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-Four 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.
Just a quick note: Those who have flicked ahead will be aware of what a behemoth of a chapter twenty-five is. Under instruction from Bill — who has said that we won’t do the chapter sufficient justice if we cram it all into one discussion post — we are splitting it into two. As a heads up the first post will end at the point where Trull encounters the Ceda. (Bill’s words, so I hope that makes it fully understandable to you all!)
Mosag’s demon senses a “heart” of power under the city that would allow it to break its bonds. It thinks how silly mortals were, rushing here and there, as it realizes its own intelligence is somehow burgeoning.
Selush fixes up Shurq at Tehol’s then leaves. Shurq and Tehol look off to the Edur fleet and where the battle had been. Shurq leaves, each of them warning the other about Eberict.
Ezgara sleeps on the throne, exhausted, with Nisall there. Chancellor Triban Gnol had left earlier, as had Moroch Nevath. First Eunuch Nifadas took charge of the palace soldiers, the Ceda had set himself on the King’s Path, and Eberict was using his soldiers in the city. Nifadas tells Brys it is their “last day,” and Brys says there’s no reason to assume the Edur will kill him. Brys tells Nisall to rest. Brys finds Eberict standing over the Ceda (still on his tile) with drawn sword and warns him against killing the Ceda. Eberict says it would be a mercy but withdraws when Brys stands against it. Eberict tells Brys he has “other tasks” and when Brys clearly considers killing him, Eberict says that merely confirms his suspicions and leaves. Brys cannot do anything to stop him, though he worries he is going after Tehol.
Bugg looks down on the Edur army and fleet from the wall. He mocks an artist “painting” the scene, though the artist doesn’t really get the sarcasm. Bugg finds Brizad/the Errant outside the temple where the Pack has settled. Brizad says the mortal he’d requested hadn’t shown up and his own aspect prevents him from acting directly. Bugg agrees to send someone to him, then leaves to find Iron Bars and the Crimson Guard, whose new employer is Shand. He tells them he needs them to kill the D’ivers god of the Jheck and Iron Bars replies they’ve crossed paths with Soletaken before.
Trull, Rhulad, Mosag, and others enter the city, Mosag telling Rhulad the Ceda is now where around, and they’ll have to fight to reach the Eternal Domicile. Rhulad is happy there will be actual fighting and sends Udinaas to safety with Uruth. Trull thinks Mosag is hiding something.
Hull hopes the city soldiers capitulate quickly to save lives. He thinks Brys’ death is inevitable though as King’s Champion. He heads for Tehol’s to try and explain things, to seek “something like forgiveness.”
Udinaas waits with Uruth and Mayen, then suddenly senses the Wyval coming to life inside him.
B’nagga leads the Jheck into Letheras as Soletaken wolves, heading for the Pack. They plan on taking over and creating an empire of Soletaken, killing all the Edur.
Moroch Nevath holds a main bridge, having decided not to do what Brizad had asked, skeptical of his claims. Rhulad approaches and Nevath challenges him.
Bugg and the Crimson Guard arrive where Brizad waits outside the temple. The Guard enters and the sound of battle ensues.
Rhulad accepts Nevath’s challenge.
Nevath is surprised by Rhulad’s speed. The two kill each other. Dying, Nevath is asked if he is truly the King’s Champion as the Letherii soldiers had yelled, and Nevath thinks no, liking the thought as he dies of them still having to face Brys.
Rhulad comes back to life and calls for Udinaas, caught in “madness and terror.”
Uruth hears Rhulad’s scream and looks for Udinaas who has disappeared. Mayen runs out into the city. Uruth orders men to find Udinaas, thinking he has betrayed Rhulad.
Kettle hears the fighting and is scared and also worried that the five Tarthenal gods are almost free. She gets dragged down by Silchas, finding herself on the bank of a swamp. Silchas points out the swords behind her and then is dragged down himself by Sheltatha Lore. Kettle gets the swords and waits at the edge of the swamp.
The Wyval moves Udinaas through the city, killing some Soletaken Jheck on the way, heading toward where his “master needed him. Needed him now.”
The Errant tells Bugg he keeps “nudging” the wolves away from the temple, though he is helped by some “other opposition” to them. The Guardsmen exit, one dead, all wounded. The Errant heals them. Iron Bars complains they’d expected wolves and instead got some kind of “lizard cats.” B’nagga attacks Brizad suddenly, but Iron Bars steps in and kills the Soletaken. The Errant is impressed and more so when Bugg tells him the Guard escaped Assail. They’re about to leave when Bugg says there is going to be more trouble (the Tarthenal gods) and Iron Bars agrees to go with him while the others get back to the ship. Bugg tells him it’s going to be tough and Iron Bars asks Corlo to find them once he gets the others to the ship safely. The Errant says he has another task though he’ll be with them “in spirit.” Before leaving, he asks Iron Bars how many Avowed there are. Iron Bars answers a few hundred and when the Errant wonders if they are scattered around Iron Bars responds “For the moment.”
Brys notes the howling has stopped outside, then hears the Ceda laugh.
The demon moves for the cave and tunnel where it senses the power and ends up in the huge cavern under Settle Lake.
Brys hears the Ceda say “Now, friend Bugg.”
Bugg stops and tells Iron Bars to find Kettle and says he has to do something first. He calls in his mind for the Jaghut witch and says it is time for her to repay his favor. She says she’s will and calls him “clever,” to which he says he can’t take all the credit for this plan.
The demon reaches for the power which fades to nothing. The Ceda says, “Got you,” and the demon realized it was all illusion and it is now sealed in by ice.
Ursto Hoobutt and his “sometime lover” Pinosel sit drunken on a bench at Settle Lake. She tells him to marry her and he’s about to say he will when Settle Lake freezes over when, miraculously, it does (coming with a strange thump from below) and so he agrees.
Amanda’s Reaction to Chapter Twenty-Four
“Five wings will buy you a grovel” — we’ve heard this before and we know it can be interpreted as being in relation to the Eternal Domicile. In the same poem we then hear this line: “The buried rivers gnawing the roots All aswirl in eager caverns beneath...” This certainly builds on the tale we heard concerning the rivers collapsing the ceiling of the building that stood where the Domicile is now.
There are a few matters in this first section relating to the demon that confuse me a little, like, who is the demon and what is the power within the city. The power within the city could be the god holed up in the temple, or it could be related to what was in the Azath. The demon sounds like it is the “thing” raised by Hannan Mosag to come in with the Edur ships. Regardless of this confusion, the first section is beautifully written with some wonderful imagery. Take this for example: “Foolish mortals, short-lived and keen with frenzy, clearly believed otherwise, as they scrambled swift as thought above the patient dance of earth and stone.”
I do like that in the depths of the despair we’ve been seeing, Selush is thinking more about mixing foundation paints to achieve the grey skin of the Edur. It is shallow, but it does show a weird sort of positivity. I guess this is an example of that monetary faith that is held by the Letherii and that will prevent the Edur from annihilating them completely?
Ack, I now truly can’t decide if these asides involving Tehol are nice moments of light relief or difficult to take transitions that jar me from my reading experience. I mean, I love the exchanges between Shurq and Tehol here, but it is so different from what we’ve seen. Looking back on previous books, even the moments of humour were fairly dark and morbid since they involved the Bridgeburners (miss them!) Here is feels too light in comparison to the horrific happenings within the Edur camp.
Gosh, having just said that I read this:
“I can’t stay long. Ublala will be getting worried.”
“Harlest will advise him how the dead have no sense of timing, Shurq. No need to fret.”
“He was muttering about dismembering Harlest just before I left them.”
“...he knew that this day would be a hot one.” In more ways than one, I imagine!
And here is some real pathos — at the time that the Edur approach, the new Emperor of the Letherii sits thus: “Exhaustion had taken the king into sleep, and he now sat the throne like a corpse, slumped, head lolling.”
This is followed by a section that emphasises the loss of hope, the quiet despair of those who are determined to stay and see the end - hushed voices, dark humour, dignity. I am feeling such foreboding for Brys.
Wow. This is an amazing moment. Burdened by duty. “Blood or honour. I have no choice in this, Tehol. I’m sorry.”
Have we seen this artist before?! I think I recall him from either Gardens of the Moon or Deadhouse Gates (and, guys, doesn’t that feel a while ago now as we press on into our eighteenth month or so of this reread!)
Here we see a rather direct comparison between the Errant and Oponn when Bugg says: “Ah, the nudge, the pull or the push.”
Oh, I love these little connections! I mean, I was given enough to realise but was spending so long contemplating other matters, that I never considered the Crimson Guard were the crew whom Shurq had hired. Cool.
I think me the Edur are going to get rather a shock concerning the Ceda. I can hardly believe he has played his last. Right now he feels like a ticking time bomb, especially when we hear here that the Edur can no longer sense him. Or is Hannan Mosag only saying this, in order to make Rhulad approach the Eternal Domicile in all innocence?
Hull is such a very confused and dark individual, isn’t he? His reflection on the fact that he has done his grieving already for Brys is cold, as is the fact that he is not even trying to try and dissuade his brother from a last stand. And then we hear that he wants to beg forgiveness from Tehol. So confused.
And if Ceda is a time bomb, we now discover that Udinaas has been too!
This is a nightmarish scenario: “An empire of Soletaken, with a god-emperor on the throne.” In fact, it seems to be an absolute bloody reflection of Togg and Fanderay.
Oh, this is beyond contempt: “...on which citizens had now appeared. Spectators — a Letherii talent. No doubt wagers were being made...”
*giggles* “Bugg heard Iron Bars say to the god, ‘Pleased-to-meet-you-see-you-later,’ and then the Avowed and hos soldiers were past.”
This vicious battle between Rhulad and Moroch is so utterly fitting and futile — desperate bravery from Moroch in an attempt to clear his name of cowardice; madness from Rhulad as he returns to life and fails to find Udinaas.
Poor, poor Kettle — now a living child, deserted by everyone who is tackling other events that probably only seem to be more important than the emergence of these horrific five.
Who is the master of Udinaas then? Sheltatha Lore?
These Crimson Guard are terribly terribly bad-ass, aren’t they? *grins* And ooh! More hints about them: “This squad managed to escape Assail.”
I LOVE Iron Bars! “Dead? Hood take me, a garden fete.”
Nice finish to this chapter. Clever finish. So many little pieces of the story suddenly snapping together. Disregard the Ceda? Not on your life!
Bill’s Reaction to Chapter Twenty-Four
We’re once again set up for the cavern beneath Settle Lake in a poem, preparing us for the demon being trapped. We also get some foreboding imagery associated with the Letherii empire (“rotted trees”), as well as some nice heart imagery leading us nicely into the imagery the opens the chapter proper with the “blood,” and “vessel.”
It’s been a while, so we should probably be reminded about all those cycles of the past that lie underfoot, or, in this case, underwater: “the bed of an ancient river held so much, a multitude of tales written in layer upon layer of detritus.” That whole passage, as Amanda says, is simply beautifully written—form, content, rhythm, sound. Note for instance the consonance and assonance in such phrases as “sifting centuries of secrets,” “sunken ships,” “sprawl of ballast stones,” currents swirled,” “clambering like a vast crab,” “patient dance” (itself a beautiful image—“patient dance of earth and stone.”) With all the plot and depth of social criticism, it’s nice to stop now and then and pay attention to these moments of strong style as well.
I think you’re right Amanda, that Selush’s attitude is that “monetary faith” of the Letherii. But I thinks it’s also another foreshadow of how the Edur “victory” may not be as total socially/culturally as it is militarily. Sort of what happens when you drop something on a big sponge and watch it sink in.
That’s a great image of Bugg dropping down like some ninja.
Yeah, that whole “sit on the throne like a corpse” is just a tad ominous, eh? Actually, I could have done without that a bit, as well as with the crown having fallen off. But then I can accept that Brys might see him as a “corpse” so at least it doesn’t feel artificial.
On the other hand, I really like the First Eunuch’s sense of quiet, dignified foreboding.
In the midst of this very sorrowful, sympathy-evoking scene, though, it’s good to be reminded that the Letherii are hardly clean, as Erikson skillfully does here: “He [Brys] remembered how the Letherii saw the Tiste Edur and their lands, a pearl ripe for the plucking.”
I believe you’re thinking of Ormulogun. Remember he had his toad critic? I’d believe this is someone different—anyone want to convince me otherwise? As with Ormulogun, I find the satire a bit heavy here. But I do absolutely love Bugg calling himself “a scholar swimming across the sea of history.”
Iron Bars is such a great character in this book. We’ve already seen that of course, but this chapter (and more to come) just cements that in so many ways—the cool way he takes Bugg’s news that he needs them to kill a god, the story in “Soletaken. We’ve crossed Soletaken before” (I hear him saying that in the same way Indiana Jones says “rats” or Seinfeld says “Newman”), the oh-so-professional kind of question—“Soletaken or D’ivers”—, the confidence-as-opposed-to-arrogance of “We won’t be long,” of course the “pleased to meet you,” the annoyance over lizard cats rather than Soletaken wolves, and then the way he just accepts that Bugg needs more help and signs up to do it, even though it’s going to be even tougher than the lizard cats.
It’s funny Amanda, but I have a wholly different reading from Hull here. I don’t see him confused at all. I wish he were. Instead I see him in this moment as epitomizing the bête noire of this series (or one of them)—certainty. He’s certain about so much here—certain Brys will die, certain he could have saved his parents, certain he is responsible for the sins of Lether, certain he had to do what he did, certain that there can be no absolution. And as we know, certain people don’t do well in this series . . . I do find that last line about the parents to be so tragic and moving though.
It’s a nice touch by Erikson, I think, pulling out the Wyval whom we haven’t heard from in a while. Keeps us on our toes.
If Mosag’s reprimand at the post-battle scene had been implied (though strongly), Rhulad is out and out direct here in his disavowal of Mosag’s sorcery: “We shall fight! We are warriors! . . . We will hear nothing more from you!”
Moroch has a pretty good idea with the “I will cut him to pieces” plan; he just wasn’t good enough. Hmmmmmm.
And here is the moment Trull feared with Udinaas, though of course Udinaas, as he told Trull, has no “choice” in what happens.
Remember Amanda that Udinaas is not in control, so the one seeking their “Master” isn’t Udinaas but the Wyval. And no, Sheltatha Lore is not the Wyval’s master, but you’re, um, “close.”
Can’t wait to visit Assail. Just saying.
Speaking of the Crimson Guard, a little nod to one of our later books when Iron Bars hints the Avowed will be getting back together soon. Perhaps even “returning.”
And another one of those cute little Bugg/Mael lines: “As swift as a charging wave, that’s me.”
That’s a great finish to this chapter, a bit of a tension breaker with those two by Settle Lake. Though things won’t stay so humorous for long, as a quick glance forward at the opening to our next chapter tells us: “When the gods of dust were young, they swam in blood.”
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.