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 Twenty-Six of House of Chains by Steven Erikson (HoC).
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.
Sha’ik considers the Whirlwind Goddess and her own past. Since she first had let the goddess in, she has at times “caught a glimpse of that girl. As she once had been . . . Round-cheeked and flushed, a wide smile and bright eyes. A child with a brother who adored her, who would toss her about on one knee as if he was a bucking horse, and her squeals of fear and delight would fill the chamber.” Her mother had the gift of visions and younger Felisin had hoped she would share that gift, and now she has them from the goddess: “this spiteful, horrific creature whose soul was more parched and withered than any desert . . . [the visions] were the conjurings of fear. A goddess’s fear.” While she recognizes the goddess’s power, Sha’ik labels it “bitter with age, bilious with malice . . . [bearing] the sour taste of betrayal. A heart-piercing, very personal betrayal. Something that should have healed, that should have numbed . . . Spiteful pleasure had kept the wound open, had fed its festering heat, until hate was all that was left. Hate for someone.” Looking at it reasonably, Sha’ik can see this hate is insane, is out of all proportion to the crime against the goddess—“the proportions had begun wrong”—which makes her think the goddess pre-ascendancy was already deeply and darkly flawed, already perhaps insane or on the road toward insanity: “Step by step we walk the most horrendous paths. Stride tottering along the edge of an unsuspected abyss. Companions see nothing amiss. The world seems a normal place. Step by step, no different from everyone else—not from the outside. Not even from the inside. Apart from that tautness, that whisper of panic. The vague confusion that threatens your balance.” Felisin/Sha’ik sees this because “she had walked that same path. Hatred, sweet as nectar. I have walked into the abyss. I am as mad as the goddess. And this is why she chose me, for we are kindred souls . . . Why do I persist in my belief that I can save myself? That I can return, find once more the place where madness cannot be found, where confusion does not exist. The place of childhood.” Armored in her tent, she can feel the goddess reaching to embrace her—“not a mother’s embrace, no, nothing like that at all. This one would suffocate her entirely, would drown out all light, every glimmer of self-awareness. Her ego is armored in hatred . . . Her walk is a shamble, cramped and stiff, a song of rusty fittings and creaking straps . . . Felisin Paran, hold this mirror up at your peril.” As dawn begins, she reaches for her helm.
L’oric is surprised at the lack of movement in the Dogslayer trenches. As he moves toward Sha’ik’s forward position, he wonders at his sense that last night somehow Darkness had been defeated. He feels too that this fragment of Kurald Emurlahn is waking and the goddess is readying herself to claim it, “to fashion a throne. To devour Raraku.” He notes the ghosts of soldiers still in the shadows and can hear them singing, the Tanno song changed now to one more “pensive, mournful.” He wonders why the ghost soldiers are there, whom they will fight for. He knows the Tanno song belongs to the Bridgeburners, but senses “the Holy Desert itself had claimed it . . . And every soul that had fallen in battle in the desert’s immense history was now gathered in this place.” As he nears Sha’ik’s hill, he sees Mathok’s soldiers but, worryingly, neither Mathok himself nor his personal tribe. Leoman and Karsa appear behind him, Karsa badly wounded, “his hands a crimson ruin. One leg had been chewed by vicious, oversized jaws.” Behind their horses they drag the heads of the two Deragoth Karsa killed. When he sees Karsa’s stone sword, L’oric thinks, “He is indeed the one, then. I think the Crippled God has made a terrible mistake.” Karsa tells them he killed Febryl and Bidithal, but couldn’t find Dom or Heboric to kill them as well. Though, he adds, he did find the corpses of Reloe and Henaras. Leoman and Karsa tell L’oric the Dogslayers have all been slaughtered by the ghosts of Raraku and Leoman says they can still win with the desert warriors; they just have to convince Sha’ik to leave so they can regroup. L’oric tells him the goddess is almost there and so it’s too late—“Moments from being too late for everything.” The step over the ridge and see Sha’ik. Leoman realizes “I’m not in time. Oh, gods below” and then he opens his warren, jumps toward Sha’ik, and disappears.
The goddess savors her memories, her anger and hate having carved them “as mockingly solid and real-seeming” as the petrified trees. “The hate was all that mattered now. Her fury at his [her betrayer’s] weaknesses. Oh, others in the tribe played those games often enough . . . she herself had more than once spread her legs to another woman’s husband . . . But her heart had been given to the one man with whom she lived. That law was sacrosanct. Oh, but he’d been so sensitive. His hands following his eyes in the fashioning of forbidden images of that other woman, there in the hidden places. He’d used those hands to close about his own heart, to give it to another—without a thought as to who had once held it for herself. Another, who would not even give her heart in return—she had seen to that, with . . . accusations. Enough to encourage the others to banish her forever. But not before the bitch killed all but one of her kin . . . Her rage had not died with the Ritual, had not died when she herself—too shattered to walk—had been severed from the Vow and left in a place of eternal darkness.” Local spirits had “drawn close in sympathy” and she’d fed on them, taken their powers. “She had a purpose. The children swarmed the surface of the world. And who was their mother? None other than the bitch who had been banished. And their father? Oh yes, she went to him. On that last night. She did. He reeked of her when they dragged him into the light . . . Vengeance was a beast long straining at its chains. Vengeance was all she had ever wanted. Vengeance was about to be unleashed . . . The children will die. I will cleanse the world of their beget, the proud-eyed vermin born, one and all, of that single mother. Of course she could not join the ritual. A new world waited within her. And now at last, I shall rise again. Clothed in the flesh of one such child, I shall kill that world.” She sees a tunnel opening and looks forward to feeling again, to breathing, to killing.
Sha’ik moves down the hill. She hears shouts behind her and recognizes the voices of Karsa and Leoman. She knows they’d take her place, “But they cannot. This fight belongs to me. And the goddess.”
Keneb enters Tavore’s tent as she armors herself and he tells her Gamet has died from a clot in his brain. She has to steady herself on the table, then begins to order him to get T’amber when a messenger rushes in to say Sha’ik has walked into the basin and offered a challenge to Tavore. She thinks for a moment, belays her order about T’amber, then dismisses them. Outside, the messenger asks Keneb if he thinks Tavore will fight Sha’ik. He says yes, but there will be a battle anyway. Keneb goes to T’amber’s tent and calls her. She steps out, armored and weaponed, and he tells her that Tavore has just been informed of Gamet’s death and of a personal challenge from Sha’ik. He says Tavore might want help with her armor. But T’amber replies, “Not this morning, Captain. I understand your motives. But no.” Keneb thinks, surprised, “I do not understand women,” then turns to see Tavore exit her tent, fully armored and wearing a helm with no visor to cover her eyes. He follows her.
L’oric forces himself through a blackwood forest filled with shadow wraiths; he is seeking the goddess. He sees fire and runs toward it, sees it is her, the flames confirming his suspicion: “An Imass, trailing the chains of Telann, the Ritual shattered—oh, she has no place her, no place at all. Chthonic spirits swarmed her burning body, the accretions of power she had gathered unto herself over hundreds of thousands of years. Hatred and spite had twisted them all into malign, vicious creatures. Marsh water and mold had blackened the limbs of the Imass. Moss covered the torso . . .Ropes of snarled gray hair hung down . . . From her scorched eye sockets, living flames licked out . . . The goddess was keening. As he nears, L’oric sees she is stuck in a web of vines, wrapped around her arms and legs and body: “they were flickering, one moment there, the other gone—although no less an impediment for their rhythmic disappearance—and they were changing. Into chains. L’oric yells to her that Sha’ik isn’t strong enough for the goddess but she answers “My child! Mine! I stole her from the bitch! Mine!” L’oric has no idea what she is talking about, but he offers himself in Sha’ik’s place. Before she can respond, he is stabbed from behind, a killing blow had he been human. The assassin is about to cut his throat when another says there’s no time, warning that the goddess is breaking the chains. L’oric drops to the ground and sees the assassins, with sorcery-invested knives, kill the goddess: “a prolonged, brutal butchering. Korbolo’s Talons . . . waiting in ambush, guided here by Febryl.” He watches the goddess kill three of the four assassins, but “more chains ensnared the goddess, dragging her down, and L’oric could see the fires dying in her eye sockets, could see spirits writhe away, suddenly freed and eager to flee. And the last killer darted in, hammering down with his knife. Through the top of the skull . . . both skull and blade shattered . . . Chains snaked over the fallen body of the goddess, nothing visible was left of her, the black iron links heaped and glistening.” The wind dies and all goes silent. L’oric thinks “They all wanted the shattered warren. This fraught prize. But Toblakai killed Febryl. He killed the two Deragoth. He killed Bidithal. And as for Korbolo Dom—something tells me the Empress will soon speak to him in person. The poor bastard.” He realizes he is dying, but then Osric appears and tells him this is what he gets for sending his familiar away again. He adds L’oric’s room hasn’t changed since L’oric left the keep (which Osric hasn’t seen in centuries). L’oric wonders if the keep is still standing and Osric says, “It still stands, son. I always keep my options open.” He gathers L’oric in his arms to bring him to his old room to heal him. L’oric is surprised, at his age, how much at peace he feels “in his father’s arms.” At least, until his father says “Now how in Hood’s name do we get out of here?
Sha’ik stumbles, feeling the goddess’ departure. She sees Tavore descending the hill toward her and around them, ringing the ridge and the islands of coral, the armies watching. She feels herself again: “She is gone. I have been abandoned. I was Sha’ik, once. No, I am Felisin once more. And here, walking towards me, is the one who betrayed me. My sister. She remembered watching Tavore and Ganoes playing with wooden swords . . . Had the world beyond not changed—had all stood still, the way children loved to believe it would—she would have had her turn. The clack of wood, Ganoes laughing and gently instructing her—there was joy and comfort to her brother . . . but she’d never had the chance for that. No chance, in fact, for much of anything that could now return to her, memories warm and trusting and reassuring. Instead, Tavore had dismembered their family. And for Felisin, the horrors of slavery and the mines. But blood is the chain that can never break [She sees Tavore draw her sword] And though we leave the house of our birth, it never leaves us [she is surprised to find her own sword drawn] No catching up. No falling back. How could there be? We are ever the same years apart. The chain never draws taut. Never slackens. Its length is prescribed. But its weight, oh, its weight ever varies. [she feels light, “perfect”]. But for me, the blood is heavy. So heavy. And Felisin struggled against it—that sudden overwhelming weight. Struggled to raise her arms—unthinking of how that motion would be received. Tavore, it’s all right.” Then her sword is knocked out of her hand and “something punched into her chest, a stunning blossom of cold fire piercing through flesh, bone . . . Felisin looked down to see that rust-hued bald impaling her.” She falls back and looks up to see Tavore standing over her, “a figure standing behind a web of black, twisted iron wire that now rested cool over her eyes, tickling her lashes. A figure who now stepped closer. To set one bot down hard on her chest—a weight that, now that it had arrived, seemed eternal.” Tavore pulls the sword free: “Blood. Of course. This is how you break the unbreakable chain. By dying. I just wanted to know Tavore, why you did it. And why you did not love me, when I loved you. I—I think that’s what I wanted to know. The boot lifted from her chest. But she could still feel its weight. Heavy. So very heavy. Oh, Mother, look at us now.”
Karsa catches Leoman as he nearly drops to the ground in response to seeing Sha’ik killed. He tells Karsa “she did not know how to fight,” and Karsa agrees. He wonders why the Malazan army isn’t cheering and Leoman guesses, “They probably hate the bitch.” Leoman plans on riding to Y’Ghatan but Karsa says he won’t join them. The two make their farewells.
Lostara and Pearl walk down the hill carrying Dom. Tavore stands over Felisin’s body, but is looking instead at the standard raised over the Dogslayer trenches—Coltaine’s standard, the Crow Clan. Lostara recalls their journey to the basin: “Kurald Emurlahn swarmed the entire oasis, as shadows warred with ghosts, and the incessant rise and fall of that song grew audible enough for Lostara to sense, if not hear. A song still climbing in crescendo.” Lostara though can only think of how she and Pearl had come too late, had come only in time to see Tavore kill her own sister: “I didn’t ask for this. I don’t want it. I’ll never be without it. Oh, queen, forgive me.” Tavore looks up at her and Lostara thinks there will be time later for private conversation. Pearl drops Dom down to the ground. Tavore asks what the two of them are doing there, if they lost the trail. Pearl tells her “We found her, Adjunct. With deep regret, Felisin is dead.” When Tavore asks if they’re certain, he answers “Yes . . . I can say one thing for certain Tavore. She died quickly.” Tavore is quiet for a long moment, and then says “Well, there is mercy in that, I suppose,” then walks to meet her officers. Pearl picks up Felisin, saying, “She’s a heavier burden than you might think.” To which Lostara says “No, Pearl. I don’t think that.” She asks where he’ll take her and replies, “A hilltop, you know the one.” After he says he’ll try to convince them to get out of Raraku as soon as possible. She tells him to come for her when he’s done or she’ll come with him. He says he will. He watches Tavore and says “Just watching her walking away. She looks so . . . “ Lostara asks “alone” and he says, “Yes. That is the word, isn’t it.” He leaves by warren.”
Keneb watches Tavore come toward them: “There was none of the triumph there he thought he would see. Indeed, she looked worn down, as if the failing of spirit that followed every battle had already come to her, the deathly stillness of the mind that invited dire contemplation, that lifted up the host of questions that could never be answered. She orders Blistig to send scout to the Dogslayer trenches and informs them the Claw has delivered Dom. Nil tells her the Dogslayers are all dead via Raraku’s ghosts as well as, according to Nether “the spirits of our own slain. Nil and I—we were blind to it. We’d forgotten the ways of seeing. The cattle dog, Adjunct. Bent. It should have died at Coltaine’s feet. At the Fall. But some soldiers save it, saw to the healing of its wounds.” Tavore asks what she’s talking about and Nil and Nether continue: “Bent and Roach. The only creatures still living to have walked the Chain the entire way. Two dogs [Temul adds Duiker’s mar] . . . They came back with us . . . And the spirits of the slain. Our own ghosts, Adjunct, have marched with us . . . Step by step, Adjunct, our army of vengeance grew . . . Last night, the child Grub woke us . . . so we could witness the awakening. There were legions, Adjunct, that had marched this land a hundred thousand years ago. And Pormqual’s crucified army . . . Thus you were right Adjunct. In the dreams that haunted you from the very first night of this march, you saw what we could not see. It was never the burden you believed it to be. You did not drag the Chain of Dogs with you.” Tavore asks, “Did I not?” then wonders “All those ghosts simply to slay the Dogslayers?” But Nether says there were other enemies. The two also tell her Gamet rode with the ghosts and that Grub spoke to him. Baralta interrupts to tell Tavore Lostara stole Sha’ik’s body. Tavore ignores him and asks who the two soldiers Baralta arrived with are. They introduce themselves as Captain Kindly and Lieutenant Pores and say they were prisoners in the Dogslayer camp, freed by Bridgeburner ghosts. She dismisses them to get cleaned up. She tells Keneb (back to Fist) to prepare to follow Leoman’s group of desert warriors: “If we have to cross this entire continent, I will see them cornered and then I will destroy them. This rebellion will be ashes on the wind when we are done.” A warning is shouted and they all look to see Karsa riding down the hill toward them. Squint, one of Tavore’s bodyguards, identifies Karsa as a Thelomen Toblakai riding a Jhag horse. Lostara asks what’s dragging behind the horse and then they all flinch as they see the Deragoth heads. They ready their swords, but Tavore tells them to hold as he’s made no threat. Karsa tells Tavore, “Once long ago I claimed the Malazans as my enemies. I was young. I took pleasure in voicing vows. The more enemies the better. So it was, once. But no longer. Malazan, you are no longer my enemy. Thus I will not kill you. Tavore says “drily” that they’re all relieved. Karsa is quiet a moment then simply says, “You should be,” and rides off. Squint says, “Something tells me the bastard was right.” Tavore responds, “An observation I’ll not argue, soldier.”
Lieutenant Ranal fights his horse and someone behind Fiddler says, “Gods take me, somebody shoot him.” Cuttle asks what Ranal is up to, pointing out they’ve left Gesler and the other squads behind. They join Ranal atop the raised road and he points out a group of 20 or so desert warriors. Fiddler tells Ranal: “There’s a spider lives in these sands. Moves along under the surface, but drags a strange snakelike tail that every hungry predator can’t help but see . . . Hawk comes down to snatch up that snake and ends up dissolving in a stream down that spider’s throat.” Ranal ignores him and says the warriors are there because they got out late, probably looting he says. Fiddler warns him they’d be better to wait for the rest of the company; they’ll catch them anyway. Ranal orders them ahead after the warriors. Fiddler sees something strange on the horizon as Ranal yells the warriors have left the road. They’re heading for a sandstorm and Fiddler tries to tell Ranal not to go in, but Ranal orders pursuit anyway.
Gesler sees the Tiste Liosan heading toward him and his group fast and he wonders who they are. Stormy points out whoever they are they don’t seem pleased with Gesler and the group. Gesler calls up Sands (a sapper) and asks if he’s tried his new munitions crossbow. Sans says no and Gesler orders the others to retreat to the other side of the dune. Sands lobs a cusser and there’s a large explosion. After recovering, Gesler looks down and says “Well, they wont be chasing us any more I’d say . . . Armor seems to have weathered the blast—you could go down and scrape out whatever’s left inside ‘em.” He orders them to move out.
Jorrude groans. Enias tells him he wants to go home. Jorrude tells him to check the others. When Enias asks if Gesler’s group were really the trespassers they’d been seeking, the ones who road the ship through their realm, Jorrude says yes, “And I have been thinking. I suspect they were ignorant of Liosan laws when they traveled through our realm. True, ignorance is an insufficient defense. But one must consider the notion of innocent momentum. . Were not these trespassers but pulled along—beyond their will—in the wake of the draconian T’lan Imass bonecaster. If an enemy we must hunt, should it not be that dragon? Malachar calls that wise thinking and Jorrude says they’ll go home and resupply. They agree and Jorrude thinks, “It’s all the dragon’s fault, in fact. Who could refute that?”
Fiddler’s squad rides into the sandstorm and are immediately blinded. The desert warriors attack and Fiddler’s horse bucks him off, his bag of munitions rolling up over his head. He prepares to be blown up but then sees a warrior (Corabb) riding by clutching the bag in his arms in surprise. Fiddler runs then someone tells him “Not that way, you fool,” and Fiddler is shoved to the ground and covered by a body.
The bag nearly knocks Corabb off his horse. Near the ground he lets it go and is carried away by his horse as he pulls himself back up on it.
There’s a huge explosion, one Fiddler thinks should have killed him. The voice, which he recognized, tells him: “Can’t leave you on your own for a Hood-damned minute, can I? Say hello to Kalam for me, will ya? I’ll see you again, sooner or later. And you’ll see me too. You’ll see us all. Just not today. Damned shame ‘bout your fiddle though.” The body disappears and Fiddler, on his knees, cries out “Hedge! Damn you, Hedge!” Cuttle finds him and tells him Ranal died in the explosion. The rest of the squad joins them, then Borduke’s group is seen. Smiles wonders at the size of the crater and says “Gods, Sergeant, you couldn’t have been much closer to Hood’s Gate and lived, could you?” He answers “You’ve no idea how right you are, lass.” As he listens to the song and feels his heart “matching that cadence,” he thinks “Raraku has swallowed more tears than can be imagined. Now comes the time for the Holy Desert to weep. Ebb and flow, his blood’s song, and it lived on. It lives on.”
Fayelle, the last one of Dom’s mages left alive, realizes she and the thirteen Dogslayers had fled the wrong way. She thinks the ambush of Leoman had been perfect until the ghosts arrived. They themselves are ambushed and Fayelle is pinned under her dead horse. She looks up to see “The child. Sinn. My old student.” She tells Sinn she’ll wait for her at Hood’s gate, “and the wait won’t be long” and then Sinn kills her. Sinn rejoins the 16 surviving members of the Ashok regiment. She looks north and sees the horizon “limned in white, and it was rising.” Sinn thinks Fayelle knew what was coming, then they all get on the horses and ride as they hear “a roar that belittled even the Whirlwind Wall in its fullest rage. Raraku had risen. To claim a shattered warren.”
Nil and Nether, sensing what was coming, had warned Tavore and the army got to the islands of coral—the highest points. They see high clouds, then hear “A roar unceasing, building, of water, cascading, foaming, tumbling across the vast desert. The Holy Desert, it seemed, held far more than bones and memories. More than ghosts and dead cities.” Lostara wonders if Pearl is high on that hill with Sha’ik’s grave and if it were high enough. And thinks too of what she’s seen recently: “Crucified dragons. Murdered gods. Warrens of fire and warrens of ashes. It was odd, she reflected, to be thinking these things even as a raging sea was born from seeming nothing and was sweeping towards them, drowning all in its path.” She’s upset as how hard she’d been on Pearl, “what a stupid thing to have let it happen.” Pearl appears and they banter like they had. He tells her they’ll survive the sea—where they stand were islands once. She asks what they’ll do stranded in the flooded basin on islands and he says he assumes they’ll build rafts and then a bridge; “I have every confidence in the Adjunct.” The sea hits and Lostara sees he’s right. She looks at Tavore and thinks, “Why does looking at you break my heart?”
Fiddler’s squad, waiting for the sea to hit, watches Karsa riding away in the distance. Fiddler thinks the song of the sea is “strangely warm, almost comforting.” Then two men step out of a warren and he goes to embrace them: “they were his brothers. Mortal souls of Raraku. Raraku, the land that had bound them together. Bound them all, as was now clear, beyond even death.”
Heboric’s group looks down from the ridge to the sea below. They’re interrupted by Pust’s arrival on his mule. He tells them L’oric is not dead and they will be his guests.
Cutter in the top chamber of Pust’s temple. When he had woken, Apsalar had been gone and he knew she was gone and he could not follow. Cotillion joins him and tells him “There are countless paths awaiting you.” When Cutter says he knows Cotillion had spoken to Apsalar and helped her make a decision, Cotillion says the choice was hers to make. Cutter replies it doesn’t matter and admits that though Cotillion says there are countless paths, Cutter sees none “worth walking.” Cotillion asks if he wants one and tells him how once a man charged with protecting the life of a young girl had done so with such honor as “to draw, upon his sad death, the attention of Hood himself. Oh, the Lord of Death will look into a mortal’s soul, given the right circumstances, the uh, the proper incentive. Thus, that man is now Knight of Death.” When Cutter says he doesn’t want to be Knight or anything for anyone, Cotillion tells him that isn’t what he’s suggesting. He continues with the story of Baudin, saying he failed and the girl, Felisin, Captain Paran’s sister, is dead. Soon, he says, Pust will return with guests, including a child named Felisin, taken in by Paran’s sister: “She adopted a waif. A sorely abused foundling. She sought, I think—we will never know for certain, of course—to achieve something, something she herself had no chance, no opportunity, to achieve. Thus, she named the waif after herself.” When Cutter asks why he should care, what the girl is to him, Cotillion calls him obstinate and says the right question is “What are you to her?” He names her companions: another woman, a very remarkable one, as you—and she—will come to see. And with a priest, sworn now to Treach. From him, you will learn much of worth. Finally, a demon travels with these three humans. For the time being.” He explains they are stopping by to pick up Cutter: “Symmetry, lad is a power unto itself. It is the expression, if you will, of nature’s striving for balance. I charge you with protecting Felisin’s life. To accompany them on their long and dangerous journey.” Cutter replies, “How epic of you,” and Cotillion “snaps” angrily “I think not,” causing Cutter to regret his words. Cutter agrees to join them, but says, “abused, you said. Those ones are hard to get to. To befriend I mean. Their scars stay fresh and fierce with pain.” Cotillion says Felisin elder did OK despite her own scars and Cutter should count his blessings he has the daughter and not the mother, and to also think of Baudin must have felt. When Cutter begins to ask Cotillion more about “this notion of balance,” he is silenced by Cotillion’s eyes—“their unveiling of sorrow, of remorse” when he interrupts to say “From her to you. Aye.” Cutter wonders if Apsalar saw that and Cotillion says, “All too clearly, I’m afraid.” Cutter looks away, saying, “I loved her, you know. I still do,” to which Cotillion replies, “So you do not wonder why she has left.” And Cutter begins to cry as he answers, “No Cotillion, I do not.”
Karsa stops alongside the new inland sea for lunch, then pulls out Siballe’s head. He asks her what she sees and looking upon the water she says “My past . . . All that I have lost.” Karsa tells her “You once said that if you were thrown into the sea, your soul would be freed. That oblivion would come to you.” He asks if this was the truth and when she says yes, he picks her up and walks to the water’s edge. She says she doesn’t understand and he answers, “When I began this journey I was young. I believe in one thing. I believed in glory. I know now, ‘Siballe, that glory is nothing. Nothing. This is what I now understand . . . [and] one other thing. The same can not be said for mercy.” He throws her into the water and watches her head sink. Looking at his sword, he says, “Yes. I am Karsa Orlong of the Uryd, a Teblor. Witness my brothers. One day I will be worthy to lead such as you. Witness.” He rides “West, into the wastes.”
Onrack meets with Minala and her “young killers.” She wonders if they can be trusted and Trull says he doesn’t know how to convince her except by giving her the whole of his “lengthy and rather unpleasant story. She says, “spare me” and exits the room. Trull begins to say he isn’t surprised that no one wants to hear it, but Onrack interrupts and says he will listen. Trull laughs at his audience: “a score of children who do not understand my native tongue, and three expressionless and indifferent undead. By tale’s end, only I will be weeping, likely for all the wrong reasons.” Monok looks at Onrack and says, “You have felt it . . . so you seek distraction.” When Trull inquires, Monok answers, “She is destroyed. The woman who gave Onrack her heart in the time before the Ritual. The woman to whom he avowed his own heart, only to steal it back. In many ways, she was destroyed then, already begun on her long journey to oblivion.” He stops to ask Onrack if denies it and when Onrack says no, Monok continues. “Madness, of such ferocity as to defeat the Vow itself. Like a camp dog that awakens one day with fever in its brain. That snarls and kills in a frenzy. Of course we had no choice but to track her down, corner her. And so shatter her, imprison her within eternal darkness . . . Madness, then, to defy even us. But now, oblivion has claimed her soul. A violent, painful demise, but none the less.” He stops in surprise, then says “Trull Sengar, you—have not begun your tale, yet already you weep.” Trull is silent a moment, then replies, “I weep, Monok Ochem, because he cannot.” Monok turns to Onrack and tells him, “Broken One, there are many things you deserve, but this man is not one of them.” When he turns away, Onrack speaks, “Monok Ochem, you have traveled far from the mortal you once were, so far as to forget a host of truths, both pleasant and unpleasant. The heart is neither given nor stolen. The heart surrenders.” Monok doesn’t bother to turn around when he replies, “That is a word without power to the T’lan Imass, Onrack the Broken.” But Onrack rejects that statement, saying “You are wrong, Monok Ochem. We simply changed the word to make it not only more palatable, but also to empower it. With such eminence that it devoured our souls.” When Monok denies that, Trull sighs, “Onrack’s right . . . You called it the Ritual of Telann . . . And you’ve the nerve to call Onrack broken.” A long silence follows, through which Onrack keeps his eye on Trull, patiently, thinking “To grieve is a gift best shared. As a song is shared. Deep in the caves, the drums beat. Glorious echo to the herds whose thundering hoofs celebrate what it is to be alive, to run as one, to roll in life’s rhythm. This is how, in the cadence of our voice, we serve nature’s greatest need. Facing nature, we are the balance. Ever the balance to chaos. Eventually his patience was rewarded. As he knew it would be.”
Amanda’s Reaction to Chapter Twenty-Six
One thing I do love and appreciate at the end of each Malazan book is the fact that the sections within the chapters get shorter and snappier. It helps with the commentary — seriously! Can sometimes be hard to find things to say about a massive block of text! But, more than anything, the structure drives the pace along at a vicious rate and sweeps the reader up into a Whirlwind (yes, I said it) of action.
I feel we are walking the end of Felisin’s path, as she comes to realise that the madness and hate of the goddess is reflected in her, and makes them kindred spirits. I think she finally recognises the fact that she is not truly fit to live in this state, that her path has taken her to a truly dark place. The most heartbreaking part of this section is hearing her memories of the beloved brother and his treatment of her. That really hurts — especially when thinking about how far they’ve now both travelled down strange paths.
Also, I wonder what was the betrayal of the goddess: “Bitter with age, bilious with malice. And whatever fuelled it bore the sour taste of betrayal. A heart-piercing, very personal betrayal.”
It is definitely an eerie picture, those soldiers in the dawn not moving and then we find out that every single one of them is dead. Raraku has claimed more lives. This is a desert of blood, isn’t it, when you consider what has taken place there.
Finally a character asking some of the same questions as me. *grins* “Who will they fight for? Why are they here at all? What do they want?”
Heh, considering the comments from many of you about how the fight between the Deragoth and Karsa was a bit “off” in terms of what Karsa managed to achieve — well, L’oric here provides the awe that some of us were possibly missing. “Gods, he killed the Deragoth.”
“I think the Crippled God has made a terrible mistake...” This is possibly true.
What has L’oric seen? What makes him leave so abruptly? (I’m guessing that this is one of those things that will be revealed almost immediately).
Oh my word! The goddess is in a funk (still!) because Onrack drew pictures of Kilava? These events really are all interlinked, aren’t they?
Umm, the children of Kilava: “The children will die. I will cleanse the world of their beget, the proud-eyed vermin born, one and all, of that single mother. Of course she could not join the Ritual. A new world waited within her.” Who might this race of people be? Is it the Eres’al?
Our first proper on-screen sighting of T’amber as well, with words and everything, and.... Nothing seems to be revealed. Except, maybe, that she has a true understanding of what Tavore needs?
Finally the whole game plan is revealed — or certainly Febryl’s part in it, as the Goddess is murdered before L’oric’s eyes. L’oric really is very careless, isn’t he? We seem to constantly find him with his life blood draining away! I love that moment where L’oric is held in his father’s arms, how he cherishes it, and then is almost immediately annoyed by something his father says. That feels rather like the way I and my father interact. *grins*
The story of Tavore and Felisin is so damn tragic. I feel such epic sadness for these sisters who have ended up at war through the whim of others. It’s even more sad that Tavore never realised who it was that she was fighting against. Or is it more sad that, in the very endgame, Felisin came back to herself, abandoned by the goddess, and was raising her arms to her sister as she was cut down. And that comment from Leoman: “She,” -his face twisted- ”she did not know how to fight.”
I’m so fiercely proud that Coltaine’s standard was raised amongst the remains of the Dogslayers — the Bridgeburners did good!
This is heartbreaking as well: “They had come too late. Within sight, only to see Tavore batter Sha’ik’s weapon out of her hands, then thrust that sword right through her... name it, Lostara Yil, you damned coward. Name it! Her sister. Through her sister.”
Does Tavore have any inkling of what she’s done? “There was none of the triumph there he thought he would see. Indeed, she looked worn down, as if the falling of spirit that followed every battle had already come to her, the deathly stillness of the mind that invited dire contemplation, that lifted up the host of questions that could never be answered.”
I feel a little dense, but I’m not clear why the two dogs and the mare helped bring the spirits of the slain there — is it because there was a connection to previous events?
Nice to see Keneb receive his promotion.
And here we see the true journey that Karsa has made over the course of this novel — his revoking of the vow he made against the Malazans as a younger man. I’m not sure why he now feels the Malazans are okay, to be honest, but it is definitely personal growth that he doesn’t feel the need to kill everyone.
Sappers really are insane, aren’t they? Just sayin’.
Ha, finally the Tiste Liosan provide me an emotion that isn’t irritation - now I’m merely amused at the idea of them saying “I want to go home” and then coming up with a suitably serious reason as to why they can do that. They’re such ungodly cowards! Although, having said that, they’ve just had a cusser explode around them so maybe I should cut them a little bit of slack! That last line kills me: “It’s all the dragon’s fault, in fact. Who would refute that?”
Corabb really is the luckiest bastard in all the world. Snakes indeed....
That is a great scene where Fiddler realises who saved him: “Can’t leave you on your own for a Hood-damned minute, can I?” How lonely must that be for Fiddler, to realise that all his mates are there to be met, but he can’t join them just for now.
Sinn... Now, Sinn was the girl that Kalam met, right? That feels like a long time ago now....
All those hints about the sea and finally we now see why. Raraku is returning to its original state. I like the fact that it is sweeping through and renewing an area which has seen such pain and sorrow.
Oh... Well met, Kalam and Quick Ben: that picture of them hugging Fiddler in one embrace soothes my soul.
Hmm, what has Pust stolen Felisin and Scillara for?
And another cracking scene involving Cotillion. I should have seen it coming that Cutter was finely placed to take up the role of Baudin in the balance of the new Felisin and the journey she must make. This is excellent writing:
“Cotillion. This notion of balance. Something has occurred to me-”
Cotillion’s eyes silenced him, shocked him with their unveiling of sorrow...of remorse. The patron of assassins nodded. “From her....to you. Aye.”
Bill’s Reaction to Chapter Twenty-Six
I know people went (go) back and forth on Felisin as a character. While I can see how her earlier self could be nettlesome to some readers, I’ve never had that negative a reaction to her. But once we move into Sha’ik mode, I find my sympathy for her rising, and as the book continues, I find it to be accelerating. As a rereader, rather than a first-time reader (and it’s been so long since I read her for the first time that I cannot recall my response at that time), it is difficult for me to read these last few chapters, and most especially this one, without a growing, almost overwhelming sense of sorrow and tragedy. Tragedy in the true classical sense, as for instance Greek audiences would already know where all those dramas by Sophocles and Aeschylus were going. It’s like those horrible nightmares where you see the horrible event descending—the killer moving methodically forward, the train hurtling ever onward—and you’re frozen in place, eyes forced wide open.
And so it is I find all these last moments with Felisin, and like Erikson, I have to use Felisin rather than Sha’ik, so painful and so heartbreaking. Much of that is situational. But much of it is also technique. Just in the opening paragraphs:
- The way Erikson shifts from Sha’ik to Felisin, giving that young girl life once more.
- The way he offers up a visual of innocence: “Round-cheeked and flushed, a wide smile and bright eyes.”
- The way he offers up a scene of true familial bliss: “a brother who adored her, who would toss her about one knee as if it was a bucking horse” before having her sibling kill her.
- The way he offers up a young girl dreaming of being like her mother (the gift of vision) and then achieving that dream in such twisted, perverse fashion.
- The way he offers up a Felisin who sees herself, at the end, clearly. “[I have] walked that same path. Hatred, sweet as nectar. I have walked into the abyss.”
- The way he shows her still, in the face of the goddess’s consuming power, still clinging to a fragment of her soul. And to a wish, a hope, a tiny against-all-odds hope, that she might return to what she was, return to a place where “confusion does not exist,” return to “the place of childhood.” And of course, we know as we read this that no matter what the outcome, this is an impossibility. And we know she knows it as well, and so it hurts all the more. And oh, for us rereaders. Oh, what we know.
- The way she thinks of a mother’s embrace.
- And the way she reaches for her helm. As Oedipus reaches for the truth.
Outside of the Felisin focus in the opening section, I just wanted to point out the description of the goddess toward the end: “Her walk is a shamble, cramped and stiff, a song of rusty fittings and creaking straps.” That ending of the sentence—the fittings and straps—seems a nice hint to me of the Imass.
I like how even at this very end point, Erikson keeps L’oric’s intentions a mystery. What is it he is going to offer the goddess? I don’t think I saw him offering up himself as he does. I’m pretty sure I felt whatever he was going to do would be basically “good,” but I think he was pretty cryptic to me.
We had some talk of the “ease” with which Karsa took out the two Hounds of Darkness. Now, in his description, one might say it doesn’t seem all that easy. But wounds, no matter how bad, still don’t cut it for me, I have to admit. And also, I’m not sure I “feel” these wounds. Sure, we’re told his “hands were a crimson ruin” and his leg had been “chewed by vicious oversized jaws,” that he “favors” his leg when he dismounts, but I never get any sense that this truly, significantly affects Karsa at all (heck, I “favor” my legs after a game of ultimate Frisbee cuz of some patella tendinitis).
That said, I do enjoy his matter of fact litany of death and mayhem. Oh yeah, I killed Febryl. Oh yeah, and Bidithal. Oh, and....
Another hint to the goddess in her rage carving her memories’ likenesses “as mockingly solid and real-seeming as those carved trees in the forest of stone.” And what faces are carved there? Yep, T’lan Imass.
And here of course we get the direct confirmation that the goddess is Onrack’s wife. And the “bitch” is Kilava. I can’t say for 100 percent surety, but my memory is that I’d figured this out and was proud of myself for doing so on my first read. And that it was an intellectual pleasure to do so, something one doesn’t always get in a fantasy novel.
Chains. I like the metaphor of vengeance like a “beast long straining at its chains,” both for how it fits the motif of the novel, for the image itself, for its irony in how she dies.
So, what do you all think of the Goddesses discussion of humans as the “children” of Onrack and Kilava? Literally true? Metaphorically true? Mad ravings of an insane person?
For all the “aloof” and cryptic references we get with regard to Tavore, it’s good to recall that she is not presented as robotic. Her reaction to Gamet’s death is a very human, very vulnerable one. Steadying herself on the table is, for Tavore, the equivalent of a weeping meltdown. But it is a reaction. It is too easy, I think, to see her as “cold” because we get that description from so many povs and so we should note with extra emphasis perhaps these sort of moments throughout the series.
T’amber. Wait for it.
“There was no visor covering her eyes.” Oh, but there is. Tavore will not see what she does.
It’s an interesting description of the goddess from L’oric’s magical sight. She “trails the chains of Tellann.” I wonder how to read that. Are those chains similar to Karsa’s—chains that once connected her to the “ghosts” (read “undead”) of her kin in the ritual? Chains are usually presented in a negative light in this series—so is this another example of the ritual being a bad thing? A negative linkage of technique or principle between the Chained God (read “villain” seemingly). Or are these chains symbolic of the links of kinship and friendship, and so it’s the severing of them that is bad?
All in all, not a lovely image she presents, by the way.
So why is L’oric offering himself up in Sha’ik’s stead? To save Felisin? To save the Goddess? To save Raraku from the Goddess? To save Raraku from the Chained God who seeks to usurp it through the Goddess?
Remember we were prepared for the efficacy of these assassin’s ensorcelled knives earlier. As well as the ambush, obviously.
Why is it no surprise the Dom’s assassins get called “butchers”?
Love this conversation between Osric and L’oric. There some true warmth there. And love the dry ending.
And now back to heartbreak.
- Felisin being called Felisin again.
- Felisin standing “alone.” (How many times has this poor kid been “abandoned” by those around her, even if not intentionally?)
- The softness of her memory: “Ganoes laughing and gently instructing her”, “joy and comfort,” “natural pleasures.”
- The ache of that separation from childhood, where you believed the world does not, cannot change, that all will be as it always is—mother, father, brother, sister, laughter, happiness.
- “blood is the chain that can never break.” Chains in their more sophisticated usage again.
- The weight of blood, of kinship, of connection, of love.
- That painfully sharp naivety and innocence of raising her arms and “unthinking of how that motion would be received.” I read this as a proffered embrace and oh, how much that hurts—raising her arms to the sister that did so much to her, raising her arms to end all this, to join herself to her family again, to join herself to herself again, and that brutal efficiency with which it is yanked away from her.
- That beautiful imagery “a blossom of cold fire” the contrast between image and action.
- The innocence of a child’s question: “Why?”
- The agony of a child’s question: “Why did you not love me when I loved you?”
- And that last line.
This scene gets me every time. But worse, it gets me every time before I ever get to it, because it is so hard to read Felisin without this ever present, especially in this book. You’ll never read her character the same way once you’ve read this when you embark on your own reread.
And of course, the question now will haunt the reader for as long as we’re with Tavore—will she ever find out?
Gotta love Pearl. The lie that isn’t a lie. The removal of the body. And how many times have we seen, and will we see, this exchange: “She looks so... alone” with regard to Tavore.
Kindly and Pores. Oh Amanda, I envy you Kindly and Pores for the first time.
Tavore: “This rebellion will be ashes on the wind when we are done.”
File like you wouldn’t believe.
Who says great huge barbarian killing machines cannot change? Have to hand it to Karsa. I do like his development in this book, his growth in wisdom, no matter how many of his aspects bother me. The same holds true for the later scene with Siballe. His recognition of the error of his youthful focus on glory and his more mature realization that glory is “nothing.” And mercy? Mercy, on the other hand, is something.
Love that whole “I will not kill you” — “We are relieved” — “You should be” — “something tells me the bastard was right” exchange.
Ranal. Hmm, take out the R and....
That scene with Felisin and Tavore is so all-encompassing agonizing and tragic, that it’s good I think that Erikson offers us up the comic relief afterward—Karsa’s scene, the Tiste Liosan scene, Corabb’s scene. (Snakes!)
Admit it, y’all forgot about Sinn didn’t ya?
But I’m assuming nobody forgot about the waters of Raraku. You can’t say we weren’t set up for this event. Start to finish, this book (series actually) has been paving the way for the sea’s return.
After all that’s transpired, who doesn’t smile at the reunion of Quick Ben, Fiddler, and Kalam? I love Erikson’s decision to leave us mere distant spectators—that moment belongs to them.
I like Cotillion’s focus on symmetry (something we’ve noted already in this book) as physicists theorize it does in fact underlie nature’s most basic laws.
And once more we get an emotional moment from Cotillion, that “sorrow . . . remorse” in his eyes. We’ve had two times in this book where much has been made of his killing prowess. This is a god (or a “patron”) with power. And a god with plans (not to mention a crazy, devious partner). What would that power do when wedded to compassion and empathy? What will that power be employed in the pursuit of in a god who can show remorse and grief? Who might that kind of god set himself against? And what, in this vein, about Karsa? A killing machine who dares to threaten the gods themselves and who now believes it seems in the power of mercy. Who might he, in turn, set himself against if mercy becomes a guiding, if not a primary, principle? If compassion and empathy and mercy starts to become the order of business among some ascendants, the gods themselves (or at least some of them) may shiver.
Amanda’s Reaction to the Epilogue
In this epilogue I love the fact that Erikson returns to the example of the mad dog that needs to be cornered, tracked down.
Another indication that the T’lan Imass really are not the good guys we once imagined they were — they were the ones who created the goddess that stole away Felisin’s life.
And so we start the tale of Trull Sengar....
Bill’s Reaction to the Epilogue
That camp dog metaphor should sound pretty familiar—it is, after all, what we see in the book’s opening.
Trull weeping for Onrack is simply a great moment. I’ve said it before; I’ll say it many time after—nobody does pairs like Erikson.
It would have been easy to end the book with Felisin’s death, or nearby to that, give the book that lingering weight of tragedy. But I like this ending better — “life’s rhythm” and “ever the balance to chaos.” But I’m a softie.
Okay, we’re waiting to hear about Steven joining us for questions afterward. And we’ll probably take our usual “we need a week to put our brains back together” break in between books. So we’ll let you know in comments as to what and when. Let’s hear what you though about the book as a whole as well as this chapter.
As for Midnight Tides, I have two words: Tehol and Bugg.
Amanda’s Thoughts on House of Chains
House of Chains... what to say... I don’t know whether it was because of the period I had with working abroad and then vacation causing my reading to feel disjointed, but I didn’t connect with House of Chains the same way as previous books in the series. For the first time since those very early pages of Gardens, it felt like a chore trying to muster my thoughts. Sure, there were some cracking scenes in the grandest tradition of what I have come to expect, but there was also Karsa’s early scenes, the relationship between Trull and Onrack that I’ve never managed to really enjoy, and the increasing tragedy of the scenes within Sha’ik’s camp. It was a dark book, with less of the humour and fierce joy that has characterised previous novels. For the first time, I’m not considering a re-read.
I know that a lot of people have said that House of Chains is a novel that transitions you from the introduction to the actual story of the rest of the books in the series. All I hope is that it isn’t an indication of the future direction.
And did it feel a little bit like the novel somewhat limped to a close? All this time we’ve been building to a tumultuous battle in my mind, and I sort of feel cheated that it never happened, that we didn’t see the achievements of Tavore’s army that was so green when it first came together. (Limp is probably the wrong word, considering some of the events, such as Karsa gaining the heads that he now drags around as ornamentation!)
Still, saying that, there were some great aspects to enjoy — the coming together again of Kalam and Quick Ben (who is a right scene stealer, isn’t he?); some of Karsa’s dialogue; the change wrought to Heboric. But, for me, they were overtaken by the parts I didn’t enjoy. House of Chains is so far my least favourite of the books, and leaves me a little hesitant to pick up the next. I’d be really interested to hear your views, especially those who are re-reading this novel. Did it become a better experience second time round? Are there future novels that stand up to the excellence of Deadhouse Gates and Memories of Ice?
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.