact that Heboric and Felisin are happy to share comments about their past—both seem to have mellowed towards each other with the changes wrought within them.
He gave Felisin an ironic grin. “When did we last travel a crowded street, lass?”
Hee, I enjoy all of Erikson’s uses of “converge” and “ascend”! Like here, for instance—Felisin says:
“I shall need your lungs to start, Toblakai. Name me once I’ve ascended.”
Aha! I see now why we shall have such problems parsing Felisin and Sha’ik! Felisin has made a deal with the goddess instead of simply opening the Book and being taken over. She thinks she will be in control—knowing what I do of gods already from the books til now Felisin is fooling herself to believe this. And she is also playing a very dangerous game with Leoman.
Is it coincidence that Sha’ik the Elder was also brutally mistreated, and ended up at a point where men would be no distraction? Sha’ik Reborn and Sha’ik the Elder have a lot in common, it seems.
So Febryl served under Dassem Ultor? And it sounds like “once a betrayer, always a betrayer” in this High Mage’s case.
I really enjoyed the scene where Felisin judges the three High Mages—Erikson writes these sort of scenes incredibly well. I can picture them exactly in my head.
And, oh my... The raising of Dryjhna’s standard is another of those scenes! How foreboding:
“Dear sister, see what you’ve made.”
Oh my word, Icarium is one scary S.O.B. The very sky is changing colour with his unleashed rage; he bats aside Hounds as though they don’t exist.
Hmmm... I recall the scene where Fiddler received the conch. The conch had within it the songs of the Spiritwalker. And the touch and songs of the Spiritwalker might be enough to make the Bridgeburners ascend... Was this the moment? Has Fiddler become more?
Bill’s Reaction to Chapter Eighteen:
And so once again we’re given a scene we’ve been shown before via a different POV that cast a wholly different light on the scene. In this case it’s the destruction of Mappo’s Trell village, the act that drove him to become Icarium’s most recent guardian. Was it destroyed by Icarium as Mappo was told? By the Nameless Ones as Icarium recalls now from his “dream”? Do/did Mappo’s Elders know which it truly was? Imagine how long Mappo has held that belief and what it has made of his life, then imagine the response to having it called into question. But does it even matter? After all, if Icarium didn’t destroy that Trell village, he’s certainly destroyed, as Mappo thinks, “countless” others—peoples, civilizations, warrens.
As one life becomes more in question, another seems to be coming into its own, as you point out Amanda with Apsalar making a stand for herself with everyone, announcing she’s tired of all the worries or suspicions she’s merely a vessel for Cotillion, or a puppet that dances to his strings: “As if I have no self unstained by the god who once possessed me . . . I am not a slave to what I was. I decide what to do with the knowledge I possess. I choose my own causes.” And as they say, “any resemblance to persons, living or dead (cough cough Felisin) is purely coincidental (cough cough).” One can conjecture about the strength of Apsalar’s statement by the fact it precipitates an apology from Icarium.
The other information on the Nameless Ones we’ve mostly already been given or been able to deduce, but what I found the most intriguing comment on them from the group was Rellock’s statement that perhaps it is “guilt” that drives them to keep Icarium in check via the guardians. Certainly makes one wonder....
Earlier we had a simple glance between Fiddler and Mappo to hint at their shared idea that Shadowthrone and the Azath might doublecross Icarium and, as we’ve seen occur often in the series, after giving us a slight nudge toward an idea, Erikson later fleshes it out for us, as Fiddler’s POV explicitly lays out the idea of a possible doublecross.
I highlighted earlier how the scene with Gryllen and Kulp gave us a further reason to like Messremb, along with his first interaction with Mappo and now we see why: it forces us to grieve at his death along with Mappo, feeling an actual loss rather than simply feeling bad for Mappo. It makes Mappo’s desperate cry of “Messremb! . . . An ally! . . .” and then his broken whisper, “a friend” all the more painful. As it does during the relatively lengthy description of Messremb’s slow choking death, though at least Icarium offers up to Mappo, and via Mappo the reader as well, the tiniest comfort that death is a mercy compared to the alternative—eternal imprisonment. And you’re right, Amanda, that matter-of-fact description of his arm becoming an appetizer is just so cold.
Gryllen... don’t you just hate him? And when Icarium yells out “He was warned!” who doesn’t want Mappo to let go, especially after what just happened to Messremb? We want someone to pay for that and who better than Gryllen?
Lots of rebirthing going on: Apsalar claims her selfhood, Felisin takes on Sha’ik to some extent, forging a new self of her own, and now the orphans will get renamed. We’ll have to see if anyone else recreates themselves....
Yet another sign of Erikson’s anthropological background as Heboric gives Felisin a little history lesson via potshards. And what an uplifting lesson it is as well:
From something delicate to something brutal, a pattern repeated throughout all of history.
It’s an appropriate line for an early book in a massive series that deals so much with cycles and deep time, a series that shows us yet another cusp of change. And so this line sets up one of the many big questions for the series: will we in fact, by the end, see another move to something more brutal that what has come before, or might we see a glimmer of hope that the direction needn’t always be downward?
We see from Heboric and Leoman’s discussion that Leoman is a bit more than we’ve seen so far, that he has some hidden depths. Keep the keenness of his mind and study of battle tactics, especially Malazan ones, in mind for the future.
I like the introduction of the three High Mages as well, Amanda, one by one through Felisin’s speech (as well as the little throwaway reminder of Tavore’s fleet). It’s a quick, gliding intro to three men who will play major roles, but enough for us to get a sense of them and their relationship with Sha’ik to start with. Save for L’oric, who is a mystery even to the goddess, which tells you something about those sorcerous wards Felisin mentions. But it’s hard not to respond positively to him as he’s presented: first just because the other two are presented so negatively we’ll be fonder of L’oric simply by default; secondly, it’s hard not to chuckle at the character presented as a mysterious pragmatist who does a halfway kneel (one knee, bowed head); and finally we’ve got an exchange of smiles, and well all know smiling is contagious. The question of course, with such a mysterious character becomes is Erikson giving us this positive introduction because L’oric wil end up revealed as a decent guy or is he setting us up for a surprise?
Finally in this section, as you say, what a great closing image, the whirlwind rising up to the top of the sky
And yet another (somewhat similar) great image in Icarium’s drawing of this sword:
the iron sky blushed crimson, began twisting into a vortex directly above them.
Well, we mentioned long ago about Kimloc’s touch on Fiddler’s shoulder and hundreds of pages later it’s finally paying off as the Spiritwalker magic breaks open. And finally that bastard Gryllen gets some comeuppance. We also get a view of the ancient sea of Raraku (kinda) that’s been referenced again and again. And the images just keep on coming, this time with the flotsam and jetsam that can be seen in the sea. These last few pages are some of the more visually cinematic (to be a bit redundant) in the book.
But it wouldn’t be Malaz were it simply surface visuals. A few pages earlier we had Heboric musing on the fall of civilizations, the transitory nature of achievement and now we get a concrete image of the concept with the “submerged memory of countless civilizations, an avalanche of tragic events, dissolution, and decay all of it drowned under the waves of sea and time, and then even that become “dust.”
By the way, now that we have an idea of Kimloc’s true power (and we’ll see later that his magic continues to work in Tremorlor), let’s not forget why he asked to touch Fiddler—so he could learn the story of the Bridgeburners:
“There is in a Tano song the potential for Ascendancy, but can an entire regiment ascend? Truly a question deserving an answer” [though not in this book]
Fiddler. Fiddler. Earlier I said something about the greatness that was Fiddler, and here we see one of the myriad examples of such: the way he is willing to stand up against the Hounds themselves to stand by Mappo and protect Icarium, willing not just to fight the Hounds but to blow himself up in order to do so. The soldier stands.
And you’ve got to love how Pust thinks he has a “shaved knuckle in the hole” in Apsalar, only to have her refuse to stop Fiddler. And I like how she doesn’t call him Fiddler but “the soldier,” thanks to how it echoes that whole “the soldier stands” idea. And a nice tension breaker is Pust’s sputtering “kids these days” little rant, not to mention the inherent humor in Pust complaining about “loyalty.”
The chapter opens saying the Vather river crossing would later be known as “The Day of Pure Blood” and the Season of Sharks and that it would “hone [the] deadly edge” of the woman now sailing with the Empire’s fleet, a woman “hard as iron.” Coltaine lost over 20,000 refugees at the crossing and lots of soldiers, along with Sormo, and Dom continues to harass them. Lull asks Duiker, in all those books he’s read, “How does a mortal make answer to what his or her kind are capable of... Does each of us . . . reach a point when all that we’ve seen, survived, changes us inside . . . What do we become then? Less human, or morehuman.” Duiker tell him that everyone has their own threshold before crossing over “into something else . . . [into] a place not for answers . . . lost.” When Lull says he’ll go mad without an answer, Duiker replies “sleight of hand . . . illusion . . . wonder.” Which you’ll find, he goes on, in “unexpected places” where you’ll fight “both tears and a smile.” As they cross through the forest, they see T’lan Imass skulls in the trees, left from the ancient war in List’s dreams. The survivors of that war carried the T’lan Imass too shattered to go on here and hung them in the trees to watch, rather than bury the immortals in the ground. They pass as well cairns topped with skulls marking places the Jaghut turned and fought. Duiker and List find Coltaine, Bult, and Lull in the vanguard, along with the sappers. Coltaine tells the sappers that, due to their repeated bravery, several clan leaders have asked to adopt them. He says he had them withdraw as he assumed that is what the sappers would want. But, he continues, he will follow the traditions of the Empire and so he promotes one who showed “natural leadership” to sergeant. Lull and the others are informed by another sapper that Coltaine actually just demoted the man, since he had been their captain (Captain Mincer). Mincer then grabs a woman named Bungle, who had been his sergeant, and says she should be made captain. Coltaine and others try not to laugh, and Coltaine agrees to the promotion, suggestion Bungle listen to her sergeant. When asked why he never attended staff briefings, Bungle says it was because Mincer needed “beauty sleep.” She also mentions he carries a sack of rocks to throw when he breaks his sword, and there’s nothing he can’t hit. Save, Mincer interrupts, “that lapdog,” which causes Bult to choke in laughter/sympathy. Coltaine asks Duiker to make sure he records this moment and Duiker says he’ll get every word down. The sappers leave and Coltaine admits he didn’t know what to do or why they seemed to not mind him demoting a man for bravery. Lull says he “returned him [Mincer] to the ranks . . .And that lifted every one of them up.” As Duiker watches Lull, Coltaine, and Bult walk away still talking about it, he thinks back to his conversation with List: “Tears and smiles, something so small, so absurd, the only possible answer.”
List shows Duiker a ruined tower nearby and tells him it was Jaghut, that they lived alone as they feared each other as much as they feared the T’lan Imass. He says the tower is a few hundred millennia old and that they were pushed back by the T’lan Imass to tower after tower after tower (the last “in the heart of the plain beyond the forest.”) Duiker asks if this was a typical Jaghut-Imass war and List answers no, it was a unique bond among the Jaghut family, that when the mother was endangered the children and father joined the battle and things “escalated.” When Duiker muses she must have been “special,” List says yes, and that it is her mate who is his ghost guide. Suddenly, they feel something and turn to look and spot Sha’ik’s column rising to the sky.
Kalam is unnerved by the strangeness aboard Ragstopper: the blurry sense of time’s passage, the captain’s strange illness and seeming attempts to communicate something of importance to Kalam, the suspicion that Elan is a mage, an unusual storm driving them southeast. He finds a private spot and uses a magical stone to contact Quick Ben. Quick Ben speaks to him, seemingly under some pressure wherever he is. Kalam asks him to try and sense what is happening aboard Ragstopper. Quick tells Kalam he’s (Kalam) in trouble and the ship “stinks of a warren, one of the rarest among mortals” and that its purpose (or one of them) is confusion. When Kalam tells Quick that Fiddler and his group headed for Tremorlor, Quick Ben is upset because he’d suggested that possibility when things were at peace but now “every warren’s lit up” and “something’s gone bad there.” Kalam mentions the Path of Hands and Quick Ben gets more worried and says he’ll try and think of some way to help them, then trails away, saying he “lost too much blood yesterday.”
Kalam finds Elan in the captain’s room. Elan tells him the storm is blowing them off course to Malaz City.
Mappo is beginning to doubt the story he’d been told of his town’s destruction by Icarium. He wonders if it matters, as there’s no doubt that Icarium has taken countless other lives. He vows the House will not take Icarium and he will fight it and any who try to help it do so. Fiddler confirms that Mappo is not so caught up in his own plight that he won’t help the group if needed.
As Fiddler looks at his group, he realizes that not only Mappo but all of them will fight to keep Icarium from being taken, foolish as that may be. They can see the assault on Tremorlor is having an effect on the House, can hear the forest being destroyed. They sense something coming up behind them and hear a scream and a battle. From behind comes Moby and the Hounds shy away from him. Fiddler sees Moby is more than he appears and Pust says he just tore apart a shapeshifter. They can see the house now and decide to make a run for it. Apsalar leads, saying a house opened once for Dancer. When asked what it takes, she says “audacity.” Mappo says the conch shell did and is still doing damage to the shapeshifters and may prove enough for the Azath to survive. He asks Fiddler what it was and Fiddler answers he got it from Kimloc, the Tano Spiritwalker. Mappo deduces Kimloc must have touched Fiddler and learned of his plan to find Tremorlor and so crafted the shell in accordance. Above them opens a warren with four huge dhenrabi in it. Fiddler realizes the one he killed earlier in the book was part of a D’ivers. The Hounds attack the dhenrabi and kill several as the group watch, then they run for the House as a swarm of bloodflies heads their way. Apsalar tries the door but it won’t open.
The army passes the first Jaghut tomb, a tilted stone slab. List tells Duiker it was the youngest son, his face looking horrible and Duiker realizes List’s ghost has been watching over the tomb and grieving in torture for two hundred thousand years. List says the boy was five and he was dragged to this spot, all his bones shattered, and then pinned beneath the rock (killing him would have cost the T’lan Imass too much). Duiker realizes the army is working in near silence and List says the father’s grief drove all the spirits away and hangs over all of them like a pall. He suggests moving quickly through this land, though he says things only get worse in the plain. Duiker wonders why the Imass did what they did and List says “pogroms need no reason . . . difference in kind is the first . . . Land, domination, pre-emptive attacks . . . just excuses that do nothing but disguise the simple distinction. They are not us. We are not them.” Duiker wants to know if the Jaghut tried to reason or negotiate and List says yes (save the Tyrants), but their innate arrogance “stung” the Imass. Duiker is skeptical it would do so enough to drive the Imass to swear a vow of immortal war and List answers that he didn’t think the Imass knew how long it would take to kill all the Jaghut, that the Jaghut never really flaunted their true power and that even when they used their power it was often passive and defensive, such as by creating barriers of ice (which the Imass could survive and pass by becoming dust).
As they march, the army is attacked by two tribes—the Tregyn and the Bhilard, while the third, the Khundryl, awaited them; people are starving, the herd animals are dying, and Dom’s army is growing behind them, now five times Coltaine’s number of soldiers. They enter a valley and see two large encampments of the Tregyn and Bhilard waiting.
Lull tells Duiker that the soldiers are dropping like flies due to thirst and he and Duiker both say something feels odd tonight, like “maybe Hood’s Warren has drawn closer.” At a command meeting, Coltaine says the warlocks have sensed something coming tonight. Duiker anticipates tomorrow’s battle will be a slaughter by Dom’s army. He thinks to offer “one word”—surrender?—but even without him saying it, Coltaine looks at him and says “we cannot.” Duiker silently agrees that this must end in blood. The air suddenly changes as the predicted “something” arrives: three massive carriages arriving out of Hood’s Warren. A mage steps out of the lead one and tell Coltaine his exploits are spoken of with wonder in Darujhistan and that people (“alchemists, mages, sorcerers”) have arranged with the Trygalle Trade Guild to supply the army with food and water.
The mage, Karpolan Demesand, was one of the original founders of the TTG, an alliance of mages that came to “specialize in expeditions so risk-laden as to make the average merchant pale.” He tells them Hood’s warren is warped tight about Coltaine’s group. He tells them the Malazans that formerly were going to attack Darujhistan are now allies against the Pannion Seer and that Dujek sends his greetings and was the instigator of this resupply, helped by the cabal of mages in the city. Dujek told the Guild “The Empress cannot lose such leaders as Coltaine,” a sentiment Karpolan finds odd coming from an “outlaw.” Dujek also sent Coltaine, from Quick Ben, a strange bottle for Coltaine to wear at all times. When Coltaine at first refuses, Karpolan tells him it’s an order from Dujek and when Coltaine questions how he, a Malazan soldier, can be ordered by a Malazan outlaw, Karpolan says when he himself asked Dujek the same question, Dujek’s answer was “never underestimate the Empress.” Everyone there realizes the “outlawing” was faked so as to ally with Brood and Rake. Coltaine takes the bottle and Karpolan tells him to break it against his chest “when the time comes.” Karpolan then says he will not stay to witness the tragedy of tomorrow’s battle, plus he has an even more difficult delivery to make. He asks if Coltaine has anything to say to Dujek and Coltaine says simply “no.”
With the food and water, the army rises in the morning in better mood and shape. Coltaine prepares an attempt to punch through the tribes blocking the valley mouth leading toward Aren. List arrives saying he feels hope is in the air. The Khundryl, in tens of thousands, appear and send a small group, which the Malazan assume will be a personal combat challenge to Coltaine. When Duiker tells Coltaine it is madness, that Coltaine is acting like a Wickan and not a Fist, and that Quick Ben’s bottle will only work once, Coltaine rips it off and throws it at Duiker. The Khundryl war chiefs though are not here for combat. One tells them the Khundryl have long waited for this day to see which of the great tribes of the South Odhans is the most powerful and that Coltaine should watch what happens.
As Coltaine’s army is giving ground to the Tregyn/Bhilard tribes on one side and Dom’s army on the other, the Khundryl suddenly attack all three. Dom’s army eventually pushes them back, though the tribes among it were shattered. Meanwhile, the Tregyn and Bhilard were routed. The same Khundryl warchief returns and asks if Coltaine noted which was the most powerful. Coltaine says the Khundryl and when the Khundryl chief says no, they lost to Dom, Coltaine says it must be Dom then whom the Khundryl recognize as most powerful. The war chief calls him a fool and says it’s “The Wickans! The Wickans! The Wickans!”
Amanda’s Reaction to Chapter Nineteen:
The litany of losses within the Chain of Dogs is mind-numbing. Do you ever have the feeling that you simply can’t comprehend the enormity of a number? When you hear about losses from wars and things like that, the numbers are so huge they don’t really mean anything. This is how I feel about seeing twenty thousand refugees having been killed, less than five hundred remaining in the Foolish Dog Clan... It becomes much more meaningful when we see the name Sormo—a name attached to the madness and death gives it more weight somehow.
Some more of Erikson’s philosophising, but I can easily imagine policemen and soldiers and people on the frontline asking themselves the same question:
“How does a mortal make answer to what his or her kind are capable of? Does each of us, soldier or no, reach a point when all that we’ve seen, survived, changes us inside?”
And again the emphasis on the children—how much more they suffer by virtue of the fact they are so young and will carry these events with them for the rest of their lives:
“Yet you and I, Lull, we are lost late in our lives. Look upon the children, and despair.”
It is a truly haunting vision—this twisted, petrified forest, the last resting place of those T’lan Imass who battled the Jaghut.
I truly don’t understand the fragile black humour of the battlefield at times [Bill’s interjection: Consider the alternatives.] Where Bult says:
“We’ve just managed the prodigious task of assembling the sappers—you’d think battles with Kamist Reloe were tactical nightmares.”
Oh dear Lord—and how quickly I go to full-blown belly laughs! That moment when Coltaine realises he’s just demoted the sapper captain—absolutely priceless. And when Bult snorts in sympathy with the prior captain because neither of them can hit the damn lapdog when they throw stones at it. This is just brilliant, and seriously helps to lighten the dark mood that was coming over me reading about the Chain.
A “green and strangely luminescent cloud”? Magic? Or do I once again see zebras where there are horses? The odd matter of time suggests Kalam’s ship is under the influence of magic.
This is a question I want answered as well! “So, who plays with us here?”
Isn’t that conversation between Kalam and Quick Ben cryptic? And it goes to show that Quick Ben doesn’t know everything and isn’t in control! As soon as a battleplan reaches the actual battlefield, it is likely to go wrong... And magic is involved on the ship! “That ship stinks of a warren, Kalam, one of the rarest among mortals.”
Pust really does give me the creeps at the end of the section where Fiddler and Mappo discuss loyalties. That “different tone of voice” makes me feel as though we see a little of the “real” Pust—a truly dangerous individual, for all of his posturing. You’d have to be dangerous to have a god like Shadowthrone riding you and survive. “The blathering of secrets [...] so they judge me ineffectual.”
Moby is quite the mysterious little character, isn’t he?
“My uncle’s familiar,” Crokus said, approaching.
The Hounds shrank from his path.
Oh, lad, much more than that, it seems.
This is interesting to me—usually (as you’ll probably have realised from the episodic nature of my commentary) I read a few paragraphs and pick out pertinent points to chat about and quote from. But, rather like towards the end of Gardens of the Moon, I find myself breathlessly turning page after page and then realising I’m not actually commenting at all on what I’m discovering.
But I guess that breathless reading and inability to stop for anything is a comment all of its own! I am loving these battle-ridden scenes of Hounds fighting dhenrabi in a titanic struggle—the Hounds spewing magic; the sprint of the party towards the Azath entrance; the way Apsalar turns with shock after she has been refused—even though Dancer/Cotillion was permitted entry.
When we suddenly switch from action-packed running and fighting to the quiet despair of the Chain, there is even more of a contrast.
Erikson also gives us the other side of the story here. In Gardens of the Moon we met a T’lan Imass and heard his sorrow and anger about the wars with the Jaghut. Because there was a Jaghut Tyrant involved, I sort of assumed the Jaghut were therefore the bad guys. But here, with List, we experience a father’s pain for his lost child and find enormous sympathy for the Jaghut. I guess there are always two sides to every conflict.
The Chain of Dogs storyline makes me feel even more desperately sad. The one bit the really caught the breath in my throat was this:
“One word, yet even to voice it would be to offer the cruellest illusion. One word.”
I’m guessing: surrender. But the Chain has gone way too far for that. It would make a mockery of everything that has been suffered so far—as Duiker reflects:
“For the rebellion’s warriors as much as for us, the end to this must be with blood.”
The appearance of water could only occur in such a histrionic manner. *grins* The wildness of the carriages, the coming of the Darujhistans. What I most love is the fact that Coltaine’s feats are now legendary—people have been beseeching their gods to save those on the Chain of Dogs. In the isolation of the desert and in the battle to stay alive, they could not have known that people watched and waited and wanted desperately for them to survive.
Hmm, I confess, the whole matter of Dujek rescuing Coltaine, because the Empress needs such as he, and yet Dujek being an outlaw of the Empire has me all confused. And then Coltaine’s response, that he does not want word taken back to Dujek—and Duiker’s concern about this—all of this has me frowning and scratching my head. It’s odd—I was used to this feeling for the majority of the first novel in the Malazan sequence, but now I hate it, now that I’m finding it easier to take things on faith and read through the confusion. Anything that stops me in my tracks almost annoys me! Shed me some light, fellow readers, if you will!
Oh man! The Khundryl are betraying their own!
And here is another of those fist punching the air moments:
“The answer this day... [...] The Wickans! The Wickans! The Wickans!”
Bill’s Reaction to Chapter Nineteen:
And the emotional roller coaster continues. From the humor of Pust and the gentle love of Mappo carrying Icarium in his arms, to the blood-soaked and corpse-choked River Vather and the ongoing death march that is the Chain of Dogs. We’re pounded with the horrific imagery of the river “gush[ing] blood and corpses . . . for close to a week, a tide that deepened from red to black amidst pallid, bloated bodies.“ Then pummeled again by the simple brute force of math: “Over twenty thousand refugees, a disproportionate number of children among them . . . Seven hundred soldiers of the seventh.” Then, after the abstract, we’re hit with the personal and concrete: Sormo dead, Lull’s hands trembling, List wounded.
And then we’re kneed in the gut by Lull’s demand for an answer to all this, to the question of “How does a mortal make answer to what his or her kind are capable of?” (Note, too, that he doesn’t say “human” but “mortal”—since as we see in this chapter, humans don’t have a monopoly on cruelty and atrocity.) And the answer as well to “Does each of us . . . reach a point when all that we’ve seen, survived changes us inside? Irrevocably changes us? What do we become then? Less human, or more human? Human enough, or too human.” And if you read that as a question merely for fictional soldiers fighting in a world that doesn’t exist, then I’d say you’re not respecting this series enough. And if you take it another step and think it’s a question merely for soldiers, real or fictional, then I’d say you’re playing a good game of denial. For what does it do to any of us to see, day in and day out, in the papers, on the TV, on the web, what people “are capable of”? And one can’t really call Duiker’s answer, “illusion . . . sleight of hand” all that uplifting.
And the good times keep coming, as they ride through the T’lan Imass burial ground. And what could be more uplifting than the thought of undead immortals who “cannot even flee their prisons of bone and withered flesh” limited to being heads only looking out for all eternity at each other and life passing by?
And just as we think we’re not going to come up for air, we get a little breather via the sappers. Sure, we’ve got another few thousand pages to go, but I’m pretty sure this scene will remain a favorite of new readers. It cracks me up everytime so I’m glad you found it as funny, Amanda: the demotion of Mincer from Captain to Sergeant; the promotion of Bungle (great name) to captain; Coltaine flustered for the first time we’ve seen; Coltaine, Lull, Duiker all trying not to burst out laughing; the “beauty sleep” as the excuse for missing meetings; that damn lapdog, and finally Coltaine’s last words on it: “They win . . . I am defeated.” But then, from the lightness and humor, it segues smoothly into deeper emotional territory as Duiker reminds us of his conversation with Lull and tells us this was the answer:
...tears and smiles, something so small, so absurd, the only possible answer.
Amanda points out how we get another side of the T’lam Imass-Jaghut wars here with List’s vision and this slow accretion of detail regarding these wars and the surprising ways the narrative turns is actually one of my favorite parts of this series. Things are nearly always more complex in the Malaz world than they first appear and our shifting views toward the Imass and the Jaghut is just one of the more concrete examples of this. Even so early in the series we should have learned by now not to take at face value the presentation of someone/some group as “evil.” We are presented a lot of villains in this series big and small: Jaghut, the Seer, the Crippled God, Draconus, K’Chain, Laseen, Tayschrenn, Brood, and the list goes on. Some we’ve already shifted our views on, others we’ve had hints that things are more complex, others on that list we haven’t met yet. Some of them it turned/will turn out we were completely wrong on, some of them (groups or individuals) will turn out to be not “all” one thing or another and will surprise us. Hold off on the labels, is the message.
I like too, sticking to the Jaghut aspect here, that we’ve been prepared for the sorrow over the Jaghut child by a haunting refrain that so far we’ve only attached to humans: “children are dying.” That line gains even more tragic weight as it broadens out beyond this single war or even the history of humanity as Lull and Duiker had earlier discussed. It gains weight as well for the way in which Erikson makes it less abstract: by giving us the physical details (“they dragged the child here—shattered his bones, every one, as many times as they could on so small a frame”), a father’s determination to see it through (“it wore a father’s grief . . . He stands guard still”), and a mind-numbing expanse of time to carry said grief: (“a grief that had . . . grown with the tortured, unfathomable passage of two hundred thousand years.”)
The father’s grief, the death of a child, of course, continue to make us reassess the T’lan Imass (coming after the idea of the Tyrant Raest in GoTM especially), especially put together with List’s statement that the Jaghut tried to negotiate with the Imass. And then there’s List’s tragically simplistic summary of the cause of the Imass-Jaghut wars, and all the others since (and by extension those in our real world history): “They are not us. We are not them.” That line echoes with the same simple despair as the “children are dying” line—the fact so much tragedy, atrocity, horror and death can be summed up so matter-of-factly and simply makes it all the worse somehow.
What I find interesting about Quick Ben and Kalam’s conversation is not the news about Kalam’s side of things (I already am suspicious of Elan, figured magery was involved, etc.) but the hints of what was going on with Quick Ben: things going to “Hood’s shithole” where he is, the fact he’s lost a lot of blood, and the hint he’s going to try and do something to help Fiddler in Tremorlor.
It’s hard to imagine anyone surprised by Mappo’s decision to protect Icarium, no matter what. Could the Mappo we’ve been shown, the one to whom Fiddler responds so well, have chosen otherwise? Or could Fiddler? And I like Fiddler’s confidence that the others will be equally “wide-eyed stupid.”
I love that Moby scene—imagine that as a film clip: the monsters we’ve seen, the tension as the group feels something coming, the scream hidden out of sight, the camera waiting for the newest monstrosity to appear, pause, pause, cue Moby’s entrance.
Speaking of cinematic, gotta love the appearance of the dhenrabi D’ivers (and, as often happens, something we see very early in a book reappears in some form at the end). And that little detail Amanda pointed out about the Hounds shying away from Moby gets a bit more interesting with the way the Hounds leap right at the dhenrabi. Take on a massive dhenrabi D’ivers but flinch at Moby’s presence? Hmmm.
Bloodflies. Hate those things.
I like how Erikson sets us up for something terrible, that sense of impending doom, especially made tense by its association with Hood, and then turns the tables into it being succor rather than disaster. I know people have differing reactions to the Trygalle Trade Guild (and no, this book won’t be the last we see of them), some seeing them as a bit too convenient a plot device, sometimes acting as a deus ex machina. I have to say I like their appearance here and usually in the other places as well. (In fact, I wouldn’t mind seeing a group of short stories of their adventures in this universe.)
Though we all know by now that the whole outlawing thing was a sham, I like how Erikson keeps circling back to this via different characters’ viewpoints, basically milking the plot point again and again, even though the surprise aspect of it only gets the one shot.
As before, I don’t have much to say about the battle details. But oh, that ending! There haven’t been a lot of scenes in my reading that can stir me both emotionally and physically, so that my heart rate rises, my blood pulses, and I want to leap up and join a charge, swing a sword, whatever is happening at that particular moment. This is one of them. “The Wickans! The Wickans!” I’m this (picture my thumb and index finger almost touching) far from going into the other room and waking my wife up by yelling that (it’s currently 1:14 a.m). Course, that would be the end of this reread for me....
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.