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 Eleven 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.
Note: Due to Amanda’s heavy involvement in her new job (yay, Amanda!) she will be adding her posts in the discussion section in the next few days. This will be our last post in the reread this year. We’ll see you all again on January 4th. Enjoy the holidays!
Udinaas sits overlooking the water, thinking of how Feather Witch had run away at the House of the Dead rather than help him. He thinks too of the pain Rhulad will feel when/if the coins are removed and the inevitability of his eventual madness. He realizes it is the sword that has brought Rhulad back, and that it has claimed Rhulad rather than Mosag as the Warlock King had planned. Thinking of the possibility of the Edur being torn apart by this, he wonders if he had made a mistake bringing Rhulad back from madness when he first woke.
Buruk is nervous over what is happening and thinks Mosag should simply kill Rhulad (again) and be done with it. The Edur have gathered in the citadel and the slaves, Seren assumes, are at a casting by Feather Witch. She wonders where Hull has disappeared to. She and Buruk speculate over the provenance of the sword. Buruk analyzes what he sees as Seren’s “despair” and thinks it stems from her sensitivity and from watching Hull rushing toward disaster. Seren thinks she is tired of words.
In the citadel, Tomad and Mosag have been debating. They wait now for Rhulad to release the sword, but Rhulad claims it as his own instead, telling a stricken Mosag “he gave it to me,” telling the Edur it is the one who “rules” them now, the one Mosag made a pact with though Mosag planned to betray it. He tells Mosag to kneel to him, then, when Mosag hesitates, he calls Binadas to him and heals him. Trull questions him and Rhulad pledges to give the Edur an Empire. He reveals that the shadow wraiths are Andii, killed by Edur. The Edur souls fled this world as they never belonged here. He promises to lead them home. To Trull’s dismay, Fear kneels, then Mosag and his sorcerers.
Udinaas wades out into the water and just as he thinks how easy it would be to let himself go he feels claws ripping into him lifting him free and tossing him up on the beach. He figures the Wyval didn’t want him to kill himself. He thinks Mosag has only two choices — kill Rhulad or surrender to him, though he can’t imagine what would force that. Hulad arrives and tells him Feather Witch could not cast the tiles because the Holds “were closed,” which frightened her. They note the arrival of the delegation from Lether, and the lack of an Edur welcome.
The Lether delegation arrives to be met by Seren and Buruk, who tell them the Edur are preoccupied. Seren tells them what happened. First Eunuch Nifadas makes reference to having Gerun Eberict sent to possibly “have a word with” Hull. Seren tells Nifadas she thinks Rhulad will replace Mosag as leader of the Edur. As she talks to Nifadas, Seren thinks she has apparently made her choice as to sides.
The wraith, Wither, wakes Udinaas and tells him to go the citadel to tell the Edur of the Lether delegation’s arrival. Wither says it and the Wyval agree he must make himself indispensable to Rhulad. Wither wonders if he truly wants Feather Witch, then brings up Menandore’s rape of Udinaas, telling him “the bitch has designs . . . [and] no love for Edur or Andii.” Udinaas arrives inside the citadel to see all the Edur kneeling to Rhulad. He tells Rhulad of the delegation and Rhulad tells him to bring them to meet the Edur’s ruler. Udinaas goes to tell the delegation and they follow him back. The delegation is shocked when Udinaas informs them that Rhulad has declared himself emperor and that the Edur have kneeled to him. Inside, the Prince and Mosag tangle over the illegal harvesting and its consequences, with Mosag getting the better of it. Nifadas interrupts to call an end to discussions for the night.
Trull, watching all that happened this night, feels the world shattered. Rhulad calls Fear forward and asks for the “gift” of Mayen. Trull wants to intervene, but Rhulad stops him and Fear gives up his right to Mayen. Mayen accepts with a “familiarity” that shocks Trull and Fear, but then Trull notes what he sees as “horror” on her face. He takes it as a message to the Edur to “Withstand. Suffer. Live. .. There will, one day, be answer to this.” Trull sees the Edur in an endless fall and wonder what answer could be given.
Udinaas tells Seren about Mayen and when she says the Edur are now ruled by a tyrant, he tells her she should tell the delegation to prepare for war.
Bill’s Reaction to Chapter Eleven
We have a lot of scenes, references throughout the series to shores, to boundary areas, to those places where borders become murky or are sharply delineated. So much so that I’d say it’s a thematic pattern throughout — this way of visually or linguistically pointing to these lines between two states of action, of belief; between who one once was and who they are now, or between who one is and who one could be. Where things comes together or move apart. So we have Udinaas here on the beach and later, we’ll have Rhulad resurrected on a beach.
And of course, as the language makes clear, the beach has its own imagistic symbolism. It is not only where things come together or move apart, it is also a symbol of cycles (the tides), of uncertainty (the shifting sands beneath the feet), of vastness (the ocean), of dissolution and reshaping (eternal erosion), of inevitability (those tides again), of return and memory (the repository for all that drifts ashore), of humility (humanity so small in comparison), of “endings and beginnings": It’s one of those great multi-layered symbols and Erikson makes good consistent use of it throughout.
Speaking of symbols, I like how Udinaas gives us directly that metaphor of Rhulad “trapped in a prison of gold” as akin the to the Letherii, as it is such a direct and clear metaphor presenting it as more subtle or as a “puzzle” for the reader to tease out would seem a bit much.
If Udinaas is correct, or close to correct, that Rhulad must already be on the road to madness thanks to that journey back from the dead, what will it mean for him to die again and again, as we’ve already been told will happen (by those lines of the shadows to Paran: “led by the one who has been slain a hundred times” and by the Crippled God’s “your next death.”)
Seren’s first section in this chapter returns us to one of the more common themes of the series—the idea of cycles, of the birth-death-rebirth, of memory lying underfoot, of the inevitability of an ending. It’s interesting how desperately she wishes for such a “long view,” for the way she assumes it must bring a “calm wisdom.” Certainly we’ve seen that from some long-lived ascendants, but not all. And there runs the risk of being “too” calm perhaps, too removed or aloof. Does Seren confuse that with wisdom, or, as Buruk seems to imply, does she confuse that “long view” with “indifference”?
Hull isn’t getting a lot of encouraging assumptions about his future from those who know him, is he?
We’ve seen the seeds of Trull’s shorning all along in this book, but here there seems little doubt about where this is going, even had we not already known. His fear, his dread, his objections, Rhulad’s reference to him as the “weakest” of them, his anger when Trull dares to object to Mayen. It’s all heading down a single road.
So does the Wyval have plans for Udinaas, or does it need Udinaas for sentience or both? And it’s an interesting alliance between the wraith and the Wyval — is it one of convenience or is there a deeper connection, is it permanent or moment-to-moment, is the alliance in Udinaas’ interest? All questions left unanswered so far.
I love that contrast between Prince Quillas and the First Eunuch — Nifadas wading out while the Prince is carried, Nifadas standing in the rain while Quillas is under a two-servant umbrella, Nifadas knowing immediately why Mosag hadn’t simply cut the sword from Rhulad’s hand, the First Eunuch’s easy acceptance of the lack of a greeting contrasted to the Prince’s sense of insult. I wish Erikson had let us just get it rather than have Seren tell us the distinction of power between them.
I also like how Seren is revealed yet again as so incredibly observant in her detail with regard to the sword. Observant as she is, however, it is Udinaas who sees the ghosts around her, ghosts “she doesn’t even see.” What is the attraction?
Not an auspicious start to the rule of Rhulad — the taking of Mayhen as wife. Not to mention his paranoia that Trull had purposely abandoned him to the Jheck. As much as I do think there is room to pity Rhulad, like most of Erikson’s characters, there’s a mixed bag to him and it’s pretty impossible not to despise him for this act for all that we’ve been set up for it. Though I like how it comes after we’d been questioning as readers, as Trull himself had been, whether Trull’s suspicions were just or not.
Mayen, on the other hand, is rising up in readers’ estimations perhaps, something that began earlier as we saw her start to claim some mantle of independence and power — first with that dinner at the Sengar household and then when she blesses the Nerak.
So who will give answer to Rhulad? We know it won’t happen for a while, and we know many will fail, based on all the deaths he has coming. But certainly we’ve seen some candidates that might have the power to do so: Karsa, Icarium, Rake, Quick Ben to name a few.
Knowing that Rhulad will rule for some time, it’s no surprise then to end on such a bleak note.
Amanda Rutter contributes reviews and a regular World Wide Wednesday post to fantasyliterature.com, as well as reviews for her own site floortoceilingbooks.com. She is the editor of young adult SF imprint Strange Chemistry.