Mar 13 2013 12:00pm

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

The Malazan Re-read of the Fallen on Return of the Crimson Guard, Book Three, Chapter Three, Part TwoWelcome 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 readers. In this article, we’ll cover the second half of Book Three, Chapter Three 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.

Just a note: We’ll not be splitting the next chapter, so our closeout schedule looks like this:

Fri 3/15: Chap 4

Wed 3/20: Chap 5/Epilogue

Fri 3/22: Whole Book Wrap

Wed 3/27: Maybe (we’re looking into it) a Cam Q&A


Book Three, Chapter Three, Part Two


The Kanese, after the arrival of the mage ship, withdraw to see what is happening. Stalker tells Kyle the mages will have to do something about what just arrived, and might need support. Smoky steps through a portal and reports that Shimmer has gathered all the remaining mages and that Fingers and Blues have returned. He then tells Kyle they’re all in his debt and owe him an apology. He takes them all through the portal and Kyle joins a high-level meeting with K’azz, Simmer, Smoky, and others. Nil and Nether join them, along with Urko, as both sides have realized they’ll have to work together to deal with Yath and close the rent he opened into Chaos. They agree to try and kill Yath which they think/hope will shut the rent down. Possum appears and offers passage through the Imperial Warren. When the Guard mages point out that the Warren is a “death trap,” Possum says only for the unauthorized, making it clear Laseen is the one who has closed it off.


It’s decided that Nil, Nether, Possum, Gwynn, and Smoke will make the attempt. Smoky asks to see Kyle’s sword and is awed by it, telling Kyle it isn’t metal and he shouldn’t show it to anyone. Stalker tells Kyle he thinks they should make an all-out assault with all of them—“maybe then we’d stand a chance.”


Nait takes a look at Yath—a torrent of power and flame. Blues calls him down to a meeting where the Gold Moranth leader, Tourmaline, says they must try and close it, referencing a similar rent in his homeland. Tourmaline and Ho say a large blast might disrupt the growing rent and Tourmaline volunteers to do it. Nait agrees to help.


Nait’s group and the Moranth put together their munitions stock. Nait and Tourmaline head out and some mages join them to do what they can if Yath spots them. Nait accidentally offends Tourmaline by asking what gender she is (the “she” is a clue).


Tourmaline digs a hole as Nait watches Yath. Suddenly the other assault team arrives and attacks, soon joined by Ho and Blues. Yath sends the broken remnants of the ship into his attackers, killing one instantly, impaling Ho, and sweeping the others aside. Nait goes out and helps Nil and Nether into his trench. Back on the field, he watches Blues and Ho head for Yath again. Shapes suddenly appear behind them and attack, three strangely similar ones going after Ho. The Avowed, Treat and Sept, followed by Nil and Nether, enter the fray.


A new mage suddenly appears next to Nait, says he cannot allow this, and attacks Yath with incredible force. Nil, Nether, and Ho retreat toward the trench.


Heuk identifies the new mage as Tayschrenn. Su asks Ho if he won and he tells her “They acceded to me,” to which she replies, “I knew they would.” She then upbraids Nil and Nether for not bringing back Blues and they go back out to get him. They watch as Tayschrenn tries to send Yath through the rent, but then Heuk realizes Tayschrenn is standing right near Tourmaline and the munitions.


Kyle, K’azz, Urko, Shell, and others watch the mage battle in awe. A messenger arrives to tell Urko that Rel is leading the Untan Provincial Army this way. Kyle notes K’azz watching the messenger depart and wonders if K’azz is concerned Laseen might now try to take out the Guard with a newly-reinforced army.


Nait finds Tourmaline badly wounded lying atop the buried munitions. Looking at the mages, Nait sees Kiska holding off three trying to attack Tayschrenn (Nait thinks they might be Veils). Blues, Ho, Treat, and Sept arrive as Kiska falls, but one of the attackers manages to strike Tayschrenn and then both Tayschrenn and Yath disappear into the rift.


Shell says it looked like Isha who hit Tayschrenn, then reports Tayschrenn and Yath fell into the rift, which is still growing. As they discuss the next move, K’azz says the Brethren are suggesting to wait and let it grow a bit more.


Nait, stunned by what just happened, asks Ho just what he is, and Ho replies just another arrogant mage, expanding his answer to explain he was inspired by Ryllandaras and so turned himself into D’ivers. He says there are four of him left alive, but three conspired to cast him into prison, though they’ve just fled from him. The others leave Nait to his munitions work, taking Tourmaline and Kiska with them. He sets the fuse, waiting as long as he can for the rift to near the mound, then runs, almost getting sucked in himself. The munitions blow.


The rift is destroyed. There is much rejoicing.


Amanda’s Reaction to Book Three, Chapter Three, Part Two

Esslemont does some of the little moments very well, such as this moment where the commander of the Kanese forces nods in respect and acknowledgement of the stand by Lean and the Avowed before they pull back. It’s a tiny moment, very quiet, but it affects me a lot. Mind, I always appreciate when enemy forces have respect for each other and honour soldiers as a collective force—David Gemmell always did this magnificently.

Intrigued by what Smoky senses about K’azz as he goes to hug him—what’s going on there? The fact that K’azz is ageing? Something else? “It looks worse than it is.”

I do feel a little for K’azz. In this big reunion with his Guard, there have been no big flurries of welcome; he’s been dropped right in the middle of a battle where he sees more of his Avowed being cut down; and he has no idea about how the Crimson Guard were scattered to the four winds only recently prior to this. Poor guy has rather a lot to catch up on!

Heuk isn’t really a new High Mage, is he? I mean, he was being used by Draconus, so it seems to follow that it was the Elder God’s power? Or am I reading that wrong?

Right, it’s stoopid time from me... This rent into Chaos—how did it come about? I don’t actually recall that bit! I know about Heuk unleashing Kurald Galain, but that is now dissipating. Is the Chaos as a result of the Wickans’ travel through the warren? Or is it Yath that created it? Ah, yes. End of stoopid. It was Yath, because they’re now trying to hunt him down!

Now that is a real moment: “Heads among the mages turned, eyes narrowing. ‘Laseen...’ Smoky breathed.” Has she truly managed to prevent people from using the Imperial Warren by putting Topper there deliberately to assassinate those who try?

I just...don’t feel the tension in this rent as a climax to the novel. I would have preferred a more explosive finale between the Malazans and the Crimson Guard—perhaps K’azz’s arrival meaning more and swaying the battle. This rent just seems very much tacked on, rather than a smooth part of the narrative structure. “They are crimes against existence. They undermine the very ground upon which we live, the air we breathe.” These are just so many words.

I do like the idea of May furiously motioning at Nait to make him volunteer to help Tourmaline. And then the way they get the saboteurs to give up their toys is plenty funny as well. Although he emerged quite late in the book, Nait has been by far my favourite character.

It all gets a little bit confused for me—still not sure which of the six was beheaded—but I love the entrance of Tayschrenn and the way he bitch-slaps Yath. That is a terrific way to see him come back to power and attention.

That is some set-up with the Cawnese arriving and offering their forces—wonder how relevant it is that they come with Mallick Rel, who is actively trying to gain power? “Laseen gave her word...but that was when the field was more even. Would the temptation to try to finally rid the Imperium of its most enduring enemy lead her to reconsider?”

It is mighty cool seeing one of these mage on mage conflagrations. We haven’t seen all that many of them across the series, and this is some damn fine writing.

Ahhhh. I never dreamt that the three Silk tried to recruit and Ho were part of one Human D’ivers! Nice little reveal, that one. I do like being surprised like that.

And then KABOOM to finish the chapter. What other “and then” is Esslemont planning to give us in the last part of this book?


Bill’s Reaction to Book Three, Chapter Three, Part Two

I’m a little confused as to why it’s important that the assault on Yath goes through the Imperial Warren in order to surprise him. Generally, it seems anyone popping out of a warren would come as some surprise. Or, no surprise at all, as seemingly enough power coming through any warren can be sensed ahead of time. Or is the idea that Yath is “watching” all warrens but not the Imperial one because nobody travels it? That seems a bit of a stretch to me. That said, I like the other mages’ revelation that it’s been Laseen keeping the Imperial Warren a “death trap.”

And while I still believe there’s too much “and then and then” at the end there, there’s a lot I like individually. Here I like how groups are coming together independently to try and deal with the rent, and then those independent groups end up mingling. I think it’s all handled quite well. And it’s also good to have Nait/Jumpy in the mix so we get a less elevated view of things, and a non-mage view as well. I’m also a big fan of his interaction with Tourmaline and the fact that he needs to get prodded by May into “joining” up.

We eventually get the mystery cleared up about the Ahl and the brothers and Ho (and it turns out it’s the same mystery). I think we had sufficient hints to figure out that Ho was D’ivers, and the same with the brothers, the question more being could we put the two (or four) together. I did find it interesting that Ho mentions there were more of them at one point—seems there is some story still to tell there. I’m also a little curious about how they managed to defeat him once (get him sent off to the mines) but not this time (and we’ve seen how strong they are). And also how they knew to expect him as it seems they did, as there was talk of them coming out with a different agenda. Although perhaps that had nothing to do with Ho. I like Ho as a character, and his personal storyline (though not, as I’ve said, the mines plot), but I think it could have been handled slightly better. The attack is just a little overly murky, the questions I just listed, and then his long explanation in the middle of complete chaos and urgency all left me feeling it just a little short of spot on. But very minor complaints and he’s a character I wouldn’t mind seeing again.

Another highly enjoyable aspect of this storyline? The relationship between Su and Nil and Nether. Love how she appears and bam, the uber-powerful wizards are all “Yes Nana” and “No Nana.”

There’s also something smile-inducing about the spectating going on while Tayschrenn and Yath are fighting—you could almost imagine everyone kicking back, picking up a beer, tipping their hats back, and just taking it all in.

You just knew the moment Nait said “Looks like we’ll maybe get to keep all our goodies” that no, no they wouldn’t.

This is another very cinematic scene I think, something we’ve mentioned many times with regard to the other books and there is a lot here I’d love to see on screen.

This was a quick one—the big moments are coming fast and furious now and believe it or not, the big Putting on the Rift dance number isn’t even close to the closing big scene. Wait for it....

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

1. KingofFlames
The Imperial Warren isn't to do with Yath, it's just the only empty one that can get across the battle cleanly. People have been using all the other warrens, but the people with access to the Imperial Warren (Claws) know it's a deathtrap by now. So it's the best way to get the attack force close to Yath without having to be perceived by the army squad mages (and not knowing who these people were, the force might accidentally be attacked by one of the armies that are on the field. Using the Imperial warren avoids the risk of accidental attack on the way to Yath.

Rents aren't a new element of the narrative, there was one back in MOI where Toc ran into Onos T'oolan.

" the Rift dance number isn’t even close to the closing big scene. Wait for it...."

Highlight to read: We are. And you're lessening the impact of one of the best moments of the series by foreshadowing it. So stop.
2. KingofFlames
I intended to spoiler my last paragraph. Didn't work for some reason. Now I've gone and made a hypocrite of myself. Mods, I'd be obliged if someone could do it for me please. Thanks.
3. aaronthere
my favorite tayschrenn scene in the series. i like the earlier mention of the battle with moon spawn, and it's visual foreshadowing of the scene with the rent in the sky swallowing him up (another perspective on what happened that day revealed?)

it's been mentioned before the different ways ICE and SE treat characters, and I do feel they might compliment each other in giving us different sides of the same characters. I also have found that this book as a whole is the first book where I feel myself rooting for the non malazan side as I'd really like the crimson guard to succeed for some reason (not a fan of laseen or korbolo dom). i wonder if this was intentional or if I am alone in this...

finally, this is a first time read of this book (just finished my reread of house of chains last night 3am. so fucking goood) and all I can say is, please make Korbolo Dom get his comeuppance. there isn't much left in the book, but i'm still hoping...
- -
4. hex
I enjoyed Tayschrenn's character post GotM, and was troubled by his loss. His purpose as a check on power, keeping a lid on thaumaturgical excesses, was pretty cool. Too bad Yath didn't get that memo....

There's plenty of precedent in the series for "coming back", even after a vacation in Chaos. Anyone else feel a paralell between Tay and Gandalf?
Bill Capossere
5. Billcap
King--didn't we just see the Guard using a portal though--when Kyle and his group all stepped through to join the larger group? And we've seen portal/warren use throughout the entire day or two. Can't Smoky just use the same portal he just did? A large group just got through there unmolested And I'm not sure we've seen much evidence of a lot of capability of the Malazan mages (what few are left) to deal with warren movement. Or did I miss/reread something? It just seemed like a moment that wanted to be cooler than it was.

As for the perceived effect of my reference to the future, sorry you felt that way

The whole who to root for is interesting as you've got two sides with very mixed aspects to respond to. When you root for or against the Malazans, are you rooting for or against Laseen? Or for or against Rel? Two wholly different creatures. Or for or against Nait/Jumpy--another creature entirely. On the other side, are you rooting for or against Shimmer? Or for or against Skinner? I actually like the way things are so muddied in that way.

hex--I have a long-standing general rules on these sort of things with Tayschrenn. If someone falls through a portal, plummets over a cliff, falls into the water, etc.--unless I see the body, and then see the body interred, and then see the interred body dug up and eaten by wild animals, I'm not thinking "dead" yet
Steven Halter
6. stevenhalter
Tay falling through the rift had me worried here as to what problems his absence from the battlefield would casue. I'm not terribly afraid of his actually being destroyed here.
karl oswald
7. Toster
an interesting thing about the end of RotCG is that it's a pretty textbook convergence, yet many people don't seem to see it that way. i don't know if it's the fact that only humans are involved, or if it's that the converging involves multiple disparate storylines, but it's a classic convergence.

first is the massive gatherings of people and the draw that represents to ryllandaras, then the avowed and their high-level magery, you get heuk drawn into it with elder night unveiled, then a wickan charge through the abyss. when yath's ship arrives, some asked how it was possible to arrive EXACTLY at the battlefield. i say, well, according to the laws of convergence and the malaverse at large, where else would it go? there's been power unveiled in this empty field the like of which quon tali hasn't seen in a generation. then, when nobody can stop yath, and tayschrenn steps in, that's the ultimate example of power drawing power. black-hole meet supernova.
8. GoodOldSatan
OK. Who is this Yath that could battle Tay (who battled Rake and survived) to a (near) draw? Surely the history of Wu would contain many references to a mage of such stature. Maybe a different name?

And Topper???? That was the best use that Laseen could find for her master assassin? Hanging out for years in the Imperial Warren waiting for trespassers? (and to what end?). I would appreciate help here.
Brian O'Reilly
9. idlefun
@GoodOldSatan Yath had drawn on the combined power of most of the mages on the boat. Ho and a few of the others decided not to join in.
Tabby Alleman
10. Tabbyfl55
Also, Yath has spent the last N years on Otataral island, so it's not too surprising that he's not mentioned as a major power prior to this book. Who knows how many other Tay-Yaths are living in otataral hell?
Paul Boyd
11. GoodOldSatan
Well, N is less than 100,000 and probably less than 111. Either way, it sounds like some disgruntled hedge-wizard vs the most feared mage of the era (at least).
Tabby Alleman
12. Tabbyfl55
It did feel that way, but maybe because the only POV we ever got on the island (that I recall) was Ho, and apparently Ho is yet another breed of badass, who mightn't consider Yath to be anything more than a "disgruntled hedge-wizard".. for all we know, Tayschrenn is a hedge-wizard next to Ho, too. But no, we never got any hints of "before the island Yath was a badass high mage." so, I agree about the way it ended up sounding to us readers.
George A
13. Kulp
I find it a little annoying that here at the end of the novel, at the malazan convergence, we have a meeting that includes representatives from each of the factions/pov's. Kyle, K'azz, Simmer, Nil and Nether, Urko, Possum, and others all get together at the very end and team up to fight the "big bad." One thing I really appreciate about SE's convergences is that the different pov's would cross paths in ways that were unexpected. One example is Fiddler and Silchas at the end of Reapers Gale. This grouping here at the end of RotCG just seems like a bunch of characters from warring factions are thrown together - only because they are pov characters - to fight on the same side. I understand that Yath must be dealt with but I feel like ICE just wanted to throw all of his favorite characters together at the end, regardless of whether or not it made sense for them to team up.

I agree with above statements that this convergence would have made more sense if it was centered more on the Crimson Guard/Imperial conflict instead of trying to shoehorn in this mage battle.

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