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 Seven 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.
Seren’s group has been waiting for five days and plans to meet with Mosag tonight. Seren has noted the unification of the tribes. The Nerek, ignored by the Edur, are failing, and Hull tells Seren they away “acceptance,” or official welcome. He and Seren argue over Letherii society. Seren asks Mayen to have the Edur welcome the Nerek and Mayen agrees to do it herself. When Mayen speaks to Feather Witch, who then leaves, Seren tells Mayen that is a strange name that she has heard only in the Letherii histories.
Feather Witch speaks to Udinaas, who tells her he and she speak in her dreams every night. She denies it. They argue then discuss how Mayen’s blessing the Nerek herself is a sign she “fashions herself as a queen,” and wonder if her blessing might sanctify the ground or bind destinies. They agree to pretend Mayen never came to seek Uruth about the blessing.
Hull tells Seren Mayen shouldn’t have done what she did (blessed the Nerek rather than simply name them guests). Hull and Seren discuss how the Nerek met the first arrivals from the First Empire, the Edur creation myths involving lizards, dragons, and ice and the Nerek creation myths involving a “first mother” known as the Eres’al.
Wither the Wraith shows Udinaas a shadow realm “where memories shape oblivion, and so make of ages long past a world as real as this one.” He shows Udinaas the clearing now filled with forest, then long later the clearing filled with fur-covered figures looking at an approaching K’Chain Che’Malle sky keep, then a scene involving Menandore (Sister Dawn) and Sukul Ankhadu (Dapple) dragging Sheltatha Lore (Dusk) and dropping her in front of Osserc. They argue about Tiam. Osserc says he’s recently fought with Rake and delayed him long enough to let Scabandari escape. Menandore and Sukul tell him they plan on putting Sheltatha Lore in the Azath grounds where Scabandari put Silchas Ruin. When they ask if Scabandari, might try to free her Osserc tells them Scabandari is imprisoned himself and though he doesn’t say who did it, he mentions the world’s gods. He leaves and Sukul and Menandore discuss his constant battled/relationship with Rake, then Sheltatha’s daughters via Draconus, Spite and Envy. They veer into dragon form and leave with Sheltatha. Udinaas returns to normal time and world.
Seren muses on the Letherii as slaves and as indebted and wonders about Feather Witch. She and Udinaas speak and she is shocked when he tells her that the Letherii slaves still keep track of their debt. She asks about Feather Witch and is worried when Udinaas tells her Feather Witch will cast tiles tonight.
Seren, Hull, and Buruk converse before the meeting with the Edur. As they head to the meeting, Hull tells Seren possible friends—the Sengar sons—have left which is strange. At the meeting, the Letherii (save Seren) and Mosag spar over the seal harvest and other issues, with Hull arguing against Lether’s actions. Seren is dismissed.
Udinaas and Seren watch as Feather Witch casts the tiles. Her reading seems to go awry with bad overtones. At one points she speaks Jaghut and then Draconean. She ends on an ominous note.
Seren staggers out into cold rain.
Amanda’s Reaction to Chapter Seven
Slaves Beneath — chilling little poem by our pal Fisher. This one could be a straight remark about the slavery we’ve already seen in this novel, or it could be in reference to gods and mortals, and the relationship between them.
I can see exactly why Seren feels disturbed by watching the Edur children playing surrounded by shadow wraiths. Especially because we now know that these shadow wraiths could be the Tiste Andii murdered by the Edur. Even if not, they could be controlled by Hannan Mosag and that doesn’t sit any easier.
Seren and Hull — both together, but so very alone. This is an eloquent picture, and reminds me of more than a few real life relationships that I am aware of.
The Warlock King is exercising his power more and more, isn’t he? Does he truly have the interests of the Edur at heart? From the impressions of Seren he does - the fact that he has managed to unify the tribes and bring them together for this meeting between Edur and Letherii is a powerful message that the Edur are no longer to be so cavalierly dismissed.
Wow, we’re being given lots of reasons to dislike the Edur: “The Tiste Edur had a manner of looking right through those they deemed to be lesser folk.”
How can Hull take care of the Nerek when he isn’t even looking after himself? And when he is so fixated on taking his vengeance?
And straight away we’re given a good reason to dislike the Letherii - this novel seems determined to keep us on the fence and make us realise that there are always shades of grey in the world: “But we ignore the fact that every step we take towards them crushes someone, somewhere.”
Ugh. Of all the Edur women Seren could have encountered, it had to be Mayen, didn’t it? Her ignorance of the Nerek reflects badly on her — although maybe it is something shared by all the Edur? And the little intriguing hints from the conversation between Feather Witch and Udinaas about what Mayen’s “blessing” of the Nerek might do is very interesting. Looking forward to seeing how that pans out. The little horrid part of me hopes that it means bad things for her. Yep, I can be that mean-spirited!
I’m intrigued by the mention that the name Feather Witch is not unknown amongst the Letherii. We have met plentiful long-lived characters already in this series, so it might be that Feather Witch is one and the same with that mentioned by Seren....
The difference in the way Feather Witch acts towards Udinaas is marked in this exchange — by referring to him over and again as Indebted. It’s rather cold, but I imagine driven by fear.
There couldn’t really be a stronger link between the Nerek and the Native Americans than this quote: “There were Nerek watching the first ships approach. Nerek who came to greet the first Letherii to set foot on this continent. Nerek who traded, taught the colonizers how to live in this land, gave them the medicines against the heat fevers.” Oh! And the Nerek are descended from the Eres’al!
Wow, with one move Mayen (silly thoughtless girl) has offended the Letherii and caused the Nerek no end of agitation....
This vision that Udinaas is granted just gives me lots of questions... What did Sheltatha Lore do that required such punishment? Are Menandore, Sheltatha Lore and Sukul Ankhadu the daughters of Osserc then? The daughters of Osserc and... Tiam? Do I read this right? Tiam, who granted her blood to those like Anomander Rake, and so giving him Soletaken abilities? Why is Osserc called First Son of Dark and Light? I thought the Tiste Liosan were of the Light? Why is Tiam constantly dying and being reborn? And, yes, I have marked the fact that the Azath House contains both Silchas Ruin and Sheltatha Lore — two draconean Ascendants, as described.
I’ve also marked this: “Mother Dark’s first children were spawned without need of any sire. And, despite what Anomander might claim, they were not Tiste Andii.” Who were they?
Ah! Sheltatha is the mother of Envy and Spite!
I’m a little unsure as to the meaning behind the words about slavery between Udinaas and Seren — it is a little obscure for me. Anyone fancy clarifying what they think it’s about? And why is Feather Witch casting during the meeting a matter of import and a risk to be taken?
Hmm, if Hannan Mosag is aware of the link between Hull and the Sengars, is that why the sons of Sengar have been sent away?
It is a barbed exchange between the Edur King and the Letherii. It seems as though Buruk is content to simply play with his words and await what might come. Hull Benedict barrels straight in there, doesn’t he? He certainly is not wasting time with fancy conversation. Seren is rather summarily dismissed — and seems thankful for it. I am a little disappointed with her, but I might be reading it wrong. Is she correct in her assumption that the Warlock King wants peace?
Does Mayen come to have any redeeming features? “It seemed Uruth’s fury with the Nerek blessing, while delivered with quiet brevity, had been harsh in its content. Subsequently, Mayen had taken a switch to her slave’s back.”
I loved the scene and the ominous feel to Feather Witch’s reading, but, of course, I have not the complete pieces to sort through what is happening here! I want to see what Bill says!
Bill’s Reaction to Chapter Seven
I like that little subtle point when Seren notes the presence of all the different tribes in the village and thinks how while she knew Mosag had united the tribes, the idea in the abstract has none of the power of the idea given flesh before her. It’s such a true statement of how we are so good at hiding true impact behind the shield of abstraction until faced with concrete reality.
It’s interesting how the Letherii we see are hardly “Impervious to nuance” or “blind to subtlety,” as Hull describes his people. Is it that our group is so skewed or that Hull describes the Letherii through his own self-vision, assigning them his own flaws?
I enjoyed the discomfit Seren feels when she is faced with Mayen’s ignorance of who/what the Nerek are. Clear-sighted as to her own people’s arrogance and ignorance, it comes as a shock to her to realize the Edur might be just as arrogant or self-obsessed. One also wonders what such shared traits might mean in any attempt to forestall war. Or negotiate peace should it comet to that.
We’ve seen Mayen in the prior chapters beginning to come into her own both as a character and as a woman of power in certain instances in the village. So we are well prepared for her independent action here. Though her forceful actions are in the context of her ignorance and naiveté, expressed not only by not knowing who the Nerek are, but by her saying she can’t imagine how her doing so would have any impact (this is allegedly a diplomatic prelude going on just on the eve of probable war) and by her willful ignorance of slave naming rites.
You’re right to wonder about Mayen’s “blessing” Amanda. After all, that is a loaded word in this series.
And right as well how neither the Letherii nor the Edur covers themselves in glory as cultures so far in this book.
Nice little bit of mystery attached to Feather Witch at the end of that scene. Always like these little teases that come so often.
“We are just the fallen . . . All of us. We’re the dust swirling around the ankles of the conquerors as they stride on into glory.” A bit or resonance in this line in a series known as The Malazan Book of the Fallen with a book entitled Dust of Dreams. Whose story is this, after all? Is it the Great Man version of history? The story of Rake and Osserc and Mael? Of gods and goddesses and Kings and Emperors? Or is it the story of slaves and privates and sergeants and young daughters of fishermen in the wrong place at the wrong time?
Then more from Udinaas:
“Fallen. Who tracks our footsteps, I wonder? We who are the forgotten, the discounted, and the ignored. . Why does my heart weep for them? Not them but us, for most assuredly I am counted among them. Slaves, serfs, nameless peasants and laborers, the blurred faces in the crowd—just a smear on memory, a scuffling of feet down the side passages of history. Can one stop, can one turn and force one’s eyes to pierce the gloom? And see the fallen? Can one ever see the fallen? And if so, what emotion is born in that moment? . . . recognition.”
I love this passage. Love it for its content and its phrasing. Such an eloquent depiction of what so often gets forgotten when we think of history, replete with genealogies of kings and queens, lists of presidents and prime ministers and five-star generals—that history is made up of the forgotten much, much more than the remembered, and though their numbers are countless, their “rank” is small.
As you say Amanda, those lines about the Nerek call up direct connections with the Native Americans, or any aboriginal/native group at a first encounter with the colonizing Other.
Interesting that—Seren’s knowledge of the super-secret Edur creation myth and her either confusion or dissembling about where she heard it.
Love that “thief of fire” reference—classic mythology.
And classic myth/anthropology: “roles rather than distinct individuals. Maiden, mother, and grandmother . . .”
Hull’s bitterness and self-hatred are so evident here, as he refuses to countenance the idea that the Nerek, or any destroyed culture, might be reborn from the remnants of its people, or believing that if any birthing takes place, it will be a monstrous progeny.
And then more commentary that could be easily applied to modern culture: “We talk of progress, but what we really desire is the perpetuation of the present. With its seemingly endless excesses, its ravenous appetites. Ever the same rules, ever the same game.”
Amanda, to clarify a bit based on this scene in Udinaas’ vision
- Menandore (Sister Dawn):
- Osserc/Osric’s daughter
- Sukul Ankhadu sister
- Sheltatha Lore’s half-sister
- Raped Udinaas (and eventually has a child by that act)
- Sukul Ankhadu (Dapple)
- Osserc/Osric’s daughter
- Menandore’s sister
- Sheltatha Lore’s half-sister
- Sheltatha Lore (Daughter Dusk)
- Scabandari (Bloodeye’s) daughter
- Menandore and Sukul’s half-sister (via Tiam)
- Mother (via Draconus) of Envy and Spite
The three women, to say the least, have issues. Note as well an association with light (Dawn), with shadow (Dusk), and with a mix (Dapple). More to come.
Osserc/Osric is Liosan—note his description—white skin, white armor, fire and lightning mentioned, gold and silver in dragon form. As for Tiam and Mother Dark’s children, I’d say that’s a discussion to hold for some time.
To blur things, the family issues are quite entwined in many cases, and there at times (or often) one might wonder if “fathers” or “mothers” (not to mention other titles) are meant to be literal or metaphorical.
Also of note in that scene—the imprisonment of Scabandari, the reference to his arrogance in thinking the gods could not or would not stand against him.
I’m actually none too sure on what Seren is thinking of in her reflecting on freedom. Is it free will she argues against? Is it that one has no freedom due to the strictures/interactions of society? The tugs and pulls of family, friends, strangers? I will say, her ignorance that the Letherii slaves still bow before their cultural view of debt is a bit surprising to me.
As for the casting, I think there is a general risk in any casting (note the Deck readings aren’t looked upon too fondly by many), especially for one of such seeming power as Feather Witch. And I think Seren feels a drawing together of power and intentions tonight, making it particularly fraught. That’s my reading at least.
I like the fog on this night—fits the events I’d say.
Speaking of fraught, yes, that conversation certainly is barbed. And while Hull does “barge right in” as you say Amanda, akin to what Buruk says earlier, I get the feeling in his language and tone that he should be at the kids’ table at the end—you know, the folding card table with the plastic cups....
And sorry Amanda, but I’m going to disappoint you here with regard to the casting. One because as before on these sort of things, I always like letting it be a back and forth in the comments. Two because these are also divinations there are some spoiler concerns. Some of those poins we know, some we can guess at given specific words we’re given that we’ve seen already, and others, well, we might want to exercise caution on. But up to you folks. Finally Amanda, apologies to you and sundry, but it’s finals week and I’m swamped with grading and it’s now 3:41 a.m., and this scene just begs for hard thought and careful treading. So I’m holding off for the comments.
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.