Jan 25 2012 1:00pm

Malazan Re-read of the Fallen: Midnight Tides, Chapter Seventeen

Malazan reread of Midnight Tides by Steven Erikson on Tor.comWelcome 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 readers. In this article, we’ll cover Chapter Seventeen 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.

Chapter Seventeen


Tehol hears Bugg fall into the canal, which happened Bugg says because he thought he heard someone whisper his name. Bugg says Shurq has disappeared and Tehol tells him she’s planning to breaks into the Tolls. Bugg informs Tehol he’s succeeded in shoring up the Fifth Wing foundations and says it’s “chilly in those tunnels now.” Tehol notes Bugg’s surprising amount of scars and lets Bugg know he is aware of his roles as “occasional priest, healer, the Waiting Man, consorter with demons.”


Tehol expounds on inequity, value, and worth as they walk. They end in an area of tribal refuges and mixed-bloods, with a few indebted Letherii mixed in. Bugg argues they are broken and they discuss paternalism even as they worry the refugees will be press-ganged into the war. Tehol says step one is getting them a leader, ideally a reluctant one; i.e. Bugg. Bugg says not a great idea, he’s a bit busy but he accepts, so long as no one worships him.


Brys and the Ceda meet and discuss the fall of Trate and the upcoming battle at High Fort, which the Ceda says he will not take part in; he must “conserve his power until the appropriate time.” The Ceda discusses the Letherii denial of death. The lack of a Hold of Death (he says the Cedance is incomplete), and the effect such an absence has, arguing there must have been one once. Brys lets slip that Kettle is undead and the Ceda immediately says they have to go.


Kettle and Shurq discuss the dead who are gathering just outside the Azath walls and Shurq wants Kettle to ask them to join her assault of the Tolls. They note that the ghosts are becoming more substantial in the past week and Shurq says she knows why, wondering if Kettle realizes she is coming back to life. Kettle says the ghosts have agreed to go with Shurq, who tells Kettle the reason the ghosts’ power growing is the death of the Azath.


Kettle thinks it’s been getting harder for her to talk to/hear the ghosts and she is getting thirsty which she never had before. Brys and the Ceda arrive, who tells Kettle she was the Zath’s guardian and also that she is no longer dead. She tells him her friend says the heart inside won’t fully wake up, which is why the Nameless Ones took her body, though her friend will destroy her if necessary. The Ceda says the Azath House has become the Hold of Death. She shows him a flagstone with “carvings” on it and says it is for the Cedance — a tile. The Ceda surmises the Nameless Ones had known the Azath would die and so acted to deal with those who might escape, and that the Hold of Death manifesting there might have nothing to do with them. He adds Kettle isn’t the guardian of the Azath anymore; she’s just waiting to deal with the escapees. He asks if her friend will emerge in time and she doesn’t know. She tells them of a “pretty man” who watches her a lot but spoke to her once to tell her of the Hold of Death and said she shouldn’t “give her heart away,” adding he never does. He also told her the Hold of Death didn’t need a guardian because its throne is occupied. Brys and the Ceda leave and Kettle joins Silchas in the aftermath of the battle with the K’Chain. She sees Wyval seeking their “master” and Silchas says they’ll wait a long time and still are. He explains that the Jaghut’s ice that will soon come is what cut off the dead from journeying, kept them to “linger,” and though he wonders if that was the intent, believes none, not even the Elder God he thinks “meddled” could have predicted that. She tells him the Azath is now the Hold of Death and he says that must be because the Jaghut sorcery is dying. She informs him of the war and he says the Edur will try to kill him, fearing he’ll try and do the same to them, but he says he will not. He points to the battle and wonders where all the spirits of the dead have gone.


Shurq enters the Tolls with the ghosts, one of whom memorizes the ledgers.


Kuru Qan recaps events and thinks the Letherii have misread their own prophecy.


Tehol and Rucket meet and head to supper.


Shand, Rissarh, and Hejun are at the restaurant when Tehol, Rucket, and Bugg enter. A bar brawl breaks out and Bugg and Tehol leave.


Amanda’s Reaction to Chapter Seventeen:

So how did the rat’s tail cause that particular accident? That little tale has the cadence and style of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales! (In my less-than-scholarly mind!)

I can now imagine exactly those three guards of Tehol’s — sort of like the identical suited henchmen that a mob boss would have.

Oh, the two-headed bug now has a name — Ezgara. And isn’t that the name of the King? It makes me smile lots, coming back to Tehol and Bugg again.

So someone whispered Bugg’s name, did they? I guess he knows he’s Mael, right? Or is he currently just a very very old and wise man who has memories of things occurring before, but is not actually Mael because he’s not being worshipped? That same chicken/egg conundrum we discussed from the previous chapter.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many scars on one person” — what has caused Bugg’s scars?

Tehol is so astonishingly sharp — and we tend to be fooled, I think, by the way in which he chats away about inconsequentials. Here he lets Bugg know that he is aware of the manservant’s extra-curricular activities, which I think Bugg felt were secret: “You are a man of many mysteries, Bugg. Occasional priest, healer, the Waiting Man, consorter with demons and worse. Were I not so self-centered, I’d be intrigued.”

Now how true is this! “...the assumption is the foundation stone of Letherii society, perhaps all societies the world over. The notion of inequity, my friends. For from inequity derives the concept of value.”

And this statement has echoes of the various situations encountered in Africa, in my mind: “We’re a generation or more too late. They’ve not old skills to fall back on, and as a community this one is intrinsically flawed. It breeds violence and neglect and little else.” Or, I guess, any society/country that is neglected after something like war or slavery; any refugees who are taken in by a different country. This statement feels like that.

So Tehol intends on using those who would be torn apart by war — removing them in order to save them from mass press-ganging into the army. And he gives them Bugg as reluctant leader, who says (and, boy did I chortle at this one!) “As long as no one worships me [...] I don’t like being worshipped.”

“There is no Hold of Death.” Not something I had considered when the Holds were mentioned, but now seems a gaping absence considering the presence of Hood on the Malazan continent. But...surely Death doesn’t need a specific Hold? Death But then I guess it isn’t, if you think about Shurq and Kettle. As Brys wonders, is the lack of a Hold of Death the reason behind so many walking dead in Letheras? And maybe the reason behind the wraiths as well?

Kettle is coming back to life! How and why? And is this the reason why y’all were remarking on Ceda not going to see her immediately? Would Ceda have kept her undead?

Ooh, and now the Hold of Death is materialising. Kettle hands a new tile to Ceda, and knows about the Hold because of a pretty stranger who has both boyfriends and girlfriends. The only person we’ve already who would fit this seems to be Turudal Brizad, the Queen’s Consort, but I don’t know if I’m barking up the wrong tree there. And we already know about the thawing of the ice that froze the warrens and the flow of the dead by hearing about the Crimson Guard being able to use Kurald Galain in the last chapter!

What a terrifically funny scene, as Shurq floods the Tolls Repository with spirits. I love the spirit who starts complaining about what they’ve done with the place. *grins*

Huh! Someone could have just directed me to this quote to cover what happens in Midnight Tides. It is a fairly accurate precis of the novel to date though: “The Azath dies, a Hold of Death comes into being. A Nameless One appears and somehow possesses the corpse of a child, then fashions an alliance with a denizen of a barrow. A usurper proclaims himself emperor of the Tiste Edur, and now leads an invasion. Among his allies, a demon from the sea, one of sufficient power to destroy two of my best mages. And now, if other rumours are true, it may be the emperor is himself a man of many lives...”

Well, if Tehol and Bugg are a joy to read, then adding Rucket is just heaping joy upon joy.

A short but sweet chapter! Onwards!


Bill’s Reaction to Chapter Seventeen:

Note how many unfamiliar languages Bugg (or can we now say “Bugg”?) swears in.

Note as well that odd focus of the conversation on how “chilly” it is below the Fifth Wing. Remember when we’ve seen Bugg deal with cold before and you’ve got a good reason for the strange cold now in the tunnels.

I also like that reminder of Tehol’s knowledge and intelligence. You know he’s “math/economics” smart, but it’s easy to see him as the absent-minded professor type — this is a good reminder on Erikson’s part that he knows much more than we often assume.

In America, in the midst of an election season, with the Occupy movement going on, coming on the heels of the financial meltdown, this theme of inequity in the quote Amanda points out is certainly timely and pointed. Is inequity the foundation of all society? It’s hard to point to a society where it is not — maybe one or two rainforest ones? Maybe.

It’s a complex issue brought up by Tehol and Bugg in dealing with the refugees. How do you handle a society/community/country (the problem scales up and down pretty easily) that has been/is marginalized/oppressed and has then lost the skills, lost the links, lost the social cohesion, etc. to make it a successful community? What is the line between “paternalism” and helping? It’s all too rare that this sort of social complexity is addressed in fantasy, which is so often a simple top-down, return to status quo — the king is at the head, the king is in his bed, and all is well in the land — sort of presentation.

I think Erikson is done with the shadow-play with regard to Bugg and Mael by now and his “I don’t like being worshipped” is running up the flag.

I think you’re pretty much on with the Hold of Death thing Amanda. We’ve had lots of hints that something is funny on Lether and this is starting to move in a more explicit fashion (we’ll continue to get more discussion of this). Your question about does death need a “Hold” made me think though just about the phrasing — do we need someplace to literally “hold” the dead? It seems we do in Lether based on all the spirits about.

And while we’ve all pointed to the modern day parallels (and the historic ones) with Lether in terms of its economic system as well as its imperialistic nature, can we seriously argue against a similar parallel in modern culture (at least, speaking of what I know best, American culture) with a denial of death? We don’t like to look at it, we don’t like to talk about it, and we like to keep pushing it farther and farther afield (70 is the new 50! 90 is the new 60!). Our focus on youth culture, etc. “All a vast denial,” as the Ceda says.

I’ll be honest — I’m just not remembering what the Ceda thinks the big deal is with Kettle or what might have been done differently. I’m as curious as you Amanda to see what unfolds with this.

Certainly an appropriate chose of words from the Ceda regarding Kettle’s heart — that than imagery of awakening and sleeping, he refers to is as “once frozen . . . now . . . thawing.”

You’re right to guess that the “pretty man” with all the girlfriends and boyfriends is Turudal Brizad, the Queen’s Consort. We haven’t seen much or heard much from him, but this is a good hint to pay more attention to him. Note he is surprisingly informed about other lands — where there is a Hold of Death.

I’ve mentioned several times how if one waits long enough, often we’ll get a surprisingly transparent explanation of what may have been a bit mysterious. In this chapter we get the Ceda giving some pretty succinct explanations and then we get Silchas doing the same as he explains to Kettle the effect of Gothos’ sorcery. And then that quote Amanda gives us. Feeing lost? Just be a little patient; I keep saying it and will keep saying it. Erikson doesn’t usually leave us hanging mid-air for long.

Well, if this does get turned into a mini-series, you have to have a bar room brawl, right? But funny scenes are usually a precursor to darker scenes. War, after all, has arrived, if not in the restaurants of Lether.

Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.

Bill Capossere writes short stories and essays, plays ultimate frisbee, teaches as an adjunct English instructor at several local colleges, and writes SF/F reviews for

Steven Halter
1. stevenhalter
Bugg having lots of scars is an interesting piece of the puzzle. Scars come from wounds and what comes from wounds--blood of course. Now, why might blood be significant here. Well note that Bugg doesn't like being worshipped. Then recall who a particular person who claimed to worship Mael was that we have already met.
Put all that together and then think on the inequity we see highlighted in the chapter. The inequity may not only apply to the monetary inequity that we see at the surface in Lether but also the inequity between god and worshipper. Where is the real power balance in that equation in Malazan? Chicken and egg but also a very interesting cycle of co-dependency. What is the trap and who the trapper?
Chris Hawks
2. SaltManZ
@shalter: When you said blood comes from wounds—and Mael's wounds, at that—I immediately thought of The Lees of Laughter's End...
Iris Creemers
3. SamarDev
@ Shalter,
hadn't thought about it that way. Thanks!

Ok, so Bugg's out of the closet now. Ha, I love those direct follow-ups in the sequence of chapters. SE does that more than once. Chapter 16 ending with Withal starting to pray to Mael, this one starting with Bugg thinking he heard someone whispering his name. It's so direct - and at the same moment you still have to pay attention. I, for one, was too stuck in the storytelling to catch it the first time, and thought 'what " I don't like to be worshipped"?? Well, will be, what's next?'

In retrospective you see SE building the unraveling. In the beginning of the book he uses a few times a see / wave / ocean / etc metaphore related to Bugg (Tehol says something like 'hear him snore, like the tide in a cave'), but the last few chapters those hints cumulated. With at this point the almost direct in-between-chapters-connection, and the phrase 'I don't like being worshipped'.
But of course, for all those who miss this on their first round *looks innocently around* there will be an inevitable explicit statement later. At which moment I thought 'wtf?! how could I have missed that!' :-s
Iris Creemers
4. SamarDev
Bill, I never realised / thought Bugg was using 'Jaghut-sorcery' in the tunnels. We have already seen him asking for help with that twice, so I don't know if he would use it unseen. Apart from that, he explaned once to Tehol how he would make this foundations, and that sounded just like a very qualitive, nowadays, technical solution where no scorcery would be needed.

But, as you say, the reference to 'chilly' points at cold (in stead of wet, as the tunnels have been - and will be - refered to), so it might be just that.
Iris Creemers
5. SamarDev
'A truly succesful leader is a reluctant leader. Not one whose every
word is greeted with frenzied cheering either - after all, what happens
to the mind of such a leader, after such scenes are repeated again and
again? A growing certainty, a belief in one's own infallibility, and
onward goes the march into disaster.'

Lessons in politics keep coming, and I love the idea how Tehol sees Buggs reluctance to be a leader / being worshipped as the perfect reluctance to be just a good one.
And mention that Bugg seems to be walking toward the crowd, but as Tehol/Rucket turn to look after him, he seems to have disappeared.
'Somewhere in that crowd behind you, I suppose'.
'Well, no. They're all looking.'
'Oh, he was there a moment ago.
Another thing a mere human would have difficulty in doing so...
Iris Creemers
6. SamarDev
A question for Amanda (and then I'll leave the floor to others to comment :-)). Here's a quote from your comment on the prologue.
And our first encounter with Mael. We’ve seen people who follow the principles of Mael, but I never realised that he was an Elder God before. Also, the fact that all the people who follow Mael seem to be a bit, well, nasty, doesn’t really make me warm to this chap.
Well, how do you think about him now? Anything changed, or do you still feel the same about Mael?
Chris Hawks
7. SaltManZ
SamarDev @5: I love that it's Tehol giving that "reluctant leader" lesson, considering events later on... :)
Steven Halter
8. stevenhalter
SaltManZ@2: That's another good example. I was thinking of some scenes in RotCG.
I can't think of an alias
10. I can't think of an alias
"Is inequity the foundation of all society? It’s hard to point to a
society where it is not — maybe one or two rainforest ones? Maybe."

Not maybe. After all, inequity is the reality for all living creatures. How else would "survival of the fittest" work? It ain't pretty, but it is the hand we've been dealt. The best society would keep the inequity under control and limit the damage on the vulnerable. Eliminating inequity entirely? Good luck.
Hugh Arai
11. HArai
SamarDev@6: And now you've linked back to the very good reasons "Bugg" might have to say he doesn't like to be worshipped...
Amanda Rutter
12. ALRutter
SamarDev @ 6 Ha, that was something I hadn't even thought of, but yes, thanks to Bugg, my opinion of Mael has changed utterly!
I can't think of an alias
13. djk1978
SamarDev @3: I know for a fact that I missed the reason why Bugg fell in the canal on my first 2 reads. I only connected it this time. And the second time through I even knew who Bugg was and still missed it.

What makes anyone think it was Bugg using Jaghut sorcery. I doubt that. We've already seen an actual Jaghut around Bugg. That seems more logical to me. Think back to chapter 12. They needed a new place for the Khalibaral demon...
Chris Hawks
14. SaltManZ
djk @13 Finish your sentence: ...the Khalibaral demon that had been imprisoned by a Jaghut.
I can't think of an alias
15. djk1978
Exactly. I just got the impression that some readers thought it was Bugg who was actually wielding Omtose Phellack. I'm saying he's working in tandem to with the Jaghut here and the cold section under the palace wing is the answer to her question where are they going to store him.
Mieneke van der Salm
16. Mieneke
Rather behind, but planning to catch up before Wednesday.

Samar @3: Okay, you've actually made me feel proud I caught the fact that Bugg thought he heard his name called and linked it to Withal's praying. On my first time through even! I do agree though that I really like how Erikson is building up the Bugg=Mael plot, you can guess it really early or just follow along with the clues.

Going back to the bar fight. Is it just me, or is anyone else surprised at the relatively small parts the three ladies play? I mean, they have walk on parts, such as here in the bar, but apart from just after we met them, we haven't really seen a whole lot of interaction with them. For some reason I'd expected them to feature more than this.
Iris Creemers
17. SamarDev
Exactly. I just got the impression that some readers thought it was Bugg who was actually wielding Omtose Phellack. I'm saying he's working in tandem to with the Jaghut here and the cold section under the palace wing is the answer to her question where are they going to store him.
Ok, that might be an explanation. I never thought Bugg was making ice himself because previously it was obvious he asked help for that. But Bill's remark about the chilly tunnels made me rethink that cold is associated with Omthose Pellack. Of course 'chilly' is not the same as 'bitter cold' (and SE is always careful with his choice of words), but still...
So maybe the demon is stored there, I can't remember where the khalibaral is imprisoned. Unless it happens at the same time with an on-this-moment-not-further-to-describe-event. If so, we can conclude it's not now, and not in those tunnels.

Btw, now I was reading back (again...) that part in chapter 12, I remembered two years back the Malaz Forum had a art contest on 'the huntress', aka that Jaghut that refroze the Khalibaral. Remarkable what some people can make!
'Tall, naked from the hips upward, grey-green skin. Long, streaked blonde hair hanging loose over the shoulders and down the back. Light grey eyes, the pupils vertical slits. Silver-capped tusks. Female, heavy-breasted. She was wearing a short skirt, her only clothing barring the leather-strapped moccasins, and a wide belt holding a half-dozen scabbards in which stabbing knives resided.'
Brian R
18. Mayhem
Yep, there is a wonderfully subtle sequence of events that explain what happened to the Khalibaral from back in chapter 12.
Which I tracked down after I couldn't recall earlier :)
Basically, the Huntress refroze him, and Bugg buried him under the rather waterlogged Fifth Wing, using the spillover from the Jaghut magic to freeze the foundations solid. The ideal solution to finding somewhere where humans wouldn't keep digging him up again.

From Chapter 12
"Now I need to find for him somewhere else. Any suggestions?"
Bugg considered for a time, then he smiled.

Chapter 17
"I believe I've caught a chill."
"The canal is notoriously noxious..."
"No, from earlier Master. The Fifth Wing. I've managed to successfully shore up the foundations..."
"Already? Why, that's extraordinary."
"It is, isn't it? In any case, its chilly in those tunnels ... now."

And later in Chapter 20
"We're more or less done with the wings of the Eternal Domicile. Dry, foundations restored, my crews cleaning up. There have been some complaints about the cold draughts in the Fifth Wing, but that's not my problem, strictly speaking."
"Why the cold draughts, Bugg?"
"Presumably related to the shoring methods I employed, but they don't know that."
"And why should your shoring methods make it cold? Bugg, do I detect some discomfort in your demeanour?"
"Discomfort, master? Not at all. Are you certain you want the details of this matter?"
"When you put it that way, probably not."

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