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 Thirteen 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.
Throatslitter, Deadsmell, and Sergeant Balm sit in the tavern and watch as Shurq and Skorgen take responsibility for delivering the cask of ale to Shake Brullyg. Deadsmell tells them she’s dead, and they don’t believe him at first.
Shake Brullyg watches as a pair of Malazan (Lobe and Galt) play a game and Masan stands guard at the door, thinking how the Malazan have taken control of the island from him, just before he becomes King of the Isles (if none of the queen’s daughters shows up). He asks to leave, to show himself to his people, but Lobe says they’ll “walk him” later. The Malazans can tell someone different is delivering the ale and they react with suspicion when they let Shurq and Skorgen in. Shurq tells Shake the harbor is blockaded with the biggest ship she’s ever seen and a war galley coming into the pier. With that news, the Malazans become more comfortable and say their waiting is over.
Blistig thinks how their army is now cut off from home and recalls the events between now and their departure from Malaz City a year ago: Lostara Yil, maybe at Keneb’s suggestion, stepping into the place of T’amber as Tavore’s aide; rumors of mutiny among the troops (save the Malazans); Lostara via Grub’s arcane knowledge getting Banashar to dole out cash from his hoard to pay and mollify the soldiers; then Tavore coming out and giving a speech. Tavore told them they were sailing to Sepik, a Malazan Protectorate, whose population was slaughtered, and they will “give answer.” She told them of T’amber’s words (“What awaits you in the dusk of the old world’s passing, shall go unwitnessed”) and then closed with her own: “We shall be our own witness, and that will be enough. It must be enough. It must ever be enough.” Blistig hasn’t understood that speech since she gave it, hasn’t understood the army’s acceptance of it, and can’t believe that Tavore had them burn their ships upon landing on Lether.
Lostara enters the harbor aboard the Froth Wolf. She’s glad to leave the ice behind. She thinks about the army’s reorganization and is happy they nudged Blistig out of real command. She tells Tavore Sinn is keeping the ice at bay though she doesn’t know how, adding that Ebron thinks the ice/Jaghut ritual is breaking down. She and Tavore discuss Grub’s close connection with the nachts, and then Tavore tells her to get the other ready to disembark.
A group of Letherii ride past Fiddler’s hidden squad, not seeing them thanks to Bottle using Mockra. Gesler and Fiddler discuss the “invasion” tactics—landing the marines, small groups, ambushes and night raids.
Sergeant Helian readies her squad and divides up the salvaged rum.
Keneb considers how Tavore has reshaped the army for the Lether invasion, standardizing the magic-users, using sorcery as communications, joining heavies and marines and sappers, making sure someone knows Mockra in all the small forward squads. He realizes all of this meant that Tavore had known where they were going and what they’d be facing. He thinks how she only met with the Meckros blacksmith (Withal) and the Tiste Andii from Drift Avalii and wonders what they told her. He recalls coming across a pair of Edur ships and torturing the Edur officers for information, then taking the ships logs and charts. He wonders why they are here and if Laseen and Tavore had cooked up the whole thing at Malaz City, similar to what Laseen had done with Dujek and Whiskeyjack in the Pannion War, though he doesn’t believe it. Faradan Sort interrupts his thought to say her squad is ready and she wants to take Beak as her squad mage. As they head out, Keneb considers the plan—fight the Edur, encourage the Letherii to rebel, create a civil war—and finds it sadly ironic that they deliver what they avoided in Malaz City.
Beak thinks how nobody likes him and how the one thing he knows well and loves is sorcery. He grew up in a horrible childhood (and adolescence, and early adulthood) where he was regularly beaten, sometimes near to death. He learned magic from a Seti witch who told him magic for him was “the lone candle in the darkness” and she taught him then found others to teach him the other warrens, which he sees as differently colored candles. Sort collects him as her mage to find the other squads and organize/communicate with them. When she asks about his family, he tells her they all died the night he “showed them my candle.” On the march they camp over some rubble and Beak identifies it as Jaghut and says there are Forkrul Assail and Tiste Liosan bodies under the ground and ghosts, remnants of the Just Wars. He warns them the ghosts will have them killing each other soon and they move on.
In the north of the island, Cord watches the icebergs and floes. Shard tells him he doesn’t know if Sinn is getting tired holding the ice back, saying he doesn’t really know his sister anymore, not since Y’Ghatan. He adds that she isn’t just holding back the ice anymore though; she’s “killing” it, quickening its decay and using the Omtose Phellack to “weave something else.”
Withal bemoans the way the gods use mortals, himself and Tavore and Rhulad. He wonders if Tavore is setting herself against the gods and wonders as well why Mael had him wait for her. He thinks about the other legion off the coast, and how only Tavore knows where the Perish and Khundryl have gone. Sandalath Drukorlat (his wife) tells him he should be more sympathetic toward the Andii from Drift Avalii, saying they’ve been several times abandoned—by Rake, by Andarist.
Nimander watches Phaed glaring at Sandalath and wonders at her ever-present malice, thinking she is capable of murder. He worries about her response to Sandalath, who has taken Phaed’s measure and returned scorn and contempt. They look out on the island and prepare to follow Sandalath off the ship.
Amanda’s Reaction to Chapter Thirteen
You know, I can see the relationship between gods and mortals reflected in this line from the opening poem: “...my beast and I chained together as we must/who leads and who is the led is never quite asked...”
I know Bill was niggling me towards thinking about who those people were who had come ashore on the Isle, by emphasising all the strange things about them, but I confess that, until now, I hadn’t made the connection that they were the Malazans. I feel stoopid. *slaps forehead*
I adore the fact that Balm has no idea that Shurq Elalle is dead and instead is mightily jealous of the men she’s attracting. “Maybe somebody should...I don’t know...maybe...tell her?” As though Shurq Elalle has no idea!
And from chuckles to belly laughs with Deadsmell’s “Excuse me, ma’am, you have a complexion to die for and I guess that’s what you did.” *falls over*
It is dangerous to ever assume that, among foreigners, no one speaks your language—the Malazans appear to be doing that, and now we see that Shake Brullyg is starting to pick a few things up. And he must be wondering exactly how the Malazans gained power over him when he hears some of the bickering that takes place amongst them!
Did they send the ice? Or was it the remnants of some Jaghut sorcery? [Bill: The latter.]
Hmm, looks like Shake Brullyg isn’t keen on the idea of Twilight coming along and enforcing their betrothal: “...and if none of the dead Queen’s bitch daughter show up before then, it all falls to me.”
Sinn is becoming more and more eerie a character, especially when I remember back to when Kalam first met her.
Seems like the Letherii have always been bastards, going by their actions towards the Fent on their first meeting! Big reflection with the English colonists when they first met the Native Americans there.
These are confident Malazans! Their switch from relaxation to dangerous soldiers is instinctive and they work together like a well-oiled machine. Sort of reminds me of a pack of lionesses going on the hunt! So far removed from the Bonehunters we saw even half a book ago.
Hee, Masan Gilani pressing the knife through the chair reminds me of the part in the Disney version of Robin Hood, where Little John got Prince John to free Robin Hood. *grins* (One of my fave films, by the way!)
Another example of that confidence: “Galt looked at Masan Gilani again, and though she said nothing, some kind of communication must have passed between them...”
I don’t much like this first glimpse of Shake Brullyg, but I feel a little sorry that he knows he’s being so obviously played by the Malazans, with Masan Gilani’s constant presence to stir his blood.
Can I just say it is bliss skipping out of the other storylines to spend more time with the Malazans? So many of Erikson’s other storylines are experimental in their nature, and few of them have so many glorious characters, which I think makes them a little more hit-and-miss. I wonder if Erikson has as much fun returning to the Malazans as we do reading them?
I guess this is something that I never really considered about the Bonehunters stepping out under the leadership of Tavore and forsaking the Malazan Empire—this puts it very explicitly: “Our families depend on the wages, the tax relief, the buy-outs and the pensions. And a lot of us were young enough to think about signing out, making a new life, one that didn’t involve swinging a sword...” Now they’ve been cut adrift and have no idea what their future holds. As such, their confidence is even more formidable.
Poor Tavore. My heart breaks for her, and the fact she has to be a leader in the face of such grief. It brings T’amber’s death screaming back—and Kalam’s as well. I feel the loss anew, reflecting on the events at the end of the last book. “You can heal wounds of the flesh well enough, but it’s the other ones that can bleed out a soul.”
Tavore’s speech... brought me to tears, I confess. It was blunt and dark. But this particularly: “The First Sword of Dassem Ultor—the Plains of Unta, the Grissian Hills, Li Heng, Y’Ghatan. The Bridgeburners—Raraku, Black Dog, Mott Wood, Pale, Black Coral. Coltaine’s Seventh—Gelor Ridge, Vathar Crossing and the Day of Pure Blood, Sanimon, the Fall.” This speaks to Erikson’s idea that he is writing just a small part of a vast history, that we joined the conversation partway through and will leave before it’s ended. Some of these events listed we have been witness to, others we haven’t.
And here we see a theme of the series explicitly handled. First T’amber’s words: “What awaits you in the dusk of the old world’s passing, shall go... unwitnessed.” And then: “Unwitnessed. There was crime in that notion.” Finally: “We shall be our own witness.” The idea of witnessing events, being party to them.
Ah, an answer to an earlier question of mine in this post: “...this ice is dying. A Jaghut ritual, crumbling.”
Nice way to introduce Bottle back into the story, using the owl!
This just goes to show that the Malazans don’t have any comprehension of the type of place they’ve invaded: “If I was this damned empire, I’d be flooding this coastline with soldiers before this day’s sun is down.” They have no idea of the bickering, the factions, the fact that so much is concentrating on Rhulad and the city of Letheras. From the impression we’ve got during the first half of this book, the Malazans could practically walk up to the Emperor’s door, thanks to what is happening with the Awl, the Bluerose, the increasing hostilities between the Letherii and the Edur.
And yet the Malazans are focused on the Tiste Edur? Why are they pursuing them? Because they were the ones who committed the atrocity on the island of Sepik?
The little jumps from squad to squad helps to reintroduce all of the Malazans of the Fourteenth to us again, and also shows little hints as to the campaign they plan to run, how far they’ve got etc. It’s just very comfortable to spend time with them. Not so comfortable knowing how much Tavore has been preparing for this: what does she know? And who told her?
Oh, now this is interesting—no matter Tavore’s speech and the lack of desertions, some people still aren’t convinced: “None of us are sure of this, are we? [...] Find the Tiste Edur...and cut them down [...] foment a civil war [...] Odd, isn’t it, how we now deliver upon another nation what we would not have done to ourselves. About as much moral high ground as this damned swamp. No, we’re not happy, Adjunct. Not happy at all.” That doesn’t bode at all well.
Oh bless. Beak is so cute! “Oh, and how old are you, by the way?”
And, wow, Beak is formidably strong, isn’t he? Giving us hints about the Just Wars, between the Forkrul Assail and the Tiste Liosan—now there are two races who are both convinced they’re right!
Oh yes, I forgot that Withal was the one to forge the sword that Rhulad now carries. And now Withal is in the same place as both Mael and that sword—guessing that this is an important thing to remember!
Lots of “tools of the gods” present also—you might think that something important like a war between the gods was getting up to speed or something....
It is going to be very interesting seeing more of these Tiste Andii, these adopted children of Sandalath Drukorlat. For me, the Tiste Andii are one of the more interesting races—fractured, with different strands, different ideals and different attitudes. We’ve seen a few different examples. I’m still fondest of those from Gardens of the Moon. Their separation can be understood when you consider their role models—Anomander Rake, Andarist and Silchas Ruin.
Altogether, a very intriguing chapter and a great return for the Malazans!
Bill’s Reaction to Chapter Thirteen
Tehol and Bugg are fun, but c’mon, it’s good to get back to our Malazan friends, especially as a break from the Bickersons traveling in the Bluerose Mountains. The names alone suffice—Throatslitter, Deadsmell. And then the repartee over Shurq being dead. Ahh, good to be back....
We’ve all had those head-slapping moments in this series, Amanda, believe me. And you’re right that it isn’t a good idea to assume nobody speaks your language, and that Shake seems to be picking up some Malazan, which would appear kind of careless on their part, but you’ll also note they’re using hand signals throughout and when they start speaking important stuff Shake can’t follow it at all.
Yes, for the “betrothed,” Shake doesn’t seem to think too highly of Twilight. We’ll have to see how that engagement play out.
Yes, Sinn is becoming more and more eerie. Something to definitely keep in mind. Even her brother says he doesn’t recognize her anymore. Nor her growing power.
Yes, that Lether tapestry does smack a bit of the English colonists and Native Americans, though I think sadly one could say that it is reminiscent of a lot of first contact.
I also like the line in that section that speaks to a running theme: “Strange how the past was remade to suit the present.” Something particularly applicable in today’s political season....
“A blinding beacon on this dark shore.” A shining city on the hill?
I love that so short but so cinematic moment when Lobe and Galt are sparring over the language issue (and the line “someone who knows things, that all”) and then they hear unfamiliar footsteps and that dismantled dagger that Lobe seemed “at a loss on how to put it all back together” flies together in Lobe’s hands and gets tossed to Galt who catches it on the fly without him ever slowing. Just take a moment to visualize that and enjoy.
You plucked out a lot of the strong moments in that scene, Amanda. As much as I dislike what happens with Blistig—what he’s been like lately and what’s coming—he makes a very moving point with regard to this army. We don’t see much of this because the characters we follow in the army have mostly made the army itself their family, but Blistig reminds us there are others who had families to return to—wives, sons, daughters, lovers, brothers, sisters. It’s something we need reminding of now and then because of the nature of our main characters.
And I like that speech of Tavore’s as well—plain, as Blistig says, not an oratorical flight of fancy by any means, but that litany of names, and the weight of each name, the burden of all the dead associated with each name. In other hands, those names may have been banners of supposed glory, but while they are moments of pride and of history in Tavore’s words, they are also heavy with grief: “comrades now fallen, now dust... the cracked vessels of your grief and pride. And you cannot stand in one place too long, lest the ground turn to depthless mud around your feet.” What a great image—dust, mud, earthen vessels, the way the past, grief, can suck one under.
And oh yes, “unwitnessed” indeed. Such a key word moving forward. Wait for it.
And we see that separation of Blistig from the army continue—“There had been no desertions. He did not understand. He didn’t think he would ever understand.” The Bonehunters, it seems, have moved beyond poor Blistig. I do, however, love his closing line: “We are not here in festive spirit.” No indeed.
What does Tavore know? And how? Welcome to a question that will now dog us the rest of the way, Amanda. I have my own theories, as I’m sure many of our rereaders do, but can’t really say anything at this point. But don’t forget that question: What did she know and when did she know it?
As for why they’re here and why they’re going after the Edur, well, that’s another good question. Sure, there’s Sepik, but that seems a bit of a stretch, wouldn’t you think? The abandoned Malazan army bringing Malazan justice down on those who offended the Empire that just tried to kill a bunch of them and exiled them? Or, as Keneb worries, is this yet another Pannion dodge, a la Dujek and Whiskeyjack? Hmmmm.
I do like Keneb though, and the way he stands as a nice contrast to Blistig.
And yes, Beak is strong. Note what he tells Faradan, Amanda—he knows all the warrens. All of them. And that will, as you might imagine, come into play later on in much more important fashion than finding them a better campsite. But what I want to point to here is his childhood—that’s a moving introduction we get, this poor kid living in that hell of a family, being beaten near to death. And how sad, that he runs to the army and finds it so lonely. Will he find his family here as others have? So far it doesn’t seem to have worked so well, with nobody liking him. Hard not to feel some compassion for this poor guy. Even after we find out what happened with his family. Not a lot of sympathy for them on my part, I’ve got to say. His obliviousness, his innocence to that night makes it all the more moving.
More bad omens about Sinn. Just saying....
Withal has a point about all the meddling the gods are doing, all the ways they are using the mortals. But remember those lines we’ve seen before, remember how well some of those manipulations have gone. Be careful when you mess with mortals. And Withal also has another key thought along those lines with regard to Tavore: If she had decided to stand against them [the gods], then she stood alone.” Is Tavore working against the gods? If so, which ones? Or is it all of them? And is she truly alone in doing so?
I like how Withal traps himself trying to avoid cynicism. Even horseshoes don’t let him escape. Does that say something about Withal? Or something about us?
Well, not a lot of great omens circling around Phaed, eh?
Nimander’s introspection regarding the Andii is reminiscent of similar language used by Korlat and Rake way, way, way back. It’ll be interesting to see if Nimander finds his way to an answer, or if he finds his way to someone with an answer. Also, perhaps we should note that we have some young Andii landing on Lether where we’ve also seen another young Andii (Clip). Any chance of the young Andii hooking up at all? (Not literally, though I suppose all is possible)
I’m with you, Amanda, it’s good to be with our Malazan friends once again.
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.