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 Four 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.
Hanan Mosag quests through the barrows of the dead Azath House in Lether. He finds one not empty, filled with binding rituals and sorcery he thinks is Galain. He then realizes someone has begun unraveling the magic to try and release who or whatever is kept prisoner below. He thinks about what to do.
A female creature who has seemingly just rejoined the “mortal world” has just killed and fed on a man who had followed her from the Markets, just as she’d planned. She covered her “unusual features” which go along with her “Tiste Edur blood coursing diluted in her veins.” She wonders who has been visiting the Azath House and probing her sorcery, the intent of which had been to weaken the binding spells put in place by Silchas Ruin. She wonders if it is the Errant, “that meddling bastard,” or Mael. She thinks she needs to leave Lether soon.
Rautos Hivanar watches his excavations continue, believing he is uncovering a huge mechanism of some sort. Venitt arrives and he gives him instructions for his journey to Drene to see the Factor Letur Anict, warning Venitt the Factor’s ambition is outpacing his common sense. He tells him Orbyn Truthfinder, Karos’ agent, will be an ally for Venitt.
Bugg tells Tehol he senses individuals stirring in the city. Bugg summarizes the issues: The Errant is following Mosag to see what his plans are. Mosag is playing with magic done by a murderous ascendant who is now heading for an unplanned meeting with Mosag, where the two of them might decide to work together, while another ascendant is about to be freed which will disturb someone in the north who isn’t ready to act yet. Meanwhile, the Edur fleets are bringing back two unpredictable champions and the secret of Bloodeye’s soul is soon to be revealed. Tehol is upset Bugg didn’t mention his own plan to topple the economy and Karos’ hunt for him. He tells Bugg to improvise.
Tanal Yathvanar delivers a special puzzle box to Karos with a two-headed insect in it, the goal of which is to stop the insect from moving before it dies of starvation (about 4 months). Karos tells Tanal there is a sickness among the prisoners.
Janath Agnar thinks about the ruins of a self-contained walled complex atop which Lether was built, ruins which pre-dated the Jhag Towers or Azath House. One theory is climate change caused a disaster. She’s interrupted by Tanal’s arrival. She tells him of a cult that believed every person one hurt—every “victim”—waits in the afterlife for that person. She and Tanal argue over Karos and he beats her near unconscious. He leaves, haunted by her and the idea of justice.
The Errant has returned to the Eternal Domicile after following Mosag to the Azath House. He thinks of how the Jaghut understood futility and wonders where Gothos is now, and if there was a message in Gothos’ eternal suicide note. He travels to meet Menandore and offers to bargain for information sharing. After accusing him of delighting in “tragic failure,” she tells him “sky keeps,” and when he asks if “it “has begun yet, she says not yet but soon. He says her sisters conspire with one eventual goal being killing her, adding “her” freeing is imminent. She wonders why he does nothing, or Mael, or “others.” He wonders who else might be in Lether and she says she “misspoke.” He not thinks he has to find out and returns to the Domicile.
Shadowthrone and Hood step out of the forest to join Menandore. Shadowthrone says the three of them have met and agreed on something, then offers to help her with her sisters in return for use of the Starvald Demelain gate. She makes him promise to use the gate only once and he agrees. They both agree to help each other in this case with not future obligations. Hood leaves, then Shadowthrone, then Menandore.
Nisall visits Queen Janal, who berates her and then tells her the “master” looks through her eyes and Janal should tell Rhulad that, adding that the Crippled God is the only one who matters now; the rest are blind. When Janal says Rhulad is failing, Nisall says the Chancellor Triban Gnol is the reason and the Crippled God should know that, suggesting he kill both Gnol and Karos, who plot against the Edur. Janal says the CG is almost done with the Edur. Nisall offers servants to help take care of Janal.
Janal speaks to the Crippled God and thinks him mad. He tells her they should prefer his indifference, that they should fear him one day calling them on what they do in his name, and says he will answer her prayers (she wants her throne) but she should never say he didn’t warn her.
Nisall felt the Crippled God inside Janal and wishes no part of his plans. She has heard rumors of war against the Bolkando Alliance and thinks Chancellor Gnol is pushing for it, though Rhulad worries the Edur are being spread too thin. Bruthen Trana (the Edur overseer of the Patriotists) warns Nisall that Karos is investigating her for sedition against the Chancellor and tells her not only has he been unable to give his report to the Emperor, but that Rhulad is being isolated from the Edur, that all petitions are from the Letherii only and selected by Gnol. He offers her two bodyguards and they agree to think about working together.
Sukul Ankhadu meets Hannan Mosag standing above the Azath House grave of Sheltatha Lore, whom Sukul is trying to free. He offers to help and help them find Ruin and stop him from reaching Scabandari, saying the Crippled God is ready to face him with allies. He adds Fear will also try to stop Ruin from getting Scabandari’s Finnest. She agrees but warns the Crippled God not to betray them, though she says he’s welcome to use the power of the Finnest so long as it is destroyed (though at his agreement she tells herself he must think her a fool). He leaves when she senses Sheltatha rising. She is glad he goes as she’d prefer Sheltatha without allies, then thinks “it was all Menandore’s doing, anyway.”
Amanda’s Reaction to Chapter Five
Well, the Guild Master’s Speech sets a very foreboding tone in that last paragraph: “Until comes a time when one final lise is voiced, the one that can only be answered by rage, by cold murder, and one that day, blood shall rain down every wall of this vaunted, weaning society.”
And that same tone is continued in the little snippet detailing the way these vinik turtles bear their young and provide them with their first meal. Two paragraphs, is the section about the vinik turtles, but Erikson writes with such efficiency that we now know plenty about them and what their lives entail. Fabulous work.
Also, these turtles give us an additional look at the lives of those who live in and near Letheras — it does leave you thinking that their dog eat dog attitude is partly a product of their surroundings.
So Hannan Mosag is after “something...someone” who is buried in the graveyard near the Azath - and that someone is already being gradually released: “It has begun unravelling! Someone has been here - before me! Not long. Sorcery, working the release of this imprisoned creature.” Intriguing... And I can’t make my brain work to sort out what this imprisoned creature is, or who might be trying to release it... Unless, do I remember it being Sheltatha Lore? (Forgive me, I have a rather nasty little head cold right now, and it’s preventing me from doing much thinking!) Hmm, Erikson tells us that the person who performed the rituals is a female, with diluted Tiste Edur blood — and eats human flesh (ugh!) Still no closer to working it out. Or is it Sukul Ankhadu?
‘Mechanism’ is now becoming a word that I associate with the K’Chain Che’Malle — it worries me that Rautos Hivanar thinks that the pieces he’s uncovering in this excavation could be assembled into a kind of mechanism. Haven’t these people learnt yet that they really need to leave buried objects be? *grins*
Oh, now this conversation between Tehol and Bugg is exactly what I was looking for, following the end of Midnight Tides, especially when Tehol says: “What you require, old friend, is a mortal’s perspective on things. So let’s hear it. Lay out the dilemma for me, Bugg, so that I might provide you with a properly pithy solution.”
Ha! I love as well that Bugg lays out everything that is happening and confusing me without revealing any names or hints about who some of these ascendants are!
Amused that Tehol has sent his own puzzle to Karos Invictad. This almost seems a declaration of war between the two men.
Oooh, intriguing: “Qan’s analysis of these efforts led him to conclude that a catastrophic climate change has occurred, for the efforts indicated a desperate attempt to add insulation.” So Letheras does seem to be built on the remains of a K’Chain Che’Malle (or Nah’ruk) city — and the changes they made might have been to protect against dragons?
I am finding it very hard to read the scenes between Tanal and Janath, especially when this sort of thing is mentioned: “Well, she asked for it. She wouldn’t stop. That means she wanted it, deep inside, she wanted me to beat her. I’ve heard about this - Karos has told me - they come to like it, eventually. They like the...attention.”
The scene between the Errant and Menandore, and then the following scene where it’s revealed Shadowthrone and Hood also have their fingers in this particular pie are interesting. What does Shadowthrone intend to use a gate into Starvald Demelain then?
Oh man, I can’t even believe that Janall is still alive... I thought she was dead and freed from this torment!
The Crippled God is almost done with the Edur — does this then mean that he will release Rhulad? I wonder if that means that the Crippled God’s whole purpose using Rhulad has been to ensure that he kills one of those two “fell champions” who approach — Icarium and Karsa...
This alliance between Bruthen and Nisall feels like a positive one. So far they both seem like intelligent individuals, and they seem to actually care what happens to the Tiste Edur and Rhulad respectively.
Finally, the alliance that Bugg had already discerned takes place between Hannan Mosag and Sukul Ankhadu. It seems that this chapter is mostly concerned with drawing up the battle lines for what is to come.
Bill’s Reaction to Chapter Five
As you say, Amanda, a little bit foreboding that opening. And the same for the description of the turtles. Lots of interesting aspects to those turtles: things moving hidden, things unseen, the co-opting of another creature’s home/nest, the consuming of one’s own kind, the idea of a “time bomb” kind of—things hatching, the idea of cycles and repetition, even another mention of Bluerose gets tossed in there. And I like how they keep popping up (sometimes literally) throughout the chapter.
Good work on pulling up those names, Amanda! You’re correct—Sheltatha Lore is buried and the other one is Sukul Ankhadu (and more on both in Forge of Darkness!)
And not a bad guess on the K’Chain Che’Malle and the diggings. But I will say there is another connection to be made to “mechanisms.”
That is a pretty pithy summary, though as usual, not spoon-fed to us as you note Amanda. Not a single name in that whole run up save Scabandari Bloodeye, who doesn’t actually figure into any of the doings save as a goal.
And the return to a constant Malazan theme—the buried past, the present built upon the past.
That whole idea of the Jaghut “pre-dispersion” gets some full treatment in Forge of Darkness by the way.
I kind of like that phrase—“spiritual economics” (and how apt from a Letherii lecturer?). I wonder how much people might act differently if the afterlife was far less abstract on the idea of “be good and get rewarded with heaven or be bad and get punished by hell” and people actually believed in this far more concrete, far more imaginable and able to visualized images of that long queue of people you’ve hurt in your lining up to meet you. Small wonder such a concept worries Tanal. Or that someone so weak is so frightened of someone so strong like Janath.
As much as I like Janath as a character, I’m with you on just how disturbing those scenes are, Amanda. Very uncomfortable reading.
Yes indeed, what will Shadowthrone do with a gate into Starvald Demelain? And what is Hood’s part in all this? And does anyone expect the alliance with Menandore to hold once their “mutual help” is completed?
Speaking of disturbing—I could have gone without that image of Janal moving around her room...
That’s an interesting phrase from our pulled-down god: “my power was once the sweetest kiss. A love that broke nothing.” And then we get his own sense of being trapped, molded—“I am what you made me . . . As you would have me, so I am.” Are we going to pivot with this character?
Seems we have a bit of a race going on here: The Crippled God “almost done” with the Edur, Mosag conspiring, Gnol and Karos conspiring, a possible war (sad how easy it is to create one) and now Nisall and Bruthen trying to help Rhulad (speaking of pivoting, now we’re rooting for Rhulad!) against this before it all comes crashing down
“It was too easy to be arrogant upon arriving in this world, to think that none could challenge the unleashing of ancient power.” We’ve seen this before and will see it again...
Speaking of untrustworthy alliances—think Mosag or Menandore will be turning backs on each other at all in the ensuing action?
And there are those turtles again. What is the bait? Who is the bait? Who is waiting for the bait to be taken? So many things hidden in the murky undercurrents...
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.