Malazan Reread of the Fallen

Malazan Re-read of the Fallen: House of Chains, Chapter Five

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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 Five 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 forum thread has been set up for outright Malazan spoiler discussion.

CHAPTER FIVE

SCENE 1

Back in Aren, Commander Blistig has been ordered by Fist Gamet (head of Adjunct Tavore’s newly landed army) to find Squint, the archer who killed Coltaine. The scene opens with them pulling him—drunk, covered in vomit—out of a tavern. Gamet complains about the lack of decorum/discipline. Blistig reminds him angrily how he and his garrison, under orders, were forced to watch Coltaine and his men get cut down, then watch again as Pormqual led the army out to slaughter. He tells Gamet “Go to Hood with our military decorum.” Gamet thinks how he’s seen Blistig’s anger before, how all those who had survived the Chain of Dogs—either those Duiker brought in or those forced to watch the end—were filled with rage; he believes their hope had shattered and they were too brittle, too broken to be used as soldiers and melded with Tavore’s untested recruits. Gamet orders Squint cleaned up and locked up, then tells Blistig that his plan to be obviously insubordinate and thus get imprisoned and sent back to Unta won’t work—that he and his soldiers were needed. Blistig says it would have been better had they died with Coltaine and Gamet answers they hadn’t died, though, and so needed to be models for the recruits. Blistig disparages Gamet, mocking that Tavore turned her House Guard captain into a Fist. Gamet replies that he is a 23-year veteran of the Fourth Army and of the Wickan Wars and was retired after a wound that should have killed him. Gamet informs Blistig Tavore is calling a meeting of all the commanders tonight.

SCENE 2

On the last transport, Strings watches Aren draw closer, thinking it had changed little since he saw it last years ago. He thinks how he has left his old life behind, save for one item buried in his kit bag. He is joined by Lieutenant Ranal, who in Strings’ mind “embodied the worst of Malazan military command. Nobleborn, commission purchased . . . arrogant and inflexible and righteous . . . a walking death sentence to his soldiers.” Ranal remarks how Fiddler is old enough to be most recruits’ father, and how the recruiting officer had seen that he was a veteran and considered him a “valuable resource,” suggesting that Ranal make him a sergeant. Ranal says he thinks Strings is a deserter. Strings replies he’s met a bunch, but one thing he can guarantee is deserters don’t end up putting themselves back into recruiting lines. He heads off to another part of the ship. Another soldier, a half-Seti named Koryk, tells him that Ranal has it out for Strings. Strings tells Koryk that despite rumors, there are survivors and veterans of the Chain of Dogs in Aren. Along with the Aren Guard and the Red Blades as well as some coastal marines and Nok’s fleet, though he says Nok will probably keep the fleet intact. When asked why by another recruit (one which reminds him of another young woman “who’d marched alongside him a while ago,” he answers that Nok can be used to recapture coast cities—the ports the ground army will need. One of the recruits says Tavore is likely a fool as she’s nobleborn and Strings thinks she may be right, though then thinks that she is sister to Captain Paran and he “had shown some spine in Darujhistan.” A soldier asked where he got the name Strings and he replies, “That tale’s too long to tell, lass.”

SCENE 3

Lostara Yil awaits someone who had sent a cryptic message to meet in a bar, though she’s pretty sure she’s figured out it’s Pearl. She is Tene Baralta’s aide (Baralta commands the Red Blades) and she thinks how the Red Blades are being kept separate from the army, despite the army’s noted lack of veterans. Baralta, despite having met with Tavore three times, still can’t tell if Tavore doesn’t trust the Blades. Pearl arrives and when Lostara says he probably knows what Tavore thinks of the Red Blades, he says the Adjunct “is as unfathomable to me as she is to you,” but that the Red Blades aren’t alone in being left out of her counsel—she speaks to hardly anybody. He informs her of the meeting tonight and says that he has gotten permission from Lostara to have her as his aide in a particular upcoming task, which the two of them will learn the details of after the meeting.

SCENE 4

Gamet awaits Tavore’s arrival at the meeting. He feels intimidated due to his belief that his promotion to Fist had nothing to do with “merit” but instead was based on the fact that Tavore knew him and was familiar with him as an organizer/administrator and was going to use him in the same manner as Fist, something he is aware that everyone else knows as well. Nok, Blistig, and Baralta are also present. Gamet thinks how Nok is the last of the Emperor’s commanders, the “only admiral who didn’t drown.” He believes had Pormqual not kept Nok’s fleet in Aren, the Chain of Dogs never would have happened and the rebellion would have most likely already been over, though Nok’s own thoughts on the matter are impossible to know. Gamet knows Baralta is concerned over Tavore’s attitude toward the Red Blades, but Gamet has no idea what Tavore has concluded about them. Tavore enters, plainly dressed and wearing an otataral sword. Without ceremony, she divvies up command assignments for the Fourteenth Army, with Gamet, Blistig, and Baralta each commanding one legion. The Chain of Dogs survivors and other unattached units are broken up and dispersed among the larger army. She dismisses Blistig and Baralta (now named Fists) and then Nok, though she says she wishes to meet with him later. Alone with Gamet, she remarks how easily that went and Gamet says they were probably in shock as usually “the imperial style of command includes discussions, argument, compromise” at which she only smiles. When asked, he says he thinks Baralta will choose his officers from among the Red Blades, Blistig will choose Captain Keneb who had warned Blistig about Mallick Rel but beyond Keneb the pickings are slim. When Gamet says he “feels for Blistig,” Tavore says she thinks what bothers Blistig most is not that he had to watch Coltaine’s fall, but that he “disobeyed a High Fist’s order. He stands before me, his new commander, and believes that it would be best for everyone concerned if I were to send him to Unta, to face the Empress.”
Nil, Nether, and Temul enter, with Nil and Nether looking terrible and disinterested. Tavore informs the two that they are now Mages in the Fourteenth Army and when they try to say no, she says they have no choice. When they tell her the “warlock spirits within us are silent,” she simply informs them they have to find some way to wake them up again. She asks Temul if the older Wickan warriors resent his command and he adamantly says no. She attaches the Wickans to her personal entourage as bodyguards, saying she doesn’t have the forces to really use cavalry. Temul begins to object, referring to Coltaine, and she interrupts and bluntly tells him “This is no longer Coltaine’s war.” She dismisses them, then asks Gamet why he thinks Nok didn’t simply take command from Pormqual, why did he permit the loss of Coltaine and the others. Gamet has no answer. She mentions that the Empress never had reason to doubt Nok’s loyalty and Gamet mutters she had not reason to doubt Dujek either, which raises a smile from Tavore.

She leads Gamet into another room and he sees a momentary vulnerability in her eyes before she recovers and then tells him “in this room the Empress is not present.” Pearl and Lostara enter. Pearl notes Tavore has taken care to ensure this meeting was secret, and also that he has angered/disappointed both Laseen and Topper (the Claw master), making him “something of a loose end at the moment.” She says she’s considering asking him to perform a more personal, private task, which makes Lostara uncomfortable as the Adjunct “is the will of the Empress. No other considerations are permitted her.” Tavore agrees, then asks Pearl about the Talon. He says they no longer exist and when Tavore challenges his honesty, he admits they do, digging in deeper whenever the Claw try to root them out. Tavore says they do serve a “certain function,” and Pearl connects that to support among the nobility and when Tavore says yes, he thinks for a moment then says, “name him.” Tavore says “Baudin” and when Pearl scoffs he was assassinated years ago (leaving Claw corpses “scattered in alleys throughout the city), she informs him that was Baudin Elder, but she is referring to the son, whose skills are as good. She says she employed him but now fears something has gone wrong and Gamet mentions Felisin. Pearl asks when she lost contact and she tells him the night of the uprising, though there had been a “loss of control for some weeks before then.” She gives Pearl and Lostara a scroll with more information and asks them to find her sister.

SCENE 5

Gamet flashes back to Unta, the Season of Rot and the Cull. He is at the gatehouse with a trio of guards while inside hides Felisin—her parents already arrested and taken, her brother thought dead, and her sister become adjunct. He dismisses the three guards but only two leave. The other, about whom Gamet knew nothing but had sensed hidden martial skill and confidence, stays. Gamet thinks he is working for the Empress but the guard, known as Kollen, tells him he is under Tavore’s orders: he is to see “no harm is to come to her [Felisin].” Gamet is suspicious, noting Tavore had done nothing for her parents and had said nothing to suggest Felisin would fare differently, to which Kollen (Baudin) says the Adjunct options are “limited. She is under some scrutiny.” He tells Gamet Felisin is to spend a “brief stint in the otataral mines” with a guardian—him. Gamet warns Baudin that if any harm comes to Felisin he will hunt Baudin down no matter that he is a Claw. Baudin responds he is not a Claw, but unfortunately “there will be some [harm]; it cannot be helped. We must hope she is resilient—it is a Paran trait, yes?” Gamet accepts what Baudin says and asks, willing to accept this as well, if Baudin is supposed to kill him and the other guards now or later. Baudin says not at all, but Gamet is to escort him to a safe house on the Avenue of Souls, which Gamet sadly realizes means Felisin will face “Judgment’s Round. To the chains.” He goes to wake Felisin.

SCENE 6

Pearl and Lostara are alone in the room; Pearl has been studying the information for a while. Lostara tells him she won’t have anything to do with the job. Pearl says fine, but he’ll have to kill her so she doesn’t say anything. She asks wince when does he do the Adjunct’s bidding and he answers since she “unequivocally reasserted her loyalty to the Empress.” Lostara says she didn’t hear that and he explains the “unnaturally swift” return of the nobles to power has been linked in rumor to the Talons, but none of those who confessed to being a Talon weren’t even close to the real things. Tavore has told Pearl that the Talons exist and have been making use of the nobles, “placing sympathetic agents in the military and administration.” Now that Tavore has shifted from being a noble to being Adjunct, her “old loyalties must needs be severed . . . She has given us the Talons. We will find this Baudin Younger, and from him we will unravel the entire organization.” He continues explaining that Tavore didn’t tell him and Lostara that the mission directly helps the Empire because it is secondary to Tavore’s primary goal (finding Felisin) and because the Empress wouldn’t be thrilled to learn about Tavore’s deceit re Felisin. Lostara agrees to take on the mission.

SCENE 7

Tavore and Gamet meet with Nok. Gamet feels superfluous to the whole thing and recalls how when Tavore first brought him in he’d thought of slipping away, but hadn’t out of simple curiosity. Continuing his conversation with Tavore, Nok says he heard the transport ship she asked about had sank in Malaz harbor, with Pormqual’s treasure aboard, while none of the crew seemed to have survived; lots of empty dories were found. When Tavore expresses some skepticism that sharks ate everyone and left no remains. Nok says he knows of a dozen examples. Tavore interrupts to name one—the Twisted, Kellanved’s flagship “which mysteriously slipped its moorings the night after the assassinations, then promptly plummeted into the deeps, taking its resident demon with it.” When Nok begins to speak, she interrupts again and says only Nok and three others “are left.” Gamet thinks of Tayschrenn, Dujek, and Whiskeyjack, listing the fallen: Tattersail, Bellurdan, Nightchill, Duiker. Tavore continues, telling Nok she isn’t interested in the details, nor does she ask for the Empress, but she is personally curious as to “why they abandoned her.” Gamet thinks Tavore “asks questions of loyalty, as would someone who has never experienced it. You reveal . . . what can only be construed as a critical flaw. You command the Fourteenth Army, Adjunct, yet you do so in isolation, raising the very barricades you must needs take down if you would truly lead.”
Nok says the answer to her question “lies in what was both a strength and a flaw of the Emperor’s family . . .. Kellanved began with but one companion—Dancer. The two then hired a handful of locals . . .. Myself, Ameron, Dujek . . . Hawl my wife . . . The Napan Isles has just been annexed by Unta and were providing a staging point for the Untan king’s planned invasion of Kartool . . . Our residency in the Deadhouse rewarded us with—as is now clearly evident—certain gifts. Longevity, immunity to most diseases, and other things . . . Dancer later bolstered our number by recruiting among the refugee Napans who’d fled the conquest: Cartheron Crust and his brother, Urko. And Surly—Laseen. Three more . . . . Toc Elder, Dassem Ultor . . . and a renegade High Septarch of the D’rek Cult, Tayschrenn. And finally, Duiker.” He says his wife was one of the casualties in the drive toward conquering Malaz Island and Mock, then said “To answer you Adjunct. Unknown to the rest of us, the Napans among us were far more than simple refugees. Surly was of the royal line. Crust and Urko had been captains in the Napan fleet, a fleet that would have likely repelled the Untans if it hadn’t been virtually destroyed by a sudden storm. As it turned out, theirs was a singular purpose—to crush the Untan hegemony—and they planned on using Kellanved to achieve that. In a sense, that was the first betrayal within the family, the first fissure. Easily it healed, it seemed, since Kellanved already possessed imperial ambitions, and of the two major rivals on the mainland, Unta was by far the fiercest.” Tavore says it seems clear that Surly’s killing of Kellanved and Dancer wrecked the family “irrevocably, but that is where my understanding falters. Surly had taken the cause to its penultimate conclusion. Yet it was not you, Tayschrenn, Duiker, Dassem Ultor, or Toc Elder who disappeared. It was Napans.” When Gamet points out Ameron was the exception, Nok tells them Ameron was half Napan. When Gamet wonders why only Napans deserted the new Empress, who was of the royal Napan line, Nok tells them “Shame is a fierce, vigorous poison. To now serve the new Empress—complicity and damnation. Curst, Urko, and Ameron were not party to the betrayal, but who would believe them?” He says Laseen hadn’t included any of them in her scheme and just used the Claw. Gamet asks where the Talons were, and Nok says he has no idea, as he wasn’t in Malaz City; he just knows they disappeared and it was thought the Claw got rid of them. Tavore dismisses him and Gamet, after asking Gamet where T’amber was.

SCENE 8

Strings enters the stables where the other recruits are. He watches as Koryk, the half-Seti, cuts long strands from a piece of hide and thinks how he’s seen Koryk’s type before—the ones “obsessed” with tying things—fetishes, loot, etc.—to their bodies. He recalls the Seti past: fighting a centuries-long war with the city-states of Quon and Li Heng, greatly outnumbered as they defended the “barely inhabitable lands that had been their traditional home.” Their lands had been “pacified” for sixty years now—”almost three generations had lived in that ambivalent, ambiguous border that was the edge of civilization. The various tribes had dissolved into a single, murky nation, with mixed-bloods coming to dominate the population.” Strings believes that had been the cause of Coltaine’s rebellion/the Wickan Wars, as Coltaine tried to prevent the same happening to his own people. Strings divides up cultures not into right and wrong but into “inward-looking . . . and aggressive.” The first can’t fight the second, “without metamorphosing into some other thing, a thing twisted by the exigencies of desperation and violence” and he thinks how the Seti—known now as horse warriors—had never even ridden them before. He wonders if Koryk’s choice to follow the old ways, join the army not as a horseman but a marine, was evidence of “the clash in the man’s scarred soul.”

He introduces himself to the 4th squad as their sergeant and tells them their commander (of the 9th Company) is Captain Keneb while the entire 8th Legion is commanded by Fist Gamet. He asks their names and the squad introduces themselves. Tarr is from Li Heng and was nicknamed that because he can’t be moved once he’s planted behind his shield. Strings makes him corporal. One of the women recruits is named Smiles because “she never does.” Another recruit is called Bottle. He asks who their drill sergeant was and when Koryk answers Braven Tooth, Strings is surprised “that bastard’s still alive.” He remembers how it had been Braven who’d named most of the Bridgeburners: Whiskeyjack . . . Hedge . . . Toes. Fiddler himself had avoided a new name through his basic training; it had been Whiskeyjack who’d named him on that first ride through Raraku. Smiles asks who named Braven Tooth and Strings say he doesn’t know, but thinks “I did, after the bastard left one of his in my shoulder the night of the brawl . . . Gods, so many years ago.” Strings asks Bottle where his sword is and Bottle says he doesn’t use one; he uses “this and that” instead and is good at scouting. Strings thinks he “smells like a mage . . . only he doesn’t want to advertise it.” Smiles says she scouts as well but unlike Bottle “finishes” with her knives. Six more soldiers appear—the 5th squad led by Gesler and Stormy. Strings notes the “strange, burnished cast” to their skin, as well as on a younger soldier (Truth). Strings names them Adjutant Stormy and Captain Gesler but Gesler interrupts and says those titles aren’t theirs anymore; he’s a sergeant and Stormy his Corporal. He introduces the others: Truth, Tavos Pond, Sands, and Pella, mentioning that Pella was a guard at the otataral mines. Stormy’s eyes narrow “suspiciously” when Strings introduces himself and asks “Hey Gesler, think we should have done that? Changes our names? This Strings here is Old Guard.” Gesler replies, “let the bastard keep whatever name he wants.” Strings and Gesler exit for a private talk and Strings says “I can picture Whiskeyjack’s jaw dropping—the day I tell him you was my fellow sergeant in the new 8th Legion.” He asks about the Adjunct and Gesler says, “She’s as cold as Hood’s forked tongue” and says she confiscated the Silanda. He wonders about how she hasn’t ever commanded anything other than her noble house and yet she’s been given an army and told to reconquer a continent. He mentions he knows of only one Falari in the Bridgeburners and Strings admits he’s Fiddler. They head to a tavern to swap stories, each thinking they have the best one.

 

Amanda’s Reaction to Chapter Five:

New book, new characters, new perspective. And the book is called “Cold Iron” — a reference to the characters we’re going to meet? [Bill: We’ll get a bit of a disquisition on cold iron vs. hot iron eventually.]

I like the immediate humour in this sequence — the burly soldier smashing down the door that turns out to be unlocked. And then straight into a comment that I sense will prove serious and lingering when following Gamet: “Fist. The title still clambers into my gut like a starving crow.”

Heh, this is what comes of reading A Song of Ice and Fire alongside Malazan Book of the Fallen — mention of crows makes me think about the men of the Night’s Watch on the Wall. [Bill: Also a nice small echo of the crows that came to Coltaine after Squint killed him.]

And here is our first mention of the events in Deadhouse Gates and the Chain of Dogs — the effect it has had on the soldiers, and also Tavore’s possible reaction to it: “The Adjunct has no time for broken-hearted soldiers.” My response? She wasn’t there when it happened. Definitely cold iron going on there.

There is a real echo here with the Bridgeburners — soldiers who have been forced to face too much, who have been betrayed, and might never recover: “Hearts not simply broken, but shattered, torn to pieces, trampled on. The Adjunct’s hope of resurrecting the survivors – making use of their local experience to steady her legions of untested recruits – was, to Gamet, seeming more and more unrealistic with each day that passed.” Also, something I am wondering about — if the Malazan Empire is fighting and taking charge and bringing new troops into the Empire, why then does Tavore have an untested army? Are ALL the rest of the army out and about elsewhere?

Why has Gamet remained so quiet regarding Blistig and his tirades when giving reports to Tavore? A sense of sorrow and understanding for what they’ve been through?

It’s hard to know what to do with Squint, isn’t it? Technically he killed a commanding officer, which is a crime. He killed someone out of mercy, so should be lifted up as a hero by Blistig. But Blistig is ordering him put under lock and key — to prevent his suicide? To keep him under observation? To hold him ready for punishment?

Hmm, I can already see what might happen regarding Blistig — he is forced to be the wise old commander for the wide-eyed, young recruits who have no idea what they’re getting into. Seems a little bit too cliched for Erikson! [Bill: And you’d be right—it is too cliched for Erikson….]

Gamet really is bitter about his background, isn’t he? About the fact that he was raised from captain of Tavore’s House Guard? “I knew Coltaine when you were still bouncing on your mother’s knee.”

Here, at least, is the first moment where Blistig and Gamet connect: “So you’re as happy to be here as I am.” Although Gamet appears to really dislike Blistig for his cheap jibe: “If I had my way, to see you drawn and quartered.” Going to be very interesting to see how their relationship develops.

Does Strings = Fiddler? He did say he was going to head back to Seven Cities and help out the Malazan Army! Will be interested to see what the last remnant of his former life is… Maybe a last way to contact Quick Ben? Something of Hedge’s?

Hmm, that description of Lieutenant Ranal isn’t a great one, is it? We’ve seen some of the actions of the Malazan nobility in the Chain of Dogs and I, for one, was not impressed at all by them. Having said that, Paran is a member of the Malazan nobility and he’s turned out pretty well… “Lieutenant Ranal embodied the worst of Malazan military command. Nobleborn, commission purchased in the city of Quon, arrogant and inflexible and righteous and yet to draw a sword in anger.”

What I can see is that, with the attitudes between Blistig and Gamet, and Ranal and Strings, there could be some fireworks in this particular novel!

Heh, what a way to get onto Strings’ bad side…. suggest that he is a deserter from the army — after all the services he has performed so far.

Does the female recruit remind Strings of Apsalar? “Frighteningly young, reminding him of another young woman who’d marched alongside him a while ago. He shivered slightly.”

Awww, and there is the confirmation that we’re dealing with Fiddler — the worst kept secret ever, by the sounds of things. *grins*

There seems to be no one at ALL who knows what Tavore intends, or has the measure of the woman. “…even Tene Baralta, who had met her face to face on three occasions, remained unable to gauge her, to take her measure.” And the Red Blades seem to be the only members of this ragtag army who actually want to face the Whirlwind.

And now a meeting between Lostara and Pearl (who I am incredibly ambiguous about, after the occasions we’ve met him in Deadhouse Gates). Now, I need reminding here — was it Pearl that captured the Red Blades? He and Lostara have had prior dealings and I can’t remember a damned thing about them, with both appearing on stage so briefly in DG. [Bill: Pearl and Lostara helped out in the scene with the Semk demon when Duiker’s group went up against it. Then he was on the ship with Kalam—as Salk Elan—and stabs him before tossing him overboard to be hunted by Claw.]

And here is Pearl, a Claw, admitting that he has no idea about Tavore either. I’m incredibly curious about this woman….

Huh: “With the sudden deaths of the Napan brothers, Urko and Crust, Nok had been given overall command of the imperial fleets.” Is either Urko or Crust the Keeper we met in the previous chapter?

How heartbreaking to hear that Nok’s involvement might have prevented the whole of the Chain of Dogs. *sighs* All for the actions of one horrible High Fist.

It’s strange — this description of Tavore might be one of the most detailed that Erikson has provided for any of the characters. Is that to emphasise the fact that we can know the outside but we can never know the inside of this character?

Gods, the meeting between Tavore and her new Fists didn’t exactly give anymore away, did it? I have no idea what to think about her. None. Considering that most characters in the Malazan world affect me immediately within about three lines of meeting them, this is a brand new approach by Erikson and very deliberate, I’m sure.

She does seem to show enormous intelligence and thought about the situation that she has come into. For instance, she realises that there is more to Blistig’s attitude than merely having watched the decimation of Coltaine’s force.

Ouch, Tavore really is cold when she deals with poor Nil and Nether. No compassion. No understanding. I’m so totally mixed up about her. *wails*

And then: “This is no longer Coltaine’s war,” Tavore snapped.

Is she feeling the enormous shoes that she now has to step into in order to take command?

So neither Gamet nor Tavore are sure of Nok’s loyalty? That certainly leaves a lot of interesting potential for the rest of the battle, if they have to worry about what his intentions might be.

It strikes me that Gamet knows Pearl by a different name, because of: “You may call me Pearl,” the man replied, hesitating on the name as if its revelation was the core of some vast joke of which only he was aware.

Tavore is acting privately, not on the business on the Empress? Tsk tsk tsk. Definitely not the done thing, if I know my Adjuncts. And she is playing with fire, really. Pearl does not seem to be the most trustworthy of individuals and is currently out of the Empress’ favour, so this sort of behaviour from the Empress’ right hand might be something Laseen would want to hear about….

Even a member of the Red Blades knows that Tavore is not acting properly: “In serving the Adjunct I expect to serve the empire. She is the will of the Empress. No other considerations are permitted her.” And here is her consideration: finding her sister.

I like this flashback, showing Gamet’s part in when Felisin starts her path towards the otataral mines and then Sha’ik beyond. And Kollen must be Baudin — Felisin’s protector right from the very beginning at the behest of Tavore. From the sounds of it, the new Adjunct knew that she could only protect her parents OR her sister, and chose Felisin. People have been keeping their eyes on her right from the beginning, possibly questioning her loyalty, and so Tavore has had to forge an armour of Cold Iron.

Now this is a VERY interesting question, just popped quietly into the proceedings: “There were rumours that the lad had been an agent of Adjunct Lorn’s, and that his desertion had led, ultimately, to the woman’s death in Darujhistan. Yet, if that were true, then why did the Empress turn her royal gaze upon another child of the House of Paran? Why make Tavore the new Adjunct?”

A nice little phrase here: “Malaz Harbour is indeed notorious for its sharks, particularly since they seem uniquely capable of eating victims whole, leaving no remnants whatsoever.” It’s cool because it links back to the mysteries of all those Old Guard who somehow drowned but were never found, and to the shark in the first part of this novel that terrorises Karsa.

Cold Iron is not appropriate: “You command the Fourteenth Army, Adjunct, yet you do so in isolation, raising the very barricades you must needs take down if you would truly lead.”

Wait…. So Nok and Ameron and Dujek all resided in the Deadhouse as well, with Kellanved and Dancer? And look: “Our residency in the Deadhouse rewarded us with – as is now clearly evident – certain gifts. Longevity, immunity to most diseases, and….other things.” Very coy.

It was a dysfunctional family that Dancer and Kellanved gathered around themselves, non?

Hmm, strikes me that this might be important. “So it was only the Napans who deserted the new Empress?” Gamet stared up at Nok, now as confused as Tavore. “Yet Surly was of the royal Napan line?”

Oh. *breathes deep* That last scene with Strings’ new squad, and then the meeting and camaraderie between Strings and Gesler is just perfect. I’m starting to like this book!

 

Bill’s Reaction to Chapter Five:

So I’ll be curious as to how many people breathe a sigh of relief to enter Book Two and realize Karsa is not in it. We do open up with a direct connection to Deadhouse Gates though as a hint as to one of this chapter’s topics—the poem from Felisin.

More connections from the past as well quickly arrive. Blistig, if you recall, was seen in Deadhouse Gates as the garrison commander who kept his men behind when Pormqual led the army out. His progress through the series is somewhat interesting, to say the least. We’ve also seen Gamet, if only briefly. We actually met him first, in Gardens of the Moon when Paran returns home.

That captain Blistig mentions, to remind you, is Keneb.

And continuing class reunion week—we arrive at Squint, the poor guy who had to kill Coltaine to free his soul.

Gamet’s concerns—how to resurrect a shattered army and trust it to fight—is going to be one of the major plot points going forward.

Okay, so by the end of this chapter, which one assumes people have read if they’re here, we know Strings is actually Fiddler. As this is revealed so soon upon meeting him, I’m thinking this wasn’t meant to be such a big secret. Certainly “Strings” is not the most discrete secret identities. What other clues do we get?

  • Strings has been in Aren before.
  • He’s a Malazan veteran.
  • He’s changed his name.
  • He had a rust-beard turned grey (and yes, Fiddler’s beard had been described several times as red and peppered with grey).
  • He’s a Bridgeburner.
  • He knew Paran, Whiskeyjack, Hedge, etc. pretty closely.
  • Young female recruits with knives remind him of someone he once knew.
  • He’s familiar with soldiers who tie fetishes etc. to their bodies (Trotts did this).
  • He’s very familiar with how Fiddler got his name.

It’s a nice way to remind us of past characters having Fiddler (sorry, from now on I’m just going to call him who he is) run through the other folks in the city: the Aren Guard; the Red Blades, which will remind us of Lostara; the Chain of Dogs survivors, which will recall Nil, Nether, and Temul; coastal marines, there’s Stormy and Gesler, and Nok.

I like the way Lostara mocks the idea of Pearl’s anonymity as a “pathetic mystery” even as we have the whole Strings/Fiddler thing.

“The Adjunct was Malazan—an unknown to Lostara and the rest of the Red Blades; even Tene Baralta, who had met her face to face on three occasions, remained unable to gauge her measure.” Oh, get ready for a lot of that with regard to Tavore.

Say, like a few paragraphs later when Pearl says, “the new Adjunct is as unfathomable to me as she is to you.” Tavore probably ranks as one of the more maddening characters for some readers. I actually like what Erikson does with her, despite the frustration. She is, in fact, one of my favorite characters and one, I believe, of the most moving. But we’ve got lots of time to discuss that. I will say, it’s an appropriate line that follows Lostara’s quote: “Questions without answers.”

Coming after meeting Keeper, it’s a nice little mention of Urko when Gamet recalls Nok’s history.

Well, how’s that for a meeting of advisors? Not a lot of advising going on, huh? Welcome to Tavore’s command style; it’ll take her people some time to get used to it. And it’s not a spoiler to say some never will.

It’s typically brought a sense of pleasure to see the old folks (especially if one see Strings as Fiddler), but the “sight” of Nil and Nether, as with Squint, is tragic for the reader. These are early harsh reminders to the reader of the horror that occurred in DG and fair warning not to get too caught up in the nostalgic pleasure of being reunited with old characters we missed.

Speaking of the tragedy of some of those old characters, we’re thrown right back into the horror story that is Felisin, seeing a bit of a prequel to it. And how biting are these lines now that we’ve already witnessed her story: “As for harm coming to Felisin, I regret to say there will be some. It cannot be helped. We must hope she is resilient—it is a Paran trait, yes?”

As Pearl discusses the return of the nobility into power, it’s good to recall that we’ve already been given a concrete example of this in this very chapter—Lt. Ranal, who embodies the problems inherent in such influence in the army.

It’s an interesting description of Nok when we see him—staring into “cold ashes.” Sometimes a dead fire is just a dead fire, but it’s also easy to read a bit into this. Nok, after all, is a man who, as he’s about to tell us, helped build an empire and drive it to its pinnacle. Now, what does he see? Let’s remember, after all, this is the Malazan Book of the FALLEN.

So we had one poignant scene a moment ago with Baudin’s lines about Felisin—lines that are poignant because the reader knows more than the character speaking them. And here is another example: Tavore and Gamet thinking of the four Old Guard left: Nok, Tayschrenn, Dujek, and Whiskeyjack. It’s a kick in the stomach for the readers, of course, as we know Whiskeyjack is dead (and thank you for that tragic reminder!) and Dujek is broken. Then, we get a bit of irony as Gamet thinks of “so many fallen” as he considers “Tattersail, Bellurdan, Nightchill, Duiker.” The dramatic irony lying in the ways in which Gamet’s lists are upside down. As mentioned, we know WJ is dead while Gamet thinks of him as living. And we know that those Gamet thinks of as dead are, in variant forms, as Monty Python would say “Not quite dead.” Tattersail is reborn, as is Nightchill, while Duiker is brought back wholly himself, if not unchanged. Bellurdan is a bit more cloudy, as we’ve mentioned before.

The conversation with Nok is one of those rare instances of someone standing still and explaining a whole bunch of stuff (similar to the Dujek-WJ conversation, though less controversial I’d say). It is interesting to get a bit of the detailed history of the Empire and Kellanved’s rise. As always, though, the question arises whether or not Nok is telling the entire truth or knows the entire truth. I’ll just say this—at least one items implied in his tale is wrong, as we’ll learn later.

Gamet thinks Tavore’s question about the abandonment of Laseen has to do with her concerns about loyalty. Whether or not this is a correct reading of the inscrutable Tavore, loyalty to Tavore will be a long-running topic in this series.

Fiddler’s musings on what happens in a clash of cultures, when one is “inward-looking” and the other “aggressive” has some parallels in our own world—though he clearly has some over-simplification. But the idea of how the attacked culture can end up, in trying to defend itself, transforming itself into something “twisted.” This is a more subtle observation of the impact of such clashes as opposed to the more obvious out and out genocide/destruction—the idea that the people survive, maybe even as a recognizable culture of their own still—but not their original one (though this isn’t to say that remaining “frozen” in a culture is good as well—see the Imass, the Barghast…). This is also a nice echo of what has happened with some of the clans in Karsa’s world—remember the woman who told him of how their children had become corrupted by the other culture. There have been those who’ve argued that in some ways, wiping out the populations of indigenous people via intentional slaughter and unintentional killing via introduced plagues etc. might be more “rationally merciful” than reducing them to a remnant, robbing them of their culture, bleeding off their youth and their vitality, herding them into inhospitable lands, etc. and letting them slowly wither over centuries.

Bit of foreshadowing re Bottle. File that

Wouldn’t you love to hear Fiddler’s tone and see his face when he’s taking roll call and gets to “so there’s only two soldiers in this outfit who can actually fight toe-to-toe?” And I cracked up at Koryk’s response about how Fid did say there was someone else coming. Gee, so maybe they’ll have three fighters….

While Stormy and Gesler are easy to recall, just a quick reminder that Pella was the young camp guard with Felisin at the otataral mines.

Getting these old soldiers together just sweeps a breath of fresh air through the reading experience, beginning immediately with Gesler’s “You put the latrine trench outsidethe barrack’s for Hood’s sake.. “, moving through the similar concise response to Ranal—”‘Right. Met him.’ Aye, nothing more need be said on that.”—to Stormy’s immediate recognition of Fiddler as Old Guard to Gesler’s willingness to let him be whomever he wants to be to his sexual innuendo—”polish whatever you like”—to the repartee over demotions, and finally ending with their heading off to try and top each other with stories, each thinking they’ve got the other one beat and the reader knowing just how weird those stories are going to be. Nothing happens in this scene, absolutely nothing of any import whatsoever in terms of plot. But I just love it. It is character and dialogue-driven and just feels real. I can’t help but read it with a smile.


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.

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