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 24 and the Epilogue 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!
Sha’ik and her army enter onto the Aren plains from the Whirlwind warren. Her three mages and Heboric can sense death ahead of such fashion or on such scale that all “flinch.” Heboric asks Sha’ik if she regrets her choices and she thinks of the argument she had with her sister when she accused Tavore of killing their parents, though her answer to Heboric is “I have a daughter now.” She tells Heboric her daughter has a gift with words, a “poet’s eye,” such as Felisin herself might have had had she been given the freedom. Heboric warns such a gift might instead be a curse for Felisin Younger, saying those who “invite awe” can be very lonely, “lonely in themselves.” Sha’ik assures him she won’t be lonely and says she understands remoteness. When he asks if she’s named her Felisin, she says yes, the name “holds such promise. A fresh innocence such as that which parents would see in their child.” Heboric weeps as he listens and when she tells him “Oh Heboric, it’s not worthy of grief,” it crushes him. Leoman, Rel, Reloe, and Dom arrive. Sha’ik sees what Dom has done and scouts report that the crucifixions number in the thousands and line the road for at least three leagues. Dom admits he could not take Aren and that Tavore’s fleet has entered the bay. He marvels that the army surrendered as Pormqual ordered and says it shows the Empire’s weakness—its lack of great leaders. He says Coltaine was the last and Tavore is untested, noble, outnumbered, and lacks advisors. Sha’ik orders the corpses on the plain (not the crucified ones) buried and then a return to Raraku to await Tavore’s army on her terms (though her interior thoughts reveal her terror at the thought). Heboric asks which crucified body he stands before, if anyone knows who the body is. Rel says it’s “an old man. . . A soldier, no more than that.” Heboric asks if anyone else hears a god’s laughter.
Heboric, last to leave, still stares at the corpse, still hearing laughter in his head, and wonders why is he blind: is it cruel joke or mercy Is it Fener or the jade He tells Fener he wishes “to come home.”
Blistig waits to greet Tavore. Keneb arrives and said he had no luck finding Stormy and Gesler or Squint, and that the 7th army is ready to be inspected. Blistig worries Squint will commit suicide. Keneb tells Blistig the survivors of the Chain are broken and Blistig agrees, thinking his own company is “brittle.”
Mappo lays the still-unconscious Icarium down for a rest; he and Icarium were spit out along the Aren Way and Mappo has been futilely trying to find a spot “free of death.” He watches as a cart with three men stop at every tree to examine the bodies nailed to them, then move on to the next. Mappo goes to meet the cart—Stormy, Gesler, and Truth—and when they mention need of bandages he offers his skill at healing. They tell him it’s a pair of dogs, not people, who are wounded and that they’d found them at Coltaine’s Fall. Mappo says it appears they are looking for someone among the bodies and Gesler says yes, and when Mappo asks how many bodies there are and that they’ve checked, Gesler tells him 10,000 and they’ve checked them all—these at the Aren Gate are the last few. Mappo says he’ll look at the dogs and is shocked at their condition and that they still live. Truth is utterly distraught. Mappo worries that when Icarium wakes he’ll wonder at the grief Mappo will still be carrying. He is sad that Icarium loses his memories not only of death and horror but also memories of “gifts given so freely,” and wonders how Icarium would answer all this death. Stormy, who has been checking bodies, yells to Gesler to join him at once. They return to the cart and when Stormy asks if they found him, they tell him no, it wasn’t him. Truth is relieved that at least there is a chance their goal is alive then. Mappo, looking at Gesler, knows he’s not telling the truth for Truth’s sake. Mappo turns down an offer for a ride then, after they head back toward Aren a bit, jogs after them, rummaging in his pack.
Pust, walking down the path toward the temple, suddenly starts tearing at his clothes as spiders drop from them. The spider D’ivers assemble into a Dal Honese woman named Mogora, who tells him she’s been watching him for months—saw him lay the false trails, etc. When he tells her she’ll never find the real Path of Hands she answers she doesn’t want to: “I escaped Dol Hon to be rid of idiots. Why would I become Ascendant just to rule over other idiots” They walk off together.
A dragon rises before them and disappears into a warren.
Pust says the dragon was there to guard the real gate, and identifies the dragon as a T’lan Imass Bonecaster. He and Mogora prepare to enter the temple together.
A large ornate wagon is halted at the Aren Gate and two creatures that look like bhok’arala disembark and head to a tree. The two are named Irp and Rudd and their dialogue makes clear they are on a mission from Baruk. Rudd climbs onto a corpse nailed to the last tree and searches under its shirt. He pulls out a piece of cloth with the name “Sa’yless Lorthal” written on it then pulls out a small bottle. Rudd says “it broke all right” and then, examining it, says “he’s in there all right.” They start to take the body down to bring back with them to Baruk in Darujhistan.
Icarium wakes and notices he’s injured. Mappo says he gave away his last two healing elixirs to heal some dogs. Icarium says they must have been “worthy beasts” and he looks forward to hearing that story. The last thing he recalls is spotting the aptorian demon (back at the start of the book). Mappo says that were cast out from a warren and Icarium hit his head on a rock, and it’s been just a day. They head off into the Jhag Odan plain as Icarium wonders aloud what he’d do without Mappo.
Amanda’s Reaction to Chapter 24
Right at the start of Chapter 24 we have a neat little reminder of all the themes we’ve seen throughout the rest of the novel: blood and insects, mostly!
The grasses were black with dried blood. Capemoths fluttered here and there across the scene. Flies buzzed the heat-swollen bodies.
Isn’t it so terribly heart-breaking that Sha’ik’s path to this point came as a result of what she terms: “...a sisterly spat that went too far.” I wonder how Tavore sees it....
I’ve missed the point here of the conversation between Sha’ik and Heboric a little, and I’m sure I’m missing something poignant and moving. I believe it is the little girl that Sha’ik took under her wing, a girl she called Felisin, and is determined to provide a good life for. But there is also a suggestion that Sha’ik the goddess has taken over Felisin’s body entirely, and is then referring to Felisin who has now been lost or is only allowed to the forefront occasionally. Thoughts from you, our lovable readers
“The Empire has lost its great leaders–” Oh really *skeptical* I can think of a few who remain....
I delight in the fact that, after Korbolo Dom defected from the Empire, after taking an age to finally defeat Coltaine (and, even then, creating a legend about him), he is then brought to heel by Sha’ik like a little puppy.
Does Heboric feel nothing of Duiker because of the gift of the statuette I have to say, my heart-strings are plucked at the idea of Heboric, looking small and helpless, begging with the god he betrayed to bring him home. Also, after his comments regarding the fact that Duiker defended him against the Empress, it seems unutterably sad that now Heboric doesn’t recognise him.
Here is another theme brought home to us in the description of the two Wickan warlords: “Two children who are not.”
I am going to be very interested to meet Tavore and T’amber in the future and find out their side of the story....
Mappo really is so incredibly conscious and tender of everything that might affect Icarium—sure, it’s to stop him falling into a towering rage, but I suspect, in fact know, that Mappo cares more than he should about the survival of his friend. “It was not the best of smells for the Jhag to awaken to....”
“A massive flint sword...” This the one he was given [Bill: Yes.]
Ooh, hang on! Three strangely hued men who went through the flame of a dragon—were those three dragons Gesler, Stormy and Truth [Bill: That would be cool, so cool I hate to answer in the negative.]
It’s so fitting that Stormy and the other two are paying tribute to those crucified by looking on each face and acknowledging them.
And here is the perfect summary of the Chain of Dogs:
“Coltaine guided thirty thousand refugees from Hissar to Aren. It was impossible, but that’s what he did. He saved those ungrateful bastards and his reward was to get butchered not five hundred paces from the city’s gate. No-one helped him...”
Oh, the cattle-dog! The lap-dog!
Were Geslar, Stormy and Truth looking for Heboric For Kulp For Duiker
Pust and those spiders! What a fantastic match for him Mogora is. *grins* I already love them as a double act!
“You are a true Dal Honese hag, aren’t you Spiteful, condescending, a sneering bitch in every way!”
“And you are a Dal Honese oaf—conniving, untrustworthy, shifty—”
Sa’yless Lorthal Is that the name of our previously unnamed marine [Bill: Yes.]
And Baruk is rescuing Duiker Ahhh, except he believes it is Coltaine, right I expect a surprise will be coming to the Daru lot when this plotline reaches fruition.
Why is it that Icarium reaching equilibrium and becoming much as he was at the start of the book makes me feel so damn sad It’s as though he was on a journey and has now been thwarted.
Bill’s Comments on Chapter 24
As far as Dom goes, it tells you something about his vileness, I’d say, that Bidithal flinches with “appalled horror.”
Amanda, I find that conversation between Felisin and Heboric also a bit opaque. Thinking aloud here, I wonder if Felisin’s answer to Heboric’s question “do you now finally regret the choices you have made”—”I have a daughter now”—have to do with the idea that all her choices prior were predicated on a world of ashes. In other words, it didn’t matter what happened due to her choices: her death, her moral death, the world’s death. But now she has a stake in the world and those choices will affect her. Is that what causes Heboric’s anguish That she’s wrecked a world her daughter will live in Or is it that Felisin Elder now has a reason to live—a daughter—and now is about to be utterly consumed by the Goddess Hmm, just typing that makes me sad. And naming her Felisin is recognition that this Felisin’s life is literally over. I think that may be what she means by “I can feel no awe”—as a soon-to-be goddess I think Heboric cries not only at Felisin’s loss of self just as she’s found reason to live (or created another self for herself—a still-innocent self) but at her crushing confession that her loss of self isn’t worth grieving over. Okay, that’s my thinking...anyone else
Poor Felisin—to fear Tavore so. We’ll see much more of that, and why Tavore engenders such fear, in later books.
You can see why Dom thinks as he does about the Empire’s leaders. The Seventh Army and Coltaine are destroyed, Dujek/Whiskeyjack are outlawed (as far as Dom knows I believe at this point—admitting some blurring of books here), the Old Guard are all “drowned” or such, and Tavore is a noble who has never led an army. ‘Course, Dom has issues with certainty....
Love the echo of Duiker’s earlier names when he says Duiker is “an old man . . . a soldier, no more than that.” Love the echo, hate it in Rel’s mouth.
Okay, I’ve got my views on the god’s laughter, but I’m gonna hold off for the comments section. So let’s hear the theories....
Anybody else find Blistig’s thoughts regarding Stormy and Gesler: “Those irreverent bastards could do with a blistering,” kinda funny Blistering—warren of fire—blistering. Anyone
The idea of the army/garrison being “broken” and “brittle” will carry for some time with this group.
Yes, “two children who are not” is another one of those “themes in a line.” Along with “children are dying” and it turns out there is more than one way to die.
We know Stormy and Gesler are on the verge of ascendancy, so we can see why something about them—”a latent power” would make him “uneasy.”
Gesler’s unfinished line when Mappo notices they’re looking for someone:
“Stormy’s up to the last few anyway. You know, even if we wasn’t looking for someone particular . . . well, at the very least.” He shrugged.
How do you all see that finishing I’m thinking something along the lines of at least these soldiers were recognized, or “witnessed” to use an important word in this series.
Lot of Hood talk going on this last chapter or two. Just saying....
Mappo. I like how what he does is set up by his monologue to Icarium about how he mourns Icarium’s memory loss—losing his horrible memories canceled out by losing as well memories of “gifts freely given.” And then another line that echoes throughout the series: “how would you answer this”
And then the compassion of Gesler and Stormy lying to Truth, letting him hold to false hope.
And the start of yet another classic Erikson duo: Pust and Mogora
We’ll see that Bonecaster undead T’lan Imass Soletaken dragon again folks.
How sad to finally get Sa’yless Lorthal’s name this way.
I love how Icarium’s immediate reaction to Mappo using the elixirs on two dogs is a smile and the words “they must have been worthy beasts. I look forward to that tale.” In the comments on the last one is a little debate over whether Mappo did the right thing with not letting Icarium go. I think this is why I’m with Mappo.
Interesting word to end on.
A young pregnant Wickan widow walks into the grassland near her camp. She been told by the horsewife that the child within her had no soul, it has been cursed, and so she is about to drink a potion to abort the child. Suddenly, the horsewife appears to stop her. The two watch an approaching storm that turns out to be a cloud of crows heading their way. Inside her belly, “the child stirred.”
Amanda’s Reaction to the Epilogue
Amanda’s Reaction to Deadhouse Gates
Oh. Em. Gee. What a bloody ride! I feel absolutely wrung out by this reading experience, completely exhausted, rundown, joyful, hopeful and a myriad other emotions that I have hopefully articulated well enough over the course of this novel.
I did feel worried broaching Deadhouse Gates at the idea that I wouldn’t be spending time with many of those I’d come to love within the pages of Gardens of the Moon—and yet I’ve found even more characters to love. Dear lord, I think with pity on all those people who put down Gardens of the Moon and never continued through the Malazan series—they would have missed out on Icarium and Mappo, on Duiker, on Pust (whether loving him or loathing him)! What a truly horrible thought.
You know what I appreciate most having now read two of Erikson’s books The way he has absolute confidence in his readers. DG is a much smoother ride to GotM, in terms of immersing in the world, in terms of the degree of explanation required to help the reader along a little, in terms of the prose. It is a far superior book in every way—and yet still doesn’t try and baby the reader along. We are forced to engage our brain, to remember occurrences from hundreds of pages previously, to note seemingly throwaway lines. We are treated like scholars, and our patience and energetic reasoning is paid back one-thousandfold.
Deadhouse Gates is probably the most fun you can have over the course of a thousand pages, although I do use the word “fun” loosely. Mostly I was cringing, crying like a babe and carolling my fervent joy about events from the novel. Deadhouse Gates is not a “fun” read, rather an intense and utter submersion into another world.
Erikson’s background as an archaeologist certainly comes to the fore in this novel—he explores themes to a lesser and deeper level through the pages, like death and redemption, courage and the reason for being. And his research gives it all a ring of authenticity that allows the reader to trust in what Erikson is saying.
There was a heavy hint of the philosophising that, I am led to believe, becomes rife in later novels of the series but here it merely helped to lend weight to some of the events, such as that final battle between Coltaine and Korbolo Dom and Duiker’s thoughts leading up to it.
My favourite characters Will it come as any surprise right now that I say Icarium and Mappo—the deeply tragic nature of their friendship provides subtle nuances to every series of dialogue they conduct. The loyalty, the appreciation for each other—all is written perfectly.
My favourite part of the novel I think the sappers of the Seventh. *grins* If not for them, the last few battles would have been unrelentingly bleak and they helped give some hope and humour to proceedings.
All in all, Deadhouse Gates was a tour de force. I honestly don’t see how Erikson can improve on this in later volumes, but I’m chafing at the bit now to go and find out! Simply tremendous!
Bill’s Reaction to Deadhouse Gates
Deadhouse Gates for me is where this series really takes off. I liked Gardens of the Moon, like it a lot as a matter of fact. But DG is a whole ‘nother thing entirely. It’s why when I recommend this series as the best fantasy series of the past 20 years or so, as I often do, I always try and remember to tell people not to stop if GoTM didn’t do it for them but to read the first two books. The emotional sweep of this book stands out amongst so much other fantasy, as does the depth and philosophy embedded throughout. I love the way this book (and series) moves through deep time—layers on layers of acts and civilizations and repercussions and ripples and echoes and resonances. Again and again we see characters moving over (literally and figuratively) the detritus of earlier lives (or, for those long-lived Ascendants) earlier acts.
As Amanda says, she worried about leaving behind the great characters of GoTM—Whiskeyjack, Rake, etc—but of course this is balanced by the characters we get here, many of whom we’ll see across multiple books. There are just too many characters and references to things coming up to even begin to address (Soletaken, Kimloc’s song, Bonecaster undead dragon, Fener pulled down, Toblakai/Karsa, Heboric’s hands, shattered warrens, the Silanda, the Talons, The Chained One, souls sealing warrens/rents, Tiste Edur, Drift Avilii, things buried in ice, the empty Beast Hold, etc.) But one of my favorite aspects of this series is how some of these are just thrown out there in trivial fashion so as we don’t even notice them. For instance, the Queen of Dreams gets a tossed out reference that has no impact on events at all (Pust’s temple was once hers) but we’ll see her later. Everything is there, even if we don’t know it the first time.
DG fills out the full triad of House Paran: Tavore, Felisin, and Paran. Erikson will make use of this family structure throughout the series. For instance, we’ll get the Beddict brothers: Hull, Brys, and Tehol. The Sengar brothers: Bindadas, Trull, Fear, Rhulad. Rake and his brothers.
We get the shift to completely new characters and new setting (get used to that).
We get the idea that dead doesn’t necessarily mean dead, via the Wickan reincarnation method (and oh there will be other ways as well).
So many key lines as well:
- Children are dying
- soldiering means standing firm when that time’s required
- the lesson of history at that no one learns
- Name none of the fallen, for they stood in our place
- Life crawls on ever on.
- How does a mortal make answer to what his or her kind are capable of
- spitting in the face of every god
- Compassion. Chains. Armor. Audacity
There is a lot here in book two that will pay dividends not just in book three, but books 6, 8, and yes, 10. The ride is just beginning folks....
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.