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 Seventeen 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 spoiler thread has been set up for outright Malazan spoiler discussion.
Just a note. Real life has raised its ugly head this week so Bill is unable to post his comments today and most likely Friday as well. He’ll try and add them in next week. Apologies.
The forum spoiler thread has also been moved to Tor.com’s main site and is located at the usual above link.
Beak thinks on how he is both stupid and a coward and how his magic, while helpful, also frightens him in that “its heat could so easily burn, right down to a mortal man’s core.” He recalls sensing the Bonehunters under Y’Ghatan but being afraid to tell either Kindly or Tavore or anyone else, then how Tavore won him over with her “unwitnessed” talk, as he considered his own life unwitnessed and thus she made the other soldiers just like him. Beak keeps Sort’s squad from being caught by a passing Letherii/Edur group while Sort bemoans the fact that the Letherii apparently aren’t as rebellious as the Malazans had thought/hoped. She’s concerned Helian/Urb are moving too fast and wants to catch up to them and hold them back. He warns her if the Letherii figure out how to use the Beast Hold they might be able to track the Malazans via the horses. When Sort says Beak might have to unveil more candles then, he hopes not: “Don’t burn me down to the core, Captain. Please.”
Balgrid tells Helian they’re being tracked. Helian tries to get Urb off in the bushes but is interrupted by Sort’s arrival.
Helian and Urb tell Sort the Letherii don’t look like they’re going to rise up and Helian suggests they move ahead “fast and vicious” and hide if they face too large an opposition. Sort agrees, though she tells them to slow down a bit. Beak warns them about the Beast Hold, that Balgrid’s necromancy might not be enough to cover them. Sort and Beak leave.
SCENES FOUR through SIX
Fiddler’s group is running from an ambush that would have taken them had it not been for Corabb’s luck. Bottle tells Fiddler there’s a large group tracking them and they decide to find a place to hide out. Smiles and Koryk banter about the ambush; Smiles appears to like Koryk a bit more after he’s surprised them all (including himself) with his killing skill. Stormy is enjoying the marines’ freedom to do what they’ve always been meant to do.
SCENES SEVEN and EIGHT
Fiddler’s group comes across a farmhouse they plan to use as a trap and Bottle thinks he can use Mockra to take care of any civilians in there. Fiddler says he and Cuttle are going to do “the drum”—a famous, very tricky, very dangerous munitions action he and Hedge invented. Fiddler prepares the cussers and the drum as Cuttle watches in awe. Fiddler recalls the first time he met the Moranth and saw the munitions (Tayschrenn, Aragan, Onos T’oolan, Whiskeyjack, Hedge had all been present) and how he and Hedge had experimented with them, named them, and perfected their use.
Gesler take a group and sends out Uru Hela to call to the two inhabitants Bottle senses in the farmhouse. As she nears the house, Bottle realizes the two inside aren’t human. The farmhouse door flies open and a Kenryll’ah demon (this is the pair we met earlier) rushes out with an axe and kills Uru Hela, then is shot by Gesler with a crossbow. Smiles uses a sharper on the second demon that comes rushing out. A fight ensues then the Malazans withdraw.
The two demons discuss pursuit but then hear horses coming and head out to meet the new arrivals.
A quarter of a league away, Fiddler’s group hears the drum go off—all four cussers. No longer worried about pursuit, they head to a nearby farm to rest.
Thom Tissy reports smoke and munitions to Keneb. Keneb worries how the numbers are turning against the marines. He thinks of the other arms of the invasion—the infantry led by Kindly and the Khundryl Burned Tears and Perish who are currently far away; they are the ones who will deliver the killing blow while the marines are supposed to keep things confused. He recalls great commanders of yore and wonders where Tavore will fit, if at all. He knows he needs faith in her. Tissy tells him the soldiers know Keneb’s awful position and while Keneb appreciates it, he tells Tissy he “presumes too much.” After Tissy leaves, Keneb realizes he’s doing the same thing he complained about with regard to Tavore - pushing the soldiers away.
Hedge and Emroth come to the end of the ice fields (the Throne of Ice) and see forest ahead. Hedge says it’s time to discuss their goals. Emroth asserts allegiance to the Crippled God here and says were Hedge not a ghost she would have done something about him already, as she believes he means to thwart the CG. Hedge says he’s figured out “manifestation of the will,” connecting it to the Bridgeburners’ ascension and saying that though the Imass were perhaps the first via the Telann Ritual, they merely set a precedent.
Hedge pulls out a cusser he has “manifested” and says he’ll use it or not depending on their conversation. She tells him the forest before them is Tellann, though she can’t explain how. She wonders if it is also a manifestation, saying perhaps some of the fallen T’lan Imass from the Jaghut wars found themselves in the Jaghut underworld and maybe a “pocket” of Tellann formed, a “refugium” (we’ll use that name for this place going forward). She says there are Imass in the forest and walks away, leaving Hedge to realize she’ll go seeking allies for the Crippled God. He then realizes they weren’t her goal; she is heading for Starvald Demelain’s gate: “Where anything is possible. Including the destruction of the warrens,” thanks the blood of the dragons. He throws the cusser and destroys Emroth. Part of her, blown into the Refugium, is returned to life (as with Onrack earlier).
Quick Ben, Trull, and Onrack carry around the emlava kittens, passing signs of Imass as they journey.
Quick Ben wonders if Onrack is reborn because this place is “one fragment of Tellann that lies, somehow, beyond the Ritual . . . In this place there was no Ritual.” Onrack is troubled by the ice nearby, the memories it calls up. Quick Ben tells him he doesn’t have to be “shining” all the time and when Onrack says he does so for Trull, Quick says gifts lose value if they go on too long. Trull returns and Onrack shows him a frown, then says Trull can tell Quick of his painting, the story of his pain and love and crime. Trull says he will do so, and then tells them of the Eres’al and what she did to him. Then Quick says he’ll tell the story of how he became a Bridgeburner and got twelve souls. Then they hear the sound of a cusser.
SCENES SIXTEEN through NINETEEN
The marines head out, each thinking their own private thoughts about their place in this battle, in their squad and about each other. They hear an ambush off in the distance and hope whoever was involved came out of it.
Shurq Elalle recaps for Tavore what’s been going on between the Edur and Letherii, making it even more clear that the Letherii won’t be assisting the Malazans. Twilight arrives with Yedan and claims her role as Queen of the Shake, explaining who the Shake are (though Deadsmell makes clear he actually knows more about their origin perhaps than they do themselves). Tavore tells Twilight they seek a pilot to Letheras and Shurq realizes it’s going to be her.
Amanda’s Reaction to Chapter Seventeen:
SO much to talk about regarding that first section featuring Beak - so much good stuff in a two-page section. I really love Beak’s analysis of the soldiers complaints as they marched across the desert - some complaints being so prosaic (the weather, the coyotes) and some of them so heartfelt (“The Adjunct should have waited a few days longer”).
I’m amused by this line, although it does showcase Beak’s intense naivety about where he is and where he’s been: “...in that place called Seven Cities (although he’d only seen two cities, he was sure there were five more somewhere)...”
And, considering just how much power we know that Beak has, his comment regarding Sinn: “Blindingly bright, so pure that Beak has cowered before it” is very revealing about how strong she is.
We find out that he had sensed Bottle beneath the ruins and flame of Y’Ghatan, but been too scared to tell anyone - this is both something you can pity and deride. I mean, sure, be scared, but there are people’s lives at risk. I guess this shows how simple-minded and out-of-touch he is.
And then this sad, sad line: “His entire life was, he knew, unwitnessed. So, she had made all the other soldiers just like him, just like Beak, and that had been an unexpected gift from that cold, cold woman. Coward or no and stupid as he was, she’d won him that night.”
I’d be interested to hear what Warrens those colours Beak is mentioning correspond to - the blue and grey suggest things like Meanas and Mockra, possibly Rashan. What is that white Warren? “Balgrid’s got the white candle, you see, and this land ain’t had no white candle for a long time.” So a Warren that has recently been re-established in the Letherii realm? Is it necromantic magic?
*grins* I do like the ongoing jabs about the weird stirrups!
It hasn’t taken long for the Malazans to realise the state of relations between Letherii and Edur, and the fact that they can’t rely on the Letherii being allies. Hellian’s troop even ensure that the Letherii part of the party are killed off as well: “Then a pair of sharpers, one front of the Letherii column, the other at the tail end.”
Oh bless. When Beak thinks this: “an accent Beak had never heard before” is it because Hellian is speaking drunkenly?
I like the guerilla warfare we’re seeing, the jumping from squad to squad to see what is going on. It’s an effective way of telling this story, and makes for a different type of tale than the all-out massive battles we’ve seen before.
These Malazans are sharp! I think now they’re realising that the Crippled God—or something like him—has a hand in proceedings on this continent, thanks to the flavour of the magic and the infection within it: “There was old stuff, primitive magic, at first. Not as ancient as spirit-bound stuff. Still, primitive. And then something chaotic grabbed it by the throat...”
When I see things like “I like killing. Gods below, I do like it, and the more I like it, the better I get at it” I start wondering if Koryk is gaining his abilities through the patronage of a higher power? Especially when dances are mentioned.
This does feel very much as though it is the point where the Bonehunters take the mantle of the Bridgeburners - fighting hard and dirty, little squads that “...cut in fast and low and keep going, aye, and keep their heads spinnin’ every which way.” Erikson sort of puts it explicitly as well when he writes: “Malazan marines. Hah.”
They do rely on Bottle, don’t they? It makes me scared about his survivability across the series... And then he says something like “What? Sorry, I think I fell asleep.”
Oh, I love Fiddler:
“You heard because me and Hedge invented it. And perfected it, more or less.”
“More or less?”
Fiddler shrugged. “It either works or it doesn’t.”
Cuttle’s a brave one, isn’t he, doing all this work with an arrow-head lodged in his shoulder?
Sappers really are insane, aren’t they? I am actually getting tense as I read about Fiddler scraping down that first cusser! It’s then ace to see Cuttle’s tribute: “The last great Malazan sapper. No one else came close.” That’s probably true as well in terms of the character that we like the most. *grins*
Oh! And then this sequence is just exactly what I now think about Fiddler, seven books into the series:
And he had prayed...to every sapper living or dead, each name a benediction to one man’s brilliance. Praying that the one man he truly worshipped wouldn’t...wouldn’t what? Let me down.
That section showing Hedge and Fiddler as youngsters, when they were pulled out of the squad by Whiskeyjack to become sappers with the newly-arrived Moranth munitions, is making me breathe deeply in order to prevent tears. Seeing Whiskeyjack in action, if only for a moment, reminds me how much he is missed.
And then the last part of the section - well, it might be time to grab some tissues: “And, trying not to think of Hedge, of Whiskeyjack, Trotts and all the rest; trying not to think of the old days, when the world still seemed new and wondrous, when taking mad risks was all part of the game, Fiddler, the last great saboteur, went to work.” I tell you what, that is the kind of sentence that could finish a series of this calibre, its just that good, and Erikson shoves it in here!
And then from a moment where I’m brushing away tears to one where I’m doing it again - because of laughter. I LOVED it where Uru Hela pointed out that she wasn’t thirsty, and Gesler just looks helplessly at Bottle. Great stuff!
Damn. Just when you’re getting to like someone, a bloody Kenryll’ah demon cuts them down... Now, these are the guys who we saw last in the Epilogue of Midnight Tides, urinating into a hole, aren’t they? I think Stormy’s comment about them is genius: “They got Hood-damned demon farmers! Sowing seeds, yanking teats, spinnin’ wool - and chopping strangers to pieces!”
Poor Stormy - making promises he can’t keep....
It is interesting that we now find Keneb reminiscing about various events from Kellanved and then the Bridgeburner’s time. I guess this is happening because the Malazans are utilising the techniques made famous by these people.
I think that this is hitting me over the head with who Emroth is, but I can’t engage my brain to work it out! “I am a Broken, an Unbound, and I have knelt before a god.” Would that be the pesky Crippled God again?
I like this chat between Hedge and Emroth, even though I don’t understand all of the philosophical depth. It is incredibly interesting that the Warren Tellann is trapped in the Jaghut underworld... These two races just cannot extricate themselves from each other, can they?
I agree with this: “These damned T’lan Imass were heartbreakers, in every sense of the term.”
This quote makes me think of Edgewalker: “Each realm finds... resident beings.”
And THIS seems pretty crucial: “Like me, Emroth, you’re heading for the gate. Starvald Demelain. Where anything is possible. Including the destruction of the warrens. It’s the blood, you see. The blood of dragons. Outside and inside. Dead and buried.” Is this why we keep seeing dragons dead all over the place? Because people have destroyed the potential way in which the warrens could be decimated?
Oh god! “Undead for a few hundred thousand years. Broken, Fallen, then resurrected, enough to walk once more. And, finally, thirty or so paces from a return to life...” Poor Emroth.
I just need help with this thought of Trull’s, please. I read it and didn’t comprehend what was meant: “Only to find blessing in the timid hand of a creature not even half human. Oh, I know her well, that one. Yet she is a secret I find I cannot share with Onrack, with my friend.” Since Onrack is so trusting and open with Trull, it strikes me he might feel quite betrayed if he knew that Trull is keeping secrets.
That Quick Ben is a clever chap, working out what Hedge had to be told by Emroth!
Ah! I guess Trull was thinking about the Eres’al, yes? I like the idea of these three lonely yet driven people finally revealing some of the secrets they’ve kept bound up within themselves for a long time.
“Whoever’s in command here is probably still reeling, still trying to guess our plans.” I truly wish that Fiddler and the rest of the gang knew how fractured the Edur/Letherii contingent is! How they’re fighting against each other, and being attacked effectively by the Awl for the first time. It would make their job so much easier.
This doesn’t bode at all well for the future, does it? I hope it’s being mentioned here, because Corabb manages to change Tarr’s mind, rather than because we see him allowing Corabb to fall: “Aye, Tarr knew he wasn’t the forgiving kind. Not the forgetting kind, either. And he knew, deep down inside, that he’d stand for every soldier in his squad, stand till he fell. Except, maybe, for Corabb Bhilan Thenu’alas.”
I love having reader knowledge at times - I delight at the idea that one day Tarr might well meet Temper!
It’s difficult seeing the perspective that Corabb has, after hearing Tarr’s thoughts. The fact that Corabb feels accepted, and thinks that he is free to bring his ideas to the Malazans. “It was probably a good thing he had held to so many ignorant, outrageous beliefs about them back when he was among the rebels. Otherwise, he might have found it hard to hate the enemy the way he was supposed to, the way that he needed to be.”
Oh God, Corabb really likes and respects Tarr. That’s heartbreaking.
Wait...the Shake are somehow descended from, or an offshoot of, the Tiste Andii? Is that what Deadsmell is indicating? If so, these Tiste Andii really do turn up everywhere, don’t they?
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.