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.
The three harvest ships near a harbor. When the pilot scow is sent out to meet them, it suddenly shies away and strange humananoid shapes swarm the sails and riggings then drift away. The pilot ship begins ringing the alarm.
A bound sea spirit carries the three harvest ships on its back into the bay on a huge wave then retreats. In the tiles chamber below the old palace in Letheras the Ceda looking at at tile matching the guard tower of the bay sees a huge shadow start to withdraw. From afar, via the tile, he sees the ships, the corpses, and some wraiths.
Brys is in the new palace, several wings and passages currently filled with water and silt. He tells one of the engineers he’ll ask the Ceda about sending a mage to help. The engineer says they lost Ormly the rat catcher last night. He then mentions that someone new named Bugg is rumored to have a way to shore up the palace. Ormly suddenly appears carrying hordes of dead rats. Brys leaves, thinking about the impending war and how despite the Edur being united he doubts things will be different than before. The public he thinks is complacent but the palace less so. He enters the old palace and finds it abuzz with news about the harvest ships. Inside he sees the Queen’s Consort Turald Brizad who has always disturbed him. He speaks with the First Eunuch Nifadas. The discuss national beliefs, the attitude of the Letherii toward the deep sea, the Holds, gods, and demons. Nifadas tells Brys of the ships and the demon that carried them, of belief in an Elder god of the seas called Mael. He tells him Brys will be asked to awaken an Elder god.
Brys meets with Ceda Kuru Qan who says they’ll use the Dolmen tile for this journey. Qan talks of mortal’s lack of attention to the future, how history is replete with short-sightedness. Qan tells Brys he has no idea how Brys will awaken Mael. He tosses him toward the Dolmen tile.
Bugg tells Tehol their plan re Gerun Eberict (having Turble fake suicide thus causing Eberict a great loss of money) are proceeding. Bugg leaves and Shurq shows up. She and Tehol think the approaching festival dedicated to the Errant would be a good night for her to attempt Eberict’s place. Bugg returns. Shurq tells them she took Turald Brizard’s (Queen’s Consort) virginity. Tehol and Shurq leave to go to Selush’s, the woman who will make Shurq more “alive.” On the way, they discuss Kettle. Shurq tells him she thinks Kettle is vitally important and and he offers to help with her. Shurq adds that the tower is “haunted” and whatever is haunting it is communicating with Kettle and desires human flesh, which is why Kettle has been killing those Eberict has sent to spy on Tehol.
Brys finds himself seemingly underwater, though he feels the air is that of the Ceda’s chamber. He walks toward six dolmens carved with glyphs of of nightmarish figures he suspects are imprisoned. One dolmen has a side without glyphs, and Brys deduces something had been loosed. He senses this area has been “abandoned” by Mael. An armored figure arrives and asks if Brys has “come for another?” The figure tells him the area holds forgotten gods, not demons. It is a “sanctuary” created by Mael for gods whose names have vanished. He is the guardian, who has failed because someone made one of the gods a slave. Brys defeats the Guardian in combat. The Guardian says he has failed and that Mael has not been here for thousands of years. Brys offers his own blood to the Guardian he has wounded (blood is power) and his sword. He asks the Guardian to give him all the names so they will no longer be forgotten and thus cannot be enslaved.
Brys is back with Kuru Qan and informs him of what happened. The Ceda wonders if finding the name of the enslaved god will free it. Brys says he has all the names but finding the right one will take time.
Bugg has been called upon to do his “regular job” — embalming. He is there to take care of a Nerek grandmother who had died after making it home and telling her grandchildren who had killed her — Eberict’s guards, ordered by him to do so when she begged for coin. The grandchildren ask his blessing. The children’s cousin enters, a Tarthenal/Nerek mix of huge size named Unn. Berek thinks Eberict has made himself a bad enemy.
Selush examines Shurq and figures out ways to “awaken” her, including use of an “ootooloo.”
Bugg arrives home drained by the blessing he gave. Shand arrives to complain and Bugg tells her Tehol is working and plans are moving into place and being implemented, including one to get the contract for the Imperial Palace.
Tehol heads off with Selush’s assistant to get some food and drink.
Shurq looks much better — healthy, clean, clear-eyed. She smells better as well.
Brys is trying to recuperate from his ordeal. Nifadas, then Kuru Qan enter his room. Then the king, Ezgara Diskanar arrives to thank Brys. Nifadas leaves to allegedly prepare for his trip to the Edur meeting. The king tells the other two that the Chancellor continues to protest Eberict’s inclusion on the Edur trip and wonders if Eberict will try to kill Prince Quillas. The king worries Quillas might not act with restraint and that Moroch Nevath might not be able to protect him. The king leaves and as Brys and the Ceda discuss Brys’ journey, Brys feels a sense of dread for the future.
Amanda’s Reaction to Chapter Six
It’s good old Fisher again, taking us through the first poem. And isn’t it bleak? Words like “seized, spent, burdened, frozen, dead” — all make me think dark thoughts. These Destriers of the poem — they sort of remind me a bit of those who accompany Daughter Dawn (although those walk, rather than ride).
Now, the other poem sounds and has the feeling of a Deck reading — which would be fairly accurate given the mysticism of the author (and the title of the poem!) The bit that intrigues me most is this:
And chance rides a spear
With red bronze
To spit world like skulls
One upon the other...
I don’t know why, but it makes me think of those jade statues spearing through space.
The three ships that end up swarming with dark figures that drifted away through the gloom — hmm, is Hannan Mosag on the move again? Or has he sent his wraiths with people who have gone abroad in his name?
Oh, Erikson speaks well of the sea! He’s done this to me before — made me all aflutter with the quality of his writing about the sea. “No sailor who had lived or would ever live discounted the sea’s hungry depths.” Perfect.
Oooh! A demon from the depths! Part of me wants it to be some sort of kraken, but that’s because I’m rather fond of our tentacled friends. I’m looking forward to seeing more of something so intriguing. Might it be a dragon?!
We’ve been hearing hints for a little while, but the building of the Eternal Domicile is a bit of a joke, isn’t it? There’s practically a river running through these secret passages. And that comes after issues with subsidence in other sections of the palace.
Bugg — I like Bugg. Not so much Tehol. But definitely Bugg. I like this revelation to Brys that Bugg is now working on the Eternal Domicile.
Eep, that Ormly is creepy. I seriously thought that it was just a head being brought back by the rats... It almost makes me suspect that there might be something wrong with him — we’ve seen some of the undead walking and talking already in this book.
The less than faint enthusiasm of the Letherii towards the prophecy about the rise of the empire sort of reminds me of us, now, when we’re told that economic recovery might start to happen next year! That’s the story of a society when they are trying to survive from year to year, and are really not that fussed about something that may or may not actually happen.
Here’s a hint as to future events in the novel: “Gold bought betrayal again and again. Alliances crumbled and the enemy collapsed.” Or are the Letherii indeed becoming complacent and not even considering the fact that a truly united tribe of Edur would be immune to this? War because the Letherii want the rich lands of their neighbours? How familiar that sounds!
Hmm, is Hannan Mosag seeking war between the Edur and the Letherii? Either he sent some of his minions to threaten the Letherii at Trate, or the Letherii are assuming that the Edur were involved. Did Mosag summon that creature from the depths? Or was it acting alone?
So, the Letherii now believe that Hannan Mosag is controlling (to some extent) the Elder God Mael — deemed to be “almost mindless, a turgid maelstrom of untethered emotions.” Their reaction? To awaken their own Elder God. It’s a rather childish and dangerous response... Especially for something that seems to be mostly conjecture rather than verified fact.
Hah! Love that Ceda gives Brys that goblet full of a potion that has absolutely no relation to what he’s about to do.
“A repast. One of my experiments. I was hoping you’d enjoy it, but judging by your pallor ir would seem that that was not the case.”
“I’m afraid you are correct.”
“Ah well, if it proves inimical you will no doubt bring it back up.”
“That’s comforting knowledge, Ceda.”
“Even seas are born only to one day die.”
Nice reference to Raraku.
Oops — made the wrong assumption. The Letherii want to fully wake Mael! This does not make me happy. From what we’ve seen of Mael’s worshippers, I don’t want to see him fully awake.
Hee — who really is in charge of who when it comes to Tehol and Bugg?
Hmm, here is a perspective that some take on religion in modern society: “The Holds and their multitude of denizens were invented as dependable sources of blame for virtually anything, or so he suspected.” How very cynical. And then a rather shrewd thought: “And meanwhile, housebound guards in empty estates would mutter and doze at their posts.”
Another casual mention of same sex relations, which is superb. I love the way Erikson deals with this, love it. So casually and so naturally that I bet most people wouldn’t think of recommending Erikson as a decent portrayer of LGBT relationships/people. It doesn’t even feel self-consciously added. Brilliant.
I’m confused by this: “Turudal’s only love is for himself. As I said, he was younger and I the older. Of course, he’s now older than me, which is a curious fact.” Is it that Turudal just seems older or is there something else at play here? [Bill: Because Shurq has stopped aging.]
More hints that Kettle is deeply important in the course of this book: “I am seeking to discover her...history. It is, I think, important.”
Dolmens have segmented arms? [Bill: I believe not the dolmens themselves, but the figures in the dolmens surrounded by the glyphs.] And quite a number of them? Is this what we saw in the previous chapter?
Oooh, one empty dolmen and Mael is on the move... Who are the other dolmen? Other slumbering gods?
The battle between Brys and the guardian is fabulous, but better yet is the reaction of Brys afterwards. A true gentleman. I can see why many of you were so keen to see him arrive onscreen. I especially love when he is asked whether he is a fine swordsman, and he says “Passing.” That’s just so deadpan and wonderfully modest. [We’ll see just how “passing” he is.]
And now Brys has taken the names of these ancient gods. I’m sure this will prove to be crucial.
But this is very accurate:
“You return with secrets, Finadd Brys Beddict.”
“And barely a handful of answers.”
Sherp! A mysterious cracked altar! More set up, thank you, Mr Erikson....
Another display of Finadd Gerun Eberict’s thoughtlessness and belief to be above the law (even though, I guess he is!) That murder of the old Nerek woman is likely to have massive repercussions when you consider the new person on stage in the form of Unn....
Ha! Am loving this scene with Shurq and Selush — like the weirdest sort of spa and girly talk ever.
Another ha! “I simply asked how you were this morning, in case you’ve forgotten. Your reply was supposed to be equally inane and nondescript. If I’d wanted a list of your ailments — well, I wouldn’t.” Okay, I’m starting to like Tehol as well.
Erikson has proved in previous novels that he is able to do warfare and such with great aplomb. Now he shows us that he can also tackle political intrigue. I would argue that, in terms of content, Erikson is the most complete fantasist of pretty much any generation. You certainly get bang for your buck!
Bill’s Reaction to Chapter Six
I had a different reaction to the poem, Amanda. It made me think of the old men of the Teblor and elsewhere we’ve seen whose tales of past grandeur shackle the young and drive them onto paths more for the sake of the elders than the young, elders trying to relive past glory or trying to still delude themselves it was in fact glory. And thus all that ugliness is perpetuated.
You can tell by all those mentions that the Errant is going to be a big deal in this storyline.
I really like this opening scene — the big-view narration of it, the way we’re introduced to various subjects that will play a role in things to come: the sea, spirits of the depths bound and unbound, this particular sea spirit, the superstitions of sailors and the ways in which they attempt to mollify the ever-present hunger of the ocean.
Rats and rat-catchers. File.
I like Brys “slow turn” at the name of Bugg — can just picture the look on his face.
What a great intro of Ormly. A human head floating in that mass of rats.
Once again, it’s near impossible not to read so many of these lines in direct connection to modern society and events: “the day-in, day-out mindless yearnings of a people for whom possession was everything continued unabated.” This despite the probably onset of war. Or, in our case, the actual waging of it.
Yet another reference that the aforementioned prophecy of an empire rising may not be the good news it’s so often read as.
Brys is clearly a sharp guy in many ways. So when he says something about Turudal Brizad is “disturbing,” I suggest you file that away and keep a sharp eye on the Queen’s Consort. Maybe beginning with Brys’ observation that the consort is always watching things though he pretends to not care.
I’ll keep hammering away at the resonances of this text to our own times — sorry. “No nation is singular — or exclusive — rather, it should not be, for its own good. There is much danger in asserting for oneself a claim to purity, whether of blood or of origin . . .Lether is far richer for its devouring minorities, provided that digestion remains eternally incomplete.” And when I say these have echoes in our own time, I don’t mean solely to our time. We humans have certainly been dealing with the repercussions of claims to purity, of national “religions” or myths ever since we gathered into groups or tribes and then eventually into nations. Obviously the 20th century saw the horrors of “claims to purity,” but the Nazis certainly didn’t hold the patent on such. And to obviously lesser degrees, we have our own debates over national myths, over origins, over claims of purity or attempts to purify: immigration laws, segregation (not of the legal sort), the great national belief over our role in the world, etc. Issues shared by other countries as well; one needn’t read these resonances purely through the prism of the States, though living here it’s difficult to keep that in mind, I confess.
“There are contradictions and obscurities.” Well. Really?
You have a point about Mael’s worshippers, Amanda. But remember what we’ve seen of Mael himself in action. And recall as well what has been noted several times — that the gods at times are as saddened or horrified by their worshipers as we might be. Something that will play out again and again in this series. Said worshippers are not necessarily the best representatives of their gods. Hmm, and if that god has been slumbering or not paying attention and is awakened, what might his/her reaction be to those worshipers?
“It is our common failing . . . that we our guided by our indifference to eventualities. The moment pleases, the future can await consideration . . . Rich ports at river mouths that were abandoned after three centuries, due to silting caused by the clearing of forests and poorly conceived irrigation methods . . . what we human do can greatly accelerate the [natural] process.” Well, glad this only happens in books. Wait, isn’t fantasy supposed to “escapist”? Take us out of our modern day issues rather than comment upon them or mirror them?
Like you, Amanda, I like how we hear the music of Raraku in that description by the Ceda: “Even seas are born only to one day die . . . Yet the land clings to its memory, and all that it has endured is clawed onto its visage.”
I know they’re not to everyone’s taste, and yes, sometimes the humor feels forced, but sorry, for the most part Tehol and Bugg just crack me up. I love just listening to them in my head:
“I grow nauseous just looking at you.”
“But what has that to do with the trousers?”
“Very little, admittedly.”
Hope, meet Crosby.
Abbott, meet Costello.
I do think, however, that with this novel coming so close to the commentary on contemporary society as mentioned, the humor, besides serving as basic comic relief, also serves to ensure the reader doesn’t think Erikson is taking himself too seriously here or is trying too hard to “learn them good.”
And Shurq just keeps the laughs coming. Does that make her Dorothy Lamour?
More Errant references, by the way.
I like the somewhat primitive nature of what is happening down here in terms of magic and the like. The use of blood. The primal power of names. (I think of LeGuin’s Earthsea here, but of course the idea that names had magical power predated modern fantasy.) The tentacled gigantic gods below the surface. (Lovecraft anyone?) I also liked how anti-climactic the “battle” was between the Guardian and Brys — an often typical mythic scene, that battle with a Guardian.
Hmm, think that catalog of old gods’ names might come in handy somewhere down the line?
Yep, file that “mysterious cracked altar.”
I like that throwaway line about Truce Fever and how easily it is cured “given sufficient coin.” A bit telling about Letherii society.
“...raising the specter of abandonment, a scar these children could do without.” Abandonment is an interesting theme here, coming so soon after the Guardian has told us that Mael has seemingly abandoned the old gods. In many ways, abandonment can said to be the opposite of compassion, so much the focus of this series. Or abandonment another form of “indifference” — that other word we see bandied about so often as compassion’s opposite.
Okay, Bugg we know has hidden talents. And we also know he can set wards. Here he displays either another magical talent or he is deceiving these children in speaking of their grandmother’s passing. I’d say the latter is less likely based on what we’ve seen of Bugg. And then we get the children asking him, twice, for his “blessing.” And if you might have thought this was nothing extraordinary, note how the blessing “drained” him. Could it have done so if it had no power?
Yep, that is some funny back and forth with Selush and Shurq. A good balance to all the god talk and epic scale of what is happening elsewhere this chapter.
Well, and after that, we certainly end on a bit of a downer.
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.