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 Eighteen 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 quick apology for the unscheduled gap on Friday - Bill still had nasty real life stuff rearing its ugly head, while Amanda was deep in convention mode at FantasyCon and was suffering a lack of both time to read and wireless to connect to t'Internet with!
Triban Gnol mourns the disfigurement of his hands, hands he believe he got from his real father – Turudal Brizad (the Errant). Sirryn reports he hasn’t found Bruthen Trana and Gnol believes Mosag sent him back home to punish him for starting a “bloodbath” in the palace. As he heads to the Emperor, Gnol thinks how the Malazans are killing mostly Edur (especially the mages) and how he has special instructions to the Letherii commanders based on that realization that he will send them via Sirryn. Gnol admits to Rhulad he’s surprised by how the Malazans are slicing through the Edur/Letherii defenses and at their having come so far for vengeance, then wonders if the Emperor might be able to buy off the invaders. Mosag scoffs and says he knows what the Malazans are here for, though he’ll only tell Rhulad in private. Gnol tells them he knows already, that the Malazans have come solely for the Emperor. He says the Edur and Letherii must stand together and suggests two lines of defense—one around the city and one farther out. Rhulad agrees and assigns Mosag and the K’risnan to Gnol. He then gets Rhulad to resume the challenges in four days, with Karsa going second to last (Rhulad quails at how they’ve allotted three days for Karsa to kill him) and Icarium going last. Gnol tells Rhulad that his killing of Icarium, considered a god by the Assessor’s people, will help them prove/proclaim Rhulad a god himself. Rhulad agrees and Gnol thinks how he will use the Emperor and the Edur.
Leaving the Emperor, Mosag tells Gnol to stuff it and walks off. Gnol finds Karos Invictad in his office. Invictad demands Bruthen Trana. Gnol tells him Trana is gone, and they have more important issues, such as the invasion and the economy. Invictad reveals he decided a while ago to remove the power of wealth from Rautos Hivanar and the Liberty Consign and has been using the saboteur as cover for his own economic shenanigans, which have made him the wealthiest man in the Empire, and also that he doesn’t care that many of the great will fall. Gnol realizes tables have turned and Invictad says he has no interest in taking down the Chancellor – the two of them will control the Empire together He also announces he’s about to arrest the saboteur. He leaves, though not before Gnol tweaks him over his obsession with a puzzle.
The Errant, who has been watching the scene in the throne room, is frustrated at seeing the war going on between Mosag and Gnol but not being able to figure out their secrets. He sees Rhulad’s own realization of a convergence coming, and his fear, and feels some empathy. He leaves and meets Feather Witch. She speaks of having saved names of spirits from the rising floods and he informs her that the ice prison of the Edur’s sea demon is failing, though he thinks Mael will do something about that. Feather Witch orders him to stop Mael, then says tonight she’ll visit Udinaas in his dreams and recruit him.
Invictad whacks Tanal for spying on him for Gnol. Tanal, having no idea what he’s talking about, apologizes anyway and says he’ll never do it again. He looks forward to arresting the economic saboteur, though he worries about the state of the city.
The Errant travels below the city to Gerun Eberict’s old home, a place of power, an old temple to Mael, where he begins to weave a ritual.
Bugg meets with his advocate and begins the chain of defaults that will bring down the economy. The advocate is not happy.
Janath asks Tehol why he’s doing something that will cause so much pain and sorrow and death. She comes to understand he will do it for “the good of everyone” and also, that he will take responsibility for what happens. Tanal Yathvanar arrive to arrest Bugg.
Tanal announces his purpose and though Bugg isn’t there, arrests Janath as a fugitive and Tehol for harboring her (even though Tehol says she’s been “pardoned.”)
Bugg returns to find them taken. He plans to go get them, using “an Elder God’s rage unleashed.” He sends Ublala off. He begins to use his power but then is caught in the Errant’s trap set earlier.
Rhulad sees ghosts—his brother Binadas, Fear, Trull, Udinaas, Nisall. He’s just been told his parents drowned in the flooded cells.
Trull weeps as he and Onrack watch Quick Ben meet Hedge. He tries to say it’s because he thinks of his bothers being reunited, but Onrack knows there is more to it – an unanswered love. Trull begins to speak of it.
Amanda's Reaction to Chapter Eighteen
Hmm, the start to Chapter Eighteen isn’t one I like much. First, who would collect together suicide notes to put in a volume? Second, which person committing suicide would spend as long a time as this sixth note does when intending to do away with themself? Hmm, I’m probably reading too much into this! Tell me all the ways that you love it and find it appropriate!
Hang on, is it being said here that Triban Gnol came about as a result of a dalliance between his mother and the Errant? Or was there a time when Turudal Brizad was not the Errant, when he was just a person?
Oh, how many ways do I despise Triban Gnol? Let me count them... “And now, like a crooked ancient, he took children to his bed, gagging them to silence their cries. Using them up.”
This is the first real time that we see the view of the Malazans now that battle has been joined a few times: “The foreign enemy was deadly. They killed mages as a matter of course.”
Hmm, interesting though that Triban Gnol has noticed the fact that the Malazans are targeting the Edur. It’s easy to forget his intelligence in the midst of all this loathing! He is exactly the person you wouldn’t want to notice, because you just know he’ll be using that knowledge to his own advantage.
I do think Triban Gnol has a point here, and it’s one we’ve touched on before (especially me, because I have no sight as yet of the complete picture when it comes to Tavore’s knowledge and plans): “Unanticipated [...] that the imperial fleets in their search for champions should have so riled a distant empire. As to that empire’s belligerence, well, it seems almost unmatched; indeed, virtually insane, given the distances spanned to prosecute vengeance.”
Poor Rhulad. He is constantly being manipulated – here, into a position of terror at the idea of an entire army coming for him. And this is an army that might just succeed where individual champions have failed.
I wonder what it is Rhulad fears more – the idea of the final death, with no coming back, or the idea that even an army couldn’t destroy him and he would still keep returning to the body that is such a prison? [Bill: Perhaps you’ll have a chance to find out.]
Ack, more horrible manipulation!
“There have been incidents of violence, a growing impatience.” He paused again, two heartbeats, then said in a lower tone: “Speculation, sire, that you fear to face them...”
That poor vulnerable child, especially when he is finally given to understand the nature of these new champions who await him. I can just imagine his terror when he says: “I am to cross blades with a god?”
Ah, and I see Triban Gnol’s plan, or at least part of it – the idea of winning Rhulad over by telling him that he could be a god. Now this is something that makes me wonder... If Rhulad is told he could be a god, if he beat a number of champions, if people started to believe him to be godlike – could he not be raised to godhood?
I do like the way that Erikson handles the Tehol plots, both in this and in Midnight Tides – the way that casual remarks from other players is what keeps his plan in the forefront of your mind. It’s quite a passive storyline, and you only realise a little way along what is going on. These sneaky little reminders are often the only pieces that we have to put together a whole picture: “I have four armies massing west of the city for which wages are now two weeks overdue. Why? Because the treasury is experiencing a shortage of coin.”
And then this wonderful misrepresentation of Tehol: “Tehol Beddict. Recall him? Who could not lose, whose wealth shot skyward with such stunning speed, achieving such extraordinary height, before flashing out like a spent star in the night sky. Oh, he liked his games, didn’t he? Yet, a lesson there, and one I heeded well. Such genius, sparking too hot, too soon, left him a gutted shell.” Ahhh, I do hope those words return to bite Karos Invictad on the ass!
Hmm, Karos Invictad boasts of being about to arrest his fellow conspirator in wealth-stealing and yet he can’t solve the puzzle set him by Tehol. So, either Tehol wants to be arrested and has arranged it to happen, or Karos is about to arrest the wrong person!
It is odd to see a god so helpless, and the Errant certainly seems this, as he contemplates following around Triban Gnol to listen in to everything he does in an effort to obtain knowledge.
You know how at times I’ve hated Rhulad? It’s very hard to bring back those feelings when reading something like this: “The fool, for all his bulk, now sat on that throne in painful insignificance – so obvious it hurt to just look at him.”
Haha! “And who am I to sneer in contempt? A damned Letherii witch swallowed one of my eyes!”
Hmm, when Feather Witch says this, are there links to what the Shake believe? “The sea, Immortal One, remembers the shore.”
Oh, so the Errant has taken Feather Witch’s idea of “worship is a weapon” and is looking to resurrect the worship of Mael? Hmm, I guess this would seriously distract Mael and take him away from Tehol and any other concerns he is pursuing....
Nice exchange between Bugg and Sleem! Particularly chuckled at repetition of “despised discombobulation.” And the idea of Bugg going to a barber to have his nose hairs and ear hairs dealt with is beyond funny.
We’ve been watching Tehol and Bugg’s actions with glee—I have, anyway—and now Sleem provides us with a sudden splash of cold water in the face: “To level the playing field? But it won’t do that, you know. You must know that, Bugg. It won’t. Instead, the thugs will find the top of every heap, and instead of debt you will have true slavery; instead of contracts you will have tyranny.”
This is both ominous and quietly regretful: “He (Bugg) set out from his office, to which he would never return.”
It’s weird. In Midnight Tides I grew enormously fond of the Tehol sequences, because it provided light relief from the relentless grim storylines surrounding it. Here, in Reaper’s Gale, those same sequences seem to have suffered a little thanks to the introduction of the Malazan peeps. I still like them, don’t get me wrong, but I prefer the rough humour of the soldiers to the daft humour of Tehol (this chicken stuff being a key example).
Oh, I do like this pronouncement of Tehol’s: “I have never claimed a moral high ground [...] which in itself sets me apart from my enemy.” [Bill: Also one of my favorites.]
Ah, Bugg was the frontman to the whole scheme, so he’s the one being arrested. Ha! I think me that Karos Invictad has bitten off more than he can chew, if he thinks to arrest an Elder God.
And here’s the result of Bugg’s worshippers awakening: “My mind – I have been distracted. Distant worshippers, something closer to hand...”
Wow, there is a LOT going on now. So the Errant actually set a trap for Mael, who is now snared and out of the game. That can’t be right. Also interesting that Mael was prepared to unleash all his power in the protection of Tehol and Janath. And then the most clumsy piece of foreshadowing I think I’ve ever seen Erikson commit to paper: “Had Bugg told him then, in clear terms that Ublala Pung would comprehend, all might well have turned out differently. The Elder God would look back on this one moment, over all others, during his extended time of retrospection that followed. Had he spoken true-”
Ouch, this sequence featuring Rhulad being faced down by those closest to him is deeply painful to read – especially when we discover that his parents were left down in the dungeons until they drowned. Through neglect. Through forgetfulness. What a horrible waste of life. “The rising waters, this melting, this sinking palace. This Eternal Domicile. I have drowned my father. My mother.”
Does...does Quick Ben see Hedge at this point? Is that who he walks to meet? Oh, what a beautiful meeting, if so.
And lovely to hear, at the end of this section, that Trull’s love is still strong for Seren Pedac. That is a surprisingly sweet and poignant moment to end on, and I treasure it more both because of what came before and because I can’t see too many coming in future.
Bill's Reaction to Chapter Eighteen
No, you’ve got that right, Amanda. Gnol is the Errant’s son. Though I don’t believe much actually comes of that. (I could be forgetting something.)
I like that idea we get of Gnol being warped (well, by several things, but in particular I like this one) by having the hands of an artist but not the talent (or perhaps soul?) of one. And the idea that an unmet potential can twist someone like that (his cruel stepfather didn’t help I’m guessing). That said, kind of hard to not want this guy to get his comeuppance soon after his description of what has become his “art.”
File this line away, by the way: “The Chancellor has prepared secret instructions to the commanders. He could see a way through this. For the Letherii that is.”
Any surprise that a guy who rapes children would believe that “some things should never be revealed”? One wonders if he murdered his stepfather because of his father’s cruelty or because of his father’s ability to see into the soul via his art. One might also wonder just how cruel the father really was.
I like how our introduction to Rhulad comes with this description, ostensibly of the floor: “cracked, scarred, and gouged.”
Get used, Amanda, to having “no sight as yet of the complete picture when it comes to Tavore’s knowledge and plans.”
Ahh, the running belief of the imperialists: “Savages possess the strangest notions . . .”
That’s an interesting question, Amanda, about whether or not Rhulad could indeed become a god. I think in theory, yes. But in his specific case, my own belief is no. Sure, he’s got the whole immortality thing going as Gnol points out. Cool magic weapons don’t hurt. Nor probably do declarations of said godhood, followed, one would assume, by mandated “worship” which might even, over time, become actual worship (Remember, one needn’t “like” their god to worship them). But so much is made of the idea of “will” in regard to ascension in this series and I just don’t see Rhulad as embodying that kind of will. He is dragged into his immortality, his victories, by the sword, manipulated into events by others, reacts to events. I think he lacks the requisite will to ascend. Other thoughts?
This is a chapter filled with misapprehending, isn’t it? Gnol thinks he’s the only one who knows the Malazans are targeting the Edur and the Emperor (we’ll put aside if that’s actually what they’re doing, or all that they’re doing), but it turns out Mosag does as well. Gnol thinks the Rautos and the Consign have (or at least had) all the wealth and his people have been seeking the saboteur and it turns out Invictad has been doing his own sabotage. Gnol thinks he’s the power behind the throne and now Invictad turns out to be, seemingly, the power behind the power behind the throne. And of course, Invictad thinks Tehol “flamed out,” when he hasn’t, thinks he’s about to get the “lone criminal” when he isn’t, (well, he is, but, well, you know what I mean), thinks he’s the smartest guy in the Empire when he clearly is not, and, of course, thinks he’ll knock off that damned bug-puzzle anytime now. (But will he be defeated by a bug? By a Bugg?) All of which begs the question, are these the only errors these guys are making in their proclamations and thoughts and are they the only two in this chapter so deceived?
I like the Errant’s thoughts on Rhulad and on people in general vis a vis the “bifurcation” of ourselves. The self that presents itself to a watching world and the self that is the self in solitude. It has an echo of Tavore’s “Unwitnessed” to it as well. What would one do if one knew it would go unwitnessed? Who is he when he’s at home?
“Convergence” twice in two or three pages. Now that’s the Erikson we all know and expect!
So is Rhulad’s symbolic presentation of the “haves-and-have-nots” the 1% and the 99%, or the 47% and the 53%?
Love this line: “solitude and insanity, most natural bedmates.”
The Errant’s journey beneath is a reminder of something we haven’t seen a lot of recently, though we were peppered with these sorts of images earlier in the book and the series – the idea of the buried past, the detritus that lies beneath. And his use of it reinforces what has often been a parallel concept – that the buried past seldom stays buried, is seldom truly past. I like as well how the usual pottery we get in these types of scenes echoes the chancellor’s earlier thoughts on art.
Sleem and Bugg’s conversation starts off like so much comic relief, but it takes, for me, a nice veer into one of those set moments of “philosophizing” this series is famous (notorious?) for. And becomes a pretty dark indictment of our modern world.
In general, I haven’t found the Tehol scenes wanting, though I’d agree, Amanda, that this is one of the weaker ones with the hens. Also, Ublala isn’t as good a comic partner as Bugg, I’d say.
As with Bugg’s conversation just beforehand, I like the elevated substance of this discussion between Janath and Tehol. It’s hard to argue with him that seemingly no generations are enough to rid us of inequity. Offhand, it’s difficult to come up with human societies that lack inequity. Anyone? It’s interesting though that as we near the last third of the book, we’ve got two people now calling into question what Tehol is doing (remember as well Tehol himself pulled back from this once before, something Bugg kindly reminds us of a few pages earlier). Is what he is doing justified? Can we know yet? Is Sleem right that it won’t actually change anything beside removing the veil (or the masks as Bugg says)? Is Janath right to upbraid him for what she sees coming? At this point, I’ll just say to file away Tehol’s line that he will “accept responsibility for the consequences . . . Somebody has to.”
Okay, the last hen lines weren’t so funny. But even knowing it’s coming, I cracked up (like that nameless guard) at Tehol handing Tanal the chicken and saying “we never really expected the ransom in any case.”
So, who are those “distant worshippers” that have been distracting Bugg/Mael? Hmmmm?
Yeah, personally I’m with you, Amanda – not a big fan of that narrative intrusion in regards to the big moment Bugg let go.
My own reading, Amanda, (which may be wrong obviously) is that Rhulad’s parents were not drowned via negligence, that it was instead quite purposeful. Though it’s possible that gets clarified ahead and I’m just forgetting.
That is a tough, tough scene as you say (remember how many of us felt about Rhulad earlier? That seems an age ago). I think it’s interesting that one of Rhulad’s worst acts was his Shorning of Trull. And yet, who is truly Shorn? Trull is with best bud Onrack and new pal Quick Ben. He even found a woman to give his sword to. And Rhulad? Shorn of Bidinas. Shorn of Trull. Shorn of Fear. Shorn of Udinaas. Shorn of Nisall. Shorn of his bride. Shorn of his parents. Shorn, via Gnol’s machinations, of his own people. Who indeed is most Shorn between him and his brother? I find it no coincidence we move from Rhulad directly to that brother, watching a reunion of two old friends (kinda sorta) and about to tell a tale of love to his best friend.
Nor, I hate to say it, do I find it coincidence that that story ends with an ellipsis.
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.