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 the Prologue 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.
The setting is during the sundering of Emurlahn and the Edur invasion. Edur and Andii legions have defeated the K’Chain Che’Malle, with the Andii bearing the brunt thanks to the late arrival of the Edur. Scabandari Bloodeye, head of the Edur, is joined by Silchas Ruin, head of the Andii. Scabandari celebrates that they hold the gate to this new world, and that the K’Chain are all but destroyed, save for Morn where the Short-Tails rebel. He says none will stand against them—The Jaghut are too scattered and few, Imass too primitive, Forkrul Assail indifferent. The Andii can escape their civil war in Kurald Galain and the Edur the rivening of Kurald Emurlahn, which Ruin notes is Scabandari’s own doing. Ruin says a Jaghut (Gothos) is observing and beginning an Omtose ritual. Scabandari stabs Ruin and the Edur slaughter the Andii. Scabandari takes Ruin to an Azath and plans to hunt down the Andii already in the world, thinking they have no champion.
Gothos is joined by Mael, who asks what he’s doing. Gothos says he is “cleansing” the mess the battle has made. Mael says Kilmandaros is going to ally with him. When Gothos tells him Scabandari is bringing Ruin to the Azath, Mael thinks it is premature of Scabandari to think there is no opposition to him. He asks Gothos to “preserve” rather than destroy this and says he’ll owe him. Gothos agrees, but warns that Mael and Kilmandaros should take down Scabandari quickly before Rake awakens. Mael says Osserc is already moving to deal with Rake, “again.”
Withal the Swordmaker, of the Third Meckros City, wakens on a strange beach filled with bodies and the wreckage of his floating city that had been destroyed by mountains of ice rising from underneath it. Three Bhoka’ral (seemingly) arrive and gesture for him to follow. They lead him to the Crippled God’s tent. The god tells him he saved Withal and has prepared a place for him so he can make him a sword. Once Withal does, the god will free him. The three creatures are to help; they are not bhoka’ral but Nachts, created by the Jaghut.
Amanda’s Reaction to the Prologue
Into the breach once more, dear friends...
Ahhh, straight away I notice we’re back to Erikson setting the scene via a chapter heading. So here we’re dealing with the first days of the sundering of Emurlahn — am I correct in thinking that this is the Warren fragment that has been causing so much trouble over the last few books? Here we see how and why it happened? Scabandari Bloodeye — this guy is definitely a vegetarian pacifist, right? Usually Erikson’s names aren’t so blatant. And also the Time of the Elder Gods — I do hope to learn more about these rather mysterious personages.
Now that is the way to open a book! That opening paragraph provides just brilliant imagery. We’ve already encountered the awesomeness of one sky keep in the form of Moon’s Spawn, and the idea that there would be many of them, plunging the the ground, wreathed in flames and blood... well, it just sets the tone really, doesn’t it?
Ah, Scabandari is one of the Tiste Edur — and a draconean shapeshifter in the same vein as Anomander. His name sort of fits with the feral appearance we’ve seen at a later date from the remaining Tiste Edur. Having said that, this incarnation of the Tiste Edur seems much closer to their Andii cousins at first glance.
And our first encounter as well with the K’Chain Che’Malle. I’m waiting to have my first impression of these guys — that of remorseless and rather talented killers — overturned by Erikson, to be honest!
What is astonishing is that we’ve seen the devastating effect of just a few K’Chain Che’Malle — and here the Tiste Edur legions have beat them into submission. Not without high losses, granted, but that gives an idea of the level of proficiency of the Tiste Edur.
I am loving the fact that, although people have warned that Midnight Tides is rather a departure from the Malazan story to date, there are many familiar elements that have been built carefully in my mind through the first four books of the series. I already know the relationship between the Tiste races. I know that there are some Soletaken. I know that the K’Chain Che’Malle have K’ell Hunters, Short-Tails and Matrons. It could have been a much more jarring way to enter a book without that carefully constructed background in my mind.
Scabandari sounds cold, from his description. Like winter and death.
Silchas Ruin. That name rings bells. And a bone white dragon. I am keen to know more.
Oh! This is the bit where we realise that the Tiste are, in fact, the invaders in this new world! But not the first, it seems, since Scabandari mentions other Tiste Andii present in the world.
Mention of Morn being on a whole other continent, which lets a new reader know, if they didn’t already, that they ain’t in Kansas anymore....
Wow, the arrogance of Scabandari.... “Who else in this world has the power to oppose us? Jaghut? They are scattered and few. Imass? What can weapons of stone achieve against our iron?” What a sweeping dismissal of two of the most powerful races we’ve seen previously!
Scabandari caused the rift in Kurald Emurlahn? And here is named Bloodeye, because Silchas believes him to be blinded by the blood he wishes to spill.
I simply didn’t see that betrayal coming. What a shocking way to open these first few pages of Midnight Tides....
What champion can the Tiste Andii throw up against Scabandari Bloodeye? I can think of one!
We’re being thrown an onslaught of information here. Silchas Ruin not killed, merely imprisoned within the Azath — hm, I wonder if they are linked across continents? Might Paran be one day meeting Silchas Ruin? We also learn that Silchas Ruin is a child of Mother Dark, alongside Andarist and Anomandaris Irake. You know something? Language over centuries might mangle that last name there to something like Anomander Rake....
Teehee! Gothos! The Gothos we’ve seen before! The one who is currently advising Paran whenever he travels into the Azath, am I correct? And our first encounter with Mael. We’ve seen people who follow the principles of Mael, but I never realised that he was an Elder God before. Also, the fact that all the people who follow Mael seem to be a bit, well, nasty, doesn’t really make me warm to this chap.
Who else is imprisoned within that Azath Tower?
Ah, but now Anomander Rake is mentioned by name here, so perhaps I was wrong with my suggestion above? We already know that Rake has clashed in the past with Osserc — maybe now we will see a little of those “discussions.”
If we then move to the 1159th Year of Burn’s Sleep, we’ve come forward significantly in time, haven’t we? And now meet the Letherii who, I’m given to believe, are the other major race in this novel.
Glaciers of ice indicate Jaghut destruction of the city — is this Gothos’ work? Is 1159th Year of Burn’s Sleep, in fact, the way of recording the same year for a different race as that of Scabandari’s time? (That sentence was confused but hopefully you understand the gist.)
A mysterious hooded figure — a fallen god. There are many candidates for this person. I hardly dare suggest any, for fear of looking frightfully silly, but, here goes... With the whole sword forging business, it could be Draconus, but, as far as I remember, he forged Dragnipur on his own. It could be the Crippled God, thanks to the coughing and the broken feel to him. It could be Silchas Ruin, carrying the fragment of his warren around with him.
I think in future that if anyone says to me that they want to write a novel, I shall point them in the direction of this prologue. It is supreme and back to the quality I’ve come to expect. If the rest of the novel lives up to this explosive beginning, Midnight Tides will be a winner! See you Friday!
Bill’s Reaction to the Prologue
As Amanda says, that’s a great epic-scale visual to start this book. The blood raining down, the image of those huge sky-keeps attacked by dragons and then crashing down, the ensuing clouds that shot above their fall. Talk about starting with a bang.
We’ve seen someplace similar to where the “victorious” legions are reforming. In Memories of Ice, Chapter Nine’s epigraph has someone citing Gotho’s Folly, which mentions “an area of thousands of square leagues, stretches a vast plaza . . . Should we attach a dread name to the makers of this plaza? If we must, then that name is K’Chain Che’Malle” (the writers closes by saying he thinks Gothos’ claim is “nonsense”).
If anyone doubts just how potent the K’Chain were, these numbers should put that idea to rest. Four hundred thousand Andii took on sixty thousand K’Chain hunters, and the Andii lost all but one thousand.
I like that ominous description of the Edur — “re-formed into a rough ring around the last surviving Andii.” Especially coming as it does after Scabandari’s less than sincere “regret” that the Edur’s belated arrival cost the Andii so many lives. I know even on my first reading I wasn’t buying it.
It’s such a complex series, with so many details and layers (thus why it rewards a rereading so much, not to mention re-re-readings), so I think you just have to enjoy those little frissons of pat-yourself-on-the-back recognition, as when Scabandari mentions Morn and you go “Morn! I remember Morn—that’s where the rent was, where Kilava sent those poor Jaghut kids through!”
Obviously, and especially coming out of House of Chains, we’ve had lots of references to the shattering of Kurald Emurlahn. We now get another piece to the unfolding puzzle—that Scabandari, at least according to Ruin, has direct involvement in that (and judging by Scabandari’s reaction to Ruin noting that, Ruin seems to have hit a nerve).
So for all of Scabandari’s obviously careful plotting and planning, or maybe because of that, I especially enjoy just how oblivious he can be, such as when he dismisses the Imass as a potential threat, or is so confident the Andii already here have nobody who could stand against him (while of course we’re all mentally chanting “Rake. Rake. Rake!” in our heads), or that Rake will never be seen again (“Rake. Rake. Rake!”). So when he also tells us that Ruin will be “eternally” imprisoned, well, let’s just say going on his track record in this section....
Gothos’ loss of wonder is a bit sad, eh? Though I do love his wryly laconic “Typical” when he feels Scanabdari betray Ruin. Gothos’ loss of wonder reminds us of the concern about ascendants—that sense of distance from mere mortals which allows them to act perhaps more cruelly—with a sense of, to use another catch phrase in the series, a sense of “indifference.”
So we’ve seen most of those gods Gothos mentions: K’run, Draconus, Sister of Cold Nights, Osserc. We have not seen the last two—but they’re good names to file away as they will play huge roles later on in the series. Mael as well, and while we haven’t seen him, we’ve heard of him and seen him referenced. Remember Mallick Rel is a Mael priest.
Remember Mael’s request—that “time freezes” in this place.
Another wholly cinematic visual—the Meckros city upended and destroyed by mountains of ice rising from beneath. It’s funny how sometimes the most epic moments of this epic happen somewhat offstage or are covered in just a few lines as backstory.
It’s interesting—I don’t recall that we’ve heard before that this little pocket of the Crippled God came from memories of his home. Anybody else remember if we’ve heard that before? If not, it lends him an interesting bit of humanity, I’d say, making him a bit more pitiable. Then, of course, he has to go and ruin it by threatening Withal with “begging for death.” Though Erikson is also careful to immediately let us know that Withal is merely suffering the same fate he and his Meckros kin have rendered to others.
Some nice cliffhangers in this prologue:
- What is the mistake Scabandari made?
- What is the effect of Gothos’ freezing time here?
- What kind of “particular” sword is the Crippled God going to have Withal make and for what purpose?
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.
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.