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 Six 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.
Apsalar, her father Rellock, and Crokus have returned to Sorry’s home—Itko Kan—to find it empty of people. The night before Rellock died in his sleep and Hood himself or one of his minions appear to have come to collect Rellock’s soul. While Apsalar mourns over the body, Crokus thinks how he has come to know her less and less and feels what lies at her core is not fully human. He muses on Cotillion who had possessed her and his move toward ascendancy: “it seemed to him, to ascend was also to surrender. Embracing what to all intents and purposes could be called immortality, was, he had begun to believe, presaged by a turning away. Was it not a mortal’s fate—fate he knew was the wrong word, but he could think of no other—was it not a mortal’s fate, then, to embrace life itself, as one would a lover? Life, with all its fraught, momentary fragility. And could life not be called a mortal’s first lover? A lover whose embrace was then rejected in that fiery crucible of ascendancy? Crokus wondered how far she had gone down that path—for it was a path she was surely on.” He is attracted himself and wonders if she wants him to ascend with her, and if so, is it him or could it just be anyone, someone. He ponders if “fear of dying lies at the root of ascendancy” and believes if that’s the case, “he would never make it, for . . . [he] had lost that fear.” He recalls how Shadowthrone had sent him, Apsalar, and Rellock to an alley in Kan (rather than the village as promised) and he and Apsalar had contracted to kill men who had been extorting a bookmaker in the alley. The next morning “Crokus has acquired a new name, Cutter. At first, he had rejected it . . . Murdering killers was still murder, the act like the closing of shackles between them all, joining a line of infinite length, one killer to the next, a procession from which there was no escape. His mind had recoiled from the name . . . But that had proved a short-lived rectitude. The two murderers had died indeed—at the hands of the man named Cutter. Not Crokus, not the Daru youth, the cut-purse—who had vanished, probably never to be seen again.” He decides he, or “Cutter” would walk the path of ascendancy with Apsalar: “The Emperor had Dancer, yes? . . . a companion was what was needed, is needed. No she has Cutter . . . Who dances in his chains as if they were weightless threads . . . And therein resided the final truth. Anyone could become a killer. Anyone at all.”
Kalam rides through Shadow and stops beside some broken pillars from which chains descend into the ground. He pulls on a chain and a desiccated limb rises and when the hand twitches, he drops it. “Pillars, columns, tree stumps . . . for every dozen there was one among them holding a prisoner. None of whom seemed capable of dying . . . their minds had died—most of them—long ago. Raving in tongues . . . begging forgiveness, offering bargains, though not one had yet—within Kalam’s hearing—proclaimed its own innocence.” As he rides on, he wonders what is going on with Quick Ben (he hasn’t heard anything from him) or Fiddler, whom he knows reenlisted. He envies that at least they were doing something more than babysitting 1300 children, and besides, he thinks Minala and Apt had it in hand without his help, teaching them “a host of life skills . . . stealth, tracking, the laying of ambushes, the setting of traps . . . countless other weapon skills, the weapons themselves donated by the warren’s mad rulers—half of them cursed or haunted or fashioned for entirely unhuman hands. The children took to such training with frightening zeal and the gleam of pride in Minala’s eyes left the assassin chilled. And army in the making for Shadowthrone.” He pulls up in front of a gate swarming with shadows. Cotillion and two hounds appear and caution him to be careful because the shadows “have lost their masters but anyone will do” and then he asks if Kalam is seeking to leave. Kalam tells him he’s bored and Minala has banished him, then asks what Cotillion wants. When Cotillions remarks on Kalam’s lack of “obeisance to [his] patron”, Kalam replies: “Since when have you expected it . . . if it was fanatical worshippers you hungered for, you should never have looked to assassins. By our very natures, we’re antithetical to the notion of subservience—as if you weren’t already aware of that . . . Mind you, you stood at Kellanved’s side, through to the end. Dancer, it seems, knew both loyalty and servitude.” When Cotillion questions “servitude?” Kalam says “Mere expedience? That seems difficult to countenance, given all that the two of you went through.” He then tells Cotillion to spit out what he obviously is there for: “you need me for something, only you’ve never learned how to ask.” Cotillion says he’s going to be very busy but he needs other things taken care of and it’s been hard to find someone “of practical use.” When Kalam laughs “you went fishing for faithful servants and found your subjects wanting,” Cotillion dryly responds, “We could argue interpretation all day.” Kalam finds Cotillion’s irony appealing: “he admitted that he actually liked Cotillion . . . Certainly, between the Patron of Assassins and Shadowthrone, only the former seemed to possess any shred of self-examination—and thus was actually capableof being humbled.” After some words, Kalam asks Cotillion if he thinks his realm is being contested (Cotillion murmurs “my realm”) and Cotillion says it’s hard to tell, but there have been “trembles, agitation.” Kalam assumes Cotillion wants to “know more of your potential enemy” and Cotillion agrees and says Kalam should start at “a confluence to your own desires, I suspect.”
Crokus/Cutter is on the beach trying to figure out what he and Apsalar are gong to do. He feels a stranger in the Malazan Empire and recognizes the same is not true for Apsalar: “She seemed possessed of absolute calm . . . the confidence of the god who once possessed her had left something of a permanent imprint on her soul. Not just confidence . . . deadly skills and the icy precision necessary when using them and . . . many of the god’s own memories remained with her. Cotillion appears with the hound Blind to speak to Apsalar (she’s gone for a walk). Cutter tells him of Rellock and Cotillion says it is “unfortunate” then, looking at Cutter, asks if Cotillion is now his patron. Cutter says he thinks so and Cotillion declares himself pleased. Cotillion asks if he should bless Cutter’s knives and Cutter answers only if he can do it without magic. Cotillion wonders if Cutter wishes to follow Rallick’s path and Cutter says he’d find it hard to do because Rallick was so good. Cotillion agrees Rallick was “formidable” but says Cutter is selling himself short, adding that Cutter needn’t use the past tense re Rallick—saying he suspects Rallick and Vorcan are alive. He asks if Cutter will do a service and when Cutter replies, “isn’t that expected” Cotillion says he won’t take advantage of Cutter’s inexperience. Instead, he says, they’ll “begin things on a proper footing. Reciprocity, Cutter. A relationship of mutual exchanges.” Cutter says Cotillion should have done the same with Apsalar and Cotillion agrees, saying, “Consider this new tact the consequences of difficult lessons.” Cutter says in payment then, he wants answers to why Cotillion and Shadowthrone plotted against Laseen and the Empire; he wants to know why they did what they did to Apsalar. After a long pause, Cotillion replies: “necessities . . . Games are played, and what may appear precipitous might well be little more than a feint. Or perhaps it was the city itself, Darujhistan, that it would serve our purposes better if it remained free, independent. There are layers of meaning behind every gesture, every gambit. I will not explain myself any further.” Cutter challenges him whether he feels regret and Cotillion says, “Yes. Many, many regrets. One day, perhaps, you will see for yourself that regrets are as nothing. The value lies in how they are answered.” After telling Cotillion about throwing Oponn’s coin into the sea because he didn’t like their attention, he demands that in return for his service he gets to call on Blind if he gets in trouble, saying “her attention comforts me.” Cotillion agrees.
Apsalar returns and senses right away that Cotillion had been there. Cutter says they are to explore an island that “is getting farther by the moment.” Apsalar responds “Ah. Of course.” The two set sail.
Onrack wanders through the Nascent, looking at catfish that had climbed onto the wall. He examines one and thinks it isn’t dead, that this is metamorphosis. He notes the many breaches in the wall and the shallow sea forming, thinking soon the wall’s fragments will eventually be islands. He thinks “The sea’s torrential arrival had caught them unawares, scattering them . . . Other kin had survived . . . to link once more so that the hunt could resume. But Kurald Emurlahn, fragmented or otherwise, was not amenable to the T’lan Imass . . . Onrack could not extend his Telann powers, could not reach out to his kin . . .For most of his kind, that alone would have been sufficient cause for surrender. The roiling waters . . . offered true oblivion. Dissolution was the only escape possible from this eternal ritual and even among the Logros—Guardians of the First Throne itself—Onrack knew of kin who had chosen that path. Or worse.” He rejects the idea, though, “far less haunted by his immortality than most T’lan Imass. There was always something else to see, after all.” As he walks on, he thinks, “This fragment of the long-fractured Tiste Edur warren was by far the largest he had come across, larger even than the one that surrounded Tremorlor, the Azath Odhanhouse. And this one had known a period of stability, sufficient for civilizations to arise . . . although those inhabitants had not been Tiste Edur.” He can sense Edur have passed through recently. Eventually he reaches Trull, chained to the wall. He looks at him, then begins to move on. Trull says he wants to bargain for his freedom and Onrack says he isn’t interested. Trull says he can tell Onrack of his enemies and when Onrack replies he never said he had any, Trull responds, “Oh, but you do. I should know. I was once one of them, and indeed, that is why you find me here, for I am your enemy no longer.” When Onrack wonders why he should trust a traitor to his own kind, Trull says, “To my own kind, I am not a traitor. That epithet belongs to the one who chained me here.” Trull piques Onrack’s curiosity when he says he is plagued by the need to be truthful and Onrack breaks Trull’s chains and drags him along the top of the wall. After a while, when Trull warns he’ll die soon, Onrack stops dragging him and agrees to help find food. Trull asks if Onrack can open a portal to get them out of the warren and Onrack says no. They exchange names, each labeling himself “clanless.” Onrack kills one of the catfish which sparks a birthing as bodies tear themselves free of the other catfish: “the beasts moved on squat, muscular legs, three-toed feet thickly padded and clawed. Their tails were short.” They attack and Onrack kills them all and brings back one for them to cook. Trull tells him “Our encounters with your kind . . . were few and far between. And then, only after your ritual. Prior to that, your people fled from us at first sight. Apart from those who traveled the oceans with the Thelomen Toblakai, that is. Those ones fought us. For centuries, before we drove them from the seas.” Onrack says “The Tiste Edur were in my world . . . just after the coming of the Tiste Andii. Once numerous . . . ” Trull informs him the Edur are “far fewer . . . We came here—to this place—from Mother Dark, whose children had banished us. We did not think they would pursue, but they did. And upon the shattering of this warren, we fled yet again—to your world . . . where we thrived [until our enemies found us]. The first of those were fanatical in their hatred. There were great wars—unwitnessed by anyone, fought as they were within darkness, in hidden places of shadow. In the end, we slew the last of those first Andii, but were broken ourselves . . . and retreated into remote places . . . Then more Andii came, only these seemed less interested. And we in turn had grown inward, no longer consumed with the hunger of expansion . . . We had forgotten it all . . . Until a short while ago. My people—the last bastion it seems of the Tiste Edur—knew almost nothing of our past . . . And what we knew was in fact false. If only we had remained ignorant.” Onrack looks at him and says, “Your people no longer look inward.” Trull replies that “there are your kind, Onrack, among the Tiste Edur. In league with our new purpose . . . A terrible purpose.” When Trull would continue, Onrack tells him not to, thinking to himself “Because your truth would burden me. Force me to find my kin . . . chain me to this world—to my world, once more. And I am not ready for that.” As the sky lightens, Trull says, “The suns return. Here in the Nascent, the ancient twin hearts of Kurald Emurlahn live on. There was no way of telling, for we did not rediscover this warren until after the Breach. The floodwaters must have brought chaos to the climate. And destroyed the civilization that existed here.” When Onrack asks if they were Edur, Trull replies, “No, more like your descendants, Onrack . . . They are as vermin, these humans of yours.” When Onrack denies humans are “his”, Trull wonders if he takes no pride at their “insipid success.” Onrack says “They are prone to mistakes . . . The Logros have killed them in their thousands when the need to reassert order made doing so necessary. With ever greater frequency they annihilate themselves, for success breeds contempt for those very qualities that purchased it . . . More than my kin, perhaps, the edge of my irritation with humankind remains jagged.” Trull tells him bitterly the Nascent “required cleansing . . . or so it was judged” and Onrack replies “your methods are more extreme than what the Logros would choose,” to which Trull says, “sometimes what is begun proves too powerful to contain.” They leave the wall and head for some hills, Onrack carrying Trull eventually as a storm arrives. Onrack notes “a strange regularity to the hills . . . There were seven in all, arrayed in what seemed a straight line, each of equally height though uniquely misshapen.” When they get nearer, they can see “The hills . . . were edifices, massive and hulking . . . Twenty or more man-lengths high. Dog-like beasts . . . the vast pits of their eyes faintly gleaming a deep, translucent amber.” Onrack asks what Trull senses and Trull answers “Nothing, but I know what they are meant to represent. As do you. It seems the inhabitants of this realm made t hem into their gods.” Trull tells Onrack there should be a gate beyond, then asks why Onrack is hesitating. Onrack tells him two of the statues are alive.
Amanda’s Reaction to Chapter Six:
In the extract written by Hedoranas, there is talk about “the island” and it certainly sounds mystical — I am filing that without any guidance from Bill. *grins* [Bill: Ah Grasshopper, you have grown….]
This return to home for Apsalar, back to the place where her story began, seems to be necessary so that she can start her new story. It’s a new beginning. I guess it also shows how much Apsalar has changed, and how much she can’t just be the fisherman’s daughter anymore, that she has a role to play still.
It’s remarkably sad that, after so little time back together, Apsalar’s father has died. Or has it been so little time? My sense of how much time has passed since the time we last saw Crokus and Apsalar is all messed up.
Erikson’s language evokes such powerful images: “She knelt with bowed head, face hidden beneath her long black hair that hung so appropriately like a shawl.”
And what gives with Hood coming to collect Rellock? This poor man has certainly been disturbed by the gods… Was it actually Hood, or someone else coming to claim him?
Heh, turns out Erikson knows exactly what his readers are thinking as they tackle the Malazan books: “Ascendancy was but one of the countless mysteries of the world, a world where uncertainty ruled all – god and mortal alike – and its rules were impenetrable.” This is exactly what I’ve been thinking on many occasion! Also, interested at the fact that “uncertainly ruled ALL” – that the gods really don’t know what they’re doing.
I love this, the way that Crokus questions the matter of life and ascendancy: “And could life not be called a mortal’s first lover? A lover whose embrace was then rejected in that fiery crucible of ascendancy?”
Hmmm, I feel almost as though we’ve missed a great big part of the story between Crokus and Apsalar. How does he know that she is going to ascend at some point? And is it possible that she can drag him along with her? This attraction – is it just the usual boy meets girl attraction, or something about the facet of Cotillion in Apsalar’s soul? “Did Apsalar want him to walk at her side on this path to ascendancy – if that was what it was? Was it Crokus she wanted, or simply…somebody, anybody?”
Crokus seems utterly despairing, when we meet him here, as he talks about the fact that he has lost his fear of death. I know he’s been through some desperate situations, but to lose all fear of death seems a poor way to exist. It seems as though he doesn’t much want to live anymore.
Ha! Why am I not surprised that Shadowthrone didn’t keep entirely to his side of the bargain – he is so tricksy… “…for an alley in Kan had been the place where Shadowthrone had sent them, not to the road above the village as he had promised.”
Am I right in that, up until that point, Crokus has never actually killed a man? Or am I entirely misremembering? He’s certainly lost that delicate innocence he had, when he mooned over Challice and had to learn history from his uncle.
This section is making me incredibly sad. Crokus’ reluctant adoption of the name Cutter — a personage who is separate from that innocent boy. A person who is able to kill. And then his thought that this is the best service he can perform for Apsalar as she moves towards ascendancy and her role in events — to be her companion and protector, to be Cutter of the Knives. I really am very sad. Poor Crokus.
And look at the chains reference here as well: “Now, she had Cutter. Cutter of the Knives, who dances in his chains as if they were weightless threads.”
And I’m struggling a little with Apsalar — her remoteness from him. The way she says: “What now?” when he has been struggling to come to terms with what he has become.
Why is the Warren of Shadow so dishevelled and old and abandoned? Is it because it has only recently been resurrected again? Or is it because that is the nature of Shadow?
Kalam thinks to himself that the realm is not to his liking, and I can see why. “Pillars, columns, tree stumps, platforms, staircases leading nowhere, and for every dozen there was one among them holding a prisoner. None of whom seemed capable of dying.”
For someone like Kalam, who has been part of the Bridgeburners, who has planned and schemed and fought, this retirement to the Warren of Shadow must be similar to dying! Away from all those he knows and given the odd task of teaching thirteen hundred children, who seemed determined to mimic his every move. “Well, at least they’re doing something. Not Kalam, oh no, not Kalam.”
What is this mini army being created for? “An army in the making for Shadowthrone. An alarming prospect, to say the least.”
I have missed Cotillion. I absolutely adore him as a character — his dialogue is some of the best that Erikson produces. Like, here:
“Liar,” Kalam said. “Minala has banished me. But you already know that, which is why you’ve come to find me.”
“I am the Patron of Assassins,” Cotillion said. “I do not mediate marital disputes.”
I do think that Kalam makes a fine point about assassins hardly being subservient people. They have no need to be. And it is amusing that Cotillion now, because of this, can’t find anyone reliable to do his bidding. I’m curious — what tasks are they that will take Cotillion out of commission for the near future? Is he planning to attach himself to a person again, like with Apsalar?
“A confluence to your own desires, I suspect.” Kalam has been thinking mostly about Quick Ben, hasn’t he? And it seems as though Cotillion might suspect that Quick Ben would know something about the enemy that is affecting the Warren of Shadow.
Hmm, does Cutter throw his lot in with Cotillion because that is the final step into his new name and personality? Or is it because that might bring him closer to Apsalar and her path to ascendancy? [Bill: I’d say “yes.”]
Cotillion admits to games and feints being played behind the scenes…. “There are layers of meaning behind every gesture, every gambit.”
Heh, these Hounds seem to be as pets — far less fearsome than they once were! Cutter decides he likes Blind (which sounds as though it puts him into a unique position).
And it sounds as though Cotillion’s task involves an island — the same island mentioned at the beginning of the chapter? What is this about it “getting farther by the moment”? [Bill: think of the name and what it implies.] Apsalar seems to know what Cotillion means by that, anyway….
The Nascent. Am I completely on the wrong track when I suggest that might be the fragment of Tiste Edur warren that was flooded, that had the Silanda in it? The mention of flooding, and the catfish, and the wreckage makes me think it might be. [Bill: Nope, that’s the track!]
Onrack is currently lost to his kin — this chapter just continues with the sad moments, doesn’t it? He’s a T’lan Imass and “Kurald Emurlahn, fragmented or otherwise, was not amenable to the T’lan Imass.” Does a warren fragment through little use? Or does something else have to occur to break up a warren?
Onrack, in just these few lines, seems a mite different to the other T’lan Imass we’ve already met. He, himself, reflects on the fact that he is less haunted by his immortality, and feels there is always something more to see. Curiosity killed the cat. And his answer to everything seems to be violence! “Most things he stumbled upon usually had to be killed. Occasionally in self-defence, but often simply due to an immediate and probably mutual loathing.” This seems to be an absolute echo of Karsa’s attitude. *grins*
After the crows of the previous chapter and now the continent-spanning wall — it’s just like reading A Song of Ice and Fire. *cheeky*
Oh! *comprehension* “This fragment of the long-fractured Tiste Edur warren was by far the largest he had come across, larger even than the one that surrounded Tremorlor, the Azath Odhanhouse.” There are more than just one fragment of the Tiste Edur warren! So the fragment containing the Silanda is just one of them.
There is something both comical and deadly about Omrack dragging Trull. I’m not really getting a handle on either of these characters right now. In fact, *braces* I found myself a little bored by this meeting between Trull and Omrack. I’m sure I’ll be told many of the ways in which I should be entertained, but I’m getting the usual disconnect when meeting new characters.
Also, I distrust new narrators so the information regarding the Tiste Edur and the Tiste Andii, I find to be unreliable at best.
Dog-like beasts — Hounds? Ay? Wolves? Bog-standard dogs? [Bill: You’re closer on “Hounds” though we’ll learn more.]
Another disjointed chapter as we catch up with everyone before the action pushes forward. I am looking forward to this novel all coming together, as the previous three have!
Bill’s Reaction to Chapter Six:
I like this line: “no place from the past survived unchanged,” mostly because I read it as “nobody survives the past unchanged.” And certainly that holds true for everyone in this series. Whether that’s the intent or not, well, I’m going with it.
I’m with you Amanda on that line about “uncertainty” working on two levels—one for Crokus on Ascendancy and one for the reader and the reading experience with this series. It’s some fair warning not to expect full answers.
The idea Crokus has, that ascendancy is a surrender or a turning away is a relatively profound thought I think. What cost immortality? We’ve wondered about this before with the long-lived characters such as Rake and Brood, etc., not to mention the entire T’lan. I’ve said many times now that compassion and empathy are a major focus of this series and one question has to be how does one hang onto to empathy and compassion throughout centuries and millennia of existence. Crokus knows this, as when he thinks “the land does its own dying . . . these are truths we would escape should we proceed down this path.” Some of our characters will struggle with just that question. One in particular is Cotillion—in fact, his struggle with this question is one of my favorite storylines of this series, one of my absolute favorite ones.
It’s a chilling thought by Crokus though, combined with his belief Apsalar is walking that path and with his comments that he is getting to know her less and less over time, that what lay in her heart was “otherworldly and not quite human.” Already he sees “indifference” in her—that can’t be a good sign. So as the two walk this path, we’ll have to see how or if each maintains his or her humanity. Maybe the “companion” Crokus considers—Cotillion and Kellanved, he for Apsalar—perhaps that is one answer, someone to remind you of what you once were, or someone you can gauge yourself against. Someone to help tether you to humanity and thus to compassion/empathy.
I like that Crokus is thinking all this on a beach—an area I’ve mentioned before that is where things come together or simultaneously where things separate. An in-between area, a boundary. And Crokus is in between—unsure of where to go, what direction to head in, as is Apsalar. Neither of them has been left unchanged by the past, but what they are becoming is yet unclear.
The simile of the fishing boat sails “like enormous shark fins” reminds us of death and also Karsa’s section.
So, the sails on Cutter and Apsalar’s boat, unlike the others, are magenta rather than white Nice. Go ahead, by the way, and Google the origin of magenta’s name. I’ll wait.
Yes, as Amanda says, big shock that Shadowthrone “tweaked” his agreement a bit, huh?
I’m not positive myself (and too up against deadlines to check) but I think you’re right, Amanda, that Crokus/Cutter hasn’t killed yet. Anyone? Anyone?
Chains: Murdering killers was still murder, the act like the closing of shackles between them all, joining a line of infinite length, one killer to the next, a procession from which there was no escape.” Think of Karsa’s vision/nightmare as well—the image of chains connecting him to deaths he has caused, either directly by killing them or putting them in the position to be killed. And then the line Amanda points out: “Cutter . . . who dances in his chains as if they were weightless threads.” Is this the second move (the first being “Cutter”) toward loss of humanity, to surrender? And how dark a line that: “Anyone could become a killer. Anyone at all.”
Chains to chains: the chains holding down creatures in Shadow. File that idea away—it will become important.
I love that list of “life skills” Kalam gives us. You hear that and you think: oh, cooking, basic finances, etc. And we get stealth, tracking, ambush, knife-work. Life skills or death skills? And, as Amanda asks, what is this martial training for? We’ll see.
There’s something humorous as well in the “zeal” with which the children take to such training. Kids can be terrors after all. But it’s also a bit scary and has the sense of true tragedy about it for so many reasons—what kind of childhood is this after all? And if they’re being prepared to fight, the seemingly inevitable implication is that some at least will die. And as Kalam says, there’s also something “chilling” in the pride Minala takes in how well they learn their lessons—not exactly the maternal focus one thinks of. But what must underlie that pride, what must she think as she watches them train knowing training won’t make them invincible through whatever it is they expect to face.
As I’ve said, I’m with you, Amanda, on Cotillion as one of my favorite characters. That dry humor. The self-deprecation. The terseness. The smiles. And that struggle, as I’ve said, to hold on to compassion.
I like how Kalam separates the Assassin into Cotillion and Dancer—a nice echo of the Crokus/Cutter from earlier, and of the parallel between Crokus/Apsalar and Dancer/Kellanved.
Kalam makes a good point about assassins not being the best servants: by their nature, they are independent actors, loners. To perform their tasks, they mostly need to be left alone to improvise the best methods. And their job itself gives them a built-in sense of superiority one would think, almost a sense of “godhood” in that they can decide who lives and who dies. Independent operators then—and we’ve got a lot of them: Kalam, Cutter, Apsalar, Rallick, Vorcan. That’s a lot of folks that have the potential to go off the reservation or tip over the gameboard.
On a basic plot level, lots of nice teases in this brief bit of dialogue as well: What is Cotillion going to be busy with? What tasks need be done? What is Kalam’s task? Who or what is challenging Shadowthrone and Cotillion’s hold on their realm? Why does Cotillion hesitate in calling Shadow “my” realm? What do the Hounds sense?
Anybody else laugh at the incongruity of distinguishing a “god” (or akin to a god) from another because one is “shorter”? I just find that funny.
Cotillion on Shadowthrone: “perhaps in his affectations he exaggerates certain traits” Something to keep in mind with all the giggling, non sequiturs etc.
Little reminder that Rallick and Vorcan are still alive.
Certainly is better for an assassin to underestimate his/her skills than to overestimate them….
More reasons to like Cotillion—and maybe a lesson learned from his conversation with Kalam—he “asks.” He doesn’t take advantage of Cutter’s assumption that he has to do what his patron says. He puts himself on a level with a mortal: “mutual exchanges.” He regrets his treatment of Apsalar. He has “many regrets.” And he doesn’t simply accept that he made errors/caused harm, he seeks to redress them: “regrets are as nothing. The value lies in how they are answered.” (By the way, recall Karsa also learns something of regret).
There is something funny about Cotillion saying “I will not explain myself any further” as if he had explained himself at all. I mean, really? I did what I did cuz I had too, or maybe it was a diversion or feint, or maybe we wanted your city to stay free but why I’m not telling you. And oh, by the way, there are layers and layers behind what I did. That’s an explanation? Really?
Is Cotillion’s “I am not surprised” mutter when Cutter says he didn’t like Oponn’s attention a statement about his dislike of Oponn themselves, or a statement about gods and mortals in general or both? Either way, I like it. And that it was “muttered.” A small word choice but one that does a nice job of carrying character and tone.
Well, as Chekhov said, if you’re going to put a man-high Hound on stage in act one, ya better use it before the end of the play (that was Chekhov, right?). Cue some dire situation Cutter will face and thus have to call on Blind in three… two….
So on top of the what is Cotillion going to do and what is Kalam supposed to do, we now have, what are Cutter and Apsalar tasked to do? Apsalar seems to have some idea, which makes sense since they were tasked by Cotillion and she has his memories and some leftover imprint of him within her.
The catfish becoming something else, a metamorphosis, is a nice metaphor in itself coming after these scene. Is Crokus going to fully metamorphose into Cutter? What about Onrack or Trull—will they change into something else?
So we get a clear answer about this flooded realm, where Karsa and Torvald boarded the Silanda and later Kulp and the others. It’s a fragment of the shattered Shadow warren. How it shattered remains a mystery at this point. As far as your question, Amanda, about something breaking up a warren, remember we know Icarium wounded one once in an attempt to free his father Gothos from an Azath House. And yes, there are multiple fragments: Twist mentions one in MoI as he speaks to Paran about the Edur and Barghast: “Children of the Shattered Warren. A fragment had been discovered in the vast forest of the Moranth that would become our new homeland. Kurald Emurlahn, the true face of Shadow.”
Little bit of humor there—”the rotted skin of an enkar’al, pebbled and colourless. It was a relatively recent acquisition, less than a thousand years old.” Not to mention the whole loathing on first sight stuff. And it’s a good reminder of the existence of these creatures (we saw them in DG) as one will play a role down the road.
And more humor in the way Onrack defies expectations. “Slate grey eyes stared up, unblinking, at the T’lan Imass.” And of course, we’re waiting for Onrack to say something like “who chained you here” or whatever. But instead we get “he stepped over the man and continued on.” And their dialogue is also some funny stuff:
“I weep for you.”
“I see no tears.”
“In my heart.”
Or as he’s being dragged along “I would rail at the indignity of this . . . ” And of course, Onrack’s “hat.”
Onrack’s curiosity, his being less bothered by immortality than his fellows, and his love of the idea that “there is always something new to see” gives us some clues as to his character and will also dovetail with what we learn about his past.
By the way—two more characters walking a boundary, a “between” place.
More deep history. In Trull’s version we get:
- Mother Dark’s children—the Andii—banished the Tiste Edur.
- The Andii chased them to Kurald Emurlahn.
- Kurald Emurlahn shattered (whether connected to the Andii pursuit he does not say).
- The Tiste Edur fled to the Malazan world.
- Andii found them again and were “fanatical in their hatred.” The two fought wars “within darkness, in hidden places of shadow,” until the Edur killed all the first Andii, though the effort broke the Edur as well.
- The Edur fled into remote places.
- More Andii came and didn’t seem to care much about the Edur, while the Edur also had changed, “grown inward . . . no longer consumed with the hunger of expansion.”
Of course, as Amanda points out, it’s always good to be skeptical of a single viewpoint’s history. And as Trull himself says, the Edur version of history (one different than what he relates to Onrack) had its issues with accuracy.
Some more revelations:
- The Edur are now looking to expand.
- They have a “terrible purpose” (how’s that for suspense tease).
- They have renegade T’lan Imass helping them.
We’ve seen renegade T’lan Imass. We know they’re working with the Crippled God. Does this connect the Edur and Crippled God and the “terrible purpose”?
More chains (beyond Trull’s literal ones): Onrack doesn’t want to hear more because Trull’s “truth would chain me to this world—to my world—once more.”
Onrack mentions the Logros killing humans “in their thousands when the need to reassert order made doing so necessary.” We know of at least two instances of Imass killing large numbers of humans: The First Empire to stop the Soletaken ritual debacle and the massacre at Aren.
Hard to argue with his view of humanity: “With ever greater frequency [one could add “efficiency”] they annihilate themselves.”
Hmm, why is Onrack bothered by humanity more than most of his kin? Or is just that he retains the ability to feel so intensely anything more than his kin?
Another one of those organ-thumping endings. Da duh da!
Lot’s of plot teases in this chapter: Cotillion’s tasks, Kalam’s task, Cutter’s task, what the child army is training for, what’s going on with these huge statues, what is the Edur’s “terrible purpose”, how do the renegade Imass and Crippled God connect with it, will Cutter and Apsalar ascend, will Onrack and Trull take their comedy team on the road….
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.
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.