Malazan Reread of the Fallen

The Malazan Re-read of the Fallen: Gardens of the Moon, Chapters 2 and 3


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 readers. In this article, we’ll cover Chapters 2 and 3 of Gardens of the Moon (GotM). Other chapters are here.

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, so while the summary of events may be free of spoilers, the commentary and reader comments most definitely will not be. To put it another way: Major Spoilers Next Eight Months.

Another fair warning! Grab a cup of tea before you start reading—these posts are not the shortest!

Setting: Pale, on the continent of Genabackis, two years later

Two mages, Tattersail and Hairlock, have just survived a spectacularly destructive magic battle with Moon’s Spawn, a floating mountain/sky keep that is home to a large population of Tiste Andii and their lord Anomander Rake. Moon’s Spawn had been protecting Pale, but is now retreating, leaving the city open to the depredations of the Malazan army’s allies, the Moranth. Hairlock is missing the lower half of his body, and as Tattersail wonders at his strange cheer, four Bridgeburners show up (Whiskeyjack, Sorry, Quick Ben, and Kalam). Tattersail learns almost all the Bridgeburners were killed during the attack, buried while tunneling under Pale.

Tattersail flashes back to an earlier planning session that reveals tension and suspicion between the Empress and the Bridgeburners under the command of Dujek Onearm. We learn more about the campaign in Genabackis: the Tiste Andii and the mercenary company the Crimson Guard, under the command of Caladan Brood, have fought the Malazan 5th Army to a standstill in the north, while here at Pale, the High Mage Tayschrenn has arrived to lead an attack on Moon’s Spawn and drive it off. As Tattersail recalls the battle, she realizes Hairlock and her lover Calot (another mage) weren’t killed by Rake but someone else; she suspects Tayschrenn. Two other High Mages were killed: Nightchill was torn limb from limb by a Ken’Ryllah demon (her lover Bellurdan collects the remains) and A’Karonys was crushed by ethereal wings of ice. Moon’s Spawn retreats from the battle, moving south.

Back to present time, Tattersail watches as Quick Ben performs a soul-shifting ritual that puts Hairlock’s mind into a wooden puppet, which they give to her. She agrees to be part of their plans if it means vengeance on Tayschrenn.

The Bridgeburners discuss that the Empress is deliberately killing off all the old guard that served the Emperor.

Tattersail does a reading of the Deck of Dragons while Hairlock observes, and she draws the Knight of Darkness and Oponn, the two-faced Jester of chance. She sees a spinning coin on Oponn’s card, and afterward also hears the sound of a spinning coin.

Amanda’s commentary on Chapter Two:
So, events have moved on another two years. Our extract this time is written by Felisin—is this the same Felisin that is Paran’s sister? What part does she have to play in the future?

The Moranth have allied with the Malazan to destroy the Free Cities—we join the action with Tattersail, a mage in command of the 2nd Army’s wizard cadre. The siege of Pale is finally over, but the “sorcery that had been unleashed here today had been enough to fray the fabric between the worlds.” Here we have an indication that the use of sorcery is more than a little dangerous; we also learn that the Moranth allies are hated for their demand for “an hour of blood” against the citizens of Pale.

What also occurs to me is that in usual fantasy novels this siege of three years would have comprised the bulk of the action, yet in this book it is a brief mention and nothing more (at the moment anyway—I don’t know if we’ll flashback to this battle at any point).

Erikson continues his rather grim and gruesome descriptions at the start of the chapter: Tattersail reflects on the piles of burnt armor that used to contain men and women and she talks with the wizard Hairlock, who has been destroyed from the hips down: “Pink, mud-spattered entrails billowed out from under his ribcage, webbed by drying fluids.” Fairly gross, I think you’ll agree!

Linked into the idea that we’re not seeing the three years of the siege, we don’t see the build-up of enmity between Tattersail and Hairlock or the reasons behind her not liking him. We do see Tattersail’s instant feeling of foreboding towards Sorry when they meet: “Something wrong there. Careful.”

We understand that Whiskeyjack has had a fall from grace since the Prologue, and that Laseen is using the Bridgeburners as a disposable force at the forefront of the worst of the battles:

Names heavy with glory and bitter with the cynicism that every army feeds on. They carried with them like an emblazoned standard the madness of this unending campaign.

Whiskeyjack and Tattersail are both numbed by the scale of the destruction they’ve faced. Tattersail is the last of her cadre standing, while the Bridgeburners have gone from fourteen hundred to thirty or thirty-five. From the hints being dropped it sounds as though the mages may have caused the destruction of the tunnels that the Bridgeburners were assigned to. Certainly Tattersail is distraught when she realizes where Whiskeyjack had been that morning. Certainly the battle hadn’t gone as it should have done:

Tayschrenn’s not making any friends. Good. The day had been a disaster, and the blame fell squarely at the High Mage’s feet.

Calot is a century old! Is this usual with mages? Dujek used to be under Whiskeyjack’s command and now he’s High Fist? It would be interesting to find out how this happened. The dark foreshadowing of Calot’s death is inserted in such a casual and offhanded manner that you almost skip past it.

For once in Tattersail’s flashback, we are handed a whole heap of information at once! “The enormous mountain hanging suspended a quarter-mile above the city of Pale” is home to the Tiste Andii, and is impenetrable by any means, including Laseen’s undead army. Well, okay, it sounds like we’re being handed a whole mass of facts pertinent to the story, and yet it actually gives us more questions than answers—or it did for me anyway! I’m busy pondering what Moon’s Spawn is; how it floats; who is in charge; what the undead army are and how they came into being; why Moon’s Spawn tangled with the Emperor previously; why the Moon’s mysterious lord is involving himself in the current conflict…?

Ouch, exchanges like the following make my head hurt. What is going on? Does anyone care to elucidate for me?

“Something in the air, soldier?”

He blinked. “High in the air, sorceress. High as they come.”

Tattersail glanced at Calot, who had paused at the tent flap. Calot puffed out his cheeks, making a comical face. “Thought I smelled him.”

There are plots within plots all the way through this story. The idea that the Claw sent to hunt down Pale’s wizards might also target Malazans shows how on their guard everyone has to be, demonstrating no sign of weakness.

Wow, this paragraph was seriously as though I had started reading the book in a different language:

“The Tiste Andii are Mother Dark’s first children. You’ve felt the tremors through the Warrens of Sorcery, Tayschrenn. So have I. Ask Dujek about the reports coming down from the North Campaign. Elder Magic—Kurald Galain. The Lord of Moon’s Spawn is the Master Archmage—you know his name as well as I do.”

I sincerely hope at least some of this will begin to make sense soon! I also think that Tattersail’s thoughts concerning Caladan Brood might prove to be important in the future of this book or others:

“Calot was right: the name of the man commanding the Tiste Andii alongside the Crimson Guard did sound familiar—but in an old way, echoing ancient legends, perhaps, or some epic poem.”

Argh, and here’s another of those paragraphs! It should be telling me plenty of back-story and yet it doesn’t tell me anything:

“Hairlock had been with the Empire longer than she had—or Calot. He’d been among the sorcerers who’d fought against the Malazans in Seven Cities, before Aren fell and the Holy Falah’d were scattered, before he’d been given the choice of death or service to the new masters.”

One point I’d like to mention is that the brief flashes of humor sometimes come as a real shock because they’re so unexpected amidst the relentlessly grim descriptions. It is brusque military humor as opposed to light-hearted frippery, but it still manages to soften the intensity of the rest of the prose.

Tattersail’s memory shows us how Tayschrenn (under orders from Empress Laseen) condemns the mages under Dujek to death. There is a real sense of foreboding as Hairlock says:

“Anomander Rake, Lord of the Tiste Andii, who are the souls of the Starless Night. Rake, the Mane of Chaos. That’s who the Moon’s Lord is, and you’re pitting four High Mages and a single cadre against him.”

We don’t actually know how powerful this makes Anomander—although the fact he has a poem composed about him gives some indication!—but we do know that it does not sound like a good position to be pitted against him.

The magical battle between Rake and the Mages is awe-inspiring and titanic. It is interesting to note that different mages appear to channel different Warrens.

Whiskeyjack, Quick Ben and Kalem set Tattersail on the path to revenge against Tayschrenn for the fact that essentially murder was committed against the 2nd Army. Whiskeyjack knows that “someone in the Empire wanted the Bridgeburners dead.”

Tattersail is 219 years old! And Hairlock has been soul shifted into the form of a wooden marionette, using a magic art that has been lost for centuries. “This was Elder Magic, Kurald Galain, if the legends were true, and it was deadly, vicious, raw and primal.”

Well, this second chapter takes us right to the heart of the conflict with Anomander Rake and shows us that no one can be trusted. I think this is the chapter that has hooked me, especially since I like Tattersail’s point of view. This is despite the fact that I still have no real idea about what is going on or where the story is going! I feel as though my commentaries are that of a wide-eyed country girl walking into the big city for the first time. “Wow, look at what is happening here! And check this out! This character is amazing!” I’m sincerely hoping that Bill is bringing you enough in-depth commentary and thoughts on the series as a whole to make up for my lightweight chatter in these first few chapters :-)

Bill’s commentary about Chapter Two:
Felisin’s “Call to Shadow” does another concise and relatively clear job of introducing the war, though it’s a lot clearer reading it now, knowing what the “Moon” and “Dark” refers to. Believe me, I was with you on that whole “Who? What? Huh?” thing my first time through, Amanda.

The opening scene of Chapter Two, with Tattersail looking over the devastation of Pale, is a pretty good jolt for those expecting the same old same old lead-in to a big battle scene. I’m glad you noted that because I like how Erikson plays with expectations by having us arrive after the battle. As a reader, you see a line like “The siege was over, finally, after three long years” and you’re like, “Whattya mean over? I just got here! Did Tolkien whip us from Lothlorien to Gandalf wandering the Fields of Pellenor thinking the siege of Gondor is at an end? No!”

Of course, now I know I’ve got lots of battle scenes to come—and some great ones at that—but I remember getting here and thinking “What the hell. Over?” This scene also clues us in early on that these books are going to have a pretty grim body count, as Tattersail muses on the almost 20,000 Pale residents about to be killed (on top of those already dead) and then learns that almost 1400 Bridgeburners died in the tunnels. Not to mention, of course, that we’ve got half a Hairlock sitting there conversing.

This chapter, as Amanda points out, is where Erikson starts to earn his reputation for throwing us into the middle of things without worrying overmuch about whether we know what’s going on. The obvious plot example, of course, is beginning after the siege, but that will get explained relatively soon in Tattersail’s flashback. Worse is the sudden deluge of unfamiliar and unexplained vocabulary, some of which Amanda has already wondered about: Tiste Andii, Archmage (as a category—“an” archmage—rather than a title), Mother Dark and Mother Dark’s Children, Kurald Galain, the Holy Falah’d, Elder, T’lan Imass, Jhag Odhan, a slew of warrens, and the Deck of Dragons. Combine that with the other place names that get tossed around, references to previous and obviously important events such as the past legendary actions of the Bridgeburners, or Dancer and Kellanved killing Mock (hmm, must be of Mock’s Hold from the Prologue, so we think we’re okay and then wait, what, he was Tattersail’s lover?) and it’s enough to set the brain a-whirling.

Which I actually kind of enjoyed my first time around, preferring it to the clunky exposition we see too often where characters suddenly drop into a nicely chronological reminiscence of whatever the author needs to fill us in on, or when characters ask to have “it” explained to them yet again: “Yes, yes, the famed lord of Golgerland of whom we’ve all heard. But tell me about him one more time.” Seems we share a pet peeve Amanda. Anyone else?

On Rake’s first mention: My favorite part of that is the utter sense of power and the “don’t mess with this guy” vibe we get with regard to Caladan Brood when Tattersail and Calot recite the poem Anomandaris: “Wake him not. Wake him not.” And then the kicker being that the poem’s not even about him. You can almost hear the heavy organ chord in the background: Duh Duh Duh! And of course, we all know that how much you should fear someone is directly proportional to how many names they have: “Anomander Rake, Lord of the Tiste Andii…Rake, The Mane of Chaos…Moon’s Lord…  Not to mention, he’s the Knight of Dark in Tattersail’s Deck of Dragons reading. That’s some serious nameage!

This is also the chapter where we get that Erikson sense of scale that boggles the mind, sometimes for good, sometimes for bad. We’ve got an entire floating mountain hanging over the city, Rake throwing down waves of sorcery that are wiping out legions of troops (all from a nice little balcony on Moon’s Spawn—think he has some lovely potted plants there? A shrubbery?), A’Karonys sending bolts of fire up into the sky so Moon’s Spawn itself looks like it’s aflame—this is some serious fighting going on!

I admit to lapping this one up, but as I moved through the book/series I found the sense of scale a bit bewildering at times in terms of power levels. If A could beat up B and B could beat up C how come C just kicked A’s ass? Or why doesn’t A just waltz in and…? I’ll be very curious if you have any of the same issues as you go on, Amanda.

But more on that later. For now I’ll just re-enjoy picturing the carnage around Pale: mmmmmm, intesssstinnnnnes! (And what that says about me I don’t want to know).

You’re right to spot Tattersail’s discomfort with Sorry, Amanda, but did you also notice how uncomfortable she makes Quick Ben? You’re also right about how we don’t get what led to the enmity between Tattersail and Hairlock. Sometimes I want those answers and sometimes I just like that sense of history and three-dimensionality that sort of thro-away reference offers up; it just makes these characters feel all the more alive and real.

[Amanda’s interjection: I did notice that Quick Ben doesn’t want to be anywhere near her—and does he also block her from sensing the magic that he’s using to transfer Hairlock? I do actually agree with you that, in some cases, it is better for the reader to not know everything—it does lend weight to the idea that we are joining these characters on their journey, a journey that has already started and will continue after we leave them.]

I’m wondering if you noted any of these few references, which will come to play major roles later on:

  • The fact that the T’Lan Imass refused to acknowledge Sully, headed off to some distant place and came back pretty beat up.
  • Bellurdan being sent off to study some ancient scrolls. (Gothos’ Folly)

[Amanda’s interjection: I didn’t notice either of these references! *scurries off to read the chapter AGAIN*]

Finally, just a fair warning to you Amanda about that flashback from Tattersail regarding the battle. This is probably as good a point as any to mention how you just can’t assume with Erikson that your narrators are telling the truth or even know the truth themselves. For instance, while you’re happy we finally got this bit of clear info from Tattersail, I’ll just point out we get another view of the battle from Rake later on in Chapter Six, and then yet another (notably different) description in a whole other book (Memories of Ice). Beware characters bearing gifts of exposition, I’d say.

[Amanda’s interjection: Ah, unreliable narrators—something that authors such as Gene Wolfe have used to great effect in their own novels. That doesn’t make things any easier for the new reader, but, again, it makes the characters far more three dimensional and real.]


Setting: Genabaris, Pale, on the continent of Genabackis

Sailing to Genabackis, Paran is informed by Topper that he is to take command of Whiskeyjack’s squad (where Sorry—his quarry—is) and take them to the city of Darujhistan, the next on the Empire’s list of conquests. Topper also tells Paran that Sorry has “corrupted” the Bridgeburners and possibly Dujek’s entire army. In the port city of Genabaris, Paran finds out he is to be transported to Pale by the Moranth and their flying Quorls.

Tattersail, in Pale, meets Bellurdan, who is mourning Nightchill and says he plans to raise her barrow on the Rhivi Plain. Meanwhile, Whiskeyjack, Kalam and Quick Ben think that Laseen is trying to eliminate the Bridgeburners, speculate again about who Sorry is, wonder if she was involved in the garroting of an officer, and discuss a plan to “turn the game,” involving Hairlock. Tattersail does a Reading of the Deck of Dragons for Tayshrenn, and sends a message to Whiskeyjack.

In Pale, Paran meets with Toc The Younger, a Claw member, who warns him that both Whiskeyjack and Dujek are hugely popular among the soldiers and hints that the soldiers’ loyalty to the Empress shouldn’t be tested. He also tells him that his Claw Master was assassinated.

Paran meets several of the Bridgeburners, then is killed by Sorry/Cotillion on his way to the barracks. Shadowthrone and Cotillion discuss their ongoing vengeance scheme with Laseen and that something has entered their Shadow warren.

Amanda’s commentary on Chapter 3:
I seriously wish that I appreciated poetry more, since I do have a nasty tendency to skim past any form of it in books. Seriously, my eyes glaze over! Here we have the author Gothos (who may or may not become important later on—who knows?! *grin*) and the term “Thelomen Tartheno Toblakai”.

I’m assuming that we’re on the same timeline as the previous chapter concerning Tattersail, since we’re not given a chapter heading showing the date this time out.

Wow, this scene between Paran and Topper is dripping with animosity [Bill interjection: he does “animosity” well, that Erikson]—including Topper’s assertion that he doesn’t know why the Adjunct has such faith in him. Paran also reflects on Whiskeyjack’s fall from grace—especially considering his victories, which Topper points out: “All in the Emperor’s time.” Again, we also see reference to the gods having direct influence on people’s lives: “The gods are playing with me. Question is, which gods?”

I find it curious and wonder if it is deliberate that “gods” is spelled with a lower case initial letter?

And my word! Reference to “the recruit”—is this Sorry? Does this imply that the Empress/Adjunct know that Sorry is more than what she seems? Are the Empress and the Adjunct working to the same ends anyway? “Your recruit’s found her weapon, and with it she means to strike at the heart of the Empire.”

Aha, answered my own question there as I turned the page! Don’t you love knowing that I’m writing this commentary literally as I’m reading the book for the first time? You are getting a stream of consciousness from me according to what I have just read. *grin*

So Paran is being sent to take command of Whiskeyjack’s squad in order to stay close to the recruit and take Darujhistan. Got it! And hey, I love this line—pretty much sums up Gardens of the Moon so far for me!

“There were too many omissions, half-truths and outright lies in this… this chaotic mess.”

Once we move onto the scene between the agent and the Captain—seriously, what’s wrong with assigning a few names?—it is just mind-blowing to see all the tiny little details that Erikson inserts into his prose. You can imagine him crafting each paragraph with great care to ensure he is providing just the right level of detail. For instance:

“…in the port city of Genabaris the heavy Malazan transports rocked and twisted… The piers, unused to such gargantuan craft moored alongside them, creaked ominously…”

Here we learn that these Malazan transports rarely come to Genabaris—at least, I think that’s what we learn. And I don’t even know whether that is of any importance!

I’m just wondering if I’m being incredibly dense. Is the nameless captain actually Paran? And is the agent one of the Claw? I think in some cases I’m looking for more complicated explanations because of my expectations of this novel. But I don’t understand why Erikson doesn’t just call the captain Paran if it is he…

Quorls sound most bizarre, and I am intrigued by the concept of the Moranth tribes being identified by colours. We are drip-fed tiny little details like that as we need to know them, which is pretty much what Paran is told by Topper in the first scene of the chapter.

An interesting scene between Tattersail and Bellurdan (the Thelomen High Mage—a word that ties back to the poetry at the start of the chapter) talking about Nightchill, and I believe, making reference to the fact that they will be able to resurrect her once they have regained their power after the battle. Tattersail tries to convince Bellurdan that Tayschrenn, rather than the Moon’s lord, killed Nightchill. Bellurdan disagrees:

“Tayschrenn is our protector. As he has always been, Tattersail. Remember the very beginning? The Emperor was mad, but Tayschrenn stood at his side. He shaped the Empire’s dream and so opposed the Emperor’s nightmare.”

Kalam and Whiskeyjack suspect that:

“…somebody high up has us marked. Could it be the court itself, or maybe the nobility…”

Kalam’s roan horse reminds me of Sparhawk’s stallion Faran from the Elenium trilogy by David Eddings with “their mutual mistrust”!

Quick Ben is hiding his feelings about Sorry from Whiskeyjack. The Bridgeburners are hiding Hairlock’s true role from Tattersail. Whiskeyjack knows the full extent of their next mission, but is hiding it from Kalam and Quick Ben. Of course, Sorry is hiding who she really is from everyone. Tell me, who isn’t hiding something?

Tattersail does a Reading of the Deck for Tayschrenn (which, I have to say, is a very effective manner of introducing some foreshadowing into the tale). The Spinning Coin (which I don’t quite understand still) is mentioned by him, which is disconcerting since it was something Tattersail saw on her own. Does Tayschrenn have actual information? Was he able to see Tattersail’s Reading? Is he just guessing? Or has he also Read the Spinning Coin, since he is an adept with the Deck?

The Reading brings in the recruit in the form of the Virgin card, which Tattersail seems to recognise as Sorry—more than can be said of anyone else so far. It also reveals:

“Assassin, High House Shadow. The Rope, a count of knots unending, the Patron of Assassins is in this game.”

Could this be the mysterious Cotillion from the first chapter?

Argh! I sense this paragraph is key, but I only understand every third word!

“Deception is the Patron Assassin’s forte. I sensed nothing of his presumed master, Shadowthrone himself. Makes me suspect the Rope is on his own here. Beware the Assassin, High Mage, if anything his games are even more subtle than Shadowthrone’s. And while Oponn plays their own version, it remains the same game, and that game is being played out in our world. The Twins of Luck have no control in Shadow’s Realm, and Shadow is a Warren known for slipping its boundaries. For breaking the rules.”

I liked the reference to the Shadow Warren being a relatively new power—it gives a little more indication of how intricate this magic system will prove to be.

Paran’s discussion with the Claw (Toc the Younger) provides some more background to the situation: confirming the Bridgeburners were all but wiped out in the siege of Pale. Whiskeyjack still has many followers across the Armies, the Claw warns that there might be a mutiny if the Bridgeburners are messed with further, the Claw agents have been decimated by the Tiste Andii—who can “…pick out a Claw from a thousand paces”—basically, the situation at Pale is an explosion waiting to happen!

And I’ve found a fantastic summary of the situation tucked away in this section (from the point of view of Paran):

“Taking command of a squad that had gone through four captains in three years, then delivering a mission that no sane soldier would consider, coupled with a brewing firestorm of a large-scale insurrection possibly headed by the Empire’s finest military commander, against a High Mage who looked to be carving his own rather big niche in the world.”

Oh my word! Had to read that last section of the chapter three or four times! What a cliffhanger! Just when you’re starting to get used to Paran—and appreciating his unflinching honesty and humour—he goes and gets killed! Will he come back to life? Or is that him done? What a way to make me want to read further…?

Bill’s commentary on Chapter Three:
Amanda, the “…this chaotic mess” line is a great one of Paran’s to pull out as it does a nice job of summing up the series. It is indeed a chaotic mess from the outside and we as readers are fed a steady diet of omissions, half-truths, and outright lies via a host of unreliable narrators. In fact, I think Erikson throws us a few of those sort of lines.

The claw agent’s line to Paran about the Quorls—“life’s on a need to know [basis]” —also does a nice job of summing up the reading experience (clearly in book one we haven’t earned the right quite yet). And Whiskeyjack’s line to Quick Ben: “Who’s in the know and who isn’t?” could just as well be muttered by the reader trying to figure out whose suspicions and theories to trust about who is going after whom and why. As you say, is there anyone who isn’t hiding something? (Short answer? No.)

Those Deck readings are indeed a good foreshadowing tool, though, big surprise, quite often a murky one (though good job with Rope). First, of course, you have to keep track of who is who at any given point: who is the Virgin, who is the Mason, etc. (Good luck on that!) And, just as you point out with regard to newly risen Shadow, who is who is in flux. I thoroughly love the idea of a world whose powers are in major chaos: new ones constantly rising, old fights being fought, sides shifting, new alliances and/or betrayals, etc. Then, of course, you have the readings that are wrongly interpreted, or contradictory. No easy road map to the future here!

It’s funny, I don’t recall ever being bothered by Erikson not using actual names (“the recruit” rather than “Sorry”, say), but I can see your frustration with this. One of the sources of confusion I do remember hitting me early on is the frequent references to Adepts, Ascendants, Gods and Patrons. I remember on my first read wondering what the difference was among these terms (not to mention the “archmage” category from earlier). Scale of power in Erikson’s universe has always been muddy for me, as I mentioned earlier with regard to the fighters, and the same holds true with those wielding power beyond physical strength and skill. I’d love to say after nine books that I’ve got it down now, but to be honest, I still can’t exactly delineate the differences, though I know a bit more about each and have certainly seen sundry examples.

The scene with Bellurdan’s grieving over Nightchill’s death is pretty grim, even by Erikson standards. Lots of authors would have been happy with him grieving still; many would perhaps have had him refuse healing as part of that grief and some would have gone as far as keeping her remains for burial. But I think fewer would have had her remains described as in a “large, lumpy burlap sack, covered in brown stains” with “clouds of flies swarm[ing]” around while “the stench hit like a wall.” Erikson isn’t content with giving us a vague, abstract sense of war’s sorrows and losses via body count or easy splashes of blood. The loss doesn’t just bleed pretty red; it stinks. It draws flies. It is feasted on by worms, as Whiskeyjack reminds us a few pages later, thinking of the Bridgeburner dead. And too often, he also reminds us, it goes unmarked by far too many. Or if it is marked, as Tattersail bitterly thinks, it’s as nothing but data, soon-to-be-forgotten:

…an anonymous aide would paint a red stroke across the 2nd Army on the active list, and then write in fine script beside it: Pale, late winter, the 1163rd Year of Burn’s Sleep. Thus would the death of nine thousand men and women be noted. And then forgotten.

The ink color—red—and the writing—fine script—are wonderfully biting touches, as is the stark abruptness of that closing line. Another example of that “crafting with great care” you mention.

The darkness, as I find often the case with Erikson, is nicely balanced by humor, which Erikson tends to do quite well, and the scene between Paran, Picker, and Antsy is a great example. I’m wondering if you find the book funny?

[Amanda’s interjection: I think I bring up the very dark humour in my next chapter analysis, in fact!]

And then, as you say, just as we start to feel kind of good about Paran, between his comedic scene with Picker and Antsy and his stick-up-for-himself banter with Hedge, bam! He’s killed. C’mon, who saw that coming? Even knowing it was coming this time around, the suddenness still shocked me. As a reader, besides surprising me, it also taught me that in this world, anybody can be killed at any time from any direction. Turns out it also taught me that being killed isn’t always the same as dying, and even if it is, dying isn’t always the same as dying. And there’s your answer on if he’s “done” or not, Amanda, but that’s a topic for another chapter…

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

Amanda Rutter contributes reviews and a regular World Wide Wednesday post to, as well as reviews for her own site (covering more genres than just speculative), Vector Reviews and Hub magazine.


Back to the top of the page


Subscribe to this thread

Post a Comment

All comments must meet the community standards outlined in's Moderation Policy or be subject to moderation. Thank you for keeping the discussion, and our community, civil and respectful.

Hate the CAPTCHA? members can edit comments, skip the preview, and never have to prove they're not robots. Join now!

Our Privacy Notice has been updated to explain how we use cookies, which you accept by continuing to use this website. To withdraw your consent, see Your Choices.