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 Nineteen 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.
As Udinaas watches sharks and gulls feed on the war dead we learn the frontier has mostly fallen, Feather Witch has been beaten by Mayen, thousands of Letherii and Edur have been killed in sea battles. Udinaas attends a meeting where Rhulad is informed of Mosag having visions of Tiste Edur subjugated in other realms. Rhulad swears to deliver them. Mayen accuses Udinaas of being possessed, Mayen’s beating of Feather Witch is forbidden by Rhulad. Udinaas and Rhulad become closer. Mayen is pregnant.
Seren cuts her hair, rues not letting Iron Bars torture her rapists. They find horses and Seren tells Iron Bars the Letherii cavalry (which is horrible) concept and horses came from Bluerose. She thanks him.
They examine the horse tack and discover the Bluerose have been basically sabotaging the Letherii cavalry with terrible equipment and instruction. It’s strongly implied the Bluerose are Tiste Andii. They decide to track the group that killed the family the horses belonged to. Corlo implies the Avowed’s Vow keep them alive unnaturally. Seren heads into the forest and finds a grove sacred to the five Tarthenal gods — the statues seem to be coming active. Iron Bars finds her and she tells him he killed Rhulad, but Rhulad comes back to life.
Old Hunch Arbat, a Tarthenal, comes to the grove to throw shit on the statues to “appease” the gods and keep them quiet.
Sandalath Drukorlat and Withal spar a while and when she clops him alongside the head, knocking him out, he thinks the Nacht are trying to tell him something about the Crippled God’s tent.
Seren’s group catches up to the killers and slaughters them. Seren tells Iron Bars his compassion and attempts to protect her from what happened and its aftermath isn’t going to help.
Amanda’s Reaction to Chapter Nineteen:
The Black Sands of Time — gosh, this is...well...dark! It provides us with plenty of imagery, seeming to imply that it is taking people and places from a time when even they were not green shoots to a sad and inconclusive ending. I have a rather nasty premonition that this might be pointing to the direction in which Erikson takes the mood of the novel for this chapter!
Bet the shark isn’t as big as those catfish — by the way, top analysis from all you guys on where we’d seen those catfish before. I am loving the fact that a glimpse through the comments on each post provides me with more and more understanding of how vast this series is, and how interlinked. So don’t ever stop, m’kay? This newbie thanks you!
Right back when we first met Udinaas he was sitting by the water’s edge, and it strikes me that we find a very different Udinaas here towards the ending of this particular novel.
Erikson is being explicit when he says: “Perhaps Mayen simply did to others what Rhulad did to her.” Since we already discussed this a few chapters ago, it seems heavy-handed to remark on it so. Although maybe it serves to show the increase of madness in both Rhulad and those close to him? After all, Udinaas is said to be entertained by watching sharks and gulls eat human bodies — this is something that feels so out of character for him. And then Mayen is now said to have virtually beaten Feather Witch to death. Increased madness. Increased violence.
Despite seeing the dominance of the Edur victory in the previous chapter, we’re now told that there are pockets of defence, including two mages who are able to bring the pain. The Letherii are not completely down and out.
We learn here that parts of Letherii society were deeply ugly before the war arrived: “The harbour front streets and alleys had been crowded with Nerek children selling their bodies, and over it all hung a vague sense of smugness, as if this was the proper order of the world, the roles settled out as they should be.” Does that then mean that the Edur are conquering heroes? We already know they are not. This novel is about as far from black and white as it is possible to get.
The Edur right now are shown to be both utterly conservative and resistant to change, thanks to their long lives and their history — and also a people on the move, which is reaction of the purest sort. They are a people changing, by the looks of things.
A timely reminder of Wither, in case the reader had forgotten in the meantime!
Rhulad is an utter horror now. I don’t blame Mayen right now for her dull aspect and her numb reactions. Imagine being chained to this beast.
And now we hear the idea of taking back their lost kin that are dwelling in other realms, using the Tiste Andii to man their slaves, building ships in the mould of the Letherii. This sounds exactly like the ship that we saw way back in Deadhouse Gates and then again in House of Chains.
We also learn that Hannan Mosag is taking the role of power behind the throne, in that he has started to manipulate Rhulad to the paths he wants — I think this is another demonstration of how much Rhulad’s grasp on reality is slipping.
And how different is this — Udinaas’ callous attitude towards the woman he professed to love:
“Perhaps she seeks to deflect attention so as to lessen the severity of the beatings.”
Mayen and Hannan Mosag are BOTH playing with Rhulad — but rather playing with fire by his reaction (and note his use of the word “us”):
“Who rules here?” Rhulad’s shriek froze everyone. The emperor’s sword had risen, the blade shivering as shudders rolled through him. “You would all play games with us?”
Mayen shrank back on the divan, eyes slowly widening in raw fear.
And from madness to lucidity — possibly the most lucid we’ve seen Rhulad, even before the sword. Who is talking through his mouth? First he tells Mayen not to beat slaves any more — something his family has never done — and then he acknowledges that Hannan Mosag is trying to use him, followed quickly by admitting taking Mayen was a mistake. These are all things that are clear to the reader, but it feels odd to hear them from Rhulad.
Aha! Wither becomes the gun on the mantelpiece here.
And, with one action, very cleverly ensures that Udinaas is more firmly trusted by Rhulad than anyone else around him....
Udinaas talks eloquently of something we have already discussed — the idea that, even with another race defeating them in war, the Letherii will still hold the same beliefs and therefore only true annihilation will defeat them. Rhulad seems suddenly very interested in the Errant — is he planning to go up against him?
This scene between Udinaas and Rhulad is, surprisingly, very sweet, with Udinaas’ realisation first that Rhulad isn’t half as daft as we’ve all been thinking and second the fact that Rhulad is so desperately lonely. I mean, the woman he wanted to make his own doesn’t even like him. People fear and shun him. He faces madness and death many times over. Y’all were so right when you said that Rhulad’s was a tragic tale.
So, let me get this right... Mayen is carrying a child that is actually the child of Udinaas and Menandore? [Bill: No, Udinaas is just reminded of his own child while thinking of Mayen’s.]
I can totally understand Seren regretting not putting those men who raped her through pain and misery to equal her own, but, I think, in time she will understand that that might have damaged her to a worse extent, had she let Iron Bars go ahead.
This is utterly poignant and heart-rending:
She hesitated. “I forgot to thank you, Iron Bars.”
“You wouldn’t have been so pretty drowned.”
“No. I’m not ready yet to thank you for that. What you did to those men...”
And then a neat little aside concerning the very long lives of the Avowed!
There is a little gigglesome moment in the middle of this rather hard chapter, as we learn that the Bluerose people have made different saddles for the Letherii people...special saddles.
These Bluerose — Tiste Andii? Or barking up the wrong tree?
Corlo now gives us a little bit of information about the Crimson Guard — the fact that Iron Bars is far from the best fighter amongst them; that their prince was driven out by Kellanved and they swore to return him to his lands; and that vow has given them their long lives. I guess they stay alive until the prince is returned? Do they then die? How tragic that would be — to work for hundreds of years to achieve this, and then to die when it finally happens....
Some nice discussion on the Tarthenal — and these statues are warming back to life, linking to the five who are on the verge of escaping the Azath in Letheras. This is worrisome: “They fought in defence of their holy sites with expressions of terror, as if in failing something vast and terrible would be unleashed...”
Hmm, is that whole scene between Withal and Sandalath Drukorlat just presenting us with this line? “It’s the tent. That’s what the Nachts are trying to tell me. Something about the tent...” [Bill: Pretty much, yes.]
And we’re given this final hard blow right at the end of the chapter: “I know, you’re thinking time will bring healing. But you see, Avowed, it’s something I keep reliving. Every moment. It wasn’t days ago. It was with my last breath, every last breath.”
Some truly awesome moments, but a hard chapter to tackle, for many reasons.
Bill’s Reaction to Chapter Nineteen:
Amanda has pointed out I don’t usually say much about the poems (mostly due to a sense of efficiency and priority), but I can’t let the title of an anthology like Suicidal Poets of Darujhistan go by without emphasis. Cracks me up every time. For minutes afterward.
Along with that nice catch by Amanda about how this scene parallels an earlier one with Udinaas (not to mention what we’ve pointed out before — the focus on “shore”), I like how we move smoothly from a “beside the water” scene to a “beside the water” scene. We see Erikson do a lot of this type of transition and it is I think one of the reasons I’m less bothered by the frequent shifts of view in his books than in others. (It also helps that his chapters tend to be longer than those ones that really annoy me. Yes, I’m looking at you Tom Clancy and Jodi Picoult.)
And who doesn’t like a good reminder now and then that we’re all worm food (or in this case gull and shark food) — king and knave alike?
That’s a nice subtle touch, the detail about the governor leading a tribe not his own due to the inevitable “suspicion” amongst the victors. Between the focus on the slaughter, the gore, the use of slaves, the sorrow of death, the beating of Feather Witch by Mayen, the rapes, the feasting among the dead, and now this, the Edur “victories” aren’t presented in the most celebratory manner.
Also a little toss-away line regarding Second Maiden’s Fort odd ability to withstand Edur attacks. We’ll see more of the Fort later.
I think you’re spot on Amanda with the increasing violence/madness/ and, may I say it, “chaos” amongst the Edur as they become “victors.” We’ve seen lots of prediction that winning may equal losing for the Edur and these are further signs of just that. As far as it being “heavy handed,” I’d disagree with that characterization as if one is going to mention Mayen beating Feather Witch (and I think it’s the near-to-death aspect that is important here), then it’s kind of hard not to place that in the context of what is being done to Mayen — it would be more odd if Udinaas didn’t think it.
I think that is one of the saddest description of what conquest/imperialism does to the conquered/colonized: the utter trivialization and commercialization of once sacred items, items once at the core of a culture’s existence. (And I say that as an atheist, well, technically an apathist.) And in the same but different vein, the children selling their bodies — the past (the sacred) and the future (the children) left empty and hollow and meaningless and destroyed. What a devastatingly concise depiction.
Yes, Amanda, that sound you heard was the Silanda clicking into narrative place. As well as the mystery of how the Nascent was flooded: “Seas? . . . If there are no seas, then you shall make them . . . Open one realm upon another. An ocean realm, released into a desert realm.”
Oh, the irony of “Are we blind to hidden truths, Emperor? I cannot believe otherwise.” Pick any of the hidden truths amidst them: Mosag scrambling to maintain power, Rhulad leading the Edur to destruction, Rhulad’s blindness to Mayen beating Feather Witch, their blindness to Udinaas’s inner friends, Rhulad’s blindness to who actually “rules” . . . and yes, that “us” is significant, even if Rhulad doesn’t note it. What I like too is that the “blindness” isn’t unanimous: Rhulad sees Mosag’s reality, Mosag sees Mayen’s reality, Mayen sees Udinaas reality, etc.
Love that move by Wither. “Clever,” as Udinaas says.
And again, more discussion of how victory will lead to defeat, of how the Edur will lose themselves, or, as Udinaas says “Your spirit. Your innocence.”
And isn’t Rhulad’s reply interesting in the way it parallels just what Tehol is doing. Both Letherii and Edur see what appears to be the only antidote to Lether’s poison: “Bring to an end the notion of wealth. Of money. Crush the illusion of value.”
Believe me, the existence of the Errant will indeed matter. Oh yes it will.
“This man needs a friend.” One would say who could have seen this line coming from Udinaas, save if you think back to the way he spoke to Rhulad upon Rhulad’s awakening, it is less surprising than one might think.
After that wrought emotional scene, several moments of welcome humor here. One coming after Iron Bars mentions his great-granddaughter and Seren thinks “Great-granddaughter. What an absurd notion. He wasn’t that old. These Avowed had strange senses of humor.” Which some do, but not at this point.
And then of course there is the whole Bluerose saddle/stirrup deal. You just gotta love that.
And a few more important tidbits about the Bluerose beside their horsemanship. And no,Amanda, you’re not barking up the wrong tree. It all adds up to Tiste Andii:
- Worship the “Black-winged lord” (hmmmm)
- Thinner than the Edur
- Preferring to be on their own
- And the kicker: “gloomy,” not to mention “the way he acted, as if he’d seen it all before a thousand times.”
And let’s not forget we’ve met a Bluerose traveling with Trull....
You’re on the right track with the Avowed, Amanda. And obviously we’ll learn more about the Crimson Guard in Return of the, um, Crimson Guard. Though in true Malazan fashion, not too much more, or at least, not as much as we want to know
I like how Seren’s dark tangled thoughts are somewhat mirrored by the setting of the forest itself. And also how Seren continues to wrestle with rape more than a page or two afterward.
Well, those five Tarthenal gods crawling up out of the Azath have certainly been set up to be something a wee bit nasty, eh? They scare the Azath, Kettle, Silchas Ruin, and, it turns out, the Tarthenal themselves.
History, as they say, is written by the victors, and so it’s true as Seren thinks that the “dark moments” are often disregarded — conveniently “forgotten” or somewhat less conveniently rewritten, or “twisted into self-appeasing lies.”
And then one of those many constant themes of this series: “sometimes the past rises once again.” How many times have we heard that same refrain clothed in different words?
And so after the justice is brought, after we’re supposed to feel good about the killing of those rapists and murderers, Erikson just won’t let us, will he? First he taints the “victory” with the sorcery, then the slaughter, then the fact that it does absolutely nothing for Seren and seemingly nothing will. Ever. What an upbeat close.
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.