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.
Silchas Ruin’s group comes across the ruins of a city long ago destroyed by the impact of something massive that struck the mountain city. Ruin identifies it as K’Chain Che’Malle, adding the destruction was done by pure blood dragons (Eleint), unleashing their warren of Starvald Demelain, in unison, which he labeled “unusual.” Wither says the K’Chain crime was the “annihilation of all existence,” though it was unclear if it was intended and an accident. As they ascend, Seren mocks Ruin’s continued obsession with vengeance on Scabandari, whom she says is dead and “less than a wraith,” but Ruin says she doesn’t understand the complexity. Udinaas finds a tunnel and decides to take that rather than continue climbing the mountain, mocking Fear’s objections. The two continue to spar.
Tanal Yathvanar and Karos Invictad watch a prisoner being dragged to the wall. Karos asks Tanal who is the greatest threat to the Empire and when Tanal says fanatics like the prisoner, Karos disagrees, saying the prison has certainty and those with certainty can be turned and manipulated using fear to destroy their certainty then offering them a new one. Instead, he says, the greatest enemies are those without certainty, the ones with questions, the skeptics. When asked, he says his one certainty is “power shapes the world.” He then viciously mocks Tanal’s own certainty and naivety. Tanal tell him a new puzzle arrived from an anonymous source.
Tanal enters the lowest part of the dungeons where he has placed the scholar he’d been torturing and told to free—Janath Anar. They spar over the Patriotists and other items, she gets into his head/under his skin and he hits her then leaves.
Overseer Brohl Handar looks over the Drene High Market from his ornate carriage. He note that the loss of Empire hadn’t knocked the Letherii down as much as might have been expected and that what binds them was more resilient than thought, and has begun to poison the Edur—wealth, greed, inequity. Brohl is unsure what to do about Letur Anict, the Factor, and his use of imperial troops for personal enrichment, especially as he suspects connections not only to the Liberty Consign but also to Triban Gnol, the Letherii Chancellor. He sees an arrest by the Patriotists and wonders what sedition they seek to root out. Orbyn “Truthfinder,” the head of the local Patriotists joins him in his carriage and says they spotted Ruin’s group. He wonders why the Edur haven’t caught them and Brohl says things are proceeding as predicted and planned. The conversation is interrupted by alarms.
Redmask has been watching the garrison all day. He notices surveillance by a pair of Patriotists agents and kills them and cuts off their faces. A third agent sets off an alarm. Red Mask makes for the gate, killing lots of city guard with ancient Awl weapons: A cadaran whip and a rygtha crescent axe.
Redmask has left the city. Atri-Preda Bivatt arrives late, learns it was one man and orders a troop to follow. She and Orbyn, who has also arrived on scene, recognize the description as Redmask, and a guard mentions Redmask’s exile from his tribes seems to be over.
Brohl arrives and asks to be told of Redmask. Bivatt says the story is years ago Factor Anict wanted a tribe’s herds and kidnapped a clan leader’s daughter—the sister of Redmask. The Factor adopted her, she became Indebted, and he demanded the herds as payment. Just before the exchange the girl killed herself and the Factor’s soldiers killed all in the camp save Redmask, who became a great war chief. Redmask tried to convince the clans to ally against the Letherii, they refused, he said something they didn’t like, and they exiled him. He went east between the Awl-land and Kolanse. Bivatt doesn’t know the significance of his mask, mentions rumor he killed a dragon, and says the weapons he uses were made against an unknown enemy from an ancient/mythical battle the Awl supposedly fought far in the east before fleeing to this land. She adds the only Letherii expedition to the eastern wildlands was destroyed and the only survivor was driven mad by “the Hissing Night.” Before Brohl leaves, she tells him the Letherii will need the Edur if Redmask unifies the Awl.
Having outrun his pursuit (helped by his two K’Chain Che’Malle), Redmask thinks back to his return to the Awl’dan, how he had found his people nearly decimated, the land empty. He is joined by Sag’Churok (the male K’Chain) and Gunth Mach (the drone growing into a female) and he wonders why they follow and protect him and why they kill Letherii.
Seren examines Ruin, wondering if he is mad, thinking him a dispassionate killer, one who views mortal lives as “reduced in meaning” to “obstacle or ally,” and one who is certain. When Udinaas asks Fear why Rhulad doesn’t come after them with thousands, Kettle says it’s because Rhulad wants the group to find what they are looking for, and so they are herding them in the right direction, adding it was the Crippled God who told Rhulad which way was the wrong direction. She identifies him as the one who gave Rhulad the sword and says the Crippled God isn’t yet ready for war and is keeping them out of the eastern wildlands where the “secrets” are. She says the dead told her all this, and told her as well that “the vast wheel is about to turn, one last time before it closes. It closes because . . . that’s how he made it. To tell him all he needs to know. To tell him the truth . . . the one who’s coming.” Seren asks Ruin if he has any idea what Kettle is talking about and he says no, but he plans to keep listening.
Amanda’s Reaction to Chapter Two:
Even with mountains and such, Erikson likes to include a rich history—such as here where Seren believes that a city used to occupy the mountainside. I do love that Erikson enforces the idea constantly that we’re only ever seeing a tiny part of this world, and that it has a massive amount of history that we haven’t heard about.
Seren does seem to be placing a lot of blame when she says, “A victim of your war?” The use of “your” in that sentence somehow shows her attitude towards Silchas Ruin.
And we find out these remains are possibly K’Chain Che’Malle—I am fascinated at the way Erikson has developed these into the story. At first we knew nothing about them. In truth, we still know very little. But they have become a backdrop to all the other stories; little details dropped here and there, visions of their battered buildings, the use of those black rocky skykeeps. They’re gradually becoming a key part of all of this.
Intriguing, for instance, that the K’Chain Che’Malle suddenly felt the need for extreme self-defence and so changed the very way that they lived—who caused this need in them? What happened to them?
We hear how this mountain was destroyed—several dragons allied and came together to commit destruction upon the K’Chain Che’Malle. Apparently an unusual occurrence.
Love the fact that Seren hints at the idea of Silchas Ruin take his dragon form just to ship supplies up the mountain! She verbalises the idea of the parallel between this journey and the one she took into the Tiste Edur lands, before Rhulad became the monster he is now, believing that “everyone at odds, motives hidden and in conflict.” I would say that whenever you have one such as Silchas Ruin with you, that statement would certainly be true.
Seren’s state of mind is very clear here: “I take responsibility for very little.”
Udinaas’ commentary on how life is not a story and therefore there is a very real chance of the hero plummeting to his death because he didn’t pay attention to his surroundings is very blackly comic, but my favourite of Erikson’s types of humour. It shows a gentle self-mocking at the very many stories and influences that have created the Malazan series, I think.
I’ve watched The Dark Knight Rises too recently—the bats in the cave remind me of that *grins*
There are *very* uneasy relations between this group, and this is brought home by the presence of master and slave—Udinaas pointing out what must be unpalatable truths, while Fear Sengar points out that the slaves were fed (the implication being ‘what more did they want?’)
Karos doesn’t like those people who see the world in shades of grey, stating that those who see the world in black and white are easier to sway to a course. He seems to be a very intelligent characters, but definitely not one that I shall ever warm to... In fact, these sections are the slowest to read so far. I really grind to a halt after the joy of embracing the more familiar sections. Mind, all new characters in this series take a little while to get going! So, tell me, persevere with Karos? Or is it going to always be slow?
And, honestly, how is a character going to endear himself to us when he says things like: “Errant take me, I wanted to rip your head from your body, like decapitating a swamp-fly [...] I wanted to take that dismissive expression on your face and push it through an offal grinder.”
Oh, and then Tanal Yathvanar also shows himself to be foul—keeping this woman imprisoned and tortured. Not enjoying this little segment...
I get that we have to see how the world has changed for the Letherii in this new world with Tiste Edur overlords, but does it have to be so damn gloomy? You can always tell when I’m not that fond of a section. I can wax lyrical about my favourite characters and the epic scenes, but, when I hit someone I don’t enjoy, I can’t find much to say. Mind, my mum did tell me that if you can’t say anything nice then you shouldn’t say anything at all *winks*
What is interesting here is the observation that Brohl has made—that, despite the new rule of the Edur, the Letherii are resilient enough to continue trading and fighting to get ahead the only way they know how; through wealth.
I do like a character who can recognise his shortcomings—a lack of arrogance is always welcome, and I see it here in Brohl Handar. And oh! I had no idea at all that he was Tiste Edur!
This police state that the Letherii are suffering under, where their own people are bringing them in for sedition and accusing them of more than that, has haunting reminders of those we’ve seen in real life.
Another fat evil person in the form of Orbyn ‘Truthfinder’! I think maybe Erikson has more evil fat people than good ones—although I know tons of you disagree with me. I just don’t like the casual use of what is a common trope. His appearance shows that there are even more lies and conspiracies afoot in Letheras.
The mysterious scaly-masked man again! Why would he want to hide his face? If he uses an Awl’dan weapon, does that mean he belongs to these people?
Dear Lord! How very grisly and shocking, as he cuts off the faces of the men he has just killed! That woke me up a bit, after the soporific couple of sections preceding... And hey: “practised familiarity”—this guy has done it before, enough to have it feel familiar. Adding to the mystery, he’s using weapons that are ancient amongst the Awl’dan, and people haven’t seen the mastery of such in over a century. Who is this guy? Redmask doesn’t ring any bells, although I sort of wonder if he’s a part of the Crimson Guard? Similar naming convention, that red mask and skilled with weapons? The Awl’dan thing is throwing me though...
Heh, this Redmask dude does remind me very much of a character from a David Gemmell novel!
I do have a serious weakness for these Tiste Andii chaps—Silchas Ruin is just as amazing in his way as Anomander Rake.
Kettle’s words are disturbing: “The Crippled God said it’s not yet time to travel east. He’s not ready for open war, yet. He doesn’t want us to go into the wildlands, where all the secrets are waiting.” Strikes me those are some key words.
And it amuses me that Seren asks who the Crippled God is, after we’ve seen him become more and more important and influential over the course of the last few books.
“Him, the one that’s coming.” How intriguing...!
Bill’s Reaction to Chapter Two
Did anyone else have a first thought when Seren describes the city being destroyed by a single blow, an impact on the mountain, that it might have been a K’Chain Sky Keep crashing? I’m always kept on my toes in this series—here I thought “I’ve got this—K’Chain civil war, one K’Chain city destroyed by another” and then, nope, turns out to be dragons (as Yosemite Sam says, “stupid dragon!”)
As you say, Seren seems pretty sharp in the way she questions Ruin. This is not a happy group traveling together.
Yes, the K’Chain have been creeping in and creeping in and clearly they have much more of a role to play.
I’m with you Amanda, I loved when Seren suggested “You know, as a Soletaken, you could just . . . “ I mean, who wouldn’t at some point want to know if the big dragon couldn’t just carry them or at least their stuff? I also like how we get a little glimpse into the veering—the idea that as Ruin says, the veering brings him closer to the “bloodlust . . the draconian hunger.” Is this just Ruin’s reaction to veering or is this true of all who veer? I would imagine the latter.
It can’t be too much of a shock that someone like Ruin, who has lived as long as he has, and then, has been buried as long as he have, might have a different way of thinking than Seren can imagine, that his “anger [might be] more complicated than [she] believes.” (nor should it be surprising to the reader that just maybe when they arrive at their goal “nothing will proceed as you anticipate.”
Intentional or not, I enjoyed the linguistic move from the conversation between Seren and Ruin: “The steps were steep, the edges worn and treacherous.” Indeed.
Personally I’m kind of bummed the metopes and friezes are so ruined; I would have liked to have seen the artwork of the K’Chain Che’Malle.
That little meta-fiction moment of Udinaas’, where he reels off the archetypes (the lost child, the guide, etc.) is a nice self-aware moment but also is a bit humorous in that I’m not sure those reading Erikson are really confident the story will end happily, the hero will not fall down the mountain. Of course, he might not only fall down the mountain and die only to come back in some other form, but that’s a whole n’other thing.
This is a tough book to get into, Amanda, for the very reasons you give. The mood is beyond gloomy (rape, torture, genocide, greed, endemic corruption, abuse of power, petty sniping, etc.), the characters are sharp-edged and bitter, in themselves and to one another, and those are the “good” ones, the others are rapists, torturers, sadists, psychopaths, and so on. Give it some time though, give it some time . . .
We’ve had indictments of “certainty” throughout this series, making it one of the constant underlying themes along with empathy and compassion. What is a nice twist here is that rather than get an indictment of it from the “good guys/gals” perspective—“certainty bad”—we get a thumbs up for it from the bad guy’s viewpoint—“certainty good”. Of course, a thumbs up from a bad guy is really a thumbs down to us, so the effect is the same—a criticism of certainty—but I like how Erikson comes at from this different angle.
The rest of Karos’ speech I find less enjoyable, mostly because it doesn’t seem to offer up much insight to me: power reshapes the world, power is a tool, to express power is to coerce though sometimes the coercion is soft and sometimes it is hard. It’s one of the few times where a philosophical section doesn’t do much provoking of thought for me.
The same is true for Tanal’s discussion with his prisoner, which seemed more focused on the argument against moral relativism (which I agree with) rather than on character or plot. Not that a focus on theme is bad, but this was a bit too naked a focus on theme for me. We enter the scene, we get a talky lecture (literally and then literally titled a lecture) against moral relativism, then we exit the scene, having learned really not much more about character, having not really advanced the plot, and having not really changed the tone or mood. It felt more like a PSA then a scene in a novel.
On the other hand, I love that opening image of the next scene with the “ornate carriage trimmed in gleaming bloodwood . . . straddling the open sewer.” Talk about an image of inequity, of two worlds.
And then, as Brohl muses on the Letherii culture, we hearken back to a familiar word/theme from before: “poison.” An apt choice for the Letherii focus on accumulation of wealth and a foundation of inequity. We had lots of hints in the earlier incursion of the Edur into Letherii that the Edur would be “poisoned” or corrupted by the Letherii ways and we’re starting to see that concretely here.
That arrest is really a throwaway scene, having no importance at all, but it is chilling nonetheless for the reason you mention Amanda, its very real-world parallels that have happened so often in our history—the secret police, the shunning of the victim, the turning away of eyes and heads, the quiet shuffling away hoping one isn’t tainted by association, thinking “not me, not me, let me just get away, pick someone else . . . “
More evidence that Ruin’s group is being watched and herded, manipulated to some end.
Those are some nasty weapons employed by Redmask. Note that little aside however that those weapons, while clearly effective against the Lancers, were specifically designed to deal with another enemy, one the Awl fought long ago in the eastern wildlands. A non-human foe, one (perhaps) associated with an idea of “Hissing Night.”
I do like how Redmask is a character of legend come to life—his origins even among his own people a matter of myth and rumor, his weapons out of the mythological tales of ancient battles, his acts such archetypes—vengeance for a dead sister, redemption for an entire people.
And if Redmask is confused about what the K’Chain are doing seemingly allying themselves with him, what’s a poor reader to think?
Nice move, from the K’Chain Che’Malle to “Silchas Ruin’s eyes were reptilian . . . “
Seren’s viewpoint offers up a seemingly common-sense perspective on Silchas Ruin—someone so long-lived that mortal lives are “reduced in meaning.” The question is, is her viewpoint the correct one? She has, after all, misread some people before. And we have seen that not all Andii, who are so long-lived, are wholly aloof and cold, viewing mortals as “reduced in meaning.” Surely Ruin’s anger of Kettle’s rape indicates he doesn’t necessarily think of her as nothing (stops self here).
Boy, and Kettle does know how to bring the house down, huh? Talk about a big reveal. Any guesses on the “wheel”, the “him” the “truth”?
Love Ruin’s understated close to this scene....
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.