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 Chapter 2 and 3 of Deadhouse Gates by Steven Erikson (DG).
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.
Another fair warning! Grab a cup of tea before you start reading—these posts are not the shortest!
Setting: Hissar on southeast coast of Seven Cities.
Duiker walks the streets of Hissar, noting the pictographs on the walls promising rebellion, signs the Malazan high command seems to have little interest in understanding. He ducks into a trader’s tent, pretending to be a Seven Cities native and opposed to the Malazans. There he witnesses a prophecy that the whirlwind (rebellion) will rise and that
“Two fountains of raging blood! Face to face. The blood is the same, the two are the same and salty waves shall wash the shores of Raraku. the Holy Desert remembers its past. Leaving, Duikers muses on how ancient a land/civilization Seven Cities is, how cities lie beneath cities lie beneath cities and it is an enemy “we can never defeat . . . Perhaps victory is not achieved by overcoming that enemy, but by joining it, becoming one with it.”
Inside the Imperial Hold, Duiker enters the council meeting attended by Coltaine, his lieutenant Bult, the cadre mage Kulp, and Mallick Rel. Coltaine recalls last seeing Duiker on his near-deathbed, after Bult had almost killed him in battle (Bult turned his lance when he saw Duiker unarmed). Bult himself had been wounded by Dujek, who lost his arm to Bult’s horse. Duiker says he had been unarmed as an historian but he now records the battles from a relatively safe distance in armor and with bodyguards.
Coltaine announces they are waiting for his warlock, which shocks the attendees as Laseen had purged the Wickan warlocks in a mass execution. Coltaine tells them that the crows came to the dead warlocks and took their souls back to the people to be reincarnated, including the greatest warlock’s—Sormo E’nath, whose power was so great it took eleven crows to carry it away where it was reincarnated. Coltaine introduces a roughly ten-year-old boy as Sormo. Duiker recalls the Rhivi have similar beliefs. Sormo witnessed the same divination in the trader’s camp as Duiker and both agree it promises rebellion soon. Rel tells Coltaine to treat such warning cautiously and skeptically. Sormo accuses Rel of having “hidden motives.” Rel then conveys High Fist’s Pormqual’s orders that Coltaine march overland to Aran to present the 7th Army, order Coltaine rejects, as it would leave the eastern seaboard empty of a Malazan presence. He tells Rel to tell Pormqual he advises a change of orders and will await a reply. Rel leaves upset at being insulted. Duiker reveals to Coltaine that Pormqual doesn’t really govern, Rel does, and that lots of people in Rel’s way end up dead or disappeared. Bult wonders if perhaps they weren’t murdered by Rel or Laseen, as thought, but chose to disappear themselves, and that perhaps Laseen now feels lonely and abandoned. Duiker replies maybe she should have thought of that before killing Kellanved and Dancer and Bult answers that maybe she did so because she knew that though they were good conquerors, they’d be terrible rulers. Coltaine asks Duiker to spy on Rel for him but reconsiders when Duiker worries he’ll be killed; instead Coltaine takes Duiker onto his staff. When the meeting breaks up, Duiker and Kulp speak alone. Kulp tells Duiker he senses the young Wickan boy really is Sormo. Duiker then asks Kulp to help free Heboric Light-Touch from enslavement on Otataral Island.
Setting: The Holy City of Ehrlitan on northeast coast of Seven Cities.
Fiddler, in disguise as a Gral tribesman, has just witnessed a bloody attack by the Red Swords (a brutal Seven Cities military group loyal to the Empress) on believers of the Apocalypse (Dryjhana), including women and children. He saves two young girls whose adult companion was killed from being raped by a pimp by buying them off of them and returning them to their home. Their grandfather is Kimloc, the greatest Tano Spiritwalker (Spiritwalkers have great magic and use song to express it). In conversation, Kimloc warns Fiddler that the desert they plan on crossing to get a ship in Aran will be dangerous due to the Path of Hands, a warren/gate that will soon open and perhaps allow one of the many D’ivers or Soletaken shapeshifters converging there to Ascend and gain power over his/her kind. He also says he knows of the Bridgeburners’ past, how they were “honed in the heat and scorched rock of the Holy Desert Raraku, in pursuit of a Falah’d company of wizards.” He asks permission to take Fiddler’s history with a simple touch so he might fashion that story into a song of power, hinting at the possibility that such a song might lead the Bridgeburners to ascend. Fiddler says no, fearful of what is in his head that might be dangerous to Kimloc and too revelatory of Fiddler. Kimloc gives Fiddler a conch shell invested with songs of power to protect him in the desert. Departing, Fiddler and Kimloc’s captain discuss the decision by Kimloc to cede the Holy City of Karakarang peacefully to the Empire, though he had claimed he could destroy the Malazan armies. The captain says Kimloc had recognized that the Empire would use up as many lives as needed, and Fiddler says even Kimloc probably couldn’t have stopped the T’lan Imass, who had already killed the people of Aren. When the captain says that was a sign of the Empire’s madness, Fiddler argues it was a mistake and says “no command was ever given to the Logros T’lan Imass.”
Fiddler returns to the others and tells Kalam of the convergence. Kalam agrees, saying he read it amid the signs promising rebellion. Fiddler holds back that he met Kimloc, knowing Kalam would kill Kimloc and his family.
Kalam heads to the old city right next to Ehrlitan. He meets Mebra and forces him to tell Kalam the signs/codes that will let him safely pass through the desert. Mebra seemingly accidentally drops the Holy Book of Dryjhana which must be brought to the Seeress so she can raise the Whirlwind. Kalam say she’ll take it to her as security of his safe passage. After Kalam leaves, it’s revealed that this was a Red Sword set up (though they didn’t know the agent of the rebellion would be Kalam) and that they are going to track the book to the Seeress in the desert. Mebra convinces them to let Kalam live afterward, guessing he is heading to Malaz to kill the Empress—important knowledge for the Empire.
Setting: the border between the Holy Desert and the Pan’poysun Odhan
Icarium and Mappo have bested a D’ivers leopard pack (Icarium narrowly avoiding losing himself in anger) but Mappo is injured. They’ve stopped below a tower up in the cliffs but can see no way of getting there. While stopped, a Soletaken bear appears whom Mappo knows. Messremb sembles into human form and speaks pleasantly to both, saying he was curious at the strange scent accompanying Mappo. Curiosity sated, he’ll head back to seek the Path/gates. Mappo warns him they’d met Ryllandaras earlier. After Messremb leaves, Iskaral Pust, High Priest of Shadow, show sup on a mule, talking to himself and disjointedly, repeating “a live given for a life taken.” He says he’ll take them into the tower, which he took over after the nuns of the Queen of Dreams had abandoned it. He sends the mule into the cave, out of it comes Servant (later Icarium and Mappo discuss that a warren had opened in the cave), who climbs up a rope dropped by a bhok’aral and then the three others are pulled up. Icarium has forgotten their recent fight and Mappo lies, saying he fought a single leopard alone and had just used Icarium’s weapon, which is why it has blood on it.
Amanda’s Reaction to Chapter Two:
Huh! For the first time we’ve moved away from poetry at the start of a chapter. Instead we have a passage from what looks to be a historical text, detailing the Sha’ik rebellion (now we know this name—this is the person that Icarium and Mappo are so wary of in chapter one!) Strikes me that the quote: “…the Aren High Command was rife with treachery, dissension, rivalry and malice…” could easily be stated about any of the various factions in this war over the Malazan Empire and surrounding areas.
The red ochre handprint—done in blood? Or just paint? Regardless, it introduces a wonderful passage concerning the pictographic language of the Seven Cities—wonderful for the authentic symbolism that Erikson brings into the story, but also because of the writing. This is just lovely:
The many cultures of Seven Cities seethed with symbols, a secret pictographic language of oblique references that carried portentous weight among the natives.
Also, Erikson is bringing in the feeling of ”we aren’t in Kansas now“ without having to beat us over the head.
I also love that Duiker realises that just ignoring the natives and the things they do can make enormous danger for the invaders—especially with an important year approaching for those of the Seven Cities. I think this is valid commentary on any people who invade others, and decide to pretend local culture doesn’t exist. How frustrating it must be for Duiker!
His warnings to the High Command seemed to be falling on deaf ears. There were patterns in these symbols, and it seemed that he alone among all the Malazans had any interest in breaking the code, or even in recognizing the risks of maintaining an outsider’s indifference.
It feels strange to have the dust of Hissar drowned in rain. I wonder whether the fact that Hissar has a ”spiritual back to the sea“ will prove to be important? Hissar has such a remarkably different feel from any of the previous locations presented in the Malazan books—chaotic and noisy and colourful. Very Turkish or Moroccan:
Voices shouting, cursing, laughing on all sides, the air filled with durhang smoke and incense, roasting meats, sour wine and sweet ale…
Duiker’s conversation with the food vendor within the tent is interesting—it shows his innate ease with people, I think, his ability to set them talking. Here he is clearly fishing for information, and we learn about the Mezla (a people we have encountered before?) The vendor is nervous about the possibility of Mezla spies and the fact the words can be twisted, and Duiker asks about the “scarred barbarian” who now commands the Mezla army. “Even the Mezla fear him.” Sinister indeed!
The details come thick and fast here! I’m not sure I can set out everything, even if I pick up on it, otherwise this commentary will turn out longer than the book itself!! For instance, here Duiker touches “his forehead in an outlawed gesture of gratitude to a Falah’d whose bones were rotting in the silty mud of Hissar Bay.” Who is the Falah’d? Someone we know? Is this a champion, as we encountered in the flashback of NoK about Dassem? I am really going to be relying on you experienced readers to tell me all the bits I miss! Ah, I’ve just read something that makes a little more sense of this quote: Duiker is using the actions of the natives in order to blend in.
The Circle of Seasons—anything similar to the Season of Rot spoken about in the Prologue, or something completely different? In both cases, there is intimate involvement of the gods, it seems.
Now this prophecy MUST be key!
“Two fountains of raging blood! Face to face. The blood is the same, the two are the same and salty waves shall wash the shores of Raraku. The Holy Desert remembers its past!”
It strikes me that this might be talking about Felisin and Tavore—their blood is the same. Or maybe Paran? Or any other siblings. Could it be the Twins of Chance? The salty waves could be blood, or tears, or literal waves. But prophecy is always fraught when it comes to trying to interpret it. *grins* I know that much, at least, from my reading in the speculative fiction arena! It must also be important that the spirit of Dryjhna brought these tidings?
Hmm, I don’t know if it’s just me, but Erikson seems to be writing lovingly about Seven Cities—far more so than Darujhistan! I wonder if this is secretly one of his favourite civilisations of the Malazan Empire? Certainly his language has stepped up a gear from Gardens of the Moon in terms of improvement—but I guess that could also be due to ten years more writing experience!
This is an enemy we can never defeat, Duiker believed. Yet history tells the stories of those who would challenge that enemy, again and again. Perhaps victory is not achieved by overcoming that enemy, but by joining it, becoming one with it.
Here we have two factors—the first is that Duiker (a man who seems to have good common sense and an appreciation of Seven Cities’ culture) genuinely believes the Malazan Empire won’t defeat Seven Cities. The second is that Duiker really is a subversive element!
Why isn’t Duiker more suspicious and worried about the bow-legged man who precedes him into the headquarters building? Perhaps I’m just too cynical and can’t see the unknown person as anything but bad news?
Interesting…sounds like Dujek saved Duiker from death in battle. And this led indirectly to the loss of Dujek’s arm from a horse bite! Ha, had we already been told that? I can’t recall it, and it sort of amuses me in a dark way. I assumed that the arm had been lost through some gloriously heroic deed, rather than merely being bitten by a horse and then being removed by surgeons!
Ooh, Coltaine slaps down Mallick Rel very thoroughly when he says: “When I’m ready,” in response to Rel trying to start proceedings. And then Bult also takes a turn:
“Understand that the Empress does not convey power upon people whom she does not know. High Fist Pormqual employed you as his messenger boy and that is how the Fist shall treat you. You command nothing. Not Coltaine, not me, not even a lowly mess cook of the Seventh.”
It occurs to me that this approach might be less than wise with Mallick Rel.
Here we have another example of Laseen’s casual culling and cruelty—the Wickan warlocks were mass executed. Her ignorance is also shown:
“The short-haired woman knows nothing of Wickan ways […] The crows that carried within them the greatest of the warlock souls returned to our people to await each new birth, and so the power of our elders returned to us.”
“Together we witnessed a vision sent by a spirit of great power, a spirit whose face is one among many. This spirit promised armageddon.”
Okay, this is just an aside and not the reason I pulled that quote: doesn’t armageddon somehow sound like a modern word? Even though it featured in the Bible? I don’t know why—maybe it’s just me… Possibly it’s more recent association with nuclear warfare? Okay, I pulled that quote because the prophecy didn’t sound quite as bad as all that, so clearly I am missing something here!
And then here we have a great example of the suspicion and dissent amongst this council: Rel has “hidden motives”; Kulp sees Coltaine as “an adder in his bedroll”; Coltaine has no desire to play the political games of the Malazan army.
Four names of men who were close to Kellanved and whose bodies were never found—we already knew Toc the Elder. Add to that Ameron, Cartheron Crust and Urko. And, I guess, Dassem. Is there going to be a big reunion of all these people at some point? It is interesting that the Wickan, Bult, here suggests that Laseen might have taken down Kellanved and Dancer because she knew better than anyone how their rule would have gone: “…if there was one person close to the throne capable of seeing what was to come, it was Laseen.”
Just want to pick out another instance where sorcery can be ”smelt“: “I could smell on him the ritual drinking of mare’s blood […] No need to let Sorno know how sensitive my nose is…”
And finally, in the section dealing with Duiker, he asks the Cadre Mage Kulp to help him free Heboric from the Otataral mines (which, obviously, will tie in with Felisin’s storyline at a later date).
This hill of Jen’rahb, kicking off the next section, is suitably mysterious: with mention of the Throne of the Seven Protectors, believed to be “a ring of seven daises, each sanctified by one of the Ascendants who set out to found Seven Cities.” *chants* Erikson never ever ever mentions anything without good reason—what part will this play before the end of the Malazan sequence?
Aha! Mezla = Malazan! Go me!
Oh no no no…. “Two small girls crouched beside a woman’s body near the dried-up fountain” and then “A hunchbacked pimp gathered up the two girls and hobbled out of sight up an alleyway.” And this is the sort of novel where these poor two girls won’t automatically be saved by the hero of the piece…. But thank God for Fiddler *grins*
Fiddler hesitated, then gave the captain his true name, the name he had been born with, long ago.
Might have known Fiddler would have more than one name! Most do in these books. Wonder how long ago he was born?
On top of the prophecy we now hear the following:
“From Raraku the whirlwind of the Apocalypse will come forth. And more, there will be a convergence.”
And then a few more details—The Prophecy of the Path of Hands, a gate that draws both Soletaken and D’ivers.
“Ascendancy means power. Power means control […] Should one Shapeshifter attain Ascendancy…”
“Domination of its own kind, yes. Such an event would have…repercussions.”
Did anyone else just shudder, or is that only me?
Oho! The chance of the whole Regiment of Bridgeburners ascending?! That sounds immense! And the transfer of Bridgeburner memories can be achieved by Kimloc merely touching Fiddler? Well, will you look at this:
“Captain Turqa will see you out.” He stepped close and laid a hand on Fiddler’s shoulder. “Kimloc Spiritwalker thanks you.”
“The Malazans were under siege with not a hand yet raised against them.” We’ve seen this siege in the form of symbols all over the city, and the increasing likelihood of rebellion against the Malazan Army.
“Laseen had left the old wounds to fester, and what was coming would silence Hood itself.” I believe this is one of the main problems with Laseen—she plays the political game ALL THE TIME. She is never direct in her language, or her treatment of others. And hence resentments build up, and people are able to find allies against her.
“Yes, I swear by the Seven.” This is said by Mebra in the meeting between he and Kalam—is it coincidence that Quick Ben holds seven warrens within him? And there are supposedly seven Ascendants who created the seven daises? All connected, or just something coincidental?
“The Holy Book of Dryjhna has been freed and must return to Raraku, where the Seeress-”
“Will raise the Whirlwind,” Kalam finished.
Hmm, is Fiddler aware of this part of the plan? [Bill’s interjection: Aware and not so thrilled.] Is Sha’ik the Holy Seer mentioned in GotM? [Bill’s interjection: Kinda sorta.] Is this their way of removing Laseen, by unleashing the Whirlwind Goddess? Or is Mebra correct in that Kalam is perfectly willing to unleash hell on the world just to gain safe passage to Aren, so that he can take ship to where Laseen is?
I am becoming more and more intrigued by the relationship between Icarium and Mappo—the nature of protection that Mappo offers. What would happen if Icarium went too far? What are Mappo’s abilities that he is the one to accompany Icarium?
The Jhag has arrows with warrens carved into the shafts that can bring down dragons! These sound amazing—and supremely powerful…
It sounds as though Icarium is designed to combat shapeshifters:
“And you, sir, must be Icarium, maker of mechanisms and now the bane of D’ivers and Soletaken.”
Hmm, Iskaral is an acquired taste, isn’t he? *winks* Hate to say, but on first sight I’m not a fan—but mostly because his dialogue is so rich and dense with clues and foreshadowing. Makes my head hurt when you add that to the rest of the clues I’m meant to be picking up! Imagine a meeting between Iskaral Pust and Kruppe…. I think my head would explode! [Bill’s interjection: Oh, wait for it, wait for iiiiiittt…]
Although I am finding his exchanges with Servant deeply amusing. “Fortunate for Servant I am such a gentle and patient master.” He swung to check on the man’s climb. “Hurry, you snub-tailed dog!”
Who is Servant? Who was he before? [Bill’s interjection: A very good question—and you’ve already been given some subtle hints.]
Bill’s Reaction to Chapter Two:
I also loved the pictographic language and for the same reasons: its sense of difference, its subtle nature,the way it isn’t overplayed, the vividness of its description, and the visualizing of what the city may look like.
The setting, as Amanda says, right away has that sense of difference: the sounds, the scents, the language, And while we’re on Seven Cities’ words, Falah’d is the ruler of one of the Holy Cities. I like how Duiker blends himself in via costume, accent, language, and tone/politics, good trait for a historian who wants to do field research.
I know it isn’t particularly insightful to point out that a foretelling by a character is foreshadowing, but yes, that divination is key. Let’s just all remember: “Face to Face. The blood is the same, the two are the same, and salty waves shall wash the shores of Raraku. The Holy Desert remembers its past.” (As we remember the poem that opened in chapter one telling us the desert was once a sea.) Look for that “face to face” construction later.
Shortly after we get Erikson’s archaeological long-time view as we’re told of cities lying atop of cities lying atop of cities, a common description throughout the series. But here Erikson adds a nice bit of a poetic touch to the concept:
Each city forever wept beneath the streets, forever laughed, shouted, hawked wares and bartered and prayed and drew first breaths that brought life and the last breaths that announced death. Beneath the streets there were dreams, wisdom, foolishness, fears, rage, grief, lust and love and bitter hatred.
I like how he goes beyond the usual stone on top of stone and dirt or ruins on top of ruins here and gives us the living (and dying) remnants of the cities that passed before as well. It reminded me of a Bradbury Martian Chronicles story (“Night Meeting”) where a past and present traveler meet and the past phantom describes the beautiful aliveness of his city which the present traveler sees only as dust and ruin.
The council meeting is so much fun for so many reasons:
The putting of Mallick Rel in his place (Boy, I hate Mallick Rel) for one. Gotta love the way Coltaine treats him as a messenger.
The story we get of how Bult got his scars and how Dujek lost his arm. (A world filled with stories and history and people that cross and recross over time.) And you’re right, Amanda, a horse isn’t exactly the story we all filled in that missing limb with, I’m guessing.
Coltaine and Bult’s wry humor (yet another example of Erikson’s ability to create grand duos).
The quick characterization of Bult and the Wickan’s sense of honor when he mentions how Duiker’s lack of weapons “turned his lance.”
Pormqual’s incompetence, self-importance, and unwillingness to leave Aren. (That last a very important detail.)
The reference you picked up to how many of the Old Guard (Kellanved’s group) disappeared, many of them “drowned.” (And yes, we will see some of those bodies.)
Bult’s casting of a different light on Laseen: her own feelings—“isolated, desperate for able people . . . alone, still feeling the wounds of abandonment”—and her possible motivation for usurping the throne—”The Emperor and Dancer were able conquerors, but were they able rulers? . . . if there was one person close to the throne capable of seeing what was to come, it was Laseen.” We’ll have lots of debate on that one in books to come, I’m thinking.
What may be the most important part of the meeting, though, may be the vivid imagery of Laseen’s mass execution of the Wickan wizards. The story is stirring and revelatory in its own right: how the Wickans brought their children to view the bodies hanging on the wall, giving them “memory scars” so the story will live on; the story of Sormo E’nath’s reincarnation—”Eleven days . . . No single crow could hold all of his soul. Each day there came another, until he was all gone. Eleven days, eleven crows . . . Eleven came to him. Eleven.” But beyond its immediate impact, and its introduction of a new character who will play a major role in the plot, it’s also a big hint of what is to come.
Not much to say about Kulp and Duiker’s conversation save to point out a typical characteristic of the Malazan mages: keeping their heads down and not revealing their full abilities—”No need to let Sormo know how sensitive my nose is . . . If I’m lucky he’ll ignore me.”
What I liked about he history of Ehriltan and Jen’rahb, beyond the accretion of history and civilization, was how Erikson gives us the history, and then a story with the history (Jen-rahb “shrugging” and killing tens of thousands in the collapse), and then (and this is my favorite part), a human story within the story—the young cook’s helper who thought his dropping the beaker had caused it all and stabbed himself in the heart.
And while we’re there, how about the image movement from the helper’s red blood flowing on the paving stones directly into Fiddler watching a troop of Red Swords riding through the crowd. Love that!
And then we get to that pivotal conversation between Kimloc and Fiddler. First we get some further explanation of why the Soletaken/D’ivers are converging in the desert: a prophecy involving a gate of some sort called the Path of Hands, a path that may lead to “Ascendancy—for the victor . . . Domination of its own kind.”
We also get more reference to Treach and Ryllandaras.
And, oh, and then, Kimloc saying he’d like to hear more of the Bridgeburner’s pursuit of Quick Ben (Well, pursuit of a company of wizards which ended up w/ them finding Quick Ben.) and make a Tano song of the tale, a song of power that may lead to Ascendancy for an entire regiment. (As Baruk said in GoTM—“there are many paths to Ascendancy.”) All Kimloc need do is touch Fiddler, but Fiddler refuses for his own reasons. (Oh, but that sneaky Spiritwalker—check out the farewell.) “Immense” doesn’t begin to cover it, Amanda!
Then there’s the shell he gives as protection, and yet another reference to the ancient sea that has become Raraku.
As Fiddler leaves with Kimloc’s captain we pick up some more back history of the Empire, in this case the slaughter in Aren by the T’lan Imass, an atrocity we’ll hear more of.
As Kalam heads toward his meeting, we get more of the conflicted sense of allegiance the Bridgeburners have, as Kalam thinks how “by birth he was among the occupied, but he had by choice fought under the standards of the Empire. He’d fought for Emperor Kellanved . . . but not Laseen. Betrayal cut those bonds long ago.”
We also get further view of Kellanved’s rule:
“The Emperor would have cut the heart out of this rebellion with its first beat. A short but unremitting bloodbath, followed by a long peace.”
We’ll see this theory of Kellanved as well as the Empire several times—how his/its ruthlessness is bloody and violent, but serves “peace” in the long run; it’s sort of the “pull the bandaid off fast” theory.
Tene Baralta—more to come from him.
On the whirlwind and Kalam, it’s yet another way to put pressure on Laseen.
We’ve had hints of Icarium’s power and Mappo’s fearful watchfulness over it, and as we return to them the hints turn more direct during the attack of the leopard D’ivers:
[Mappo] saw four of the beast lying motionless around the half-blood Jaghut. Fear gripped the Trell suddenly as his gaze fell on Icarium. How far? How far has the Jhag gone? Beru bless us, please . . . the Jhag plunged among the remaining leopards . . . Within moments five more bodies lay still on the ground . . . After a moment Icarium’s high-pitched keening fell away . . . Not too far. Safe. Gods below, this path . . . I am a fool to follow. Close, all too close.”
Clearly more than just enemies have reason to fear Icarium and just as clear now is that Mappo is more than mere friend, but also watcher and guardian. And based on his flashbacks, it’s safe to assume this assignment has associations with the Nameless Ones, though we’ll learn more eventually. And yes, warrened arrowed—how cool is that?
The next meeting with a shapeshifter, luckily, goes much more peacefully. The giant bear, Messremb, calls on Mappo as a friend and Mappo responds in kind (remember this later!), not only in tone but by doing Messremb the favor of warning him about Ryllandaras. As he heads off (doing them the courtesy of veering at a distance), Icarium observes that “madness lurked within him,” which draws a strong reaction from Mappo, long-time watcher and caretaker of one with the same malady.
And now, for your amusement, confusion, and pleasure, introducing Iskaral Pust—one of this series’ greatest creations: The Man. The Priest. The Mule owner.
You’ll have to watch his words very carefully Amanda; there is a lot buried deep in what he says. “A life given for a life taken,” for instance. His point that his servant has “salty hands,” and that one arm is “wrinkled, one pink.” And then a few moments later his revelation that his servant was a gift from Ammanas (Shadowthrone).
As they prepare to climb to Pust’s temple, we see Icarium’s affliction arise as he has no memory of how he lost an arrow or why there is blood on his sword, no memory of his battle with the leopards. And we see Mappo’s role as he lies, and then responds to Icarium’s question “you would tell me otherwise?” with the painfully lingering: “why would I not, Icarium?”
Setting: Skullcap, the Otataral mine pit on Otataral Island, off east coast of Seven Cities.
Felisin has just slept with Beneth (a mine overseer though a slave himself) to ensure a day of rest for Heboric, continuing the pattern that had started on the slave ship of selling her body for favors to make survival more likely. It appears that Captain Sawark, in charge of the mine, has received orders to make sure Heboric dies in the mine. Beneth agrees to give him an easier job. Felisin remembers Heboric’s musings on Otataral theories: how it forms only in limestone, that it doesn’t appear natural but is formed magically, how the island’s Otataral seems to have happened when the whole island “melted” when the magic got out of control. Beneth and Felisin come across a young guard Pella, who is worried about the island’s Malazans being outnumbered by the Dosii, with all the talk of rebellion. Beneth tells him not to worry. Pella quotes Kellanved to him, via Duiker’s history, and tells both that the historian’s works are “worth learning.” As they pass Sinker Lake (one of the boundaries of the pit), Felisin notes how much it has dropped as Heboric had asked, though she thinks it useless—everyone who has ever tried escape has either died in the surrounding desert (nearly all) or been caught and executed. Beneth asks Felisin to move in with him but she rejects it, distracting him instead with an offer of a threesome with her and Bula (innkeep), thinking she just needs to keep alive for the day she can face Tavore and kill her.
Felisin enters the tent she shares with Baudin and Heboric. She and Heboric argue, he angry and bitter and guilt-ridden over what she’s done to protect him, she angry over what she’s been forced to do as well as her feeling excluded from some plan the two of them seem to have and her sense that she’s completely on her own. Heboric is also concerned about her growing use of durhang (a drug) and wine.
Duiker watches as Admiral Nok and the fleet depart, taking Rel with them. Kulp arrives and tells him arrangements have been made with regard to helping Heboric escape. They watch as a transport arrives with Red Blades, who have been sent to pacify a restless population if needed. Instead, they disembark ready to immediately attack the market, though they are delayed by Coltaine’s Wickan who had been in the market in disguise. Kulp intervenes with the two brothers (Mesker and Baria) that lead the Red Blades. The Hissar Guards appear with Wickan archers and the brothers back down. Kulp tells Duiker that Coltaine has completely changed the drills; rather than practice battlefield techniques, he has them practicing urban battles involving refugees. Duiker, recognizing what Coltaine fears is coming, tells Kulp to push the Seventh.
Coltaine, Bult, and Duiker are watching the next drill. The Seventh is doing better and Coltaine leaves to give them Wickan Lancer support. Duiker tells Bult the Seventh has earned a day of rest. When Bult at first seems skeptical, Duiker tells him Coltaine will need them rested for what is to come. Bult agrees.
Fiddler and Kalam have had an argument over Kalam taking the book to Sha’ik—Kalam wanting to wound Laseen as much as possible and Fiddler concerned over the Empire and Laseen’s successor. He tells Crokus how things are allegiances are getting confusion: Kalam to Seven Cities, Malazans to the Empire (as opposed to the Empress), etc. While Kalam finds Sha’ik, Fiddler tells Crokus their group will find another “road to Unta,” one that’s “probably never been used before and may not even work.” Crokus scoffs at Fiddler’s chances if Kalam doesn’t make. Moby (identified by Fiddler as a bhok’aral and native to Seven Cities) appears and Fiddler tells Crokus they’ll find more supporters than he Crokus thinks and nobody should be dismissed as useless. Crokus has figured out that Kalam and Fiddler have thought of Apsalar as a backup and that he won’t allow it. Fiddler says she retains Dancer’s skills though the possession is over and that Crokus doesn’t get to speak for her.
Fiddler, Crokus, and Apsalar prepare to leave, with Fiddler in Gral disguise as guardian and guide to two newlyweds making pilgrimage. A group of Red Blades ask Fiddler if they’ve seen a man on a roan riding out; Fiddler says no. Crokus is worried whomever Kalam met the night before has betrayed him. As they ride out, Crokus tells Fiddler Moby has disappeared. Crokus is confused and upset over why his uncle didn’t do anything with his power.
Setting: Iskaral Pust’s temple
Pust tells Mappo to kill any spiders he sees. Mappo has been healed by Pust/Servant, though he won’t completely accept it until two moon cycles has passed and with them the danger of the lycanthropy that a Soletaken/D’iver’s woundings can cause. Mappo goes to join Icarium in Pust’s library, which he’s populated with books he’s stolen from the “great library of the world.”
Icarium is fascinated by the books he’s found and what seems to be evidence of a rich ancient civilization. Mappo recognizes the writing as that of the Nameless Ones. Mappo, seeking to distract Icarium, argues that the books are a sign of decline in that culture, showing an “indolence characterized by pursuit of knowledge . . . no matter the value of such answers,” and gives Gothos’s Folly as an example, saying Gothos’ awareness “of everything, every permutation, every potential” was “Enough to poison every scan he cast on the world.” Icarium believes the books are evidence of his theory that the ruins in Raraku are of a great civilization, perhaps the first human one. Mappo, worried about this trend of thought, asks what it matters. Icarium talks about his obsession with time and says in the end he was just passing time. Mappo changes the subject to his distrust of Pust and desire to leave. Icarium says he suspects that his goal will be achieved in this place and so he prefers to not leave. Mappo then flashes back to his encounter with the Nameless Ones and their statement that they think “not in years, but in centuries.”
Amanda’s Reaction to Chapter Three:
The Red Blades are really sinister: the idea that they are turning on their friends and families because of their loyalty to the new Overlords. That sort of fanaticism can get very ugly, very fast.
Ugh, rape. What an ugly start to a chapter. I mean, I know that Felisin is in a bad place, but why is rape or forced penetration always used as a way to represent the ugly side of people? Although is it a good question as to whether this is rape at all? After all, Felisin has chosen to use her body as currency—and yet she does not really have a choice. Or does she? Whichever way you look at it, I don’t like the idea—it makes me deeply uncomfortable.
Heboric’s grief and anger at the price she paid at first had been difficult to ignore, filling her with shame.
This is definitely fatherly, and indicates that Heboric hates Felisin’s loss of innocence. Ack, I don’t know…I can see why Felisin would take that path, but surely there was a chance her virginity could have been of more value intact! I’m not sure that she made the right choice.
Some interesting details on Otataral here:
“Otataral, the bane of magic, was born of magic”
“Whatever sorcery created Otataral proved beyond controlling. I would not want to be responsible for unleashing such an event all over again.”
It seems as though no one really knows what Otataral does, where it came from and why it dulls magic—I think if I decided to use it, I would want to know better than this what the effect is.
Pella is clearly trying to pass a message to Felisin, but what?
Uh, is it just me, or is this start to the Felisin storyline a bit… *whispers* boring? The long descriptions, the establishing of a new location, the various people in power…I’m just finding it dull—and that is the FIRST time I’ve been able to say that about any Erikson.
Hmm, is this a reflection of the prophecy we’ve heard? [Bill’s interjection: Yep.]
“One day you’ll find yourself face to face with your sister, and an ocean of blood pouring from Tavore’s veins won’t be enough…”
Wow, so Felisin is drinking, doing drugs and whoring her body out—and all at the tender age of sixteen. And not showing much remorse about it. Or taking note of the care with which Heboric regards her (calling vengeance out on Tavore, for instance). Yep, starting to realise why you lovely folks on this re-read journey stated your dislike for the [little cow] person…
But then I read something like:
I’d hoped to make you smile, Heboric, and I didn’t want my laughter to sound so… hard. I’m not what you think I am. Am I?
And I feel so much pity for this poor, confused, ravaged young girl who has been torn from everything she knows and put into a situation so bad that I can’t even comprehend where her mind must have to go in order to survive.
Oh, this utterly breaks my heart—it’s the cry of a little girl:
It was, she told herself, simply a matter of will to turn pain into pleasure. Survive each hour.
When Kulp and Duiker talk about Coltraine using sappers to build up the ruined monastery on the hill near Seven Cities, would this be the same ruins created by the earth shaking that Kalam remembers, or am I getting confused with my locations?
You’re busy reading the stones in the sand, Sormo. Aren’t you? While Coltaine hammers the Seventh into shape as guardians to Malazan refugees.
Duiker realises way before Kulp what Coltaine intends with the new exercises he is forcing the Seventh army through. I am being very dense though because I can’t work out which Malazan refugees it would be—from the rebellion that is expected? [Bill’s interjection: See, not so dense!]
How telling is this exchange between Crokus and Fiddler:
Fiddler grimaced. “Confusing times for us all. We’ve been outlawed by Laseen, but does that make us any less soldiers of the Empire? Malaz isn’t the Empress and the Empress isn’t Malaz-”
“A moot distinction, I’d say.”
And Fiddler is accidentally letting details drop about his fellow Bridgeburner:
“Kalam wants to be at the heart of things. It’s always been his way.”
Hmm, Fiddler makes the suggestion that perhaps Crokus has some “talents,” since his uncle’s familiar is still around. I think Fiddler also considers Crokus’ intelligence and swiftness of thought a mark of “power,” rather than Crokus just being quick. After he was the Coinbearer, I guess there might be thoughts that Oponn still has a hold on him. Or is it that Moby is attracted to Fiddler? We already know that Fiddler can read the Deck…
Poor Fiddler—I feel sad for him, and wonder what Kalam’s sharp words mean for the future of the Bridgeburners?
There was pathos in that parting, Fiddler belatedly realised, for it seemed that the duty that once bound him and Kalam together, to a single cause which was as much friendship as anything else, had been sundered.
I really appreciate Fiddler’s irascible nature!
“Show some manners, you ugly bastard, or you’ll live to regret it.” (To a horse!)
I’ve realised Mappo and I share the same opinion of Iskaral!
Each question the Trell voiced was answered with a bizarre rambling monologue that seemed to drain him of will beyond the utterance of yet another question.
OH MY GOD! The kitchen is in the library! But think what the steam would do to those books…. Yes, I am virtually in pain at the idea of books going all soggy and wrinkled from water in the air. What madness is this? [Oh, you haven’t even scratched the surface of the madness that is Iskaral!]
I love Icarium and Mappo. I love the hints bein given to us of Mappo’s charge to stay with Icarium from the Nameless Ones. I love the humour. I am worried what will happen if Icarium knows the truth about himself. “Leave this path of thought, Icarium. Leave it now.”
And who is Servant??
Bill’s Reaction to Chapter Three:
If anyone thought Felisin, as the young frightened noble girl faced with such extreme horror in the Prologue was going to find her way to a better life before being directly harmed, that cold first line tells us this is not going to be a happy storyline. And the last line of that paragraph drives it home: “You’ll learn to like it, girl.” (Note the reminder to us she is, in fact, only a girl) But then Erikson takes us even further into despair by showing us Felisin’s new bitter wisdom: “I will” and how this act of rape has become merely business: “Does he get a day of rest?” This is a bitterly icy and dark opening to this plot strand (and fair warning—it doesn’t sunny up).
I do think it qualifies as rape—let’s face it, Beneth (and all the others) are under no illusions that the fact she isn’t fighting them off means she is actually desiring. And while I know what you mean Amanda when you say you’re tired of authors ”using“ rape, I don’t think Erikson is doing this here, using it as a cheap or lazy shortcut to characterize villains as ”bad.” I think he’s merely realistically portraying it—this is what happens to women in societies that view them as little more than commodities at best and nuisances/burdens at worst, whether they be entire societies or microcosms of societies without law or outside pressures (i.e. war zones, prisons, etc.). We needn’t look to fantasy worlds, fiction, or long ago times to see it.
As for her virginity, that’s a one-time sale and chances are, it wasn’t going to be bought. This way she gets multiple favors and can use it as the currency it is for her.
We get an some interesting additions to our knowledge of Otataral here, one of the more mysterious aspects of this world. At first, Erikson shows us the veins running “shallow and long, like rivers of rust between compacted beds filled with fossil plants and shellfish.” Then Heboric’s theory:
“Limestone is just the bones of things once living . . .I’m led to believe that Otataral is not a natural ore . . . Otataral, the bane of magic, was born of magic . . . Those veins we dig [are] like a layer of once melted fat . . . This whole island had to melt to make those veins. Whatever sorcery created Otataral proved beyond controlling. I would not want to be responsible for unleashing such an event all over again.”
There’s going to be a lot of speculation on Otataral coming, and I’m not sure we can do much here without some spoilers, but I did want to point out how early we get some very interesting information on it (and from an appropriate source).
And while we’re on the subject of carefully laid plot and character points:
Note the introduction of the young guard Pella and his knowledge of Duiker’s histories
And as well his anxiety over the Dosii and Sawark’s seemingly willful ignorance of them and talk of rebellion. (Echoes of the same worries Duiker thinks of as he goes into the traders’ tent earlier.)
Then of course follows Felisin’s assessment of the lake water’s level and musings on previous escape attempts—this fairly screams “foreshadow!”
As does, though to a slightly lesser extent, Felisin’s motivation for surviving:
Stay alive, Felisin . . . One day you’ll find yourself face to face with your sister, and an ocean of blood pouring from Tavore’s veins won’t be enough . . . One day, face to face, sister” (recall the divination witnessed by Duiker: “Two fountains of raging blood! Face to face. The blood is the same.”
The foreshadowing done, we return to catalog more of Felisin’s downward plunge: her quick movement to the wine jug upon entering her tent, her use of the drug durhang to dull the pain of her life, her jagged relationship with Heboric (ragged over his own guilt and shame for what she is doing to help him), her sense of exclusion as she hears Baudin and Heboric talk between the two of them. One of the saddest moments in the early stages of this book is Felisin’s thoughts when she mentions Bula’s interest in Heboric (or his stumps to be more precise):
“After a moment her laughter fell away . . . I’d hoped to make you smile, Heboric . . . And I didn’t want my laughter to sound so . . . hard. I’m not what you think I am. Am I?”
Just those first few lines are achingly sad, but the end, the questioning of herself, is heartbreaking.
The scene with the arrival of the Red Blades shows us a lot in terms of that militia as well as Coltaine’s command ability to be one step ahead. But what I like most about this scene is Kulp’s involvement. One is his quick willingness to step in to try to protect the innocent people in the market, even before the hidden Wickans step forward. But even better is his line to the Red Blade commander: “Coltaine’s not your enemy yet, Baria.” Note that “yet”—how telling is that?
Kulp’s insight is followed soon though by some obtuseness on his part, as he describes to Duiker how Coltaine has been running the 7th army ragged with urban warfare drills and refugee escorts, but seemingly doesn’t think twice about why Coltaine has changed the drills. Duiker, on the other hand, has keener eyesight here; he knows what’s coming and what Coltaine is preparing for.
Spiders. What’s Iskaral Pust’s problem with spiders? Hmmm . . .
We see further reminder of Mappo’s connections with the Nameless Ones (more to come) and his fear of Icarium’s delving into past civilizations (more to come), and yet another mention of Gothos and his folly (more to come). Lots of bricks being added to lots of walls here.
And thus . . . More to Come . . . :)
Bill Capossere writes short stories and essays, plays ultimate frisbee, teaches as an adjunct English instructor at several local colleges, and writes SF/F reviews for fantasyliterature.com.
Amanda Rutter contributes reviews and a regular World Wide Wednesday post to fantasyliterature.com, as well as reviews for her own site floortoceilingbooks.com (covering more genres than just speculative), Vector Reviews and Hub magazine.