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 Fourteen 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.
Hedge and Emroth walk a plain of ice littered with Jaghut detritus. Emroth says many Jaghut were killed here, though there are no bodies. They find the bodies surrounding a throne of ice on which is a Jaghut corpse. Emroth tells Hedge “the spirit left” the body, adding the Throne of Ice was and is dying and so there was nothing left to rule. Hedge asks who it is and when she doesn’t answer, he believes he figures it out anyway.
As they journey, Onrack revels in his newly returned life and Trull watches in wonder and joy. The three discuss a pack of Ay trailing them and Onrack says the Ay have seen similar creatures before, and also that they await Onrack’s of a deadly cat—an emlava (sabertooth-like). Quick Ben and Trull say they’ll help and Onrack says they can go with him, but they can’t fight. They reach the emlava’s lair and are joined by the Ay pack. The emlava is killed and Onrack learns it as female, which makes them wonder if the male is still around. Then they hear the emlava’s offspring in the cave.
Wither asks Udinaas how he knows what he does, what he dreams of. Udinaas doesn’t answer. The two discuss what seems to have happened to the Short-Tail city they’re moving through—something large from the sky crashed into it. Ruin tells how the K’Chain molted and used their skin as parchment. Clip, explaining how Ruin knows so much of his enemy, says Ruin treated with the Nah’ruk, but Ruin interrupts.
Seren wonders why Ruin led them north instead of just tearing through the people and obstacles Mosag and Rhulad put before him. Seren hears a voice that identifies itself as “Mockra” which “explains” (and I use that term loosely) K’rul’s creation of the warrens. Afterward, she and Udinaas appear to have some shared knowledge.
Twilight (Yan Tovis), Yedan Derryg, and the others arrive at Road’s Eng. She tells Derryg to gather the witches and warlocks. Before going to do so, he asks her not to send the Shake to war. She enters the old tavern to find most of the witches and others already inside. Pully tells her Shake is on the island thinking he will be Rise (King of the Shake). Twilight says they will sail to the isle and then denies them the ritual that they’d been planning, telling them the Old Ways failed the Shake and that she is not her mother—she plans to not only be Queen but rule. She thinks to herself this is the beginning of a long power struggle and that the shoulderfolk will plot her downfall.
Fiddler wakes and wonders why the country that they’ve been moving through for days has been so empty. Bottle warns him against doing a Deck reading, then points out nobody has seen Gesler for a while. Stormy doesn’t know where he is either.
Gesler wanders through the ruins and thinks of how he can’t forget his dead—Truth, Pella, Coltaine, the dead of Aren. Stormy finds him and they talk of the wars they’ve fought and avoided.
Fiddler’s squad (Koryk, Smiles, Bottle, etc.) wake, banter, prepare to head out.
Corabb has been told to stay close and keep Bottle safe. He thinks he has started a new life now, one with the Malazans. Bottle asks him why he didn’t go with Leoman, then tells him this land, Lether, is filled with ghosts because it is “deathless.”
Trantalo Kendar, a young Edur, rides with his older brother commander and a small group of Edur warriors to Boaral Keep (where Twilight had ridden to find the Shake). They find the keep deserted then are attacked by Hellian’s squad and all are killed.
Hellian has her group take the horses despite Keneb having told them to foot it the whole way. She plans to keep ahead of the “bad news as long as we can” on their way to Letheras, with plenty of stops in taverns along the way.
Faradan’s group comes across a wayhouse. Beak uses magic to let them steal horses with no worry about being caught then or later. He feels he’s falling in love with Sort because of how she actually listens to him.
Throatslitter, watching events in Brullyg’s chamber, recalls his father’s stories of how Kellanved had conquered Li Heng using the T’lan Imass. He thinks of how all that power means nothing if one can still be killed by a knife in the back. He remembers his training as an assassin and thinks how all his old masters had been killed by the Claw at Surly’s command. He had evaded the Claw and thinks others did as well. He plans on following this army “for now.” Looking at the others, he notes Blistig’s “spiritual exhaustion” and thinks Tavore should get rid of him, then wonders how many other soldiers were made not just hard but “brittle” by Tavore’s “unwitnessed” line, like Blistig. Shurq asks Tavore why the Malazan Empire is invading Lether and Tavore tells her the enemy is the Edur only and the Malazans wouldn’t mind if the Letherii revolted. Shurq explains why they won’t and the Malazan grimly realize they’ve sent the marines into a war thinking they’d find allies but instead they’ll find twice as many enemies.
Amanda’s Reaction to Chapter Fourteen
It is interesting seeing Hedge’s thoughts on how he’s changed since death and the nature of the empathy he has—the fact it’s changed because it’s no longer tactile and is, rather, empathy from a distance.
Linked to that, this is an enormously sad line: “But for that revelation his eyes were blind, the senses of touch and sound were deceits, and he was as lost as an echo.”
Hedge is clearly blisteringly angry about the way that the Jaghut were treated here by the T’lan Imass by the way he makes that pointed remark regarding one place of slaughter looking much like the next. The whole Jaghut/T’lan Imass thing—we’ve come such a LONG way since Gardens of the Moon, where we were so scared by the awakening of the Jaghut Tyrant and believing them to be the utter villains of the piece.
So, the figure on the throne: “He collected the bodies, then sat down and just died with them. Gave up. No thoughts of vengeance, no dreams of resurrection. Here’s your dread enemy, Emroth.” However, I suspect her reaction is Erikson’s pointed reminder that characters in this series often assume and believe things that really are not true: “More than you realise.”
I notice from Bill’s reaction that he wants to see me have at the Jaghut on the throne! Okay, so, we’re not sure he’s quite dead, just that his spirit has moved on. Hedge asks, “So, did that Jaghut die, or did he move away?” This suggests that we might have seen the Jaghut in another form somewhere in the books. My first thought was that this was the famous Gothos, but then Hedge’s thoughts here crash through that idea. “When you are the last of your kind, and you release that last breath, then it is the breath of extinction. And it rides the wind. Every wind.” The breath of extinction? As in, death? Or should I capitalise that as Death? Am I close or am I plucking ideas out of my ass and I was closer with Gothos?
This is a very lovely switch from Hedge’s reflections on the loss of his senses to the way in which Onrack has regained his. I do particularly love that moment when he is astonished to find himself scratched after walking through a thorny bush.
The whole section is written beautifully (almost so that you forget the way the Imass treated the Jaghut, right? I mean, Onrack is one of that race who persecuted the Jaghut—but, right now, you want nothing but to smile along with him as he rediscovers life. Ever the conflicted reader over here!)
I sort of respect Quick Ben a wee bit more for not being automatically sucked into the grace and warmth of Onrack’s character. I mean, sure, he liked Onrack well enough as a T’lan Imass, so why like him more just because he’s alive now?
The way that Quick Ben describes the Ay? I can easily see him in that role. “I’d wager they don’t go for the kill until the odds are well in their favour.” Quick Ben does like keeping to the shadows until he knows the nature of the game he’s playing.
Just a quick ugh at this: “A male by the flavour of its piss.”
I do love the fact that they expected the cat to be the same size as those they’d seen previously and are utterly shocked by how big it is. You know something? I think one of the themes within these Malazan books is assumption. These characters are always assuming things and, half the time when things go wrong, it’s because someone has made the wrong assumption.
Awww, baby kitties! And I like that Onrack is thinking about changing the past in this new realm: “But this realm—it is a gift. All that was lost, because of our thoughtless acts, now lives again. Here. I wonder, can things be different?”
Yes, I do like Udinaas during the section, the fact that he sweeps across all Wither’s assumptions that he has been given this knowledge by explaining how exactly he realised what had caused the death of this K’Chain Nah’ruk city. Sometimes you just have to keep your eyes open and work your brain.
Ooh, little hint about Silchas there—he parlayed with the Nah’ruk... Will be interesting to get more of that.
I see that Seren is starting to suspect Silchas Ruin of deceit, and of not doing what he said he would. That won’t end well, I think. They are fair thoughts, as well—if he can change into a dragon, if he has no compulsion about killing, why is he allowing himself to be steered, first by the Edur and then by Clip?
Hmm, I think I’ll be needing some help with the Seren sequence here, as she gets taken over by Mockra. So, first, is it actually Mockra talking to her? Are Warrens that sentient? It’s certainly the first time that we’ve seen anything like this. What I think I’m getting from this is that K’rul could not create the Warrens alone. He needed someone else. “K’rul could not act alone in this sacrifice, lest he fill every warren with despair.” What I can’t work out is whether this is talking about Icarium, who we know approached K’rul when he was first producing the idea of the Warrens. Or whether it is a new player. “Perhaps—the fact of the other is ever turned away—to all but K’rul himself. This is how it must be. The dialogue, then, is the feeding of power. Power unimaginable, power virtually omnipotent, unassailable...so long as that other’s face remains...turned away.” Who is this other?
Hmm, I just can’t see where the Shake fit into the story right now. These ancient people, taking back their authority, not knowing yet whether they’ll be wading into the war or waiting for the Malazans/Letherii/Edur to destroy each other. I’m not sure I like them much as a thread to this story. I hope that changes, being as a few of you have now mentioned that I should expect to see a lot more of them!
Assumptions again! “Let’s forget these damned Edur and go ahead and start killing Letherii.”
“Farmers and swineherds, Koryk? We need them on our side, remember?” I guess that is also a timely reminder that not all of the Letherii are like those who live within Letheras. And some of them have been enslaved by the Edur, as Udinaas was. Man, it’s hard to keep the sides straight—although easier when the Malazans come ashore, because we KNOW we like them. However, I don’t want to see them killing the wrong people!
I think this is my fave part of dialogue from this section:
“Not a relevant point here, Stormy.”
“So you say,” the corporal said, shaking himself then turning away. “‘Not a relevant point here,’” he mimicked under his breath.
“I can still hear you, Corporal.”
It just says everything about these guys to me.
Gesler’s litany of everything he’s seen is a sobering reminder that even those who don’t have a huge part to play—or haven’t so far—have now gathered a remarkable amount of events behind them. I like the fact that he has managed to retain a little curiosity about things around him, rather than just walking through his life now as through a play with all his lines mapped out.
Now this is a couple of Malazans who have thought about the fact that the Bonehunters need action, because so far they still haven’t seen battle properly. Something to bear in mind, I think.
“We could start a forest fire,” Koryk said.
“But we happen to be in it,” Tarr pointed out.
“It was just an idea.”
It’s neat the way that Corabb sees through Bottle’s innocence about putting his rats onto the Froth Wolf, tells him straight out it’s so that he can spy on the Adjunct.
Couldn’t be plainer here that both sides are as bad as each other: “The ghastly wounds, the suppurating burns and limbs withered from Letherii sorcery. And, walking the fields of battle in search of the wounded, he had seen the same horrid destruction among dead and dying Letherii soldiers.”
Once again, Erikson manages to take us right into the heart of the lives of people who are destined not to make it. Here we see Trantalo and Estav, and he manages to make us feel for these brothers in the space of a couple of pages. These Edur, who, thanks to assumptions and miscommunications and I don’t know what else, are now the target for the Malazans.
Beak really is phenomenal—the things he’s able to drop into his speech, like: “They call it Kurald Emurlahn, but these ones here, well, there skuzzy foam on that blue, like what sits on waves outside a harbour. That’s chaotic power. Sick power.” Does this mean that all the Edur on this continent are being affected by the fact that Rhulad is under the command of the Crippled God?
Beak is also terribly scary, with ideas like this: “I just told a captain what to do! And she’s doing it! Does that mean she loves me right back?” You could completely see him accidentally raping or killing Faradan Sort, because of his mistaken beliefs. He is so childlike and reminds me entirely of Lenny from Of Mice and Men—the same immense power trapped in the mind of a child.
Look at this—Hood is represented by the White Candle to Beak, and then: “Hood. Death, a cold, cold place.” An icy place? A Jaghut-type place?
I like the continuing references to the daft stirrups used! “What fool invented these?”
I do think that Throatslitter is one to keep our eyes on—he has a lot of knowledge about Surly, the Claw, and thinks this: “Still, the Adjunct has asked for loyalty. For service to an unknown cause. We are to be unwitnessed, she said. That suits me fine. It’s how assassins conduct their trade.”
“Gods below, she’s flirting with this sweet-scented corpse.” I have really enjoyed seeing Shurq Elalle interact with the Malazan soldiers thus far.
And FINALLY we have someone who can lay it all out in front of the Malazans, let them know exactly what the state of play is on the Letherii continent, and it gives us this tremendous final realization: “The whole damned empire is going to rise up all right. To tear out their throats.”
Bill’s Reaction to Chapter Fourteen
This is a pretty evocative opening to the chapter in terms of language—considering where they’re going and what Hedge thinks he’s figured out about that Jaghut on the throne—note the words and phrases: “ice,” “freezed,” “colourless,” “toppled tree,” “cold,” “moaned,” “forlorn,” “lone cry,” “silenced forever,” “morose,” “refuse,” “plain of ice.” That’s pretty bleak and leading us down a particular road, I’d say. And the next few paragraphs simply add on, with their focus on ghosts and the “withered animate carcass that was Emroth,” and detritus and bits of life left behind.
We’ve had lots of references by now to how the T’lan Imass war on the Jaghut wasn’t all it was originally presented as, and then more on its impact on the Imass as well as the Jaghut, but this dialogue is still pretty bitingly moving:
One scene of slaughter looks pretty much the same as the next, right?
Yes. That is true.
We’ve also talked a lot about some of the more cinematic scenes in this series and who wouldn’t love to see this on the big screen—that massive throne of ice and the mummified Jaghut corpse atop it in this bleak, bleak plain of ice?
And I won’t say anything here about that corpse and what Hedge thinks of it as Amanda has yet to react and I want to see her thoughts, but we’ll have at it in the discussion for sure.
I like when these little side characters—in this case, Obo—crop up now and then, making this world feel more real and reminding us there are whole lives beyond the ones we’re paying attention to.
I also like these moments where the characters skirt on the edges (and sometimes not even the edges) of what we’d consider as the scientific truth—stars as balls of gas with other worlds, and here, an expanding universe and stars going nova.
And I like this move, from the cosmic (stars) and the bleakly barren and deathly to the oh so personal and oh so living as we share in Onrack’s joy of being alive again and share as well in Trull’s joy at Onrack’s transformation. And it’s nice that Erikson takes his time with this scene, shows us Onrack reveling in all his senses, takes the time to physically describe him in this state, the time to describe his living actions (as opposed to his animate ones), to describe this world full of life—it’s worthy of such time.
Amidst this though, we also get a glimpse of Trull’s insight, as he notices what Quick Ben told us of via interior monologue earlier—Quick Ben’s fear of befriending Trull and Onrack, of becoming too close to them.
And while we’re on Quick Ben, in the usual mysterious language often surrounding him, that’s an interesting moment when Onrack tells him “one day, you must become the wolf.” And Quick Ben says “Might be I already am.” It isn’t so much what Quick says as what comes after, “after a long moment.” That “after a long moment” draws lots of attention to that “Might be I already am.” What a tease.
These three have a nice ease with each other, despite Quick Ben’s attempt to hold back. I like their banter (especially several of Quick Ben’s lines), the way Quick and Trull make it clear they’ll be with Onrack when he goes up against the emlave (of course, they had a smaller cat in mind...), the way Onrack knows it isn’t worth fighting them about—that they won’t back down. Wouldn’t it be nice if it could just stay this way...?
Leave it to Erikson, though, to spoil a “victory.” First with the death of the one Ay and the wounding of the other, then with Onrack’s confession that they hunted their prey to extinction and thus starved their allies (those they didn’t simply dominate/domesticate, thus robbing them of their truth to some extent). Then with those cries of the wittle wittle kitties in the cave....
And another nice segue, from that “pitiful cry” and the guilt associated with it to “Did you ever wish...”
I have to say, Udinaas’ lines here are a bit of fresh air—all these mysterious characters, all these portents and omens and missions and unasked questions and unanswered questions and references to gods and all that, and Udinaas just says I don’t need no stinkin’ magic, I don’t need no stinkin’ powers—I just need a brain and some eyes and I can tell you what happened here. I don’t need to talk to ghosts, read some arcane writing, try to piece together broken shards of some tell-tale pottery. I just need to know something about how the world works. Nice to get some of that cleared away and even mocked a bit.
And speaking of “Mock”—as before with some of these moments really open to good discussion, I’m not going to say anything about the Mockra voice and wait for the discussion to get into it. I have my own theories, but this is a scene that’s just ripe for back and forth in the comments, so have at it! Can’t wait to see what some of you think is going on here.
Back for a moment, though, what about that image of the K’Chain using their skin as parchment?
So the Shake are obviously rearing their heads now to become major players in the plot. Note how the narrative tension surrounding them gets ratcheted up a bit in this chapter, first with some idea of tension between Twilight and her Watch, as if he doesn’t quite trust her or as if they aren’t sure they share the same goals for their people. And then the tension between Twilight and the shoulderfolk, the witches who have been the power behind the throne for so long and who aren’t perhaps willing to give that up (Pully’s “face [being] a mask of venom” is not a good sign) despite facing a Queen determined to rule in more than name alone. It’s a little interesting echo of what we’ve seen in Lether—with Rhulad as ruler but with the Chancellor as gaining power at Rhulad’s expense.
Love that line of Fiddler’s: “Aye, we’re a lethal bunch.” Though, turns out, they are.
And from some comic relief to Gesler’s sorrow. I don’t normally think of Gesler as a particularly moving character as I do with some. A few of you have already mentioned Beak (oh Beak). And Fiddler and Cotillion are two big ones I think of in that vein as well, along with a surprising number of others. But Gesler rarely strikes me with the same impact. But here, I find this moment quite moving, the way he is surrounded by things that won’t let him forget his dead. Fire makes him think of Truth (and when do these sorts not see fire?). His crossbow makes him think of Pella (and when will he be crossbow-free?). He’s seen so much, and so little of it pretty, and so much of it haunts him, and then, as you’re moved by this, it’s impossible not to think that he’s representative of most of them.
Then back to some more humor with the grunts. And also some more fleshing out of this world via the bandit stories, which again gives us the sense of an entire world of life and history outside the walls of this particular story, though every now and then we get to pass a hole in the wall or sneak a peak over and see there is more “there” there.
Just think—Corabb thinks this “land is mad” and he’s barely landed. What’s he going to think in a few weeks or months about this place?
It’s often a question when Erikson introduces a brand new character like Trantalo Kendar. Is this going to really be a new character, one we’ll follow for hundreds, maybe even thousands of pages? Or is this going to be one of those one-off characters, one we get set up to like or feel some empathy or sympathy for, one we feel some connection to despite the lack of page time, just before Erikson wipes him out, often quickly and violently. Poor Trantalo—he’s the latter. Seriously though, I don’t know of any author who can get me to feel sad at a character’s death in so few pages. (I was just complaining about an author not doing that in a recent review.)
In this case, we’ve several reasons for the sense of loss. An obvious one is his youth. (Sorry oldsters; we just naturally mourn the young dead more than the old dead.) And note how early we get it—three words into the character introduction: “youngest son among four brothers.” Note too how that phrase also gives us more reason to empathize and grieve—he’s connected to a family; he’s got brothers. And he’s the baby of the family. And, “son”—he has a mother. Right there we’re caught. Then we get “grace.” And he likes horses. And he hates war, refusing to see it as glorious, refusing to feel eager for it. And he’s humble. And he’s proud to be where he is. And “glad.” Even “elated.” Oh, this can’t end well.
In fact, the mood begins to change via the scenic description almost immediately: “the sun’s light was fast fading,” “dangling roots,” “The trees pressed in close,” “tilted and sunken,” “decrepit,” “a broken axle,” “oddly lifeless.” No, not going to end well at all.
When the bad comes, it comes with such painful innocence: Estav simply “sat down.” Later, he is described as “Sitting, legs out before him in the careless manner of a child.” And all Trantalo can do is repeat the question: “Estav?” And then fall short of reaching for his brother for one last time. Like I said, I don’t know anyone else who is so efficient in scenes like this in terms of emotional impact.
Then, talk about throwing cold water on that emotion. Here come Hellian. Granted, I know what’s coming, but the first time you read the end of this scene with Hellian, whether that was awhile ago or now, weren’t/aren’t you looking forward to watching her squad invade tavern by tavern?
How cool is Beak? There’s some discussion in the comments from last chapter on how he sort of comes out of nowhere. And to be honest, though we do eventually get a story for him, I can see that as a valid complaint. I do think one can explain away his popping up, but even so (and we can talk about that backstory when we get to it), I’m willing to cut some slack on this mostly because I love this character.
So, Throatslitter trained by masters then hunted by the Claw at Surly’s behest. We know the Claw tried to wipe out the Talons. Is Throatslitter a Talon? And notice how he thinks there are others out there. Hmmmm. And what does he mean that he’ll stick with Tavore “for now”? Does she need to watch her back from Throatslitter?
And how good are his other insights? Should she get rid of Blistig? We know he’s a fountain of doubt—that can’t be good in an officer. Should Tavore worry about mutiny? Is this army hard or is it brittle?
This is another killer ending to a chapter here I think—the way what was thought about the army is now turned upside down: “The whole damned empire is going to rise up all right. To tear out their throats.” Poor Tavore. Is she ever going to catch a break?
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.