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 22 and 23 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!
Kalam pulls himself out of the water into Malaz City. He takes the attack to the Hands waiting for him and kills a bunch of them.
Fiddler’s group moves through the Azath. Rellock realizes they are walking on a map. Fiddler realizes the floor, which stretches out for leagues in all directions, is a map/way to all the worlds, to every House. Pust disappears. They find a hole where he went and as they pass on, thinking Pust had fallen to his death, the floor reforms.
Mappo walks on feeling guilt over his cowardice, his selfishness, his breaking of his vows by not giving Icarium over to the Azath.
Apsalar sees Mappo and Icarium disappear into another hole. The rest rope themselves together. They see three dragons fly by then dive into the tiles and disappear. They realize you go through when you get to where you’re going, even, as Fiddler thinks, “you don’t exactly plan on it.” They realize the others aren’t dead. The appearance of the dragons, their indifference, and the scale of the Azath leads Fiddler to muse on how small they were, and how the world goes on without them.
Aren prepares for Dom’s siege. Tension is in the air as the soldiers are angry at Pormqual for not letting them out to try and save Coltaine. Tavore’s fleet is less than a week away. Blistig tells Duiker Mallick Rel has convinced Pormqual to ride out and attack Dom and also that Nethpara is blaming Coltaine for the deaths of so many refugees. Blistig says his guard has been ordered to be rear guard and the Red Blades have been arrested. Duiker and Blistig agree it makes more sense to wait for Tavore and let Dom batter himself against Aren. Pormqual commands Duiker to join them to see how battle is done and then he and Nil and Nether will be arrested for treason. Nethpara starts to mock Duiker and Duiker kills him. Keneb arrives and when he hears Duiker refer to Mallick Rel as “Jhistal,” he recalls what Kalam had said to him and steps back to find Blistig. He runs.
Dom’s army appears to flee before Pormqual’s. Then, Aren’s army rides into an ambush; they are encircled by vast numbers. Rel says it is Duiker’s treachery and that he smells sorcery on Duiker, whom he accuses of being in communication with Dom. Dom approaches under parley flag and Rel goes to meet them. Duiker tries to convince Pormqual to punch through and withdraw to the city to no avail. Rel returns and says Dom says the army must lay down arms and group in the basin, then they’ll be treated as prisoners of war, while Rel and Pormqual will be hostages. Duiker, seeing what is coming, lets his horse go as “the least I can do for her.” Rel convinces Pormqual to accede and Pormqual orders his commanders to do so. The captains salute and go to give the order.
The army disarms and groups. Dom and Reloe arrive. Rel says he has delivered the city to Dom. Duiker laughs and says not true; Blistig and his command stayed behind and probably freed the Red Blades as well. They are few but enough to hold the walls until Tavore shows up. Dom says Duiker will die with the other soldiers, that he will make Tavore too furious to think. Dom wants to kill Squint (he doesn’t know the name) special but he’s disappeared. He has Pormqual killed, rather than give him the honor of dying with his soldiers.
Dom spends a day and a half crucifying all the soldiers (10,000) on the cedars along Aren Way. Duiker was last. As he dies, a “ghostly, tusked face rose before his mind’s eye . . . The gravest compassion filled that creature’s unhuman eyes.” The face disappears as “awareness ceased.”
Amanda’s Reaction to Chapter Twenty-Two
I think the poem at the start of Chapter Twenty-Two is a good example of actual events becoming legend once a poet gets their hands on them: “I saw the sun’s bolt arc an unerring path to the man’s forehead.” Fitting tribute for the great man, though, and something about the sun always makes me think of rebirth thanks to the dawn every morning. I do hope we see a rebirth of Coltaine.
Insects really have been an over-riding theme in DG, and every mention just makes me notice the next all the more. We’ve had flies, and bloodflies, and moths, and butterflies. I think they all show a particular mood for the next passage to come—here we have flies again at the dock.
Hmm, Kalam’s rather calamitous arrival in Malaz City sort of reminds me of something like Die Hard—the hero reaching the endgame with little in the way of weapons, mostly unprepared, and yet still able to dish out punishment. I can see some sort of MASSIVE fight scene going down shortly, thanks entirely to Kalam’s lack of a knife. Commentary points to the fact that Kalam himself is the weapon.
Ooh, how about this? “A moment later he closed his eyes, began concentrating. The bleeding in his side slowed to a thin trickle, then ceased.” Super healing powers, Batman! What gives Kalam this ability? He isn’t a mage, is he? I don’t recall him showing magely powers… I know that Otataral gifts people the ability to heal, is it thanks to this? A gift of Quick Ben’s? And Erikson does it again, with that almost immediate answer to various little queries I have through my reading: the inner discipline of a Claw training… I actually am coming round to enjoying this method of Erikson’s—it makes me work constantly. I’m always trying to put together little clues, most often coming back with an answer of five, but it makes me feel as though I am entering into a two-way process with the author, rather than being fed everything instantly that I need to know. Do you see what I mean?
I love this quote: “Sorcery makes a hunter lazy, tuned only to what they expect will be obvious, given their enhanced senses.” It creates a nice fallibility in the use of magic that means Kalam can feasibly go up against mages here in his weakened state without the reader scoffing at the unrealistic notion. I also like this aspect of Erikson’s writing—everything seems carefully considered before it is placed into the story, monitored to make sure it fits the internal consistency of the world within which he works.
Phrases like this can baffle though: “The darkness poured its sorcery over him as he plunged into the alcove…” If this isn’t Kalam’s own sorcery, or the sorcery of one of his opponents [Bill: It’s the latter—Kalam notes that patch of darkness is different.], then it makes the passage deliberately difficult. If all Erikson means is that the darkness of the night creates a barrier between him and observers, then the use of the word “sorcery” should not be employed at this point.
Heh, I do love the collection of weapons that every Claw comes with—reminds me of those films where people come before a king or something and have to leave their weapons at the door, and end up creating a proper pile of killing tools. *grins* [Bill: I love those moments, especially that pause at the end where they think they’ve gotten them all then, “oh wait . . .” and they pull one out of….]
The sorcery was fading as he completed his accoutrements, revealing that at least one of his victims had been a mage.
So, again an observation that Claws seem to have their own form of magery. But this bit about his opponent being revealed as a mage—do mages have some physical characteristic that makes them identifiable? [Bill: In this case, it’s the magic fading at the same time as the death that clues him in.] I’m probably asking completely unnecessary questions here, but all of these points occur to me as I read, and I might as well throw them out there for you to a) scoff at me asking such things and b) get you wondering about them too and possibly provide me with answers!
This sentence is awesome and makes me shudder with the potential of death to come: “He set out into the night, hunting Claw.”
Hmm, is the silence that greeted Shadowthrone’s communication with the Azath due to the fact that the guardian of the Azath was dead? If there had been a guardian, would Shadowthrone have received his answer? It seems strange that someone as manipulative as Shadowthrone would head into a situation where he wasn’t completely sure of how his tenuous “ally” would react….
I suspect this brief mention of the map on the floor of the Azath—the pattern showing all of the other Azaths—will become massively important at some point, especially the point that Crokus makes. How creepy that there is nothing under the map… I wonder if that explains Crokus’s point—he says it is a map on a tabletop, and spoke about how there were no entry points for other Azaths. I wonder if you stand on a particular point of this map and it takes you to the corresponding Azath. I guess we’ll find out when Pust comes back into the picture. *grins*
“But this is far beyond me—this warren—and worse, my crimes are like wounds that refuse to close. I cannot escape my cowardice. In the end—and all here know it, though they don’t speak of it—my selfish desires made a mockery of my integrity, my vows. I had a chance to see the threat ended, ended forever. How can friendship defeat such an opportunity?”
Whose internal thoughts do we hear? Mappo or Icarium? Or neither?! [Bill: The former.]
From tragedy to comedy on one page: first, the loss of Icarium and Mappo, and Fiddler’s “welling of grief” at losing two people he’d come to consider friends; and then Crokus muttering “I’ve seen bigger” when glimpsing the three dragons flying through the warren. And how immune has he become to all things weird in the last months, that he shrugs off three dragons?
Fiddler briefly wondered about those three dragons—where they had gone, what tasks awaited them…
I wonder if we’ll find out about it in three books time or six. *grins and shakes head ruefully* And here is a rough reminder—if Quick Ben’s conversation with Kalam wasn’t enough—that we have a world of events to catch up with: “…a sobering reminder that the world was far bigger than that defined by their own lives, their own desires and goals.”
Oh, this is a philosophy to live by, for sure! It really created a resonance with me, and made me think about my own life—it’s rare a book will do that to me…
“It pays to know humility, lest the delusion of control, of mastery, overwhelms.”
Hideous after the fall of Coltaine, we now have to suffer the enjoyment and celebration of Korbolo Dom’s men—but think on this… imagine, instead, if we had travelled during this book with Korbolo Dom—seen the suffering of his men, the constant frustrations provided by Coltaine, got to know mages and soldiers within his troop—we would now be celebrating along with him at the final fall of Coltaine and the rid of this menace to the lands. Two sides to every story, people, and I think this is one of the greatest lessons that Erikson’s writing imparts.
This is powerful writing and brings home what it must have felt like to stand on those walls:
Two powerful honours had clashed—the raw duty to save the lives of fellow soldiers, and the discipline of the Malazan command structure—and from that collision ten thousand living, breathing, highly trained soldiers now stood broken.
And the nobles just don’t stop, do they? Grrr…. Nethpara being bastard enough to imply that Coltaine was the cause of all the refugee deaths. I’m so angry.
Heh, here is another of those facts—like a sweaty obese person—that marks out someone you shouldn’t like in a fantasy novel: “The High Fist’s armour was ornate, more decorative than functional.”
Okay, I’m about to join the chorus [Bill: All together now.]… I HATE MALLICK REL:
Duiker’s gaze swung to Mallick Rel, and the historian wondered at the satisfied flush in the priest’s face, but only for a moment. “Ah, of course, past slights. Not a man to cross, are you, Rel?”
*cheers at Nethpara’s timely demise* Go Duiker!
Mystery atop mystery about the word Jhistal, and why it inspires such hatred.
On the same page I feel such vicious hatred for the Jhistal, and then ill-suppressed glee at the fact he couldn’t pass across Aren thanks to the insubordination of some of his army.
There was no shortage of spikes, yet it took a day and a half before the last screaming prisoner was nailed to the last crowded cedar lining Aren Way.
*begins tearing up again*
Oh Duiker… *goes to find that box of tissues again* My only hope here is that the pendant he wore will give him life again—his death was so ignominious and useless and a waste. And painful and harrowing and treacherous. I think though, a part of him would have been willing to take the same punishment as those other 10,000. What a horribly senseless waste. *chokes tears back*
Bill’s Comments on Chapter Twenty-Two
The opening of the chapter is one of those kinds of paragraphs that I think sometimes separate those who enjoy Erikson and those who don’t. The latter are going “Eels? Who the hell cares about eels? ‘Kalam pulled himself out of the water’—bam! That’s all you need. Oh, and by the way, dump the “broken crockery” and “seaweed-bearded pier.” Obviously I’m in the former camp. I like the eels. I like getting a scene set without necessarily knowing what’s about to unfold in the scene. I like having a sense of a world before it’s disturbed by the human (or otherwise) presence—a reminder that the world spins out with or without us, much as we like to think otherwise.
Similarly, the idea that there are creatures who have their own highly significant situations happening—in this case egg-laying— that have nothing to do with our grandiose thoughts of Empire. In this specific case, I also enjoy the contrast between the life going on underwater and all the death about to take place above ground, along with the sharp insight that these creatures only get to have their undisturbed significant moments because, at least as of yet, we humans haven’t yet figured out a way to exploit them or fit them to our needs. Ripples, of course, are a nice lead-in image to Kalam’s physical appearance, as what happens here tonight as he “disturbs the scene” certainly has potential to cause some ripples. And yes, I even want the “broken crockery” as it lends real world heft to the action. The same with the black pitch and the spots rubbed clean of it where the ships have been tossed against the piles.
In an earlier Kalam fight scene, I’d mentioned how I liked that Erikson gave us a specific play by play so we could not only envision the fight but also understand how he was able to take on more than one combatant, rather than just leaving it up to faith in Kalam’s “badness” or a suspension of disbelief. I have the same reaction to the momentary pause here where we watch Kalam use his mind/body control to slow his bleeding. (Just as later we’ll see him use his mind/body control to hide his heat.) I get so tired of movie fights where I watch people battle on well past the point of physical plausibility—the kinds of fights were you go “broke that arm…there goes the knee…” and so on, though one would be hard pressed to see any actual effect on the hero’s fighting ability. (Let’s not even go into the miraculous recovery male heroes show time and again after being kicked—hard—between the legs.) Actually, Amanda, one of the things I liked about Die Hard (at least the first) was Willis actually looked like he’d been in a fight, and often moved that way as well.
Similarly, we have some general reasons as to why it’s plausible that Kalam can take on lots of Claw, more than just he’s so good or because we want him to be able to: their over-reliance on sorcery, their desire to let him get “into the maze,” his awareness of their methods, Topper letting them get soft, his playing against their expectation that he’ll run or hide. Also, though unstated, one imagines the battle with the Talon took some toll that the Claw is still recovering from.
So as Amanda says, after all Pust’s talk about bargains and negotiations and agreements and betrayal, turns out that the bargain was one-sided, as all that ever came from the Azath was silence. Or, as Pust so memorably puts it:
“My master could have pronounced his intention to defecate on the House’s portal and still the reply would not have changed. Silence.”
It also tells us a bit about Shadowthrone that he takes said silence as a go-ahead. I’d say, Amanda, he’s just the kind of person that would do that—picture the kid with his hand in the cookie drawer and mom upstairs saying aloud—quietly—“If I can have a cookie, just don’t say anything…”
He’s a minor character, obviously, but I’m glad Erikson gave the honor of realizing they were walking on a map of sorts to Rellock.
What a great moment of realization of scale as they move from looking at the map of an entire continent on a mosaic tile “no larger than a hand’s width” to a seemingly endless floor of them. And a sense of power. And let’s remember Cotillion and Kellanved managed to figure out at least some of that power.
It has nothing to do with anything, but Fiddler’s description of Pust as “our very own pet scorpion” made me chuckle as in a few books you’ll see Fiddler with an actual “very own pet scorpion.”
Mappo shows some good self-insight when he is so hard on himself for not surrendering Icarium. The obvious reason of course is his friendship with him, his selfishness for not sacrificing his friendship. But I like how he (and thus Erikson) takes it a step further than the usual when he realizes that it was not simple friendship, or selfishness to keep a friend, but also fear of the unknown and of new responsibility—for with Icarium Mappo will have to become responsible for his own life, will have to make his own choices, ones not predicated on the simple equation of steering Icarium from danger.
His line, “the tracks we have walked in for so long become our lives, in themselves a prison” is often true in its own right (how many lives are ruled by inertia?), but is one of those moments where it’s easy for the reader to forget just what is meant by “so long” to some of these characters. We’re talking centuries and millennia—that’s a lot of inertia behind one. We’ll see/hear several other ascendants make the same point—how they walk the same paths again and again. This is perhaps an advantage for Shadowthrone and Cotillion—a nimbleness of thought due to their relative youth. This also may give us answer as to why someone like Rake involves himself and his people in fight that seem to have little to do with them, as with Darujhistan, Pale, or the Pannion Seer.
Fiddler, and one assumes the rest to at least some extent, are certainly getting some lessons in humility this trip. First the scale of Soletaken, then the scale of the Azath realms, and then the dragons who sweep by them. Hard to feel one’s significance in the face of all that. (Which is not to say Fiddler is insignificant. Far, far from it.)
Gotta love the shift from “it pays to know humility, lest the delusion of control, of mastery, overwhelms” to Korbolo Dom’s name.
I’m gonna disagree a bit with you Amanda on the “had we followed Dom . . . we’d be celebrating . . .” bit. I might go with it had it not been for Dom’s brutality and crucifixions. (First of children, now of unarmed men.) I can buy the concept, but not this particular case.
Little throwaway line about how Duiker learns from “a Wickan youth named ‘Temul’” that Silandia had not yet arrived with the wounded. Temul, like the boy Duiker brought in with him (Grub), will have roles in future books. (Cue debate on if that was indeed Grub in one…two…)
We can see yet another example of Coltaine’s ability to plan ahead. With what Blistig tells Duiker about how the rewriting of history regarding the Chain of Dogs has already begun via Nethpara, Coltaine’s decision to send Duiker on—with his historian’s eyes and eyewitness credibility—seems not just wise but essential to forestall the tragedy of Coltaine becoming the villain of this story.
And who else feels that sick drop in the stomach when Pormqual talks of treason, of selling refugees, of arresting Duiker, Nil, and Nether? And I don’t consider myself a particularly bloodthirsty person, but I have to admit that sick drop was lightened somewhat by Duiker’s boot to Nethpara’s throat.
“Jhistal.” Hate the Jhistal. Glad, however, he goes by the title as it catches Keneb’s ear. Hate the Jhistal though.
And god, I hate reading this scene, knowing what’s coming. It never loses its impact. In fact, it just gains it because I feel it so much longer.
Hate Mallick Rel.
The pace of all this, Duiker’s matter-of-fact tone, the inevitability of it all, his tender care (dare I say “compassion”) for his horse, the slow sentence after sentence paragraph upon paragraph movement to what we know is coming just adds so much to the emotional impact. It’s like a slow march to the gallows. Which makes the small moments of pleasure so much more precious: Duiker’s horse making its way out of the disaster, Blistig’s staying behind to keep Aren out of Dom’s hands, Rel unintentionally breaking the soulkeep bottle on Duiker.
Of course, we’ve been set up for this ending (in terms of its tragic nature if not its specific points) all along. Lots of hints that Aren may not yield to the refugees, that Rel would betray the city, that Pormqual would not help, that Baruk’s bottle would be needed, that the Chain wouldn’t make it, that Dom is a fan of brutality in general and crucifixion in particular. But so much of our own optimism, our desire for things to work out, and of course the way our media has trained us to expect a “happy ending” keeps us pushing all those hints aside.
The tragedy sharpens yet again when Duiker is dying, not with his death but his litany of names, though ironically one of those most bitter is in fact nameless: “the time for memories, for regrets . . . is past . . . Your nameless marine awaits you, and Bult, and Corporal List, and Lull and Sulwar and Mincer. Kulp and Heboric too, most likely.” Amidst the pain of those lost in the Chain, we get the reminder of Kulp, a death we may have thought we were over until now, though as with the earlier scene, Erikson tosses us a bone: Heboric, whom we know still lives.
After the horror of the last few chapters: the Chain dying in droves, Coltaine’s Fall, the slaughter of unarmed men, their crucifixion, it’s a somewhat surprisingly peaceful close for Duiker:
A ghostly, tusked face rose before his mind’s eye . . . The gravest compassion filled that creature’s unhuman eyes, a compassion that Duiker could not understand
The appearance of the Jaghut, by the way, is something to file away for a later discussion.
Kalam continues fighting Claws. He’s seemingly about to be killed but is saved by Minala. They head for Mock’s Hold.
Fiddler and the others fall through and find themselves in the Deadhouse in Malaz City. Inside they meet a Guardian—Gothos—and he reveals Icarium is his son. He also bemoans that Icarium wasn’t taken and reveals that Mappo had been lied to about Icarium destroying his village—that the Nameless Ones had done it to get a companion because Icarium’s last one had killed himself. When Fiddler asked why Icarium is so cursed, Gothos says he wounded a warren to try and free Gothos from the Azath and was damaged. Fiddler thanks the gods for mortality, thinking he couldn’t live with such long-lived torment. Gothos directs them to a bucket of healing water on their way out. Apsalar senses Claw sorcery on the air. Fiddler says they should aim for Smiley’s tavern. Panek and Apt rise up as they exit the grounds and tells them Kalam is going to Mock’s Hold to see the Empress and they offer to take them through Shadow.
As Minala and Kalam ride the stallion up the stairs of Mock’s Hold, they enter a warren which takes them inside. Minala stays back and Kalam enters a room to have an audience with Laseen. She asks why he’s come to kill her. He lists: killing the Bridgeburners deliberately, outlawing Dujek, trying to kill Whiskeyjack and the Ninth, old disappearances (Old Guard), maybe killing Dassem Ultor, killing Dancer and Kellanved, incompetence, betrayal. Laseen requests and is granted a defense. She says: Tayschrenn’s “efforts in Genabackis were misguided,” she didn’t plan or want to kill the Bridgeburners, Lorn was sent to kill Sorry, Dujek’s outlawing was a ruse. She admits to killing Dancer and Kellanved and usurping the throne in betrayal saying the Empire, which is greater than any individual, required it. She followed what she saw as necessity, though admits to some “grievous errors in judgment.” On Dassem, she answers he was ambitious and sworn to Hood and she struck first to avoid civil war. When Kalam asks about Seven Cities she says it will be repaid in kind and her anger convinces Kalam. He calls her Empress and turns away (he’s also been aware for some time she isn’t actually physically present). She warns him she can’t call off the Claw and asks where he’ll go when he escapes them. Kalam and Minala head out.
Topper and Laseen converse. She says Kalam is no longer a threat, and knows he’d realized she wasn’t really there. She tells Topper she doesn’t want to lose Kalam and he says he can’t call off the Claw but she’s crazy if she thinks they’ll kill Kalam. He tells her to consider it an overdue winnowing. Topper says he’s angry with Pearl and Laseen says discipline him but not too much.
Four Hands appear and then Apt and Fiddler’s group arrives to help. They all end up in shadows. Kalam tells Fiddler he changed his mind about killing Laseen. Shadowthrone arrives and tells them they’re in Shadowrealm and Apt has delivered them to him. Apt yells at him. Shadowthrone says he’ll reward them all. Apsalar, her father, and Crokus ask to be sent to the Kanese coast (where Cotillion first possessed her—her home) and they disappear. Kalam says he and Minala could do with a rest and Shadowthrone says he knows just the place, and Apt will be with them. Fiddler says he’s going to re-enlist and go join Tavore. Shadowthrone sends him to behind Smileys. Shadowthrone takes Kalam and Minala to where the 1300 children saved from crucifixion are.
Amanda’s Reaction to Chapter Twenty-Three
Well, isn’t that little poem to kick of Chapter Twenty-Three both smug and self-satisfied?
Not much to say about Kalam’s creep through Malaz City, both hunter and hunted, except that I like it. Erikson’s writing really grips you during tense moments like this.
I do love that on Minala’s rescue of Kalam—after he hasn’t seen her for ages, the only thing he can find to say is, “Where in Hood’s name are you taking us? The whole city’s crawling with Claws, woman—”
The fatalism of Fiddler makes me smile:
“Put ‘em away […] Either we’re guests or we’re dead.”
Hmm, I might be making some very tenuous connections here, but this guardian in the Deadhouse wears ochre cloaks and those three dragons that flew through Tremorlor were also ochre-coloured…
I’m reeling from the information we’re given here—Icarium’s Jaghut father is Gothos, someone we’ve heard about a few times before; Icarium was meant to have been kept secure by the Azath; Jaghut have very few places where they can find the solitude they crave and the Azath are one of those places; Icarium once wounded a warren trying to save his father. It is a positive deluge that no doubt has repercussions for future novels.
Hmm, I’ve played a little bit of roleplaying, and that bit with the swift healing bucket of water on the way out of the Deadhouse reminds me of nothing but that. *grin* The idea that you’ve been through pain and battles and suffered wounds and lost comrades—and then you get a chance to rest up briefly, and recover back all your “lost life” to face the next step. Anyone else?
This romance is anything but normal—and I love it all the more for that fact!
He looked away, then back. “Why?”
She bared her teeth. “Can you really be that dense, Kalam? In any case, was I wrong?”
There were some barriers the assassin had never expected to be breached. Their swift crumble left him breathless.”
*lots of little hints drop into place with big clunks* FINALLY we have an explanation about Dujek and the reason behind his outlawing! Of course, it could be entirely unreliable, coming from the narrator that it does. *narrows eyes*
I am enjoying finally coming face to face with Laseen—cool, dry, analytical. Not the raving lunatic monster that I expected—a fierce sense of duty, an ability to look beyond the here and now. “I answered a necessity I could not avoid, with reluctance, with anguish.”
I LOVE the ending to the confrontation between Laseen and Kalam—it is so fitting somehow. And I would NOT want to be at the end of Laseen’s fierce since of vengeance: “Will be answered in kind.” Suddenly I find some small amount of liking and respect for this Empress. This one talk has given us so much of her character—including the mistrust and fear she shows of Kalam by ensuring that she is not actually present. Heh, nice of him to play along as well. *grins*
The realism of this fantasy series never fails to make its presence known—instead of Kalam having a titanic assassin showdown, he has “an audience with a mortal woman…”
Little snippets like this make my soul sing: “Hood’s breath, Dancer himself would have hesitated before taking on Kalam Mekhar.” And you know something? If a person read that sentence who hadn’t read the Malazan novels to this point, they would have no idea at the depth of meaning conveyed with just those words. I like being part of an exclusive gang that hisses through their teeth as they read that the very God of Assassins would have qualms about taking on mortal killer. Good times, folks, good times! [Bill: And just wait ‘til you see what Dancer can do!]
You know another thing I like? (I’m finding a lot of those things right now, aren’t I?) The fact that Kalam gets injured. He’s not completely infallible. He just manages to push through the pain and blood with stubborn persistence and a little sorcery.
Deadpan humour once again, that says so much and so little:
“Nothing to it.”
“Glad to hear one of us had it easy.”
The ending to Chapter Twenty-Three is a good one. Shadowthrone face to face with those who were his subjects as Kellanved, and who he still sees as belonging to him. I did respect his words when he said: “And with such soldiers, it is no wonder we conquered half a world—no, Fiddler, I do not mock. This once, I do not mock.” I would now hate anyone who did mock the soldiers of the Malazan Empire.
Bill’s Comments on Chapter Twenty-Three
We haven’t been doing much with the poems that open the chapters lately, but this one caught my eye a bit with its reference to Tavore holding bones: that’s an image with some major resonances later on (say, in a book called Bonehunters).
Funny you mention roleplaying. The whole scene as they wander the Azath without knowing what to do to get to where they’re going reminded me of a time I created this amazing dungeon (and I mean amazing of course) that had what I thought was a blindingly obvious entry: bleed into a small basin that had a poem above it or something that made it stunningly clear you needed to put your blood into it. And I sat there for 20 minutes while my friends did everything but: they spit into it, they poured water in it, they cried into it, they poured healing potions and wine into it; yes, they peed in it at the bitter end. Sigh. Heavy sigh.
Gotta love the dogs in this series. Great name for this beast too: Flower. Didn’t see that coming.
Another throwaway line that sets us up for later: Fiddler’s “I wish Mappo was here with his elixirs.”
And there’s a big surprise: a Jaghut in the Deadhouse. And further surprise, he is Icarium’s father. And surprise on surprise, he’s actually upset Mappo didn’t let the Azath take Icarium. ‘Course, in the backstory we get a sense of just why people think Icarium is so dangerous (though we’ve obviously had glimpses): he actually managed to wound a warren, actually attacked a warren to try to “save” his father. (The irony of course being that his father had no desire to leave the Azath.) And surprise atop surprise atop surprise: the Jaghut is Gothos himself, of whom we’ve heard throughout the series (and will hear/see more of later). Yes, lots of repercussions from that backstory.
All of this is a bit much for poor Fiddler, yet more pounding home seemingly of just how insignificant humans are—though it serves to make him thankful for our short lives so as not to have to endure such long-lived torment. (And no, I’ll never tire of saying despite all these reminders of his insignificance Fiddler is hardly that.)
It’s interesting the paragraph on Crokus’s last look around the room before they leave. It appears almost wistful to me and I was wondering what people thought of his response. I’m thinking it was a reminder of his Uncle Mammot the scholar. Anybody think it’s more than that—a part of him attracted to the quiet life—away from all the running and killing and screaming, etc.?
Here is one of the few times we see (well, kind of) Laseen directly. We’ve heard lots about her, had lots of criticisms of her and accusations, but for the first time she’s allowed a voice herself, specifically a defense against the sundry charges Kalam lays against her. Of course, by now we know the drill: accept a character’s pronouncements of “truth” at your own risk. Laseen certainly gives us another view of things, some of which we know to be true (such as the false outlawing of Dujek et. al), but at this point we’ll just have to file away some of her other defenses as “to still be proven (if we’re lucky)”, such as blaming Tayschrenn for “misguided” efforts in Genabackis. Or that Tayschrenn is now Dujek’s “shaved knuckle in the hold” (something to remember when we return to the Bridgeburners in our next book). What I like about this scene is that all the verbiage Laseen tosses out as justification doesn’t do much at all for Kalam; it’s the emotion behind her response to his question about how she’ll deal with the Seven Cities uprising. And talk about decisive: five words, a bit of anger, and snip—Kalam is done with the hunt.
I love too both Laseen’s and Topper’s complete confidence that Kalam will not be stopped by the Claw still outside waiting: Laseen wondering where he’ll go after he deals with or escapes them and Topper laughing at the mere concept that the Claw will kill him, already writing off the night’s losses as a necessary culling of the weak.
Every now and then we get some lines in these books that make me wonder if Erikson is speaking directly to the reader. Here, it’s Kalam’s words to Minala after his semi-audience:
“Again and again we cling to the foolish belief that simple solutions exist. Aye, I anticipated a dramatic, satisfying confrontation—the flash of sorcery, the spray of blood.”
I can hear the writer in him saying to us: “yeah, yeah, I know—where’s the big battle between the two uber-assassins? Where’s all the cool knife work? Where’s my Crouching Claw Hidden Talon choreography? Too bad—not getting it.” Keeps us on our toes, it does.
And then the gang is (well, much of the gang) all here again, like good old times: Apt tossing bodies right and left, Fiddler throwing sharpers, Apsalar dragging bodies into shadows. And then the ringmaster shows up—Shadowthrone himself to hand out goodies. Then the gang’s broken up pretty abruptly as Apsalar, Rellock, and Crokus disappear (off to their stated desire we assume—back to Apsalar’s home). Then Fiddler is off to re-enlist and meet up with Tavore’s army back in Seven Cities, though not before actually evoking some sincere and well-deserved respect from Shadowthrone: “with such soldiers, it is no wonder we conquered half a world—no Fiddler, I do not mock. This once, I do not mock.” And the conquering is the least of what will get done with such soldiers.
And then finally, Minala and Kalam get his requested “rest”—taking care of 1300 children. Anybody see Kalam finding this particularly restful for long? Didn’t think so. Cue another book….
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.