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 Eleven 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.
Hunch Arbat, who once collected excrement amongst the farms to bury the Tarthenol gods has stopped now that the need has passed (remember the Azath fight scene), much to the dismay of his people. He looks forward to leaving but then has a vision that causes him to pack up and set fire to his dwellings. He runs into a group of villagers rushing to the fire. They tell him there is a troop of Edur at the inn and he informs them he’s leaving. Farther down, he runs into Twilight’s group and tells them of the Edur, then of a place they can stay for the night without being seen. He heads off, fearing his destination.
Ublala tells Tehol and Bugg he needs he needs to bring them to Karsa and to do so they have to break into the compound.
Ormly meets Rucket and tells her Tehol’s going too fast and the Patriotists and Liberty Consign are getting stirred up. Rucket interrupts to ask about the collapse of Scale House and he says they’d been preparing for that, though they don’t know “what’ll happen when whatever it is happens.” Rucket says the real mystery isn’t Tehol but Bugg, and wonders where they’re putting the massive amounts of coin they’ve hoarded. They also discuss the growing tension between the Edur and the Patriotists and between the Chancellor and the Patriotists.
The Errant thinks on how Mael helped arrange, with Kuru Qan, a Jaghut to use Omtose Phellack to imprison the powerful sea spirit used by the Edur. He wonders what caused Mael to involve himself, not only with the sea spirit but with the Crippled God as well (“battering a broken god senseless”), and wonders as well how Mael will deal with his worshippers that have been abusing Mael’s aloofness. The Errant begins to suspect the battle lines between the gods aren’t drawn as neatly and simply as he’d first thought. He notes the cracks in the ice imprisoning the spirit and wonders if Mael knows, if he should tell Mael himself. He is struck with a plan, for which he needs “a mortal’s hand . . . A mortal’s blood.” He transports himself to meet with Feather Witch and speaks to her of bargains, of the Holds clashing against the younger Warrens. Kuru Qan’s spirit appears and tells the Errant not to do this, that he is desperate and has been infected by the sea spirit’s ambition and lust. He warns him that the Warrens have a Master just as the Tiles did. The Errant thinks he will take that Master’s power and dismisses the Ceda’s warning that setting the Holds against the Warrens will wreck alliances. They argue back and forth then the Errant attacks Feather Witch with a knife to get her blood. She stabs him in the eye with Brys' finger, then plucks out the eye to keep. The Errant leaves.
The Ceda goes to get a healer to help Feather Witch before she dies.
The Errant goes back to his temple and throws the knife with Feather Witch’s blood on it onto the tiles, where it impales his own tile, in the chest of his image. He can feel energy rippling and hope Feather Witch is dead, wanting “no High Priestess bound to his resurrected godhood.” He decides to go back and check.
Feather Witch feels herself dying and thinks the Ceda will not return in time. She swallows the Errant’s eyeball.
The Errant feels a lot of his power ripped away, then hears Feather Witch in his head declare herself “Desti Anant, God Chosen” and telling him “You are mine. I am yours.” She demands the Errant summon and heal their Mortal Sword, who waits in her hand, adding she also has someone in mind for Shield Anvil (“T’orrud Segul”)—Udinaas. The Errant tells her to leave him alone and she replies she “compels” him, driving him to his knees as he recalls what he had forgotten—“the chains. The wills locked in an eternal tug of war.” Feather Witch informs him his plan worked; “blood now flows between the Tiles. Between them all. The Warrens . . . The Tiles now flow . . . These new Warrens.” She names some of their “flavors”—light and dark, shadow, and Chance—Oponn, whom she refers to as upstarts playing the Errant’s game. The Errant tells her that her demands are weakening him and he is vulnerable. She dismisses his fears at first, but when he tells her the Crippled God lies behind the Edur, she leaves him alone. He decides he erred and now has to make new plans.
Karsa beats one of the other challengers in a sparring. Samar Dev wonders about the silent Seguleh woman amongst the challengers. Her thoughts are interrupted by the sudden “shivering along the strands—the bones—buried beneath the flesh of this realm . . . and every other one.” She goes to her room and is met by Kuru Qan’s shade, who asks her to come heal Feather Witch. Samar refuses (recall she knows Feather Witch from the journey to Lether). When Qan is distracted by another “shiver,” Samar collects him in her knife.
Karsa enters, walking right through Samar’s magical wards. They discuss the spirits in Karsa’s sword (his two friends) and how his sword is a “warren within a weapon,” which Samar points out isn’t unique. Karsa responds by pointing to her own knife, a prison for ghosts. He sense she has bound one, something she’d said once she never did. She answers she felt the need out of survival. He leaves, telling her the Seguleh will fight him.
A crowd, including Veed and Icarium, has gathered to watch Karsa and the Seguleh fight. Samar notices Tomad Sengar in the crowd as well.
Karsa stomps to shake the ground and throw off the Seguleh’s balance, then breaks her wrists with a sword blow (the flat of the sword), then lifts her.
Icarium recalls meeting Karsa and being interrupted. Veed thinks it must have been Mappo who saw what would happen. He asks if Icarium would resume the duel and Icarium shakes his head no.
Tomad tells Samar it was unanimously decided that Karsa would face Rhulad last (part of the purpose of the challenges is entertainment, with the most challenging going last). Before leaving, Tomad says Karsa is superb, but will still die. Karsa puts the Seguleh down and looks around, but Icarium, much to Samar Dev’s relief, has already left. Karsa says Icarium “fled” and that when he finishes Rhulad he will seek out Icarium to finish their duel. Karsa plays with Samar and as she leaves she notes how his façade—“thick-skulled savage”—is at odds with his true cleverness.
Hannan Mosag travels in what he thinks is true Kurald Emurlahn, a place he has created in his mind, a place he is free of the Crippled God. He calls upon Mother Dark and Father Light to look on their children, on Emurlahn, and heal them. He thinks of how he sought the Throne of Shadow which he would then use to make Kurald Emurlahn strong and whole again, just as he would have used chaos (the power of the Crippled God) to do the same. He believes Rhulad ruined everything. An owl passes over, shocking Mosag, who thinks, “There is no one alive to claim that title. He [Brys] is dead. He was not even Tiste Edur.” He cries out that the choice should be his, that Mother Dark and Father Light should guide him to the Throne of Shadow, or else it will be Rhulad and the Crippled God. He has an offer, calling on the Andii and Liosan, saying the betrayals are done, that he pledges the Edur to alliance and asks for representatives from the other two. He then accepts the omen, agreeing it is not his choice, and accepting Brys as Mortal Sword of Emurlahn.
Mosag comes out of his trance as Bruthen Trana watches and waits. Mosag gives Trana the mission to find Brys, though he doesn’t name him for fear of tipping off the Crippled God, telling him to stop off to find Feather Witch first to get “an item.”
Tehol and Ublala skulk. Badly.
Bruthen Trana is amazed that Mosag can offer him hope, despite all Mosag’s crimes/sins—greed, ambition, betrayal—all of which make Trana want to strangle him. As he heads down under the Old Palace, he wonders who answered Mosag’s prayers. He nears Feather Witch and senses she had grown in power.
Trana brutally assaults Feather Witch and takes Brys’ finger, then leaves.
Tehol arrives back home after creating a diversion (not of his own making) to allow Ublala to try and reach Karsa. Bugg tells him Ublala wants to do so in order to learn if Karsa is a new god or ascendant. When Tehol says Tarthenol only worship what terrifies them and Karsa is just a warrior doomed to be killed by Rhulad, Bugg merely shrugs.
Ublala makes it to Samar Dev’s room and has her take him to Karsa. He kneels and calls Karsa “Pure One.” Karsa whacks him upside the head and tells him Toblakai kneel to no one. Ublala identifies himself as Tarthenal and Samar Dev explains they are “a mixed-blood remnant of a local Toblakai population.” When she says they are mostly vanished, Ublala corrects her, informing them they are defeated not vanished, and some still live on islands in the Draconean Sea. He turns and tells Karsa “Lead us War Leader.” Karsa tells Samar his declaration that he’d lead an army of his kind has started to come true. Ublala is stunned when he hears that Karsa can resist Letherii sorcery and Samar Dev tells him Karsa makes no empty promises. Karsa tells Ublala to gather their people from the islands and bring them here, to him, their Warleader. Ublala says the marks on Karsa’s face are “as shattered as the Tarthenal. As the Toblakai—broken, driven apart.” When Ublala says he has a secret of Rhulad to tell Karsa, Karsa orders Samar Dev out.
Bill’s Reaction to Chapter Eleven
I asked at the end of Chapter Ten if the slow pace in that chapter would continue or be smashed and I think we can see at the very start what the answer to that will be, as we return to a very minor character in a surprisingly long and uneventful chapter that plotwise doesn’t do much save set Old Hunch off on his mission (which can’t do much for plot since we don’t know what that mission is), show us some Edur in the area, and remind us that Twilight is heading out. Not complaining here, just pointing out that we’ve calmed down from that sudden spike in action from a few chapters ago, which if one thinks about it, one realizes was pretty necessary. We weren’t going to keep that pitch of excitement for another two-thirds of a book. So now instead we get a slower pace, a reintroduction of some characters, and lots of setting up of things to come.
I find it an interesting structural set-up in this chapter, as well, that we begin with Old Hunch considering “walk[ing] away from the weed-snagged statues in the overgrown glades. And maybe, even, away from the ancient blood of his heritage,” and end with another Tarthenol reclaiming his “ancient blood” via Karsa. Old Hunch, of course, doesn’t just walk away, and so the two—Hunch and Ublala are linked by both blood and structure and acceptance of responsibility. And look at that vision he has: “a visage of terrifying power. A mask crazed with cracks, a mask moments from shattering...” Another link—visual, linguistic.
While much of the Tehol scene, especially the start, is comic relief, note how it keeps the idea of Tarthenals in front of us. Perhaps this shift from Hunch to a scene with Ublala isn’t wholly coincidental.
In that same slow recap-catch-our-breath-and-set-up-the-future-events mode, we get this scene with Ormly and Rucket. We’re reminded that the collapse of Scale House might have repercussions and in fact, Ormly says it was planned for and is connected with something else. Or in his words: “We’re no closer to knowing what’ll happen when whatever it is happens, assuming we’ll even know it’s happening when it does.” As Buffy once said to Giles: “Gee, could you vague that up a little more?”
We also get a reminder that Tehol and Bugg are hoarding coin and that the economy is teetering, and that both the Patriotists and the Liberty Consign are seeking out the instigator of the imminent collapse.
The Errant’s scorn at Mael’s possible motivation—“Friendship toward a pathetic mortal”—doesn’t exactly speak well to the benevolent impact on people if the Errant becomes more involved in things.
And who are those abusing Mael’s power? I can think of one specific one....
Here’s another interesting line: “War among the gods, but was the battle line so simply drawn as it seemed?” We’ve had intimations of this before.
And then another plot tease—the fissures in the sea spirit’s encasing prison of ice.
Note how quickly the Errant rushes off to Feather Witch. Is this because he just got his great idea (“usurped, usurped, now there’s an interesting notion. Gods at war. Yes, possibly”) or is the Ceda right when he suggests the Errant has been infected by the ambition and lust and anger of the sea spirit?
I have to say, for a “hidden lair,” Feather Witch could have done better. The Errant finds her there, the Ceda finds her there, and later Bruthen finds her there. Not the best spot.
I know the Errant has been around for a long time, and Paran is a newbie, but if the Errant does indeed set himself against the Master of the Deck, is anyone thinking the Errant wins that?
A few unpacking questions about the interesting conversation between the Ceda and the Errant:
- What alliances does the Ceda think will be shattered?
- Why does the Errant say that the alliances already are?
- Is the Errant for or against the Crippled God?
- Is the Errant including himself as an Elder God?
- What “enemy” does he see divided?
- When he says “it is not the Elder Gods who so hunger to destroy the Fallen One,” who does he think are so hungry?
- What does the Ceda think the Elder Gods would “understand” that would make them want to destroy the Fallen One?
- What does the Ceda mean when he bemoans K’rul’s “idiotic nostalgia”?
- What has the Ceda learned by being dead: “The paths I have wandered...”
I have to admit, I have little sympathy for either of these two when the Errant and Feather Witch are going at each other. And I take some glee in the two being bound to each other, as they seem to deserve each other somewhat. So now we’ve got Feather Witch as Destriant to the Errant, and wanting to make Brys the Mortal Sword and Udinaas the Shield Anvil. Anybody see that playing out that way?
“The Errant, one hand outstretched, lone eye struggling to make sense of a battered, broken perspective.”
Hmm, literal, metaphor, literal, metaphor....
Like Karsa, I remember being shocked when Samar Dev imprisoned Kuru Qan. And I didn’t like her very much for it (nor do I like her doing it upon a reread). On the other hand, I do so like her dry humor in this scene:
“I need your help.”
“Seems a little late for that.”
Or “She [Feather Witch] gives witches a bad name.”
Icarium is certainly getting built up in this book—the earthquake, Veed’s statements, Vaun’s statements, now Samar Dev’s feelings about what he will do to Lether. The question is...are all these things misdirections or will Icarium fulfill them?
So Brys is in a lot of demand, isn’t he? Feather Witch wants him as her Mortal Sword. Mosag thinks Mother Dark and Father Light want him as Emurlahn’s Mortal Sword. I think whether one, both, or neither of those ends up happening, it’s become pretty clear we’re going to see Brys again.
Feather Witch is having a bit of a bad day today....
So we began with a Tarthenal on a mission and we end with a Tarthenal given a mission. Karsa gathering an army is a bit of a scary thought.
For a chapter that doesn’t move forward a lot, save for the Errant’s plotline, there are a lot of event that are set up:
- Hunch’s mission.
- Ublala’s mission.
- The idea of Brys returning.
- Icarium doing something big and bad.
- Karsa facing Rhulad. (I know Karsa says he will face Icarium next, but does anyone see that being set up in actuality?)
- The fall of Scale House being linked to something big about to happen.
- A possible “battle” between the Errant and Paran.
- The possible escape of the sea spirit encased in ice.
Okay folks, Amanda should be back for our next one. Something I know we’re all looking forward to. Sorry if this one seemed a little sparse—I’m battling a bad case of the flu here in Rochester (not great timing, it being the first week of school).