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 21 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.
Chapter Twenty One
The Bridgeburners exit Capustan—“first in, last out.” Silverfox tells Paran her mother has gone missing, as have Coll and Murillio. When Paran asks why she doesn’t use her Ay or T’lan Imass to look, she says she has sent them across the river but refuses to say why. When she accuses Coll and Murillio of “kidnapping” her mother, Paran says kidnapping implies taking away from someone, and since Silverfox abandoned the Mhybe, it can’t be kidnapping. Their conversation gets testier and Paran tells her to give up the guilt, learn to forgive, adding: “I love you still, but with your death . . . I convinced myself that what you and I had . . . was of far vaster and deeper import than it truly was. Of all the weapons we turn upon ourselves, guilt is the sharpest, Silverfox. It can carve one’s own past into unrecognizable shapes, false memories leading to beliefs that sow all kinds of obsessions.” Silverfox says Paran has changed so much she no longer recognizes him, while he replies “I find you all too recognizable.” Returning to the conversation’s topic, he tells her not to worry, that Coll and Murillio probably took it upon themselves, since she wouldn’t, to try and help the Mhybe. She says by taking her they have “sealed her doom . . . my mother is trapped in a nightmare—within her own mind, lost, terrified. Hunted!” When Paran wonders if the true mercy would be to let the Mhybe’s life end, Silverfox refuses: “She is my mother . . . I will not abandon her!” As she leaves, Paran wishes she would simply tell them what her plans are so they don’t continually think she is betraying the Mhybe. He believes Tattersail has lost to Nightchill, and that Silverfox has “become colder than the T’lan Imass you now command.”
Itkovian watches the barges transporting soldiers. He comes across an artist painting and speaking to a large green toad. The artist introduces himself as Ormulogun of Li Hen, Imperial historical artist: “The old Emperor . . . Artists with every army! On every campaign!” He introduces the toad—his critic—as Gumble. Ormulogun is shockingly insightful with regard to Itkovian, saying, “His bones may well be iron, their burden that of a hundred thousand foundation stones, or souls to be more precise . . . though I capture all he is on the canvas . . . in that image you will see that Itkovian is not yet done.” Gumble then speaks, telling Itkovian “I speak on behalf of the tongue-tied multitudes, otherwise known as . . . the rabble. An audience, understand, wholly incapable of self-realization or cogent articulation, and thus possessors of depressingly vulgar tastes when not apprised of what they trulylike, if only they knew it.” Itkovian asks why Ormulogun, as Imperial artist, is painting the outlawed Dujek, and the response is that the outlawry must be recorded, and besides, what else would he do? He then mocks the “so called community” of artists in Pale and their “so-called styles of expression.” When he demands if Gumble saw anything good in Pale, Gumble says a single mosaic, which, since the artist was dead, Gumble could praise “effusively.” Ormulogun calls Gumble a leech and vulture, and Gumble replies he is happy that whatever god it was made him a toad and not an artist. Itkovian leaves them to their arguing and continues down to the river. He plans on going with Brood, Kallor, and Korlat to the city of Lest. He finds the military organization muddled at best, and prefers the “far clearer” hierarchy of the Malazan group, with Dujek clearly in charge, seconded by Whiskeyjack, Taur, and Twist. His thoughts are interrupted by the arrival of Whiskeyjack, who asks if he saw Silverfox and the two marines. Itkovian says they passed him some time ago. The two marines arrive and say Silverfox lost them by riding into a hillside. He sends them back to cross, then privately offers his hand to Itkovian: “Among the soldiers of the Empire . . . where the worn gauntlet is for war and nothing other than war, to remain gauntleted when grasping the hand of another, in peace, is the rarest of gestures.” Itkovian says he understands the significance and that he is honored. Whiskeyjack says he wishes Itkovian were riding with the Malazans so he could get to know him better and when Itkovian says, “we will meet at Maurik,” Whiskeyjack nods and says “until then.” But as he rides off, Itkovian, looking at him, has a grim feeling it is the last time he will see him.
Quick Ben has been using his warrens to help transport due to the lack of barges. Kruppe, after telling Quick he plans on traveling with the Malazan group, says he is impressed by the wizard’s mastery of so many warrens, as well as how “pristine” the warrens are. He calls Quick’s use of magic a “bold challenge” to the Chained God. Talamandas, invisible (allegedly) on Quick Ben’s soldier, has been complaining that Quick is making himself a target, too noticeable. When Quick Ben tells him to be quiet, Kruppe wonders why Quick Ben is being so harsh to him [Kruppe], and Quick says he was just talking to himself, and will continue to do so. “Thinking out loud,” he tells Talamandas he is purposely being noticeable in order to “kick the hornet nests.” Kruppe then hints he sees Talamandas on Quick’s shoulder, though he doesn’t make it clear if that is what he means. The two marines arrive, and then Whiskeyjack, whom Quick Ben has been waiting for as the last of the group.
Coll and Murillio are continuing what has been a daylong, futile, search in Capustan for a priest that can help the Mhybe. They are suddenly attacked by Broach, who knocks out Murillio and sends sorcery toward Coll. Before the magic can strike, it vanishes and a strange figure steps between Coll and Broach. Broach tells him “I can sense the fist of Hood, coiled there in your lifeless chest. He’s kept you here. Wandering.” The stranger corrects Broach, telling him “Not wandering . . . hunting.” Broach objects he and Bauchelain haven’t really taken all that many souls from Hood, and all he is looking for here is the old woman in the wagon. The unknown warrior tells Broach: “Not for you . . . Her spirit awaits. And those of her gathered kin. And the beasts whose hearts are empty . . . You are to release the undead who guard your compound. You and the one named Bauchelain are to leave the city. This night . . . Or I shall descend upon you and claim your souls.” Broach leaves and the undead warrior tells Coll “you are to have my master’s protection . . . the Temple of Hood has been prepared.” When Coll objects that the Mhybe needs help, the warrior tells him it’s the kind of help Coll cannot give. The warrior—now identified in the text as The Knight of Death—tells Coll he does not sleep, cannot remember it. He adds that the Mhybe will not awaken and so the two of them “will have need of each other. Soon.” The Knight reveals he cannot release the swords from his hands and asks Coll if he thinks Broach was right, that he is dead. Coll says yes, he thinks that is true. He asks if the Knight has a name and the Knight says he has forgotten it, but he thinks he was not from this continent. The only thing he recalls of his life was that “I once stood within fire . . . there was pain. Yet I held on . . . I believe I was, I think, sworn to defend a child’s life. But the child was no more. It may be . . . that I failed.” When he thinks perhaps one day his memories will fully return, Coll thinks to himself that the fact they have not is evidence of Hood’s mercy, “For I think there was nothing easy in your life. Or in your death. And it seems he does possess mercy, for he’s taken you far away from all that you once knew, for if I’m not mistaken . . . never mind that strange skin, you’re a Malazan.”
On the other side of the river, Gruntle joins Itkovian on the march, saying it looks like the Seer is using a scorched earth defense. Itkovian replies it’s the smart thing to do. When Gruntle wonders if Dujek and Brood realize how many armies the Seer has, Itkovian says it’s true they’ll find the Seer well prepared, but his end is near, based on what he observed. He tells Gruntle, “Cities and governments are but the flowering head of a plant whose stalk is the commonality whose roots are within the earth, drawing the necessary sustenance that maintains the flower.” The Tenescowri—the commonality—are uprooted, dying, cannibalistic, living in a land that was wasted before the Seer needed to do so as defense—“thus, while the flower still blazes its color, it is in fact already dead.” He believes the cities they all march toward are probably empty, that the Seer has concentrated his forces in Coral, where the defenders will have to also turn cannibal, and in fact, he thinks the Tenescowri were “created for that eventual purpose—as food for the soldiers.” Gruntle says that what Itkovian describes is an empire never meant to sustain itself, or even, if as Itkovian suggests, it might do so via conquest and expansion, would be alive “only on its outer, ever-advancing edges, spreading out from a dead core, a core that grew with it.” When Gruntle thinks the division of forces seems kind of pointless, and that the Malazans will be doing a lot of useless marching, Itkovian says there may have been unvoiced reasons for splitting the army in two, such as less unity than presented, or to avoid a clash of strong wills/egos. He further predicts that the attack at Coral won’t last long, will be a single attempt to overwhelm rather than a patient siege. Stonny comes up and tells them to move along.
Picker watches Detoran drag Hedge into her tent and after some back and forth about it with Blend, muses on how so many of the Bridgeburners have been demoted, starting with Whiskeyjack—Detoran once was a Master Sergeant, Mallet led a healer’s cadre, Spindle captained a company of sappers. Blend says, “None of us is what we once was.” Picker replies she was thinking they were all “losers.” Paran joins them and tells them the Black Moranth have found Setta abandoned and filled with dead. Picker wonders why they’re still marching there and Paran says, “Because we’re not marching to Lest.” He informs them Picker is promoted to lieutenant and will command the Bridgeburners in Paran’s absence. He tells her to keep the Bridgeburners together, “no matter what happens.”
Whiskeyjack meets with Dujek in the command tent. Dujek tells him Artanthos delivered “the orders” to Paran and that the captain “will get the Bridgeburners ready—ready for what they won’t know.” When Dujek seems to under-esteem Paran, Whiskeyjack interrupts and says, “With the loss of Tatter—of Silverfox, I mean, the captain’s value to us can’t be underestimated. No, not just us. The Empire itself . . . Within him is the power to reshape the world . . . maybe there’s no chance of Laseen ever regaining the man’s favor, but at the very least she’d be wise to avoid making the relationship worse.” They both agree, though, that Laseen is probably aware of this already. Dujek says he is worried about not having Quick Ben around (he is going with Paran) and Whiskeyjack answers that “what the wizard has in mind, I agree with him that the less Brood and company know of it the better . . . the wizard’s madness has saved our skins more than once. Dujek apologizes, and says he’s so anxious due to the power of what they’re dealing with: “It was Brood and Rake and the Tiste Andii—and the damned Elder Gods, as well—who were supposed to step into the Crippled God’s path. They’re the ones with countless warrens and frightening levels of potency—not us, not one mortal squad wizard and a young noble born captain who’s already died once. Even if they don’t mess things up, look at the enemies we’ll acquire.” Whiskeyjack says that’s only if their allies don’t understand what they are trying to do and Dujek says “we’re the Malazans, remember? Nothing we do is ever supposed to reveal a hint of our long-term plans—mortal empires aren’t supposed to think that far ahead. And we’re damned good at following that principle, you and I . . . Laseen inverted the command structure for a reason.” Whiskeyjack says it was to ensure “the right people would be there at the ground level when Shadowthrone and Cotillion made their move,” and says all of that should be told to Quick and all the Bridgeburners. But Dujek says no to the latter and that the former probably already figured it out, and when Whiskeyjack asks why Quick Ben sent Kalam after Laseen, Dujek says Kalam needed to be convinced in person by the empress. When Whiskeyjack bemoans his stupidity, Dujek continues to lay it all out:
“We knew the Crippled God was getting ready to make a move. We knew the gods would make a mess of things. Granted, we didn’t anticipate the Elder Gods getting involved . . . [but] we knew trouble was coming from more than one direction—but how could be have guessed that . . . the Domin was in any way related to . . . the Crippled God? . . . I don’t think it was entirely chance that it was a couple of Bridgeburners who bumped into that agent of the Chained God [Munug] . . . nor that Quick Ben was there . . . Laseen has always understood the value of tactical placement . . . The Crippled God’s warren wanders—it always has . . . And we caught him . . . As for Paran, there’s a certain logic there as well. Tayschrenn was grooming Tattersail in the role of Mistress of the Deck . . . when that went wrong, there was a residual effect—straight to the man closest to her at the time. Not physically, but certainly spiritually . . . the only truly thick-witted player was Bellurdan Skullcrusher . . . What happened between him and Tattersail . . . ranks as one of the worst foul-ups in imperial history. That the role of Master of the Deck fell to a Malazan and not to some Gadrobi herder . . . Oponn’s luck played into our hands there.”
Whiskeyjack interrupts to say now he’s worried: “We’re playing shadowgames with the Lord of Shadow, rattling the chains of the Crippled God, and now buying Brood more time without him even knowing it, whilst at the same time defying the T’lan Imass.” Dujek says they’ve got no choice, “It’s up to us to keep Laseen’s head above water—and through her the Malazan Empire. If Brood swings his hammer...”
Whiskeyjack complains it’s left up to the arm she nearly decimated at Pale, which Dujek says “was an accident, and while you didn’t know it at the time, you know it now. Tayschrenn ordered them to remain in the tunnels because he thought it was the safest place.” But Whiskeyjack says, “seemed more like someone wanted us to be a collateral fatality.” Then thinks to himself, “No, not us. Me. Damn you, Dujek, you lead me to suspect you knew more of that than I’d hoped . . . I hope I’m wrong.” When he brings up Darujhistan, Dujek says it was just miscommunication due to Pale, that everyone was rattled by Pale. He says he learned later that Tayschrenn didn’t know then who Nightchill was, but thought she was aiming to get Dragnipur, along with Bellurdan, who seemed to be her pawn. Laseen wouldn’t allow that, and when Nightchill killed A’Karonys (who had told Tayschrenn he suspected Nightchill), then Tayschrenn hit her. He adds that all these screw-ups seemed to begin when the Tlan Imass slaughtered the people of Aren, which Dujek says was ordered not by Laseen but by Shadowthrone to “wreak vengeance on Laseen, to shake her grip on the empire.” Dujek then tells Whiskeyjack he thinks maybe they don’t know as much as they think they do, but Whiskeyjack says Quick Ben is pretty smart and has probably figured out a lot. He tells Dujek Quick is still “willing” and has also made it clear he has a lot of faith in Paran, whom he says is unpredictable based on a host of factors: walking inside Dragnipur, being used by Oponn, having the blood of a Hound of Shadow in him. He says Laseen shouldn’t assume she can “use him.” When Dujek asks if Whiskeyjack likes Paran, Whiskeyjack says he admires his “resilience, his ability to examine himself with a courage that his ruthless, and most of all for his inherent humanity.” He also confesses his desire to retire after this war, a desire Dujek says he’d expected. When Whiskeyjack wonders if Laseen will let him, Dujek says they shouldn’t let her make the decision. Whiskeyjack asks if he should drown like Crust and Urko, or be seen killed then have his body vanish like Dassem. He adds one day he’ll force the truth about them from Duiker. Dujek asks if Quick Ben has heard from Kalam and Whiskeyjack says not that he knows of. As he rises to leave (noting his aching leg) he asks about the Black Moranth and Dujek says they’ll arrive in two days. Before he leaves, Dujek tells him Tayschrenn wants to apologize and has been waiting for the “proper moment.” They say good night.
Korlat is waiting outside Whiskeyjack’s tent and they enter together. Whiskeyjack asks if she’s found Silverfox and she tells him no; Silverfox travels paths Korlat didn’t even know existed. Korlat was escorted back by two Ay, creatures she confesses disturb her greatly, even more than the T’lan Imass do: “There is, within the T’lan Imass, an emptiness . . . Within these wolves, I see sorrow. Eternal sorrow.” As she speaks, Whiskeyjack thinks what she sees in the Ay is the same he sees in her—“it is the reflection—the recognition—that has shaken you so.” She tells him when she watched them fall into dust, “I don’t know why, but that disturbed me more than anything else.” His response is only inside his mind: “Because it is what awaits all of us. Even you.” He tells her forget it and come to bed, especially as it will be awhile before they can do this again. She says Crone has returned from scouting and then stops before saying more that she clearly wanted to. Whiskeyjack guesses it is about how the cities in the Domin are all empty, and yet the armies are dividing and marching separately anyway, though neither would admit why. Whiskeyjack wonders where Moon’s Spawn is (the Moranth have been searching for it), if the Malazans will arrive to find Coral taken and the Seer killed by Dragnipur. And he thinks then that the Malazans have their own secrets, such as their plan to send Paran and the Bridgeburners ahead and “a lot more than that.” He tells Korlat she matters more to him than anyone or anything and she tells him not to apologize for what has yet to happen. The scene closes by flash-forwarding: “Later, Whiskeyjack would think back on his words, and wish they had been cleaner,—devoid of hidden intent.”
Paran watches Quick Ben finish a conversation with Haradas (the Trygalle mage). When Quick Ben rejoins him, Paran tells him “the sappers will howl,” and Quick responds that he’ll talk to Hedge: “After all, Fiddler’s closer than a brother to him, and with the mess that Fid’s got into (the events at the close of DG) he needs all the help he can get. The only question is whether the Trygalle can deliver the package in time.” Paran asks if it was more than munitions and Quick Ben says yes, he added a little something due to the desperation of the situation in Seven Cities. Kruppe joins them, having “overheard,” and tells them the people of Darujhistan would like to contribute. He drops a ball that releases a bhok’arala messenger from Baruk. Quick Ben says he’d be happy to accept, but has to wonder what motivates Baruk. The Bhok’arala spits out “Great! Danger! Azath! Icarium! More! Coltaine! Admire! Allies! Yes!” They are interrupted by a female rider who asks to speak with Paran in private. She is the Destriant of the Grey Swords and wants to claim Anaster to let Itkovian take his pain. At first Paran says the Malazans won’t release him to torture, and when she explains what she wants to do, while admitting Anaster will think it is torture because he feels he has nothing but his pain, Paran says she can have him with “his blessing.” She staggers physically at that, telling Paran “There was weight to your use of that word . . . you would be well advised to, uh, exercise caution in the future.” As she leaves, Paran thinks to himself: “Take it as a warning and nothing more. You did nothing to Anaster—you don’t even know the man. A warning, and you’ll damn well heed it.”
Amanda’s Reaction to Chapter Twenty One:
“First in, last out”—well, that absolutely sums up everything about the Bridgeburners, doesn’t it? Their sense of duty; the grim nature of their role in the various wars taking place; the honourable way they deal with everything....
I’m afraid I haven’t a clue about the poem though! With most of them I have an inkling of what they might be about, but I need serious help with this one... The mask and daub references did make me think of the Seguleh, but I’m probably not going in the right direction there.
It is interesting how Paran observes on the fact that the next rain will remove the marks from the palace in Capustan—but we’ve been told by Erikson (and, of course, we’re aware ourselves) that there will be lasting effects from the siege.
Statements like these make me fear for the Bridgeburners, especially after the references to their vulnerability: “Behind them, the soldiers of the seven squads had lost all cohesion; the company marched in no particular order [...] None the less, there was something strangely ephemeral about them.”
Wow, this conversation is bitter between Paran and Silverfox, isn’t it? Dark tangled emotions thanks to the death of Tattersail and the new role that Paran now holds. I do appreciate someone finally giving Silverfox an earful about what her actions towards the Mhybe have looked like to those not in on the plan. He reads the actions of Coll and Murillio very astutely—and I do love this, since it has echoes back to the fact that he and Coll spent that time with each other in Gardens of the Moon, and developed a mutual respect. It gives a suggestion that friendships and associations continue “behind the scenes” rather than just cropping up whenever Erikson has need of them.
Again, in this conversation, I’m seeing yet more of Silverfox’s adolescent attitude, with the way in which she shouts, “No! She is my mother, damn you! And I will not abandon her!”
Hmm, a toad that speaks? Do you know what is funny? A lot of what Erikson presents to us—gods, ascendants, strange races—are given such strong foundations that they feel natural and “right,” whereas this overtly magical speaking toad comes across a little “wrong.” Do you know what I mean? I might be nitpicking on a personal level there. *grins*
We’re given a lot of information about Kellanved that makes me think, madness aside, he might have actually been a bloody good Emperor. He wanted records to be kept of what occurred, such as with this artist and with the historian Duiker. Although it does say something of the historian in Erikson that he is presenting the idea of primary sources being provided by the “victors,” and hence becoming some form of propaganda.
It seems odd that a random artist would have the ability to see the way that Ormulogen is able to... I’m not quite on board with this character—he does seem a little gimmicky for my tastes. He almost belongs in another, more quirky, fantasy. Saying that, I do like the double meaning in the line, “...in that image you will see that Itkovian is not yet done.”
When Ormulogun says, “I found myself on the wrong continent!” does he mean that he wants to be involved in the Seven Cities events?
“He forgot to look at Ormulogen’s canvas.”
Damn! I wanted to know what he was painting!
Gosh, I can see why Whiskeyjack reprimands the marine for indirectly making light of the defence of Capustan in front of Itkovian, describing the painting where Dujek came to the rescue of the Capustan defenders... After Itkovian’s strength, resolve and, ultimately, guilt over the way that Capustan went down, it seems poor form. Equally, though, having been brought up in a military background, I’ve seen similar mocking many times, and I agree with Whiskeyjack when he says, “Well, they’re only like that with people they respect, though it’s often taken as the opposite, which can lead to all sorts of trouble.”
Nice little scene between Whiskeyjack and Itkovian—one of those that, despite the dread implications of the final couple of lines, leaves you smiling and feeling the comradeship and the ultimate respect between these two men. Also reinforces the fabulousness of Whiskeyjack. *smiles*
“Kruppe is impressed with your prowess—such a dance of warrens rarely if ever before witnessed by humble self. And each one pristine! As if to say faugh! to the foolish one in chains! Such a bold challenge!”
Kruppe’s needling is always fun.
And, after a sterling but serious scene between Whiskeyjack and Itkovian, we now have the brilliance of Quick Ben and Kruppe face to face. These two genius men. Both with plans and secrets and cunning. Some excellent quotes as well: “Hold to your unassailable self-confidence—aye, some might well call it megalomania, but not Kruppe, for he too is in possession of unassailable self-confidence, such as only mortals are capable of and then rightfully but a mere handful the world over.”
So... the House of Death is stirring back to power, with the appearance of this mysterious Knight of Death. He couldn’t come at a more opportune moment, with Coll and Murillio at the mercy of Korbal Broach—definitely not something you’d want! Also, the Knight of Death has power enough to command Bauchelain and Korbal Broach to release their victims and leave the city of Capustan—does this show that Hood is on the ascendancy?
Hood wants the Mhybe—what for? With the awareness of Silverfox? This mysterious Knight gives an indication of her role: “Thus, one who does not sleep...and, here in this wagon, one who will not awaken. I believe, Coll of Darujhistan, that we will have need of each other. Soon. This woman and I.”
Oh Baudin! Oh dear Gods! Hood has taken him, hasn’t he? Stood in fire, protected Felisin, the child? *cries a little*
“Only half listening to Gruntle and Stonny exchanging insults like a husband and wife who had known each other far too long...”
Does this give an indication of the future? I’d love to see them together!
Haha! I dislike the conversation between Gruntle and Itkovian, but only because of the subject matter—cannibalism, pointless marching and a dead empire. Thank the Lord for Stonny, with this laugh-out-loud quote: “I’m glad someone here understands the subtle nuances of high civilization. Now move your damned horse or what you ain’t used for far too long will get introduced to the toe of my shiny new boot.”
This line saddens me: “Last fire left among the Bridgeburners.” What tragedy is going to encompass them? Anyone else getting a really bad feeling about their fate? Paran has picked a second, and his only request is for Picker to keep the Bridgeburners together. Then that last eerie scene showing their tents “revealing its own kind of peace.” I’m SO scared for them right now.
Wait, WHAT?! What the what is going on in this conversation between Whiskeyjack and Dujek?? They’ve known all along that the Crippled God would cause issues? They’re still on the warpath with Shadowthrone. (He’s been a little quiet in this novel hasn’t he? What’s up with that?) Tattersail was being groomed by Tayschrenn to be Mistress of the Deck?? What on earth are the long term plans of the Malazan Empire? What have Laseen and Dujek cooked up between them? Why are they keeping Quick Ben, of all people, in the dark? I just don’t get this conversation AT ALL... Just when I thought I was keeping everything straight admirably, this just goes and turns most of it on its head. *sighs*
Nice to see the scene from this side where Quick Ben packages up the “stuff” for Fiddler, something we’ve already seen. Also, interesting to see Baruk willing to plunge back into the fray. I liked Baruk and I hoped to see more of him—lots of power in that one.
And then that intriguing last scene—did Paran do anything to Anaster by giving his blessing to the enterprise of taking away Anaster’s sorrow? Did he maybe give him something to live for?
Bill’s Reaction to Chapter Twenty One:
File: “...he [Paran] watched them walk the road, veiled in dust, like figures in a sub-bleached threadbare tapestry. The march of armies, he reflected, was timeless.”
I mentioned earlier that I found the lack of communication with regard to Silverfox’s plan troubling as a reader, and clearly Paran does as a participant! I have to confess, I just don’t understand the need for the secrecy. Not to mention the lack of communication with the Mhybe herself. I can accept her trapped in her own mind, and needing to get out herself, but it still seems a leap to the lack of communication. It’s one of the few times I feel the characters are being manipulated unnaturally by the author for plot purposes.
What a dark characterization of Silverfox we get from Paran at the close of this scene: “...colder than the T’lan Imass you now command.” But of course, that darkness is predicated upon an assumption of the T’lan Imass as “cold.” But is that assumption correct?
I’ve mentioned a few times how I sometimes wish Erikson would be a bit less blunt. I confess that while I at times find Ormulogun and Gumble funny (we will see more of them), they’re a bit too on the nose for me most of the time. Even as I think I agree with much of what Erikson says through them about critics, popular art, etc. So yes Amanda, I do find them a bit “wrong,” though more in terms of style than tone. Save for the frog part—demon who looks like one, yes (Wait for it, by the way.); just a frog, not so much. Two things I do like about this scene, though, are the mention of Li Heng (more to come) and Ormulogun’s true insight/ability to see.
I like Itkovian’s musing on how the northern city-states kept feuding even when facing a common enemy—a nice metaphor for how our combative natures are so often self-destructive and work against simple logic and self-interest.
Two of my favorite characters face to face and what a great moment when Whiskeyjack offers his gauntleted hand to Itkovian. A bit ominous though, I’d say—his seeming need to do this now, and his wish that he could get to know Itkovian better (as if something would prevent him from doing so). Here again, I wish we had dropped that last paragraph though—it doesn’t really do anything for my view of Itkovian and I would have preferred subtlety of tone from the prior pages rather than have Itkovian state so baldly what I’m feeling as a reader but don’t know for sure.
Now the scene between Quick Ben and Kruppe, like nearly all scenes with these two, the two premiere minds in the area, is more to my liking. I love the contrast in style and attitude. The humor as Kruppe evades all attempts to keep secrets from him. The little dig of “megalomania.” The way Kruppe acknowledges he shares that quality (certainly not a flaw in his mind).
Here’s an important line: “Her spirit awaits. And those of her gathered kin. And the beasts whose hearts are empty.” So the Mhybe is one obviously. Her gathered kin would be the Rhivi, but we’re talking spirits here, so the Rhivi spirits to be more precise. And the beasts whose hearts are empty we know from prior usage of the term “beasts” typically refers to the Wolf gods—their hearts empty perhaps from long absence. But the Wolf gods, we know from Norul’s demand of Silverfox, are also linked to the Ay—which brings us back to the Mhybe via her dreams. The Mhybe, the Rhivi Spirits, the Wolf gods, and the Ay. The dreamworld. And let’s not forget that the Ay are to “deliver” something and the Ay are also linked to a “gift” from Silverfox. And later that Hood is involved in the preparations. Hold those connections.
Good old Coll. Clearly a bit outclassed by the, ahem, Knight of Death, but still willing to fight to protect his charge.
It’s a moving few moments then with the Knight as we learn he cannot release his swords, observe his newfound awareness that he is dead (or kinda dead), hear his regret over the realization (a universal one I’d say) that his life passed before he knew what he truly had, and then that line that hits the reader like a bolt—and what a good authorial choice to keep it simple—a single sentence, a simple sentence, subject-verb, no punctuation, no clauses, nearly completely monosyllabic: “I once stood in fire.”
Oh no, we sense. And then the reveal: “I was, I think, sworn to defend a child’s life.” And that would have been bad enough; we really don’t want to hear more, but then the heartbreaking line: “...but the child was no more. It may be that I failed.” Oh Baudin. Coll is right—what a mercy of Hood to not let him remember the details; if only he didn’t remember as much as he did. And let’s remember this as well—that Hood does in fact show mercy. Let’s not make too many assumptions about the God of Death.
I like that simile of the haze hanging like a “mourner’s veil” over this wasteland.
And then the extended metaphor with the plant imagery. And what a horrifying thought Itkovian has, that the Tenescowri’s entire purpose was to be as food for the soldiers in Coral. I wonder, though, whose thinking that is. To me, it appears more the strategy of the Crippled God, as the Seer seems annoyed and surprised to have to retreat to Coral.
I enjoyed Picker’s summation of how so many Bridgeburners have been demoted, starting at the top with Whiskeyjack. One can almost hear her channeling Bill Murray, “We are the wretched refuse. We’re the underdog. We’re mutts! . . . So we’re all dogfaces, we’re all very, very different, but there is one thing that we all have in common: we were all stupid enough to enlist in the Army. We’re mutants. There’s something wrong with us, something very, very wrong with us. Something seriously wrong with us—we’re soldiers...” Save her tone is hardly inspirational.
So let’s see. We’ve got hints that Whiskeyjack will never see Itkovian again. Now we’ve got Paran picking a second in command to lead in his absence and telling Picker, “Keep them [the Bridgeburners] together, no matter what happens. Together.” Starting to feel a little ominous round here.
And then we get Picker and Blend stepping out of the “dying embers” to be “swallowed by darkness . . . no movement was visible, the stars casting their faint silver light down on the camps of the Bridgeburners. The oft-patched tents were colorless in the dull, spectral glow. A scene that was ghostly and strangely timeless. Revealing its own kind of peace.” Hmm. Dying. Embers. Darkness. Silver light. Colorless. Spectral. Glow. Ghostly. Timeless. Its own kind of peace. I don’t know, but these words all point in one direction for me. Anyone care to comment? I’ll also remind you of Paran’s observation at the start of the chapter, and the “ephemeral” and also “timeless” nature of the Bridgeburners. And of a certain Tanno.
Okay, and now we come, I have to admit, to one of my least favorite scenes in this entire series—the conversation between Whiskeyjack and Dujek. Why one of my least favorite?
1) Far too talky—long paragraphs of exposition and explanation
2) Exposition and explanation focused on events of the past rather than focused on events of the future or focused on revealing character.
3) Not just focused on the past, but seemingly rewriting or at the very least, re-imagining the past—but not in the subtle, concise, pleasurably revelatory fashion we’ve seen happen on occasion. Instead, it’s done in almost professorial mode, with lectures. One almost imagines Dujek putting together a Keynote/PowerPoint and standing at a lectern.
4) I’m not saying Steven didn’t have much of this planned; only he knows for sure. And certainly we’ve uncovered an amazing amount of linkage and foreshadowing throughout. But all I can comment on is my response as a reader. And as a reader, I responded to way too much of this conversation with the sense that things were being shoehorned into place clumsily to take care of possible contradictions, gaps, questionable motivations, etc.
So here’s a place where, rather than lay out my complaints one by one, line by line (or at least paragraph by paragraph), I’m going to throw this out to you guys for a free-for-all. What did you think of this scene? What, if anything, bothered you, annoyed you, made you go “huh” or “really” or “wait a minute” or “but didn’t...” or “c’mon!” or “that seems a bit of a stretch.” Did you like this scene? And have a reaction more akin to my own?
Luckily, the bad taste gets washed out by a nice scene between Korlat and Whiskeyjack—the mix of consolation and love and regret and deception. It feels very real (unlike the prior one for me). If I were nitpicking, I’d say again I would have liked fewer bald statements. When Korlat is talking about being disturbed by the Ay, I wish Erikson had let the reader get that it is the reflection of her own “eternal sorrow” she is reacting to, or at least, put a bit more space between her statement and Whiskeyjack’s explanatory thought. Or maybe just stopped with his first sentence, “You see in their eyes, dear lover, what I see in yours.” To be clear here, I don’t think this is a forced or clumsy explanation; I absolutely believe these are the thoughts Whiskeyjack would have and just so bluntly and clearly. I just would rather they not be shared with us, or not shared so immediately. The same holds true when she says how seeing them fall into dust disturbed her the most, then Whiskeyjack gives us the immediate reason: Because it is what awaits all of us.” I’d like the reader to feel that in themselves first. Maybe just give us a moment of silence, or a gesture, before we get the thought. Minor quibbles though.
Back to the ominous tone with the flash-forward at the close.
Here we get a reminder that we’ve got some major events going on with out main characters over on the other continent. We’ve had a few already—references to Duiker, Baudin’s appearance, Paran seeing the Heboric/Felisin/Baudin trio. Here, though, we get an actual intersection of plot and action as Quick Ben puts together the package that we’ve already seen delivered.
Gotta like the Destriant’s honesty to tell Paran that what they propose to do with Anaster he would consider “torture.” And gotta like as well Paran’s immediate decision to turn Anaster over.
Remember Paran telling Cafal he didn’t know “how to” bless? Well, here he goes accidentally blessing either the Destriant or the action with Anaster. He may be Master of the Deck, but he clearly hasn’t mastered the Master part. One can only wonder what Raest would say about this moment. However, let’s file away this “blessing” ability of Paran. The man is starting to come into his own, into his power, and into some respect by his peers and by those we as readers like and respect a lot, such as Whiskeyjack and Quick Ben.
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.