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 Five of Midnight Tides by Steven Erikson (MT).
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.
Udinaas speaks to the wraith haunting him. It tells him to call it Wither, and says it was once a Tiste Andii, murdered and tossed aside, and then came ice, then it was torn loose to serve its killers—Tiste Edur, followers of Bloodeye the betrayer. Udinaas realizes that all the shadow wraiths must be Tiste Andii and thinks they will be allies. Wither guides him to dig up an arrowhead and tells him he must “resurrect it,” refusing to say why.
Buruk’s group nears the Edur village and Binadas notes the smoke from a funeral. He moves ahead of them. Hull asks Seren what she will do when they reach the Edur. She doesn’t answer, but warns him the Edur may listen to him but not follow his advice. She suspects Hull’s death is being plotted in Lether. Hull asks what she was like as a child and her list of transgressions surprises him. They discuss compassion and injustice. He tells her that her assumptions on his plans are wrong and asks she not stand in his way. As they near the village, they note more shadow wraiths than usual and Hull says it is an army. On the trail ahead of them, they see Silchas Ruin as an “apparition.” He tells them a dragon made this trail, “kin of my betrayer.” He says the dragon was innocent but mortals are not. A horde of mice sweeps down the trail. Silchas disappears, as do the mice. Buruk tells Seren and Hull all the Holds are awakening and he wonders about the Seventh Closure prophecy. Seren thinks she can save neither Hull nor “any of us.”
The Warlock King’s preparations for war—making arms, training an army of Edur—has begun. Fear is Weapons Master and will lead the army in battle. Fear tells Trull they will leave the next day on Mosag’s quest. Trull thinks his brothers are somehow different and he worries for the future.
Udinaas sleeps and finds himself in a world of ice. He sees bodies of K’Chain Che’Malle, Edur, Andii in the ice. He flees and passes herd animals, huge-wolves, horned beasts—all frozen mid-act. He realizes this was an act of sorcery. He enters a portal and sees in a place of freezing cold a tall many-jointed figure surrounded by tusked corpses. He sees a human child’s footprints leading out of the chamber. Backtracking them, he passes behind the tall figure and sees its head had been caved in from behind. The footprints indicate the child has simply appeared behind the figure. He follows the footprints through the doorway and hears battle sounds, but sees nothing. He finds himself flying on leather wings—he is a Locqui Wyval, one of many flying. Silchas Ruin appears in dragon form. He knows he will not witness the betrayal. He wakes back home and tells Wither he traveled to where Wither was killed. Wither says it wants to escape and needs Udinaas help, telling him not to worry about the Edur; Wither will deal with them.
Mayen enters the Sengar household and Trull notes what he thinks is unease on Fear’s part (though born of what is unclear) and lust on Rhulad’s part. They speak of the brothers’ journey into the ice-fields. Binidas refers to old sorcery there and a tribe of hunters who live on the ice. Trull wonders why Mosag chose them, with Fear as Weapon’s Master and Binidas one of the best sorcerers. Mayen and Uruth speak of spirits walking at night and the wraiths fleeing them. Uruth says she fears the “tide of change . . . will sweep us away,” which angers Tomad, who believes the Edur ride the rising tide. They agree there will be war. Tomad upbraids Rhulad for speaking foolishly and wonders what “dread knowledge” causes him to strut around. Rhulad says Mosag will sacrifice an Edur to set off the fleet and when he names Menandore, Udinaas drops a plate. Uruth sees his hands are cracked and bleeding and another slave says those wounds weren’t there a minute ago. Uruth uses magic to see if Udinaas is possessed and declares he is not. Udinaas passes out and Mayen tells Feather Witch to help him; he is dragged away. Mayen and Uruth spar over Udinaas’ treatment. Tomad tells Rhulad he’s heard nothing of Mosag reinstating the ancient ways of sacrifice.
Udinaas tells Feather Witch Uruth found nothing when she looked for the Wyval. Feather Witch argues it must have just hid, but Udinaas says it is gone. He says, however, he has an ally in him: a shadow wraith and he plans to “repay debts.”
Amanda’s Reaction to Chapter Five
So this Shadow Wraith is whose heart Udinaas heard? Wither, the Tiste Andii. Wither is not a very positive sounding name, but then Erikson’s naming convention usually bears no relation to the character of the person so named. Which is actually unusual. Most fantasy authors will use more spiky consonants when they name their bad guys — a multitude of z’s, for sure — whereas Erikson just seems to apply names to no real import to them. I wonder how he went about naming his characters?
It’s very strange — nothing that Udinaas has said or done has indicated that he feels himself to truly be a slave. “I am more than a slave, Wither, as you well know.”
Udinaas doesn’t overly question Wither’s declaration that the Edur betrayed the Andii rather than the other way around, as the Edur report. Maybe because he doesn’t care much about which race killed which eons ago!
Hmm, a blade of iron with sorcerous investment? I have filed, Bill!
Binadas must have been feeling terrible about seeing that smoke and not knowing which of his villages — if any — had died. The Edur would never give the Letherii slaves these same rites of funeral, would they? So he knows for sure that it is one of his own kind. I like the fact that Seren understands this and shows the empathy to send him ahead.
She shows the same depth of perception when she says: “We are all like soldiers, crouching behind the fortifications we have raised.” That whole armour thing again... People hiding behind facades.
I like this question Erikson poses through Seren’s introspection: “How much could be stripped from a people before they began stripping away themselves?”
Hmm, I think it says something about the relationship between Hull and Seren that he believes that she was zealous and well-behaved as a child, while she was, in actuality, a child with little innocence. I am not quite sure what is intended when she says: “My enemy was not authority, although perhaps it seemed so. It was childhood itself. The lowered expectations of adults, the eagerness to forgive. It sickened me.” All I do know is that Seren seems to have a lot of bitterness in her past.
I feel sorry for Seren, when Hull says he cannot trust her. There is so much tension and unspoken words between these two. Not helped by Buruk’s rather callous words about love!
The shadow wraiths absolutely creep me out — especially since there was a hint that these wraiths are possibly Tiste Andii souls, haunting their betrayers.
“Are they truly the ancestors of the Edur?”
His gaze snapped to her, feverish. “Of course. What else could they be?”
Famous last question...
And now Silchas Ruin makes his appearance! (Which Buruk doesn’t seem to be all that surprised by...) Is he referring to himself when he talks about the dragon, or is this someone else?
In this conversation between Ruin and Seren, there are a number of references to the small, the defenceless and the meaningless. “All of us, here in your wake, we are as nothing [...] a multitude of tiny selves [...] And the tiny creatures that fed on them [...] You would deliver countless small deaths?” This seems to be a deliberate emphasis on how little these personalities can truly have an effect on events around them.
Owls and crows again. Will these be used as symbols throughout the novel, in the same way that capemoths and bloodflies were used in Deadhouse Gates?
I’m sure there are many — including Trull here — who would rather un-know a secret than be forced to act upon it. Especially when possible treason is involved.
Fear’s appointment as Weapons Master for Hannan Mosag’s army — honour? Or way to get rid of one of the pesky Sengar individuals? And is Rhulad’s reaction jealousy? Or is it more that he’s now thinking about lonely Mayen, in need of company in his brother’s absence?
Trull doubts himself constantly. It must be exhausting to be him. A life of paranoia, mistrust, and yet the inability to speak out about any of it. “And so the fault is mine, within me. I need to remain mindful of that.”
The first scene of slaughter in Udinaas’ dreamscape is the remains of the battle we saw between the K’Chain Che’Malle and the Tiste races from the Prologue, I would guess, but that second scene of slaughter is unknown. Unless it is thanks to the ice that Gothos brought into being — did it have an effect on another part of the world? Is this an example of how events in one place can influence those in another?
Lots of set-up in that dreamscape. I’m just wondering something as well... That sorcerous piece of metal that Wither had Udinaas retrieve — would that be part of Silchas Ruin’s swords? Scattered to the four winds? Is Udinaas going on a bit of a trek to retrieve the remainder and restore the swords?
Have I mentioned that I really don’t like Mayen? And I’m not that fond of Rhulad either. There will be trouble with those two, mark my words. Although it looks as though Mayen has her own secrets and desires. Is it her who has put the fear of ancient sacrifice into Rhulad’s mind? She is certainly pleased to see him clash with his father. She is a manipulative so-and-so, isn’t she?
And so ends a chapter that is mostly set-up for future events, but no less entertaining for that.
Bill’s Reaction to Chapter Five
Thank God Udinaas told Wither no more rhymes.
We see some of Udinaas’ strength when he tells Wither not to call him slave.
Well, I think we can imagine that the ensorcelled arrowhead may play a role down the line once it is “resurrected.”
That’s quite the smooth movement, to go from Udinaas’ “I shall not be the hand of your vengeance” to the storyline involving Hull Beddict, of whom Seren worries that he will try and use the Edur as the hand of his own such vengeance.
It’s interesting now that we’ve been told what the shadow wraiths are, that they linger in the pyre flames long after mourners have left. Are they dancing in joy at the death of another Edur?
“How much could be stripped from a people before they began stripping away themselves?” This is yet another one of those oh-so poignant lines that has such painful echoes in our own human history.
If compassion, as I’ve argued before, is one of the most important themes of this series, then Seren’s judgment of the Letherii—that they believe is an a luxury none can afford—is a pretty severe indictment in the series’ context. It’ll be interesting to see which Letherii, if any, prove the exception to this.
Seren’s self-pondering as to whether she’ll “make any effort” to save Hull when the expected time comes is a bit of a surprise coming as it does so soon after Tehol’s near-certainty that she would protect him. Does Tehol know her better than she does herself?
Her past revelations also come as somewhat a surprise, complicating her character nicely.
It’s interesting—her revulsion at the ease with which adults would forgive her, forgive children. We’ll have to see how this plays out in acts to come.
That’s a little foreboding, Hull’s declaration that he, not the Edur, will be “the sword” in whatever he plans.
Nice little bit of uncertainty in the description of Seren wiping the “rain” from her face after we’re told via Buruk’s lines that she looked “besieged.” Rain? Or tears?
It doesn’t do much for the reader’s view of Hull that he sounds so certain when he proclaims the shadow wraiths are the Edur’s ancestors: “Of course. What else could they be?”
Add another great cinematic scene with the arrival of Ruin and the mice horde.
“You would deliver countless small deaths? In the name of what? Convenience?” Seems yet another indictment of modern day culture/civilization, for all that it the line is delivered amidst a forest trail.
So Ruin, according to Buruk’s secretive past tile reading, is associated with “Barrow and Root”—tiles in the Hold of the Azath. And we know he was carried to one, that the Azath House in Lether is dying, that what lies in its grounds are growing restless. It seems Ruin may not be long for the either the Barrow or the Root...
Note that this is the second time someone of Lether has questioned just what the Seventh Closure prophecy means, has questioned just who the new ruler of a rebirthed Empire will be.
I’m sure I don’t need to say it, but file that scene with the tall figure and dead Jaghut and missing child. The “too many joints” is a clue as to what that tall figure is by the way.
And we know the ensorcelled ice Udinaas travels through is Gothos’ sorcery, asked to “preserve” by Mael, a place where “time has ceased.”
More via Udinaas on the dangers of certainty.
That’s a bit more info on Silchas Ruin: “who fed in the wake of his brother—fed on Tiam’s blood, and drank deep. Deeper than Anomander Rake by far. Darkness and chaos. He would have accepted the burden of godhood had he been given the chance.” What effect does drinking more of Tiam’s blood have? Who/What is Tiam? What is the connection to “darkness and chaos?” All good questions...
So far Mayen has simply been a placeholder. An object of lust for Rhulad supposedly, an object of betrothal for Fear, an object of mistrust for Trull. I like how she, like Seren earlier (but much more so as she was a blank slate to now), becomes much more rich in this chapter, more complex and starts to fill out into a character in her own right—the way she enters the home appearing to know how she is regarded, the way she stands up to Uruth, drives conversation at the table, her seemingly odd reaction to Rhulad being chastened by Tomad. Much better having her as a full character than merely a catalyst for Trull’s actions and thoughts.
Remember that tribe that hunts on the ice.
Rhulad is also made more complex, with the revelation of his feelings, of why he feels restrained, of his fears as to possibly being sacrificed (shades of Agamemnon and Iphigenia).
This chapter doesn’t do a lot with plot. But it fleshes out several characters—Seren, Rhulad, Mayen—and teases us with some hints at things to come: the magic arrowhead, Udinaas’ desire for payback, Wither’s desire to escape, Hull making himself “the sword,” Ruin seemingly getting close to his own escape, etc.
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.