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 Four 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.
Watching Binadas approach, Seren thinks muses on the differences between male friendship and female friendship and the role of speech/language in them, and then beyond to male-female differences in general. Binadas tells them of the illegal seal hunt and how the Warlock King will even now have made answer. Hull says he’ll speak against Buruk’s words at the negotiations and Binadas tells him the Edur have schooled themselves by what the Edur have done to others. Hull says the Lether believe in their own destiny, Seren says the Lether believe in Progress and never looking back. As they move on, Seren thinks Hull wants to use the Edur as his own vengeance against Lether. She herself has little love for Letherii and thinks one days they’ll meet their match, though she doubts it will be against the Edur. She believes the Lether covet the Edur’s Blackwood, and that the seal gambit was the queen’s, not the king’s. She assumes there will be war.
Brys speaks to Gerun Eberict just before Ublala Pung attempts the Drowning. Because of his Tarthenal half-blood (four lungs) Ublala survives, winning his freedom and gaining Eberict a lot of money from betting.
Tehol tells Shand to hire Ublala as bodyguard for her and her sisters. They set to meet that night.
Four years ago Eberict single-handedly saved the King from assassination and was awarded the King’s Leave (immunity to all criminal conviction). Since then he’d killed 31 citizens (confirmed kills) and was connected to others. He also had become rich, though he was still a Finadd in the King’s Guard. He was to be sent to the negotiations with the Edur. Brys tells Eberict Hull is a concern with regard to the Great Meeting. Eberict tells Brys Tehol is up to something and when Brys doesn’t believe it, Eberict informs him that Tehol’s poverty is mere sham. He continues to say that Hull is Tehol’s greatest admirer, though he sorely lacks Tehol’s sense of timing. Brys asks if Eberict will stop Hull, and Eberict says he is undecided, and wonders if war might not be useful. Before Brys leaves, Eberict tells him the past decade of Lether’s history is focused on the Beddict brothers, and that seemingly continues.
Tehol and Bugg discuss Bugg’s hiring of workers and possible issue with the local guilds. Tehol thinks how he saw Brys talking to Eberict. Tehol had figured out that Eberict had set up the assassination attempt in order to get the King’s Leave. He thinks of Eberict as his one “true enemy,” and believes Eberict probably knows Tehol’s secrets as well. Tehol tells Bugg to set up a fake suicide for the person (Turble) who owes Eberict money for the bet on Ublala. Bugg worries if Eberict finds out he’ll kill Tehol. Tehol needs a thief for his next step against Eberict.
Shurq Ellale drowned in the Drownings, but a curse by a past victim of her thievery had kept her “undead.” She’d been shunned since. Bugg offers her a contract for thieving.
Tehol meets with Shand and the others. Ublala joins them.
Brys meets with the Preda (Unnutal Hebaz) and the First Concubine (Nisall) to report on his conversation with Eberict. The Preda is annoyed from an earlier meeting with Eberict, whom he considers arrogant. Brys reports Eberict is mulling killing Buruk and that the First Eunuch has been told. They discuss how the Queen wants war and they don’t want the King to remove Eberict from the Great Meeting as that would strengthen the Queen. Brys suggests trying to turn Buruk, but the Nisall says he won’t with Moroch Nevath there. The Preda says Eberict will need to add Nevath to his “list” (those he plans to kill). Brys says he doesn’t know why Eberict does what he does, but the Preda says he does and can get Eberict to add Nevath to his list. Nisall worries what Hull will do. Brys leaves.
Tehol tells Shand and the others to be patient. He and Bugg return home. Tehol meets with Shurq and tells her he needs san undead person. There are only three: a women whose cuckolded husband cursed her and the other a child living on the Azath grounds, and Shurq, who has the skills he needs. Shurq says she visits the child now and then and the child has no memory of her life. Intrigues, Tehol adds figuring out the girl to the job, which is to steal Eberict’s fortune. Shurq wants the “semblance of life” in payment — wants to look good, feel sexual pleasure again, etc. They agree to the job and she leaves.
Brys climbs to Tehol’s roof. He asks about the last time Tehol visited the crypt where their parents are buried and Tehol says he honors their memory in his own way. Brys asks for help in dealing with Hull. Tehol says Seren will protect him. Brys asks, “Like Mother did father?” Tehol says she could have save for her fear for her children; she could have destroyed the entire game of debt but couldn’t see what would rise from the destruction. He says Brys became King’s Guard so debt couldn’t find him, Hull went into self-exile to avoid gold’s trap, and he — Tehol — will do what his mother feared to do. Brys warns him of Eberict and Tehol says he’ll deal with him. They decide Brys was probably followed, but Tehol says Bugg raises wards so they weren’t overheard, though Brys will have to kill the man — most likely Eberict’s spy.
Brys finds where the spy stood, but there is only a lot of blood and a trail where the body was dragged. Brys was going to follow until he saw it was done by a child and he fears what kind of creature it might have been to kill the spy. Heading home, he thinks Tehol is a very dangerous man and wonders whose side he’s truly on.
Shurq looks over the Azath grounds and senses living creatures buried there. She sees Kettle — the young undead girl — where she’d dragged the spy’s corpse to a tree. Kettle tells Shurq she killed the spy how had followed a man who went to where Shurq had been. Kettle had followed Shurq to take care of her, like Shurq takes care of her (she wants Shurq to be her mother). Shurq has brought Kettle bodies before. Kettle says she is shunned like Shurq, though now Tehol (Kettle doesn’t know his name) isn’t shunning Shurq. Kettle tells her the Azath prisoners are restless and the tower is “sweating all the time.” She says five prisoners are trying to get out (Kettle especially doesn’t like those ones) and the Azath is dying, weakening. Shurq suggests finding a prisoner to help her, one who doesn’t try to use her. She should tell Shurq if she finds one and Shurq will advise her. When Kettle says the Azath needs bodies to stop from dying, Shurq says she’ll tell Kettle whom to kill and they’re be lots of bodies.
One prisoner overhears Shurq and Kettle. The house had been loosening its hold out of necessity, out of desperation at its nearing death. The Azath is desperate because the five trying to get free and near to doing so are Toblakai.
Amanda’s Reaction to Chapter Four:
Do you know something? I don’t think demons are so far removed from the Tiste Edur, when you consider some of the demons we’ve encountered over the course of the series so far. Some of them have demonstrated incredibly human traits, as some of the Edur have demonstrated bloodthirsty and warlike tendencies.
With what we heard at the end of Chapter Three, the Tiste Edur might well be a factor in the “greying of the world.” We also hear Buruk saying: “And the world itself, will that too pass? Like a deathly wind, our lives swirling like dust amidst its headlong rush?” Lots of mentions of the end of the world — Erikson has certainly raised the stakes here.
I like this in Seren’s thinking and believe it to be accurate: “In the course of an evening, a night and the following morning, perhaps a half-dozen words exchanged between them. And, she suspected, the forging of a vast, depthless friendship.” I’ve seen men exchange mere nods in greeting and been equally baffled by the fact that communication has passed. Having said that, I find the rest of the passage involving men and women to be full of generalizations and way too simplistic. I am a woman who likes both silence and words, and therefore don’t connect well with what Seren is presenting as the difference between men and women. It just didn’t appeal to me at all.
Both Buruk and Hull are attempting to win Binadas to their cause, but he believes the Sengar to be above it. In fact, he shows rather towering arrogance when he says: “We are not as those tribes.” I mean, they do have this weapon in the form of Hannan Mosag, but he seems to dismiss the Letherii way too easily.
It is fitting, then, that Seren shows us the same arrogance exists within the Letherii, lest we begin to favour one faction over the other. “We have a talent for disguising greed under the cloak of freedom. As for past acts of depravity, we prefer to ignore those. Progress, after all, means to look ever forward, and whatever we have trampled in our wake is best forgotten.” I do like the fact Seren recognises this and is rather mocking about it. However, she then also dismisses the Edur by counting the number of them versus the number of Letherii, if it came to battle between them. I do suspect the Edur might have the edge, and that Seren has no real idea of their ferocity.
We’re sure Blackwood has no relation to otataral? I only ask because we have here ships: “...that resist magic unleashed upon them.” If not otataral, what else can resist magical attacks?
A suspicion that the Queen had the resources and motive to send those Letherii seal-hunting ships to their deaths. She’s not a nice one, is she? And, it must be asked, is she acting alone or is someone controlling her, in order to create a situation of war between the Tiste Edur and the Letherii?
“There was to be war.” Not a comforting thought.
Finally, in this section, the use of darkness and shadows in the same sentence is surely not coincidence... “Darkness and shadows, drawing closer with every step she took.”
It might be barbaric, but I actually quite like the idea of having people swim across the canal with money dependent on the crime strapped to their back. It seems a fairly decent deterrent! I don’t like the idea that someone can pay their way out of their debt — nasty little way of allowing the rich to commit crimes and not expect any comeback!
Rampant betting always somehow makes a society seem louche and lazy.
Okay, I’m just a tiny bit confused — if Ublala Pung is a Tarthenal half-blood, does that make him half-Edur? Or is it something else? I also don’t like the way that his half-blood has added two hundred docks to his weight — how very racist the Letherii are...
Ha! I’m both amused and disgusted by the idea of lowlifes collecting Ublala’s body to make use of his evidently prodigious manhood! And I do love the way that he gets out of having to swim with all those coins strapped to him. I also love the fact that Tehol knows Tarthenal have four lungs and therefore walking across is definitely feasible — clearly Tehol has made a handy sum of money from gambling on this.
The King’s Leave is a very strange reward for saving the King’s life... What is to stop the Finadd becoming some power-hungry tyrant, as long as it doesn’t affect the King? And lo... “He was known to have personally murdered thirty-one citizens, including two wealthy, highly respected and politically powerful merchants, and at least a dozen other mysterious deaths were commonly attributed to him. He had, in short, become the most feared man in Letheras.”
Yuck! “...an alcoholic drink made from orange rinds, honey and Tusked Seal sperm.” And so funny: “It occurred to Brys that he had never seen a woman drink that particular concoction.”
Gerun is a very dangerous man — and what do the names on his list signify? Who is he trying to be rid of? It sounds as though Hull needs to watch his back.
Isn’t it curious that Gerun has also spotted Tehol’s diabolic genius — and additionally recognises the fact that Hull looks up to Tehol and admires what he sees? Something that many others have not observed. This is also a man who welcomes the idea of the turbulence of war. Definitely a very dangerous man.
Considering my role as an accountant, I am not too au fait with economic shenanigans, so I am hoping I will be able to follow the Tehol plotline and how he aims to make all that cash! I certainly don’t really get what it going on in that quick little conversation between he and Bugg... What I do like is how they go from the very banal to the very technical; this is very effective.
It’s very interesting now seeing Tehol’s opinion of Gerun and what he knows about the conspiracy, and how Gerun is working through his list. I’m still not sure I’ve grasped all the nuances of this, but it’s certainly intriguing.
Hmm, so the person who took Gerun’s bet on Ublala Pung belongs to Tehol — and they’re now going to get rid of him so that Gerun has no way to pursue the debt? I immediately assumed that when they said “suicide” they meant they would get rid of Turble — and I like that Tehol isn’t the type, and is instead going to remove Turble from the area.
What a fascinating character in the form of Shurq Elalle — in a page and a half Erikson presents a story that a lot of authors would take half a book to sort out. Concise, and bloody awesome! I really want to see more of Shurq.
I find it a little cute that Erikson likes toilet and willy jokes — amused by the reaction of the three ladies about their new bodyguard. I also like that Ublala is rather worried about having to take care of three women!
Heh, is it just me who enjoys the equality of the Queen having consorts as well as the King having concubines?
Poor Brys — he really is being hounded on all sides, with both of his brothers being speculated about. He is stuck now between Gerun, and the representatives of the King, knowing that a war is intended. I don’t think he is in a position to win right now.
I very much enjoyed the dialogue between Shurq Elalle and Tehol, especially the continuing refrain to not make her laugh. I don’t know whether it is sweet or pathetic that her one request is for Tehol to turn her into a woman again — or, at least, make her smell better.
I want to know more about this curse, which has now affected three people that we know of, one of them a child. Who is passing out these curses? What is the purpose?
Our first encounter with two of the Beddict brothers, and we’re given real hints about how they might have become the people that we see now, thanks to the behaviour of their mother against their father.
Tehol has realised that Seren is the manner in which Hull can find himself again. I’m sure we’ll see more of this.
And I think that Brys is more perceptive than he knows when he says: “He is on my side, isn’t he?”
Oh, this last meeting of the chapter between Shurq Alalle and Kettle is creepy and heartbreaking in equal measure. Poor Kettle, so desperate for a mother. Creepy Kettle, who can sense the Azath dying and can hear those bound within it. This is a dark, dark part of the story. Poor Kettle.
Bill’s Reaction to Chapter Four
Well, that’s a pretty grimly stark view: “Like a deathly wind, our lives swirling like dust amidst its headlong rush? Only to settle in its wake, dead and senseless — and all that frenzied cavorting empty of meaning?” Get him together with Macbeth (“tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow”), Vladimir and Estragon from Waiting for Godot, and the guy from The Stranger and we’ve got ourselves a party! No wonder the guy’s dosing himself to death.
I’m not usually big on sweeping generalizations either, Amanda, but Seren’s gender commentary did resonate with my own personal experience with the whole guys don’t need to talk much to be friends thing. And my wife/female friends often speak of how women are meaner to each other than men (often verbally) and often are mystified by how easily apologies (if one can even call them that) are handled between men vs. between women (we won’t even go to between men and women). That’s just my experience though. But I do like the stoppage here to muse over such issues. It also tells us something about Seren, I think besides the obvious self-statements (“she felt clumsy and course”) and that’s her sharp observation skills, her introspection, her cultural awareness.
I like her rock analogy as well. And how Seren herself (and probably Erikson via Seren) realizes these are generalizations and thus overly simplistic, that the real truth is each gender has “bits of both.”
Funny, I read the Hull-Binadas scene slightly differently Amanda. While Hull has good intent, his attitude speaks a bit to a paternalistic, condescending view. “I will speak against Hull’s lies... He will sneak to ensnare you..." Binadas telling him “We have seen the traps you laid out before the Nerek and the Tarthenal...” is a reminder that the Edur are not as children in this.
Once again, the description of Lether comes a bit close to home in our modern world: “My people believe in the stacking of coins... The climb signifies progress and progress is the natural proclivity of civilization... from which emerge notions of destiny.” We’ve certainly seen this in our history. Manifest Destiny — the great striking out into the West to make our (“our” individual and “our” national) fortune, which was “progress” and “destiny” and thus allows us to blithely commit genocide. And the same with colonial/imperial expansion elsewhere. And I wouldn’t limit it to the depths of history. And when “progress isn’t wiping out whole populations, it’s doing a pretty nice job of despoiling the environment. Or wreaking cultural or economic havoc. And thus I’ll climb off the soapbox....
For a line or two until we get to Seren’s “Progress means to look ever forward, and whatever we have trampled in our past is best forgotten.” I think this is a modern world phenomenon and an especially American one as well. We’re pretty good about razing the past, literally and metaphorically. Neil Postman used to talk about how with technology (broadly defined) we love to ask “what do we gain,” but we never ask, “What do we stand to lose.” I’ll step off again....
A subtle sign that Binadas does not think all is well in the Edur world, his “Would you, Friend?” question to Hull when Hull says he’d choose the Edur world over the Lether one.
Regarding the blackwood, there doesn’t need to be a relationship between otataral and the wood for them to have similar characteristics (anyone else get a flash of Robin Hobb on the “living wood” phrase?). I wonder though how the Lether know the magic-resistance is inherent to the wood and not invested in the wood by Edur magic. Perhaps their mages can sense the difference.
It says something about Lether society that failure to pay a debt and damage to property gets equal punishment to murder.
Certainly a little bit of the Roman coliseum/decadence to the whole thing.
We also get a little throwaway reference to the Letherii treatment of the tribes — Ublala gets added coinage simply by virtue of being half Tarthenal. As for your question, Amanda — are you asking if Tarthenal equals Edur? If so, the answer is no.
I remember thinking even as reading about Eberict’s saving the King that it was a bit suspicious. The King’s Leave is a pretty dramatic step. One would think it’s kind of a dangerous precedent as why not have a bunch of attempted assassinations so “saviors” could step in? What if by bad luck one of them succeeded? And you’d think the King would get a lot of pressure from people the King’s Leave person was harming — a concerted group of nobles can get troublesome. I also have to wonder how many assassination attempts Eberict himself has had to avoid from people seeking vengeance or worried they’re also on his list. I like the idea of King’s Leave so long as I don’t examine it too closely.
I do like how Eberict is presented as a smart guy though, even seeing through Tehol’s machinations.
I also like how he is presented as having a very specific aim. He is on a “crusade,” he has a list (implying purpose and organization), he talks of a “man with a goal.”
To Eberict’s line, “The history of this decade for our dear Letheras, can be most succinctly understood by a faithful recounting of the three Beddict brothers.” I would add “and the ensuing time as well, along with a faithful recounting of the three Sengar brothers.”
We’re certainly set up for a bit of a chess match between two of the most dangerous and clever men in the city — Tehol and Eberict. Nice bit of suspense.
Note how Tehol says Eberict outshines him in “viciousness” — an abstract sort of concept — and then we get a concrete example when, as Amanda points out, rather than kill Turble he merely gets him out of the way.
Ah Shurq. Yep, a great character. And no fear, Amanda, you will indeed be seeing a lot of her. I’ll also say that she’ll somewhat counterbalance the focus on Ublala’s “willy jokes” as Amanda says. Gender equity reigns in the Malaz world after all.
I have to admit, one of my least favorite aspects of dealing with feudal settings is dealing with titles. Who makes the retort when it’s the First Consort? With whom did the King combine — the first or second Concubine? I Preda I don’t have to pick the Finadds out of a lineup. Is Master of the Sword the King’s Champion or the Queen’s Consort?
Note the reference to the king’s faction having a spy on Buruk.
As for the curses and the undead, it isn’t a plot or plan or a single person Amanda. But you’re right to be questioning what is going on with death and undeath in Lether.
It’s nice movement back and forth between humor and emotion, going from Ublala and Shurq to Tehol and Brys discussing family matters. The idea of personal, emotion “armor” hasn’t come up in a while and I like how it’s used here with regard to Tehol’s thoughts about how family can bring about “old, burnished armor donned once more, weapons reached for, old stances once believed abandoned proving to have simply been lying dormant.” The way in which family can bring us to automatic responses, can rekindle the same responses even though years may have gone by, can put us into our same childhood or teen roles. The relationship between Brys and Tehol is another example, though a different kind of one, of those great pairings we get in the series.
Bugg can raise wards. Just saying.
That’s a creepy image when Brys finds the child’s footprint in the blood.
Kettle will be a major player so we’ll keep an eye on her. And yes, her desire for a mother is quite poignant.
We’ve had enough experience about what goes into an Azath grounds to know that the idea of an Azath dying and everything getting out is a pretty bad idea, to say the least
Obviously we’re being set up for some major events with this Azath: Who are the Five? Will they get out? If so, what will happen? Who is the one listening to Kettle and Shurq? Why has the House chosen that one? Will it get out in time?
Tune in next week (or Friday). Same bat time. Same bat website.
Note: Friday’s usual Malazan reread slot will feature a Q&A session with Steven Erikson regarding House of Chains! Pop up around noon EST to leave your questions for him regarding the events of that book.
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.