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 Fourteen 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.
Bugg, as the “Waiting Man,” has been sent for by some cutthroats whose companion was killed by some kind of monster that then ducked into the last temple of the Fulcra. Bugg explores and speaks to the creature, a D’ivers god Bugg calls “The Pack.” It tells Bugg it will wait for something/one to arrive and then will hunt. Bugg leaves and tells the ruffians he’ll take care of it. He goes to check on the Azath House, worried about what else might have, like the Pack, escaped from the barrows. Speakign to Kettle, he is surprised the Ceda hasn’t visited her yet, especially now that her heart is beating. She shows him Silchas’ barrow and says the woman next to him — the one who promises her things — is often angry and scares off the five Tarthenol gods. Bugg realizes she (the Azath prisoner) is holding on to Silchas’ ankles to follow him out. Kettle says the five have killed most everything else and are almost out. Bugg tells her to call for help before they do. She says she will.
Brys attends a meeting with the King, Ceda, Unnutal Hebaz, and the First Concubine Nisall. They discuss force and strategy for the upcoming war with the Edur. The King wants a pre-emptive strike to make the Edur change their minds, using the Ceda’s mages to strike the Edur villages. Brys learns Hull has joined the Edur. The King says since the Letherii know that, it will advantage them. There have been reports of the wraiths on on the frontier and Nisall suggest magically destroying Edur sacred sites as was done to the Nerek and Tarthenal. The Ceda agrees, though sadly. The Queen is using her Queen’s Brigade independently, aiming to meet the Edur. Everyone anticipates a brutal, difficult war. Brys decides he need to warn Tehol he might be a target now that it is known about Hull.
Rucket (Chief Investigator of the Rat Catchers Guild) meets with Bugg. She tells him an undead little girl is killing people and Gerun Eberict has been killing a lot as well — between two and three thousand in the past year. Rucket asks if he wants to come home with her and he says he’s been under a vow of celibacy for thousands of years. She drives him away (on purpose) with some disgusting talk and as she takes pride in doing so, Bugg, appreciating her playacting thinks she might make a good match for Tehol.
Tehol meets with Shand, Rissarh, and Hejun, all depressed over Ublala’s departure. Tehol tells them they have what they need and he’s just waiting for the right time. The war has made him hesitate as he’s worried that the Edur winning would be worse. When Tehol says opening the Letherii up to possible genocide is different from causing economic collapse in order to change things, they say the Letherii would just be getting what they themselves had done repeatedly. Tehol asks why they’d stoop to Lether’s level and says things are always more complicated than they seem. He says their priority should be evacuating the tribal refugees and indebted. He says the worst thign for the Edur is if they actually win the war. He leaves, still worrying about the war. Shurq meets with him and tells him Harlest is getting impatient for his fang treatment. She wants another thieving mission and he mentions the Tolls. He wants to know who holds the largest royal debt. She says she, Ublala, and Harlest are planning to become pirates after Tehol’s plan.
Silchas is showing Kettle a chamber and talks to her of the Forkrul Assail and their goal of “absolute balance,” to which he is utterly opposed. He says he killed the ones they see at this scene and his “draconic kin” killed others, though some still remain (most imprisoned and worshipped by mortals). He reveals Kettle’s soul is Forkrul Assail, though she was also once a mortal human and he wonders at all that led to her. He realizes the Azath was going to have Kettle kill him once he defeated the others, but she says she’ll follow his path as long as it’s good. They both understand he may also have to kill her, if her soul fully awakens. She describes for him a scene the Azath showed her of her being prepared/chosen, revealing the Nameless Ones were involved. She guesses the Eres was her mother and Silchas agrees, thoug he says her father may not even be her father yet since the Eres travels through time. He tells her she has two souls sharing a child’s corpse.
Bugg informs Tehol of Eberict’s murders and they decide they’ll have to do something about it. Brys arrives to tell Tehol of Hull and warn him of possible assassination by the Queen’s agents. Tehol agrees to let Byrs get him a single bodyguard.
Amanda’s Reaction to Chapter Fourteen:
Fisher’s poem at the start of Chapter Fourteen is particularly poignant because we’ve never seen a situation in the Malazan novels “when the sun bathed everything in godling light, And we were burnished bright in our youthful ascendancy.” We’ve seen tired gods, ascendants wrapped in millenia of battles and petty squabbles. We’ve seen a world where grim times are assured. This lightness is something I wish we’d seen, and I hope we come to see (but then, maybe that just happens in light fantasy novels — it certainly doesn’t happen in life, and Malazan seems to echo real life).
Bugg can smell spilled blood? Hmm, that’s not a normal human reaction, is it? Combined with what someone (sorry, I can’t remember specific names) [Bill: that would, sniff, have been me, your partner. Sniff.] said concerning the fact that Bugg identified himself as other than human, this is definitely hinting towards ascendant or god, surely? Now which one... *muses*
And then extra hints about Bugg — they’re coming thick and fast now. We see him called the Waiting Man, which implies he is much more than simply Tehol’s manservant and has a secret role in the city. We see him mention the last temple of the Fulcra, implying familiarity with the term and with the fact the cult existed. We seem him go into the temple without any worry, despite the fact that a man has been torn to pieces by whatever is in there. We see the... whatever it is within the temple (the Pack?)... show fear and concern about the fact that Bugg could hurt it.
The shape makes me curious. First it is one huge shape, and then becomes smaller reptilian shapes. Is this the Fulcra? After all, Bugg says that its worshippers are long gone. And what is the shape waiting for? Has it been trapped in the Azath until now?
Hah! As an ex-accountant (you have no idea how good it feels to say that!) I do appreciate this: “Since the list of shares was sealed, Bugg had managed to sell four thousand and twenty-two per cent of shares, and still hold a controlling interest.”
“Rats scurried from his path.” Could this be another clue about Bugg or is it just that rats would run from anyone...? Now that I suspect Bugg, I am reading everything about him very carefully, and I’m pretty sure I’m missing what must be right in front of my nose!
I adore Kettle, and somehow see her as very sweet and innocent (even with the rampant killing of people!) but that scene with the worms in her hair ensures she’d never get a hug from me.
This scene between Bugg and Kettle is very affecting. The way that Kettle is so dignified; her explanation of her heart beating and how often; the ache we feel at knowing the Ceda is not going to take any special interest in Kettle because he doesn’t know her condition.
Ha, so it seems that Sheltatha Lore is holding fast to Silchas Ruin — two dragons waiting to burst from the barrows. Well, just as soon as Ruin starts “sawing.” Who else is cringing at the idea of that?
The five that Bugg refers to — does that have anything to do with the Tarthenal’s Seregahl, the Wrath Wielders? [Bill: Just everything.]
I feel very sorry for Brys, finding out that his brother Hull has turned his back on the Letherii. Despite everything, they are of the same blood, after all.
In this scene Nisall mentions the Tarthenal again, and the fact that the Letherii attacked their sacred sites in order to reduce their magical abilities. This just reinforces my view that the Seregahl are the five spoken about.
How can the Letherii win when they are dividing and conquering themselves? With the queen and the king attacking independently, they are surely just making it easier for the Edur. Apart from a few small matters, this scene seems to be mostly about introducing us to various facts about the Letherii forces.
That scene between Bugg and Rucket was absolutely classic — one of the best I’ve read by Erikson! From the way that Rucket tries to be absolutely hideous in her pretend lust in order to keep Bugg at arms length, to the way that Bugg talks about the two-headed bug.
There are two more clues here to my mind about Bugg: “Oh, thousands of years...it seems” and “Aye,” he drawled, “the very oceans heaved.” Wouldn’t most people refer to the earth moving? Unless they are intimately involved with the sea?
Is it just me, or is what Tehol says about the war between Letherii and Edur eminently sensible and balanced? In fact, the most considered and respectful response? I suddenly have a whole lot more respect for him. And I suddenly can see exactly why you all love this duo SO much. Behind the banter and the silly dialogue there is so much going on, isn’t there?
Hee, Chapter Fourteen is rapidly turning into my very favourite chapter of this whole book! Now we have this delightful meeting between Tehol and Shurq to glory in. Yes, the plot is moved on, so the scene achieves what it needs to, but the glory of it comes from the delicate flashes of humour, the way that Tehol seems to use reverse psychology on Shurq to get her into the Tolls Repository and the royal vaults. Just fabulous.
Who is the one within Kettle?! This must be the heart that is beating? Aha! The soul within her is Forkrul Assail! Gosh, what a revelation... So Kettle has a massive part to play in future events, surely? And how scary to have a child be an independent arbiter in events....
WOW! And now we find that Kettle was not a child at all, but one of the Nameless Ones!
And one last clue: “Besides, Bugg snores. And we’re not talking mild snoring, either. Imagine being chained to the floor of a cave, with the tide crashing in, louder, louder, louder...”
A storming chapter. Up there with some of the best. Yes, I’m curious about some of the matters within, but overall I just let it sweep over me and enjoyed every moment. Classy stuff, Mr Erikson!
Bill’s Reaction to Chapter Fourteen:
So, as Amanda pointed out, the clues are coming faster and faster that Bugg is a lot mohre than he appears:
- His “sniffing” for something beyond normal senses
- His once again detailed knowledge of events long past
- His fearlessness in going in where the “monster” went
- His recognition of the god
- His reference to a “mortal”
- The way he seems to be taking on dealing with The Pack, something that would take the Ceda himself or a “few thousand” regular folks
- His nervousness at entering the Azath grounds (remember what the Azath does and to whom)
- His thousand plus years of celibacy
- His “unattainable” nature
- “Bugg, I think you are probably a wonderful lover.”
- “Aye . . . the very oceans heaved.”
- “Bugg snores . . . Imagine being chained to the floor of a cave, with the tide crashing in”
The “shape” Amanda is called the Pack and is a D’ivers. We’ve had references to The Pack in Feather Witch’s reading and the reading by the Ceda. It’s implied his worshippers will be coming.
We often see Bugg in pure competency mode or surprisingly powerful mode or comic duo mode, but I like how here in the scene with Kettle we see a gentle, compassionate side to him. The way he tries to assuage her guilt over The Pack getting out and how he shows concern when he thinks she might be experiencing pain.
Note another reference to that idea that if only the Ceda knew about Kettle he’d be more involved.
So what is happening to cause Kettle’s heart to start beating? Is it the Azath’s death or something else?
That’s a lot of detail and place names in that war meeting, so one might imagine we’ll be hearing more and/or seeing some of these places coming up. And that little throwaway reference to Bluerose is something to remember, especially that those people were the most difficult to conquer for Lether.
It’s interesting — the Ceda’s response to destroying the Edur’s holy sites is the second example of a high level Letherii grieving over what they are “forced” to do for their country.
That is a fun scene with Rucket all the way through. And don’t forget that two-headed bug!
We know how smart Tehol is, so we should really consider his views that
a) the Edur conquering Lether might be even worse than what he plans and
b) an Edur conquest might be worse for the Edur. Remember too, this is not the first time we’ve heard this.
And seriously, how can one read this conversation and not go immediately to actual world events, whether long ago, in the recent past, or currently (and tell me again how fantasy is always “escapist”:
Letheras declares a war in the name of liberty and would therefore assert the right of the moral high ground....
It’s not liberty they want . . . it’s the freedom of Letherii business interests to profit from those people.
And if they act to prevent genocide and tyranny, Hejun?
. . . they have committed their own acts of genocide . . . tyrannies are only reprehensible to the Letherii when they do not operate in collusion with Letherii business interests.
While I like Tehol’s content when he discusses his concern over what happens in moments of chaos thanks to the darker points of human nature, the rereader in me also likes this exchange for other reasons:
. . . waits in the wings, eager to . . . give shape to the reforging of order . . . What in the Errants name are you talking about?
Back to the modern world, um, I mean the “fantasy” world wholly disconnected from reality or our modern day lives (or our historical ones):
They [the Edur] exist now in a state of fear, seeing the influence and material imposition of Letheras as a threat, as a kind of ongoing unofficial war of cultures. To the Edur, Lether is a poison, a corrupting influence, and in reaction to that the Edur have become a people entrenched and belligerent. In disgust at what they see ahead of them, they have turned their backs and dream only of what lay beind them. They dream of a return ot past glories . . .
I love the humor in these books, the fantasy elements, the great characters, the sweeping nature of the story, the complexities, etc. But certainly one of the major aspects that for me raises it into a different tier is this sort of depth of thought — the way one can read it on more than one level, and that other level is a serious, thoughtful one.
Pirates. C’mon, who doesn’t love pirates? And undead pirates at that?
Okay, that’s a pretty dense scene between Silchas Ruin and Kettle. And I’ll be completely honest here; some of the stuff on Kettle’s past just makes my head hurt. But let’s forge on with a few points.
The Forkrul Assail are getting mentioned more and more and will eventually play a huge role in the ongoing plot. So we should keep some of what we learn here in mind:
“To achieve peace, destruction is delivered.” We’ve heard something similar about them before, and clearly this implies that that when we do meet them, it probably won’t be pleasant. We’ve already had one unpleasant encounter with “Calm” — (one of those imprisoned and worshipped).
That idea of “absolute balance” obviously opens up the purveyor of balance to perform horrid acts in that name.
They are long-lived (seemingly even in the context of this world).
They are “very difficult to be killed” (and this is a Soletaken dragon talking here). I’ll have a lot more to say about this down (way down) the road.
Many were killed by Silchas’ “draconic kin,” since nobody else supposedly could kill them. (Did I mention I’d have more to say about this?)
Silchas has his own take on the Forkrul Assail vision of balance, scorning their arrogance in assuming a “inner perfection” which allows them to seek external perfection. Instead, he believes one should seek only internal balance. Of course, this somehow also led to near genocide. Hmmm.
Then, of course, beyond insights into FA and Silchas, we get a lot of information on Kettle, beginning with the fact that she carries within her a Forkrul Assail soul. What else?
- The Azath chose her out of seeming desperation
- Kettle was told she was to kill Silchas afterward
- Silchas may need to destroy Kettle
- Kettle contains two souls — a Forkrul Assail and another
- The other was “prepared” by Nerek witches (associated with the Eres’al)
- The other came from Raraku and looked different
- The Nerek thought of that other as “a true child of Eres.” Is this metaphorical? Literal? Is it “Eres” or the Eres’al? Later Kettle says the Eres was her “true mother” and Silchas agrees. We’ve seen an Eres have sex already. And as the Eres can time travel (not a big fan of time travel by the way), the father may be anyone at any time.
The Nerek Witches saw her as the “answer to the Seventh Closure” because she was “the blood of kin." Is this the blood of kin of those of the Seventh Closure? Connecting her to the Edur and Rhulad (and thus the Sengars?) who have been strongly implied to be the Seventh Closure? Is this the blood of kin of the Nerek? The Eres?
Did I mention it makes my head hurt?
More, much more to come regarding Kettle, Silchas, and Forkrul Assail.
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.