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 Eight of Reaper’s Gale by Steven Erikson (RG).
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.
Cotillion looks down on a longhouse ranch beside a lake in Shadow where the survivors of the defense of the Throne live now. He speaks with Quick Ben, who asks if he brought him the way out, saying because the realm is wandering he can’t just walk out having no idea where he’d end up. Cotillion says he and Shadowthrone can help via the Azath and Quick Ben makes some guesses as to the nature of the Azath and their relation to Shadow. Cotillion tells QB that Shadowthrone saved Kalam’s life by getting him in the Azath, but keeps the real reason to himself. They are joined by Trull and Onrack and Cotillion tells them they have to journey beyond the lake and soon, adding he can’t fully explain how or why. Cotillion summons Shadowthrone to answer their suspicions, and he tells them “The rooster died of grief,” referring to a thought Cotillion had earlier to which none of them were privy. He then disappears and Cotillion tells them to say their goodbyes.
Shurq Elle’s ship battles a storm while icebergs from the northern ice sheets breaking up are battering the coast as they make for Second Maiden Fort, which Shurq says is now an independent state.
Shurq enters the harbor and anchors near a strange looking ship. They’re boarded by customs, a pair of women called Brevity and Pithy. The storm/ice is broken somehow by those on the island. Shurq learns the Second Maiden is ruled by Shake Brullyg, Grand Master of the Putative Assembly, whom she knows and refers to as a “full-blooded Shake.”
Ruin’s group waits while the Onyx Wizards/Reve Masters—the leaders of the Andara refuge—are consulting with Ruin. Udinaas gives his “revised” version of the hero’s tale, which ends with the hero’s name being a curse. The hero’s companions, though, were adopted by the evil ones and lived through an artistic renaissance until the next hero arrived. Fear tells of a women’s tale that Scabandari Bloodeye chose to die seeking absolution for his betrayal, saying the story represents the Edur guilt that cannot be appeased in reality so the story does so via allegory. Udinaas tells Fear he believes Rhulad was chosen by the Crippled God, that he had no choice in what happened to him, and Fear is thrown off by such generosity. Udinaas says blaming the God is too simple though, that the rigid hierarchy of the Edur contributed.
The Onyx Order is concerned about saving their “balance.” Ruin tells them The Andara is doomed, that the Jaghut ritual is failing and the glaciers are moving again, dooming the Andara as the “spear of Omtose Phellack’s very core” is aimed right at them. The Wizards tell Ruin they know, that the ice had only been a means of “freezing in place of time. Of life, and of death.” They explain the spear casts a shadow and inside that shadow Ruin will find what he seeks (though not “in the way you desire). They add that Menandore visited them and they believe she will oppose Ruin if he tries to force his way past Andara, arguing they also have some objections to him finding Scabandari’s soul, objections based in compassion. Instead, they offer Clip—the Mortal Sword of the Black-Winged Lord—as a guide, hoping the spear of ice can be “redirected.”
Ruin returns to his group and explain how the Omtose Phellack ritual defied Hood himself and so the Andii ghosts had nowhere to go and thus were enslaved by the Edur, though many found refuge in Andara. Ruin tells Fear he (Fear) is the greatest threat to the Andii here, as the Edur would hut down all of them and the Edur now also rule the Letherii who hate them for their resisting the Lether Empire earlier. Fear says if Clip can guide him/the Edur to Scabandari, the Edur will be in such debt he imagines they will give Bluerose full liberation, something he himself would argue for. Clip laughs and Seren thinks Fear should not trust him.
Brohl Handar is to oversee a punitive expedition to hunt down the killer of the Lether settlement and make sure it doesn’t become something larger. He asks Atri-Preda Bivatt about her secret meeting with Factor Letur Anict and she says it was about financing for the army. He tells her the Edur are financing this expedition and she should be wary of lying. She tells him the Factor lost household members in the slaughter and when Brohl wonders if the Factor demanded vengeance, she tells him he wanted reassurance. Brohl thinks the Factor needs to be “reigned in,” replaced, and charged with treason and corruption, not only as punishment but also as warning to all such others the Liberty Consign and Patriotists are protecting.
Bivatt worries that Brohl will be killed by the Factor’s assassins. Anict had told her Brohl was a problem, that his actions might have “fatal repercussions.” When Anict mentioned a conspiracy amongst the Edur against the Emperor, she thought the idea absurd, thinking the true “state” is the Factor and people like him, the Liberty Consign, the Patriotists, and the Chancellor and his people. She is unsurprised that the Edur might wage war against Letherii corruption that seems to turn Letherii defeat into victory. Thinking Brohl is dangerously naïve, she excuses herself from him and rides to find a particular Bluerose horseman.
Redmask notes how Toc is physically healing but worries about Toc’s mental health/stability. Toc and the Awl discuss singing without words and telling stories via beads strung on a line. Redmask distrusts words as they change, grow corrupt, are used as weapons, and he points to how the Letherii are especially good at corrupting words. Redmask tells Toc the wolves came and took the hearts of the Grey Swords that died against the Letherii and Toc explains how the Awl kept him from joining the Grey Swords in battle. Redmask offer Toc a choice of heading off anywhere save the Lether Empire or joining the Awl against the Letherii. They discuss tactics, Toc agrees to stay for a while, and also to tell Redmask of the Malazan army and its tactics. He tells Redmask refashioning the Awl into a professional army (rather than tribal clans) will change everything, adding they’ll need a new song: a dirge.
Amanda's Reaction to Chapter Eight
“Time is ice”? A Jaghut reference?
Cotillion really has changed a lot since that first moment we met him in Gardens of the Moon. I think his conscience is weighing on him more and more as he becomes more involved with mortals. Is it just that he didn’t change so much with his Ascension and he’s always been this man, or is it more that his plans have kept him associated with people who encourage him to retain his humanity?
The Shadow Realm migrates? And steals things from other realms? Curiouser and curiouser! Also interesting that Quick Ben can feel it—better than Cotillion can?
And see? Cotillion shows compassion again by making sure this visitation to the Shadow Realm isn’t devoured by Hounds.
I’m so easy to please where prose is concerned sometimes, enjoying the use of “wander” and “wonder” so close together, with both their uses correct.
I know that I sound like a broken record when I keep saying this, but it makes me feel so comfortable and joyful to return to these characters which we’ve been with from the very first pages of the series. It’s always much harder getting to know new characters—however beloved they might end up becoming.
Ahhh, their conversation is full of mystery and questions that I would love answered as well: “But not the Elder Warrens—or so we are to believe. Whose veins were opened to create those, Cotillion?” And then, “Does the Azath simply respond to damage, or is there a guiding intelligence behind its actions?”
Eep. Proof that Kalam is destined for future use by Shadowthrone: “Be glad, Ben Adaephon Delat, that I do not tell you his real reason.”
Haha, how many times do you wish characters in fantasy novels would snark like this about their destiny rather than just swallowing it without complain? “Cotillion would send us across this water, on a mission he will not explain, to achieve goals he refuses to define, in a place he cannot describe.”
Hmm, the ice is advancing... why?
I’m warming to one-eyed Skorgen, the guy who might have lost an eye through sneezing and might have had different coloured eyes!
“That’s a curse among sailors.”
“Maybe that’s why it ain’t there no more.”
Oh look, another mention of the Shake—or, at least, the very specific Shake Brullyg.
That sword of Trell’s keeps rearing its head, doesn’t it? I really want to know the end result of this—although I’m mighty scared it’s going to involve tragedy.
I think that Erikson is wise enough to use this very remote colony of Tiste Andii to explore the differences that occur when the same people live in different locations and grow apart. This Andara is so very foreign to the Andii we’ve seen before. “Five wizards in all, squabbling over orders of procession, hierarchies of propitiation, proper hem-length of the Onyx robes and Errant knew what else.” Of course, this could just be Udinaas’ take on things.
I wonder if anyone on a righteous crusade ever does this: “Ever wondered what the aftermath of such slaughter must be?”
Why is Kettle sleeping so much?
Oh, I am loving Udinaas’ description of the evil lair. It reminds me of this. Believe me, that link is worth reading!
This is a stark reminder of how people will make different stories from events; the fact that there are always two (or more!) sides to every situation: “Among the women of the Tiste Edur [...] is told the tale that Father Shadow, Scabandari Bloodeye, chose of his own free will to die, freeing his soul to journey down the Grey Road, a journey in search of absolution, for such was the guilt of what he had done on the plain of the Kechra.” Oh really?
It is nice to see Udinaas’ understanding of Rhulad. It shows his compassion, I think, for someone who treads a path that was picked for him by another.
Oh, I like this exchange! “You are frightened by your own ideas, Udinaas?”
“All the time, Acquitor. Aren’t you?”
It’s intriguing, the power that is ascribed to Gothos. He was no god, was he? No Ascendant? But here: “You are no match to Omtose Phellack, when its wielder was none other than Gothos.”
Clip is the mortal sword of Anomander Rake?! But it sounds like this is a situation that Anomander has absolutely no knowledge of—and I can’t imagine he would be the type to want a mortal sword!
Ah, we see here a hint as to how Bluerose is reacting to the Tiste Edur rule. We’ve already been told that Bluerose might have a role to play when it comes to preventing supplies, etc from getting through to Letheras in the event of war. Now we hear that they have this seething resentment at the situation they find themselves in.
We’re hearing a lot about ice in various ways: “The sound from the army reminded Brohl Handar of broken ice groaning and crunching its way down a river.”
I can entirely get behind this thought: “Letur Anict needed to be reined in. No, more than that, the man needed hobbling. Permanently.”
And this is an emphasis of something that we’ve discussed in the past—the idea that, despite losing a battle, the Letherii are not as subjugated as they first appeared: “They had been occupiers long enough to come to understand the empire they had won; to begin to realise that a far more subtle conquest had taken place, of which they were the losers.”
Oh, I think Redmask is going to entirely underestimate Toc, and I like contemplating how this might be a bad thing in the future for him!
Nice little discussion about the power of words. And awesome that it happens within a book which showcases the power of words!
Oh man, this might be the truest statement in the whole of the books we’ve read together so far! “Your people have a strange relationship with your gods.” Uh, yeah.
I love Toc. Love him.
Bill's Commentary on Chapter Eight
Scenes with Cotillion are always among my favorites for those very qualities of compassion and empathy you point to, Amanda. I would love to see the early stories with Cotillion and Shadowthrone to see if he is in fact changing or has always been this way. I’ve always had the sense that he has struggled to maintain his humanity, but it’s certainly possible he is gaining it instead. (I also love those tiny humanizing details we’ve seen before such as when he realizes in this scene he needs to shave.)
And yes, Shadowrealm’s ability to migrate and pick things up is interesting and offers up lots of potential, one would think.
That line about the rooster has always been one of my favorite lines in this series. It just carries so much sadness in it, I think. I see it in a few different ways. One is grief that there is no new day to herald, and how so often the new day, the rising sun, is used as a sign of hope. “Let’s see what tomorrow brings,” and so on. So I can see it as a question as to what happens when there appears to be no hope. I can also see it as grief over having an essential part of you taken away—what does one do when one cannot do what one does, cannot do what makes one oneself? What does one do when one has no purpose any longer? It’s a funny line, especially in its second use with Shadowthrone, but it’s also such a sad one.
Good ol’ Quick Ben—knows a lot about a lot and won’t respond to questions about his past.
And how’s that for a tease: “Be glad, Ben Adaephon Delat, that I do not tell you his [Shadowthrone’s] real reason” for saving Kalam’s life.
We see in this opening further example of the rich world-building that goes into this series. That longhouse and outer buildings could have been just a throwaway image but instead we get a detailed, dare I say “archaeological” description: “curved wooden prows,” “serpentine carvings,” silver and amber and bronze and so forth. It all has a bit of a Celtic feel to me though of course one could point to other cultures with similar aspects, but the details themselves aren’t important, just the fact that there are details.
Brevity and Pithy—more to come of these two.
Putative Assembly. Funny.
I so enjoy Udinaas’ non-heroic hero story. It does a nice job of sending up the genre. Even to the language: “And death is a whirlwind in every corridor.” Tell me you’ve never seen the phrase “whirlwind of death” in any of your epic fantasy reading. And how can you not chuckle at the “some past evil ruler with no management skills”? After all, don’t all those evil overlords lose? And in the worse novels, they often do lose because of ineptness (which of course begs the question of how they get so powerful in the first place). Just like how, in the worse novels, there are no explanations of, as Udinaas recounts, how they heat or light their lairs or get their food and weapons and uniforms. (Even Tolkien, for example, though he doesn’t deal at all with economy, gives us an explanation of where all that stuff comes from.) And then we get the usual Dark Lord character, or as Udinaas calls him “the Insane Master,” which in his story is merely a role to play.
We haven’t seen a lot of moments of actual talk among this group, or actual likable moments for many of them. But this scene (not too soon, by the way) offers up several. Fear’s laugh, for instance, at Udinaas’ story. Fear revealing the story of redemption and the sense of guilt haunting the knowledgeable among the Edur. Udinaas’ empathy for Rhulad, his unwillingness to cast the blame solely on Rhulad. But don’t worry, we’ll get more bickering and pettiness....
The ice is melting, Amanda, as Ruin says, because of “the inevitable destruction of the Jaghut’s ritual.”
So why will Ruin find what he seeks but “not in the way [he] desires”? Another nice tease.
So, interesting that Menandore will oppose Ruin doing what he wishes. Is this on her own or is this part of what she, Hood, and Shadowthrone cooked up?
One of the aspects of Erikson’s plotting I like is the way in which he puts his characters into complex situations rather than simple or black and white ones. Such is the case of Atri-Preda Bivatt, who is clearly struggling with her role in this pacification of the Awl, in how her acts enrich the Factor, and her concern over the impending assassination of the Overseer, Brohl Handar. It’s so much more interesting and compelling than having her lead a group into Udinaas’ lair of the evil ones.
I wonder if that Awl detail about the story beads is based on a real culture. I’ve heard of counting beads but not story ones.
If only the idea of words being corruptible, especially in how they can be used to describe their opposite reality were only in fiction. Anybody driven through a paved/full of buildings area called something “oaks” or “elms” (with nary a tree to be seen)? How about some of our government initiatives like the Clear Skies Act that weakened Clean Air Act provisions and so on? And can anybody paying any attention to the current campaigns here in America say with a straight face that too often the words being used show “contempt” for those listening in their vacuity or their out and out 180 degree difference from reality?
“Your people have a strange relationship with your gods.” Understatement or what?
Not the most uplifting ending—will the Awl indeed need a dirge when this is all done?
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.