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 Fifteen 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.
Tomad’s wife Uruth upbraids him for not seeing Rhulad and not helping him get out from under Triban Gnol. When he says their kin are weak and lost as Rhulad, she informs him of Bruthen Trana’s disappearance, adding that a K’risnan told him Trana was killed by Karos Invictad or Gnol. She thinks the K’risnan was lying, however, in order to gauge their reactions and in hopes of creating a distraction to allow Trana to do whatever it is he is doing. They agree that Lether has conquered the conquerors. When Tomad says some Edur are returning home, Uruth wonders if instead they are being killed and suggests that Mosag is the Edur’s only hope of survival, even if it means conspiring against their own son (whom both agree is insane).
The Errant enters the throne room unseen to eavesdrop on Gnol and Rhulad. Watching, he muses on the concept of power and recalls Mael saying the only “redemption” in power was that it will always eventually destroy itself and then the observers can enjoy the surprise of those who had wielded it. The Errant, though, thinks he doesn’t have Mael’s patience or temper then makes his way through thoughts of several ascendants and their relation to power: Rake, Draconus, Osserc, Kilmandaros. His thoughts are interrupted by Rhulad’s anger in learning that the Sepik Edur have been kept in the trench-pens at Tomad’s order and that they’ve been dying there in great numbers. Rhulad demands his mother and father come to him and Gnol leaves him alone to summon them. The Errant listens to Rhulad’s poignant cries and wishes, and for a moment thinks of stepping out to speak to him, but then Rhulad’s voice turns darker and his anger rises.
Sirryn Kana, a Letherii, arrives with a squad to escort Tomad and Uruth to Rhulad and Uruth stands up to them, making it clear they go on their terms and threatening to kill them with Shadow if they don’t sheathe their swords.
Karsa is straining at the restrictions the Letherii are placing on him (not wandering around with his sword). He and Samar discuss his killing of Binadas.
Karsa bemoans the long lack of a woman’s touch and heads out to distract himself from his thoughts, shrugging off the magical wards meant to prevent his exit.
Tehol and Bugg meet with Rucket (in illusory disguise). They inform her that they are close to pulling the economic plug. Innuendo and entendres ensue.
Taralack Veed can’t get an old Gral legend out of his head as he walks to Letheras with Icarium. The Gral attacked the fallen remnants of a hill people, the Tasse, but before they killed the last child of the sole village, seven hounds appeared along with a man speaking the language of the First Empire (the Gral were part of the Empire’s armies). He took the last child, while Sidilack—the leader of the Gral raiders—felt a permanent stain on his soul at the extinction of the Tasse. Veed tells Icarium he worries and Icarium says he feels something “awaits me,” something beside Rhulad. The two discuss time, Icarium’s obsession with it, his believe that it would help him “unlock” himself.
Samar Dev and Senior Assessor observe Icarium and Veed as they walk. She says Icarium will die soon, but Senior Assessor believes otherwise. Samar notes the crowd’s tension, and Senior Assessor says it is due to an impending financial apocalypse which has been purposely created. They see Karsa appear and notice Icarium.
Sirryn Kanar watches as Tomad and Uruth are made to wait to see Rhulad and thinks of the Edur hypocrisy in detesting the Letherii but becoming like them in their victory. Rhulad allows them to enter.
Rhulad accuses Tomad of betraying their own people (the Sepik Edur) and Tomad tell him they are “pathetic . . . Their spirits crushed . . . a mockery,” and says he has avenged that crime perpetrated by the humans. Rhulad demands to know where his will was in all this and as Tomad and Uruth grow anxious, the Errant senses Triban Gnol enjoying the scene. Uruth asks how are they to know his will when Gnol keeps the Edur from Rhulad. Rhulad refuses to listen, saying he knows they lie to him, as Mosag lies, as all the Edur do. He commands them to free the Sepik refugees and says they (Tomad and Uruth) will spend two months in the dungeons. The Errant is shocked and as Tomad and Uruth are taken away, he thinks, “the end had begun.”
Karsa grabs Icarium and knocks out Veed. When Karsa mentions his worry that Icarium might kill Rhulad first, Icarium tells Karsa he’s welcome to the Emperor. Karsa examines Icarium closely and sees something in there to convince him Icarium is telling the truth. Soldiers arrive and Karsa tells them he’s going back to the compound on his own. Icarium spots Senior Assessor in the crowd and asks Samar to tell him he is deluded in his worship of Icarium. Her statement that the monk’s people remember Icarium catches his interest and he thinks of speaking to him later.
Sirryn Kanar revels in the imprisonment of Tomad and Uruth.
Feather Witch, who had been nearby, eavesdrops on Tomad and Uruth as they discuss their need for and distrust of Mosag and their realization that Rhulad hadn’t sounded insane. The two also discuss the Sepik refugees and Uruth says Rhulad had a point. Feather Witch worries about Mosag allying with the Edur women and decides to speak to the Errant and “force some concessions.”
Mosag tries to sanctify a hidden, belowground chamber to Shadow, free of the corruption of the Crippled God’s chaotic power. When the act almost kills him, he calls on Father Shadow and power, “pure and resolute,” suddenly floods into him and he believes Father Shadow still lives and offered Mosag a promise. Later he brings Bruthen Trana there and performs a ritual (with Trana’s consent) to send his spirit in search of Brys. While Trana is in a trance, Mosag searches his body for some artifact of power he can sense, but unable to find it he thinks Trana somehow took it with him. He finds Nisall’s confession and wonders what Trana was going to do with it. Then, saying it is needed to fully sanctify the temple, he stabs Trana in the heart.
Bugg stares as Karsa passes by and Tehol introduces himself (all of his self) to Icarium.
Bugg follows Karsa and his escort as Karsa goes to the Sepik Edur. Karsa tells them their kin have refused them and cast them out, that he offers everything in vengeance for what was done to them, finishing by telling them their chains are gone. Bugg thinks that is not what they needed to hear and so he calls upon his power (telling his worshipers he will have his way) and tells the Sepik people he is sending them to a haven and then he does.
Karsa thinks of his meeting with Icarium and of how in Icarium’s face he had recognized Toblakai blood.
A Letherii corporal arrives and reports to Triban Gnol that a fleet has arrived on their shores, burned their ships, and are clearly intent on war. As the corporal describes how his squad was ambushed, Gnol notes that the attackers centered on the Edur. But when Sirryn says it appears the war is apparently only with the Edur, Gnol says that is irrelevant, as is the self-evident fact that they’ll defeat the invaders. He sends Sirryn to call Karos Invictad to a meeting at the palace. Gnol thinks of how he poured the poison into the wine that killed King Ezgara and the First Eunuch, wishing Nisall had also drunk but upset that the poison had killed Brys.
Amanda's Reaction to Chapter Fifteen
This is a very different picture of domestic bliss between Tomad Sengar and Uruth than was once presented to us, before the Tiste Edur went to war with the Letherii, and their sons were lost to them. Uruth’s taunting is sharp and nasty (“Ah, so you think me indifferent to the spilling of Edur blood by Letherii hands” [...] “Indifferent? No, husband. Helpless. Will you interrupt me yet again?”), but Tomad does not garner any respect through his attitude towards her and the situation.
At least they are both sharp to the idea that they are probably being manipulated here into exacerbating the tension between the Edur and the Letherii (which, honestly, has probably been too easy to create, thanks to the mad Edur on the throne!)
This is especially upsetting in a scene that is hard to read: “...hanging from an iron hook, there was a bundle of fetishes. Feathers, strips of sealskin, necklaces of strung shells, shark teeth. The bedraggled remnants of three children - all that remained to remind them of their lives.”
I do like that, regardless of Trull’s Shorning, they’ve still kept something of him.
At least some of the Edur absolutely realise what has happened to them in the indolent atmosphere of Letheras: “We now sit in the palace of the Lether Empire, rotting in the filth of Letherii excess. We have no defence against indolence and apathy, against greed and decadence.”
I really don’t think approaching Hannan Mosag is the way to go.
So, a comparison between the Errant and Oponn. The Errant just seems to be more malevolent, more tricksy, more willing to take on the mortals in a nasty manner. Oponn seems more naive. Is this the difference between an Elder God, who has seen mortals come and go, to a younger entity, still trying to find their way and place in the pantheon?
Poor Rhulad! Even if he were not in a state of madness, talk of revenue and the running of an empire just isn’t what he was bred for, this young warrior. Remember him swaggering through the beginning of Midnight Tides, eager to be blooded in battle and mocking his elder brothers? That is far from this situation, where the Letherii are pressing him down with all their bureaucracy and discussion of debts: “...piled up in droning cadence like the gathering of forces preparing to lay siege.”
And I don’t like the fact the Errant looks on this plan with some admiration. Not that I like him much anyway! At least the Errant recognises with distaste his attitude: “How sordid have my tastes become?”
Sometimes Erikson’s prose is dense, but sometimes it soars: “Sunken eyes wherein resided the despairing penury of his spirit, a spirit that at times pushed close to those glittering dark prisms and let loose its silent howl.”
See, this is not the Bugg we know and love: “I have naught of Mael’s capacity for cold, depthless regard. Nor his legendary patience. Nor, for that matter, his temper.” Is it just that the Errant only knew Mael before he started to step into events? Or is that just the perspective he has from Mael’s dealings with him?
Nice to step into the Errant’s thoughts regarding the Elder Gods and the way that they react to “the folly of those who would reign in the many worlds.” Again, little hints about Anomander Rake, Osserc, and the nature of their conflict.
Each scene featuring Rhulad becomes more and more twisted and poignant. Especially his plaintive: “Where is Trull?” It is particularly galling to see him played so easily by Gnol, because he has surrounded himself by Letherii and none of the Edur can find a way through to him. And what on earth will he do when he finds out his parents are seeking to involve Hannan Mosag...?
Ooh, what an echo of the coins that are pressed into Rhulad’s flesh when we see Karsa mending his armour! “He had gathered a few hundred holed coins - made of tin and virtually worthless - and was clearly planning to use them to amend the armour.”
Doesn’t Samar Dev show innate understanding of the situation in Letheras when she says: “Then the last thing you want is to be emperor” when Karsa suggests that being emperor would mean the Letherii left him be?
This exchange between Samar Dev and Karsa is a real highlight of the chapter so far, especially when she points out to Karsa exactly why Binadas might have assailed Karsa with magic.
Awww, Karsa is lonely for a woman’s touch! “Lacking love, the warrior seeks violence.”
Hmm, I don’t like the “fat woman” illusion thing that Rucket has going on, honestly. I don’t think it adds anything particularly to the tale. Intriguing to hear that Tehol and Bugg are about to unleash chaos and anarchy on the continent by putting their diabolical financial mastermind into play. And who ever dreamt that a fantasy epic would be forwarded in plot by the use of extreme economics?
Is that child taken by Dessimbelackis someone I should be remembering? “Echoes of the child, the hissing, less-than-human creature who had been drawn into the shadows by a god - to what end?”
Is Icarium indicating that he believes in pre-destined fate here? When he talks about that river representing time: “We may seek to step out from the river and so choose our own path, but no matter how straight it seems, we will, in the end, return to that river.”
I really, really like the Senior Assessor - and he certainly does his job when he explains the impending financial collapse that is about to occur in Letheras.
Damn... is that Karsa/Icarium showdown going to happen? *reads on frantically*
This encounter between Rhulad and his parents makes me feel very upset. He is blinded by events. They have mistreated their fellow Edur. But if they were just allowed to speak, without the insinuating presence of the Letherii, they might find a way from the darkness. Instead, well, Rhulad really gives the word for war to begin.
Hmm, what exactly is it that passes between Karsa and Icarium? What does Icarium manage to prove to Karsa, causing him to say: “Icarium, I witness”? What word will Icarium be true to? I am confused by this encounter! It was also vaguely anti-climatic, but I’m glad that neither of these titans had to die!
I recall that in previous books there was talk about the “fullest unveiling” of various Warrens and I can’t remember if we learnt what this was. Here when Hannan Mosag does it, it seems to indicate a reaching for the very purest part of the Warren... am I close?
Hannan Mosag had created a new Temple of Shadow thanks to the influence of Father Scabandari who, despite being trapped in a Finnest (or certainly that was the last time we saw him) is able to put his stamp on proceedings.
Ack, and just after I start to think that Hannan Mosag has the best interests of the Edur at heart and he is, in fact, changing his ways, he decides to go and stab Bruthen Trana through the heart. *sighs*
You know something? Icarium and Tehol as a two-some sounds VERY appealing!
Bugg/Mael shows once again that he is not the person that the Errant marks him as, by taking this mob of Sepik Edur and sending them somewhere so that they can heal. After the rescue of Janath, all we’re seeing of Mael right now is compassion.
So here we learn that Icarium is part-Jaghut and part-Toblakai; who then are his mother and father? [Bill: We know the latter, not the former.]
And, finally to end the chapter, Gnol is informed of the Malazans’ arrival and the fact that they are on the hunt for the Edur.
Up and down chapter. Some great moments—chief amongst them the encounter between Icarium and Karsa, despite the low-key aspect of it—and some real lows, such as what happens between Rhulad and his parents.
Bill's Reaction to Chapter Fifteen
The Sengar family has such an aura of Greek tragedy to it. We met them in such high position: well-regarded, advisors to rulers, teachers of others, considered great warriors, wealthy, powerful in physical, political, social, and mystical ways. And then we see internal dissension, love gone bad, ambition, power, distrust, relationships riven, brother set against brother, husband against wife, father against son and mother against son. Throw a bunch of togas on them and we’re all set. We’ve even got them mixed up with gods and prophecies.
And a nice metaphor for this family in the home with its cracks and leaks and stains, the plaster “buckled, undermined.”
And how far indeed have they fallen for Uruth to tell Tomad she’s at least happy he’s not “stupid”? Ouch.
Interesting how Tomad muses on how Rhulad would imprison or kill them for having Trull’s belongings in their home and that’s how they end up, though for unexpected reasons on their part.
It’s a little throwaway line, but have we heard ever before that it was the Sengars who drew first Tiste Andii blood back in the day? I didn’t recall that. Greek tragedy indeed.
That’s a pretty grim view of religion via the Errant—that the worshippers drag their gods down (remember the literal display of that with Fener) into the dirty human world, sullying the sacred with the human focus on acquisition of wealth, with the human desire for domination and power, the human love of being placed in the role of judge (executioner, as well, perhaps).
I like the little bit of semi-inside humor as the Errant places himself between the two tapestries in which one could find pictures of him.
So I know I’ve said repeatedly that in my mind compassion and empathy are the major themes of this series. And here we have the Errant musing on how power is the antithesis of those concepts, the “abnegation” of them. Which might seem to argue then that our heroes, if there are any in this series in that usage, are those who not only evince compassion and empathy, but perhaps who also refuse to wield power? Or will give it up once it has helped them achieve whatever goals their compassion and empathy led them to? If power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, if power cares nothing for reason, is it possible to wield it to do good and then release it before it corrupts?
You’re right to note that the Mael of the “cold, depthless regard” (I love the echo of “deathless” in that as well) is not the Bugg we know and love, but I think it is mentioned that he has been “awakened” to compassion and to action.
Rake, Draconus, and Osserc, not to mention Killy. Wow, reading this is just so different with the prequel now out. But it’s interesting that Rake does in some ways refuse power—he refuses his worshipers, he refuses a grander scale of power. And the Errant seems to imply Draconus might have done the same, might have given up his “tyranny” had he lived to do so.
That’s a strong concrete image, Rhulad in the tower watching bloated corpses floating by. How many must he have seen to describe it so?
This is one of the few times I think I feel some good feelings for the Errant, as he seems truly moved by Rhulad’s situation. When he mulls over for a moment the idea of stepping forward and speaking “truth” to Rhulad, I find myself going, “yes, yes, do it!” Though of course, I know he doesn’t.
And how sad to think of how badly Rhulad wants to “talk” to his parents: “The three of us. It has been so long since we did that.” And then to see what that talk eventually entails.
And talk about a change in tone—from that poignant blatant need of the youngest child for his parents to (speaking of Nisall and Udinaas): “I will see the skin flayed from your writhing bodies.” And note the focus when he prepares to meet his parents—he rights the sword, settles himself onto the throne—he more firmly grasps the symbols of his power. And we know where that leads, based on what the Errant has been thinking.
I’m glad you noted that little tidbit about Karsa mending his armor with coins. A nice analogue indeed, or mirror image, to Rhulad. And maybe a pointing of crossing paths going in opposite directions? Rhulad losing his coins and Karsa putting his on?
I would say that nothing sums up Karsa’s growth since we first met him than this line: “He had come to understand his own traps.” The rest of this scene adds to the depiction of his growth, his maturity—the way he has a “turmoil of the soul” (hard to picture our first Karsa doing so), he speaks with his own self, an inner, wiser voice.
I can see your point easily enough regarding Rucket, Amanda, though I confess I chuckled more than once in this scene.
And I agree that I like the uniqueness of using economics as not only a weapon in a story but as a major plot point, as well as a means of considering broader, more relevant to our time themes as well. It’s rare that economics plays such a central role, despite the obvious ways in which it does in reality. Mieville does a lot with it, as does Daniel Abraham, two of my favorite authors.
As for the Tasse girl, Amanda, I’m pretty sure it isn’t something you should be “remembering” in that there has been a connection before. And to be honest, I don’t recall it playing a role coming up in that direct kind of way. But as I often say, while this is a reread for me, I make no claims to remembering a heck of a lot. Anyone want to chime in?
That said, the scene is a bit murky in a few ways: Is it Dessimbelackis? He’s associated with the Deragoth. And this is his area. But are those the Deragoth or are they the Hounds of Shadow? (The clearing is “swallowed in shadows” not darkness.) Why would he order the Gral in to deal with the Tasse knowing how weak they were and then save the girl? Or did he order them in? We’re told the Gral were in the army but it’s not exactly made clear that these orders came from Dessim. I think Dessimbelackis makes the most sense; I’m just not wholly comfortable with it. [Amanda: I thought it was Dessimbelackis because he speaks the language of the First Empire, and I seem to remember that is who he is associated with.]
As for the Tasse, the only group I know of with a connection to the Deragoth are the Eres—back when we saw them domesticated by the Deragoth. There are some similarities of description—tall, lithe and the “dried grass” is often a connection with the Eres’al. But the Tasse seem to lack the fur/hair of the Eres and one would think the Gral would make note of the fur and the heavy brow, so I’m not sure of this either. If I had to hazard a guess, it’d be that the archaeologist Erikson is using the bush (as opposed to the tree) concept and so these are an Eres-like offshoot evolutionary wise with some characteristics but not all, and some changes as well over time and due to adapting to an environment that is “not their home.”
As for the girl, as I said, I don’t recall her showing up in direct fashion. But one wonders if this scene is here simply as an analogue for Veed’s position or as a plot point. If a plot point, then one has to ask what connections can be made. If the only connection is the Eres, and what we have is a young female, then the only plot point that connects would seem to be the Eres’al. Or the Eres’al female child? And if one checks out the Eres’al storyline, there’s a connection to the Nerek and how their mother walks through time in search of something always—one could see how being the last of one’s kind might make one needy.
Now my head hurts.
We’ve had lots of intimations of big things doing with Icarium and now we’ve got him thinking that something is coming to him. And it may (or may not of course) be coupled with time. Wait for it. It’s an interesting closing line of Veed’s though—what is he worried Icarium might break? Time itself? Possibility?
That description of the room and of Rhulad at the start of the meeting does not bode well for his parents, had anyone thought maybe they’d all start to a’huggin’. Smoke, flickering light, a “battle” in Rhulad’s head, “blood,” “littered with fallen heroes,” “blinding fog,” “stained wealth,” “lacquered eyes and scarred flesh.” Nope, not good. And then he is hard—“carved” and “sculpted solid,” and note how he’s basically attached to that throne now—that symbol of “power” that corrupts so, that lacks all empathy. Powerful language in this moment, though I will say the use of the word “fascism” stuck out to me, broke the fantasy suspension for me a bit as it’s such a this-world word, if that makes sense.
I knew what would happen here, but I remember on my first read being surprised by this move. I hadn’t expected so much a loving scene, but I also hadn’t expected Rhulad to toss his folks into prison. Did I mention Greek tragedy?
So the question in the Mosag scene that appears the primary one at this point is... where did that power come flooding from? Mosag thinks it comes from Father Shadow. Can we trust him on this? If so, what does that mean for those seeking Scabandari’s spirit that it retains power like this? On the other hand, if that spirit is contained, then what power just entered into Mosag and for what purpose? I think Mosag is one of the more interesting characters in this plotline. Part of you (or me at least) can see where he wants to go, can see some good in the big picture intent, but his ruthlessness, ambition, willingness to make deals with the devil, and sacrifice Trana, certainly puts him on the bad guy shelf for me. [Amanda: I equate him with Ozymandias from Watchmen, actually - someone who is prepared to kill thousands to save millions.]
Oh, thank you for Bugg. Especially coming after this moment with Mosag. We go from he who uses power, even thinking they’re doing well (and really, most bad guys do think that I’d say), utterly without compassion, empathy, or conscience to the opposite—one who uses a power that has little to no sympathy or conscience and bends it to his “unseemly” end (unseemly because its goal is compassion, that which the power wants nothing to do with). Compassion. Empathy. Power in service to both. Power in service to life. Does this contradict the Errant’s earlier thoughts?
Then back to someone who wields power much more like Mosag (and more like many humans sadly)—Gnol. Who will kill those whom he no longer has a need for regardless of their past loyalty (the squad of men) to gain his larger, “good” purpose. So far the bad guys seem to be doing most of the wielding of power in this chapter.
And note that focus on Brys at the end. Hmmm....
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.