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 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.