Welcome to the Malazan Re-read of the Fallen! Every post will start off with a summary of events, followed by reaction and commentary by your hosts Bill and Amanda (with Amanda, new to the series, going first), and finally comments from Tor.com readers. In this article, we’ll cover Chapter 18 of Memories of Ice by Steven Erikson (MoI).
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.
Note: The summary of events will be free of major spoilers and we’re going to try keeping the reader comments the same. A forum thread has been set up for outright Malazan spoiler discussion.
Silverfox and Kruppe, followed by her two marines, head to the Gathering. They are joined by thousands of Ay, then tens of thousands of T’lan Imass. Kruppe senses “Despair. Or perhaps after this seeming eternity, only its ashes.” He wonders if they have memories or feelings: “True Memories? Of enlivened flesh and the wind’s caress, of the laughter of children? Memories of love? When frozen between life and death, in the glacial in-between, what can exist of mortal feelings? . . . Only memories of ice, of ice and no more than that. Gods below . . . such sorrow.” He recognizes Pran Chole (from the birth of Silverfox) and is shocked at the change: “my heart breaks . . . at what you have become.” Pran Chole greets Silverfox and tells her he was with K’rul at her birth and Silverfox’s answer is bitter: “Are you my father then? If so, this reunion has come far too late. For us both.” Kruppe worries over this turn into anger, and watches Pran Chole’s face “wither” at her response. When he tells her he could not follow her after she was born, she answers angrily: “After all, you had a vow awaiting you . . . the one that turned your hearts to ash. All for a war. But that is what war is all about, isn’t it? Leaving home. your loved ones—the very capacity of love itself . . . You abandoned everything.” And when she cuts herself off, Kruppe thinks she meant to add they abandoned her as well. Another bonecaster, Okral Lom steps forward and says since they had nothing to do with her birth, they have nothing to do with her anger. He corrects her, though, and tells her Pran Chole, while accepting the burden of her anger, cannot be considered her father—“the one you seek is not among us . . . Your souls were forged in the Warren of Tellan, yet not in the distant past—the past in which Pran Chole lived . . . the unveiled warren of which I speak belonged to the First Sword Onos T’oolan. Now clanless, he walks alone, and that solitude has twisted his power . . . by what he seeks.” When Silverfox asks what Tool wants, Okral answers she’ll hear from him since he’s coming, but he’ll be “rather late.” Kruppe realizes Pran Chole took on Silverfox’s anger silently as a gift, to give her “a focus for her anger” and he recalls the compassion he saw in Pran Chole’s eyes, and wonder if all Imass were once like him. Another Bonecaster, Ay Estros of Logros T’lan Imass steps up and says Logros could only send two because the Logros T’lan Imass are hunting renegades—”our own kin who have broken from the vow.” He then introduces Olar Ethil: “first among the Bonecasters, the First Soletaken,” and says she was set a different task by Logros and so they haven’t seen her in many years. Olar Ethil says Silverfox “commanded” her dreams as she neared the Gathering and Silverfox say she did, though she didn’t know whose they were and they can talk about it later. Olar Ethil says the task Logros gave her was to find the remaining T’lan Imass armies from the First Gathering: The four clans left of the Bentract are trapped in the Warren of Chaos on Jacuruku she thinks (she couldn’t find them); The Orshan, Ifayle, and Kerluhm appear completely lost and she assumes they no longer exist. She tells Silverfox Logros was commanded to seek the other armies by Kellanved after the Emperor took the First Throne. When Silverfox points out Kellanved no longer occupies, Olar Ethil agrees but says he has not yielded it because rather than die he ascended and took the Throne of Shadow, which meant the T’lan Imass stopped serving the Empire. Ethil calls that period an “uncertain” time when the clans were divided (and then distracted by discovering some surviving Jaghut in the Jhag Odhan), but that some clans have returned to the Empire’s service. Silverfox asks if that was the question that led to the renegades and Olar Ethil says no, they “found another path . . . they have, on occasion, employed the Warren of Chaos.” This last bit makes Kruppe suspicious over just whom the renegades serve. Silverfox asks Olar Ethil what shape she takes and the response is “an undead twin to Tiam, who spawned all dragons.” Silverfox asks Pran Chole to forgive her earlier harshness and says Okral Lom was correct in chastising her. When she begins to say how long she’s waited, Kruppe starts to point out just how old the T’lan Imass before her are and she says “thanks, I’ll handle my self-accusation myself.” She then asks if any Jaghut are left and Pran Chole says they only know of one pure blood in this realm—the Seer—and says in answer to the next question that he does not know how he is commanding K’Chain. When Silverfox starts to question what will happen after the Seer is slain, Kruppe steps forward and says that the fact that you only “know of one” doesn’t mean there is only one. Olar Ethil says other ones “remain. Isolated. Hidden . . . We believe they exist, but we cannot find them.” Kruppe says they’re looking for an end to the war anyway and when Kruppe asks how he knew that, he says “Sorrow unsurpassed and unsurpassing. They in truth seek to become dust . . . The T’lan Imass wish oblivion.” Pran Chole says her words can shatter the Ritual’s bindings.” Which Silverfox says she’d grant “if all the Jaghut on this world had ceased to exist . . . For that is the burden laid upon me. My intended purpose” but widens it to “the threat of tyranny removed, finally, once and for all time.” But Kruppe tells her the T’lan Imass have won the war, and if there is a new tyrant among the remaining Jaghut, they have many more who would oppose them now: Gods, Ascendants, humans—”The time has passed . . . For the Jaghut, and thus for the T’lann Imass . . . these indomitable warriors are weary, weary beyond all comprehension. They have existed for hundreds of thousands of years for one sole cause. And that cause is now a farce. Pointless. Irrelevant . . . Redeem them. Please.” Pran Chole agrees, saying they will end the Seer then request an end for themselves . . “We have no reason to exist, thus we exist without honor, and it is destroying us.” When he tells Pran Chole the remainder of her life shall be hers, she asks “What life? I am neither Rhivi nor Malazan. I am not even truly human . . . I am your kin, damn you! Your first child in three hundred thousand years! Am I to be abandoned again?” All the Imass but Olar Ethil drop to their knees, and after saying to Silverfox, “We beg you to release us,” Olar Ethil drops as well. Silverfox says “no” and the Ay howl.
Whiskeyjack and Korlat, clearly made up, overlook the Tenescowri army, with Anaster in front along with a dozen women, seemingly mad. Korlat says she senses sorcery among the women, but that they are made uneasy by Rake’s near presence. Suddenly, their power strikes out at the waiting Malazan army and the Tenescowri charge, but the army stands pat and then Rake arrives in “his fullest power” in Soletaken dragon form. The front lines of the Tenescowri, save Anaster, collapse and fall back. Rake swoops and grabs Anaster, then flings him aside as Anaster feels like “poison” to him. He swoops back and breathes Kurald Galain at the Tenescowri, dissolving (literally) a huge swath of the army, cutting it in two. When he wheels for another pass, the army scatters and runs. Rake lands and sembles before a group of the Women of the Dead Seed and before Whiskeyjack’s horrified eyes begins killing them with Dragnipur. Whiskeyjack rides out and between Rake and his next victim. When he tells Rake to stop, Rake says what he is doing “is a mercy,” but Whiskeyjack replies it is a “judgement . . . and a sentence,” referring to the sword. Rake accepts it but tells Whiskeyjack he must kill them then for they are regaining their powers. He refuses at first—“I am no executioner,” but Rake makes clear he’ll do it otherwise, so Whiskeyjack begins to kill them. When he is done, he looks up to see the army watching and thinks: “To have witnessed this. Now, I am indeed damned. From this, no return. No matter what the words of explanation, of justification. No matter the crimes committed by my victims. I have slain. Not soldiers, not armed opponents, but creatures assailed by madness, stunned senseless, uncomprehending.” And when he turns to see Rake, he begins to see: “This burden—you have taken it before, assumed it long ago . . . this burden that now assails my soul, it is what you live with, have lived with for centuries. The price for the sword on your back.” Rake says Whiskeyjack should have let him continue doing it, and that he would have, but did not want to fight Whiskeyjack, and so he caused Whiskeyjack pain by trying to spare him. Whiskeyjack realizes and apologizes to Rake for giving him no choice. Rake says Anaster has been captured and Whiskeyjack thinks they now have the luxury of time to use military justice: “that rigid structure that so easily absolves personal responsibility.” As they head off, Whiskeyjack sorrows over his biggest regret: “you asked me to step aside and you called it a mercy. I misunderstood you. A mercy not to the Women of the Dead Seed. But to me . . . I saw only your brutality—and that hurt you. Better for us both, had you crossed blades with me . . . I am not worth such friends. Old man . . make this your last war.”
When they find Anaster, held by Korlat and other Andii, he sees tears in her eyes. He notes riders from Dujek and Brood and is shamed again. Looking at Anaster, he sees he has lost an eye, and that he also looks “horrifyingly lifeless . . . fundamentally indifferent.” Anaster addresses him as his mother’s killer and when Whiskeyjack says he is sorry for that, Anaster replies “I am not. She was insane. A prisoner of herself, possessed by her own demons,” something Anaster says is “a plague, is it not? Ever spreading. Devouring lives. That is why you will, ultimately fail. All of you. You become what you destroy.” Rake answers that “no more appropriate words could come from a cannibal” and asks Anaster what he thinks they should do with him. Anaster momentarily seems to lose his strength/confidence and whispers “kill me.” Korlat says “he lost control. His fear has a face. One I have not seen before” and then tells Anaster “there is darkness within you . . . virulent cousin to Kurald Galain. A darkness of the soul.” Rake adds “a soldier’s face . . . From Capustan . . . one who promises something other than death, something far more terrible.” Anaster says it’s Itkovian and that he would rather they kill him now than let Itkovian take his soul. But Rake says he sees “no absolution in your particular madness . . . no cause for mercy” and says for now they’ll have him meet Itkovian and then decide. Dujek and Whiskeyjack agree. Anaster unsuccessfully tries to grab a dagger then collapses. Whiskeyjack edges closer to Dujek, who tells him “I comprehend your mercy. Rake’s sword—but could you not have waited.” Whiskeyjack says no and when Dujek says “executions demand procedures,” Whiskeyjack says then demote me. Dujek tells him that isn’t what he meant, “I know well enough the significance of such procedures—the real reason for their existing . . . A sharing of necessary but brutal acts.” Whiskeyjack finishes the idea—“diminishes the personal cost, aye”—and then says Rake could have handled it easily probably, Whiskeyjack “diminished his personal cost” and it’s done. Dujek says it doesn’t have to be but before he can continue Whiskeyjack cuts him off and says “no.” Korlat interrupts then and says Anaster “could not bear leading his army, could not bear to see the starvation, the loss and desperation, and so was resolved to send it to its death, to absolute annihilation. As an act of mercy . . . For himself he committed crimes that could only be answered with death. Execution at the hands of those survivors among his victims. But not a simple death . . . He seeks damnation as his sentence. An eternity of damnation.” When she says she can’t comprehend such “self-loathing,” Whiskeyjack thinks he can “for I feel as if I am tottering on the very edge of that steep slope myself.” Dujek moves off and Korlat tries to comfort Whiskeyjack by telling him the women were powerful with Chaos, that Rake’s attack—meant to kill—had only stunned them and that just momentarily, and that they would have wreaked havoc. Whiskeyjack says he gets it was necessary: “War has its necessities, Korlat, and I have always understood that. Always known the cost. But this day . . . I have realized something else. War is not a natural state. It is an imposition . . . With its rules, we willingly yield our humanity. Speak not of just causes, worthy goals. We are takers of life. Servants of Hood one and all.” When Korlat tries to point out the women would have killed hundreds or thousands, he continues: “I have commanded the same in my time. What difference is there between us?” Her reply is that he questions what he does. Whiskeyjack says it doesn’t matter, that his army has seen him commit murder, but he is immediately cut off by her intense response: “Do not dare underestimate them! I have come to know many of your soldiers. They are not fools . . . they understand . . . Do you not think that they—each in his or her own way—have faced the choice you faced this morning? The knifepoint turn of their lives? And every one of them still feels the scar within them . . . They witnessed. The saw, in fullest knowing . . . I felt the same. They hurt for you. With every brutal blow, they felt the old wounds within them resonate in sympathy. Commander, your shame is an insult. Discard it, or you will deliver unto your soldiers the deepest wound of all.” Whiskeyjack sees she is right (acknowledging it with her own words about human’s “lack of complexity”), but says he still fears to face them. She tells him they will “follow you into the Abyss, should you command,” which he calls “the most frightening though uttered thus far today.” When he mentions Dujek’s displeasure, she says he just want to keep the army alive. When Whiskeyjack objects, saying he has no interest in stealing Dujek’s authority, she tells him too late—you just did. That was, she adds, why Laseen demoted him and promoted Dujek—to upset the “natural order” Whiskeyjack just recreated. At first Whiskeyjack doesn’t buy it, but then realizes she is right, and that at Darujhistan Laseen didn’t want the Bridgeburners dead; she wanted him destroyed. Korlat warns him to be on guard; “your belief in honour is being used against you.”
Coll joins Murillio at the Mhybe’s wagon, tells him Silverfox and Kruppe haven’t been seen since yesterday and fills him in on the just completed events. They both think the Mhybe has been forgotten. Murillio says they are there simply to “oversee the descent,” “prisoners of this unwelcome circumstance as much as she is.” They decide to help her escape, to take her with them and find someone who might be able to help her in Capustan, even though it “will likely mean our financial ruin and all that might be achieved is a kinder end to her life.”
The Mhybe dreams of pursuit again, howls, “the voices of winter, and as she runs she finds a cavern, “a shaping of a soul, a soul lost within itself.” She enters, knowing “it was her mind that moved, her mind alone, leaving her body, questing out, seeking that chained beast. A man’s voice (Toc’s) asking “who?” startles her. She answers “a mother,” and he laughs: “Another game then? You’ve no words Mother. You’ve never had them . . . Leave me. I am beyond taunting. I circle my own chain, here in my mind. This place is not for you. Perhaps, in finding it, you think you’ve defeated my last line of defense . . . But you’ve no power here . . . I imagine seeing my own face as in a mirror. But it’s the wrong eye . . . staring back at me. And worse, it’s not even human . . . You and your kind played with winter. Omtose Phellack. But you never understood it. True winter . . . The face I see before me, Seer, is winter’s face. A wolf’s. A god’s.” The Mhybe tells hm her daughter knows wolves and Toc says “he does indeed.” When she corrects him on the gender, he calls her Seer again and she says “I am not who you think I am. I am an old woman. Of the Rhivi. And my daughter wishes to see me dead . . . She’s sent wolves after me. To rend my soul . . . I’ve come here to escape.” Toc refuses to believer her: I defy you . . . There is a god here, Seer, . . . Not even your dear mother, who holds me so tight, dares challenge him . . . he was lost. Lost. . . . I am helping him to find himself. He’s growing aware.” The Mhybe says she doesn’t understand, she came here to die, she is fleeing her daughter, and Toc answers: “Flight is an illusion. Even Mother comprehends that. I am not her child, yet she cannot help herself. She even possesses memories of a time when she was a true Matron . . . children who loved her, and other children—who betrayed her. And left her to suffer for eternity.” He describes how when she was free, and found the world so changed, her children dead and entombed, she went to the Seer, “her adopted son,” (“you”) and showed the Seer his power so she could use it to raise her children and rebuild their city, but it was a delusion that drove her crazy. And her insanity allowed the Seer to usurp her, imprison her. The Mhybe says her daughter did the same—asking if this is the curse of motherhood, to which Toc replies it is the curse of love. A howl arises, and Toc, though now in a deeper, different voice, says it is “My mate. She’s coming.” He howls in response and the Mhybe is thrown out of the cavern where the wolves find her. She awakens and Coll and Murillio see she shows the scratches of her dream and wonder if her nightmares are true. They recommit to getting her out of there when they get to Capustan.
Amanda’s Reaction to Chapter Nineteen:
I think it’s lovely and says yet more about the nature of the Malazans that Silverfox’s two marines follow her from the camp, even with all of Silverfox’s efforts otherwise. The prosaic nature of their chat about how hot the day is as they’re circled by undead wolves is just as lovely.
That has got to be something to see! Silverfox facing hundreds of thousands of undead warriors, silent and foreboding. The T’lan Imass are so sad, a race that is already dying through a terrible choice, part of an endless war, and with little remaining purpose. Just the memories that Kruppe dwells on: “Only memories of ice, of ice and no more than that. Gods below...such sorrow....”
Also, imagine the heartbreak of meeting once again someone you knew as a vital human being, one yet to make the change to undead warrior. Kruppe is such a compassionate individual that his reaction is exactly what I would imagine it to be.
This is the first time I’ve seen Silverfox act like a true child, with all the rebelliousness and anger that comes from abandonment issues. Pran Chole is merely an unfortunate target for the way that Silverfox feels about the manner of her birth, and undoubtedly the way in which she has been forced to treat the Mhybe.
Interesting that Silverfox makes a distinction between the T’lan Imass arriving for the Second Gathering and arriving purely due to her summons.
And who is Silverfox’s father? Tool? It feels a little convenient that it would be Tool actually since we’ve spent enough time with him to get to know him. Also, I have all my timelines screwed again... The Mhybe is Rhivi, Tool is T’lan Imass—how is that sort of *ahem* connection going to take place between them? Or do they mean that the magical essence of Tool was infused into the making of Silverfox?
A sad reflection from Kruppe, I think, on what a loss the Imass must have been to the world when they decided to go through with the ritual:
“I do remember you, Pran Chole, there in my dream-world. Your face, the compassion in your eyes. Would I the courage to ask: were you Imass once, in truth, all like this?”
I’m guessing this will be a key plot point:
“Logros T’lan Imass hunts renegades—our own kin, who have broken from the Vow.”
Eleint? Have we heard this in relation to dragons? Is Olar Ethil the Soletaken Undead dragon we have been seeing?
And those remaining armies? Will they end up materialising at an important point later?
Wow, we’re suddenly being hit with a lot of information about the Imass and their various factions. Kellanved is still causing a whole ripple of issues that probably couldn’t have been foreseen! Or maybe he did realise that him ascending and taking the Throne of Shadow would mean no one else could occupy the First Throne, thereby he would still be able to command the T’lan Imass? [Bill: There will some great discussion of this later—and some funny imagery associated with it.]
Oh hell, how horribly upsetting sad. The idea that the T’lan Imass have already served their purpose, have now seen their enemy reach a point where mere ascendants can deal with them. Their war has passed without them being aware of its end. God, how very sad—and the fact that Silverfox does refuse to release them from their bonds makes me angry with her, especially when it seems to be as a result of ‘not being abandoned again.’ Which of the souls within Silverfox is controlling her when she says that? I can’t imagine that Tattersail would be so bitter and angry.
Finally, finally we see Anomander Rake in his full power:
“The air seemed to descend on all sides, groaning beneath a vast, invisible weight. The sky darkened with a palpable dread.”
“Raw Kurald Galain issued from that maw. Roiling darkness [...] But now, the Elder Warren of Darkness was unleashed, wild.”
In a chapter that feels a little quiet, after the explosive events of the of the prior two, Erikson still manages to bring out a scene that is very special and moves on the characters involved. Here the scene between Whiskeyjack and Rake is incredibly well-wrought—Whiskeyjack’s horror at the sentence imposed on the witches; Rake’s sorrowing smile, realising that Whiskeyjack thinks the worst of him; the realisation of them having more to share—but what a burden to share... “Anomander Rake, how can you bear this burden? This burden that has so thoroughly broken my heart?”
Whiskeyjack is now broken in body and spirit, isn’t he? “When, before, did I ever fear witnesses to what I did or said? Queen of Dreams, forgive me. I have found myself in a living nightmare, and the monster that stalks me is none other than myself.”
This chapter deals a huge amount with the notion of mercy—Anomander wishing to prevent Whiskeyjack taking the burden; the mercy of killing Anaster; Anaster’s own mercy with regards to the army of Tenescowri; the misguided mercy of Whiskeyjack killing the witches so that they are not taken by Dragnipur. It’s very interesting seeing all of these different perspectives.
And a powerful description of war: “War is not a natural state. It is an imposition, and a damned unhealthy one. With its rules, we willingly yield our humanity. Speak not of just causes, worthy goals. We are takers of life. Servants of Hood, one and all.”
We also see the marked difference between Whiskeyjack and tyrants who destroy armies—he constantly questions and doubts himself, and wonders about his motivations.”Perhaps you see that as self-destructive ruthlessness, but I see it as courage—a courage that is extraordinary.”
Korlat’s recognition of the qualities of the Malazan soldiers is incredibly well done. And her warning to Whiskeyjack about ‘guarding his trust’ leaves me cold.
I feel saddened by Coll and Murillio’s talk—the indication that no one but them cares about the Mhybe (although this is all they could see; they are not privy to the fact that Kruppe and Silverfox have a longer term plan for the Mhybe). I really enjoy their compassion, their willingness to bankrupt themselves and anger those about them, to make the remainder of an old woman’s life more comfortable. Their pity would probably not be welcome to the Mhybe, though!
It is hard to know what to say about that final scene, where Toc rambles about the Matron and what he has realised while trapped in her embrace. There is a lot going on, and I’m sure most of it is being put in place for later moments in this book (and, indeed, the series). I do like the implication that Togg is also now present within Toc—and the latter’s admission to the person he thinks is the Seer that Togg would have denied the former access to Omtose Phellack had he not been lost at the time. Plenty to muse on, even from a short and sweet chapter!
Bill’s Reaction to Chapter Nineteen:
Like the humor to set the scene, since it’s going to turn so emotionally heavy in just a little bit.
One of the linguistic aspects of this scene that I really enjoyed was the use of cold and ice throughout—words associated with the Imass tundra, but in the readers’ minds more directly, I’d say, with their near-eternal foe the Jaghut. In a section of the book where so much focus has been on the theme of “we have become what we oppose,” I liked this merging of Imass sorrow/pain with Jaghut imagery of cold and ice. It begins when the T’lan Imass first appear and Kruppe thinks “the air was pungent with undeath, the gelid exhalation of dying ice.”
Then we’re into another running subject—memory—and then into the book’s title. It’s a poignant, painful process, wondering if indeed these creatures, in this undead existence, have any memory at all of actual life’s pleasures—sensual and emotional. And let’s not forget our prologue scene with the creatures trapped in ice as we continue with Kruppe’s thought here: “When frozen between life and death, in the glacial in-between, what can exist of mortal feeling? . . . Only memories of ice.” That line just stabs at you. It’s an abstract, philosophical pondering, but also an important question to file away.
It’s a smart move to shift from this very painful yet very abstract concept of massive loss and pain to a more personal one. Erikson gives us an individual focus for that poignancy via Kruppe’s connection to Pran Chole, and via Kruppe’s personal grief: “My heart breaks at the sight of you—at what you have become.”
It does break the heart, and it’s important our hearts be broken first, early, so that the rest of this scene plays against that background of sympathy and poignancy.
[Amanda: Do they mean that the magical essence of Tool was infused into the making of Silverfox?]
Kind of—she was created within his personal Telann warren space—they don’t mean he was literally the father in the “Did you have sex with that Rhivi woman?”—“Mhybe I did, Mhybe I didn’t” kind of way.
Tool, from after and not knowing what he is seeing, on the aftermath of Tattersail and Bellurdan’s encounter: “It is within the barrier I have cast around us . . . Something has been also born. I sense it, a new presence.”
And then later, the Rhivi to Pran Chole inside Kruppe’s dream:
“T’lan, the Telann Warren of the Imass of our time has birthed a child in a confluence of sorceries.”
And a bit of a tease with Tool—what is this “heart of his desire” that will be revealed when he meets Silverfox.
Another running theme—the assumption of burden. Itkovian is the literal assumer of burdens, obviously. Rake we’re told has been assuming them for millennia and has the literal symbol on his back. Whiskeyjack assumes a burden in the scene coming up. And here Pran Chole assumes the unfair burden of Silverfox’s anger. This is what the good people do in Erikson’s universe—they assume the burdens. They witness. They stand.
Yes, Amanda, we’ve seen Olar Ethil before—though we haven’t been officially introduced. We saw her in her dragon form rather than her Imass form: the dragon Kulp hitches a ride with and the dragon that lifts the Mhybe in her dreams. Be prepared for a lot more Olar Ethil—one of the more confusing characters from my point of view.
She offers up some teaser information. Jacuruku if you recall is the continent where Kallor had ruled. The lost clans is a real teaser—think about what it would take to wipe out three clans of T’lan Imass. We will hear more about that, as to whether we will see them, that would be telling....
We also get some clarification on the First Throne (which will play a very important role coming up) and why Laseen lost the use of the T’lan Imass after Kellanved ascended into Shadowthrone, though it said here some clans have now returned to the Empire’s service. It’s also an interesting side note, as you point out, Amanda, that Shadowthrone did not “yield” the First Throne, letting it sit unoccupied on purpose. File that bit of info.
Remember we’ve seen the group of T’lan Imass chasing the “renegades” in Deadhouse Gates, aboard the Silanda.
How oblivious is Silverfox’s self-pity when she begins to try to justify her harsh response to Pran Chole by saying she “felt” like she had waited for this moment for “a thousand lifetimes.” Just pause and think of that for a moment. Picture what she is looking at, what she is facing. What this scene opened up talking about. Then say her words out loud yourself imagining all that. It also reminded me of a teenager, an adolescent’s obliviousness and self-centeredness, which makes sense as in so many ways, Silverfox is still an adolescent.
The same, I think, is revealed in her shock that Kruppe has figured out they want an end to their eternal war. Looking at them, if one can see beyond the brutal efficiency and the bones, how could one think differently?
And then the narcissism to come out with “am to be abandoned again” in the fact of Kruppe’s logical laying out of why the Vow is no longer needed (the tyrants are now mostly human, not Jaghut—setting us up for a later scene as well—the Tyrants now face more than one force that can oppose them—ascendants, human empires, etc.), in the face of the revelation that the T’lan Imass tried to end it before with Kellanved, and the idea that they see themselves as existing without reason and it is destroying them.
All of which is followed by that back-breaking, heart-breaking image of tens of thousands of T’lan Imass folding to their knees and begging. Begging. I defy you not to be moved by that scene if you take a moment to linger on it.
We then get a momentary respite via a few lighthearted lines between Whiskeyjack and Korlat, followed by the “wow” moment of Rake’s appearance. (And who can blame the Tenescowri for running?) But it’s a relatively short-lived respite as we move to Whiskeyjack stepping between Rake and the next woman of the Dead Seed. Another echo scene, if you recall Whiskeyjack stepping between Rake and Silverfox with his sword drawn. This is another great moment in a book filled with them, especially in this large section we’ve been in the past few chapters. I love the way it moves us from emotional response to emotional response by constantly shifting underfoot. First our admiration for Whiskeyjack stepping in. Then our horror at what he does in killing the women, combined with more admiration for his care in causing no pain. Then our grand sympathy for him when he looks up and sees the army watching and thinks he is truly damned in the eyes of his soldiers. But then our sympathy shifts to Rake, as we realize with Whiskeyjack that this is the sort of thing he’s been doing for so many centuries—and we think of the weight he must carry. And then we shift back to sympathy for Whiskeyjack at his guilt over giving Rake no choice (note, too, the echo of Itkovian’s guilt at the close of the last chapter: “I gave her no choice” or to Gruntle’s “you could have at least asked”) and his statement that his heart has been broken by this act. And then, again, back to Rake for the realization of how much it must have hurt to have Whiskeyjack, not only deny Rake’s gift to him of mercy, but to see only Rake’s “brutality.”
Is it any surprise that an author who is an archaeologist/anthropologist offers up an examination of the use and meaning of ritual? This is what ritual is for—to get us through things, to keep us moving. We just saw the Mhybe discuss their importance via the separation/rite of passage rituals that she and Silverfox never got. And here we get Dujek and Whiskeyjack explaining the ritual of military justice—the spreading out of brutality across an entire army/governing body so as to shield the individual soul from necessary brutalities.
And here we come ‘round again to the “we are become what we loathe” theme. We’ve seen/heard it several times recently and here it comes again via Whiskeyjack: “speak not of just causes, worthy goals. We are takers of life . . . What difference is there between us?” And Korlat’s answer is, if one excepts intent, perhaps the only one there is—the willingness to question constantly such acts, the “clarity of eye” that Itkovian referenced earlier. The fact that such acts have an impact on those that do them; they do not shrug them off. Nor do they become a matter of course.
I, too, absolutely love Korlat’s fierce defense of his men—I can hear the anger and indignation in her voice as she “hisses” at him: “do not dare!” (Note too her use of one of our key words—”witness.”) We shift from sorry and shame and pity, and now to inspiration and pride, fierce pride with Korlat, in these nameless soldiers, these “grunts”, most of whom we’ll never know as readers, but who are elevated here in this scene to be worthy of attention and dignity. Love this moment.
And then this line, “Your army will follow you into the Abyss, should you so command.” File.
And while we’re at the cabinet—Anaster with one eye. File. An echo of an echo....
Another echo—Anaster’s lines about his mother: “She was . . . a prisoner of herself, possessed by her own demons.” A mother. In a prison of her mind. Tormented by her demons. Hmmm... sound familiar?
And while we’re on Anaster, should we look at him as yet another example of a “flip?”— the cannibal, the child of a raped corpse and a madwoman, leader of an army of cannibals, who sat in the Prince’s throne and fed on him, is given another side: the one who led the army to kill it, to put it out of its misery, “to relieve the suffering.” By now we should be familiar with this pattern—of a character or a group or a scene presented from one view so as to set our stance, and then Erikson twisting around to another side and forcing us to shift our feet as he does so, recalibrating as it were our stance. We may end up in the same spot as before, we may not; but he forces us to re-think it, to not simply accept the first impression unquestionably. And we can see this as yet another character in this section of the book who has opted to take on a burden. But Anaster’s crimes are so great (as even he acknowledges via not simply a “death-wish” but an “eternal-damnation wish,” can Erikson turn us to sympathy or empathy for such a character?
And now we’ve got Toc and the Mhybe together, a moment we’ve been moving toward for a while now. We’ve got a few revelations in poor Toc’s ravings as he speaks to what he thinks is the Seer cruelly taunting him: he sees the Wolf God in him—that face in the mirror. The Wolf God, as we know from earlier in the book, has been lost. The Wolf God is “finding himself”—he is becoming aware. Which is an interesting mirror to Trake I’d say. In one, we had a human intellect lose itself in the beast and come back to its human senses just as it dies (kind of). Here we have a beast who lost its sense of itself and is coming back within a human. Will it die? Will it be a true mirror and come to life? What will happen to Toc? The Wolf-God’s mate (and note how Toc’s referents have shifted to “my” mate, not “the god’s” mate) is on her way. And we certainly know of a wolf-like creature—Baaljaag—moving toward Toc. Remember Baaljaag in Toc’s vision back in chapter 7 and the meeting with the Elder God.
Beyond the Wolf God connections, we’re given more reason to feel some empathy for the K’Chain Matron—her memories (that word again) of having children, of loving them and being loved by them, of being betrayed by other children (hmm, a child’s betrayal to a mother—echo), her despair at finding the world so changed—all, including her children, turned to “dust” (there’s an echo and thus a linkage to the Imass), her imprisonment by her traitorous adopted child (pattern anyone?), and her loss of sanity (hmmm).
The players are being put into place and we’re about to come ‘round the far turn.
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.
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.