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 One of Midnight Tides by Steven Erikson (MT).
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.
A narrator introduces a tale of “when giants knelt down and became mountains. When they fell scattered on the land like the ballast stone of she sky.” One giant sees the sea for the first time, witnesses its endless motion and in and out tides. He slept and the tides drowned him, minerals seeping into his flesh, water and wind eroding him over time, hiding his shape in the mountain unless one looks in darkness or “askance.” The narrator says this gift of Father Shadow “stands tallest,” to “look away to see.” Trust the gift, the narrator says, and “you will be led into Shadow.”
Trull Sengar runs urgently through the forest to tell his tribe that the Letherii, “the white-skinned peoples from the south,” have come to harvest the Edur seal hunting beds, breaking old agreements. Trull assumes these are rogue Letherii, especially coming so soon before the Great Meeting between Edur and Letherii leaders, but still worries about the impact on peace, especially now that the Edur just ended war amongst themselves, leaving Hannan Mosak, Warlock King of the Hiroth tribe as Edur overlord. In the village he meets his younger brother Binidas and tells him the news, then meets his youngest brother Rhulad (trying to impress Mayen, their older brother Fear’s betrothed). Rhulad joins him and Trull finds his father Tomad to tell him the news. Tomad sends Rhulad to tell Hannan, then tells Trull that the Warlock King has asked that Trull and his brothers be sent on a mission for him.
Trull, walking on the beach, sees a white crow, a sign of evil. He wonders if the Letherii are harvesting to weaken the Edur before the Great Meeting, as the Edur need those seals to head off famine. He assumes the Letherii will argue as always their need for expansion and point to the rewards gained by other tribes that have sworn allegiance to Lether. Fear joins him and tells him Hannan is guided by visions. Trull thinks of how the Dark Times came when the Edur were sundered, Father Shadow disappeared, the Kurald Emurlahn warren was lost (though not the magic), and the warren’s fragments ruled by false gods and kings. Trull thinks Hannan has greater ambition than simply ruling the Edur tribes. Fear notes Trull would rather not fight, though he isn’t questioning his courage (Rhulad appears to however). He recalls when the Edur were masters of the Hounds and of the warren, before being betrayed by the kin of Scabandari Bloodeye and then the Andii. Fear warns Trull others among the Edur may think as Rhulad and asks Trull to stop disdaining Rhulad.
Udinaas recalls his past, how thirteen years ago he was an indentured sailor on a Letherii whaler when the Hiroth had destroyed the ship with shadow wraiths and enslaved the crew. Udinaas finds his life as slave to the Sengar household little different from Letherii indenture. He thinks of how the Letherii value gold and possession above all else—everything is a commodity to be bought and sold. He thinks the Letherii are beginning a great game with the Edur as they have against the other tribes, but the Letherii do not know the Edur are different. He sees the white crow and casts a prayer to “Knuckles,” and the Errant, then runs.
At the council, Trull notes one of the most intimidating aspects of Hannan—his shadow, which stands behind him “huge, hulking . . . deadly swords gripped in both gauntleted hands.” Another is Hannan’s “extra-ordinary mastery of those fragments of Kurald Emurlahn from which power could be drawn.” Trull recalls how Hannan walked unseen into the camp of the largest Edur tribe and the next day the tribe’s leader had surrendered (rumors say the leader no longer had a shadow). Trull tells them what he saw and that he killed a Letherii. Hannan says the Letherii are trying to provoke an Edur attack on the poachers, but they will kill them anyway, though in unexpected fashion, a “full unveiling” by his K’risnan Cadre—his mages, the firstborn sons of the chiefs he conquered. Trull wonders at this, as the art and power have been lost, the last full unveiling done by Scabandari (Father Shadow), “and that sundering had not healed.” He wonders if the Warlock King has found a new, larger Emurlahn fragment.
Feather Witch, Mayen’s slave, is casting the tiles in front of a hundred slaves when Udinaas enters the barn to tell them of the white crow omen. He is in love with Feather Witch, though he knows it is hopeless as he is an Indebted and she will wed a better-born slave whose family held title in Letheras. Feather Witch starts speaking of the rise of the Holds. She interrupts the casting to say something circles above though she cannot see it. Wounds appear on her shoulders and she is lifted into the air. Udinaas climbs to the loft then leaps, landing on the huge scaled body holding her. The invisible winged creature bites his shoulder as he thinks “A Wyval, spawn of Eleint.” He stabs it until it drops Feather Witch. Talons dig into his chest and teeth into his neck. He blacks out.
Hannan holds back the Sengar family after the council. He tells them of a vision of the northern land where a spire of ice rose and now holds a gift for the Warlock King. Their task is to retrieve it. He tells them they can take two others (he saw six in his vision) and that no one must touch it at all; they must wrap in in hides to take it. He adds that the unification of the six tribes was merely the first step toward a larger goal. They are interrupted by news of the barn events.
Udinaas feels shadow wraiths gathering around his soul, hungry but holding back. They scatter at the approach of Feather Witch. She asks what she should do about his love and he says nothing; he knows reality. She tells him he was dying, but Uruth, Trull’s mother, drove away the Wyval with Kurald Emurlahn and is now trying to heal both her and him, though Feather Witch is resisting for now because Uruth’s power is “stained,” as is all the Edur’s though they see it not. She says they will go back now, but they should say nothing of this conversation. As he returns, he hears his heartbeat, and then a second beating in time (not Feather Witch’s) and he is terrified by it.
Udinaas and Feather Witch approach the Sengar family and Hannan. Hannan says he’ll bean the tile castings but Uruth says they have value. Hannan notes the Wyval blood and asks if Udinaas is “infected.” Uruth says she cannot tell and Hannan orders a close watch on him. Hannan asks if Uruth could sense the power of Feather Witch and Uruth says she’s either very weak or strong enough to hide her strength from Uruth, an idea they dismiss as impossible. Hannan leaves and Trull sees the King’s shadow look back before exiting.
Amanda’s Reaction to Chapter One:
Who is the soul within the spear of ice? Ice, of course, indicates Jaghut. Is this reference to the freezing in place and time that Gothos did? Might that soul be Silchas Ruin?
Okay, so now I start to feel the other language of Midnight Tides. Year of the Late Frost. One year before the Letherii Seventh Closure. The Ascension of the Empty Hold. All of these are entirely unknown.
I find “swish” to be an entertainingly clumsy word used by Erikson. His choice of vocabulary is usually superlative, fitting exactly the image he wishes to portray. “Swish” just doesn’t cut it!
I love the dark fairytale imagery of this: “…when giants knelt down and became mountains…” It sounds like something from Grimm!
Hmm, I am sensing a whole different tone in the language of this novel, based on the start of this first chapter. Admittedly it isn’t a lot to base it on, but I will be interested to see if it continues: “Only by day did he elect to open them, for he reasoned in this manner: night defies vision and so, if little can be seen, what value seeking to pierce the gloom?”
“Witness.” A word we’ve heard before. I wonder if it is used intentionally?
I wonder how many of you live by the sea and can appreciate the idea of being utterly fascinated by watching it. I live very close to the sea and understand that sentiment intimately.
Father Shadow? Someone drowning? Mael’s hand in this?
Again, absolutely stunning imagery from Erikson, as he describes this silent frozen night where the raptor hunts. And we meet Trull Sengar! I am interested in seeing whether his story will make me warm to him. Not only that, but a young Trull.
Another quick mention of Father Shadow. I feel I should know who this is.
Huh. It is interesting to get this first picture of the Tiste Edur society. They battle each other in war that has rules of engagement and yields something like points, in the form of status marks, but their war with the Letherii is ungoverned. It seems as though the Tiste Edur have a rather exhausting situation. “Of course, battles against the five other tribes of the Edur were strictly bound in rules and prohibitions, and even vast, protracted battles had yielded only a handful of actual deaths.”
Intriguing that we learn immediately that Trull is a Tiste Edur who questions the validity of his life, but would not shout about it to others. What is a shame, as well, is that Trull remembers a more idyllic life, when war was not so prevalent and hunger was not part of his life.
I have to say, these Tiste Edur are a curious lot. How did they move from the agricultural, peace-loving race, who are possibly the most traditional fantasy race Erikson has tackled, to the feral warlike people we’ve seen?
If the Letherii have been enslaved by the Tiste Edur, then I do sort of understand the rebellious nature of their relationship right now!
I like the fact that Erikson is emphasising just how important and all-pervasive Kurald Emurlahn is within the society of the Tiste Edur—another huge difference in what we’ve seen previously.
I am loving all the complex relationships—the immediate tensions evident between Trull and his brothers, the possible problems caused by Fear’s betrothed and the others’ attitude to her.
Father Shadow’s disappearance—a leader of the Tiste Edur. Am I being terribly slow in finally making the connection to our friend Scabandari Bloodeye?
“Indurative”—once again Erikson challenges me to improve my language and discover what new words mean. Hands up people who knew this without recourse to a dictionary?
A white crow? How very sinister….
Mayen? I don’t like her. I really don’t. That flashing of her ankles at a man who isn’t her betrothed? Not cool.
I really like the way that we’re shown Udinaas’ reaction to the white crow, and the way that it is both similar and different to Trull’s reaction. Both consider it to be a bad omen, which ably demonstrates that there is little real difference between the Tiste Edur and the Letherii, but Udinaas is truly shaken by seeing it, which emphasises what differences there are.
Funny, but, as an accountant, I see benefits in a life that is lived according to gold! However, it seems to me that the grasping nature of the Letherii is not supposed to be a pleasant one, and we aren’t meant to warm to them. Having said that, the fact that the Tiste Edur enslave them (even to a decent standard of living) means that we really shouldn’t be warming to the Tiste Edur (especially as well noting the way we’ve seen them behave in previous books, and considering their misrepresentation of the Tiste Andii “betrayal.”) Seems like this will be an odd book, with no clear race to cheer for.
The Tiste Edur have incredibly delineated roles in society, don’t they? I find it interesting to see that wedded and widowed women seem to have a lesser status than those who are maidens or betrothed. Usually it would be the other way round.
A shadow wraith bodyguard! How cool! And I shudder at the idea that Hannan Mosag might have stolen Hanradi’s shadow. There is something particularly awful about shadow stealing. I find myself uncomfortable whenever it comes up in fantasy novels. That might just be me, however!
I love these lines: “Deep-etched frowns. Undisguised confusion. Hannan Mosag had led them into the unfamiliar territory of complexity.” It makes me giggle, the idea that these warriors shouting for vengeance have had another way suggested to them and simply can’t cope with the idea of maybe, y’know, not fighting.
A full unveiling of Kurald Emurlahn… We’ve seen the Tiste Andii produce a full unveiling of Galain. I can see why Trull would shiver at the idea. And the last unveiling of Kurald Emurlahn was done by Scabandari Bloodeye? Well, there is another reason to shiver.
I can’t say much about the reading of the Holds, except that I really enjoy all of these type things within Erikson’s work—like the Deck of Dragons as well. I love the fact that it can be used for major foreshadowing and that you have to recall tiny snippets from each reading to take forward into further novels. And, I have to say, that shadowy Wyval that snatches Feather Witch is terribly creepy—we really are seeing the worst side of Shadow in this novel so far (up until now, it’s been most clearly represented by Cotillion and we can all agree that he is a fine character with many good qualities).
Ahh, Feather Witch now gives an indication that the nature of Kurald Emurlahn has changed, and is tainted (I agree with Bill, that word with regards to magic only reminds me of Mr Jordan’s work!) That surely won’t make a full unveiling the most sensible thing to do?
This was an interesting first chapter, giving a lot of background to the two races which are looking to be the main part of Midnight Tides. We’ve met a great deal of characters as well, but all of it has been done incredibly smoothly by Erikson. No info-dumps, just a neat presentation of the start of this story. Onwards!
Bill’s Reaction to Chapter One:
Clearly the spear of ice from the intro to Chapter One is a reference to Hannan’s vision which we see in a few pages (and which we’ll really see later on). But the end line, “He who grasps that spear will know death. Again and again, he shall know death”—might call up an earlier reference, one of our “files” from Memories of Ice, when Paran stops off at the Throne of Shadow:
The Edur have sworn to destroy Mother Dark. You must warn him! Poisoned souls, led by the one who has been slain a hundred times, oh, ware this new Emperor of the Edur, this Tyrant of Pain, this Deliverer of Midnight Tides! [The speakers are shadows around the Throne]
“Here, then, is the tale” is a reminder I’m assuming that we ended our previous book with Trull about to tell his story.
A lot of ideas/images in this wonderful fairy-tale like opening:
- Looking aslant to “truly” see.
- The way time wears down all eventually.
- The cycle of the tide.
- The sea (remember who the god is).
- The dangers of obsession (“A fascination that became a singular obsession through the course of that fated day”).
- The danger of ignorance (of, say, high tide) or a the danger perhaps of lacking curiosity or being arrogantly complacent (“night defies vision and so, if little can be seen, what value seeking to pierce the gloom?”)
That’s a pretty pointed opening to introduce young (or at least, younger) Trull. Who is the predator (owl) and who the prey (mouse)? And are the roles static?
You probably know to file away names as they come: in this case, the daughters of Father Shadow (whom we learn later is Scabandari Bloodeye): Sheltatha Lore (aka Daughter Dusk, most cherished of the Three Daughters), and Sukul Ankahdu (aka Daughter of Deceit, Dapple)
An easy detail to overlook amidst so much information (the Letherii poaching, Trull’s fear that any new treaty is doomed and war is likely, the just-ended Edur civil war), but note that the war amongst the Edur does not typically end in death: that of Trull’s twenty-one acknowledgements of “coup,” only seven represent actual killings; and that “even vast, protracted battles had yielded only a handful of actual deaths.”
An early foreshadowing (and an early marking of how Trull will eventually change) when Trull thinks that he will keep his thoughts “decrying the killing to come” to himself rather than voice them aloud. What Trull will and will not say out loud and to whom will be a major plot point throughout his storyline.
I really like how Erikson gives us a capsule view of the Edur as Trull jogs past them, almost like a cinematic informative pan of background scenery that tells you so much. Add up the details that literally zip by and you get a surprisingly full sense of the Edur cultures:
- gendered division of labor
- hunting/lumber parties
- sea harvesting
- palisade around the village
- food storage buildings
- craft buildings: weavers, potters, carvers, scribes (literate), etc.
- shrines to Father Shadow and Sheltatha Lore
- shadow wraiths
- a chief building that is both temple and palace (theocracy)
- raiding longboats
- the village separated into shops/residential/aristocracy (linked to Hannan by blood)
- shadow and “gloom” everywhere
- lots of sorcery
- the conservative nature of the Edur in how they keep the name “village” rather than “city”: “A village it had been at birth, thus a village it would always be, no matter that almost twenty thousand Edur and thrice that number of Letherii now resided within it.”
I’m also not so sure a “shroud” is all that optimistic a word to use when describing the Avenue of the Warlock.
Along with this shorthand version of ethnography, we also get some quick capsule intros to his two brothers. Fear we know is courageous, a great fighter, a stern taskmaster, soon to be married to Mayen. Binidas is also courageous and a skilled fighter, but a bit odd and somewhat a loner, preferring to be off by himself in the wild. Rhulad is young, prideful, a show-off, and is a bit too interested in impressing Mayen for Trull’s liking.
Trull’s entry into his home shows us a bit more about the Edur, including that they have lost some arts/skills; they are a somewhat diminished people in some ways.
I have no idea if it has any connection at all, but the family swords in the trees reminds me of the Norse myth/Wagner tale with Sigmund pulling out the sword that Odin had stuck into a tree.
I like the little cultural detail of body language—Trull’s hand placed on the sword pommel means something very specific. It also tells us something about Tomad, if not the Edur, that despite what that body language means (urgent danger), he calmly puts away the game pieces.
More predator prey in the white crow and the mussel.
We see Trull’s insight as he worries that Hannan has more in mind than simply unifying the Edur, a suspicion Hannan himself confirms by the end of the chapter.
We also see how Trull is already being presented as at odds with his people (remember his Shorning to come): his father, Rhulad, Fear, those who might think as Rhulad does about Trull’s lack of eagerness to fight. We know where he ends up; in these early pages we can see how that might not come as a big surprise.
So, if one takes the prologue as actuality, presented as it is in third person omniscient, we can see the Edur seem to have a basic error in their belief system—thinking as they do that the Edur were betrayed by the Andii.
While the Edur culture is presented via background detail, our introduction to Letherii culture is much more direct, coming via the interior monologue of Udinaas, who sees it as a culture predicated on ownership, on buying and selling, on debt: “debt bound the entire kingdom, defining every relationship, the motivation casting the shadow of every act, every decision.” Considering what’s going on in our own world now, this might spark some interesting discussion as we see this in action.
Interesting that both an Edur and a Letherii would see a white crow as an ill omen. More on that to come. I will say we’ve seen a white flying creature already.
And note that prayer to the Errant. Talk about a big player….
I absolutely love that image/concept of Hannan’s shadow. Once again, something I would love to see in CGI on the big screen.
One has to wonder if the K’risnan are in any way a metaphor for what Hannan has in store for the Edur: taken by force, robbed of the own identities, bound to be loyal. One would think they, perhaps even more than the shadow, might give some concern.
We can see in his response that Hannan is no brute chieftain. He knows the raiders are a planned provocation and has in mind his own response. Crafty. Visions. The shadow. And seemingly a power of Shadow that none have seen amongst the Edur in literally ages. Certainly a mystery, this king.
The casting of tiles and the rise of the Holds. Another file moment, this one from Deadhouse Gates:
“Deck of Dragons and its houses are predated by Holds. Another word to file away” or to go directly to the source [Chapter 11]: “If it is indeed a Deck, it’s an Elder version. Not Houses but Holds, the forces more elemental, more raw and primitive.”
Or another file moment, this from Memories of Ice:
“Before the Houses, there were Holds. Before Holds, there was wandering.”
I’m going to give a summary/quoting here of Feather Witch’s reading with little discussion as it offers up some ripe commentary potential as well as some of it perhaps needing to be wary of spoilers. But have at it in the comments if you want! We should also recall point of view here—this is not necessarily “truth”—it is a belief system after all.
We can see the “elemental” aspect as we begin with Fire. Then to Dolmen, “aimless in the void.” Then we get our mysterious Errant, “bearer of its own unknowable laws.” Note how he “forges the Holds,” similar perhaps to K’rul forming the warrens? The Holds listed are:
- The Empty Hold (the “final” hold)
And then into these “emerge the remaining Fulcra”:
- Axe (we have had a focus on axes in the last book)
- Knuckles (one of the two Udinaas offered a prayer to)
- The Pack
- White Crow (ahh, thus the consternation)
The Empty Hold is described as:
- “heart of Letherii worship”
- “Home to the Throne that knew no King”
- “home to the Wanderer Knight”
- “To the Mistress who waited still, alone in her bed of dreams”
- “To the Watcher, who witnessed all”
- “And the Walker, who patrolled borders not even he could see”
- “To the Saviour, whose outstretched hand was never grasped”
- “to the Betrayer, who loving embrace destroyed all it touched”
Feather Witch stands upon Dolmen and sees life struggling in “eternal wars.”
Sees Blade and Knuckles.
“We are among the Beasts. I can see the Bone Perch . . . I see the Elder, still faceless, still blind. And Crone, who measures the cost in the scrawling passage of behemoths. Seer, who speaks to the indifferent. I see Shaman, seeking truths among the undead. And Hunter, who lives in the moment and thinks nothing of the consequences of slaughter. And Tracker, who sees the signs of the unknown, and walks the endless paths of tragedy . . . There is no one upon Bone Perch. Chaos hones every weapon, and the killing goes on and on. And from the maelstrom powerful creatures arise, and the slaying reaches beyond measure. Such powers must be answered. The errant returns, and cast the seed into blood-soaked earth. Thus rises the Hold of the Azath. Deadly shelter for the tyrants . . . And so balance is achieved . . .
But the tread of time is itself a prison. We hare shackled with progression. And so the Errant comes once more, and the Ice Hold rises, with its attendant servants who journey through the realms to war against time. Walker, Huntress, Shaper, Bearer, Child, and Seed. And upon the Throne of Ice sits Death, cowled and frostrimmed . . . to shatter the anxious shackles of mortal life. It is a gift, but a cold one. [Lots of hints in this.]
Then to achieve balance once more is born the Eleint, and chaos is given flesh . . .Ruled by the Queen, who must be slain again and again by every child she bears. And her consort, who loves none but himself. Then Liege, servant and guardian and doomed to eternal failure. Knight—the very sword of chaos itself . . . and Gate, that which is the Breath. Wyval, spawn of the dragons, and the Lady, the Sister, Blood-drinker and Path-shaper. The Fell Dragons.
The King’s vision obviously has been foreshadowed by the opening to the chapter and it’s pretty straightforward here as a mission. What I just want to point to is the phrasing “something dark waited in its heart.” Just a tad ominous.
Anybody taking bets on no one touching that sword? Anyone?
Speaking of foreshadowing—just what is the taint (shades of Jordan!) that Feather Witch senses in the Edur magic?
And I’m not sure one can call it foreshadowing when it seems so clear: two heartbeats followed by Hannan asking if the wyval has “infected” Udinaas.
For all of Hannan’s power, note he is fooled by Feather Witch.
Who is the King’s shadow looking at?
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.