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 Seventeen 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.
Tehol hears Bugg fall into the canal, which happened Bugg says because he thought he heard someone whisper his name. Bugg says Shurq has disappeared and Tehol tells him she’s planning to breaks into the Tolls. Bugg informs Tehol he’s succeeded in shoring up the Fifth Wing foundations and says it’s “chilly in those tunnels now.” Tehol notes Bugg’s surprising amount of scars and lets Bugg know he is aware of his roles as “occasional priest, healer, the Waiting Man, consorter with demons.”
Tehol expounds on inequity, value, and worth as they walk. They end in an area of tribal refuges and mixed-bloods, with a few indebted Letherii mixed in. Bugg argues they are broken and they discuss paternalism even as they worry the refugees will be press-ganged into the war. Tehol says step one is getting them a leader, ideally a reluctant one; i.e. Bugg. Bugg says not a great idea, he’s a bit busy but he accepts, so long as no one worships him.
Brys and the Ceda meet and discuss the fall of Trate and the upcoming battle at High Fort, which the Ceda says he will not take part in; he must “conserve his power until the appropriate time.” The Ceda discusses the Letherii denial of death. The lack of a Hold of Death (he says the Cedance is incomplete), and the effect such an absence has, arguing there must have been one once. Brys lets slip that Kettle is undead and the Ceda immediately says they have to go.
Kettle and Shurq discuss the dead who are gathering just outside the Azath walls and Shurq wants Kettle to ask them to join her assault of the Tolls. They note that the ghosts are becoming more substantial in the past week and Shurq says she knows why, wondering if Kettle realizes she is coming back to life. Kettle says the ghosts have agreed to go with Shurq, who tells Kettle the reason the ghosts’ power growing is the death of the Azath.
Kettle thinks it’s been getting harder for her to talk to/hear the ghosts and she is getting thirsty which she never had before. Brys and the Ceda arrive, who tells Kettle she was the Zath’s guardian and also that she is no longer dead. She tells him her friend says the heart inside won’t fully wake up, which is why the Nameless Ones took her body, though her friend will destroy her if necessary. The Ceda says the Azath House has become the Hold of Death. She shows him a flagstone with “carvings” on it and says it is for the Cedance—a tile. The Ceda surmises the Nameless Ones had known the Azath would die and so acted to deal with those who might escape, and that the Hold of Death manifesting there might have nothing to do with them. He adds Kettle isn’t the guardian of the Azath anymore; she’s just waiting to deal with the escapees. He asks if her friend will emerge in time and she doesn’t know. She tells them of a “pretty man” who watches her a lot but spoke to her once to tell her of the Hold of Death and said she shouldn’t “give her heart away,” adding he never does. He also told her the Hold of Death didn’t need a guardian because its throne is occupied. Brys and the Ceda leave and Kettle joins Silchas in the aftermath of the battle with the K’Chain. She sees Wyval seeking their “master” and Silchas says they’ll wait a long time and still are. He explains that the Jaghut’s ice that will soon come is what cut off the dead from journeying, kept them to “linger,” and though he wonders if that was the intent, believes none, not even the Elder God he thinks “meddled” could have predicted that. She tells him the Azath is now the Hold of Death and he says that must be because the Jaghut sorcery is dying. She informs him of the war and he says the Edur will try to kill him, fearing he’ll try and do the same to them, but he says he will not. He points to the battle and wonders where all the spirits of the dead have gone.
Shurq enters the Tolls with the ghosts, one of whom memorizes the ledgers.
Kuru Qan recaps events and thinks the Letherii have misread their own prophecy.
Tehol and Rucket meet and head to supper.
Shand, Rissarh, and Hejun are at the restaurant when Tehol, Rucket, and Bugg enter. A bar brawl breaks out and Bugg and Tehol leave.
Amanda’s Reaction to Chapter Seventeen:
So how did the rat’s tail cause that particular accident? That little tale has the cadence and style of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales! (In my less-than-scholarly mind!)
I can now imagine exactly those three guards of Tehol’s—sort of like the identical suited henchmen that a mob boss would have.
Oh, the two-headed bug now has a name—Ezgara. And isn’t that the name of the King? It makes me smile lots, coming back to Tehol and Bugg again.
So someone whispered Bugg’s name, did they? I guess he knows he’s Mael, right? Or is he currently just a very very old and wise man who has memories of things occurring before, but is not actually Mael because he’s not being worshipped? That same chicken/egg conundrum we discussed from the previous chapter.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many scars on one person”—what has caused Bugg’s scars?
Tehol is so astonishingly sharp—and we tend to be fooled, I think, by the way in which he chats away about inconsequentials. Here he lets Bugg know that he is aware of the manservant’s extra-curricular activities, which I think Bugg felt were secret: “You are a man of many mysteries, Bugg. Occasional priest, healer, the Waiting Man, consorter with demons and worse. Were I not so self-centered, I’d be intrigued.”
Now how true is this! “…the assumption is the foundation stone of Letherii society, perhaps all societies the world over. The notion of inequity, my friends. For from inequity derives the concept of value.”
And this statement has echoes of the various situations encountered in Africa, in my mind: “We’re a generation or more too late. They’ve not old skills to fall back on, and as a community this one is intrinsically flawed. It breeds violence and neglect and little else.” Or, I guess, any society/country that is neglected after something like war or slavery; any refugees who are taken in by a different country. This statement feels like that.
So Tehol intends on using those who would be torn apart by war—removing them in order to save them from mass press-ganging into the army. And he gives them Bugg as reluctant leader, who says (and, boy did I chortle at this one!) “As long as no one worships me […] I don’t like being worshipped.”
“There is no Hold of Death.” Not something I had considered when the Holds were mentioned, but now seems a gaping absence considering the presence of Hood on the Malazan continent. But…surely Death doesn’t need a specific Hold? Death just…is. But then I guess it isn’t, if you think about Shurq and Kettle. As Brys wonders, is the lack of a Hold of Death the reason behind so many walking dead in Letheras? And maybe the reason behind the wraiths as well?
Kettle is coming back to life! How and why? And is this the reason why y’all were remarking on Ceda not going to see her immediately? Would Ceda have kept her undead?
Ooh, and now the Hold of Death is materialising. Kettle hands a new tile to Ceda, and knows about the Hold because of a pretty stranger who has both boyfriends and girlfriends. The only person we’ve already who would fit this seems to be Turudal Brizad, the Queen’s Consort, but I don’t know if I’m barking up the wrong tree there. And we already know about the thawing of the ice that froze the warrens and the flow of the dead by hearing about the Crimson Guard being able to use Kurald Galain in the last chapter!
What a terrifically funny scene, as Shurq floods the Tolls Repository with spirits. I love the spirit who starts complaining about what they’ve done with the place. *grins*
Huh! Someone could have just directed me to this quote to cover what happens in Midnight Tides. It is a fairly accurate precis of the novel to date though: “The Azath dies, a Hold of Death comes into being. A Nameless One appears and somehow possesses the corpse of a child, then fashions an alliance with a denizen of a barrow. A usurper proclaims himself emperor of the Tiste Edur, and now leads an invasion. Among his allies, a demon from the sea, one of sufficient power to destroy two of my best mages. And now, if other rumours are true, it may be the emperor is himself a man of many lives…”
Well, if Tehol and Bugg are a joy to read, then adding Rucket is just heaping joy upon joy.
A short but sweet chapter! Onwards!
Bill’s Reaction to Chapter Seventeen:
Note how many unfamiliar languages Bugg (or can we now say “Bugg”?) swears in.
Note as well that odd focus of the conversation on how “chilly” it is below the Fifth Wing. Remember when we’ve seen Bugg deal with cold before and you’ve got a good reason for the strange cold now in the tunnels.
I also like that reminder of Tehol’s knowledge and intelligence. You know he’s “math/economics” smart, but it’s easy to see him as the absent-minded professor type—this is a good reminder on Erikson’s part that he knows much more than we often assume.
In America, in the midst of an election season, with the Occupy movement going on, coming on the heels of the financial meltdown, this theme of inequity in the quote Amanda points out is certainly timely and pointed. Is inequity the foundation of all society? It’s hard to point to a society where it is not—maybe one or two rainforest ones? Maybe.
It’s a complex issue brought up by Tehol and Bugg in dealing with the refugees. How do you handle a society/community/country (the problem scales up and down pretty easily) that has been/is marginalized/oppressed and has then lost the skills, lost the links, lost the social cohesion, etc. to make it a successful community? What is the line between “paternalism” and helping? It’s all too rare that this sort of social complexity is addressed in fantasy, which is so often a simple top-down, return to status quo—the king is at the head, the king is in his bed, and all is well in the land—sort of presentation.
I think Erikson is done with the shadow-play with regard to Bugg and Mael by now and his “I don’t like being worshipped” is running up the flag.
I think you’re pretty much on with the Hold of Death thing Amanda. We’ve had lots of hints that something is funny on Lether and this is starting to move in a more explicit fashion (we’ll continue to get more discussion of this). Your question about does death need a “Hold” made me think though just about the phrasing—do we need someplace to literally “hold” the dead? It seems we do in Lether based on all the spirits about.
And while we’ve all pointed to the modern day parallels (and the historic ones) with Lether in terms of its economic system as well as its imperialistic nature, can we seriously argue against a similar parallel in modern culture (at least, speaking of what I know best, American culture) with a denial of death? We don’t like to look at it, we don’t like to talk about it, and we like to keep pushing it farther and farther afield (70 is the new 50! 90 is the new 60!). Our focus on youth culture, etc. “All a vast denial,” as the Ceda says.
I’ll be honest—I’m just not remembering what the Ceda thinks the big deal is with Kettle or what might have been done differently. I’m as curious as you Amanda to see what unfolds with this.
Certainly an appropriate chose of words from the Ceda regarding Kettle’s heart—that than imagery of awakening and sleeping, he refers to is as “once frozen . . . now . . . thawing.”
You’re right to guess that the “pretty man” with all the girlfriends and boyfriends is Turudal Brizad, the Queen’s Consort. We haven’t seen much or heard much from him, but this is a good hint to pay more attention to him. Note he is surprisingly informed about other lands—where there is a Hold of Death.
I’ve mentioned several times how if one waits long enough, often we’ll get a surprisingly transparent explanation of what may have been a bit mysterious. In this chapter we get the Ceda giving some pretty succinct explanations and then we get Silchas doing the same as he explains to Kettle the effect of Gothos’ sorcery. And then that quote Amanda gives us. Feeing lost? Just be a little patient; I keep saying it and will keep saying it. Erikson doesn’t usually leave us hanging mid-air for long.
Well, if this does get turned into a mini-series, you have to have a bar room brawl, right? But funny scenes are usually a precursor to darker scenes. War, after all, has arrived, if not in the restaurants of Lether.
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.
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.