Malazan Reread of the Fallen

The Malazan Re-read of the Fallen: Night of Knives, Chapter 5


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 Chapter 5 of Night of Knives by Ian C. Esslemont (NoK).

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!

Chapter Five


Dancer reveals himself to Artan, and thus reveals Artan to be Tayschrenn. Tayschrenn says he is in Malaz and the Hold out of “concern for the Empire,” a stance he calls “long-term” and which Dancer refers to as “the worn conceit for neutrality” and Tayschreen serving himself rather than the long term. Before leaving, Dancer identifies Kiska as someone of “talent” and then warns Tayschrenn to stay where he is, as anyone upstairs would be considered a “participant.” As they wait, Tayschrenn asks Kiska about herself. Kiska says she began her apprenticeship when Agayla caught her trying to break into Agayla’s shop. Tayschrenn refers to Agayla as a “colleague” whom he knows more by reputation than personally. Tayshrenn wonders aloud about what’s to come, thinking Surly had set the trap but Kellanved had perhaps set it himself long ago for her, which Tayschrenn assumes Surly knows but neither she nor Kellanved can avoid. Oleg’s message seems to indicate suicide for Kellanved and Dancer, Tayschrenn believes, but he can’t imagine either accepting that. Their conversation is interrupted by the sound of Kellanved walking with his cane above them. After a feeling of immense pressure and a long silence, there’s a sudden impact above, a clatter, a “roar of rage,” followed by a women’s scream of “frustration and venom.” Tayschrenn, Hattar, and Kiska head upstairs.


Upstairs they enter a room filled with corpses. Surly sits in a chair while the Claw Possum wraps her wounded hand. The floor is covered with red powder. One corpse is Ash, who wounded Surly with acid. Kellanved’s cane is lying on the ground before the balcony, from which another Claw—Topper—enters, wounded as well. Surly indicates Kellanved and Dancer went over the balcony and tells the wounded Claw to organize a search party for the bodies. Tayschrenn tries to say Surly can’t be sure, but she interrupts that she is certain enough and it is “over and done.” Tayschrenn says he came to Malaz for a different reason than these events, which enrages Surly. She says she will take the throne and a new name. Tayschrenn acknowledges her as Empress, though Kiska says she can’t tell if it is sincere or mocking. Tayschrenn dismisses Hattar and Kiska so he and Surly can discuss matters.


Kiska asks what the red powder was and Hattar tells her it was otataral, which deadened magic use in the room. She asks Hattar what he has against her and he dismisses her, saying he lost three good friends and she has little to do with his mood. The two fall asleep.


Temper meets his two earlier Cultist escorts at the exit. One mocks him, Temper clouts him on the head, and when the Cultist pulls a knife on him, Temper takes it away and stabs the Cultist with it.


Temper is escorted to the Deadhouse where the line between worlds is seemingly blurred. On the grounds of the Deadhouse, the ground is heaving and the tree branches twisting. The Cultist leader, Pralt tells him they are on/in a “bridge” or “midway stage” between their world and Shadow. Pralt says they will make an assault on the House, which will be defended by all those who tried and failed (which he says would be all of them) to do the same. When Temper says they can’t win, Pralt says they’re only a diversion/bait, which is all Temper, the Sword, and Dassem always were. Before Pralt, another Cultist named Jasmine, and Temper can enter through the gate leading to the grounds, Faro Balkat and Trenech tell them to stop. Faro asks Pralt not to do this because they will “weaken the barriers” and then tells Temper if he goes in he won’t come out. Once they enter the grounds, Pralt and Jasmine disappear and Temper is alone while Trenech guards the gate with Faro, then Pralt and Jasmine behind him. The House door opens and out comes a giant.


Obo and Agayla are atop a rocky point and are met by Tayschrenn, whom Obo doesn’t like because he has “the stink of the worm.” But Agalya says Tayschrenn is free of all bindings. Tayschrenn says, pointing to the south and the stormriders, that it was worse than he’d imagined. Agayla says she and Obo are masking most of it from the island and then agrees when Tayschrenn suggests they’re losing. When Tayschrenn asks what had held it back prior, Agayla answers that he (referring to the Fisherman) had been overcome. Tayschrenn finds it hard to believe it could have been one man, unless it were Osserc, but Agayla says there are other ancient powers and implies Fisherman was one, but had been too diminished by Surly’s campaign against magic as he had little talent to draw upon. When Tayschrenn defends Surly, saying she couldn’t have known, Obo scoffs angrily and Tayschrenn admits he had a sense of unease at it but didn’t think it would be so dangerous and thought if he had tried to stop Surly she would have suspected him of conspiring with Kellanved. Agayla wonders when Tayschrenn will learn wisdom and give up politics. Tayschrenn says it’s an odd way to ask for his help and Agayla says they may not want his help, as if they fall then Tayschrenn will have to commit himself. Tayschrenn says he would step aside, despite the loss of life. Agayla (whom Tayschrenn labels a Power, along with Obo as well) meets his gaze and seems to show him the reality of what they’re facing. He sees a curtain of energy and a mass of “otherworldly ice.” Agayla says if Malaz falls, the Stormriders would dominate the seas, but more worrisome is the idea that they are after the House. At that fearful thought, Tayschrenn agrees to fully commit his strength.


Kiska wakes to find Corinn hovering over her, Lubben in the doorway, and Hattar gone. Corinn says Kiska was under a light ward but that Kiska had broken it herself, showing surprising resistance. Kiska tells them Surly won and Ash was dead, that Surly said Kellanved and Dancer fell to their deaths to the cliffs from the balcony. Lubben and Corinn look skeptical and Kiska starts to wonder herself. Corinn says there’s a big disturbance among the warrens and Kiska says it has to do with the Deadhouse probably. Corinn figures the Hold’s events were a diversion and that she and Lubben should go there. Kiska worms her way in by relating what Oleg had told her. Corinn takes Lubben and Kiska into her warren (Thyr, the Path of Light) to travel to the Deadhouse. Kiska sees it as a hall of mirrors, each reflecting a different image of her. Corinn says Kiska is a natural and the images are possibilities. Kiska regrets not learning more of magery from Agayla and when she thinks of her she sees an image of her on the shore. Agayla tells her “not now.” Corinn disappears and Kiska finds herself in Shadow again.


Kiska appears before a crystal outcropping that seemed to draw her in. Edgewalker steps in to save her. Looking away she sees a massive glacier. She asks about the crystal and the glacier and Edgewalker informs her the crystal is Shadow House (the heart of Shadow) and the glacier is alien but rumor says the Jaghut accidentally allowed it into the world when they used their ice-magic. When Kiska asks why he isn’t trying to stop Kellanved (“a madman”) from taking the throne, Edgewalker says the glacier is the more deadly threat and if those resisting it continue to weaken it may break through. He says she must go back and suddenly she’s in fog where she’s attacked by a cultist. Kiska kills the cultist. A Hound is in the mist and Kiska charges it but stumbles out into the area outside the Deadhouse.


Temper faces the Jaghut that just exited the Deadhouse. Temper heads to the gate but Trenech and Faro bar his way while the Cultists spread out the length of the low wall bounding the grounds. Before Temper can try to jump the wall, corpses suddenly tear free from the ground between the path and the walls while branches swing and warren power covers the walls. The Jaghut heads to the gate after knocking Temper aside. Temper starts to crawl toward a wall with hands grabbing him. He sees one cultist get grabbed from out beyond the wall, pulled into the grounds, and dragged underground. Before Temper can jump the wall, he’s knocked back down by a suddenly-appearing Claw (Possum) as a full-battle breaks out as some Cultists and Claws fight each other, Faro and Trenech fight the Jaguhut at the gate, and some Claws and Cultists fight together against the dead trying to escape over the walls. Temper is grabbed by a root and as he tries to struggle free he watches Cultists start to retreat and Claws take over outside the walls. Temper struggles against the tree trying to drag him under.


Kiska comes to her senses with Oleg standing over her. She’s outside the rear wall of the Deadhouse grounds. Oleg is frantic over Kellanved so far escaping the Deadhouse defenses. He asks Kiska if Edgewalker is going to do anything about it and she says no. Oleg jumps over the wall and attacks Kellanved with warren magic. Something emerges from a mound and grabs Kellanved and begins to drag him to the mound as Oleg yells in triumph. Then Dancer appears and tosses Oleg onto Kellanved and his attacker. Dancer pulls Kellanved free and the two make it to the House while Oleg is dragged into the mound by the creature. Dancer enters the House and then Kellanved seems to compel Kiska forward. As she steps onto the wall she is jolted by a spark and falls back as the wall is struck with force and flame. Kellanved enters the House. Kiska runs to the front. She sees Faro and Trenech fighting the Jaghut and watches as a young Cultist is dragged in over the wall by an armored hand. Then the owner of the hand appears (Temper) and falls over the wall on her side, holding a tree branch. She sees Tayschrenn and Hattar coming out of the fog toward the gate, with Tayschrenn appearing exhausted. Tayschrenn tells her the Claw is finishing killing the Cultists and Kiska informs him of Dancer and Kellanved making it into the House. Tayschrenn impresses on her how she must be in error as he and Surly have agreed the two are dead. Tayschrenn says he needs to speak to the Guardian (Faro). As they talk, a Cultist kills Trenech and the Jaghut attacks the gate. Faro and Tayschrenn use their warren magic to hold it off and Hattar runs into the blinding energy and pulls Tayschrenn out hurt. He tells her they have to find the nearest healer and Kiska takes the lead.


Lubben and Corinn find Temper. They want to leave but Temper says they have to stop the Jaghut. Faro suddenly comes out of the warren energy at the gate, seeming a blackened, burnt to the bone corpse. But Faro speaks and tells Temper to step into the gap and “Receive the Guardianship.” Temper agrees. Temper tells Corinn to shied him from the warren energy so he can get into the gate. He and Lubben go through to face the Jaghut. The Jaghut badly wounds Lubben then she and Temper fight for a while. Temper realizes he and the Jaghut were alone and the House had become a pile of “megalithic blocks.” The constellations are strange overhead and he sees a glacier at the horizon. The Jaghut tells him “they’ve failed.” and identifies herself as Jhenna, telling him the Jaghut raised humans up from “the muck,” gave them fire, and shielded them from the K’Chain. She then says name his price to stand aside and she will give him riches, impossibly long-life, power. Temper refuses to be bought. She tells him she has brought them to her warren, Omtose Phellack, and that time does not pass there. Edgewalker appears and tosses a Stormrider wand to the ground, then announces that the riders have been beaten back, the Shadow Cult defeated, and that he himself will bar her way into Shadow if she tries that way. Jhenna tells Temper if he stands aside then Edgewalker must take his place. Edgewalker says that only applies to Shadow; all other paths would be available to her. Jhenna then tries to bribe Temper with news that Dassem lives and she could bring Temper to him. Edgewalker warns Temper of the ice and Temper realizes while Jhenna has been talking he’s been partially encased in ice. Jhenna attacks and Temper holds her off long enough for the House to reclaim her. She is dragged into the earth and Temper appears back at dawn at the regular Deadhouse with Corinn and Lubben there.

Amanda’s Reaction to Chapter Five

Well, given that this is the penultimate chapter, I can see me rambling on at length this week…

A soft laugh echoed all around the room; it whispered from every shadow.

Dancer seriously gives me the creeps—he is a dangerous individual. In these first couple of pages, we also receive confirmation that the deck of Dragons is connected to use of Warrens, when Kiska thinks about her Aunt.

Tay? Surely not Tay, as in Tayschrenn? Imperial High Mage, greatest of all talents aligned with the Empire!

Okay, this makes me frown. I have no real idea whether this is true, but it occurs to me that Tay might be a relatively common name—certainly doesn’t immediately mean that it is Tayschrenn! I don’t know why Kiska believes immediately that she is with Tayschrenn—has Artan shown many mage-like abilities?

The baiting between Dancer and Tayschrenn seems to follow a familiar path, as though this is something they have partaken in before. Here is the first hints from Tayschrenn of the character we encountered in Gardens of the Moon—stubborn, dutiful and looking out for himself.

He turned and walked away, through the door and around the corner, as if to ascend the stairs.

*chortles* Everytime I see the word “ascend” in this series now, it just jumps out at me—especially when used about Dancer!

WHO on earth said that Tayschrenn was greater in power “than the Emperor himself”? How can that be considering Kellanved’s talents? I never believed Tayschrenn to be all that powerful in GotM—certainly I saw Tattersail as being better than him. Am I just confused here?

Oh, I do love this:

“The Malazan way,” he breathed. “The murderer’s touch. A brush of cloth. A sip of wine. The gleam of a blade as fine as a snake’s tooth. Your name whispered just as you fall into sleep.”

After not really enjoying Tayschrenn in Gardens of the Moon, I’m finding myself disarmed by the charm of the descriptions that Esslemont employs:

He grinned and Kiska suddenly couldn’t be sure of his age. His guarded features bespoke a life-time of watchfulness and calculation. The laugh and smile melted decades from the man.

I don’t know if it was intentional for Esslemont to show a different side to Tayschrenn than Erikson did—or whether Esslemont felt that the character needed a more sympathetic side?

I can see why Tayschrenn is puzzled by what exactly is occurring between Surly, and Kellanved and Dancer! His explanation doesn’t make too much sense, when you consider the way he says that Kellanved picked the time and place long ago. How did he pick it? Why did he pick it? I guess the latter can be answered by the Shadow Moon that is happening this night. It gives further weight to the idea that—although deemed insane by many—Kellanved has had the ambition and power to create these far-reaching plans. Also funny to realise that they have been working a long time to achieve this, but we’ve already seen (in GotM) Dancer discard a plan easily that was no longer to his benefit.

Hmm, this first impact of Kellanved reminds me (for those who have watched it) of the movie Serenity when the Reavers ship passes by close to them, and they have to wait breathlessly to see whether they are noticed at all. I would not want to bring myself to his notice, personally!

Hattar’s behaviour makes me curious as to who/what he is when he refuses Tayschrenn’s commands. I mean, Tayschrenn is supposed to be this hotshot mage with power to spare and yet his bodyguard won’t obey his simplest commands. What is going on here?

She felt as though she’d been inducted into the magus’s bodyguard. And come what may, she suddenly realised, she’d do her best to honour that trust.

So, why has Tayschrenn decided to babysit a young girl as he goes to investigate the results of the fight between Surly, and Kellanved and Dancer? Why does Kiska believe that she has anything more to offer a hugely powerful mage and a hardened bodyguard? Why IS Tayschrenn so different in this novel than in the previous one I read?

Hah, I didn’t realise that Surly was a small woman—is she suffering like Napolean did from being short and trying to make up for it?! *grins* She has such a towering presence in the novels that I didn’t imagine her being short somehow.

Hmm, why is Surly so determined to believe that she has destroyed Kellanved and Dancer? She knows them, knows their skills, and it seems strange that she would be so convinced:

“Absolutely. It is over and done. Finished.”

We briefly discussed the importance of names while re-reading Gardens of the Moon, and here we have another example of the fact that names are deemed to be essential to a person’s place and standing:

“I am Imperial Regent no longer. I will take the Throne, and my new name to rule it by.”

And again an echo of something we’ve become familiar with—the different warring factions within the Malazan leaders. Here we see it from Kiska’s wide-eyed perspective:

There was open dislike here between Tayschrenn and these pet servants of the throne. Kiska wondered how such a meeting would have developed years ago, with Kellanved and Dancer also present. Likely a nest of vipers.

Another example of Kiska’s youth and inexperience here, and one that has me curling my lip. The new pre-eminent person of the Malazan Empire, and one of her top mages, are about to have a conversation and Kiska is dismayed that Tayschrenn doesn’t include her or stop his talk to bid her farewell? I also snicker a little bit at the fact she was so determined to pledge her loyalty to him and he has dismissed her. Yeah, I don’t like Kiska. I also am fed up of her believing that everything is about her when she asks why Hattar is fed up with her.

Ick, yes, I followed what people said about the poor proof reading done on Night of Knives and now I’ve had my own experience of being jarred from the narrative. What is wrong with this sentence?

“You talk to much to worry me, boy.”

I also know this is not the fault of Esslemont, but there are one too many errors in this novel.

And I’m also getting bored at Temper’s fighting style of grabbing people’s necks.

Again I’m appreciative of the way the Esslemont injects an element of horror to his writing—here, the grounds of the Deadhouse are truly terrifying, with the jerking trees and the heaving earth.

I’m intrigued by the information we’re given about the Deadhouse, since it is another Azath (I believe). We find out that it may be a gateway or an entity in its own right, and all those who fail to master it become slaves to its defence. Hmm, that sort of reminds me of Dragnipur as well—all the harvested souls become part of the sword.

Interesting perspective as well on the role performed by Dassem and the Sword:

Called himself the army’s lightning rod.

WHO are Faro and Trenech? What are their roles? And what are the confines that Pralt speaks of? Faro recognises Pralt as connected to shadow, and Pralt clearly knows Faro and Trenech in turn…

Argh, hate that Temper has been betrayed by Dancer! That’ll bring back bad memories of Y’Ghatan for sure. Temper must really quite like Corinn more than I realised to have accepted Dancer’s task in return for her life? He must have suspected that Dancer was going to betray him in some way, or that he would be in extreme danger…

What does “the stink of the Worm” mean, with regards to Tayschrenn?

More hints about both Tayschrenn’s ambitions and the fact that Ascendancy is something many are attaining, in a variety of ways!

“You, above all, should know there are ancient powers, those that see past your and Kellanved’s empire-building as just another pass of season. The paths to Ascendancy are far more varied than you imagine.”

The Tayschrenn talking to Obo and Agayla is definitely more like the Tayschrenn I have already seen! Trying to buck responsibility for the fact that Surly campaigned against magery while he was aware that it might well have far-reaching consequences. He’s definitely a slippery customer!

I think I need to remember that Tayschrenn here is much younger than the man we see in GotM—Agayla’s words about him seem most prophetic:

“Poor Tayschrenn. One day you will wake up and abandon this petty politicking and manoeuvring. It will burn you so many times, and you will scald so many others before you discover wisdom.”

Ah! Now I know why they referred to Tay as the Worm! He was once the plaything of D’rek, the Worm of Autumn… And I guess this is why Agayla mentions the fact that there is no binding on him anymore?

These Stormriders…. All the major powers in this novel are terrified of them, and freaked that Malaz Isle will no longer prove to be an effective barrier to them. And now the suggestion that they could take over Shadow through the Deadhouse… I guess this is why Kiska saw the glacier in the realm of Shadow. It’s strange to see something so powerful and feared in this novel, that was not even touched upon in Gardens of the Moon.

A few heavy-handed mentions of Kiska’s innate mage talents—I confess to preferring it when she was shivering at the touch of a Warren, rather than being told bluntly that she has unusual resistance to sleep wards. I like the subtle.

Ah, some character development from Kiska at last! Here she realises that her youthful pig-headed stubbornness over being taught the arcane was a mistake and resolves to change this with Agayla if she survives the night. I like that sort of development.

The Shadow House, the Heart of Shadow, is very interesting—is this where the Deadhouse emerges on the night of the Shadow Moon? I like the hint of humour from Edgewalker, as well, when he says that it seems to be his job to send Kiska back to her own time and place.

Hmm, I’m having a thought right now—and not sure how correct it is. Now… Edgewalker says that the glacier invading Shadow Realm has the taste of Jaghut to it—only not quite. As I recall, we’ve spoken about some of the Elder races and the Elder magic they use (such as Omtose Phellack) and I’m wondering if the Stormriders are another of these Elder races?

My word! The idea of Kellanved taking the throne of Shadow is the lesser evil compared to the intrusion of ice on Shadow Realm?!

I don’t recall—is the cultist the first person Kiska has killed? Shouldn’t she have some reaction to having killed somebody?

The tree which captures Temper—definitely no friendly Ent, that one! Thanks to Lord of the Rings, I always sort of assume that trees will be on the side of good, don’t you?

Now I do like the sequence of events seen through Kiska’s eyes—the attempt of Oleg to prevent Kellanved and Dancer stealing the throne; Dancer’s rescue of Kellanved; the fact that Kiska brought herself to the notice of Kellanved. And, amusingly, she is present when Temper managed to drag himself over the wall, and she thinks there is another of those creatures around!

So, since Tayschrenn and Surly would rather that Kellanved and Dancer had died, this is what they will insist has happened—even when confronted by the account of an eye witness. I guess this is part of the transfer of power, and demonstrates that Tayschrenn is certainly not neutral—in this case, he has decided to throw his lot in with the new Empress.

“Kiska,” he said carefully, emphatically, “you must be mistaken, because both Surly and I have agreed that those two are dead and gone.”

It seems as though Faro and Trenech were there only to provide Guardianship against the Deadhouse—am I right there? Part of the Malaz Isle Cabal?

I love the titanic struggle between Temper and the Jaghut—it’s written incredibly well with passages such as:

His fighting calm, the inner peace that had carried him through all the chaos of past battles, settled upon him like an affirmation. He allowed himself a fierce, taut grin.

Concerned about this transfer of Guardianship to Temper! It sounds as though he now has a patron—and is not going to be able to slide back into obscurity as he wished.

Another mention of the K’Chain from Jhenna (again, a nice subversion from Esslemont this time in that the huge and powerful Jaghut was actually a woman)—could it be that the Stormriders are the K’Chain?

It was as if the old ogre himself stood before him, promising Moon’s Spawn itself.

Confirmation that the old ogre is Kellanved—and a strange little reference to the floating home of Anomander Rake. What connection is there between Kellanved and Rake?

Do you know that this book is reminding me a little of the story behind the classical music piece Night on a Bare Mountain? The idea of one man (Temper) being sorely tested by demons and sprites on the night of a witches’ Sabbath. There are also hints of Night of the Long Knives from history. The idea of a night of terror, where it seems as though the dead walk. Very, very atmospheric.

Bill’s Reaction to Chapter Five:

I think the leap from Tay to Tayschrenn comes from her knowing he was a high-up in Imperial circles and mixed in with Surly/Dancer/Kellanved as based on the night’s events.

Re: Tayschrenn’s power, we’ll see more of it later on and references to it. But remember that Tayschrenn did go toe to toe with Rake (though Rake did hold back) during the siege at Pale and that takes some serious power. And his reaction/response with Dancer also, therefore, tells you something about Dancer.

We do see a different side of Tayschrenn here, as you mention. And we’ll see more of him in other books. Personally, he is one of the characters I have the least handle on in the series. He’s a bit of a cipher in terms of motivation and even actions, as we get several versions of some of what he does (or doesn’t do). It’s possible I’m forgetting getting some clarity in later books, but I mostly think of him in very unsure terms.

I love that line about the Malazan way as well, and the way he says it “as if sad or regretful.” Though to be honest, “quiet” is only one of the Malazan Ways: throwing entire armies around, blowing stuff up with munitions, leveling walls, wiping out opposition with an army of undead—those are a few other, not quite so silent or poetic, methods.

Kellanved’s long-range plans are famous. Or perhaps infamous. And his seeming ability to plan so far in advance makes a lot of folks nervous, including even the gods.

I like how Agayla’s later conversation with Tayschrenn is set up here with Kiska recalling Agayla’s scorn for politics and her reference to the mage cadre as “clerks.”

Love a good Firefly reference! I really like how Esslemont uses the sound of Kellanved’s cane, and then gives it to us “tap-shush” to introduce his appearance—it’s a great choice. The follow-up, that sense of pressure, is also similar to Rake’s appearance in Baruk’s study early in GoTM. In fact, this whole scene I think is some of Esslemont’s best writing. First of all, to present it as overheard rather than witnessed, which leaves the mystery of what happens but also gets rid of the possibility of not living up to expectations with a scene involving Surly/Dancer/Kellanved (not to mention avoiding serving up yet another fight scene). The use of the cane, the drip of blood from Tayschrenn’s nose, the long silence, the dust coming down, the eardrum pop, and then the scream. It’s all nicely dragged out and great use of sound and small detail to convey suspense and larger events.

I’m not so sure Surly is convinced so much as convincing herself as well as having to put up that sense of certainty for her followers. Otherwise she’s undermined from the very start in declaring herself Empress. Not to mention admitting she may have been outwitted.

I think it says something about Surly as well that the Claw is part of the command structure.

I have to laugh Amanda, at your dislike for Kiska. Of course it’s all about her; she’s a teen! “Not even a goodbye?”—a classic adolescent line. The Emperor himself with his famed partner face off against the new Empress, bodies lying all over the place, the most powerful mage in the Empire having tense moments with the Empress, wounded Claws hanging about, and “what, nobody’s saying goodbye to me?” I actually loved that line. The narcissism of youth!

The Deadhouse/Azath will be one of the most intriguing and important aspects of this universe. Pralt’s musings on what they may or may not be are a good lead into what we’ll see in the future.

What I liked about Pralt’s observations on the Sword being used as bait was Temper’s weary resigned “old man’s” acceptance of that fact:

And they’d all known it too . . . But they hadn’t minded at the time because they were young and believed Dassem couldn’t be beaten by anyone. So what did it matter?

There’s something sad and universal about that, and I think something one can apply to Kiska—that youthful sense of immortality.

Esslemont does a nice job of setting up Temper’s betrayal by having him be suspicious that only six Cultists are before the gate and then their use of sign language he can’t read.

I’m a bit confused on Faro and Trenech, I’ve got to admit. Faro is clearly a Guardian (capital G) as he announces in formalistic fashion to Temper to “accept the Guardianship.” But we’ll see Guardians in other Houses and Faro doesn’t seem to fit that mode, as he’s wandering about outside the House. His use of the plural— “our liking”—places him as part of a group, rather than an example of the solitary Guardians we see in other Houses, it appears to me. In that vein, I’d connect him with a group known as the Nameless Ones, who are associated with the Houses as we’ll see in later books. (I don’t think there’s much spoiler impact with regards to this group.) But that’s pretty speculative on my part. There also seems to be a strong earth-based aspect to the power of the Guardian, as the voice when Faro conscripts Temper seems to come from the ground, as does Temper’s new-found strength that allows him to take on the Jaghut (Burn?) Anyone else?

I have to say, I like Pralt throughout this book. He comes across as respectful and I think sincerely regretful about his betrayal of Temper and his forcing Temper to realize the truth of the Sword’s purpose. Too bad we don’t see more of him.

The “Worm” is the god D’rek—The Worm of Autumn, associated with death and decay. Tayschrenn was a priest of D’rek. (I believe Mammot was as well, and we’ll see another in later books.)

I liked a lot in the conversation between Obo, Agayla, and Tayschrenn. One is the little bit of irony in Agayla’s scolding of Tayschrenn when she tells him “You above all should know there are ancient powers, those that see past your and Kellanved’s empire-building as just another pass of season.” The irony of this is I’d say Kellanved also sees his empire-building as a mere stepping stone or phase and not as all-important a goal as Agayla ascribes to him. BTW—I think that “you above all” is referring to Tayschrenn’s past association with an ancient power—D’rek.

I also liked her more serious scolding with regard to Tayschrenn’s involvement in politics (though again, somewhat ironically, he’s accused and pleads trying not to be involved, at least in the short-term politicking, more concerned with the Empire than Emperors). It also gives a sense of Agayla’s power (or, as Tayschrenn thinks in too blunt a statement for my liking, “Power”). I also enjoyed how she contemptuously brushes aside his insincere ”but, the island . . . thousands of souls,” by pointing out his complicity in the deaths of so many more via the Empire’s expansion.

And c’mon, who doesn’t love Obo’s old grumpy man ending to that scene: “Don’t expect me to get all slobbery.”

I’m with you on Kiska’s little flash of grown-up thought when she realizes what she gave up by rejecting Agayla’s offer to educate her in magic. I thought the line where she thinks how her “stubborn pride turned the failure around until she actually boasted of her ignorance,” showed an especially sharp insight into the adolescent mind. You see this all the time at that age.

It’s a small thing, but I wasn’t such a fan of the hall of mirrors/possible paths Kiska views in Corinn’s Warren. It seemed a bit cliched to me and so arbitrary as to stick out as crafted by the author.

I enjoyed Temper’s battle with the grounds—the dead, the roots, the tree—quite a bit (more so admittedly than the fight with the Jaghut). It was a good mix of horror (the hands bursting out, the tree limbs grabbing), suspense, intensity, and a nice slide in of dark humor with the in-and-out appearance of Possum.

The shift to Kiska’s POV was a good timely move, adding to the suspense of what was going on with Temper while also showing us Kellanved and Dancer’s successful entry (though that scene was a bit anti-climactic I felt). My favorite part was getting Temper’s action from her POV as his hand pulls the young Cultist over the wall then he himself slides over while Kiska wonders if she should just stab this thing that so clearly pulled itself from one of the Deadhouse’s graves.

The battle with the Jaghut was okay for me. As mentioned, I’m not a huge fan in general of epic sword fights drawn out over time. I see the need for them, and this one was pretty well-written as they go; they just don’t do much for me. Part of it too is I never really felt on my original read (or this one obviously) there was really any chance that the Jaghut would escape, so I was basically counting sword strokes until the seemingly inevitable happened.

Yep—that use of “ogre” confirms it’s the Emperor. Still not buying it though :)

I did like Jhenna’s use of the ice to encase Temper and the way Esslemont reveals it line by line. Though I’ve got to say Edgewalker withholding his warning to that moment struck me as a bit of false drama.

The defeat of the Stormriders happening offstage was a bit anti-climactic I thought. I wouldn’t have minded seeing that a bit, or at least, some of the conversation among Tayschrenn, Agayla, and Obo afterward.

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.


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