Wed
Jan 9 2013 12:00pm

Malazan Re-read of the Fallen: Return of the Crimson Guard, Chapter Five, Part Two

The Malazan Re-read of the Fallen on Tor.com: Return of the Crimson Guard, Chapter Five Part Two 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 the second half of Chapter Five of Return of the Crimson Guard (RotCG).

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.

We won’t be splitting the next chapter.

 

Chapter Five Part Two

SCENE ONE

Ghelel Rhik Tayliin arrives in the command tent to vent her anger over what she sees as horrible military decisions taken without her input (dividing the army, for instance). She demands an explanation from General Choss and Amaron. Choss tells her Heng’s resistance has changed the timetable and they need to get there quickly so the resistance doesn’t bog down and start turning on itself, adding they’re leaving a big chunk of the army behind to defend Tali against Dal Hon, who might take advantage of the situation to gain territory. When Ghelel mentions honor, Choss angrily tells her there is no such thing with regard to commanders or states—winning is all. Amaron chimes in to say they have only one good mage, a far cry from how things used to be, and that their only advantage with regard to Ghelel is that nobody can identify her. They plan on setting up a façade and having her slip away in a new identity as a cavalry officer in the Marchland Sentries under Marquis Jhardin, who himself will not know her true identity. Molk will go with her as her servant.

SCENE TWO

Lt. Rillish orders a withdrawal from the walls. He’s appalled by the wounds among his soldiers and is told the healer Fessel was dead. The besiegers attack the walls one more time, setting off the explosives/flammables set by the garrison. Rillish drops down into an underground chamber where the Wickans had been sent and find them all dead and the mud covered in blood. The shaman Clearwater, impaled by spears, speaks to him and says, “a way has been bought,” telling Rillish to bring his soldiers. He says it’s an escape for the garrison and the Wickan children, one bought by the Wickans sacrificing themselves in this once-holy site. Rillish yells for Chord.

SCENE THREE

Rillish evacuates 32 before the building’s fire is too much and they’re forced into the underground passage. Going last, Rillish bids farewell to Clearwater then steps into a conifer forest in daylight, then into the night west of the fort. The Wickan children have already gone on ahead and the garrison survivors follow.

SCENE FOUR

Shimmer, aboard the Wanderer, watches Cowl’s Ruse ritual with a sense of distrust and wonders why the speed to get to Quon. She thinks how Skinner has changed and wishes he hadn’t found them, wonders what vows he may have sworn to his patron, Ardata of Jacuruku, the Ascendant who had given him the strange armor he seemingly never takes off. She and Smoky discuss the night Kyle ran off and he tells her the Brethren say they saw nothing. When he says Stoop hasn’t shown up she asks if he thinks the Brethren have been suborned. Shocked, he says he didn’t think it possible. Shimmer says the only answer then is that Kyle was a spy with powerful friends, though she clearly suspects those looking for him weren’t really interested in finding him. Smoky says the idea hadn’t occurred to him and she replies it was actually Greymane’s thought. Smokey says it makes sense. They discuss how the Brethren demanded an attack on Quon and how perhaps they don’t share the rest of the Guard’s priorities. Shimmer wishes Blues were around and also wonders what happened to Cal-Brinn. The two tell each other to be careful and Smoky leaves.

SCENE FIVE—SEVEN

Cowl, joined by other mages, continues the ritual, creating a curtain/portal, one which nobody had ever passed through before and lived to tell of. Shimmer wonders again at the urgency to get just three ships—the Wanderer, Gedrand, and Kestrel—to Quon, even if they carry most of the Avowed (2000 soldiers total). They pass through the portal. Shimmer sees the Gedrand listing with a broken mast and notes they are all dead in the water. Smoky points out that they are in the middle of a horde of becalmed ghost ships. Jhep says they must be in the legendary Shoals—a place where the god of the sea sends those who anger him. A lookout marks a glow in the distance “like magery” and they begin to row for it.

SCENE EIGHT

Heading south down the coastline with the others, Kyle wonders why Stalker and the rest, not to mention the local shaman, were helping him. Stalker says they’ve left the Guard because the Guard is “stuck in the present, stuck in the past.” He adds that he, Coots, and Badlands are distantly related and all of “the Lost back where we come from...back there it’s all the same. Stuck in the past...Imagine our disgust when we found more of the same in the Guard.” Coots arrives to say they’ve found a village with a new boat in it that they can steal.

 

Amanda’s Reaction to Chapter Five Part Two

Hmm. On the one hand, I don’t like the way Ghelel is being treated by those who have raised her up as Duchess. On the other hand I do feel as though she brings it on herself with her high-handed manner. After all, it’s not as though she is a military commander who can bring much to discussions about tactics—but they really should have her in the meetings so that she can pretend she is being involved and consulted.

This quote stood out to me: “Honour? Glory? All that horseshit those moon-eyed minstrels sing on about—none of that matters here in the field!” It just goes against what we’ve seen from many commanders over the course of the Malazan novels already read. We’ve seen honour on a number of occasions, so I don’t like the sweeping nature of this quote. It really turns me against Choss.

This makes my feelings towards Choss even worse: “Winning! Plenty of time afterwards to rewrite the history to make yourself look good.” Having said that, this is something that we’re very familiar with from our own history. I’m sure some of the losers in each war we’ve experienced would have a very different story to tell from that which is commonly accepted.

I confess I still haven’t got much of a handle on the Ghelel storyline and how it relates to everything else. As with Erikson, I think Esslemont will always have storylines that leave me colder than the others and this one is a good candidate.

What happened to Fessel and why wouldn’t he use his Denul? Just old, or something more sinister?

It’s a little odd to me that Rillish automatically assumes that all the Wickans have killed themselves. I mean, sure, they don’t like being prisoners and such, but it’s a massive leap to assume they’ve done a mass suicide. Even so, it looks like Rillish was right where the elders were concerned—sacrificing themselves for the good of their people. What is damn cool (in this nasty little bit) is that they’re also sacrificing themselves for the Malazans, who they’ve seen can protect their future. That’s a really nice touch.

Also, this is a complete and neat reverse of Choss’ attitude, where Rillish’s last act on evacuating is to help the wounded soldiers carry out those who are unable to walk. No honour in commanders, Choss? Really?

Now that image of the three ships floating in a dead sea of ghost ships is absolutely chilling. Fine writing here, by Esslemont.

Poor Kyle—I’m not even sure what Stalker is trying to make clear, when he talks about the Crimson Guard walking backwards into the future. I mean, I know he’s saying that they’re not adjusting and hence will stagnate if nothing forces them to change, but it’s not incredibly clear.

 

Bill’s Reaction to Chapter Five Part Two

This opening scene doesn’t seem to much advance the plot save to give us a chunk of exposition on what the army is doing and on the political concerns. Which I suppose we need, but it just feels a bit clunky and static to me. Especially when we get lines like “The Marchland Sentries...Under the Marquis Jhardin...They’re all veterans—the raiding is constant on the Nom Purge frontier...” A string of names and places that have no meaning to us and that don’t feel like they’re really fleshing out the world; they just feel tossed in. It’s interesting. I don’t know if I have such impatience for this Ghelel storyline because of what is going on (or, as I feel, what isn’t) or because I know where it’s going. What do our first-timers think of it so far? I’m curious, Amanda, how you feel about it at this point.

I find the bit about the Talian army going back to pre-Malazan ways with servants and all that interesting and a bit incongruous with what one might expect. After all, the pre-Malazan ways didn’t fare so well against the last Malazans. Seems Choss and Amaron would be a bit more displeased about this move.

Back to a much preferred storyline—Rillish and the others. Already the urgency and emotive impact is kicked up several notches—the last defense of the walls, the marines staying back to set the retreat, Rillish’s thought of what he could do with more of them. Then we get that pile of legs and arms and the news the healer is dead. And then the tension is ratcheted up to an almost unbearable point when Rillish’s fears that the Wickans have killed themselves, including all the children. Now this is concise, powerful stuff.

One part bothers me here though and that is that so much seems to be made of the healer’s death and I just can’t figure out why here or remember anything from down the road that would explain why (though that of course doesn’t mean there isn’t something down the road). Anyone else feel that way—that more seems to be made of the death here?

The schism amongst the Guard continues to get emphasized, and now we’re seeing a more concrete and precise conflict being set up between Shimmer and Skinner (I confess, I hate that those are the two names in the conflict).

An interesting line from Shimmer that seems to imply a lot “Hood, look on you who can never have us!”

It’s also interesting hearing Shimmer’s thoughts on the effect of having all the time in the world because of their Vow and think of her relatively mayfly-like life in comparison to some of our characters.

This is an awkward transition, going from the Guard rowing to a vague “They turned south.”

A few hints as to the oddity of Stalker and the others here—will we learn more about the “Lost” and how they are similar to the Avowed? Stay tuned.

Hmmm, wondering how stealing that new fishing boat is going to go?

A cute ending to this section.


Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.

Bill Capossere writes short stories and essays, plays ultimate frisbee, teaches as an adjunct English instructor at several local colleges, and writes SF/F reviews for fantasyliterature.com.

12 comments
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1. hex
I didn't care for Ghelel or her storyline much at all. Molk is one bright spot.
Steven Halter
2. stevenhalter
The Wickan storyline is very engaging. Deadhouse Gates has primed us with what "really" went on and so the sacrifice here resonantes most succinctly and maddeningly.
shirley thistlewood
3. twoodmom
I suspect the healer dying is meant to emphasise the degree of devastation. i.e Like some of the healers on the Chain of Dogs he used his Warren to help others so much as to die himself. I could be wrong. Seems to be a habit of mine.
karl oswald
4. Toster
unless i'm mistaken, the healer is the only other person in the fort who is sorcerously attuned. i'm betting that he could feel the sacrifice of the wickans as they made it, and, either willingly, or unwillingly, his blood was also drawn into the ritual. this could be the reason he refused to use denul - either his power was being drawn away, or opening his warren would have opened him fully to the ritual and snatched him away even quicker.
niallrj
5. niallrj
Hi. First time commenting here.

Having only being introduced to the Malazan books in August, i have finally caught up with the reread!

I too am struggling with the Ghelel plotline. I don't think ICE has given the reader a good sense of why Ghelel needs to even be there. I mean, if their motivations are to overthrow Laseen yet keep the current empire structure intact, then isn't having a monarch from one of the participant sovereigns as the figurehead kind of counterproductive? May just be the way i am reading it though?

Wickan storyline is great so far and also enjoying Kyles journey.

Other than that, really enjoying this book. Very different from SE style but enjoyable none-the-less, and a big improvement from NoK.

I can't believe it has taken me this long to be introduced to this series!
Kartik Nagar
6. BloodRaven
@5 : I think Ghelel is being used as a figurehead to ensure the loyalty of the Talian nobles and soldiers, and to ensure that there will be a illustrious ruler (and also one who is easier to manipulate) once the rebellion is successful, which is what Ghelel is being the last survivor of a famous family.

The Ghelel storyline is the most boring of all, and even the Wickan storyline so far appears cliched. Right from the moment Rillish and company met the Wickans, I expected some sort of sacrifice from the Wickans to ensure the safety of the Malazans. Although the details of the sacrifice are not very clear to me. Did they fashion a gate to a warren(the conifer forest with the daylight)? How did they die?
Tabby Alleman
7. Tabbyfl55
I get the feeling during this portion of the book that Ghelel is being set up to play a more important role later.
Christopher Rowe
8. sonnyjjchiba
@niallrj, what a coincidence, this is is my first comment too, and the exact part of the book where I caught up to the reread, though I've been reading all the old posts as I went through the series up to now. The reread has been a great resource, by the way, especially for highlighting some of the significant details I may have passed over on my own reading of the series. Thanks for that, Bill and Amanda.

I think that Esslemont is, as Bill has pointed out here, less deft in his character sketching and development than Erikson, and for this reason I'm also having a bit of a hard time getting a grip on Ghelel's arc. If she were more intriguing, I would cut her storyline more slack as it builds up to its payoff (but then again, going by other books in the series, who is to say that it will even have a payoff?). I admire the way both Erikson and Esslemont play with genre conventions, but character-wise (and for all their subtlties and complexities) I feel like I'm on a firmer footing in Erikson's books, at least up until the moment he decides to pull out the rug.
Paul Boyd
9. GoodOldSatan
@7 We can hope ... but, ... @8 think Redmask, only less so.
karl oswald
10. Toster
@ 6 Bloodraven

the wickans killed themselves with heart-thrusts. it's right there in the text.

the gate did indeed lead to a warren, and from the description of a conifer forest and due to events later in the novel, i'm inclined to guess that the gate was shadow. just a short stop off before they get spit out over the hill from the fort.
Sorcha O
11. sushisushi
I spent part of this chapter wondering who the hell Molk was and had he already been introduced and had I just missed him? I take it that this actually is the character's first introduction, right?
Joseph Ash
12. TedThePenguin
@3
The healer who killed himself healing that we saw promenently was Karnadas from the Grey Swords in MOI, but I actually made a different MOI connection. Remember when Mulch trached Trotts, said he learned it from a healer who could use Denul, but couldnt do it during battle, so he figured out other ways. I am not saying THIS is that healer, but it might be a common issue.

The conifer forest sounds a lot like Tremorlor from DG (anyone else what to know what Moby is up to?)

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