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 Ten 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. Also, a note that our last post of 2011 will be Wednesday. We’ll be taking our holiday break at that point and returning, rested and rejuvenated, on January 4th. Enjoy the holidays to all and we’ll see you in 2012!
Ublala is upset over being treated like a sex toy. Tehol has little sympathy. Tehol and Bugg head out to get Shurq, who has been staying at a brothel, “feeding” her new addiction. The brothel turns out to be the priciest, most exclusive one in town and they worry how they’ll get her out when the Madame (Matron Delisp) probably is reveling in her newest whore. Tehol starts to create a whole bunch of stories and false reasons why he should be able to take Shurq, when Delisp interrupts and tells him to get rid of that “demoness.”
Tehol and Bugg find Shurq and tell her the Matron wants her out. She refers to her new appetites and Tehol suggests Ublala might help. Shurq agrees to try it.
As they prepare to leave, Matron Delisp tells Tehol she owes him. Shurq says Delisp actually owes her money and she wants it sent to Tehol’s residence where she plans to spend it quickly.
Shurq says she’ll meet Tehol (and Ublala) on the roof at midnight. Tehol heads off to the Azath House to speak to Kettle. He offers to do for her what they did with Shurq and she says she’ll think about it. She likes how Tehol looks and asks if she can call him father like she calls Shurq mother. He asks what the tower tells her and she says it’s afraid and someone in the ground is going to help once he gets free but there are bad ones down there as well who scare her and the House and destroy them all if they get free. Most of the others don’t talk at all, she says, save one who promises to make her an empress if Kettle helps her get free. Tehol advises Kettle not to trust that one and Kettle says Shurq told her the same. Before leaving, Kettle asks Tehol if he ever dreams of dragons.
Turudal Brizard, consort to Queen Janall watches Brys train his students. Brys thinks back to older threats to Lether—Bluerose in the north, tribes being driven into Lether areas by far off Kolanse, city-states in an archipelago in the Dracons Sea. All had been dealt with (Kolanse had a civil war and withdrew into itself). Brys wonders if Brizard is, as the Consort claims, a sign of what’s to come—people lacking martial training, Lether more focused on economic than military engagement and dominance. After the session, Brizard tells Brys the Chancellor (Triban Gnol) wants to see him. They discuss the feud between the Chancellor and the Ceda and Brizard talks of how peace leads to strife and Brys disagrees. Alone, Brys can’t figure out just what Brizard was trying to do or say; he prefers the clarity of physicality. He thinks Brizard is in a tough position, between the Queen and the Chancellor. He enters his room, noting it had been entered by spies, a regular occurrence. He heads off for to meet with the Ceda.
Brys finds the Ceda in mid-experiment. The Ceda discusses the world being round, gravity, tidal forces, the world’s four moons (at least four he says), how the other three moons beyond the visible one have seemingly faded, the idea that the world’s continents were once all joined. Brys tells him of Brizard’s reference to a feud between the Ceda and the Chancellor and Kuru Qan calls Brizad an “errant, troubled lad” seemingly filled with sorrow. He asks Brys to find out what he can about the feud the Ceda didn’t know about.
The Chancellor (Gnol) asks Brys about the military’s readiness and Brys says they are ready and capable for war. Gnol says he worries about Hull and Brys says his family is Brys’ business, not the Chancellor’s. The Chancellor says Brys shouldn’t take his concern as a warning and dismisses him.
Brys leaves, feeling out of his depth, knowing he lacks Tehol’s cleverness. He plans to seek advice from Tehol.
Shand, Rissarh, and Hejun come to meet Tehol and complain about not being involved and him not doing anything. He forestalls their complaints by giving them tasks. Mollified, they leave.
Shurq arrives and meets Ublala, who isn’t cooperating. She asks what he saw when he walked the canal bottom at the drownings and he said lots of bodies. She asks how deep the canal was originally and Bugg tells them seven man heights, but Ublala says he could almost reach up to the surface. Shurq wonders who is killing all those bodies and Tehol tells her not to worry. She asks Ublala if he can create a diversion while she breaks into Eberict’s estate. He’s reluctant until she says Eberict’s men don’t like him. They leave.
Brys walks to Tehol’s, thinking he’s always felt uncomfortable in Letheras, bothered by its greed, how people are being left behind, how the military was increasingly separated from the culture it is meant to protect. Brys asks Tehol for advice, saying he’s lost among the factions in the court that are trying to prod him into involvement. Tehol sums up the factions (Queen, Prince Quillas, Chancellor Gnol, Consort Brizard in one; King, the Ceda, First Eunuch Nifadas, Preda Hebaz, Brys, and maybe First Concubine Nisall in the other). Brys objects to being listed, but Tehol says he has no choice. Tehol advises him to say nothing (he’ll appear smarter) and treat it all like a duel. Brys says he worried about Hull and Tehol says he think Hull believes he’s going to die soon and wishes to take Lether with him, meaning someone will have to kill him. Brys says that will mean Brys will have to seek vengeance and Tehol says his first loyalty is to the King, not his family, but Tehol has no such constraints. He says he will avenge Hull. Brys smiles. The two discuss the brothers’ differences and differing paths. Tehol asks Brys to learn about people going missing.
With Ublala’s help, Shurq breaks into Eberict’s estate and then his private quarters, guarded by a dead man, set there as penance for incompetence. He wants to know how Shurq, also dead, looks so good and she says she can do the same for him. He helps her break in so he can go with her. Turns out he’s Harlest Eberict, Gerun’s brother, who died via a fall down the stairs ten years ago according to Gerun. Harlest informs her that Gerun killed him.
Shurq and Harlest collect papers, Gerun’s seal, and other things. They learn Gerun is calling in his money and Shurq speculates he’s planning something big and expensive. She tells Harlest they plan on breaking Gerun’s finances. They leave.
Kettle feeds another body to the Azath grounds. She thinks it’s been getting harder to find bad people to kill and wonders where they’ve all gone. Her friend underground had told her he was trapped and couldn’t go farther, though he said help was on tis way. She hopes Tehol will visit again, thinking he might know what to do now that the tower was dead.
Bill’s Reaction to Chapter Ten
I don’t have a lot to say abut the opening few scenes as in my mind they mostly serve as comic relief—a good move I’d say coming after the tension, dread, and horror of the prior chapter.
Speaking of dread, that scene with Kettle shifts us from the comic relief into the serious pretty quickly as we consider the pathos of Kettle’s loneliness (asking if she can call Tehol father, her search for brothers and sisters) and then her ominous references to those who lie beneath the Azath grounds—the “bad ones” who’ll destroy everyone if they get out and the one who promises to make Kettle and Empress. I like too how at the close of this scene, which begins with Kettle presented as a lonely, homeless, family-less waif, we are reminded of her much darker side as she mulls over just whom to kill.
It would be easy to glide right through Brys’ interior monologue as he trains his men, but it’s a good idea to slow down through here:
In those days there had been external threats aplenty. Bluerose to the north, the independent unruly city-states of the archipelago in Dracons Sea, and the various tribes on the eastern plain had been pressuring Lether, driven against the outposts by one of the cyclical expansionist regimes of far Kolanse. Bluerose now paid tribute to King Egazra... and Kolanse had subsided into isolation following some sort of civil war a few decades past.
Bluerose is going to be important not too far down the road. And Kolanse. Well, Kolanse and what happened to it will be of prime importance to the series. As far as I know, this is our first reference to it. Anyone recall something prior?
Brys’ musing on the army’s place in society is, like so much of this novel—has resonances for modern society. There has certainly been a lot of concern in recent years over the separation between the military and the civilian society in the U.S. and of how the military continues to pull from an ever-narrowing pool. Brys’ question is a good one—what effect does it have on both the military and the society it defends when the gap between the two ever widens?
You can see Brys’ lack of subtlety in his discussion with Brizad (whose own words recall the “subtlety” in the Crippled God’s discussion with Rhulad); this is why he needs help from Tehol. And why he prefers the relative simplicity of the martial life.
And then after some serious thought, we move into some more humor via the Ceda, stuck swinging to and fro over his fallen map. We do get some interesting information about the moons and the continents, a little multi-layered discussion on forces in conflict impressing themselves on people, and, well, a revelator line that screams out to re-readers, though I’m not sure about pointing it out here.
Amidst the humor of the Tehol abode conversations, a little interesting tidbit about all those bodies in the canal.
And more from Brys that yet again has painful parallels to our own modern day society as he wonders at the ever-increasing concentration of wealth in Lether and worries about a tipping point when those being left out turn from helplessness to anger. Will there be an “Occupy the Old Palace” gathering?
From the humor atop Tehol’s, we move into darker territory as he and Brys discuss their brother Hull. It’s a pretty grim certainty both seem to have that Hull is aiming himself, knowingly, toward death. And I love that little familial moment where we get to see as readers that Brys has respect for Tehol and has come to see him as more than perhaps he once thought him:
You would avenge Hull?
Count on it.
Eventually, Brys smiled
Love that moment.
And then we meet another fun character—Harlest. If it seems there are a lot of undead popping up around Lether, well, there are. More on that to come... And that’s also a bit revealing about Gerun—his willingness to kill his own brother. We’re left with a few lingering questions after the raid: What is Gerun planning that requires so much money, and will Harlest get his fangs?
Then we’re back with Kettle, picking up with her where we left—grim Kettle rather than cute Kettle, as she watches her latest body sink into the ground, licking the blood off her fingers.
Speaking of questions—where are all the bad people getting to? All the spies and criminals? And what sort of “help” is coming to aid in releasing her friend in the Azath grounds? And will it get there in time? Especially now that, and you can almost hear the organ at the end of this chapter, the “tower was dead.” Da da dum!
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.