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 Seven 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.
Just a quick heads up — we won’t be posting next Wednesday, because Bill is out of town and I’m preparing for a big event on the Thursday. We’ll be back in all our glory next Friday!
Atri-Preda Yan Tovis (Twilight) enters Lether harbor with the returning Edur fleets, happy to be back and thinking of how big the world had been and of the thousands who died during the journey. She asks Taralack Veed why Icarium stays below and he tells her not to worry; Icarium will kill Rhulad and most likely destroy Lether as well. She notices the greeting delegation has no Edur and thinks Tribat Gnol’s “quiet usurpation” must be working, though she thinks it will now be challenged with the fleets’ return. Veed tells her Rhulad will fall as all gods’ chosen ones do.
Turdal Brizad (Errant) watches the fleet enter, noting Tomad Sengar’s anger at seeing no Edur and sensing something “fated” about Yan Tovis. He bemoans his diminishing gift of foresight and feels chaos coming toward Letheras from the sea. He sees Veed and then Icarium and feels a sudden chill (he recognizes Icarium). When Icarium steps foot onto Letheras soil, thousands of birds rise, the ground shifts, and something huge collapses.
Veed remarks on the earthquake to Yan Tovis who pretends to shrug it off. He tells her it was due to Icarium and she scoffs.
Icarium tells Veed he has been on this ground before, pre-Lether, that the Jaghut have also been here, and that Omtose Phellack was imposed on the heart of the city. He adds everything will change, no secrets will be left and he feels as if his life has reawakened. Veed thinks his death is near and isn’t happy about it.
Karsa and Samar Dev discuss their impending disembarking. She tells him there are “resident gods” in the city who could wrest the spirits from her and Karsa says the spirits are bound to him as well, that it is his “curse to gather souls.” He adds if any god tries to take his two friends’ souls from his sword he will kill it. He is offended by the guards meant to escort him to his quarters and fights several before telling them to be civil.
Bugg feels the earthquake and senses Icarium’s arrival, recalling Icarium coming before as a refugee “from a realm you laid to waste.” A passerby asks if Bugg is sick then tells him Scale House collapsed in the earthquake.
Bugg visits Rautos Hivanar’s excavations and Rautos shows him his artifacts, adding they’ve found nothing else save some stone chips. Bugg says it was an Eres’al mated pair working the flint for tools and goes into some detail, closing with them being the last of their line, though Icarium said it was just an illusion. Rautos breaks Bugg’s reverie and Bugg tells him the artifacts are a scale model of the large object at the inn, and what is missing is energy rather than matter, energy that has yet to arrive. Bugg leaves and walks through the streets thinking the energy comes and he weeps as he walks. He remembers Icarium walking into K’rul’s temple just before K’rul created the warrens and thinks Icarium learned from K’rul’s act. Bugg is grabbed by a pair of Patriotists and he kills them.
Feather Witch exits her ship, thinking of all the deluded she’d seen worshipping varied gods when they were really only aspects of one god, one who was indifferent. She’s decided to not worry about the gods anymore, that they would come begging her rather than the other way around. She heads into the crypts beneath the old palace where she’s going to live and study scrolls she’s found. From the First Empire. She thinks of how the Letherii/Edur should have been humbled by the ocean journeys and looks forward to bringing down the Empire. She pulls out the finger she’d taken but is interrupted by Hannan Mosag who says they should work together to destroy Rhulad. He says he will kill Rhulad with Rhulad’s family and she tells him Binadas is dead. He replies when it is over he will take the Edur home for the Lether will destroy themselves, mentioning the war in the east and adding that it is Fear who will find the means to Rhulad’s death.
Triban Gnol tells Rhulad that Tomad had a vision that Binadas was murdered on his ship by a demon and that Tomad has returned with that demon (Karsa) so Rhulad may avenge Binadas. But Rhulad says Tomad wants Karsa to kill him, that is the vengeance Tomad seeks because Rhulad killed Binadas and Trull, then accuses Hanradi and Mosag of treason. Gnol tells Rhulad Karos Invictad is investigating treason among the Edur and Rhulad demands proof. Gnol leaves and Nisall tells Rhulad it is ambition driving all this and Invictad is most ambitious of all and advises he call in Bruthen Trana to report. Rhulad raves a bit in confusion back and forth.
Tomad, denied by Rhulad the chance to meet with the Emperor, runs into Bruthen Trana in the corridor, who tells him that Gnol is controlling who has access, is keeping the Edur out and is isolating Rhulad. But when Bruthen tries to say Nisall might help, Tomad tells him he is being used by Nisall and he won’t speak to him again.
Invictad is obsessing over his failure to solve Tehol’s two-headed bug puzzle. Tanal Yathvanar says Rhulad’s suspicions have been awakened with regard to Edur treachery. Invictad tells him he has to get rid of Janath (kill her and dump the body) and offers up Nisall as possible replacement, arrested falsely.
Tanal decides he won’t kill Janath; he will tell her he loves her, free her, and flee the city with her. He moves her to a new place temporarily until he can move her again where he will teach her to fall in love with him.
Bugg finds Janath and takes her, debating whether he will use his power to tear down the Patriotists, but then thinking Tehol has set his sight on Invictad and that will do it.
Ublala Pung visits Tehol and tells him of Karsa’s arrival and Tehol tells him the Rat Catcher’s Guild have noted Icarium’s arrival as well. Ublala says once his Tarthenal kin here of a pure-blood they will gather. Bugg arrives with Janath, whom Tehol recognizes. Bugg tells him she needs gentle healing and peace and Tehol takes her in.
Amanda’s Reaction to Chapter Seven
It’s nice to see that at least one Letherii has started to learn humility and that they are not the centre of the universe: “The scale had left them all belittled, as if their grand dramas were without consequence, as if true meaning was too thinly spread, too elusive for a single mind to grasp.” Ahh, having made that comment it strikes me just how much I despise the Letherii and how I dislike storylines relating to them. I just find them contemptible.
This must be a hard homecoming — having been absent for months and not knowing what situation lay in Letheras on your return. Knowing that your return would change whatever equilibrium had been reached in the city anyway — both by bringing back senior Tiste Edur who wouldn’t be swallowed into Letherii practices and by bringing the Champion who might destroy Rhulad.
I like that Icarium’s entrance is witnessed by a god, so that we can see all the subtle extras as well as the earthquake and birds — the fact that chaos walks with him, the Nameless Ones’ influence over Icarium’s presence, the falling of a specific building, the knowledge that his coming means death.
Taralack says: “Burn does not rest easy here.” Is this also true? That it’s related to Burn — we’ve seen nothing of Burn since Gardens of the Moon, have we?
Oh! Icarium’s arrival here suddenly seems as though it could be a good thing — truths waiting for him, a feeling of his life awakening, and links to his Jaghut blood. I seriously hope that something better awaits Icarium — he’s such a very tragic figure.
Ha, Karsa can act like such a petulant child at times still — although always tinged with danger, like here, where he kills the rat in a fit of impatience.
This list of some of the items the Edur and Letherii have brought back interests me — why would they want a conch-shell throne? Are any of these going to prove important or is this mostly for flavour?
“There are gods in this city we approach. Resident gods.” We’ve seen a few of them. I wonder if there are more that we haven’t been aware of? It also begs the question, why is this city so important and so central that gods have taken up residence? What do they feel they can achieve here?
“Should a god be foolish enough to seek to steal our spirits, I will kill it.” Sure, it might be an empty boast — but we’ve seen Karsa achieve what many deemed to be impossible before now. I don’t envy the god who decides to steal those spirits.
“Only with grief, dear mortal” is a very poignant sentence, and reveals Bugg’s thoughts about Icarium, and how this childlike creature didn’t have the benefit of a father as he entered a new and unfamiliar realm.
Eep — Bugg is giving us a very different perspective on Icarium. We can never quite fix this character in our minds, who he is, WHY he is. Here we have essentially a lost child who talks to K’rul and takes something from their conversation. Mysterious. “Could you have imagined, K’rul, how Icarium would take what you did? Take it into himself as would any child seeking a guiding hand? Where are you, K’rul? Do you sense his return? Do you know what he seeks?” Now, the one thing we know that K’rul did was create the Warrens running through his blood — did Icarium do something with this idea?
And I did giggle at the idea of those thugs telling Bugg that he would Drown. *grins*
Ooh — one of the champions is a Seguleh, isn’t it? The Eleventh, going by the marks on the mask.
I love this thought that Feather Witch makes, no matter that it comes from someone so bitter: “Chosen - now there was a conceit of appalling proportion. Either we all are, or none of us are. And if the former, then we will all face the same judge, the same hand of justice - the wealthy, the Indebted, the master, the slave, the murderer and the victim, the raper and the raped, all of us...”
I like the reflection in Feather Witch’s thoughts — that of the Letherii Empire being insignificantly tiny — with what came at the start of the chapter, but somehow twisted. The Atri-Preda at the start of the chapter was overwhelmed into insignificance, while Feather Witch takes strength from knowing that the Letherii Empire can be taken down.
What is the finger that Feather Witch has? Who did it used to belong to?
And what a match made in hell — Feather Witch and Hannan Mosag working together, supposedly to bring down Rhulad, but both with ulterior motives.
Oh, this story draws together so well, doesn’t it? The fact that Karsa was the one to kill Binadas and now will stand before Binadas’ brother as one of the champions found to kill him.
Poor Rhulad. This scene, where he is shown to feel such disconnect with everything, is painful to read. Even sadder, to see the Letherii conspire together to ensure that this is set to continue.
And I am loving that the puzzle Tehol sent is completely confounding Karos Invictad!
The end of this chapter is just wonderful — from the moment where Janath is taken by Bugg and observes his kindly peaceful features, to the conversation between Tehol and Ublala Pung. So wonderful. And my favourite part? Hidden in there is Bugg’s extreme respect for Tehol, as he thinks: “Who has turned his deadly regard upon you? Deadly, oh my, yes.”
Bill’s Reaction to Chapter Seven
It will be interesting to see if the Empire is as humbled by the news the fleet brings back as Yan Tovis has been by her journey. A journey that has seen a host of places, some we have seen before or had referenced, other we may have yet to see: Sepik, Nemil, Callows, the Perish Coast, Shal-Morzinn, Drift Avalii, even a Meckros city.
“The Empire is greater than its ruler, and that is where lies the Chancellor’s loyalty.” We have Malazan characters who seem to follow the same rule—loyalty to the idea of the Empire rather than to the person at its head.
Note that focus on Twilight when she disembarks—the Errant noticing she is “fated.” And by the way, I have to say I’m enjoying the Errant’s dismay over his dwindling power.
And just what is that chaos coming to Lether from the sea? Is it the two fleets, as in Icarium and/or Karsa? Or since the fleets are already here, is it something else?
Talk about an entrance! Even Rake doesn’t cause earthquakes when he arrives. And who is that “overgrown hag” that the Errant seems to reference as Icarium’s mother?
We’ve seen so much of the lost Icarium. Is it indeed possible his life will reawaken? And if so, is that a good or bad thing? Also, we’ve had some discussion earlier about the “mechanism” being dug up and reference to how Icarium is known for his creations. Note he has been here before and before Lether existed, which is also true—the pre-Lether dating—of the mechanism.
I’ll just say Samar Dev is wise to think Karsa is boasting emptily when he says that if any god tries to steal his spirits he’ll kill it
This whole chapter is an achingly good example of why Bugg is a character readers respond so strongly to. His compassion and empathy come clear again as he weathers the storm of Icarium’s arrival and recalls Icarium’s earlier one. It’s a nice counterbalance to all the talk of the indifferent gods we get from other characters in this chapter. As is his later act of compassion that closes the chapter. And as well the way he recalls the paired Eres’al—you can hear the sorrow in his voice as he remembers the mother dying in childbirth (an apt image so soon after he remembers the philosopher’s words on birth and death being linked), the father wandering with the starving baby in his arm until it died as well, then the father, dying in utter loneliness—“the last of his kind.”
And did anyone else get a chuckle out of the fatality at Scale House?
So Bugg seems to recognize the mechanism and knows its purpose. A purpose that seemingly, since his musing on it returns Bugg to Icarium meeting K’rul, has some connection to K’rul and it appears his warrens, the clue being that K’rul could offer nothing but “what he himself was preparing to do.” What is the mechanism? How is connected to Icarium seeing K’rul’s act as “a guiding hand”? It seems we just might find out, as the energy missing to complete the device “is coming.”
Bad timing for the Patriotist boys, I’d say. I like how Bugg stays in the vein of his thoughts as he denounces them: “the ones who takes mothers from babes, fathers from sons”—images we’ve just seen in his past few recollections. And might these two be a microcosm of the larger Empire: “The bully’s greater terror comes when he meets someone bigger and meaner”? And another nice chuckle amidst the somewhat grim or ominous scenes as they talk of drowning the god of the sea.
More place names from Feather Witch, and some champions. A ruined Meckros city offered up an axeman, we have a Cabalhii monk, and a woman with a marked mask (we’ve seen those masks before). And then more people names. And sorry for not knowing but sometimes it’s all such a blur—is this our first mention of the Shake? If so, file that away.
Everyone remember whose finger this is Feather Witch has?
That’s a lovely image she calls up of how the Edur let the slaves be eaten alive by crabs. Makes it kind of hard to believe his argument that once he had full power and unification of the tribes that the slaves would have shared in the new prosperity of the Edur.
We’ve heard a good amount from characters about Rhulad being mad, and now we see just how on the edge of full madness he is, how unhinged he is. This is not a stable heart of the Empire.
You can see already how Tehol’s puzzle is having an impact on Invictad. Just wait. Who knows Tehol better than Bugg? And it is Bugg who “almost” pities Invictad for what Tehol is going to do to him.
For all the ways compassion has been referenced in this series, all the innumerable references, I have to say that I had forgotten and would never have suspected that one comes from Tanal Yathvanar. Talked about a warped usage of that word.
After so many dark scenes, especially those with Janath, it’s definitely time for some comic relief thanks to Ublala and Tehol. And it’s more of a relief to end on a scene of hope—the potential healing of Janath. Enjoy it while we can...
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.