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 begin our coverage of the first half of Chapter Twenty-Four 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.
Chapter Twenty-Four (Part One)
Before marching toward Letheras, the marines build a large barrow for Beak. They can hear the battle between the city and Tavore. They run into Letherii refugees and wonder why there are no Tiste Edur with them and why they seem more afraid of what they’re fleeing in the city than the army of invaders.
Fiddler tells Cuttle the stream of refugees has little to do with the Malazans. He wonders where Tavore is taking them and why, wonders what they are to witness.
Smile is discomfited by the sight of the refugees, as they remind her of home in their similarity to “slaves, pushed into freedom like sheep . . . [expecting] more slavery . . . They’ve been beaten down.” She looks forward to taking down the Empire and the Emperor.
Koryk and Tarr argue over the best approach to taking down Letheras, over whether they are still soldiers of the Malazan Empire and what it means if they are not.
Bottle worries that maybe Beak shouldn’t have sacrificed himself for the marines, that Tavore is going to need him at the “very end of the journey [where it] was going to be trouble.” He thinks all she has now in terms of a High Mage is Sinn, who is insane. Corabb tells Bottle they’ll be greeted as liberators and Bottle tells him they’ll have to fight street by street, also arguing that Corabb will outlive them all in terms of battle because he has the “Lady in [his] shadow.”
Helian in a fog. Skulldeath pants after her.
Sirryn flees the battle with Tavore and makes his way to a door into the city. He berates the soldier who lets him in and the youth tells him he wasn’t guarding the door; we was going to use it to escape the mob that now controls much of the city even as the Emperor is still fighting Champions. He adds that all the Edur have left. The soldier exits via the door and Sirryn heads for the palace.
Tarr’s squad captures the soldier right after he exits the door and he says he’ll tell them everything they need to know.
Balm thinks back on the just concluded battle, Tavore’s force shattering the Letherii. He and others (Masan, Throatslitter, Deadsmell, etc.) reach the “killing field” where Beak had sacrificed himself and find his barrow. Deadsmell tells them the barrow only holds one person, adding that the area has been wiped clean of all magic.
Lostara Yil tells Tavore most of the squads (not Balm’s) have returned and then tells her Keneb would have let them know what was happening if he could; he certainly wouldn’t attempt to take Letheras on his own. Lostara thinks back on the battle and how Tavore had let her soldiers slaughter the Letherii once they’d shattered, thinking “she hardens them, for that is what she needs.” Tavore informs Lostara that the Perish and Khundryl won’t be joining them; rather the Malazans will join them in the east—another campaign, another invasion. Tavore clearly thinks Keneb has in fact gone, in true Bonehunter fashion, to Letheras and says her group will march at dawn. She retires to the Froth Wolf.
On the Wolf, Shurq Elalle discusses with Withal how his wife fears for him, the approach of the Adjunct, her group’s impatience to get away from all this. Tavore arrives and tells Withal it’s nearly time and the two go below.
Banaschar sees the three Nachts dive overboard and head to shore.
Rautos Hivanar looks over his excavated objects and feels as if they are warmer to the touch. He exits his compound and is shocked by the condition of the city, though he admits to himself the “promise of anarchy, of collapse, had been whispered” long before the Edur conquest, and that too many had been willing to ignore the whispers.
Ublala Pung goes to the old Tarthenal cemetery, clears out five men there by knocking them unconscious, then begins to clear a space on the ground, trying to be ready by dawn when Karsa will face the Emperor.
Ormly and Rucket meet and he tells her their people are in place at “hardly popular” sites, in preparation for the scheduled execution of Tehol. He tells her about Ublala and neither knows what he is doing.
Ursto Hoobutt and his wife Pinosel drink while watching Settle Lake, preparing for it to melt and release the demon below.
The Patriotist compound is under siege by the mob, many of the mob shouting for Tehol, wanting to tear him apart before the execution. Tanal Yathvanar would have given up Tehol, but Karos Invictad (in his room obsessing over Tehol’s puzzle) refuses to do so. Tanal has kept Janath to himself, resuming his torture of her. He goes to Karos’ office and finds him there with Tehol. Tanal tells him the mob will break through soon and Karos advises him to dump coins over the wall. Tanal gives the order to do so then goes to Janath’s cell.
Karos tells Tehol he considers Tehol’s intellect closest to his own of any one he’s met. They discuss Karos’ attitude toward humor (superfluous) and the possibility of Karos handing Tehol over to the mob to be killed. Tehol says he’ll just buy his life and so Karos rejects the idea. Tehol offers to solve the puzzle Karos is obsessed with in return for his execution being delayed by years. Karos agrees, thinking Tehol can’t solve it. Tehol does, and Karos smashes the puzzle box then starts beating Tehol.
SCENE NINETEEN through TWENTY
Janath starts to strangle Tanal with her chains as he rapes her.
Veed tells Senior Assessor he smells more smoke, and discusses the past recent events: the Edur all leaving and Rhulad slaughtering all the champions but two. He confesses he once worked for the Nameless Ones and Senior Assessor says he’s known, that the Nameless Ones, whom he labels “fools,” are well known in his land of Cabal. Icarium leaves the compound, as Senior Assessor had predicted, and the two of them follow.
Samar Dev thinks despite Karsa’s prowess and confidence, his battle with Rhulad will have to end inevitably with Rhulad’s victory. Karsa tells her Icarium has left, knowing that he will not be needed. She suggests they leave and he tells her no, that the Emperor is not the one the Crippled God wants. When she asks him to clarify, he tells her she’ll know the time to do what he needs her to do. They hear the guards coming outside and Karsa readies himself.
The Errant notices that the water has rotted Feather Witch’s feet. He tells her the water is rising and she says “he was never as lost as he thought he was.” She tells him the empire is about to be his or hers and asks him to teach her the ways of love, as if she were a virgin. He reminds her how she was “used, often and badly” when she was young by a slave and “It is what has made you what you are now.” She hadn’t remembered and tells him to go, since she has Udinaas. The Errant says she never had Udinaas and warns her Ruin is on his way to wreck the place. He then starts to put thoughts together—the water rising, Mosag seeking the demon trapped in ice, Bruthel taking the finger from Feather Witch, Mael trapped in the Errant’s snare, another missing finger and the convergence about to happen.
Varat Taun, Finadd now of the Palace Guard, learns Icarium, Veed, and Senior Assesor had left, which gave him great relief. He thinks the siege will be quick and successful, leaving only Rhulad standing amid the ruins of the empire, assuming that the five armies sent out east to face the Bolkando uprising have also been destroyed since nobody has heard from them. He watches Rhulad and Gnol and feels sympathy at the child-like nature of Rhulad’s question: “What has happened?” Gnol says Rhulad will still stand, unmovable, and eventually the invaders will fail, will “devour themselves” - them or the Bolkando group if the Malazans decide not to occupy. He adds he is drawing up a surrender and planning a return to order, telling Rhulad the Edur will return. He orders Karsa brought to him to fight.
Amanda’s Reaction to Chapter Twenty-Four, Part One
Since there have been a couple of nudges about the poems at the start of the chapters, I decided to read this piece by Fisher Kel Tath and found it poignant, especially that first stanza:
If there were our last days
If all whose eyes can look inward
Now passed from ken
Who would remain to grieve?
When we leave the game, and everyone we know also leaves, who then remembers our names and feels for us? Only those who achieve immortality through something (like Einstein and people of that ilk) will be remembered. The common man is only remembered as long as those whose lives they’ve touched also remain alive.
I fiercely approve of the memorial raised to Beak out of the offerings from the Bonehunters. It means that, even if it was never true during life, he has people who respect him and the manner in which he passed.
I have to confess, I really don’t know what Keneb and the rest of them are doing deciding to march on an entire city! Surely the best thing is to get together with the rest of your force and then take it on? It seems beyond daft to me. Is it supposed to represent their newfound confidence and feeling of invulnerability? “An army of eight hundred camped outside one gate. They must be pissing in their boots.”
Not a good sign, these refugees from Letheras – and these soldiers are STILL marching on the city... “They are more frightened of what they’re just left behind in Letheras than they are of us. What in Hood’s name is happening there?”
It’s so odd how I find this description of Rhulad just utterly wrong, having seen his loneliness and descent into madness over the course of Reaper’s Gale: “...to eradicate a tyrannical Emperor who viewed anyone not his subject as meat for the butcher’s cleaver.”
Those are some dark thoughts from one of the marines we’ve often seen as being good-humoured, as Smiles reflects on wanting to cut Rhulad into little pieces.
Oh, Koryk’s comment has made it very clear about why a number of them might be dreading any sort of siege ahead: “Proper like Y’Ghatan?” Even knowing that events like that are truly rare occurrences, it must be crossing the minds of everyone there.
Bottle is the first to raise the idea that maybe Beak’s sacrifice wasn’t worth it. It’s a fair point to consider. We’re attached to these eight hundred marines, but, in the final showdown, maybe a High Mage like Beak would have been more useful. We’ll never know, but it shows a sharpness of mind from Bottle that we don’t see all that often.
I really love Corabb. That is all.
Hahahaha! I’m giggling like crazy at poor Hellian here! Imagine being that drunk, and coming back to yourself to find that all your comrades now had shiny armour and brilliant white hair. Very amusing image.
How very different this attitude is from that we’ve seen frequently from the Malazans: “There was no honour in dying alongside one’s comrades - he’d not known any of them anyway. Strangers, and strangers could die in droves for all he cared.” Charming chap, that Sirryn Kanar... And I really don’t see his picture of the future happening!
I am delighted that this nameless soldier threatened Sirryn Kanar with death. Just a shame he didn’t go through with it.
Crump! That guy can’t do anything unsupervised, can he? After what happened at Y’Ghatan, I would have thought someone would be checking what munitions he was allowed near!
You know, I didn’t even consider how Bottle’s wave of sorcery, as well as the Letherii magic, would look to those who were coming in on the ships, but of course they must have believed the rest of the Bonehunters dead. This is one of those times when I don’t like being the reader who knows they’re alive, because I end up shouting at the book and just wishing for them to find out the truth!
Also, wondering how this split in the Bonehunters will affect them in the future – the difference between those who fought the Letherii and realised that they were an effective fighting force, and those who were protected by Beak and now have the white hair. I hope it doesn’t have a negative effect.
Some dark humour there when they first look at Beak’s barrow and wonder whether it contains all of the remains of the Malazan marines – made me chuckle.
Tavore is cold here in her reaction to Lostara’s desperate words concerning the fate of the marines - and then she shows such perception where she says: “Fist Keneb would not send a runner . . . He would, in fact, lead his marines straight for Letheras. ‘First in, last out,’ as Sergeant Fiddler might say.”
Ahh, those nachts are SO adorable – in a bity, nasty, teethy little way!
There is something very sad about Rautos Hivanar trying to solve the puzzle of those artifacts while the city burns around him. “Rautos Hivanar set out, to walk a dying city.”
A little gem of a conversation here to just take some of the desperation out of this build-up to the final events between Ormly and Rucket. I do like the fact that Rucket sort of confesses that she actually loves Tehol – and it’s nice to see that they have something planned in terms of rescuing those who were taken.
And then a nice glimpse at Ursto Hoobutt and Pinosel from Midnight Tides – as they watch a bloody great demon break out of the ice prison. That bit is not so nice. We hardly need a demon entering the fray!
Oh, I HATE that Tanal Yathvanar is using the riots to justify the control that the Patriotists had forced over the city of Letheras: “Is it any wonder we were needed? To control them. To control their baser instincts. Now look what has happened.” I can’t comment on the rest of that section, because the whole Tanal Yathvanar/Janath storyline just makes me feel physically ill. This has gone to a very dark place and I can’t abide reading about it. Even the scene where she kills him is foul and so very difficult to read.
I get a truly vicious pleasure from watching Tehol reveal the secret of how to stop the two-headed bug from circling to Karos Invictad. It’s bad news that Tehol is so horribly injured, although he seems rather sanguine about it, and his talk of humour reflects the way that he lives his whole life. I do love Tehol.
So now we find out why Icarium has been so drawn to Letheras and why there was an earthquake on his arrival!
This is a delicious courtship between Samar Dev and Karsa. She loves him, right? Just the way that she thinks about him now—“this extraordinary warrior”—and the tears she sheds at the idea of him going up against Rhulad; it all points to deepening feelings. Which is why I really love exchanges like this that litter their dialogue:
“Women always get weak once a month, don’t they?”
“Go to Hood, bastard.”
“And quick to anger, too.”
Those sorts of exchanges keep it from getting too sentimental! I do sincerely love a will they, won’t they approach to relationships.
Wow, Erikson has managed to make me feel a flicker of pity amidst my disgust for Feather Witch, as the Errant reveals what happened to her in her childhood when she was sexually assaulted repeatedly.
Ha! I only got the rising water thing as the Errant started thinking about it too! Mael is striving to escape, isn’t he?
And yet another scene where I find myself so emotional about Rhulad – deserted by his very race, left alone to face both the Letherii and the invading Malazans, confused by everything that is happening.
We leave it finely poised....
Bill’s Reaction to Chapter Twenty-Four Part One
How many of these barrow scenes have we had? How many more will we see? I find Sort’s closing line: “Not a candle left to light, then” a suitably touching coda to Beak’s story.
Yeah Amanda, there is no rational support for the marines going in. But I get the emotional aspect of it.
Those refugees are a nice tease to the reader. We know of course the city was going to collapse, we know Rhulad is aiming toward confrontation with Karsa and/or Icarium, we’ve had lots of hints regarding that strange mechanism, etc. What is going on there, indeed? Nice suspense builder.
Yes, it’s funny isn’t it, how we read that line about Rhulad and now feel a twinge of sympathy for him. And thus the theme of compassion and empathy is embodied.
Note these lines from Fiddler btw: “Where in Hood’s name do we go from here . . . We must be our own witness. To what, dammit?” Remember, this isn’t actually their goal, this is a waystop....
I do love that “they must be pissing in their boots” line. Good ole Fid.
I think this is also an important line: “We’re not any more, are we? I mean, soldiers of the Malazan Empire.” It’s an important plot line I think, but it’s also a thoughtful concept – what do soldiers do when their organizing force has been taken from them, their alleged reason for existing as soldiers? Especially when they remain in a fight? Do they drop to the level of “some frothing barbarian”? Swords for hire? Do they lose a moral center?
Ditto on Corabb.
Bottle has some ominous thoughts of what’s to come. Maybe it was worth it to lose all the marines to save Beak for the future? That’s dark. And maybe not far off. And yet another reminder of crazy Sinn.
Love the irony of Sirryn referring to some “cowardly bastard” as he deserts . . . And that sharp contrast between his “no honor dying alongside one’s comrades . . . .[they] could die in droves for all he cared. Only one life mattered: his own” in comparison to the Malazans, to Beak, to Corabb protecting Bottle. Any wonder the Malazans are winning?
Once again, we see Tavore being much more insightful/knowledgeable than she’s often given credit for. She knows just what Keneb is doing.
More ominous looks ahead: “She hardens them, for that is what she needs.” And “The half of this campaign. Another invasion.”
Love that “Nefarrias Bredd” is the alleged source of the “First in, last out. Last in, looking around.” Love even more Tavore’s near-smile.
- Where are those nachts off to? More suspense.
- Why is Hivanar’s equipment getting warmer? More suspense.
- What is Ublala doing? More suspense.
- What are Ormly and Rucket planning? More suspense.
- Who are Ursto Hoobut and Pinosel and why are they waiting for the demon to arrive? More suspense.
- Where is Icarium off to? More suspense.
- Why is the water rising? More suspense.
- What is the Errant so suddenly worried about? More suspense.
- What does Karsa need Samar to do? And why? More suspense.
I agree Amanda, that whole bit with Tanal and Janath is just too hard. Especially her having gone through it once and been healed. It’s tough to read, tough to think of, tough to respond to.
On a more palatable note is Tehol and Karos. You have to love that whole scene, despite Tehol’s condition. His entire attitude, his being in there as the designer of the puzzle, his back and forth on irony and humor (and indeed, how does one recognize human nature without an understanding of the basic absurdity of mortality that lies at its deepest, most central core?). My favorite, most touching part is his “Run! Run!” Damn Erikson, he even has me caring about a bug.
And damn him again, he’s got me feeling sorry even for Feather Witch – abused, raped as a young girl, the memory blocked away though it has festered inside and, as the Errant says, “made her what she is.” And empathy rears its ugly head again, despite all resistance. Not that it excuses her.
That’s a nice recap by the Errant of the convergence coming. Really sets the stage:
We have come to the moment—Icarium walks—where? A foreign army and a horrifying mage approaches. Silchas Ruin wings down from the north with eyes of fire. Hannan Mosag—the fool—crawls his way to Settle Lake even as the demon god stirs—and she says he was never as lost as he thought he was.
The state is indeed being set, the players settling into position or marching onstage. And soon to enter, Karsa. “Bring him.”
I love how Erikson has set this stage and created so much suspense via all these mini-chapters. Oooh, gonna be good....
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.