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 Sixteen 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.
Brohl Handar has been healed by a K’risnan using pure Emurlahn, no stain of chaos. The army has since been trying to pursue Redmask but has failed and has been constantly ambushed. One of his men tells Brohl that he thinks Redmask has split his army and the enemy is all around them, adding his advice would be to retreat back to Drene. Brohl agrees but thinks Atri-Preda Bivatt will not.
Brohl’s group rejoins the army to find it drawn up to meet what appears to be Redmask’s army marching toward them for another large-scale battle.
Bivatt watches Redmask (her scouts have confirmed this) moving closer and thinks over her tactics, believing Redmask is making a fatal error in attacking.
The last elder of Redmask’s tribe, the one who knew Redmask’s past, was found strangled in his tent, which many of the Awl take as a bad omen. Redmask wants Toc kept out of danger but does not forbid him riding with them. Torrent and Toc spar back and forth. Toc wonders what Redmask has planned and how he thinks he’ll deal with the Letherii sorcery.
Orbyn Truthfinder is with Factor Letur Anict as he investigates the slaughter at the garrison and the loss of a weapons shipment. Orbyn tells the Factor that Ruin’s group probably headed north. Anict doesn’t like the idea of standing by while Fear searches for Scabandari and believes Mosag is conspiring against the Empire and the Emperor. Orbyn tells him Invictad and Gnol are probably dealing with Mosag’s treason back in Letheras. Anict worries what would happen if Fear succeeds, which Orbyn knows (he thinks this to himself) is impossible. Anict wants to attack the Andii refuge in the mountains and capture Fear and the others. Orbyn agrees reluctantly and they set out, leaving three scouts behind.
Venitt Sathad arrives with a train of guards where the Factor’s three scouts are guarding the camp. The guard lies about where the Factor went and Venitt heads back to Drene to await the Factor’s return in order to question him as Rautos Havnar has tasked him to do.
Orbyn’s group has slaughtered the Andii in the refuge and Orbyn feels “sullied” by the attack. One of his men, a mage, tells him the surprising news that the altar had been sanctified by true Darkness. The mage says the slain are Tiste Andii and comments it is strange the White Crow is with Fear as the Andii and Edur are supposed to be enemies, based on the White Crow’s death via betrayal. The mage thinks the White Crow with Fear is just a name, not the real one, though he says if it is, there might be trouble. He also says they can’t be sure they killed the only Andii left and he is “uneasy.” Orbyn agrees and tells the mage to keep this from the Factor.
Clip has stopped and is standing still for a while. As Seren and Udinaas discuss why, Udinaas says something that annoys her and she accidentally conjures up an image of Hull Beddict strangling him, which starts to actually happen. She can only get rid of it by calling up an image of Trull, who knocks “Hull” off of Udinaas, then both visions disappear. Ruin tells them Clip is mourning because all in the Andara have been killed by the Letherii. Udinaas says the Andii knew they’d die there, knew they were fading as a people, so they let their blood strengthen the gate Clip carries. Clip is angered, but opens his gate. They enter.
The Shake are taking the ferry over to Second Maiden Isle/Fort amidst a storm that threatens to swamp them and drown them all. They are rescued by a pair of Perish ships.
Banaschar thinks on how the downfall of the Malazan Empire, the disasters that have stricken it, can be traced back to Laseen’s coup, beginning in “betrayal and blood,” and the departure (or “drowning”) of the best generals/advisors. He believes as well the Laseen’s Claw has been corrupted and then decimated. As he thinks on people’s tendency to oversimplify, he realizes he was guilty as well in his view on D’rek’s killing of her own priests/worshippers, knowing as he does now that it was part of a grander war. He feels the presence of D’rek in him again, returned, and thinks it’s because he’s the only one left. Telorast and Curdle appear and tell him a “she” walked this area long ago, she who pushed her fists through big skulls. They also let slip that they’re here or “close” to where “Edgewalker wants...”
As Crump digs one of the many holes he’s been ordered to dig as they move, Shard worries how Sinn had completely changed and become frightening, though he’s mystified why she seems to frighten the men more than the women. Crump uncovers a layer of baby skulls that begin to stir (Sinn is dancing and playing a bone flute) and Cord tells Crump to fill in the hole fast. Nimander stresses over Phaed’s clear desire to kill Sandalath Drukorlat and thinks how Rake would just kill Phaed and be done with it. He envies Rake’s sense of power and wholeness and thinks how he and the other Andii with him are incomplete. His thoughts are interrupted by the sound of whirling chain which makes him think of the one in the prophecy: “He carries the gates.”
The Awl, rather than engaging the Letherii, encircled them and then waited through the day and into night. Bivatt is anxious and unsure of Redmask’s goal. Toc is also unclear on what Redmask is doing. He runs into Masarch and a line of lancer just before the horn sounds for them to attack. Toc follows them and sees the Awl attack the camp then start to get slaughtered by Letherii sorcery. Toc makes an impossible shot and kills the mage, ending the sorcery, then he rejoins the Awl.
Brohl Handar meets with Bivatt in the aftermath. His K’risnan was killed by the K’Chain Che’Malle and Bivatt lost two mages to Toc’s arrow (the other had been linked to the first and died at the same time). Despite the fact the Letherii killed many more Awl than they lost, both Bivatt and Brohl are troubled.
Amanda’s Reaction to Chapter Sixteen:
It’s a chilling piece “On the Deal Plains,” isn’t it? Especially those last two lines:
They die in the now
And the now is for ever.
Basically, those who fall in battle will forever be remembered, I guess. Such has proved to be true concerning those conflicts and people we now remember - maybe not by name, but by essence.
You know something? I have read too many horrific visual descriptions today - I have been tackling Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig, which has a rather nasty torture scene which had me turning green around the gills, and now I’m faced by this: “Coyotes, wolves or perhaps Awl dogs had chewed away the softer tissues—face and gut, buttocks and inner thighs—leaving the rest to the flies and their maggot spawn.” And, believe me, that is SO tame compared to Wendig!
Man, this would be a terribly creepy situation - stuck on a plain after a disastrous loss, empty space all around, all hiding places carefully checked over, and yet still being picked off one by one. Terribly bad for morale, that would be.
I honestly don’t have any sympathy for this Atri-Preda. I mean, first she makes a diabolical mistake about the Awl and causes her force to lose their battle abysmally, and now she is participating in dialogue like this:
“And their shamans? What of the Awl shamans?”
Yes, because that over-confidence has served her so well in the past!
But then we see Toc musing uneasily on whether Redmask has forgotten the Letherii mages, so if Redmask has a master plan he is not revealing it to his own troops. Oh, and I wonder who killed the old man? It is suggested that Letherii outriders did it, is it not? But he was found in his tent. I have my suspicions as to it being Redmask, after the old man goaded him again over the secrets that he is aware of....
The only place I have experienced the same environment as this was when I went to Bavaria: “The sky was cloudless, the blue so sharp and clean compared to the dusty atmosphere of Drene [...] that Orbyn found himself glancing upward again and again, struggling with something like disbelief.”
And now two people—Orbyn and Letur Anict—who are trying to do a job armed with only part of the information. I do pity them since, by their conversation, they are missing key things. Orbyn, especially, when he says and thinks: “That, Factor, is highly unlikely. No, it is in fact impossible” about the rise of Scabandari. Either he has knowledge that not even we readers are granted, or he is talking out of his ass. *grins*
Eep, I don’t think it is a good idea for a mere sixty soldiers and two mages to try and take down the Tiste Andii, the “damnable cult.” Are these more mistakes we see happening, on top of what the Atri-Preda has done with the Awl? Do the Letherii have such swaggering arrogance that they just can’t see any minor tribes going toe to toe with them anymore? (Which is a singularly odd reaction, if it is true, since they are, in fact, subject to a “minor tribe” who defeated them!)
Or perhaps no eep? This poor offshoot of the Tiste Andii seems to have fallen, even while beseeching the Black-Winged Lord. Oh... is this the event that might bring Anomander Rake to this continent? To pursue retribution for his slaughtered followers?
It’s good to see that this mage has some sense and knowledge, and this comment of his is definitely something that we’ve seen evidence for but that the Letherii were oblivious of until now: “But if I am wrong, sir, then an old feud has been buried in a deep grave, and this could prove...worrisome.”
And then more evidence that Orbyn Truthfinder is possessed of rare intelligence: “Leave Letur Anict to his world made simpler. What he would have it to be and what it is, are not the same. And that, dear Factor, is the path to ruin.”
Wow, poor Seren Pedac, trying to come to grips with Mockra as it seizes upon her every lone thought. I love Udinaas’ reaction, telling her that she should just swear at him if something he says annoys her. And how very interesting to see that the figure Seren’s brain provides her with to break the situation is that of Trull Sengar.
Ack, so Clip caused them all a completely unnecessary journey through these mountains, because he carried the method of traveling by Warren with him? What a git! Yeah, I can see where you were coming from when you said that Clip would pall quickly. I especially dislike his cold reaction to the deaths of all his kin, his “calm repose.”
As we move to the Shake POV in this chapter it occurs to me that, now that the Bonehunters have been introduced in this novel, I am spending my time wishing I were reading about them. I think this is a slight issue with Reaper’s Gale - that few of the other storylines have the same impact and draw. I would count only Bugg and Karsa/Icarium as genuine high points. The Letherii and Edur all seem to meld into two rather nasty entities that I don’t care very much about. Anyone feel the same? Feel different?
Absolutely love Banaschar’s thought that all matters are linked, leading to that saying: “Cast bitter seeds, yield bitter fruit.”
It is deeply cool to see a perspective of that night where the Malazans came so close to civil war. It’s nice that the Adjunct is being recognized as the person who saw to it that civil war didn’t occur.
I think this idea of cause and effect is one that is absolutely central to the Malazan novels. We’ve seen enough to recognize that little strands from previous novels have all come together in later novels, that the actions of, say, Kalam in one book caused the Bonehunters to survive in another - when he rescued Sinn.
Oh! Telorast and Curdle are talking about the fact that Kilmandaros walked there: “Just because she walked here,” Telorast said, “doesn’t mean she’s still hanging around. Got no big skulls to push her fist through.” And, man, enough little hint about the fact that Edgewalker sent them... why?
Heh, has Crump been given these pits to dig to keep him out of trouble? “Shard believed that Cord’s fervent hope was that one such pit would collapse, burying the damned idiot once and for all, was little more than wishful thinking.”
Hmm. “Terrifying to men but not women? But why would that be the case?” Wasn’t Sinn raped? Would this be what causes her to be so terrifying to men? Because she has a reaction to them?
It’s a fair point when Shard wonders how many others there are wandering around, victims of the Seven Cities and the Apocalypse there. Erikson shows us just a couple of the stories, but there would be many more.
The skulls are stirring? Will burying them again solve the issue?! Who are they? What bearing will they have on the rest of the story?
Oh bless! Nimander Golit dreams about being Anomander Rake. *grins* Proper hero worship going on there. I do forget who the “she” is that he refers to and who he imagines is speaking to him... And how intriguing: apparently there is a prophecy concerning Clip as being the Tiste Andii who will be able to take them all back to Mother Dark....
Not quite sure what is going on here, with Atri-Preda and her Letherii waiting to unleash sorcery on the Awl, and Redmask holding his own troops back. Why the standoff? Why did Redmask bring his troops back to a point where battle would be forced when his previous tactics were proving to be very effective?
Aww, I love Toc’s thoughts here about his horse: “Oh, we take you into slaughter without a moment’s thought. And yes, some of you come to enjoy it, to lust for that cacophony, that violence, the reek of blood. And so we share with you, dear horse, our peculiar madness. But who judges us for this crime against you and your kind? No one. Unless you horses have a god.”
And then a distinctly odd night-time attack. What is wrong with Redmask?
Hmm, Toc’s crazy arrow shot to kill the mage, from the back of a leaping and barebacked horse, from a one-eyed man - just way too far-fetched for me. But I guess that is how legends start: mage-killer.
Bill’s Reaction to Chapter Sixteen
I agree that opening poem is chilling, though I’m not sure I‘m in agreement, Amanda, that it is saying the dead will be remembered. I took it as the dying, the violence, the horror never stops—the land holds it all.
And the bleakness just keeps coming in this description of both the land and the corpse. Not sure I want to read Chuck Wendig’s book if it’s so much worse.
Note that this is our second reference to pure Emurlahn - what is going on here, where is that chaos taint? Has Scabandari returned in spirit? Or is this something else?
I know what you mean about Bivatt, Amanda. She had such good moments earlier, some endearing moments, but it’s hard to root for someone so overconfident. We get glimpses of her inner doubt at times—a “flicker of unease” in her eyes, her anxiety later in this chapter, but then we get her “sneering” and her belief that Redmask has made a simpleton’s mistake and it’s hard to like her in those moments.
Not a bad guess on the Elder, Amanda.
Orbyn’s supreme confidence that it is impossible for Fear to succeed in waking Scabandari is interesting.
It’s also a bit interesting that Orbyn feels “sullied” by what he’s done, but not enough to, you know, not do it. “Necessity” is such a easy out for those who wish to justify atrocities, such as this slaughter of women, the elderly, and the children, such as the child hiding in a half-full amphora of wine. How neatly Orbyn wipes the blood off his dagger.
That mage does have some good, if surprising knowledge. And how ironic his lines about Ruin: “An old feud has been buried in a deep grave.”
Anyone want to run with the jarak bird story?
I also liked how Seren conjured up Hull first as the attacker and then Trull as the defender.
Yep, Clip has carried their way the whole way. That’s actually the least annoying aspect of him to me, I hate to say, Amanda. What I like is how Ruin seems to have known the whole time as well.
I have to say that I wasn’t surprised the Andii in the refuge ended up dead, but I didn’t on my first time through expect them to be killed by the Factor and Orbyn. They did seem on their way out though.
Banaschar’s little internal monologue is a nice little recap of some things we might have forgotten, so it serves some use to us poor readers in that regard. It also re-emphasizes a point we’ve seen throughout this book and this series, most recently with Orbyn—the idea of a complex world where all is connected. This wouldn’t be a bad paragraph to recall when we get to ICE’s book when we see what’s going on back in Malaz. It also brings in that D’rek is back in the game via Banaschar. File that little tidbit away. I also like that metaphor he pulls in of those spider webs in Kartool City. And yes, a bit of a tease with that Edgewalker reference, eh?
File this away:
Did Sinn find salvation in sorcery? Shard held no faith that such salvation was in truth benign. A weapon for her will, and how far could a mortal go with such a weapon in their hands.
We’ll get more on Sinn’s specifics but yep, you’re on the right track I’d say, Amanda, regarding the gender difference.
I’m pretty sure the skulls are stirring due to Sinn and her flute playing/dancing, Amanda. I think that’s the implication of Ebron’s glance at her when it starts.
Nimander’s dreams are such the dreams/fantasies of youth, aren’t they? The self-important title: “Sentinel to the dark.” The “mythic stance,” the sword at his side, a weapon of heroic will which he could . . . use with a skill that could astound—like the great ones of old.” Ahh, the days I fancied myself capering through orcs my sword awhirl....
And then damned reality returns—“middling” sword skill, “just a young man standing lost in a strange street.” Sigh.
Not our first reference to Phaed killing Sandalath. Something’s a-brewing here.
I like that his hero worship of Rake isn’t simplistic. It’s not just Rake and his cool sword and steel eyes and great hair and oh that brooding mien... It’s not just that Rake is a badass killer, which would be an immature hero worship. Instead, he worships Rake’s willingness and ability to handle whatever burden necessary, and carry that burden for millennia. Let’s remember that Nimander’s “she” is his lover killed back on Drift Avalii.
Yes, this is what, the third or fourth time someone has mused on these poor animals dragged into the humans’ (well, you know what I mean) wars and violence. Though I think it’s the first of them that says some of the horses get to like it.
Yeah, “the shot” is a stretch, but oh so cool....
I know what you mean about the Bonehunters and the other stories, Amanda. And I can see your point. I think we’ll have some interesting discussion on the Awl-Letherii war later. And some of the other stories are pieces/people being moved into place for later events, so being more set-up they don’t quite have the same impact. But some will have some pay off, I guarantee it. But don’t worry—you’ll get more than your fair share of Bonehunter action coming up soon. And how. More Fiddler, more Gesler and Stormy, more Hellian, etc. And more Beak. Gods below, Beak.
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.