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 Three of House of Chains by Steven Erikson (HoC).
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.
Three days later Karsa is lowered onto a wagon next to the recaptured Torvald Nom. Next to them are Silgar, Damisk, and three other Nathii prisoners. Shard notices that the spell net on Karsa is weaker and Ebron orders him to get lots of heavy chains. He wonders if Karsa has Otataral in his blood. As soldiers arrive with chains, Karsa begins to break free but is knocked out from behind. He wakes up six days later wrapped in chains still on the wagon. Torvald explains a bit of their likely journey to the mines, then tells a story of how in Darujhistan once a group arrived with a grey bear chained up and charged money to see it, but the bear broke its chains and escaped into the hills. He says Karsa has the same look of “Chains will not hold me.” Karsa tells him unlike the bear he will not hide in the hills. Karsa thinks how the world is not what he had expected: the lowlanders weak individually martially but strong in other ways as evidenced by their buildings, towns, ships; Teblor enslaved, lowlander soldiers who stood and fought rather than ran; Malazans as conquerors wholly different in kind seemingly from the Nathii. He sees there must be a flaw or poison within the Teblor themselves to allow them to be so corrupted, and recognizes that Pahlk’s stories were just that, but that his greatest crime was his inability or refusal to wrest free of the Tebrlor’s ways and customs, unlike, Karsa has finally understood, his father, whom he now realizes was not weak, though he faults him for not doing more to challenge his people. He vows to free his people not only from the lowlanders but themselves; he will “shatter their rules . . . unite the Teblor and . . . march . . . . into the lowlands. He decides to feign brain damage to lull the Malazans into false confidence, then falls back into unconsciousness.
He awakens to a lot of excitement and Torvald tells him the Malazans have just received news that Pale has fallen and Moon’s Spawn retreated and while the soldiers are happy at the news, they’re also upset they weren’t there for it. When Nom asks Shard why, Shard tells him “she don’t trust us . . . We’re Seven Cities and the bitch don’t trust us.” Torvald then asks if that were true, why would she send them to Seven Cities which might rebel rather than keep them on Genabackis? Shard says he won’t say any more; for all he knows Torvald is a Claw. Torvald says if so, he’ll make sure to mention his poor treatment and Shard’s attitude toward the Empress in his “report.” Shard leaves and Karsa tells Torvald of his plan. Torvald agrees to help on condition that Karsa frees him when he manages to escape, and then adds a codicil that Karsa “shall not kill [him] unless given cause.” Torvald asks him to delineate the causes and as he talks on Karsa says he’s decided Darujhistan will be the first city he will conquer. Cord arrives and Karsa feigns unconsciousness while Torvald says all Karsa’s done is drool and grunt. Cord says Torvald doesn’t look like a Claw and the soldiers will continue to treat him like a bandit unless Torvald proves them in error; otherwise Torvald will end up in the mines. Torvald asks what if his mission as a Claw is to assume the disguise of a prisoner in the mines? Cord leaves cursing and Karsa tells Torvald he is playing a deadly game. They start to get loaded onto a ferry.
They spend weeks traveling, with Karsa tormented by lying down chained for so long. Torvald saves him during this time, feeding him, talking to him to give him an anchor to hold to instead of really going mad. They are transferred to a ship and the guardianship of another group of soldiers. Karsa continues to weaken and starts to lose hold mentally, drifting in and out. They pull into the city of Malyntaeas and Torvald explains how the Nathii, Genabarii, and Korhivi were so busy fighting amongst themselves they didn’t even notice the Malazans arrive in the form of Dujek, the Bridgeburners, three legions, and two High Mages—all of them needed to sink the Nathii fleet attacking Malyntaeas, kill the Genabari royal family, and force the surrender of the Korhivi fortress. Torvald says it was enforced peace, but now the city’s Fist is losing soldiers and he says this is a lesson in “what happens when your tribe gets too big . . . the simplest things become ungainly, unmanageable. Confusion seeps in like fog and everyone gropes blind and dumb.” The First Mate mocks Torvald’s pontificating and Torvald says he’s seems tense—anything wrong in Malyntaeas? The Mate notes that Torvald is the one who might be a Claw, so he tells him the Crimson Guard are in the city stirring up the Korhivi and with the loss of Malazan soldiers things are going to get bad. Torvald points out the Empress would be “remiss to discount the opinions of her officers.”
Days pass and they are transferred to a huge ocean-going vessel. The new crew is scared of Karsa and when Torvald starts to play on those fears, the captain knocks him down and tells him if he or Karsa gives any trouble he’ll chain them both and toss them overboard. He then tells Karsa to quit smiling or else and Torvald interrupts to say Karsa can’t understand him due to brain damage. The captain orders Karsa gagged.
Karsa speaks to Urugal standing before the other Faces and tells him he has failed them. Urugal says, “Yes. You have abandoned us and so in turn we must abandon you. We must seek another of greater strength. One who does not accept surrender.” Then Karsa finds himself atop a hill of bones with hundreds of chains falling from his wrists down the hillsides. At the end of each chain is a corpse (many decapitated) with the chains running into their chest. They begin climbing toward him chanting, “Lead us Warleader.” He wakes on the ship to a voice saying, “Perhaps we will not abandon you yet. Breathe, Karsa Orlong. Unless, of course, you wish to once more meet your dead.” Torvald has climbed up the chains to try and remove the gag, which has been nearly suffocating Karsa. Karsa looks up into the sky and sees flashing colors “bleeding out from what seemed huge, open wounds . . . Then he notices “the chains, snapping down through the clouds . . . hundreds of chains, impossibly huge, black.” Torvald gives Karsa some water and tells him he’s been lost for weeks and weeks, keeping barely any food down so that he’s down to bones. They’ve been becalmed for days until Karsa began screaming and now the sailors think he’s called this strange storm. The captain arrives and when Torvald tells him Karsa may not even be responsible for the storm, the captain decides to toss him overboard (still chained to the platform), though Torvald says he’ll drown. Suddenly, “from overhead, chains snapped down, massive, plunging, reaching directly for—it seemed—Karsa’s own chest.” The ship is wrecked and Karsa falls into the water. He sees the ship destroyed and a “virulent, massive wound” in the sky, then goes unconscious. He wakes to Torvald crawling onto the platform, after having collected water, a box he hopes is food, and Karsa’s sword and armor from the wreckage. He believes Karsa had called the storm and when Karsa denies it, Torvald tells him those chains of lightning, Karsa—not one missed its target. Not a single Malazan was left standing.” He says Silgar and his men escaped in the dory, and he overheard Silgar talking about how they’d entered a warren—they’re no longer in the ocean. When they open the box of supposed food, they discover Moranth munitions instead.
They drift timelessly while Torvald works on freeing Karsa. They come across a group of ships and Torvald says it “looks like there was a battle. With plenty of sorcery being flung back and forth.” There are two groups of ships, some “low and sleek . . . cedar . . . single-masted, square sailed . . . The remaining ships were larger, high-decked and three-masted . . . fashioned from wood that was true black—not stained.” Torvald slips into the water and realizes he can stand. Bodies swirl around him as he drags them over to the ships. Torvald climbs aboard one of the ships and ties the platform to try and stop it from sinking while he explores. Karsa speaks to Urugal again, who criticizes him. Karsa says he’s no longer as sure as he once was of his gods, and asks about the strange word Urugal used: bhederin. He wakes to find Torvald climbing down with tools to free him, then goes in and out of consciousness. He wakes again with Torvald gone. He looks at the smaller ships and notes that the prow of one is carved with scenes of battle: “the figures were long-limbed, standing on versions of ships closely resembling the raiders . . . yet the enemy . . . were not it seemed the one’s the ship’s owners had faced here, for the craft . . . were smaller and lower . . . The warriors looked much like Teblor, thick-limbed, heavily muscled.” He sees a number of spiked, black shapes in the water—huge catfish feeding on the bodies. The catfish begin to attack the platform and Karsa barely is able to climb to safety aboard the ship. Torvald harpoons one of the fish and it pulls them into a collision with one of the large ships. Water starts pouring in and Karsa finds his bloodsword and kills the catfish, though he falls unconscious again. He wakes and Torvald tells him he’s found a dory and food and water. He wonders if Karsa’s gods have a warren and Karsa replies he’s never heard the word—the Seven “dwell in the rock and in the dreamworld of the Teblor.” Torvald asks if this looks like it, if it had been flooded. Karsa answers no, that according to the shamans the dreamworld is a “place of no hills, where mosses and lichens cling to half-buried boulders, where snow makes low dunes . . . brown-haired beasts run in packs,” though he adds that the place he himself had visited was different, was a land of “colored mists.” Torvald says he’s trying to figure out where they are and Karsa says it doesn’t matter; they prepare to leave the ship.
They’ve been rowing the dory for days, with Karsa strengthening but Torvald weakening and growing sick. Finally, they near land—a beach with a large wall running the coastline. A ship similar to the larger ones from the battle scene heads for them. Torvald looks at all the wreckage washing ashore and says it is as he suspected—”this sea doesn’t belong here,” adding nor do the ships. The large ship pulls alongside and Karsa and Torvald climb aboard to find a group of grey-skinned warriors and a pile of severed heads—”most similar to the grey-skinned warriors, though with skins of black.” The eyes on the heads turn to look at Karsa. The warriors demand Karsa and Torvald kneel and when Karsa doesn’t and the warriors move toward their sword hilts, Karsa kills several. He kills all on deck then more in a cabin, including a mage, whom he kills by impaling him with a harpoon that pins him to the chair he was sitting in. As he does so, yelling “Urugal! Witness a Teblor’s rage!” he feels “something cold . . . the breath of someone unknown, nameless, but filled with rage.” Torvald discovers the oarsmen are decapitated bodies. Based on the fact the cabin group were looking at maps, Torvald thinks the grey-skinned warriors were as lost as he and Karsa. Back on deck, he wraps the severed heads in hides—”it’s too much to bear . . . Darkness would better suit them, all things considered.” When Karsa asks why, Torvald tells him they are Tiste Andii, who worship darkness. When Karsa says it’s a strange thing to worship, Torvald says “Perhaps the most realistic worship of all . . . How many of us bow before a god in the desperate hope that we can somehow shape our fate? Praying to that familiar face pushes away our terror of the unknown—the unknown being the future. Maybe these Tiste Andii are the only ones among us all who see the truth, the truth being oblivion.” When he adds it’s probably a good thing the Andii can’t speak or they’d have a “ghastly debate,” and Karsa asks if Torvald doubts his words, Torvald replies “Always Karsa.” As he speaks with Torvald, Karsa realizes he is no longer the same warrior who left the Teblor homelands, his experiences “had served as instruction on the complexities of the world. Subtlety had been a venomed serpent slithering unseen through is life. Its fangs had sunk deep . . . yet not once had he even understood the source of the pain. The poison itself had course deep within him, and the only answer he gave—when he gave one at all—was of violence, often misdirected, a lashing out on all sides . . . Who has dragged the cloth from my eyes . . . awakened Karsa . . . Not Urugal. He knew that for certain, for the otherworldly rage he had felt in the cabin . . . that had belonged to his god. A fierce displeasure—to which Karsa had felt himself oddly indifferent. The Seven Faces in the Rock never spoke of freedom. The Teblor were their servants. Their slaves.” A “milky, slimy” rain begins to fall and they load up the dory and head out toward the coastline.
Once they’ve left the ship, the seven Faces in the Rock rise from the slime, worrying about Karsa slipping their knots and about his increased doubts. One says, “The failure belonged to the Tiste Edur” and says they should be punished, to which another replies “Not for us to demand . . . We are not the masters in this scheme.” When one complains they’ve had “scant success thus far,” another argues “Untrue. The Shattered Warren stirs awake once more. The broken heart of the First Empire begins to bleed . . . We need only set our chosen warrior upon the proper current.” Their leader orders Ber’ok to scatter the Otataral dust in the cabin and says the Edur’s warren remains open and will quickly become a wound. He then says they have to move fast as they are being hunted: “there are kin upon our trail.”
Karsa and Torvald make it to the coast and a breach in the large wall is causing a current pulling them in toward it. They spot Silgar and his men—their boat wrecked in the breach. They land near them and as Karsa moves toward Silgar to kill him, the slave master says he can save them by opening a portal. Torvald convinces Karsa they should let Silgar try so they take Silgar and his men into the dory. Silgar says he couldn’t try before because there was “no path before . . . But now, here, someone has opened a gate. Close . . . I can follow.” He guides them toward the breach where the water seemed to vanish, and they go over the edge into darkness then into water, the closing portal Silgar had borrowed closing over the dory, shearing it off and killing one of Silgar’s men—Borrug—(though nobody realizes this at first, thinking him merely unconscious). Torvald spots a light and they begin to swim toward it, Karsa taking Borrug on his back, realizing along the way that he was dead—his legs having been severed just below the knees by the portal closing. A huge shark attacks and grabs Borrug’s corpse off Karsa’s back. Karsa kills the fish, slicing its belly, then pulls Borrug’s body out of it. They make it to shore and Torvald wonders at Karsa going after a dead man. Karsa tells him “He was in my care . . . The shark had no right to him, whether he was dead or alive.” Torvald suspects the shark—Mael’s chosen beast of the sea—may have been called by Silgar, a priest of Mael.
Karsa and Torvald leave Silgar and Damisk on the beach and walk on, spotting a tower (the source of Torvald’s light) with a path leading to it. As they near it, Torvald realizes the tower is made of fossils. A huge man (by “lowlander standards”) steps out onto the path and speaks to them. Torvald says he recognizes a Malazan accent and assumes by his skin color he is Napan. The stranger leads them into the tower, past a huge stone skull—as long as Karsa is tall—that formed the doorway’s lintel. The stranger says he’s also collected most of the body, which has strangely “puny” forearms. Inside the tower is hollow and contains a framework supporting the lower half of a large skeleton. The man says he had built the tower too small and he’ll have to extend the roof. When Torvald introduces himself, the stranger recognizes the family name as being of the House of Torvald of Darujhistan, and tells them they are on Seven Cities’ northern coast, near the Otataral Sea and the city of Ehrlitan. He gives them tea and introduces himself as being known “locally” as Keeper, “Beyond that, in the fierce and unpleasant world, I’m not known at all, except as someone who died long ago.” He says in return for food they can spend a day or so helping him dismantle the roof. Karsa says he will not and calls what Keeper is doing pointless and a waste of his life and proclaims when he is hungry he will simply take food. Keeper lashes out with his fist and cracks several of Karsa’s ribs (breaking a few bones in his hand as well). Karsa thinks “He had never been hit so hard in his life” then passes out. He awakens the next day and finds Torvald and Keeper working on the ceiling. He joins them on the scaffold, painful as it is, much to Keeper’s surprise. Karsa shoves over a huge part of the wall and almost falls over with it, but is saved by Keeper, who says they’ve earned breakfast. Torvald tells Karsa that Silgar and Damisk had left the beach and probably headed for Ehrlitan.
Torvald suggests to Karsa they head for Ehrlitan as well and take ship for home. Karsa says he will return to his people one day, “Urugal guides my steps still—I can feel him. Secrets have power so long as they remain secret. Bairoth Gild’s words, to which I gave little thought at the time. But now that has changed. I am changed. Mistrust has taken root in my soul and when I find Urugal’s . . . will warring with mine, I feel my own weakness. Urugal’s power over me lies in what I do not know, in secrets—secrets my own god would keep from me . . . I follow for our journey is to the truth.” When Torvald says Karsa may not like what he finds, Karsa says he suspects Torvald is right. Torvald tells him that Keeper says it’s unsafe being around Karsa, that “it’s as if you’re dragging a thousand invisible chains behind you, and whatever’s on the ends of each one of them is filled with venom.” Karsa, troubled by Keeper’s insight, tells Torvald the man is right—he is dangerous to be around—and so he will accompany Torvald to the port and see him board ship then part ways, thinking him a friend. He tells Torvald if it were not for his words on board the prisoner ship he would have gone mad: “I was a Teblor warleader. I was needed, but I myself did not need. I had followers, but not allies, and only now do I understand the difference. And it is vast . . . I have come to understand what it is to possess regrets. Bairoth Gild. Delum Thord. Even the Rathyd, whom I have greatly weakened. When I return . . . there are wounds I shall need to mend.” When they prepare to leave, Keeper gives them a lot of money, telling them “when a man arranges his own death, he needs to plan ahead . . . I emptied half of Aren’s treasury a day before my tragic drowning.” Karsa tells him he will return to repay him one day and when Keeper asks if he means for the money or the broken ribs, Karsa simply smiles. Keeper laughs and they leave.
Amanda’s Reaction to Chapter Three:
I’m curious as to how and why Torvald Nom came to be part of this group of slaves—what was he doing in that place, so far from Darujhistan? Why has he been put into slavery? Why does he call himself a common criminal?
It must be very gratifying for Karsa to see Silgar in the very situation that he has subjected others to before now.
So we can all have a little chuckle, right? At the fact that Ebron says “You got otataral in your veins?” And we can all nod along with the fact that there is yet another outright mention and use of chains.
It’s nice to have another garrulous character joining the ranks of Kruppe in the form of Torvald Nom. It also provides good counterpoint to the strong and silent type that Karsa is usually, and more so while injured. “Quiet’s not in my nature, alas.”
“Ebron says you don’t have normal flesh…” What kind of flesh do the Teblor have? Stone?
I am enjoying Karsa’s moments of quiet reflection, thanks to laying lie from his injury. It is good to see that he won’t be resistant to new situations, and new ideas. Here he is already realising that the world is a heap different to what he expected. I like that this barbarian is not going to remain the same barbarian, and I can appreciate now about people remarking on Karsa’s journey.
Interesting outside commentary on the Malazans and something we’ve seen before—a hint of the fact that, although, conquerors, their yoke is not unbearable. “Conquerors, it seemed, from a distant land. Holders to strict laws. Their captives not slaves, but prisoners.”
Karsa is also demonstrating some real empathy and instinctive knowledge of the people around him—realising that the Malazans would not believe him, were he to simply become passive. And he recognises that his own tribe could have been more prepared for the situation in the lowlands, had his grandfather just been honest about his experiences rather than creating stories about a great raid. This is the first time we’ve seen Karsa speak against his grandfather, and it’s a big step forward.
I love the way that Erikson uses language and description to reinforce his points. Here we have Karsa also recognising that his father might have been more than Karsa had imagined him to be, and then straightaway the line: “The wagon jolted once more beneath him.” This language helps to generate the feeling of shock that Karsa must be feeling, and is a subtle touch.
After these two points of change, Karsa then puts his faith once more in the Seven, which seems a lot like a step back—but could also be seen as Karsa clinging to the only remaining fact that he feels sure of; his faith.
Heh, I’m not sure Torvald Nom would have really wanted to see Moon’s Spawn that close. *grins* Bit of daredevil posturing from him?
It seems telling that Shard does not answer this question. “If she—and by that I take you to mean your Empress—doesn’t trust you, then why is she sending you home? Isn’t Seven Cities supposedly on the edge of rebellion? If there’s a chance of you turning renegade, wouldn’t she rather have you here on Genabackis?” It’s a good point that Nom makes—does anyone have a reason why Laseen would be doing this?
Ahhh, one of those brilliant character exchanges that I’ve come to know and love—I’ve been giggling like a loon over the idea of Karsa becoming more and more frustrated with Torvald, as the little man tries to extract a vow from Karsa that he won’t be killed, until he finally says: “I believe Darujhistan shall be the first city I conquer.”
Oh, what delicious irony in the sentence “Assuming, of course, my assignment does not require me to assume the disguise of a prisoner in the otataral mines.” Having followed Baudin into the mines, we know just how likely this is.
These next few pages would be shown as a montage in a film—days and weeks passing, the casual cruelty of the drover feeding Karsa and causing his mouth to blister fading into the softer touch of Torvald, Karsa coming to gradually learn Malazan from Nom’s constant talking, the poking and prodding of children as they move through towns and villages. It’s a nice way of conveying how the time is passing.
This casual cruelty really is harsh—in the form of moving him to the ship, Karsa is essentually crucified for a brief period; “…creating a new kind of torture as the chains took his full weight.”
A quick reminder of just how formidable the Malazan army can be (including the Bridgeburners!) with the mention of their destruction of the Nathii fleet etc—it’s nice to have them kept in mind, and to hear about their dominant past, considering we understand their very different future.
And then a nice little mention of the Crimson Guard. For me, those little mentions are absolutely crucial right now, as we follow Karsa exclusively. It helps to know that we still have “contact” with the events that occurred in the previous few books, and also helps us to recognise which point in the timeline we are currently.
Karsa’s incarceration in chains has little echoes of those trapped for eternity in Dragnipur, non?
Isn’t the blue-skinned Captain a pleasant chap? Here it is easy to recognise that we have developed real liking and empathy for Torvald Nom, because we (certainly I) take an instant dislike to the captain because of his violent actions towards the garrulous Daru.
Do the Seven Gods think that Karsa has abandoned them because he is shipping elsewhere? Or for some other reason? Is it because he has started to question his situation?
The scene where he dreams he is standing on a hill of bones somehow reminds me of the sequence in the film version of The Return of the King where Aragorn takes the Path of the Dead. Rattling skulls, corpses reaching out for him….
Another nice neat way of showing time passing, without explicitly telling the reader: “The Daru was barely recognisable, so dark was his skin, so thick and matted his beard.” This is the sort of subtlety that I appreciate as a reader.
Is Karsa actually watching the wounding of a warren here? “There were colours there, amidst churning clouds, flashing and blossoming, swirls bleeding out from what seemed huge, open wounds.” Or is he just dreaming?
There’s an indication that the storm is far from natural when the captain says: “This is no Mael-blessed squall, Daru, meaning it don’t belong.”
Torvald Nom shows real character and determination here, where he manages to not only survive the fall into a freezing sea, and the chains of lightning that have done significant damage to the rest of the ship’s crew, but also garner fresh water and “something else,” and Karsa’s belongings at great danger to himself. I mean, we know he’s survived a degree of slavery prior to this, but it’s here that I realised for the first time that Nom is more than just a rather chatty man—he has real substance and belief.
So they’ve entered a warren via the sea? Sounds like definite Silanda territory to me—has distinct echoes with the path of Baudin et al when they approached the Silanda. Huh! Maybe the mystery of the giant spear-weapon is finally going to be solved, since you were all RAFO-ing me during that period. *winks*
I wonder what part the Moranth munitions will play—they’ve essentially become the “loaded gun on the mantelpiece” device—if, as an author, you’re not going to use it, then it’s just a waste of time putting it there. And we know that Erikson is a clever author.
Again, an indication of Torvald’s spirit—and his loyalty to Karsa: “Months of imprisonment had left him weakened, forcing frequent rests, and the buckle made a bloody mess of his hands, but once begun the Daru would not relent.”
And then Karsa seems to appreciate Nom’s efforts: The Teblor said nothing for a moment, then he grunted. “So be it. No more can be asked of you, Torvald Nom.”
As Karsa is brought to weakness and the quiet before death and drowning, he is finally starting to question the trust he has previously placed in his Gods. He asks what the bhederin are that they mention (we’ve seen these in relation to Rhivi and T’lan Imass, haven’t we?)
It’s good to see that Karsa doesn’t make an immediate recovery from being chained when he is released. None of this rubbing his wrists ruefully and then bouncing immediately to his feet that you see in bad fantasy books and films!
Hmm, exercising my brain here… I’m trying to remember the various connections between the people we’ve met already. Now, the Moranth and the Barghast are similiar, non? And built with thick limbs, heavy muscles etc, correct? And the Barghast sneer at the Moranth for building relations with the Tiste Edur? And, since we know that the Silanda is peopled with the corpses of Tiste Edur, that must make the warriors in the carvings the Barghast—when they were still a ship-faring folk! How am I doing?
Huh! Catfish as big as a ship! Not something you’d want to encounter on a trip to the seaside! I am liking this “Jaws” moment as that massive catfish leaps to try and eat Karsa.
*giggles* “Could you not have speared a smaller one?” This is farcical, delicious humour.
Interesting word choice by Torvald Nom when he calls the Seven Faces a “cult”—and slightly dangerous, I’d have thought, to refer to them as such to a man who worships them? So, the Teblor think more about dreamworlds, etc.—this is much like Kruppe and K’rul. But the dreamworld that Karsa talks about sounds very much like Imass—lichen, rocks, brown-haired beasts running in packs.
Does Karsa suspect anything about his gods?: He hesitated, then said, “The place I visited…” He trailed off, then shook his head. “Different. A place of… of coloured mists.”
Here Erikson reinforces the idea of chains as a metaphor for despair—doesn’t help our impression of the Crippled God and the House of Chains, does it? “…despair had become an invisible passenger, a third presence that silenced the Teblor and the Daru, that shackled them as had their captors of old, and the ghostly chains grew heavier.”
Hmm, I’m wondering again how the Silanda came to be in a place where it so clearly doesn’t fit. What happened to cause the wounding of the warren that allowed the ships to come through. Now, from Torvald and Karsa, we’ve seen that there were other ships involved, and a massive battle involving magic. We also know that the catfish either came through with the warren or were originally part of the warren, or… something like that, I guess!
Do the Tiste Edur also have Soletaken forms, as the Tiste Andii do? I just wonder because of the mention of “angular, multi-hued eyes.”
Ha! Karsa’s martial prowess defies description at times, doesn’t it? “Now, witness while I take this ship.”
Aha! “The magic flashed, sputtered, then the harpoon’s point punched into the figure’s chest, tore through and drove into the chair’s wood backing.” So that’s how it happened!
Hmm, “…the breath of someone unknown, nameless, but filled with rage.” Who would be pissed by the fact that Karsa has killed this Tiste Edur mage? I’m feeling a little incapable of trying to work out from little hints who this might be. I don’t want to blame everything on the Crippled God, but he’s certainly a candidate.
How easily a formidable people are dismissed! “Who are these Tiste Andii?”
“Just a people. There are some fighting in Caladan Brood’s liberation army on Genabackis. An ancient people, it’s said.”
With all we know about the Tiste Andii now—which is still woefully little—it seems wrong to hear them spoken of like this.
Some nice discussion from Erikson on the nature of worship, and how words can also be equated with gods. I do like these philosophical turns every now and again, even though my brain is not quite clever enough to keep up with what is being said! I regret that a little—it feels as though I am missing vital tranches of the meaning behind the books and the series—but I am just not wired in the way that appreciates such dense consideration of weighty topics. I think Bill is more your guy in that respect!
Here we hear explicitly that otataral also has the power to close warrens—and the kin on the Seven Gods’ trail? Well, that would be the Bonecaster that Felisin and her team when they board the Silanda, non? Which gives us, finally, the actuality of the Seven Gods being T’lann Imass, if it were still required.
Why do the bad guys always seem to manage to stay alive? I could have done without any more of Silgar! And how sinister: “Near the three emaciated lowlanders lay the remains of a fourth, his bones picked clean.” I mean, Erikson doesn’t say that the lowlanders ate their pal, but that is what is implied, surely? Ugh.
Who opened the gate? “…someone has opened a gate. Close. The fabric is… weakened. I’ve not the skill to do such a thing myself. But I can follow.” We know that this occurs a while before Felisin and her crew head for the Silanda—is the person who opened the gate a person who escaped from the battle? Who caused it? Whose warren is damaged?
Heh, since Karsa is carrying otataral weapons, how come this has no effect on the warren he walks through?
Oh man…. The scene with the shark and rescuing Borrug—it all feels a little bit unnecessary. We’ve seen how badass Karsa is already, numerous times. Do we really need this crazy scene on top of the rest? I’m sure lots of you will say how much you loved it, but I found it more than slightly unrealistic (which I accept is an odd word to use when analysing a fantasy book!) I was just shaken entirely out of my read and ended up shaking my head at it all.
Now this is just downright sweet, and is generating one of those partnerships that Erikson does so well: “We have saved each other’s lives, Torvald Nom, and so I am pleased to call you friend, and to think of you as a warrior. Not a Teblor warrior, of course, but a warrior even so.”
What’s a Fenn?
Heh, has this man collected the bones of a tyrannosaurus rex? “I should’ve guessed it would be bigger than I’d first thought, but it was the forearms I found, you see, and they’re puny…”
“Locally, I’m known as Ba’ienrok, which is Ehrlii for “Keeper.” Beyond that, in the fierce and unpleasant world, I’m not known at all, except as someone who died long ago…” Okay, now I’m wracking my brain trying to work out who Keeper is! Who do we know who has vanished and is believed dead? I’ve been thinking Dassem Ultor, or Toc the Elder? Am I close? No one else really comes instantly to mind!
Huh! We’ve seen the Teblor survive so many things that a lesser man would have died from—we’ve seen him grapple with sharks and Tiste Edur alike. And now ONE blow from this odd Napan gentleman has his knocked unconscious and ribs broken! Okay, I’m desperately intrigued—who is Keeper? (I’m sensing, from what has happened in the past, that I shall be asking that for a while yet).
This exchange tickled me into laughter:
“Splitting one’s head open with a single blow? With a wooden sword? In deep water? And what’s that other one? Catfish big enough to swallow a man whole? Hah, a good one.”
Torvald stared at the Napan. “Both true. As true as a flooded world and a ship with headless Tiste Andii at the oars!”
“Well, I believe all that, Torvald. But the shark and the catfish? Do you take me for a fool?”
The exchange, as well as making me chortle, also lets us know that Keeper is familiar with warrens and magic and Tiste Andii, since he expresses no shock, and it also lets us know that the warren did not originate from anywhere close because the massive catfish are not native to the waters.
Ah, so here we find that Rallick Nom is Torvald’s cousin.
Now this is incredibly ominous and ties into the theme of chains and the Crippled God: “He says it’s as if you’re dragging a thousand invisible chains behind you, and whatever’s on the ends of each one of them is filled with venom.”
Ooh! Another hint about who Keeper really is, although it doesn’t give me any better idea! “I emptied half of Aren’s treasury a day before my tragic drowning.”
So, some very interesting events in this chapter—and I sense a move to a point where we’ll be encountering people we already know. Looking forward to it!
Bill’s Reaction to Chapter Three:
Apologies if my comments on chapters three and four feel a bit disconnected from Amanda’s and/or redundant—my posts this week were pre-recorded before I took off to the wild mountains. Which would be so much more impressive if the “mountains” weren’t the Adirondacks—wee little things—and the “wild” wasn’t a cabin with sheeted beds, a hot shower, and three great meals provided daily. I’d hang my head in camping shame if I hadn’t just spent three weeks tenting, eating freeze-dried food and peanut butter every day, and washing my hair in rest stop sinks. Back live next week! (Remember, don’t phone in with comments…)
Ebron’s sarcastic question to Karsa: “You got otataral in your veins” is a lot more spot on than he guesses. He does indeed, probably have otataral in his veins.
It doesn’t happen often, but I’ve remarked before how now and then Erikson gets a bit too blunt for my liking. Torvald’s story of the “captive” grey bear is an example of that I think. It’s first, in the realm of this world, an unlikely event in that grey bears in Torvald’s time and place are so rare as to be thought long extinct. And it’s a bit too convenient that Torvald, in his relatively few years in Daru, happened to be around when one showed up. And of course, the connections to Karsa (and beyond to more general concepts) are painfully clear: the arrogance and illusion of “control,” the return of something once thought lost, etc. I could have done without it.
“This was not the world he had expected.” Now we’re talking. So far Karsa has either been wholly ignorant, gullible, or willfully blind and deaf to what the world (via his friends, his experiences, etc.) is trying to show him. We now get Karsa not being lectured about his lack of insight, but Karsa himself trying, painfully, slowly, to work his way through the fog of his prior life/attitude and arrive at insight on his own. And so we get him moving down the path to wisdom, taking steps such as “The Teblor had lived in blindness for centuries,” “This was a difficult truth, but to close one’s eyes to it would be to walk the same path yet again (those who ignore history . . . ), “Pahlk . . . had been something far less than the warrior of glorious deeds that he pretend to be,” and this especially: “he had shown himself unwilling to wrest free of the strictures binding the Teblor.” It is no great surprise that one of Karsa’s key insights is put into the language of chaining. Karsa is literally chained, repeatedly in fact, and he has been, repeatedly, metaphorically chained: by his society, by his grandfather, by his “gods,” and even by his own hands. But Karsa, as we have seen and will see, does not abide chains. He “shatters” them—a word to remember.
Another big sign of Karsa’s growth in this scene is his long-overdue recognition that his father is not in fact weak: “I saw your mistrust as weakness. Your unwillingness to participate in our tribe’s endless, deadly games . . . I saw this as cowardice.” And his recognition that while his father never directly confronted his people’s issues, (seemingly—we are after all still in a limited POV here), he did prepare his son to do so.
Of course, all our readerly cheering at this new, wiser Karsa drops a decibel or two when he follows up such insights with “Urugal was with him.” Baby steps. Baby steps….
And look—there’s that word, “shatter” cropping up before I even expected it.
So we’ve talked about how Erikson gave us a major swerve seemingly with these first few chapters—new characters, unclear settings of time and place. We’re now more concretely grounded in place and time as we hear via the soldiers that Pale has just fallen. So we now know we’re paralleling early Gardens of the Moon events. Soon we’ll be able to make connections to Deadhouse Gates and Memories of Ice as well, and we’ll see that what seemed like a huge swerve was less dramatic than we might have been thinking.
Did I mention before how hard it is to dislike Torvald Nom? I love the way he plays the whole “I could be a Claw people . . .” thing with the Malazans. It was very smart of Erikson to give us a character like Torvald early on so we aren’t left alone with Karsa, a character that, based on our comments here, many readers really don’t/didn’t like at all upon first blush.
Along with the Claw gamesmanship, and his general garrulous nature, you’ve got to laugh at the legalese around Karsa’s threat to kill him “unless given cause.”
“Assuming of course,” Torvald smiled, “my assignment does not require me to assume the disguise of a prisoner in the otataral mines.” Yeah—like that would ever happen….
Earlier Torvald had mentioned how the Nathii had raised cruelty to an art form, and we see a concrete example of this with the drover scalding Karsa’s mouth while feeding him. It also gives us another reason to like Torvald and a reason perhaps to lessen some of our sympathy/empathy for those Nathii killed/planned to be killed by Karsa.
Technique-wise, I also like how Erikson handles this little section. Not everything can be dramatic in a novel—it can’t be one scene after another; sometimes you need to summarize. And this is a great example of that. We move time forward quickly in terms of word/page count but significantly in terms of narrative chronology. We get tiny concrete scenes of characterization without dialog (Torvald’s compassion, the Nathii’s cruelty), we get some of the mundane “paperwork” kind of narrative necessities cleared away: how can Karsa speak Malazan later? Torvald’s words over this time period “taught him the language of the Malazans.” It gives us reason to believe in a relationship being cemented over time, rather than the “let’s throw two people together in a stressful situation for eight hours—at the end they’ll either be best buds or in love” sort of plot device we see far too often. This section in HoC isn’t usually what one thinks of when one talks about “good” writing, but it is essential to good writing—done well, we don’t notice it and so we don’t even consider it “good.”
By the way—Captain Kindly. Oh Amanda—you’ve got some fun coming with Captain Kindly….
More evidence of the beneficent effects of the Malazan Empire—the same kind of thing we’ve heard before—an imposed peace between warring factions/tribes/religions, etc. Do the gains of being conquered outweigh the losses? Torvald has a funny line about this coming up.
Crimson Guard… just three more books until we get their “Return.”
Did I mention there just might be a lot of chains in this book? Who’d’ve guessed, what with the title and all….
I’m not going to say a lot here about Karsa’s dream/vision, but I do think it’s important to note that we don’t see Karsa scared very much, and here he has not just fear but “terror.”
More steps on Karsa’s path toward wisdom, toward that doubt Bairoth prayed he would one day experience: “Urugal . . . I am no longer so sure.”
For all we knew, we were simply in another ocean, but the giant catfish place us pretty clearly in the flooded realm that Trull Sengar was chained in. Something to keep in mind.
As is the ships’ material: a “black wood which seemed to emanate darkness.”
A side trip into more clues that the Seven Gods are Imass: their dreamworld is full of lichen and moss and strange herd pack beasts.
And after a few subtle hints and connections—we get a direct, concrete link: severed heads with roving eyes. Yes folks, welcome aboard the Silanda. And so we finally have at least some answers as to the mystery of the ship—how did those folks get killed in the cabin, why were the heads wrapped up, where did the crew go (save for those in the captain’s cabin)? But we don’t get all the answers of course; that wouldn’t be very Malazan. If you recall from Deadhouse Gates, though, you’ll know the non-Andii folks aboard are Tiste Edur.
Note the cold anger, the rage, though, that Karsa feels when he does kill the mage and those in the cabin. Remember who the true master of the Seven is and ask yourself why they/he would be angry about Karsa killing these people—and remember that forms some kind of link—though we don’t know how strong or how mutual, between these strangers and that master.
I like Torvald’s analysis of the Andii and Darkness—the contrast between worshipping a god in hope that one can change/shape one’s fate or end up in a nice place once one’s fate is done as a means of “pushing away our terror of the unknown” and worshipping Darkness—facing “the truth, the truth being oblivion.” And the idea that words are another means—a way of “keeping terror at bay”—whether it’s a flood of words just to hear oneself in the awful silence of the universe, the silence that awaits, or words in the form of stories to give us illusory hope something else awaits. And I like how after all this talk Torvald says it’s up for debate—that he doubts his own words “always.” He’s not only a good contrast for Karsa in terms of tone and readability; he’s a good model also. It wouldn’t be all that bad for some of Torvald’s doubt to rub off on Karsa.
And as we think that, Karsa himself has some insight, some self-awareness into how he has changed: “A year ago he would have killed someone for saying what Torvald had just said, had he understood . . . . which in itself was unlikely . . . all that Karsa had experienced since leaving his village had served as instruction on the complexity of the world . . . Darkness and living blind . . . Who has dragged the cloth from my eyes?”
And it is this self-awareness, this insight, that is a turning point in his relationship with his “gods”: “The Teblor were their servants. Their slaves.” And we know how Karsa feels about slavery.
More questions answered about event on the Silanda. If you recall, when Stormy et. al were on there, several T’lan Imass arrived saying they were seeking “renegade kin” and assumed that Stormy, Kulp etc. who were on board the ship with them were serving the Chained God. So we can now see the renegades are the Seven Teblor “gods” who came aboard tailing Karsa and they seem indeed to be working for the CG. The bonecaster among those pursuing T’lan Imass also told Kulp what this flooded warren was: Kurald Emurlahn—the Tiste Edur Elder warren linked to the human branches or children such as Meanas, Rashan. (Though don’t forget she also got a lot of things wrong or only half-right) and she hadn’t expected to find the warren flooded.
Now that we have some direct links to Deadhouse Gates and its events, some of this speech makes a bit more sense: “the broken heart of the First Empire,” the “shattered warren”—referring to what we’ll find in Raraku.
“He was in my care . . . The shark had no right to him, whether he was dead or alive.” Truly one of my favorite Karsa lines.
I also like Torvald muttering that no one would believe him a few pages before Keeper doesn’t believe him.
Good old Karsa, one step forward, a half-step back: stupid fossils are nothing but carvings!
So what do you all think of Keeper’s collection?
I admit to kind of liking that in all the battles we see with Karsa, where he is so badass near-invulnerable, pulling out quarrels and bolts and decapitating, etc., the time we see him get pummeled painfully (granted, one shot and unexpected) is when he insults someone’s hobby. Cracks me up.
I mentioned earlier that turning point in Karsa’s relationship with his god, and we see him state it more bluntly here: “When I feel his will warring with my own, I feel my own weakness. Urugal’s power over me lies in what I did not know, in secrets…”
And how is this for a 180 from the Karsa we first met:
“our journey is to the truth…”
“I suspect you are right, Torvald Nom.”
“I was a Teblor warleader . . . I had followers but not allies, and only now do I understand the difference. And it is vast. And from this, I have come to understand what it is to possess regrets. Bairoth Gild. Delum Thord. Even the Rathyd.”
More chains with Karsa… and some surprising metaphysical insight from Keeper.
So what do we know about Keeper? He is Napan. He arranged his own drowning. He is incredibly strong. And he was able to empty “half of Aren’s treasury.”
This is what happens when you read these books separated by years. You forget lines like these:
“Who was High Fist before [Pormqual]?
Cartheron Crust, who drowned one night in Aren Harbour.
Kulp snorted. “Crust could swim drunk through a hurricane, but then he went and drowned just like his brother Urko. Neither body was ever found, of course.”
“Shall I drown like Crust and Urko did . . . have my body vanish . . . ?”
Or a few other mentions of the Old Guard “drowning.”
And the Torvald-Karsa The Road To… be continued.
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.