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 Two 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.
Nisall thinks on how she watches Rhulad’s nightly torments, then recalls events immediately after Rhulad took the Letherii throne and later: his dismissal of Hanag Mosag after making him Ceda, his giving her the choice to stay Imperial Concubine, Trull telling Rhulad Fear left and begging him to destroy the sword, Rhulad ordering Trull’s Shorning, Binadas being sent away, Turudal Brizad vanishing. She wonders at Rhulad’s ability to weather each night’s torture, the betrayal of his brothers and Udinaas, and then do his job the next day, deciding there is something “decent” in him. Triban Gnol, she knows, considers her a rival for influence and she decides to try and mend fences. As she thinks, Rhulad cries out for Trull’s forgiveness and guidance.
Triban Gnol tells Bruthen Trana he cannot see the Emperor to give his report regarding Karos and the Patriotists, though he says he will forward the report to Rhulad. Bruthen suspects the Emperor is kept busy with petitions from people rounded up and coached by Gnol’s agents. Bruthen leaves and visits the Graveyard of Fallen Champions, those killed by Rhulad. Bruthen thinks if Brys returned he would do the same to Rhulad as he had earlier and he wishes for it to happen.
The Errant (Turudal Brizad) feels a pattern forming but, unusually for him, he cannot picture it and wonders if he is being played with and by whom. Even as he declares he controls fate, he feels fear. The tiles will not reveal themselves to him since the Ceda died and he wonders if the Ceda set this all up or somehow cursed him. He’s also confused by the sudden cold and wonders if he’ll need to concede defeat and go see Mael. Rejecting that idea, he plans to take control of the Cedance, though he’ll have to find out who made it. He senses chaos in the pantheon and blames some god, though thinks it is unlikely to be Mael. He wonders about the god who had usurped the Edur.
Tehol and Bugg “discuss” a dead fish.
Tehol walks the streets worried a bit about the overt Patriotists and the spies. He recalls how the Patriotists arrested scores of illusionary Rat Catchers. He goes to several “retailers,” trading/buying one item to use for the next purchase/trade which eventually gets him through a trap door to where Chief Investigator Ruckett and other refugees are hiding. She is investigating some “Grand Mystery” which involves a map. Tehol asks for money and says it will bring about the end of the Patriotists. He also collects some specially built tiles.
Venitt shows Rautos plans for a large holding, one building containing “an iconic object.” Rautos asks to see the new artifacts.
Shurq Elalle’s pirate ship comes across an Edur ship in the doldrums. As they move toward it, she recalls her past success, as well as dropping off Iron Bars and the Crimson Guard group on Jacuruku and leaving as it appeared the Guard were about to be attacked. The find the Edur ship deserted. Clearly there had been a fight of some sort. They find amphorae with an image of a figure nailed to an x-shaped cross with hundreds of crows at its head. The amphorae are filled with blood which her first mate identifies as used by the Edur to paint/sanctify temples in the forest. They find an Edur corpse, seemingly tortured for information. Shurq notes the logs and charts were taken. She orders the ship fired and as she leaves, wonders who these enemy of the Edur are and hopes not to meet them.
Amanda’s Reaction to Chapter Three
Hmmmm, this little extract from Factor Breneda Anict says that there are K’Chain Che’Malle in the badlands to the east, doesn’t it? I wonder what they’re doing there — and how exactly they tie in to the Crippled God.
I’m guessing this is a flashback from Nisall to the events in the throne-room? Or is this something that I just have to shrug off? [Bill: Nope, you’re right—flashback it is.]
I will say that Nisall’s observation that Rhulad remains a child in mind, even if not in body, is an odd one. I mean, Rhulad’s experience of constantly living and dying, suffering the return to his body, must be one that makes you age prematurely. Although, from the reverse angle, the feeling of immortality would maybe leave him very childlike, because he cannot die and therefore has no reason to grow up.
This flashback (if it is such) to the events in the throneroom after the end of Midnight Tides gives a lot of dramatic tension, from Hannan Mosag’s treatment at the hands of Rhulad (deserved, I do believe) to Rhulad’s pointed remarks about the Imperial Concubine not being taken into death by the king alongside the Eunuch.
Anyone else believe Rhulad when he says: “Concubine, you have our sympathy. Know that we will not use you cruelly.”
And now we see another example of the reason why Trull was dealt with so harshly by the Tiste Edur — check out where he says: “Your sword is Emperor — your sword and the power behind it.” I like Trull a lot, but he doesn’t help himself at all with that fierce honesty, does he? Maybe a little bit of politicking here and there would have stood him in better stead.
This sword is similar in some ways to the One Ring — the fact that Rhulad is so frightened that someone else will take it that he can’t relinquish it.
Strikes me as well that Fear having left Rhulad behind means that the latter is going to be less likely to trust anyone after suffering that betrayal — and, of course, the betrayal of Udinaas. If they hadn’t been so quick to leave him, might Rhulad have been convinced to lay down the sword?
It is a very strong and powerful scene where Rhulad says that Trull is to be Shorn — and all the more shocking when we remember back to that long-ago scene in Midnight Tides where the three Sengar brothers had that moment of unity and honesty. The way that they look at each other as the decision comes is very moving.
Although Nisall thinks of herself as profoundly alone, I find I don’t have much sympathy for her since she chose her position partially through ambition.
And here is a heartbreaking line: “Among the whimpers, groans and gasps, he spat out fragments of his conversation with Trull, his forsaken brother. And again and again, in hoarse whispers, Rhulad begged forgiveness.”
How strange it is that we now see a situation where the Tiste Edur Emperor of the Letherii tries to understand them, to mete suitably justice, yet key members of the Letherii seem determined to treat their own people with contempt. It’s interesting to learn that their attitudes are not coming down from the Edur overlords; rather, they are opportunistically grabbing power.
Bruthen seems like an intriguing character — someone who is paying attention and quietly seeming to support his Emperor. I like how he instantly notes the fact that the Chancellor is bringing fake petitions to Rhulad — which makes it even more heartbreaking that the Emperor tries so very hard to respond to them correctly.
Do I read it right that Rhulad has faced all of the Fallen Champions from the Azath a number of times, and this is one of the reasons he has sent Binadas away to find someone who is able to face him?
And an intriguing little hint that we will be seeing Brys Beddict again....
Poor Errant. *grins* As a God, it must be more than a little disconcerting to have events move away from you and be hidden from your view. I don’t like to blame the Crippled God for everything, but his hand has been in the game for a while and might be the reason the Errant is struggling so. Or is there a chance that the new Master of the Deck is affecting things? Does the Deck and the Holds have any links in this respect, or not at all?
The chatter between Tehol and Bugg feels a little... artificial, now that we know Bugg’s true persona. It feels very strange that they still keep the same attitudes, and Bugg still calls Tehol ‘Master.’ Anyone else feel that way? Or do you just relax into their unusual style of dialogue and enjoy?
Oh, I do love the image of the Rat Catchers’ Guild being collectively arrested and then the Patriotists being embarrassed by the fact that they were, in fact, illusions!
Heh, I sometimes feel exactly as Tehol, where he wonders how a particular and very specialised shop has stayed open for so long. For someone so fiercely intelligent, it’s a very prosaic thought.
Hmm, what IS Tehol up to? After seeing him all the way through Midnight Tides, I know all too well that he is always up to something!
“I need some coin. An infusion to bolster a capital investment.”
“Will we ever see a return?”
“No, you’ll lose it all.” At least he’s honest!
Oh, what bets that the building Rautos Hivanar is looking at is the same “capital investment” that Tehol is talking about — strikes me we’re going to see these two going up against each other, and, from the looks of things, it might be a rather even match.
Teehee! I think I know who this “pirate, divine undead, strumpet of insatiability, witch of the deep waters” is! Welcome back onscreen, Shurq Elalle.
That amphorae that they’ve picked up is interesting — is it something to do with the Wickans, what with those crows?
Who has tortured this Edur ship captain? And what information were they after? Chapter three is definitely more intriguing and fast-moving than the previous chapters!
Bill’s Reaction to Chapter Three
Oh, so much to the East, Amanda. So much....
I like that ironic parallel between Rhulad ordering Mosag to crawl every time he enters the throne room and Rhulad crawling nightly in his bedroom.
This is a scene that does a nice job of turning things around a bit. We’ve got the whiny, petulant, annoying Rhulad and the tyrannical, ambitious one, and now we are shown a nightmare of a “life” and it’s difficult (for me at least) to not feel sympathy here (whether he placed himself in this position or not). And the sympathy isn’t simply the result of the horrors but also of behavior: apologizing for calling Nisall a whore, getting up every morning to do his job, trying to be a “good” emperor, etc. This scene seems an example to me of the writer giving us what he is always coming back to in the series—empathy.
I’m with you a bit on the One Ring, Amanda; one almost expects Rhulad to call the sword “My Precious.” It is, after all, a tool of great power, though one wonders if in some ways it’s the antithesis of the ring in that Tolkien’s ring was more tempting to those with power and less so to those without (note Frodo and Sam doing a nice job resisting it) while the sword might be more tempting to those without, as perhaps those with power wouldn’t want to go through all that dying again and again.
We have a lot of characters early on here who are shown to be isolated, even when they are with other people. Nisall feels utterly alone. She remarks on how alone Rhulad is with Trull Shorn, Fear gone, Binadas and his father sent away. We’ve got Silchas Ruin (not a lot of folks for him to hang out with), Udinaas, Fear, Seren, Kettle, our tortured scholar, our lost Overseer, and so on. Nisall even recalls how Ezgara had “come to raise a wall between himself and the empire’s citizens and felt betrayed by those who should have been closest to him"—his wife and son.
“Filter” should always be a red-flag word when one is describing a court and access to a ruler.
And just what sort of image is that—a palace filled with holes in the walls?
The Fallen Champions aren’t necessarily from the Azath Amanda; they’ve been collected for Rhulad from multiple places. The graveyard is just in the clearing between the palace and the Azath House/Jaghut towers. It is a little bit interesting—that Tarthenal that kills Rhulad seven times—gives us a sense that we aren’t seeing all the badass characters in this world at all.
I have to say, whenever someone starts tossing around absolutes like “every” and “all” and “it has ever been” and “It shall ever be” with regard to their own power and status, well, I not only assume there’ll be some sort of comeuppance, but I really hope for it.
Nice to see a god feeling a bit fearful. Note how he can’t imagine, though, that a human, even one as powerful as the Ceda, might be able to do anything to him—it must be Mael or some other god. As we’ve seen, watch out for those mortals....
I liked the Bugg Tehol bit personally. Sometimes it’s a bit too much or too blunt, but this wasn’t one of those times.
It’s a long scene and to be honest, probably wholly unnecessary, but I truly enjoyed the little stroll thought the niche shops. And like you Amanda, I’ve often wondered how such narrow-casted places survive. I also enjoyed the repartee between Rucket and Tehol—we really do need some out and out humor to get us through some of the more grim and unpleasant scenes in this book.
We do get some intriguing plot teases here as well: Ruckett’s Grand Mystery, Tehol’s tiles, Tehol’s capital investment....
Speaking of a tease—how about that landing of Iron Bars and the rest of his squad on Jacuruku with a “dozen massively armoured figures descending” toward them followed by the “sound of blades clashing.” That’s just mean.
And even more teases. Who, as Amanda says, tortured the Edur and for what purpose? Is this going to be another Silanda type deal where we get the aftermath and eventually see the scene itself? Will it just be explained? Or remain a mystery?
And yes, Amanda, certainly the amphorae image would seem to be connected to the Wickans.
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.