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.
Coral City is described, an extremely narrow harbor like a fjord that nearly bisects the city. Instead of docks, the cliffs are cut into long piers, with netting hanging down to serve as a place for the ships’ anchors. The netting workers were known as cat-men. The Seer had told Toc that Coral, though many times assaulted, had never fallen, and so he is happy to retreat to it via a scorched earth policy, content to give up Setta, Maurik, and Lest to the invading alliance, while the invasion from the south will be halted by a rough sea he has filled with ice. To defend Coral, he tells Toc he has cadres of mages, a thousand K’Chain Kell Hunters, and elite soldiers. As Toc enters the city with a Seerdomin (warrior priest), the Seerdomin points out the corpses in the netting and tells him all the cat-men and families had all starved to death. Toc cannot stand without assistance, his muscles atrophied and bones twisted and broken. The Seerdomin has given him his cloak, a sign of compassion that surprises Toc. As he looks at the ocean, Toc thinks no matter the Seer’s words, Baaljaag would not be bent from the path the wolf goddess has set to rejoin her mate that lies within Toc. Nor would, he thinks, Tool or the Seguleh give up, though he guesses Envy and the wounded Garath will “tire of the hunt,” especially as Envy was less driven than carried by whim. He thinks he should apologize to Envy for his mocking, leaving “detachment . . . to the gods.” The Seerdomin interrupts his thoughts with memories of his childhood in Coral. He recalls good memories at first, then tells how his father returned home one night to find “his family had embraced the Faith. His wife to the Tenescowri. His sons to the ranks, eldest begun schooling as a Seerdomin . . . seeing my uniform. Seeing my mother—hearing her mindless shrieks. Seeing my brothers with spears . . . my sisters naked and clinging to men thrice their age . . . he tacked into the offshore breeze. I watched his sail until I could see it no more. It was my way . . . of saying good luck. Of saying well done.” Toc wonders how the Seer could have done these things to his own people. When the bell signals his time to return to the Matron, he thanks the Seerdomin for the cloak. When the Seerdomin offers his help, saying, “Your weight is as nothing,” Toc responds, “easily borne, you mean,” and the Seerdomin replies, “I did not say that.”
Itkovian and Captain Norul watch as Hedge and the sappers take down an unsafe building, before continuing on their way to the meeting of commanders. The new Destriant is in charge of an internment camp set up for the Tenescowri, who will soon be recruited for the Grey Swords. At the gate, they come across Gruntle and Stonny, who tell him the Mask Council has already gone in for a “private chat.” Gruntle tells her not to worry as Keruli is with them, but she’s furious they take any leadership after they hid while the Grey Swords fought and died. Itkovian tells her they are the only leadership left. They spot Humbrall Taur coming and decide to try and catch up with the Council once the Barghast arrive.
Taur, Hetan, and Cafal are angry as well at the Mask Council’s “attempted usurpation.” As they near the carriage with Rath’Hood, Rath’Burn, Rath’Shadowthrone, and Keruli in it, Itkovian grieves for his friends now dead. They catch up to the carriage, and Stonny and Rath’Shadowthrone exchange insults.
Picker and Blend watch Paran and Quick Ben preparing to head over to the meeting. Blend tells Picker what she’s heard: the Tenescowri being fed, the Grey Swords losing Fener and switching gods to Togg and Fanderay and now recruiting among the Tenescowri. Paran and Quick Ben come over looking for Spindle and Picker tells Paran he went off with Antsy and Detoran and maybe a few others to speak to a ruler of a southern city who wanted to meet with a representative of Dujek’s army. Paran is horrified at the idea of Antsy as spokesperson, and tells her to go collect them and send the ruler to the Thrall. Bauchelain and Broach show up and demand supplies—food, water, clothing—and “respect,” and Picker knocks him unconscious with a punch while Blend coldcocks Broach from behind. Reese arrives and Picker tells him to inform the necromancers of the “proper forms of address when they awaken.” She and Blend leave.
As they ride past the internment camp, Paran says there’s going to be trouble with the Capans wanting to kill them all, with the Mask Council’s blessing (as he tells Quick this, he thinks he sees something come and go on Quick Ben’s shoulder—Talamandas). Quick says the Grey Swords will defend the Tenescowri and when Paran says the residents might attack despite them, Quick Ben says they’ll think twice before attacking the Grey Swords who defended them and who survived the siege. They spot some riders from the north, led by Silverfox. Paran tells Quick Ben the Second Gathering has happened, thinking to himself: “she’s stopped reaching out to me. Tattersail. Nightchill. Bellurdan—something’s happened. Something unexpected.” When Quick Ben asks if Tattersail is still dominant, Paran says he doesn’t know, but that Silverfox is not a “Bonecaster in truth” and the Malazans should no longer assume they can predict her actions. They let the riders catch up (Silverfox, Kruppe, the two marines). Paran can tell Silverfox is upset, angry, hurt and senses “she’s thrown up a wall between us . . . she’s become guarded, a possessor of secrets.” When Quick Ben starts to ask Silverfox cuts him off and says she isn’t going to tell him anything, saying, “The anger you would face is Nightchill’s, and the rest of us will do nothing to restrain it.” Paran realizes “if anything truly existed between us, it is now over. She has left Tattersail behind . . . Perhaps we have both moved on. The pressure of what we have grown into, our hearts cannot overcome.”
The parties reach the bottom of the hill where the parley is to meet and Itkovian sends Norul ahead to speak for the Grey Swords, as he is no longer part. Realizing his uniform is still that of an officer by the reaction of the Malazan soldiers around, he drops his symbols of rank to the ground and then exchanges his rich helmet for a plain Malazan one with one of the soldiers. Itkovian asks if the soldier thinks the parley group would mind if he went near to watch and the soldier says, “they’d be honored.” Itkovian says he doubts it and then asks how he can go without being noticed. As he passes, the Malazans salute him. He is impressed by the camp he walks through. When he arrives, he sees that the parley hasn’t begun and he wonders if there has already been an argument. Brood notices him there and says they’ve been waiting for him, calling him Defender of Capustan. Itkovian objects, saying to his “shame” that title does not belong to him as he “failed” by not holding the city long enough to be relieved. Brood tells him he only failed because the task was impossible, but Itkovian says he doesn’t wish to debate semantics, and that as he leads nobody, and any “responsibilities that I must one day embrace are mine to bear, and thus must be borne alone,” he wishes to simply observe. Brood says Itkovian is welcome here and the parley begins. Keruli asks where the Andii and Rake are, as well as Moon’s Spawn. Brood says they will not discuss tactics, that Capustan was only a temporary stop on the way to finish this war, and that while Moon’s Spawn and the Andii will play a part, the alliance will not say more about it. Keruli says that while Brood is right that the Masked council’s primary concern is the city, that because it is made up of servants of gods, they know of the concern in the pantheon: the Grey Swords going from lost Fener to the Wolf gods, Gruntle become Mortal Sword of Trake, the Barghast gods reawakening, and Brood with Burn’s hammer. Kallor interrupts to ask harshly why Keruli is the only one on the Council not wearing a mask and thus not revealing his god. When Keruli asks if Kallor still “cart [s] that meaningless throne” around, Kallor recognizes him as K’rul: “I thought it was you” and mocks his disguise. When Keruli/K’rul says, “issues of physical manifestation have proved problematic,” Kallor gloats K’rul has lost his power, but K’rul clarifies that “it has evolved, and so I am forced to adjust, and learn.” Kallor says that means he can kill K’rul, but Keruli/K’rul replies “in your dreams. But then you no longer dream, do you, Kallor? The Abyss takes you into its embrace each night. Oblivion, your own personal nightmare.” Brood warns Kallor his patience with him is wearing thin and when Kallor reveals Keruli is K’rul, Brood answers, “I had gathered as much.” Again, Keruli corrects him, saying he is “a limited manifestation.” Gruntle, angry, brings up Harllo’s death and Keruli says he regrets he couldn’t save him. Rath’Shadowthrone then interrupts, arguing Keruli can’t sit on the Council, which makes Whiskeyjack laugh out loud. Brood tells Keruli/K’rul that he assumes he and the priests will figure out what they can do to deal with whatever threats are affecting the pantheon and the warrens, noting the source of the threats isn’t the Seer himself, but says this meeting is to deal with the march logistics. K’rul says fine, though he expects “a few masks coming off in these proceedings.” The Barghast suggest how to split the forces—one to Setta, one to Lest, then meet at Maurik and march on Coral. The Barghast go with Dujek and the Grey Swords with Brood. They all agree. Rath’Burn then turns to Brood and says, “To you was entrusted the task of awakening [Burn] at the time of her greatest need” and accuses Brood of deceiving Burn by not doing so yet. Brood answers, “I have constrained her.” When Gruntle wonders aloud how the gods never seem to learn with regard to mortals, Rath’Burn calls him a fool and says “If Brood does not act, Burn will die. And when she dies, so too does all life on this world. This is the choice . . . Topple a handful of corrupt civilizations or absolute annihilation.” She then demands that Brood give her the hammer. Brood, surprising her, does, but when she grabs it her wrists and arms break. While Artanthos, at Dujek’s order, gets a healer, Brood tells the priestess: “The difference between you and your goddess, woman, is faith. You see only two options . . .so did the Sleeping Goddess, at first. She gave to me the weapon . . . and the freedom to choose. It has taken a long while for me to understand what else she gave to me. I have withheld acting . . . and thought myself a coward . . . yet a small wisdom has finally lodged itself in my head.” K’rul finishes the thought: “Burn’s faith . . . that you would find a third choice.” Mallet arrives but Brood heals her himself, and the purity of his Denul warren shocks those who can see it. K’rul stands suddenly and looks at the arrival of Paran’s group, specifically at Quick Ben, who makes eye contact with K’rul and shrugs (Itkovian thinks “strangely uneven [ly]—as if some invisible weight burdened his left shoulder), at which K’rul sighs. Kallor demands to know how Brood’s warren was not poisoned and K’rul says, “It seems the illness has been pushed back from this location. Temporary, yet sufficient. Perhaps this is another lesson in the powers of faith, which I shall endeavour to heed,” and Itkovian thinks K’rul is speaking in two layers, one for the general group and one aimed specifically at Quick Ben. Silverfox mentions to Brood about him sending Korlat after her and he says it was merely to find out where she was, though Korlat appears lost since she hasn’t returned. Silverfox says the Ay are guiding her back. Brood asks if the Second Gathering is done and when Silverfox says yes, he wants to know if the T’lan Imass will be joining them. She answers that the T’lan Imass have “tasks . . . that will require a journey to the Pannion Domin” and says they will deal with any K’Chain. When she refuses to say more about the tasks, Kallor says they want the Seer because he is a Jaghut. Silverfox asks Kallor what they would do if they captured him, calling him insane due to Chaos and the Crippled God’s manipulations. She says execution is the only answer and that killing Jaghut is what the T’lan Imass exist for. Dujek interrupts to say “not always,” saying one of the T’lan Imass freed Raest in Darujhistan. Silverfox admits that is true, and says she doesn’t really understand why, but says in any case Raest was killed. Paran, though, steps in to say Raest is actually alive and K’rul explains he was taken by the Azath house. Silverfox says it doesn’t really matter, and if Tool broke his vow, she’ll deal with him. But Dujek says she’s missing his point: “You make a claim that the T’lan Imass and what they do or don’t do is separate from everyone and everything else. You insist on detachment . . . what you assert is patently untrue.” She says maybe the Logros were “confused” but no longer. Silverfox asks if anyone will deny their claim on the Seer and when Brood and Dujek say no, Itkovian looks at Kruppe, who is smiling, and thinks: “This is a most fell gathering of powers here. Yet why do I believe that the very epicenter of efficacy lies with this strange little man? He holds even K’rul’s regard, as would an admiring companion rest eyes upon a lifelong prodigy of sort . . . whose talents have come to overwhelm his master’s. But there is no envy in that regard, nor even pride—which always whispers of possessiveness . . . the emotion is far more subtle, and complex.” The meeting shifts to discussion of supply and Itkovian turns to leave and is met by Paran, Whiskeyjack, Korlat, and Quick Ben. Looking at Korlat, he is stunned by “such sadness—-an eternity of loss—empty existence . . . Not for my embrace . . . some wounds can never be healed, some memories should never be reawakened. Cast no light upon that darkness. It is too much.” He realizes suddenly he has no god protecting him anymore, that he was now fully “vulnerable to the world’s pain, to its grief.” The Malazans ask him to join them for a drink and he agrees. As they head off, Quick Ben mentions Silverfox and Itkovian says, “She has done a terrible wrong yet upon her shoulders it weighs nothing.” Quick Ben says that is not good and Paran says it’s Nightchill: “And to make matters worse, Nightchill was—is—a whole lot more than what we’d thought. Not just a High Mage . . . She’s all hard edge—her mate Bellurdan was her balance, but of the Thelomen I sense nothing . . . [and Tattersail] is in the shadows. Observing.” When Paran describes it as a “war of wills,” Itkovian corrects him, saying there is no war, that Silverfox is “in agreement. She is calm within,” which Quick Ben says is the most surprising news of the day. Kruppe joins them and says not to worry about Silverfox. He then relates the story of Togg and Fanderay, how they were separated by the Crippled God’s fall, how the Elder Gods tried to help but they were younger then and “did not find ascendancy walking in step with humans or those who would one day become humans.” He says Silverfox is united: “a spirit of hard edges to hold the others to their course . . . another to clasp hard the hurt of abandonment until it can find proper answer. And yet a third spirit, filled with love and compassion . . . and a fourth . . . Pran Chole’s daughter, the one whose true name is indeed the one by which we all know her.” They head off to drink.
The two marines, still with Silverfox, are joined by Haradas (the Trygalle mage) and Norul. Haradas asks Silverfox if Telann is unaffected by the poison and if the Guild could use it to supply the armies. Silverfox says it is not poisoned but still potentially dangerous due to renegade T’lan and the Throne of the Beast Hold being contested. She asks if Haradas needs Silverfox to make a portal into it and the sorceress says the Guild has long known how to but hasn’t out of respect and because they had other “less uncivilized” warrens available. Silverfox finds this “remarkable,” especially as none of the Empire’s best mages could do it. Norul tells Silverfox the Grey Swords have sworn to Togg and Fanderay, who will soon be reunited. When she expresses surprise at Silverfox’s lack of knowledge about this, Silverfox begins to say she has nothing to do with “ancient wolf-gods” but then realizes what is coming. Norul asks Silverfox to yield the Ay—“the children of our gods.” Silverfox tells her she needs them “for a gift. A repayment. I have sworn.” Norul objects that the Ay are not “owned” and were caught up in the Ritual originally “in ignorance. Bound by loyalty and love to the flesh and blood Imass. As a result, they lost their souls . . . my gods . . . demand reparation.” Silverfox says no, not until the wolf-gods come physically and manifest their power.” When she asks Norul if the wolf-gods would actually war with the T’lan Imass, Norul says “Togg and Fanderay are ascended beasts. Their souls are unknowable to such as you and me. Who can predict what lies in the hearts of such creatures?” She adds that they will converge with the armies at Coral. Hetan joins them with food and wine, and expresses an interest in bedding Kruppe.
Coll and Murillio prepare to spirit the Mhybe out.
Envy’s group looks out from shore at a rough ocean filled with mountains of ice. Garath is badly wounded and won’t let anyone come near. Baaljaag is also wounded with a spear shaft in the shoulder still, but will not let Envy or the Seguleh tend to the wound. When she wonders how they’ll follow Tool across, Mok says he will face Tool. When Envy asks how the First or Second would react to his putting self-interest over the mission, he says “the demands of the self have primacy always, else there would be no champions . . . no hierarchy at all. The Seguleh would be ruled by mewling martyrs blindly trampling the helpless in their lust for the common good. Or we would be ruled by despots who would hide behind an army to every challenge, creating of brute force a righteous claim to honor.” He says they need to talk and when she brings up the fleeing army, he accuses her of sending plague among them and adds that Garath suffers from it. She tells him that’s nonsense, but he tells her it’s the same symptoms as what the Pannions have. She says fine, “but don’t you see the irony? Poleil, Queen of Diseases, has allied herself with the Crippled God . . . how cunning of me to loot her warren and so beset her allies.” He suggests neither the victims nor Garath appreciate the irony. She heals Garath, who then bares his teeth at her and growls. Mok tells Garath they still need Envy and she says “he can’t understand you. He’s a dog.” Near the shore, they see an iceberg has captured a Meckros city—“cities that ride the oceans.” They decide to use it as a means to cross. They find a T’lan Imass there in very bad shape. She says she has come for the Summons/Gathering: “I am Lanas Tog. Sent to bring word of the fates of the Ifayle T’lan Imass and of my own Kerluhm T’lan Imass . . . I am the last of the Kerluhm. The Ifayle . . . are all but destroyed . . . cannot extricate themselves from the conflict [on] the continent of Assail. Our losses: 29000 Kerluhm. 22,200 Ifayle . . . We have lost this war.” When Envy says “it seems you’ve finally found a Jaghut Tyrant who is more than your match,” Lanas says, “Not Jaghut. Human.”
Amanda’s Reaction to Chapter Twenty:
The “two gods from before the time of men and women” must be Togg and Fanderay—they are certainly starting to take their place at the forefront of the story.
What a bitter and dark beginning to this chapter, as we first learn about the uniqueness of the cat-people and then we learn that, as a people, they starved thanks to trade going elsewhere. Just another indication from Erikson that we are only reading ONE story, and that there are many others to explore that we just hear whispers about.
I also want to call out the fact that most authors seem more effective at either dialogue OR description—but Erikson is surprisingly efficient at both. His prose never soars in the same way that other authors does—mostly it is brisk and perfunctory (like the soldiers he represents)—but, equally, it is wholly satisfying to read whether he tells us about the sea and the locations of Coral, or has two of his characters talking together. Good job. *smiles*
Makes me shudder thinking about what the Seer still has in reserve in terms of forces that “our” guys will have to fight through. “His vast cordon of mages, the thousand or more K’Chain Che’Malle K’ell Hunters, the elite legions of his main army.”
Toc. Poor Toc. He has lost any sense of mischievousness and fun now, hasn’t he? His time with Lady Envy and Tool seems a world away. My heart is bleeding for him:
“I am not the brave man I once was, if it was indeed bravery and not simple stupidity. Mocking’s been taken from my nature.”
How much of this is to do with the embrace of the Matron and his conversations with the Seer, and how much to do with the wolf within him who is on the ascendancy and seeks his mate?
The compassion of the unnamed Seerdomin is painful to witness—his gentle reminiscences about his life before the Seer took his life remind us, yet again, that the common man is the victim of war.
I think I’m being dense for not quite understanding what is going on in this exchange:
“Come, lean on me while we walk - your weight is as nothing.”
They slowly made their way towards the building. “Easily borne, you mean.”
“I did not say that, Malazan. I did not say that.”
The Tenescowri are hard to take—obviously, they were ordinary people forced into the extraordinary, but there were others who resisted rather than join their ‘cult’. I don’t have much sympathy for them, and I certainly resent the fact that the Grey Swords are willing to put themselves between the citizens of Capustan and the Tenescowri. I don’t think the latter deserve it. No doubt Erikson will take great glee in upturning this particular perspective and making me feel differently about the personalities involved. And I guess that is the point—right now the Tenescowri are a faceless, seething mass. As soon as personalities are identified and personal stories are given, there is something to invest in and root for. [Bill: hmm, “root for” might be pushing it with this group.] Erikson’s skill is definitely in moving past the epic and identifying the real men and women within the overall arc.
Ha, Picker and Blend come through with the humour once again—from the fact that Blend says the loss of Fener is not relevant because she doesn’t actually know, to the way that Paran responds to the idea that Antsy is representing Dujek Onearm, to the last moments where Blend and Picker take down Bauchelain and Korbal Broach! Those two are not having much luck versus the Bridgeburners, are they? *snickers*
Here we have an interesting perspective on Silverfox from Paran, and who is now dominant within her. Sounds like it is the Imass in truth—Tattersail and Nightchill are observing, by the sounds of it. I’m rather glad that the Tattersail/Paran storyline is coming to a close, by the sounds of it—although I did like their relationship in Gardens of the Moon, I was a little disturbed by the fact that Tattersail was in the body of a young girl. And Paran so definitely was disturbed as well!
Paran’s thoughts as he considers the fact that he has now lost Tattersail in truth echo something we’ve been hearing for a while now: “We’ve tasks before us.” It echoes the words of Itkovian, and the idea of duty that we’ve had from Whiskeyjack and Anomander Rake. Things are getting serious.
The same four representatives of the Masked Council are involved, aren’t they? Those whose gods are ever more active—Rath’Shadowthrone, Rath’Hood, Rath’Burn and Keruli. I do wonder at the inclusion of Rath’Shadowthrone. I mean, we know that Shadowthrone has a big old plan, but he doesn’t seem to be one who would play well with others. Why is he included in this particular group? [Bill: I think we should be careful of assuming the gods’ and their priests are necessarily of the same mindset. Think of the precedents we’ve already seen: Heboric cast out and punished, Rath’Fener’s betrayal, Rath’Burn’s lack of faith in her god, etc. We’ll see even more direct disagreement between god and priest later as well.]
There is a fantastic juxtaposition between the attitudes of the priests and the attitude of Itkovian. Their absolute lack of humility versus his humble reaction to the Malazan soldier, and his desire to be rid of the trappings of power. Also, what bets can I take on the fact that Itkovian will be meeting this soldier again? I shall remember the name of Azra Jael! Although, given that he will probably appear again in several books’ time, I’m sure I will have forgotten him and will plaintively ask where we heard the name before. *grins*
Here, again, Itkovian’s humility:
“Itkovian strode through the cordon, the soldiers to either side stepping back a measured pace to let him pass, then saluting as he did so. Misplaced courtesy, but appreciated none the less.”
Oh wow, I am loving this scene where Caladan Brood greets Itkovian—how long will Itkovian carry the grief and guilt of not being able to hold Capustan? I hate that he has taken the blame, but I guess this is part of his role as Shield Anvil.
Oooh, a stinging exchange between Rath’Shadowthrone and Keruli:
“Just as well Rake isn’t here,” Rath’Shadowthrone said, his mask fixed in a sneer. “He’s hopelessly unpredictable and outright murderous company.”
“To which your god can attest,” Keruli smiled.
I really, really, really suspect this is no longer the case—or won’t be for much longer: “...the only truly unaspected agents at this table are High Fist Dujek and his second, Whiskeyjack. The Malazans.” Well, hey, they’re not aligned with a particular god or ascendant—but might they all become ascendants? [Bill: Recall, it’s already been discussed with the Tanno Spiritwalker in DG.]
Huh! All this time I thought that Keruli was just a representative of K’rul, not the man himself! Imagine realising that a true Elder God sits among you! That must be absolutely mind-boggling! Although not, apparently, for Stonny, who comes out with this magnificent piece of dialogue: “Does your god truly know how small your brain really is? What is the issue? Elder Gods don’t know the secret handshake? His mask is too realistic?”
So what is Caladan Brood’s third path concerning the hammer of Burn? Is it simply to make no choice at all and carry the burden? I didn’t completely follow, but I did love seeing Rath’Burn put in her place. She has lost her faith and Rath’Shadowthrone seems to have no idea about how his god would react to any given situation—are there any of the Masked Council who truly represent the gods whose faces they wear? [Bill: The third path is to find a third path—an option besides the obvious two. As for the Masked Council, one begins to wonder if the masks are to hide their true selves from their gods.]
I can see a fearful confrontation between Tool and Silverfox coming—not only do they have links thanks to the circumstances of Silverfox’s birth and the power that Tool gave to this undertaking, but now Silverfox is gunning for Tool because he freed a Jaghut Tyrant and did not kill it. I can see sparks flying....
This is perfect—Kruppe still totally mystifies me, but I’m loving the mystery:
“This is a most fell gathering of powers here. Yet why do I believe that the very epicentre of efficacy lies with this strange little man?”
Now and then we’re reminded of something about which we’re already aware, but that we don’t really know—here, the Tiste Andii sorrow:
“Fener’s tusks, such sadness - an eternity of loss...empty existence [...] Not for me. Not for my embrace. Not that. Some wounds can never be healed, some memories should never be re-awakened. Cast no light upon that darkness, sir. It is too much-”
Hmmm, this is a rather large revelation—the fact that, contrary to expectations from others, Nightchill, Silverfox, Tattersail and Bellurdan are all in accord. We’ve all been talking about the fact that one of them would “win,” but right now Silverfox is of one mind.
Isn’t Kruppe frustrating? And that is all I shall say on the subject. [Bill: let the Kruppe comments commence!]
Heh, I love that this group of powerful women has come together to set the world to rights! And now I’m impossibly intrigued about the leaders of the Trygalle Trade Guild thanks to Haradas’ admission that they are able to access a super secret warren... Will we ever learn more about them?
The T’lan Ay are connected to the gift Silverfox is planning to give to the Mhybe? Or am I way off?
I enjoy the interludes with Murillio and Coll—this bit with the horses reminds me very clearly of my own experiences with horses. *dry*
Okaaaaay, so the Seguleh have destroyed swathes of the Seer’s army and this is the result? “Minor wounds crisscrossed their arms, thighs and shoulders, the deeper ones roughly stitched with gut, the rows of knots black and gummed with old blood that streamed crimson in the rain.” Badass!
I do enjoy the Seguleh’s attitude to the manner in which other civilisations order themselves: “The Seguleh would be ruled by mewling martyrs blindly trampling the helpless in their lust for the common good. Or we would be ruled by despots who would hide behind an army to every challenge, creating of brute force a righteous claim to honour.”
How many repercussions will that plague have that Lady Envy sent?
Lady Envy is so capricious and whimsical! “I will lay waste to your loins. I will make your eyes crossed so that everyone who looks at you and your silly mask will not be able to help but laugh.” Is it more or less scary that there is someone so capricious with that much power?
And wow, cliffhanger end to this section of the book:
“The continent of Assail. Our losses: twenty-nine thousand eight hundred and fourteen Kerluhm. Twenty-two thousand two hundred Ifayle. Eight months of battle. We have lost this war.”
Caused by human, no less... I think we’ll be seeing waaaay more about this!
Onwards and upwards, my friends... The convergence of this novel comes next!
Bill’s Reaction to Chapter Twenty:
We have another one of those broad scene settings here, with the description of Coral Bay and the city. It’s another example of how an author can do some worldbuilding in a concise fashion and without feeling like he/she is interrupting the narrative with some clunky “look how different this all is.” The shift in geographic setting affords an obvious and natural move to a little bit of background to set the new scene. So we don’t question at all why we’re getting this detailed physical description of the cliffs and bay, and from there it’s a smooth movement to the harbor’s workings—the nets and catmen—and it is all so vivid and sharp, without being overly long, that it creates this wonderful sense of a city fully existent and unique. It’s like a curtain pulled aside, or a tableau viewed from a passing car, where you can extrapolate an entire story from the glimpse you just had. The city comes alive so well, in fact, that we mourn its passing even as we first meet it. Perhaps to ensure that sense of grief over this city’s death—not only of the inhabitants but of the customs that made it so unique—we move from the omniscient sort of objective narrative description to the Seerdomin’s personal memories and tragedy, and thus his grief becomes our grief. By the way—a tiny little thing, but interesting to note the way “darkness” is so prominent in the early description.
The Seerdomin is another one of those minor Erikson characters that I fell in love with. Here, I love the way he’s introduced to us: first as the “detached” narrator, then the shift from holding Toc to prevent him committing suicide to holding him to keep him upright (which can be read in two ways: an act of cruelty to force him to see or an act of assistance), then the tiny telling act of giving Toc his cloak. Then I get one of those moments I often get in Erikson, where I think he’s over-told things—“hinted to the Malazan that the man at his side still possessed a shred of humanity”—which is where I go “I got it already; no need to highlight it,” and then the next line comes showing me that it wasn’t to hit me over the head, but to show me something wholly different, in this case how far Toc has fallen: “the discovery had brought water to his eyes.” Without that line, the bit about the “shred of humanity” is banging us over the head; with that additional line though, our focus shifts from the Seerdomin to Toc and our hearts are broken yet again. Not for the last time with this man.
Then, following the pattern we’ve noted several times by now, we get a very clear explanation of what before had been hinted at or been at least a little confusing. This one is what is going on with Toc and the wolf gods and here we get Toc stating it all very bluntly: “A goddess hid within [Baaljaag] driving ever onward . . . to find her mate. The mate who hides within me.”
I find it interesting how Toc thinks Envy will give up the pursuit, seeing her as a creature of “whims.” Which she certainly is, but knowing that, it still seems to me she’s not the type to turn away from something if the turning away is not her idea. I can see her dropping something out of boredom or because something shinier came along, but I feel the moment someone tells Envy—“you can’t have that”—she’s going to try all the more to have it.
I like that double play in Toc’s line describing the Seer’s heart: “Where the winds are even colder.”
Then, once again, we’re given reason to like the Seerdomin. First because he doesn’t respond to Toc’s insult with the automatic cruelty one expects of a prison guard, especially one working for a cannibalistic regime. Then, his description of Coral in his youth, the way it begins with sensuality: “Coral’s wind was warm. Soft, caressing as a lover’s breath.” It’s hard not to automatically respond positively to someone who thinks in such aesthetic and romantic terms. Hard as well not to smile at a man’s memories of his boyhood self waiting for his father to come home from work. And then yet again, with the way his younger self rather than rage at this father wished him luck, sent him off with his blessing.
Finally, in this scene, we get a sense of guilt via the way he says Toc’s weight is not “easily borne.” What is going on here Amanda is the Seerdomin says Toc’s emaciated body weighs nothing, meaning it literally (with some exaggeration obviously). Toc says because he weighs so little, he is “easily borne.” The Seerdomin then moves from the literal to the metaphorical—while Toc’s body is easily borne due to lack of weight, the weight of Toc’s sorrow and pain is a heavy burden for the Seerdomin to bear.
A question that arises from all this, of course, is will this man who is being set up as someone with good qualities do something to help Toc? It adds a bit of suspense to this plot line, besides giving us another character to enjoy.
I like how, after we have a chapter with Itkovian “cleansing” the city, Erikson doesn’t let us off the hook by pretending a spiritual cleansing is the same as a physical one. And doesn’t let us revel too easily in such a cleansing, or the victory that allowed here. So we need this scene with the bodies being retrieved and tossed onto “fly-swarmed” carts and wagons; we need that stench of decay to keep us grounded in the reality of what war entails. A few pages later we get more of this kind of reminder as Itkovian recalls the names and face of the dead—his friends that he can now acknowledge as friends: “these had been his friends. A truth I dared not approach.” And that’s a nice echo of long ago back in GoTM—that scene with Whiskeyjack: looking at his squad. “He saw the caring in their eyes, the open offer to the friendship he’d spent years suppressing.”
Nice tiny little touch, that little slip by Itkovian: “Fener grant—no, Togg grant.” A very human, very real slip.
It’s a good bit of comic relief with Picker and Blend, though perhaps a bit repetitive in the way he recapitulates the plot points for us—I’m not sure the god switch was so complicated or unclear we needed this version of the easier-to-follow explanation. And I love the image of Antsy the diplomat. And of course loved Picker’s method of teaching “respect” to Bauchelain. And how the menace of these two is turned on its head with just a bit of surprise. We’ve seen them nearly taken down by Quick Ben—master of many warrens—and by the chaotic sorcery of the Dead Seed women, and by the K’Chain, and so they’re built up in our minds as almost invincible to anyone not that powerful, and then bam—a gauntleted fist and a sneak up from behind and down for the count.
I truly enjoy Quick Ben’s response to Silverfox’s ‘tude and threat: “The anger you would face is Nightchill’s, and the rest of us will do nothing to restrain it.” Which to most people would make them back off and quickly, but to Quick Ben, threatening him with a god’s anger doesn’t quite elicit the same response: “Quick Ben simply grinned. Cold, challenging.” I’m surprised he didn’t actually say, “Bring it on.”
Itkovian is just a fantastic character in so many ways in so many scenes. Like Amanda, I love here his quiet dignity and modesty throughout, epitomized by his removal of his ranking and exchange of helmets. I like also how he’s completely oblivious to why the meeting hasn’t started yet.
Another reminder that Moon’s Spawn is out there somewhere—we’re certainly being set up for something big involving that flying rock.
So we’ve certainly known of Keruli’s connection to K’rul, and the name was obviously a little hint—one can see why Kallor sneers that “Keruli” is a bit of a “paltry” disguise.
After the almost regally sorrowful scene with Itkovian, then the tense near-confrontation between Kallor and K’rul and Brood, Rath’Shadowthrone’s “well, you can hardly sit on the Mask Council, then, can you?” is a welcome bit of comedy.
Then some more on the marching logistics (after last chapter’s more on marching logistics).
Then a shift of topic to Caladan Brood’s hammer. A few aspects of this I enjoyed:
- One, how Brood comes across as a bit cruel at first by handing over the hammer (knowing, I think we’re safe in assuming, what the effect would be), but then is redeemed from that cruelty by healing her, something I think he was always planning on doing.
- Two, how Dujek, looking at Brood, misreads him (perhaps standing in for the reader here?) and orders Artanthos to get a healer, assuming Brood will not heal the priestess.
- Three, the flip-flop of who has faith. Here, the priestess lacks faith in a god (and Brood of course). While the god has faith in a mortal.
- Four, that Brood had to come to this realization slowly.
- Five, that K’rul—a limited manifestation of a god—sees quickly where Brood is going with this, the idea of a god having faith in mortals. Appropriate, as K’rul is putting a lot of faith in mortals himself. Something he is reminded of by Quick Ben’s presence in another minute or two.
- Six, that Brood is shown more merciful, more willing to forgive, and more willing to be patient than the Elder God K’rul, whom we’ve seen is one of the more compassionate and empathic of the gods.
Once again, I love Quick Ben’s relationship to the gods—facing an Elder God’s “rapt attention,” Quick merely gives “a slight strangely uneven shrug.” Love that guy.
It’s an interesting bit of a line from Itkovian on K’rul’s and Kruppe’s relationship, with the god looking at him “as would an admiring companion rest eyes on a lifelong prodigy of sorts, perhaps. A prodigy whose talents have come to overwhelm his master’s. But there is no envy in that regard, nor even pride . . . No, the emotion if far more subtle and complex.”
We’ve had Korlat make reference to the Andii sense of loss and despair, but it carries a heavier weight I think when we get it via Itkovian, the way it almost drives him to his knees (this from a man who just cleansed an entire city remember). Think of walking around with that sense of “such sadness, an eternity of loss, empty existence,” every day. No wonder Rake is pleased to see Korlat awakened by Whiskeyjack. No wonder he himself takes pleasure, even momentary, in such friendship as well (remember Crone’s warning about just how temporary this is). Also, think of Itkovian’s description of what he feels from Korlat and just whom else that description might apply to . . .
There’s a bit of a throwaway phrase in Paran’s description of Silverfox when he says, “of the Thelomen [Bellurdan] I sense nothing.” File that.
So we’ve already seen Silverfox reject the T’lan Imass. Now we see her reject the, seemingly quite fair and reasonable, request with regard to the Ay, who were, as Norul says, “encompassed in ignorance.” I mentioned last time that Silverfox’s acts with the T’lan Imass made her sound like a teenager and you get that here as well, the way she says she will not “yield” them, as if they are objects that belong to her.
And here is a line to file for sure (and for some time): “Togg and Fanderay are ascended beasts. Their souls are unknowable to such as you and me. Who can predict what lies in the hearts of such creatures.”
What is the “gift” Silverfox needs the Ay for? The promise to herself? You’re not off Amanda; we know the Myhbe is seeing the Ay in her dreams/nightmares, and that the wolves are supposed to “deliver” something. The gift? What might it be?
Another mention of Poleil, Queen of Disease, allying herself with the CG. We’ll be seeing her eventually.
I love Mok’s dry rejoinder to Envy as she’s proudly explaining how “ironic” she is being by using Poleil’s own weapon against her: “I doubt the victims appreciate the irony, mistress . . . “ as well as her equally dry reply: “I’d much rather you’d stayed taciturn.”
While Coll and Murillio’s comic scene felt slightly forced, the humor in this scene felt much more natural to me. Though perhaps it’s just that I gravitate more to the witty wordplay and tone rather than the slapstick physical comedy with the horses. But along with the byplay, I enjoy picturing Garath advancing on Envy as she wonders if he’s coming for “a pat.” Smart move to keep that in Envy’s dialogue rather than give it to us via an observer or omniscient narrator.
The Meckros city is another example, similar to the description of Coral, of a teasing glimpse of a whole other part of the world we haven’t seen yet. Though we should file away their existence.
What a great introduction to a new character: “Three black-iron broadswords of unfamiliar style impaled this undead warrior’s broad, massive chest, two then driven in from behind, the other from the T’lan Imass’ left. Broken ribs jutted through black, salt-timed skin. . Wispy remnants of old sorcery flowed fitfully along the pitted blades . . .”
And then the kicker—she—Lanas Tog—is a remnant of those missing armies Olar Ethil named—one of only a few left after the loss of more than 50, 000 of them. Then the kicker on top of the kicker—not a Jaghut Tyrant kicking their butt, but a human one. You can hear the organ chords at the end. What a great way to close a chapter. By the way, that description of Lanas isn’t simply a great visual introduction, but it also reinforces in the readers’ minds just how tough these T’lan Imass are. Impaled by three ensorcelled blades, yet Lanas is still completing her mission. And after we’re shown how impossibly tough they are, we’re told 50, 000 of them have been killed on Assail. What the hell are they fighting?
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.