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 14 of Memories of Ice by Steven Erikson (MoI).
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.
Note: The summary of events will be free of major spoilers and we’re going to try keeping the reader comments the same. A spoiler thread has been set up for outright Malazan spoiler discussion.
As Bill mentioned in the comments of last week’s post, we are now moving to two posts a week—look out for us on Wednesday and Friday!
The opening gives a list of former role-holders in Fener’s Reve. The Last Mortal Sword was killed in the Chaining. The last Destriant was Ipshank of Korelri, who “vanished during the last flight of Manask.” Another is said to have been waiting to “claim” the title but was “cast out, ” his name “stricken from all records,” and the Fener’s Reve punishment doled out to him.
Gruntle is sitting in a bar. Buke arrives and tells him Keruli’s drink was helpful in his quest regarding Korbal and has “done wonders.” He tells Gruntle he’s told the Camp’s elders and dissuaded them from going to the Prince. Buke says he’ll still need Gruntle’s help and Gruntle says Buke knows where to find him when the time comes. He informs Gruntle that Stonny has volunteered to the defense force. Gruntle says she’s throwing her life away and when Buke says they’ll all have to fight eventually Gruntle says to himself “that’s what you think.” Buke continues by saying the only option is to switch sides and when Gruntle says “meat is meat,” Buke is shocked and disgusted; Gruntle tells him to get out of his sight.
Cafal and Hetan have been performing some sort of meditative rite for some time. Itkovian watches and thinks they are traveling among their spirits. He’s been tasked by Brukhalian to find a way through to see if they have a way out of Capustan, if there is a weakness in the city’s defenses or perhaps in the Pannion’s siege. Prince Jelarkan arrives and says he wants to know what the Grey Swords intend, what their “shaved knuckle in the hole” is, but tells Itkovian that Brukhalian won’t see him. He asks Itkovian why the T’lan Imass are not attack the Seer’s empire and thus force the siege to break. Itkovian tells the Prince the T’lan Imass have purposes unknown, including their mysterious Gathering which is going to take precedence over everything, and that they only destroyed the K’Chain Che’Malle because they might pose a threat to the Gathering. He also suspects that Kron is waiting for more T’lan Imass because they fear the Seer is a Jaghut. When the Prince asks why the Gathering is taking place here, Itkovian says because the Summoner is heading this way with an army commanded by Brood and Dujek, an army coming to attack the Pannion, though it will arrive too late for Capustan. The Prince is furious he hasn’t been told and when Itkovian says it doesn’t matter to the defense of the city, the Prince says he cares about the people not the city and suggests trying to punch a way out. Itkovian says they considered and rejected the idea as unworkable, and the Prince angrily says it is not their job to “do the prince’s thinking for him.” The Prince leaves and Itkovian notices that the Barghast have come out of their trance and that it had been a divination. As he watches, Cafal goes back into a trance. Itkovian “flirts” (badly) with Hetan, who sees through him: “you are clumsy. Yield to me and learn all my secrets, is that the task set before you?” Itkovian departs and Hetan is pleased at the game. As he walks away, Itkovian is tormented by his desire for Hetan, the “crumbling” of his vows. He feels Fener’s indifference and wonders if that is the real truth, that the gods “care nothing for the ascetic impositions on mortal behavior . . . perhaps they laugh at the chains we wrap around ourselves . . . or rage at us. Perhaps our denial of life’s celebration is our greatest insult to those we worship and serve.” Itkovian meets Karnadas and tells him he is beginning to doubt his vows. Karnadas says he is mistaken if thought his vows were to “appease Fener”—that his vows were a “dialogue with yourself, not with Fener,” and they will not be needed when “all that is encompassed by living ceases to threaten your faith.” Their discussion is interrupted by the beginning of the attack.
Gruntle finds Buke and tells him there’s movement from the besieging army. Buke says Korbal is “rattled” by his inability to find victims and says children are watching the house and keeping an eye “on the sky,” the latter part not seeming to make much sense and when Gruntle calls him on it Buke obviously lies. They hear an attack begin and Buke tells Gruntle he should go help Stonny. Gruntle says she put herself in danger, but then “somehow” ends up heading that way and then decides he may as well help pull her out if he’s going that way. He comes across a company of Grey Swords led by a Capan woman who tells them they’re going to hold the gate for the sortie to return. The defenders return with an attack just behind them. Stonny arrives in a squad, bloody, wounded. She tells Gruntle “A Seerdomin found me . . . but the bastard left me alive. I hunted him down . . . it [begging] didn’t work for me, why should it have for him?” Gruntle realizes she was raped. He tells her he’ll take her to a clean room and guard her. He carries her away and thinks later he’ll kill thousands of the enemy in retaliation. As he walks off, he feels his muscles fill “with a strange unyielding strength” and the scene closes with saying there would be no words “to describe what he would become, what he would do.”
Itkovian oversees the defense. He watches the Gidrath hold for a long time in the outer fortification, blocks of the city catch fire, etc., but the defenders hold. Karnadas tells him Brukhalian has been summoned to the Thrall’s main hall, where Hetan and Cafal have taken up residence. He heals Itkovian’s exhaustion than goes to tell Brukhalian that Itkovian has not found how the Barghast intend to save their founders’ remains. The assault continues.
Karnadas arrives at the Masked Council just in time to see Keruli enter and demand the right to address the Council as Rath’K’rul, and to hear him say one of the Council will betray everyone.
Gruntle tries to comfort Stonny. She tells him to go kill some Pannions. He tells her to take her time healing and leaves.
Itkovian sends out a sortie to destroy the siege engines. He is told lots of enemies have been killed at the North Gate, killed by an “impromptu militia” commanded by an unknown citizen (Gruntle), who has taken them off to kill more Pannions.
After Keruli’s words, Karnadas immediately suspects Rath’ Fener. When Rath’Shadowthrone says K’rul’s age is “long past,” Keruli replies that K’rul has returned, which should relieve them as it is his blood that is being poisoned. He continues that the coming battle threatens even their gods and they should check with their gods if they doubt him, though they have little time. Rath’Queen of Dreams wonders if he is spreading divisiveness with the claim of betrayal, but he says the innocent will unite and the guilt most likely be handled by “his god,” Brukhalian leaves with Karnadas. Hetan asks Keruli if his god’s offer of aid was true and Keruli says yes, asking which of them will volunteer. She points to Cafal, who is seemingly asleep and Keruli warns everyone not to wake him, “if you value your lives.”
Gruntle leads his motley company, helped by a Lestari sergeant. They relieve a siege of a building then are distracted momentarily by a glow coming from the Thrall. Gruntle then leads them to the West Gate, where defenders are retreating.
Itkovian stresses over the failure of the West Gate to hold, but then is surprised when its defense suddenly stiffens. A messenger arrives and tells him the West Gate had fallen, all was slaughter and chaos when a foreigner (Gruntle) led a company in, commandeered folks, and shamed the Tular Camp into fighting by holding up the corpse of a child the Pannions had begun to eat. He then took the child’s tunic and fastened it into a standard and led them to relieve defenders and slaughter the enemy. The messenger left as they were about to attack through the West Gate, and he tells Itkovian the foreigner fought “like a boar.” Another messenger brings news the Tenescowri are on the move and will be there at dawn. Itkovian orders the citizen taken below into the tunnels. Karnadas tells Itkovian the glow from the Thrall is from Cafal, Hetan, and a new priest—the merchant rescued on the plains days ago. They then connect the “foreigner” to the merchant’s caravan guard.
Gruntle kills the last of the opposing soldiers (for the moment). He realizes with a shock that it appears he’s lost none or almost none of his people. He tells them to grab the army from the dead enemy then they’ll withdraw.
As they reenter Capustan, a Grey Swords officer tells Gruntle they’ve set up weaponsmiths to sharpen his “tusks” (his twin cutlasses). When she takes offense at how lightly he takes the reference, he tells her they’ll call them “tiger-claws” rather than tusks. A messenger (actually, Itkovian in disguise, come to meet this “foreigner” and take his measure) arrives from Itkovian and tells Gruntle about the citizens being brought to the tunnels and that there are stores there and defenses to hold for two or three weeks. The soldiers, he says, will fight house by house, street by street, and so Itkovian wants to know what section Gruntle would like and if he needs anything. Gruntle says he’ll take the North Gate area and use the tenement building where Stonny is to fall back to. As they finish, Gruntle’s lieutenant (the Lestari sgt. has been “field promoted”) tells Gruntle the weaponsmiths are ready to sharpen his “tiger-claws,” and Itkovian reacts strongly (though Gruntle doesn’t see).
As Gruntle leaves, Itkovian thinks he is no boar but instead “a big, plains-hunting cat . . . The Tiger of Summer’s ghost walks in this man’s shadow. He realizes that Treach is ascending and wonders what it means for Fener, and thinks “Fener descending . . . on this our last day.” The Tenescowri begin to move toward the city.
Buke makes his way to the necromancer’s estate. As he arrives, a Shadow priest is leaving, furious as being kicked out with “a boot to the backside” and though Buke says he should just let it be, the priest heads off muttering. Buke meets Bauchelain inside the gates amid 10 or so Urdomen corpses that Bauchelain says Korbal will “recruit.” He informs Buke the Tenescowri are coming and says Korbal can’t wait to examine Anaster, the First Child of the Dead Seed. Suddenly, the Urdomen corpses rise and Bauchelain tells Buke they will be guards and suggests where to deploy them. Reese rushes out and feels the chest of one of the corpses and is shocked there is no wound because, he says, Korbal has their hearts all sewn together on the kitchen table. Bauchelain says Korbal has been forced to “modify his habits” due to Reese and Buke’s interference, and now Korbal doesn’t need to leave the house for his “acquisition.” He adds that they should stop interfering and then warns Buke not to use Keruli’s “peculiar sorcery now residing within you . . . we dislike company when in our Soletaken form.” Bauchelain leaves and Reese asks what Keruli has done to Buke and he answers he can follow them now. He looks up to see two rooks on the rooftop and when they take off (heading for Anaster he believes), he veers himself into a sparrow hawk. Reese watches him follow thinking he can follow but is no match for the two’s sorcery.
As Buke looks down on the Tenescowri, he thinks: “The Pannion Seer is a monster in truth. A tyranny of need . . . Defeat him? You’d have to kill every man, woman, and child on this world who are bowed to hunger . . . this is simply the heart. It will spread. It will infect every city . . . devour empires . . . We are all lost.” His thoughts are interrupted by sorcery as he sees the rooks attack Anaster, using magic and demons to deal with the Tenescowri. They are driven away by opposing magic and he watches them retreat, getting hammered as they do so. He races back to the estate, returns to human form, and order the undead guards to their positions. The rooks land in disarray and reform, their armor tattered and themselves showing blood and bruises. Buke asks what happened and Bauchelain says, “It seems we must needs refine our tactics.” Buke laughs and Bauchelain heads inside.
Amanda’s Reaction to Chapter Fourteen:
A little potted history of Fener’s representatives—and my interest is immediately piqued by this cutthroat from Unta, who wanted the position of Destriant but was cast out before he could claim it. Something I suspect we’ll need to keep in mind—or possibly someone we’ve already met, just not in this guise before?
“If you can, dear friends, do not live through a siege.” Lesser writers than Erikson have managed to make sieges absolutely horrific—can’t wait to see what he does with it! And when I say “can’t wait” I mean I am dreading the terrible scenes….
I can’t help but imagine the dread and breathless terror of waiting for a siege to begin—the sieging army has been there for five days, creating a horrific atmosphere for those trapped (for those to whom Capustan is nothing—not a home, or a place they particularly want to be).
I adore all those tiny details that Erikson includes—such as the scampering mouse. It reminds me in many ways of the railway artist Terence Cuneo. In his later pieces of artwork he would include a tiny mouse hidden away, which encouraged closer analysis of his paintings—this little mouse in Erikson’s work is precisely the same.
There is fantastic commentary here on the two ways in which people face an almost certain death: “The sea and the rocks. The sea celebrates in the face of Hood as soon as he looms close. The rocks have stared the bastard in the eye for so long they’re past budging, much less celebrating.”
I’m really interested to find out what exactly Keruli’s concoction achieved for Buke—how it helped him to do his job better. Do we ever find out?
Gruntle is not back to his old self at all, is he? His statement that he would be willing to eat the flesh of humans just to stay alive is no doubt pragmatic, but I found it shocking [Bill: Perhaps purposely so.] and something that I wouldn’t have believed of Gruntle from the brief picture we were given of him before the battle with the K’Chain Che’Malle. His bitter and dark humour amuses me, but also leaves me greatly saddened. I preferred his sarcastic asides when they weren’t as dark. *sad*
The conversation between Itkovian and Prince Jelarkan is a useful tool to gain a decent understanding, if still required, of what is happening here with the T’lan Imass and the fact that they are unwilling to pursue the K’Chain Che’Malle beyond the point that those undead warriors threaten the Gathering. I admire the fact that Jelarkan thinks of the people within the city, and tries to come up with a solution for removing them from harm (with no thought to the size of the sacrifice it would entail). I also liked Itkovian’s quiet dignity as he allowed the Prince to realise for himself the reason behind Itkovian not revealing the information about Dujek and Brood being on their way before now. “On the surface,” the Shield Anvil said quietly, “all that I have told you seems of vital import. Yet, as I see you now comprehend, it is in truth all meaningless. Five weeks, Prince. Leave them to their vengeance, if you will, for that is all they might manage.”
In some ways, the budding romance (or sexual relations, at least) between Itkovian and Hetan reminds me a little of Phedre and Joscelin from the Kushiel series by Jacqueline Carey. (And, indeed, any other situation where a man of vows is faced by a rather earthy woman who is determined to have him!) For some reason, I’ve always appreciated these relationships, and the beating down of a man’s virtue. *evil*
Hmm, been trying to work out what this might be about:
“They’re keeping their eyes on the sky, too-” He stopped abruptly, and a strangely furtive look came into his eyes.
The man, Gruntle realized, had a secret. “On the sky? What for?”
“Uh, in case Korbal Broach tries the rooftops.”
In a city of widely spaced domes?
I was right. Erikson writes the horror of siege as though he’s experienced it—the claustrophobia, the madness generated by constant bombardment, the weakness of fearing death. In fact, I imagine that Erikson gained a lot of his inspiration for this writing from the way in which people have covered the trench warfare from World War 1 (which shares the nature of siege warfare in a lot of aspects).
Oh god. Poor, poor Stonny. That bastard. Shall we talk about rape in books? I hate reading about it, but do feel that rape can be included in novels in a successful fashion as long as the situation calls for it, or there is character growth/new direction leading from it. I dislike rape for the sake of it—and I particularly dislike the times when a woman is able to become strong only because she has been raped. Here, we’re dealing with warfare—tempers fired up, invaders taking their dues. Yes, I can see rape happening in this case. But I will be more interested to see Stonny’s reaction to it and growth from it. She was presented as being open about sex; I have a thought that this will change from now on. What I loved is Gruntle’s reaction to Stonny: for all his complaints about this not being his fight, he is immediately invested now because of his emotions for Stonny. He actively wants to carve people up to produce a manner of revenge for her. And who honestly wouldn’t have this immediate reaction?
But what is the danger?
There were no words for this. Nor, he would soon discover, were there words to describe what he would become, what he would do.
War can make monsters of us all.
One thing that strikes me as I read Itkovian’s view of the massing Pannion troops is that, behind all the shock troops and the Beklites etc, the Tenescowri wait… How horrifically disheartening this would be—even if you somehow managed, by a miracle, to throw back the rest of the Seer’s invaders, his reaving cannibals are still waiting. *shakes head* At this time, I think succumbing to madness would be the preferred option….
You know what else I think as I read about the siege of Capustan? That wonderful novel Legend by David Gemmell and the doomed siege of Dros Delnoch. In both situations, an ill-disciplined and numberless horde batters against the walls of a city that doesn’t expect to live—and, in both situations, the defenders manage to hold for the first day having proved to be an annoyance to the invaders.
Somehow it seems unfair for the Pannions to continue the siege throughout the hours of night. Of course, all is fair in love and war (so we’re told) but it is an extra horror for the defending Capustans to bear.
Hmm, the fact that Keruli has approached the Masked Council to take on the role of Rath’K’rul does sort of suggest that the Council reflects the gods that they purport to represent. This is also given weight when Keruli says, “You, unfortunately, have no choice. I look upon you all, and find the representation woefully inadequate.”
And the person on the Council who will betray the others? Reflecting the will of a god? Are there alliances being made between a god and the Crippled God, who ultimately controls the Pannions? Or could this be something to do with the Fener/Trake situation and the face that there will be two Gods of War if both remain active?
You know something? Unlike in most fantasy novels, I am unable to see a good ending for Capustan… Usually I assume that a last gasp rescue will save a besieged city, but here… I just can’t. The only possibility is the Barghast, but I don’t know which way they will go with the knowledge that their gods’ remains are in true danger.
Ahhh, the citizen? Must be Gruntle. Must be. I feel a real sense of justice being done with the Seerdomin being routed.
Looks as though Karnadas shares my view on the betrayal—and I am not as biased as he! But then I am being led by the hand by Mr Erikson to certain conclusions that might well turn out to be completely incorrect!
And what is going on here between Rath’K’rul (therefore K’rul) and Hetan? What offer is it? Please tell me if some crucial point we’ve already been told has already slipped my memory! For some reason, I’m finding all the little details and politics and new characters harder to keep in mind throughout this read of Memories of Ice than in the first two Erikson novels. And, hell! I know now what you chaps and chapesses meant when you implied to me that Gardens of the Moon was simplistic compared to what would follow!
Oh! Has K’rul offered protection to the Thrall through Cafal? Is that why the Thrall now glows? And is that why the Lestari sergeant suggests it might be ritual magic?
You know something? I’m just now wondering about Gruntle’s background—he states that he is not a soldier and has never wanted to be, but here he is taking natural command of the squad that he has gathered together from the remnants of Capustan defenders. Is this purely from his experience as a caravan leader?
Gruntle is UNBELIEVABLE! People? I loves him. He is tremendous. His efforts! And the fierce determination to bring people to his standard by showing them the *chokes* half-eaten body of a child! I can’t believe the harrowing nature of this chapter. I should be used to it by now, but Erikson always manages to bring further shocks.
What about this reference with regards to Gruntle? The fact that his twin cutlasses are like the tusks of Fener? This is now both K’rul and Fener who have tried to lay claim to this man, and, as yet, he remains godless. I suspect we’ll see a battle for the soul of this man.
We’re seeing the birth of a regiment here, surely? Gruntle’s sixty? Fighting beneath the Child’s Standard and creating legends of themselves already. I particularly loved this exchange between Gruntle and his sergeant:
“Don’t worry,” Gruntle replied, “they die easy.”
“We need to rest—we’re sliced to pieces, sir. I’m too old for a suicide stand.”
“Then what in Hood’s name are you doing in Capustan?”
Ooooh, what a telling conversation:
“Sharpeners. Good idea. Lieutenant, you think we all need to get our tusks sharpened?”
The Grey Swords officer spun around. “Sir, the reference is not to be taken lightly.”
He continued on. Over his shoulder, he said, “Fine, let’s call them tiger-claws, why don’t we?”
Is Gruntle aware of the Fener/Trake situation? Or was that just a really unfortunate choice of words? Is Gruntle in fact being claimed as Trake’s?
Is the betrayer Rath’Shadowthrone then? I say only because we see his second trying to visit the necromancers.
Buke has been given Soletaken abilities? Awesome! But I feel utter dread at Emanicipor Reese’s proclamation as Buke flies away to try and deal with Bauchelain and Korbal. Those necromancers have a… well, almost childlike curiosity about the nature of death and undead and demons, don’t they? Their desire to see the first child of the Dead Seed is suddenly all-consuming.
And Buke is used to give words to the terror I have been feeling for this whole chapter:
“The Pannion Seer is a monster in truth. A tyranny of need. And this will spread. Defeat him? You would have to kill every man, woman and child on this world who are bowed to hunger, everyone who faces starvation’s grisly grin. It has begun here, on Genabackis, but that is simply the heart. This tide will spread. It will infect every city, on every continent, it will devour empires and nations from within. I see you now, Seer. From this height. I understand what you are, and what you will become. We are lost. We are all truly lost.”
Bill’s Reaction to Chapter Fourteen:
The opening doesn’t give us much info, but it does introduce some names of characters that will play a large role in Esslemont’s books. It is impossible not to laugh or at least smile when one comes across the name Manask now. A character to look forward to. As for the last character, well… some of that should indeed sound familiar. A priest of Fener, one who was expelled from it, from Unta, a thief. And the key—suffered the “singular” (singularly horrific loss of limb) punishment of Fener’s Reve. Or, as we’ve seen in earlier books:
“How do you think he lost his hands?” Felisin asked innocently.
[Baudin] “He was a thief, once.”
“He was. But it was the excommunication that took them.”
The little underplay with the cat and mouse is a fun bit for a few reasons. On the one level, of course, there are several cat and mouse games going on: Buke and Korbal, Korbal and the populace, Septarch Kulpath and the city, maybe a few others. One can argue Gruntle and his “destiny.” It’s interesting that Gruntle “saves” the mouse, perhaps some foreshadowing? It also has some humor on a reread in terms of where Gruntle is going—after all, he does become a “cat.”
I did like the metaphor (though I think it goes on a bit long) of the two ways of facing Hood/death: the sea that celebrates as death approaches—the “live for today while we’ve got it” mentality, and the rocks that “have stared the bastard in the eye for so long…” And also note that when Buke arrives and calls Gruntle “predictable,” Gruntle calls himself a “rock”—which fits Buke’s line but clearly resonates with the metaphor.
Note too how Buke’s shapeshifting is hinted at by Buke’s “secretive smile” when he talks about the “wonders” Keruli’s drink performed—such “wonders” that the word gets repeated. Buke’s new ability (revealed at the end of this chapter) was certainly foreshadowed by the shape of the magic Keruli gave him (a little clay bird) and by his few slips (mentioning keeping an eye on the sky) to Gruntle. Far beyond it giving him the ability to follow the wizards, though, it’s so much more poignant in how it gives him freedom from gravity—gravity being the horror of his past, the guilt, the grief—all that has been weighing him down. And I don’t think for a second that such a gift was, as Buke thinks, “more than [Keruli] ever imagined.” I think Keruli (read K’rul) knew exactly what a gift he was giving—this is a god learning compassion, remember.
I wonder too at the choice of form—a sparrow hawk. So many options to choose amongst, I wonder if this is a bit of a nod, an homage to Ursula K. Le Guin and the main character in her Earthsea series, who goes by the name (and form at times) of Sparrowhawk.
We don’t see a lot of the Prince in this siege, he’s somewhat of an abstract figure throughout, save for this scene where he comes off quite likable and someone we want to root for: a noble who doesn’t give a whit for his precious city—its buildings and treasures, but cares more for his people. And one who doesn’t want to simply be a figurehead, left out of discussions. He comes off as I say quite well in this back and forth, something I think is important for later.
Another thing I like about this conversation is that it is a conversation. I get so tired, as I think I’ve mentioned before, of books/TV shows/movies where so much of the plot hinges on characters not speaking to each other or where characters are simply implausible (and thus just props) because we never get conversations that we know they would have if they were real people (yeah, I’m talking to you on both counts Lost writers).
It’s sort of a funny line when Itkovian watches the Prince leave and in his regret thinks, “my desires are irrelevant,” when in just a moment his “desires” will come front and center.
The scene with Hetan is a nice bit of comic relief after the angry bitterness, and sense of doom that hangs over the conversation with the Prince. I’m pretty sure I would not have used the word “romance” though Amanda, to describe what goes on with Hetan.
Personally, I tend to agree with Itkovian’s take on how a god would view the “ascetics” of mortals—both the laughter part and the insulting part. “Course, it’s possible to see an opposite extreme perhaps, focusing too much on “life’s celebration,” but we’ll hold that thought for now. I like how the word “chains” manages to sneak its way into his ruminations. And in Karnadas’ correction of Itkovian’s belief—that the vows were somehow due to Fener and not himself. How many other acts, one has to wonder in this conversation, are ascribed to the gods when in fact they are born within people’s own hearts and minds? And what does it feel like for the gods when people do such things “in their name”? It’s not an abstract concept in these books.
I never have much to say about battle scenes as they mostly limit themselves to basic plot movement, so I won’t be digging much into that aspect. On other points in this section, though:
Stonny’s rape is obviously a horror, and stands in as well on an individual basis for the more abstract concept, but I think perhaps its most jarring textual moment isn’t when she recounts her killing of her rapist, or her being carried by Gruntle, but by that jarring contrast of imagery when Gruntle first sees her: “the soft white skin” of her breast contrasted by the “bruises left behind by someone’s hand” and “something slick and ropy hung skewered on the thin blade of the main gauche in her other hand, dripping brown sludge.”
Another powerful moment is the way Gruntle uses the child’s body to shame the defenders to come out from behind their walls and fight. It’s an interesting writerly decision to have that happen off-stage, so to speak, and be related to us secondhand rather than give it to us from Gruntle’s POV. I’m curious what people think of that. Personally, I wonder if Erikson worried about it seeming too obviously manipulative or schmaltzy or over-the-top if it took place in a more intimate fashion with the reader.
We’ve had some foreshadowing with regard to Gruntle, and we get more obviously, though very abstract, with the lines on how language wouldn’t be able to convey what he “would become.” We get a more direct jab in the right direction with his referring to his cutlasses as Tiger Claws, and then Itkovian puts it all into place for us. The whole thing taking over a few pages, is almost a microcosm of how Erikson works: a little info, a little more—usually vague—info, a little more, then finally a clear spelling out (not that everything gets spelled out, but a surprising amount does in fact, though we tend to focus on what does not). I don’t think, Amanda, that Gruntle is at all aware of the whole Fener/Trake deal, nor of what is really happening to him. And while he is being “claimed,” I’d say think about his personality and how well you think he’ll take to the idea of being “claimed.”
Gotta love the characterization in a name like “Marble the Malefic” Giggle.
I know people vary on their reactions to the necromancers, but I confess that it’s scenes like these, with Bauchelain’s smooth, urbane demeanor that I just respond so well to. Something about his self-assured arrogance that doesn’t come across as arrogance, or jerky arrogance at least. And then the surprisingly smooth way he handles defeat when they attack Anaster—the dry, understated “well, that didn’t work.” As well as how one expects him to react quite differently when Buke laughs at his defeat, but then he simply arches an eyebrow and sighs, then says “good day.”
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.