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 Twenty 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.
Brys meets the Ceda in the Eternal Domicile and informs him the surviving defenders have been pulled back to Letheras. The Ceda seems obsessed with something and detached. He warns Brys nothing good is coming and tells him to care for his brother, though he doesn’t specify which one. The last things he tells Brys is “You must not kill him.”
Shurq Elalle spies on Eberict’s return and sees him kill his house captain upon the report of the theft. She assumes there will be a bloodbath as he seeks the thief. She falls and gets an iron bar stuck in her forehead. She waits for night.
Bugg and Tehol discuss plans and what Bugg believes is the imminent conquest of Lether by the Edur. He adds the Edur’s sorcery is not Kurald Emurlahn. Bugg tells Tehol the continent has lacked a “” or Hold of the dead for some time, that a Jaghut “sealed” the land some time ago, that the magic is thawing, leading to the formation of a Hold of the Dead at the Azath House, and that Kettle is becoming alive. Tehol decides to send Shand, Hejun, and Rissarh on their way, especially now that the non-Lether in the city are being harassed and people are being press-ganged. They decide it isn’t a good time to bring the economy down.
Turudal Brizad speaks to Brys outside the throne room, telling him much of his life has been as an “objective observer” and he now finds himself more objective and more free than ever. He tells Brys the Edur will win and when Brys wonders why the queen wanted the war, Brizad says it was desire for wealth and belief in destiny. He reveals the real reason the First Empire collapsed—brought upon itself—and tells Brys Lether (as a colony) wasn’t as immune as is taught but instead drove the threat of the ritual into the ice wastes—the Jheck. Brizad adds he tells Brys this as explanation for why he is about to stop being objective.
Moroch Nevath arrives at the gates of Lether.
Bugg arrives at the Rat Catchers’ Guild and Rucket and Ormly tell him their information, including that the Edur-controlled areas are surprisingly peaceful and calm. Bugg senses something and goes to the Azath House, where he meets someone about whom Bugg has wondered when he’d “stir himself awake.” The person says he’s mostly been watching but is going to take an active role to prevent the T’lan Imass from showing up (all of this making pretty clear it is Brizad). Bugg realizes he’s referring to The Pack and as Brizad walks away, Bugg thinks of gods, the Soletaken, and wonders why Brizad “stirred” himself now, answering his own question with “guilt.”
Shurq visits Tehol to come up with a solution for the iron bar in her head and her cravings.
Moroch meets Brizad who tells him he might need Moroch’s sword soon and also warns Moroch he’s not trusted anymore since he didn’t die defending the Prince and Queen. Brizad says Moroch can redeem his name by killing the god of the Jheck and Moroch agrees to discuss it later.
Bugg finds Kettle at the Azath and tells her she’s alive and that they’ll need to get her food and water and the like. Before leaving, he walks the grounds and is mentally attacked by the Toblakai gods who then retreat upon realizing who Bugg really is. Bugg warns them to leave Kettle alone and if she’s attacked the Forkrul Assail in her will waken. They think he is lying.
Brys is in the throne room with the king, First Eunuch, First Concubine Nisall, Preda Hebaz, and some guardsmen. The king refuses to leave the city as counseled. Gerun Eberict arrives, upset over his loss, though he says he’ll soon recover his losses, implying he knows who was the cause. He heads off to take command of his men and quell the rioting. The king tells Brys to prepare for a bloodbath and asks why Eberict looked at him when he spoke of getting his money back, worried it was a reference to Tehol. Brys says he doesn’t know. The Preda tells Brys to warn Tehol and learns Brys has been prepared for this. The king tells Brys he wants him near him at all times now. The Preda leaves and Brys thinks they could all be dead soon.
Amanda’s Reaction to Chapter Twenty:
And so to Book Four and our final showdown in Midnight Tides. Makes me wonder whether we’ll have the truly explosive ending of Deadhouse Gates, or the quieter ending of House of Chains!
Banished — strikes me that this could be about Trull and his final separation from the rest of the Edur. Well, to be honest, a few characters fit the bill here....
Who is Dessimbelackis? Strikes me that I should know this! Huh, it mentions Empire — I would think this was the Malazan Empire but it also mentions the Seven Holy Cities, which is the continent we saw in Deadhouse Gates, correct? Hmm, First Empire? Anyway, to the chapter proper!
The Eternal Domicile seems to be an utter folly, at this point where the concept of wealth is being challenged and the Letherii are at war. Also, a quick reminder that Ezgara’s queen and son are currently being hosted by the Edur — and, from previous comments, have a rather nasty fate in store.
And while this war is going on? While people are dying? Kuru Qan is grubbing around in the Eternal Domicile. Must have something on his mind!
The Ceda seems to be descending somewhat into madness here. And how unfortunate that when he says: “Don’t kill him. You must not kill him” it’s a shame that he isn’t more specific about which brother Brys should not kill....
Love this brief quip: “And the occasional undead.”
The low castes have vanished from the city now — reminding us of Tehol and Bugg’s masterplan.
Gerun shows again how deeply unpleasant a person he is — nice to see that Shurq (with a great deal of Tehol’s aid) has been working hard to put him in a position where his rage cannot be inflicted on any. The lower caste are gone. There is a war on (admittedly not something Tehol did himself). And Gerun has now just found out about his house being plundered and his brother vanishing. Not a great time for him!
This is a very unusual sentence: “That was the problem with cities. Nothing ever stayed the same.” I don’t know, I figure one of the characteristics of a city is that it’s pretty permanent?
Shurq is brilliant, isn’t she? And, boy, am I glad for a little bit of humour here: “I’ve made a mess of my brain,” she said. “But was I really using it? Probably not. Still, was I in the habit of talking to myself before? I don’t think so.”
Does Tehol have no clue who Bugg is? Is he intentionally turning a blind eye?
“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.”
Okay, so much of the conversation between Tehol and Bugg is recap zone for those who need a quick catch-up, although always amusing to see Bugg’s breadth of knowledge and Tehol’s increasing uneasiness about it all. But there was one part that I wanted to note — here: “The passage of time in a culture invites elaboration, not simplification, unless some terrible collapse triggers a fall of sorts, but the only trauma Lether has suffered came with the original fall of the First Empire and the subsequent isolation of these colonies.” So what has caused this collapse in Letherii society? The pursuit of wealth?
Ah no, instant reply. Rather it is the Jaghut sorcery that has stifled the growth of the Letherii as a nation.
And after all those plans, Tehol is now going to sit and do nothing because the collapse of the economy will not achieve anything?
Turudal Brizad really does show suspicious amounts of knowledge for someone who is merely a consort, especially regarding the fall of the First Empire. This last line feels VERY ominous: “For the imminent failure, Finadd, of my objectivity.” Why do I get the feeling that we’re about to see the REAL Turudal Brizad — who simply CANNOT be just what he appears....
As Bugg talks to Ormly and Rucket, we have a very clear picture of the way that the incoming conquerors are really very similar to those they are conquering: “Not so different after all.”
Aha! I think the man that Bugg talks to is Turudal Brizad, because of this: “So, how much of you was at the heart of this mess, I wonder? Feeding the queen’s greed, the prince’s estrangement from his father.” Which makes him... a god... Right?
I can’t help but go ‘ewwww!’ at the idea of Tehol having to “service” Shurq in the absence of Ublala....
Oh, man - the god of the Jheck is the creature that is hiding in the temple that Bugg went to see, isn’t it? Lots of little clues all coming together.
Interesting that the Tarthenal statues were hot and now Bugg is experiencing heat in the old Azath grounds. And...are the Tarthenal the Toblakai gods we’ve already seen...? [Bill: yes]
I find this moment with the king one that makes me respect him a little: “Nifadas, if I am to fall, then it will be here. I shall not bring destruction upon other cities, for it is destruction my presence will invite.” But what a moment to realise that this will also bring about the destruction of Brys Beddict...This is a bitter quote: “Brys wanted to die honourably, but he was helpless to choose, and that stung.”
Apologies for the rather brief commentary this time round — I am off to the SFX Weekender in the UK imminently, and wanted to get this done before I left!
Bill’s Reaction to Chapter Twenty:
Yes Amanda, Dessimbelackis was First Empire. From House of Chains, when Onrack and Trull are looking up at the statues of the Hounds of Darkness:
“Dessimbelackis,” Onrack whispered. “The founder of the human First Empire. Long vanished by the time of the unleashing of the Beast Ritual. I was believed he had veered.”
“And beasts numbered?
I’d also quickly point to the reference to Yath Ghatan and also the idea that “victory was destined”—we’ve seen how “destiny” has done for the Letherii, and we certainly know what “destiny” eventually brought to the First Empire
The contrast is pretty stark between the grandeur of the new palace and the planned ceremony to take place there and the reality of what Brys and the Ceda tell each other.
We’re presented with two mysteries with the Ceda here. One is what he seems to be planning with all these measurements and what he thinks he may have waited “too long” for. That remains a mystery. The other is more a mystery to Brys than readers, as it’s pretty clear to us he’s telling Brys not to kill Rhulad. Can he avoid that and still stop him? The other point about this declaration is that while it may appear to other characters that the Ceda is going mad, this should be a clue to readers that he is actually not only pretty lucid but knows quite a bit.
The scene with Eberict isn’t all that revealing save to confirm his cold and bloody nature. And a bit of comic relief with the (hmm, character pun?) Iron Bar through Shurq’s head.
I think with regard to the quote re the cities, Amanda, there are two aspects to them—one of site permanence and one of permanent constancy of change atop that site. In other words, the cities are often built on the same site, one on top of the other, usually expanding outward and upward, but always in the same rough geographic location. The constancy of change is how the city always reshapes itself on that same site—tearing down old stuff to make way for new stuff, rerouting paths through the city, etc.
Another sly reference to Bugg’s use of something “cold” underneath the new palace.
As Amanda points out, this is another “recap scene,” yet another time when Erikson gathers together in one place lots of little dropped tidbits that have been left along the way so a reader who still hasn’t put them all together into a big picture can catch a breath and have the big picture presented more simply and wholly to them. Note as well that after all the hints about the Bluerose being Andii, here we get Bugg just telling us outright, referring to “the atavistic Andii remnants of Bluerose.”
That’s a good question as to what has caused the “strange diminishment” that Bugg refers to. I’m not sure if it’s Gothos’ sorcery Amanda, as Bugg says it’d be a good topic for scholarly pursuit as if he himself is unsure of the cause, and he obviously knows about Gothos. I’d think you’re on the right track Amanda, with the “pursuit of wealth” perhaps being the cause, pursuit to the exclusion of all else. As if that’s where the “energy” of the culture went and thus left nothing to “spark” that “elaboration.” Maybe along the current complaint that the “best and brightest” the past few years have gone into finance rather than into actually “making” stuff.
Note that throwaway line re kettle: she has a purpose “otherwise” from dealing with the Azath/Hold of Death.
Another sharp little insight—the way a culture on the edge turns on the “others” within it.
You’re right on all you say about Brizad Amanda. He is more than he seems, he is the one Bugg speaks to, and it is strongly implied he is a god/ascendant. I’ll just say his focus in his talk with Bugg on “observation” gives us a clue, as we’ve had several references to a god who observes/watches. Oh, and also “nudges” That is a tantalizing idea of Bugg’s though, that this god became involved due to “guilt”—over what?
Note how Bugg had used the word “unpalatable” earlier with Tehol and here he uses it again when even the feared five of the Toblakai/Tarthenal don’t want to mess with Mael.
“We cannot be defeated.” And hands up amongst those who think that’s the first clue they will be? Yep, thought so.
I love the king’s oh-so-dry response to the First Eunuch telling him “they will fight to defend you”: “I have seen scant evidence of that thus far, Nifadas.”
I also agree, Amanda, that he comes off quite positively in this scene, as I’d say he has through much of the novel.
Not the most upbeat of endings . . . perhaps setting us up for, um, not the most upbeat of endings?
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.