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 Chapters 14 and 15 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!
Kulp presses the others to move on due to the presence of shapeshifters nearby. When Heboric bemoans the coincidence of the Whirlwind rising at the same time of the Soletaken/D’ivers, Kulp says it wasn’t accidental, that someone started the shapeshifters on the convergence due to the uprising or perhaps the goddess began the Whirlwind to mesh with the convergence. Felisin suggests letting themselves be bitten (to become shapeshifters) and Kulp tells her that’s a common misperception, that a bite would only result in a cycle of madness but real shapeshifters are born. Heboric leads them on.
Felisin notes the water has made her feel “mended,” but she still feels hopeless. Heboric leads them through the city, which is filled with bodies killed in the battle with the T’lan Imass, all the death leading Felisin to despair and thoughts that all of humanity’s action means nothing, affects nothing, that all that lies beneath is futility. They come to a temple whose frieze is an Elder Deck showing the Holds. Heboric asks Kulp to find the Hold of the Beast and Kulp tells him the throne is empty and is flanked by T’lan Imass. Heboric says the Throne used to be filled. He asks Kulp if he sees the Unaligned (Kulp can’t) and among them would be Shapeshifters. They walk through the temple then exit onto a ledge high on a cliff face above the Whirlwind. Kulp and Felisin tie themselves to Heboric who will climb down using his ghost hands.
Heboric climbs down, through the Whirlwind which scours Felisin’s skin painfully raw. When they read the bottom, Felisin looks up and thinks she sees a figure on the ledge above them. They feel something coming/nearby and run, suddenly breaking into a calm spot, like the eye of a storm. In it are four men carrying a palanquin bearing up a “corpulent figure wearing voluminous silks” and carrying a parasol. He offers them healing unguents, food, and water and asks if Felisin is for sale. Kulp points out his porters are undead and appear to have been chewed. When questioned how he manages to oppose the Whirlwind, the newcomer says he’s a merchant who trades with Sha’ik’s rebels so the Whirlwind gives him passage. As his servants set up camp, the newcomer observes that Heboric is a former priest of Fener and Kulp a mage of Meanas and introduces himself as Nawahl Ebur. Kulp tells Felisin the salves really are healing and she uses it to heal herself. Nawahl pulls out lanterns and wine and food. A huge Soletaken bear tries to enter the protected area but cannot. Kulp moves closer to look and as he turns back to the merchant Nawahl shapeshifts into hundreds of rats that swarm over Kulp. Heboric enters the mass, his hands glowing (one red, one green) killing each rat he touches but the swarm spreads then drops from where Kulp had been, leaving just a mass of bones and his cape. As the Soletaken bear even more frantically tries to enter, getting a forearm in, the rats head for Heboric. Suddenly, Baudin appears and dashes the oil lanterns to the ground amid the rats, who attack him. He breaks three more lanterns and fire engulfs him and the rats. Felisin goes to Heboric and pulls him away. In her head, Nawahl offers her wealth and peace and indulgence and tells her not to go, that he will deal with Baudin and Heboric and the Soletaken bear (now revealed to be Messremb). Felisin hesitates but thinks the D’ivers rats are losing. As she pushes Heboric away the protections collapse and Messremb charges in.
Felisin finds shelter for them nearby then falls asleep. She wakes to the storm being over. Heboric tells her the rat bites have poisoned him and wars with “the other strangers in my soul.” Baudin appears—“burned, gnawed, parts completely eaten away.” He drops to the ground and Felisin cradles his head in her lap. Baudin whispers to her she was not what he expected, then dies. Felisin’s “armor” “falls away.”
Mappo tells the group Apsalar and her father are now walking the path together. Both he and Fiddler sense “expectancy” in the air from the Whirlwind goddess. Icarium mentions they’ve gone through two warrens on the path, “ancient and fragmented, woven in the very rock of Raraku” and that once he smelled the sea. Mappo points out Apsalar could easily evade them and so must be leading them. Fiddler wonders if, knowing what he and Kalam had planned with regard to Laseen, she is contemplating taking on Sha’ik so as to further that plan. Mappo warns Fiddler that if she becomes Sha’ik reborn, Apsalar will be changed by the goddess, will take on the goddess’ cause. Fiddler says she’s arrogant enough to think that won’t be the case. Crokus wonders if she’s been repossessed by Cotillion so he and Shadowthrone can use the Whirlwind to wreak vengeance on Laseen. Fiddler worries that Gods ruling a mortal empire would draw other Ascendants into the mix and lead to devastating results.
Back at Sha’ik’s corpse, Leoman also feels a change in the air, the sense of expectancy. The Toblakai plans to leave, thinks Sha’ik will not be reborn, but Leoman isn’t ready. Felisin and Heboric appear. Leoman kneels before her and tells her “you are reborn.” Felisin answers, “So I am.”
Amanda’s Reaction to Chapter Fourteen:
The Goddess drew breath—are we about to see the rebirth of Sha’ik? Will it be Apsalar? Will it be Felisin? With the fact that we’ve been following these two women and they’re both in the desert, I’m presuming one of them will take the mantle. Of course, Erikson might throw in a massive curveball and make it some woman we’ve not encountered yet!
I like the fact that Heboric goes into a philosophical spiel about all people being hunted for various reasons, and Kulp punctures this by saying “no, literally being hunted.” It’s a nice counterpoint—and sort of represents Erikson’s own writing, non? Mention again as well of the shapeshifters having that spicy scent. What a convenient way of realising that your enemies are close! It’s like putting a bell on a hunting cat. *grin* [Bill’s interjection: For some reason, I just had an image of a terrible “Axe for Soletaken” commercial.]
Is this one of the first times that Felisin comes out with a decent reason for being so defeatist, one that even Heboric supports? She seems to be becoming more lucid and pro-active.
So, who started the Shapeshifters on their convergence? I’m sure we’ve already been given hints. (Or maybe we’ve been told, and the details have slipped my head….) Shadowthrone can always be used as a scapegoat for when things like this happen! But perhaps someone who wanted the warrens to be essentially unusable during a time of massive upheaval?
I found this line inordinately funny:
“Here, wielder of Meanas, take my invisible hand…”
Probably just me in this case!
I’m not sure how I feel with the fact that Felisin mentions her mistaken thought that shapeshifters can be made with a bite—it feels a little too much of a collision with urban fantasy, horror and what has been seen in other literature. I guess she just feeds that line so that Kulp can tell the reader how they are created—although we then have the problem of knowing whether Kulp has that level of knowledge and is, himself, correct!
It’s nice to see a more “mended” Felisin. Is it just the water that is doing the trick or is it the influence of those rivers of blood in her dream. Again we have water being used as a symbol of feeling reborn—which is also a nod to Sha’ik being reborn… Coincidence?
This feeling of being but an ant in the immensity of the world is one that Felisin is not alone in thinking, I’m sure. I must admit, I had similar thoughts when standing on the brink of the Grand Canyon—and I’m not in the fragile state of mind that Felisin is!
We do naught but scratch the world, frail and fraught. Every vast drama of civilizations, of peoples with their certainties and gestures, means nothing, affects nothing. Life crawls on, ever on.
Having picked this out, I do want to observe that Erikson is also busy showing us the reverse—the fact that tiny choices, tiny events can have massive repercussions. I like the two perspectives we’re given.
Who used to sit the antlered throne? Why is it now empty? This gives us an indication of what the prize will be for the current convergence of shapeshifters. [Bill’s interjection: More to come.]
Heboric is certainly trusting in these new hands of his, isn’t he? He seems to have a better sense of what he is able to do with them—and this intrigues me:
Kulp peered down the cliff face. “Climb down this? It’s rotten rock, old man—”
“Not the handholds I’ll find, Mage.”
Are those invisible hands giving him access into a warren, or something? And it is the inside of the warren that he’ll be holding onto as they move down the cliff-face? Not sure, but intriguing to me, nonetheless.
We heard very early in this book that the desert shaped the Bridgeburners into the force they now are. Here Heboric says:
“Raraku reshapes all who come into it. This is one truth you can cling to. What you were falls away, what you become is something different.”
We’ve already seen the change in Heboric, in Baudin. Felisin is changing before our eyes. I dread to think what will happen to Kulp! [Bill’s interjection: That’s the right emotion.]
Do you know what I think about as I read this scene with Heboric carrying the other two down the cliff-face? That scene in the Princess Bride where the giant carries the others up the rope to the top of the cliff! I wonder if this is a nod to that, or whether Erikson just decided it fit with Heboric’s new hands and abilities? [Bill’s interjection: Inconceivable!]
“There’s something… even I can feel it.”
Is this because the “something” is too close to ignore, or because Felisin is developing greater affinity to sense magic and people?
Hmm, how keen would you be to take food and drink from a rather odd stranger in the eye of the Whirlwind? I would be hot-footing it away, no matter that the desert might overwhelm me… Erikson builds a very effective picture of this person not being nice with words such as: “corpulent… discordant… squealed… bloated.” I don’t like him. I don’t trust him.
Yay! *cheers* Finally! Felisin says:
“And I am no longer for sale.”
This indicates she is ready to stop selling everything, including her body.
And more emphasis on the strangeness of this chap in the desert—chewed undead servants. Hmm, who did the chewing, that’s what I want to know? He also does not want his servant to reveal his “horrid death”—why?
“Beyond my abilities,” Kulp muttered.
Felisin’s eyes narrowed on the cadre mage. That has to be a lie.
She has, of course, seen him use a massive undead dragon to punch a hole through a warren and halfway across a continent. That is going to make you believe that a mage is pretty damn nifty with his powers!
Ooh! It looks as though Kulp’s warren did not want to associate with Felisin, when he tried to use it to protect her from the worst of the wind.
Haha! The clues about Felisin seem to be coming thick and fast right now, if I’m reading them correctly… Here Nawahl says:
“Let you, rather, yourself ascend to the proper course.”
Aha… The citrus scent was to cover the scent of spice… No wonder the point was pushed home as to how strong it was! [Bill’s interjection: always a reason…] Rats… The same rats that we’ve encountered before? Gryllen, the Tide of Madness?
There are just so many punches thrown at the reader in these few pages, so that you are left reeling: the collapse of Kulp beneath the rats and Felisin’s sight of “the flash of wet bones, a ragged raincape”; the reappearance of Baudin—did he follow them all that way, or is this a coincidence? [Bill’s interjection: Recall the figure Felisin saw back up at the ledge once they were at at the bottom.]
Oh, I am now thinking about that horrid death the undead servants mentioned. *shudders*
It’s also interesting both that Felisin hesitates when offered life with the “merchant,” but then turns him down. I think the Felisin from only a few days before—certainly a few weeks—would have accepted anything to guarantee herself a life of ease and no pain. Now she is willing to trust in Baudin, have faith that he can solve their problems. There is a lot of development going on with her within this one chapter!
Gods, that description of Baudin is just sickening: “Baudin was burned, gnawed, parts completely eaten away. He had been charred down to the bone in places, and the heat had swelled the gases in his belly, bloating him until he looked with child, the skin and flesh cracked open. There was nothing left of his features except ragged holes where his eyes, nose and mouth should be.”
Hang on, is Felisin with child? Is she carrying Baudin’s baby? First there is that mention of “with child” in the quote above—and then at the end of the passage as Baudin dies: “Armour can hide anything until the moment it falls away. Even a child. Especially a child.” Or is this just reference to Felisin being a child? Give it nine months and we’ll know!
And oh Baudin… I mourn for him. I didn’t even like him, but this character death (if it is such) stings, as does that of Kulp. Kulp especially. These characters really get under your skin, don’t they? *sad*
Fiddler really has huge sensitivity to magic and matters arcane, doesn’t he? Here he can feel that the Goddess is approaching rebirth.
“Twice we have travelled warrens…”
Which warrens? Were they maybe caught up in the magic wrought by Kulp? And, again, reference to the sea in relation to Raraku.
Dear Lord, the thought of this gives me nightmares:
“What if the patron god of assassins has reclaimed her? What will it mean if the rebellion is suddenly led by Cotillion—and, by extension, Ammanas? The dead Emperor returns to wreak vengeance.”
I don’t think I’m the only one to find that a worrying thought.
Let’s just look at this:
“Blades in hand and unhanded in wisdom. Young, yet old, one life whole, another incomplete—she shall emerge renewed…”
Now, the blades part seems to refer to Apsalar and her ability as an assassin granted by Cotillion. The unhanded in wisdom could be either Apsalar or Felisin—both are untried young girls. The young, yet old part again could be either of them, since Apsalar suffered possession and Felisin suffered in the mines. The last part about lives could easily be interpreted to be either of them—Apsalar had a period of her life where she was possessed and so incomplete; with Felisin it could emphasise the fact she is with child. Still none the wiser!
And even that last part where the young woman says “But beware his hands…” could even be Heboric or Servant. I do think this is Felisin though, and she has been reborn as Sha’ik.
Bill’s Reaction to Chapter Fourteen:
Lots of references in this chapter to Felisin (and her companions) being manipulated toward an end, beginning with Heboric’s lines about humans in general in the first few paragraphs that we drive and are driven. Soon after, we have Kulp’s theory that this convergence of the Path of Hands and the Whirlwind has been purposely created and then Heboric’s veiled hints at purposeful deception and an arising pattern. Then, later, Felisin musing to herself, “how far do we have to be pushed . . . we’re being nudged, tugged, and pulled.”
A bit more detail on shapeshifting, as Kulp tells us that a bite from a shapeshifter does not make one a shapeshifter, akin to werewolf lore. Instead, he says, it gives you cyclical (tied to the moon?) madness. I didn’t have that sense of displacement Amanda did, seemed a natural sort of “layperson” thought in a world with shapeshifters in it. When Kulp goes on to say shapeshifters are “born,” as Amanda says let’s remember our usual caveat—that just because a character says something doesn’t make it so; they may be ignorant or lying. Might it also be a possibility he means “born” of ritual?
Futility. Cycle. As mentioned before, there are words that just keep popping up. These are two of them.
We do naught but scratch the world, frail and fraught. Every vast drama of civilizations, of peoples with their certainties and gestures, means nothing, affects nothing. Life crawl on even on. She wondered if the gift of revelation—of discovering the meaning underling humanity—offered nothing more than a devastating sense of futility. It’s the ignorant who find a cause and cling to it, for within that is the illusion of significance. Faith, a king . . . vengeance . . . all the bastion of fools.
Is Felisin judging her own desire for vengeance on Tavore? Is she nearing relinquishing it? Is she recognizing the power inherent in creating or riding a cause? What do we take away from the idea of futility: that striving is useless? Or all the more important? What does it mean to put these lines into the mouth of a character most readers appear to greatly dislike? What must it be for those long-lived Ascendants who need not theorize on the rise and fall of “great” or “eternal” civilizations but actually witness it? How do we contrast Kallor and Rake, for instance, in their responses to this idea of “futility”? As Amanda points out, what does it mean in the context of a work where we’re shown again and again the impact of choices, of action, of inaction? My personal view is one of the proffered answers to “futility” in this series is “compassion,” compassion in the face of futility and it is those sorts of acts that distinguish the truly great characters.
On that topic, per Amanda’s mention that she finds Felisin more pro-active: does anyone else find Felisin’s hopelessness and constant “just give up” or “all is futile” a bit contradictory to the struggle and fight she showed in climbing up the quartzite? Is this contradictory writing? Or meant to show Felisin herself is perhaps mouthing words she doesn’t truly feel/believe deep down? Or is it not contradictory at all?
More on Holds as the pre-cursor to the Houses of the Deck—you can see this concept being built up for the reader gradually. As mentioned above—there’s always a reason. And we get an introduction to the Hold of the Beast and an empty throne—something to keep in mind for the future. As well as more indication of a link between shapeshifters and T’lan Imass who “flank” the Beast throne.
More as well on the constant theme of Raraku reshaping those who traverse it. We know it reshaped the Bridgeburners (we’ll get more details on that eventually). And here Heboric tells Felisin this reshaping is “one truth you can cling to. What you were falls away, what you become is something different” and then a few lines later Felisin herself feels as if “Raraku will claim us.” The question is what will Felisin become?
Kulp. Man, this scene gets me every time. Every single time. So sudden. So vicious. I hate this scene. We get our few clues as Amanda pointed out: the servants being “chewed” and “gnawed [twice used].” The rule that they may not speak of how they died. The one servant who manages to say his death involved lots of “small pain.” The description of Nawahl’s eyes as “glittering.” His sense of magery and the power of his spells, the way he moves unharmed through not just the whirlwind but also through an area filled with shapeshifters. The persistence of the bear Soletaken to attack.
And while we’re on the bear, this gives us yet another reason to like that Soletaken bear—Messremb. Remember—there’s always reason.
Note some glimmers of, dare I say it, likability, surrounding Felisin in this section. When Nawahl asks Baudin, “Oh you stubborn mortal, why won’t you die?”, it’s hard not to smile at Felisin’s response:
Felisin could not help but grin. “That won’t work—I should know.”
That is followed almost immediately by her emotional response to Kulp’s death: “She bit back a sob.” Then, when she seems to take a giant step backward by criticizing Kulp for not recognizing the Soletaken and Heboric marvels at her armor, she thinks to herself, “And should I bleed within it, you see nothing.” But of course, the major moment Erikson offers up to the reader in terms of creating a better feeling for Felisin is when the poignant scene where she cradles Baudin’s head in her lap, culminating in image of her stripped of that armor, leaving her what she in truth is: a “child.”
And if the question earlier was what was Felisin going to become, well, standing over Sha’ik’s corpse with Toblakai and Leoman kneeling before her certainly sends us down a certain path, eh?
Meanwhile, back at the other storyline part of which is focusing on a young girl perhaps being shaped into something else….
I like how Erikson gives us the “expectancy” hanging in the air from the Whirlwind while we’re still betwixt and between Apsalar and Felisin, leaving it open as to just which the Whirlwind is thinking it’s going to get.
Of course, that also means that once we get the final scene with Felisin arriving at Sha’ik, we should recall what Mappo tells Fiddler about being reborn via the Whirlwind:
“Apsalar [read Felisin] will not simply be engaging in a change of costume Fiddler. The cause of the goddess will take hold of Apsalar’s mind, her soul. Such visions and visitations will change her.”
And if Apsalar has a god’s arrogance thanks to her possession by Cotillion, as Fiddler argues, meaning she may, “think she can withstand the influence of the goddess, even as she assumes the role of prophetess and warleader . . . ” Well, a god may in fact be arrogant, but is anything more arrogant than a teenager? Given Felisin’s age, the strength of survival she’s shown (especially doing so as she believes on her own), it isn’t a great leap to think Felisin might believe the same.
We also get a hint as to what’s going on with Raraku, when Icarium informs them that their travels have taken them through two warrens: “ancient and fragmented, woven into the very rock of Raraku.”
Kalam is checking out the ship that has been procured for his passage. One of the sailors mentions that Korbolo Dom and Relo’s armies have merged and plan to catch Coltaine at the Vathar River. The sailor points to High Fist Pormqual’s seal on much of the loading and guesses Pormqual is “turning tail.” He tells Kalam their last job was hauling weapons for Tavore’s fleet. When Kalam asks about an escort, the sailor informs him that Pormqual has commanded Nok’s fleet to stay in Aren Harbor. Across the bay a Malazan transport is unloading horses. The captain arrives, accompanied by a man and his two bodyguards. Salk Elan appears behind Kalam (surprising Kalam) and identifies the man as Pormqual’s treasurer. Questioned by Kalam, Elan tells him he arranged Kalam’s passage to pay off an obligation to Mebra (the one who gave Kalam the Whirlwind book in Ehriltan), who had guessed Kalam would try to assassinate Laseen. Elan goes on to say he’s leaving Aren due to a recent bounty on his head. When the treasurer starts to harangue the captain, Elan steps in. Before Elan and the bodyguards get into it, the captain starts to explain what’s going to happen when the treasurer suddenly goes unconscious. When Elan and Kalam join the captain in his cabin, he tells them Nok has been arrested by Pormqual, there appear to be no Claws in Aren, the treasurer has been given technical command of Ragstopper, and the Malazan transport has also been commandeered by Pormqual and will carry his household and horses to Unta.
When Kalam asks Elan why no Claws, Elan says he knows nothing about “those horrid throat-slitters,” before leaving. Kalam suspects Elan is a mage and a good fighter.
Minala, sneaking aboard the transport with Kalam’s horse, thinks she’ll never see her sister or Keneb—who has been attached to Blistig’s City Garrison—again.
Captain Sulmar presses Coltaine to listen to the nobles’ suggestion to try and retake Ubaryd. When he asks about water beyond the Vathar, Bult says the warlocks can sense nothing past the river. Duiker notes how aged Sormo now looks and worries that Nil and Nether hadn’t exited their wagon since their magic with the horse at the last battle. Coltaine strips Sulmar of his rank and Sulmar says he has the right of appeal to a High Fist. Bult agrees and says the nearest one is in Aren. When Sulmar says taking Ubaryd would allow Nok to rescue them, Bult tells him Nok must be dead or arrested if he hasn’t left Aren, and that Pormqual is paralyzed. When Sulmar asks Duiker his opinion he explains why Ubaryd would be a disaster and also that Korbolo is an actual general while Reloe was just a mage. Bult mockingly suggests getting yet another opinion from Bent the ugly cattle-dog. Duiker actually feel a bit bad for Sulmar, caught in a bad position due to his noble blood. He recalls Kellanved purging the army of its nobles and turning the army into a meritocracy, with the help of Laseen’s Claw. He thinks Laseen didn’t learn from that, though. When Lull asks Duiker about List, Duiker says he’s mending but the healers are breaking down. Lull then asks about the forest past the river and Duiker tells him it was once on both sides but the Ubaryd’s shipbuilders deforested it, along with the introduction of goats. Duiker wonders how Coltaine will defend the group in a forest.
Lull and Duiker pass the herds of animals, which will be slaughtered at the river since the land beyond, seemingly empty of spirits, will not sustain them. He thinks how they will sense their impending deaths as they near, and then thinks again of the horse killed by Nil and Nether. Lull tells Duiker it’s rumored the children’s’ hands are permanently stained black with the mare’s blood and Duiker muses that the Wickans know power never comes free. Lull tells him he actually wants Korbolo to come just to end it all, that he cannot see whatever hope Coltaine does and Duiker answers he doesn’t believe Coltaine is hopeful any more. When Lull compares them to the herds waiting for slaughter Duiker answers that unfortunately people don’t get the gift of mindlessness and Lull will find no salvation there. Lull replies he doesn’t want salvation, just a way “to keep going.”
They arrive at a meeting between Coltaine and the former slaves. He gives them uniforms and a medallion with a cattle-dog’s head on it and tells them that last night the nobles tried to buy them back and Coltaine refused for they were soldiers of the Seventh now, not slaves. Lull tells Duiker that as slaves they might have survived, but as soldiers they will certainly die and tells Duiker to make sure he writes of this. Duiker thinks Lull is a broken man.
List’s wound had become infected and a Wickan horsewife had treated it with moldy bread. List is now getting better and tells Duiker his fever had come with visions of something terrible that had happened in this land long ago, and when he describes the “god” that gave him the visions, Duiker recognizes it as a Jaghut.
Heboric tells Felisin that Leoman and Toblakai are ready to move on to Sha’ik’s oasis and that he and Felisin need them to survive, whether or not she opens the book. Felisin tells him that Sha’ik’s rebellion will call down a retributive army and it will be led by the adjunct, her sister. She tells Leoman they’ll head out but she won’t open the book yet. She also tells Heboric she’s going to keep him with her. As they walk, Heboric says Raraku continues to reveal her secrets to him, which angers Leoman. Heboric says he also sees all the spirits the Toblakai killed writing in his wake. Though the Toblakai sneers, he pales at Heboric’s words. As they continue on, Heboric says he knows of scholars who “claim they can map entire extinct cultures through the study of “ pottery shards. Felisin tells him one cannot be remade until one is broken and then asks if Heboric has learned any truths. He replies he’s learned there are not truths, to which Leoman answers Raraku and the Whirlwind are truths, as are weapons and blood. Heboric says this area was once sea and notes how the death of cities and civilizations is cyclical and that being witness to such inevitable rise and fall must be why long-lived Ascendants grow hard and cold. Out of earshot, Heboric tells Felisin Leoman doesn’t totally believe she’s Sha’ik reborn and worries he wants her as just a figurehead, but she says she’s not worried. When he asks why she keeps him around, she tells him for Baudin. Heboric says perhaps he and she will in fact one day understand each other.
They come to an ancient harbor and find several corpses killed by a shapeshifter. Toblakai goes to hunt the shapeshifter. When Heboric says he’ll be killed, Leoman tell him that Sha’ik saw far into his future and what she saw “appalled” her. He then tells Felisin when she goes through the ritual (he says she must before they enter the city) the visions will be hers. And that if she isn’t the real Sha’ik she’ll be killed by the ritual.
Fiddler’s group come to an ancient island rising above a desert plain which had been an ancient bay. Mappo and Fiddler watch Icarium climb an old sea wall. Fiddler says it looks like Icarium knows his way and Mappo tells him Icarium has wandered this land before, while in his mind he worries that Icarium appears to be recalling more than usual. As they follow Icarium, Fiddler tells Crokus the city was long dead before the sea dried up and recalls how when the Emperor dredged Malaz Bay it had revealed old sea walls showing the city was even older than thought. And, Mappo added, that the sea levels had risen since then. Looking down from the sea wall they sea the city had been destroyed by “cataclysmic force and fury.” Mappo hears a high keening in his head and follows it as well as an internal recollection of the city based on old legend and suddenly he knew where they were—a First Empire city—and what Icarium would find. He locates Icarium in the center, where seven massive scorpion-sting thrones had been destroyed by “sword blows, by an unbreakable weapon in hands powered by a rage almost impossible to comprehend.” All offerings and tributes had been destroyed save a single mechanism—one of Icarium’s time-measuring devices. Icarium asks Mappo why it wasn’t destroyed while everything else was and tells Mappo if he reads it right he put it here 94,000 years ago. He asks who destroyed the city and says from the signs it was someone powerful, that the T’lan Imass arrived and tried to drive him back to honor their alliance with the city but were slain by the thousands something even a Jaghut couldn’t do (and the K’Chain Che’Malle were already extinct). Mappo tells him it must have been an Ascendant, a god or goddess, one who drifted long from mortal minds because he can’t think of a known one that would “unleash such power on the mortal plain.” Icarium replies that they could but choose rather to be more subtle meddling with mortals as the old ways proved too dangerous.
Mappo flashes back to when he was assigned the task of being Icarium’s guardian. He’d asked his tribe’s shoulder woman about the Nameless Ones. She told him they were once sworn to a god but were “cast out, cast down. In the time of the First Empire . . . they were the left hand, another sect the right hand . . . mysteries of another led them astray. They bowed to a new master.” He thinks he’s since figured out who/what that new master is.
They leave the city and continue on after Apsalar and her father. Mappo realizes they are no longer heading for Sha’ik but for Tremorlor. Crokus, who has been waiting and watching, finds Pust shadowing them. Amidst Pust’s seeming ravings, he mentions how his deceit has been successful and that the key was to knowing that warrens can be “torn into fragments” and that Fiddler’s group has been wandering “more than one world.” Mappo remembers legends that Icarium came from Raraku and wonders if the broken warren is where Icarium’s long nightmare began. They catch up to Apsalar and her father on the threshold of, according to Pust, “a knotted torn piece of warren” into which his false Path of Hands has led the shapeshifters. When Crokus asks why they were led here, Pust says Servant will use what’s in the warren to go home. Mappo senses that while the aura or echo of a god still clings to Apsalar, she had made it all her own. Icarium tells Mappo that he wonders if the rumors that the Azath are a benign force to keep power in check and arise when needed are true. Mappo theorizes (in his head) that the torn warren Pust references would wander and deliver “horror and chaos” save that Tremorlor holds it fast, though Raraku has been twisted at the warren’s edges. Apsalar’s father (Rellock) asks them to talk Apsalar out of going any farther and tells them he led them there to pay his debt to Pust/Shadowthrone for sparing Apsalar’s life and giving him his arm back. They all agree to go in, and Pust’s last words (which he says they cannot hear) are “beware sleight of hand. Compared to the Azath, my immortal lords are but fumbling children.”
Amanda’s Reaction to Chapter Fifteen:
We kick off the book Deadhouse Gates with reference to Coltaine and his chain of dogs, and then a Saying of the Fool:
“A god walking mortal earth trails blood.”
We could attach various meanings to this… It could be that a god in the mortal realm is at risk from being killed by mortals. It could be showing the “blood in the water” factor that attracts other Ascendants, rather like sharks i.e. having just one god in the fray will always bring more.
Thirty thousand refugees?! Has Coltaine had more join the train? Or is it more that the tale is growing in the telling?
Is this the first we’ve heard that now Korbolo Dom—the renegade Fist—has joined with Reloe to ensure that Coltaine is brought to justice? Seems as though they’re finally taking him seriously, non?
Hmm, not quite sure what is meant here:
“Smooth as rat-spit, that one, all airs and dainty but no amount of flower juice could hide the spunk, if you know what I mean.”
Is it that these so-called “perfumed elects” are actually more martial than they should be? Does the sailor suspect them of being bodyguards of the Treasurer?
Where is Pormqual running with all his gold? [Bill’s interjection: So hard not to answer this one.]
Huh. Confused. Is Kalam really one of the “perfumed elect”? Is he guarding the Treasurer? Or did he just say this to try and bluff his way past the guard. To be honest, the whole storyline involving Kalam has been just tiresome—definitely the hardest to warm to here. All I really understand is that some mysterious person has arranged passage for Kalam to go to Unta—which is the capital of the Malazan Empire, right?
It really does bring it home, though, that the upper echelons of the Malazans are leaving Seven Cities to the Whirlwind and the rebellion—Coltaine is being completely abandoned….
I like Salk Elan a great deal! He reminds me very much of Silk from the David Eddings’ Belgariad series—a thief and a rogue, with a too-clever tongue and always just one step away from a prison. The feinting and subterfuge in the discussion between Elan and Kalam is incredibly entertaining. I will note the fact that Elan was able to sneak up on a master assassin without him noticing—Kalam would never be that distracted, right?
And the effete servant thing again—clearly everyone is poking fun at the fact that these men are clearly the exact opposite.
Have I missed something? Why does the Treasurer collapse unconscious? Through fear? Though the fact the captain says the ship’s cutter (presumably a surgeon?) has more work to do implies that there is something wrong with the Treasurer… Ack, Erikson, sometimes it’s almost TOO much work to try and understand the easy. Especially when we’re given the answer—heat stroke—just a couple of pages later! Why not just say right there that that is what the Treasurer is afflicted by? [Bill’s interjection: You might want to read that as “heat stroke.”]
The politics of this situation are dense as well: the fact there are no Claws present in Seven Cities (although we, the reader, knows of at least one still active) means that Pormqual’s decisions are free of interference from Laseen, so he has arrested the Admiral of the ships. Why does Pormqual want the fleet still in the bay? So that he can use it to cover them as they return to Unta?
*grins* And then Erikson redeems himself with Kalam’s comment:
“And the man knows bad ale when he tastes it…”
Clever Minala—using the beautiful stallion to hide amongst the High Fist’s breeding horses. Stupid Pormqual—despite all his efforts, a woman has managed to hide herself on board his flagship! She could be an assassin and none would be the wiser about her presence….
The Chain of Dogs: it just gets more and more harrowing, doesn’t it? Hearing about Sormo, Nil and Nether being close to death; the constant carping of the nobles; the lack of food just brings it home what an awful situation they are in.
Hahaha, I love that Bult and Duiker play Sulmar at his own officious game! It really frustrates me that, after them seeing that Coltaine has managed to pull them from continuous danger, the nobles will not let him just lead! Their lack of faith shows the stupidity of the noble classes. *sweeping generalisation*
Oh gosh, they know… Sure, it must have been fairly obvious that help wasn’t coming for them after months and months of trying to make it to safety, but they actually know that Pormqual is still sitting in Aren and isn’t making a move to aid them.
Miraculous that they can still make jokes:
The captain’s head bobbed. “I apologise, Fist, for my presumption. These are strained times indeed.”
“I wasn’t aware of that,” Bult said, grinning.
Although Duiker does not refer to himself as a tactician, it is clear that he sees military matters with a keener eye than that shown by the nobles, who keep insisting that Coltaine needs to head for Ubaryd. He lays matters out in a way that I think even Sulmar can understand, I think—I do think that Duiker should be used as a good link between Coltaine and the nobles. Having said that, maybe those bridges have already been burnt due to Duiker’s showdown with Lenestro!
Oh ick! Some commentary on how the warrens can prove extremely dangerous—we don’t see many active mentions of this, usually it’s only hinted at:
“They’ve drawn so much on their warrens that it’s begun to damage their own bodies—I saw one healer’s arm snap like a twig when he lifted a pot from the hearth.”
“How does Coltaine defend his vast winding train amidst a forest, where ambushes will come from every direction, where troops cannot wheel and respond with anything like swiftness and order?” The tension just mounts and mounts, doesn’t it? We see more and more thrown at these poor people.
Poor Nil and Nether—eternally marked by what they did to the mare. I like Erikson’s remarks on power—it’s cruelty:
The Wickans know that the gift of power is never free. They know enough not to envy the chosen among them, for power is never a game, nor are glittering standards raised to glory and wealth. They disguise nothing in trappings, and so we all see what we’d rather not, that power is cruel, hard as iron and bone, and it thrives on destruction.
These are changed people we see in this point of the Chain of Dogs. Lull—so irrepressible when we first met him—is now tired and looking forward to death, forever scarred by his experiences. Duiker falls into silence because his words bring weariness to those who hear it. Coltaine’s silences “no longer speak of victory.” I dread to of them after just more days of this… Right now they’re “just looking for a way to keep going.”
This scene with the former servants… Oh my! It is so very powerful, so moving.
“There comes a time when a life can’t be bought by coin, and once that line’s crossed, there’s no going back. You are soldiers now. Soldiers of the Seventh.”
And even more moving is Lull’s quiet recognition that these men and women have been doomed to death.
“Icy clutch”—can anyone say Jaghut?
We receive a sharp reminder of Felisin’s state of mind as she sits and watches Heboric argue with the Toblakai and recalls the deaths of those she travelled with:
Grief rapes the mind, and I know all about rape. It’s a question of acquiescence. So I shall feel nothing. No rape, no grief.
Felisin has realised who will be ordered to front the army sent by Laseen to defeat the reborn Sha’ik and her rebellion. She knows that she is able to use this as a way to gain revenge on her sister. But she doesn’t immediately acquiesce. And she wants to use Heboric as her conscience. This is more sense than we’ve seen recently from the ruined girl.
These Raraku inhabitants really hate the idea that Heboric can see into the past of the desert, don’t they? What secrets do they fear he will find out and pass onto Felisin? What do they have to hide?
The Toblakai is an enigma, isn’t he? With his secret name, and tortured by the souls of those he has killed, here in a strange place that he should not usually be… There is a BIG story here, I’ll warrant. [Bill’s interjection: One might say a book’s worth or so.] And here, again, Heboric’s ability to see what he shouldn’t is likely to get him into a great deal of trouble. Especially since he baits Toblakai—but then, as he says:
“You’ve not seen the ghosts of children tied to his heels, Leoman.”
Heboric’s ability to see ghosts is giving him a form of immortality—enough so he is able to feel sympathy for the Ascendants, who are gifted long lives. Felisin is snide indeed when she says:
“This journey has brought you closer to your god.”
Oh, interesting thought from Heboric about Leoman, and one I didn’t even consider—the fact that Leoman doesn’t believe Felisin is Sha’ik reborn, but will merely use her as a useful figurehead to direct the revolution. I do think Felisin is under-estimating him in her assertion that she knows how to deal with men. We’ve seen that when Felisin is unable to use her body, she has little influence over men (such as with Gesler and Stormy). I do like the moment where Felisin confesses that she wishes to keep Heboric by her side for Baudin’s sake.
Hmm, becoming ever more intrigued by the Toblakai that thirsts for the blood of Soletaken. He has no fear in hunting them—even those who leave bloody mayhem and corpses in their path—and the Seer saw a future for him that appalled her. This character’s journey is going to be very interesting!
Crokus being influenced by Icarium’s presence? Is this a situation where Crokus can take on some of Icarium’s abilities…? Or is it just a young man looking to a charismatic character for guidance?
OH. EM. GEE. That scene between Icarium and Mappo, as Icarium looks on the scene that he, himself, destroyed is simply breathtaking. I mean, I actually read it holding my breath. I could not have looked away from the page or stopped to make notes if I tried. Ninety-four thousand years! Thrones destroyed, thousands dead—and the heartbreak of Icarium, even in his monumental rage, recognising that which he had created and leaving it intact. Erikson, I salute you. It is a long time since one single scene has inspired such sympathy in me—especially when Fiddler understood the issue in an instant and helped Mappo in his moment of paralysis, offering an answer that Icarium is willing to accept. Oh boy….
The Nameless Ones—once of a god, but no more—a Crippled God, perchance?
Apsalar is leading them to the Azath, correct? She had absolutely no intention of going anywhere near Sha’ik—left that path of madness to someone it would suit better!
Wow, Raraku is a fragmented warren—no wonder there are so many mystical happenings going on…
Hell, it seems as though this is all part of a larger plan—someone is pulling a whole lot of strings:
“Threshold to what?”
“A knotted, torn piece of warren!” Iskaral Pust hissed. “Oh, see how the Path of Hands has led into it—the fools followed, one and all! The High Priest of Shadow was tasked to set a false trail, and look, oh, look how he has done so!”
The Azath are benign, and hold malignant powers—this fits with our knowledge of what occurred with the Azath in Gardens of the Moon.
Nice to finally meet Apsalar’s father—and how telling is this from Pust?
“Rellock […] is the heart of the Empire—Laseen should take note!”
What have they done to Rellock? What is his part to play in all of this?
And what a line to end on!
“Compared to the Azath, my immortal lords are but fumbling children!”
That is the sort of cliffhanger I would expect to see at the end of an episode of Buffy or other similar TV series! Onwards, friends. *grins*
Bill’s Reaction to Chapter Fifteen:
A bit of info on what’s going on back at Aren as we first hear that Pormqual has commanded Nok not to use his fleet to relieve Coltaine and then, worse, that Nok has been arrested—things are not looking good for that city.
Yet another time Kalam is surprised, (the third I believe) this time described with a bit more sinister tilt to it as Salk Elan appears “a knife’s thrust away.” If it weren’t for that scene with the bandits it almost might make one question this whole “master assassin” thing he’s supposedly got going. But oh, just wait. Just wait.
A little coincidental, that faint of the treasurer. As mentioned above, don’t be too quick to buy the “heat stroke” reason.
More on Salk Elan:
“And am I an expert on the activities of the Claw?”
Back with Coltaine, we see Coltaine and Bult’s insight as after hearing of Nok’s arrest in a previous section, we see Bult theorizing that’s exactly what’s happened (or Nok is dead) since Nok isn’t already there. Which should raise some flags with regard to his other stated theory that, “Coltaine could deliver this train to a place three miles up the coast from Aren and Pormqual would not set forth to deliver us.”
More on Kellanved’s purging of the nobles from the army and turning it into a meritocracy, as well as yet another complaint by a character that Laseen wasn’t a particularly good Empress, as “she should have learned from that episode.”
The cattledog gets a name—Bent!
One of the themes we haven’t seen a lot of but will as we continue is environmental degradation. Here Duiker and Lull discuss how the area has been deforested due to the shortsighted greed of the area’s lumberer’s and then the goat herders. Another “big issue” for readers to sink their teeth into.
Anyone else hear the echo of Felisin in Duiker’s thoughts:
…the endless redrawing of maps. Heroic charges and crushing defeats. We are all naught but twists of suffering in a river of pain.
Then, as if to dispute Duiker’s sense of futility, of waste and despair, we’re given the scene with the slaves. Played out in a movie, you can see how it would inspire, the once-bent in submission backs straightening in pride as they receive their uniforms (camera lingering perhaps on the scars on one of those backs); you can almost hear the music swelling to ensure the intended effect. Except this is Malaz, not a movie, and so this scene ends not with a swelling score, but with Lull’s words:
“As servants they might have survived . . . Now, with swords in their hands, they will die.”
Well, that’s nice then.
Hey, the Wickans have penicillin!
Actually, though, I like this because it gives some respect to these “primitive” cultures that we don’t often see. Sure, lots of fantasies give them magic or a unnaturally keen bonding to horses or the land, etc. But not very often do we give them the credit of close observation, experimentation, and drawing of conclusions—you know, those things we pride ourselves on. We’re so keen on our wonder drug aspirin, but willow bark has been used for thousands of years by more “primitive cultures.”
Speaking of older cultures, gotta love the back and forth between Heboric and Felisin over scholars who “claim they can map entire extinct cultures through the study of pottery shards” (Felisin’s response: “Now there’s a lifetime of excitement.” Wink, wink)
In a more serious archaeological vein, and back to the recurring idea of cycles, Heboric tells Felisin:
“Cities die. Cities mimic the cycle of every living thing: birth, vigorous youth, maturity, old age, then finally dust and potsherds . . . “
One can easily replace “cities” with “countries” and “empires” and this idea is no less relevant in our own world than the Malazan one.
Some anticipation set up with List’s visions of an ancient horror via a Jaghut ghost.
And speaking of suspense, consider that Sha’ik saw the Whirlwind and all the death it would bring, and yet what she sees in Toblakai’s future, as Amanda points out, “appalled” her. Think of that. And think about what’s coming regarding this guy who goes off after Soletaken on his own. And comes back.
I think we’ve all got a pretty good feel for how great Mappo is. So when he says of Fiddler, “This soldier’s a wonder in his own right,” that should give us a moment’s pause to reflect on the greatness that is and will be Fiddler.
Strange little detail tossed in there by Mappo on those sea levels rising.
We’ve gotten lots of references to Icarium’s power. And we’ve seen how even the most powerful Soletaken back off in his presence. But his actions in the ancient First Empire city are on a wholly different scale (not even counting his 94,000 years of age). Not only does he destroy the entire city, but when the T’lan Imass arrive, he destroys them by the “thousands.” It’s a power that stuns, ironically, even Icarium:
What force was there that could do such a thing? Not Jaghut . . . And the K’Chain Che’Malle have been extinct for even longer. I do not understand this . . .
(And note again how Erikson keeps those K’Chain in front of us.)
We will get more on those Nameless Ones (though they’ll mostly remain nameless), but that doesn’t mean they’ll become any less mysterious, in true Malaz fashion.
As they near their goal, we get a tiny little detail that we spend no time on but that I love to stop and visualize:
…a chilling convergence of tracks. Soletaken and D’ivers by the score, the number frightening to contemplate, closing to join the twin footsteps of Apsalar and her father.
Seriously, just pause over that for a second and see it in your head—this small band of travelers in this inhospitable land, the light slowly dimming, and before it does so fully they look down and see that collection of Soletaken/D’ivers footprints/pawprints, etc. And think of the Soletaken/D’ivers we’ve seen so far.
What is the connection between Icarium and a shattered warren? Was he born of it? Did he shatter it? If it is, in fact, “shattered”, does that mean there are other pieces elsewhere? Drifting, bringing chaos? What does it mean that the warren before them “possesses” pain? Can it feel it? Or does it just contain it, with the possibility of delivering it were it set to wander?
Thanks for the closing encouraging words, Pust.
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.