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 Twenty-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.
Seren and Corlo discuss magic, Warrens, and Holds. She asks if he can take away memories and he says he can make her blind to them, but it would eat away at her. He says as an alternative he can change how she feels by making her “cry it all out” to break the cycle. They stop so he can help her, though he says she’s already started, calling her a “natural talent.”
Seren has cried it out, some of it done in the arms of Iron Bars. Later, she felt calm and was able to examine things better. She wakes and talks with Iron Bars. Corlo wakes and they both sense something has happened; Iron Bars heard horses screaming earlier from a nearby small garrison. Corlo says they might need the “diadem,” a tool with 40 rituals implanted in it, including one that speeds them up.
They approach the garrison, old huge ruins, bigger Corlo points out than K’Chain Che’Malle tombs (he explains who they were to Seren). They see a group digging at a barrow which Corlo says was strongly warded and has nothing to do with the other ruins. The Finadd (Arlidas Tullid) has declared his area independent and is planning on “recruiting” them as well as using what’s in the barrow. Corlo uses Mockra to get them away without a fight.
Trull and Lilac, along with Trull’s company, are camped outside Thetil, waiting to march on Letheras. Trull has been unofficially shunned by the Edur since High Fort. Ahlrada Ahn tells Trull his men want him replaced, then tells him the story of the Bluerose and the Betrayal. To Ahlrada’s surprise, Trull says that version makes more sense than the Edur one. Uruth arrives and tells Trull he erred but she will deal with the women and tells Fear to deal with his warriors. She upbraids Trull for voicing his doubts as none but Rhulad can act on them. Uruth speaks to Lilac of the war in his world between the Kenyll’rah (Lilac’s people)/Kenryll’ah (tyrants that rule over Lilac’s people) and the Korvalahrai who are winning. She suggests trying a formal alliance with a Kenryll’ah tyrant. Trull tries to resign, but Fear refuses and tells him Canarth will be rejected when he asks that Trull be replaced. Fear warns Trull to be careful what he says to Rhulad. Lilac discusses his people and the war with Trull, along with the idea of cycles and ageless tasks. Lilac says Uruth will sacrifice him to open a path to the tyrants and tells Trull how he can help Lilac escape that.
Trull tells Uruth he sent Lilac back and she informs him Lilac lied about being sacrificed. Trull still refuses to summon him back. He and Uruth discuss the alliance with the tyrants in Lilac’s world and she tells him Rhulad will destroy the invading Korvalahrai by diverting the river their ships sail into a new realm in return for more demons and maybe a minor Kenryll’ah or two.
Trull enjoys Lilac’s trick and wonders if perhaps he (Trull) is not a warrior after all. He suddenly realizes his people have changed while he has not and that he does not belong with them anymore.
Udinaas is south with Rhulad’s army. He recalls an earlier incident involving eels transplanted into a lake. He meets Hull and the two discuss the post-conquest stage. Udinaas tells Hull his acts haven’t earned him anything and wonders that Hull expects something in return from Rhulad. The two discuss Udinaas’s witnessing of Iron Bars killing Rhulad. Hull asks if Feather Witch being reassigned from Mayen to the Edur healers was the work of Udinaas. Udinaas refuses to answer. Hull asks the extent of his debt and to whom it is owed; it turns out it is owned by Huldo, who in turn is owned by Tehol. Udinaas replies Tehol owns nothing anymore and Hull tells him a story relating Tehol’s genius and thus the impossibility of him being wiped out as it seemed. Hull clears Udinaas’ debt.
Rhulad has returned from drowning a world (the Nascent) and is troubled by it. To distract him, Udinaas asks about the champions the Edur will seek so Rhulad can be killed for his power to grow stronger. They discuss how that should be done. Udinaas later tells him the tale of the eels and the lake.
Seren’s group comes across three companies of the frontier army awaiting the Edur. They plan to get new horses and continue on to Letheras. Iron Bars once again offers to take her with them when the leave (after making contact with their new employer), but she says she’s going to stay. Corlo tells her to watch her use of uncontrolled Mockra.
Amanda’s Reaction to Chapter Twenty-One
“The Betrayer stands in the shadow of the Empty Throne”—Menandore? Or is this Scabandari Bloodeye?
Hahahaha. *falls over laughing* I love that Corlo is trying so hard to explain the difference between Holds and warrens and how magic works—and we, as a group, haven’t managed to get to the bottom of it in five books so far! I think we can safely say that he’s barely touching the surface! It’s nice to hear more about Mockra and how it works, since we haven’t yet encountered this so much.
I do really like the comparison between Holds (wagons with square wheels) and warrens (wheels without corners). I wonder why Holds are capitalised and warrens are not?
This is an interesting take: “Because it’s sorcery of the mind, and the mind’s a lot more limited than we’d care to think.” Usually magic users consider the mind to be more expansive than most people believe.
It’s been a while since we explicitly heard this: “The Tiste Edur can access but one fragment and that’s all.” I wonder if Kurald Emurlahn will ever be put back together and how strong the Edur would be if that happened?
Hmm, this discussion between Corlo and Seren sounds a little bit like a lesson, doesn’t it?
Hee, and then we find out that Seren has bucketloads of natural talent—as a Meckros user?
I do pity her the experience of feeling all of those moments all at once where she remembers the rape—that could easily break a person.
This delicate entwining of Seren’s fate with that of the Crimson Guard is just fantastic to watch. Her acceptance by the other guys; the way that Iron Bars starts consulting with her; her camaraderie and understanding of Corlo. It’s nice the see the beginning of something like this.
I’m interested in that diadem that Corlo uses—it’s the first time I’ve seen any sort of focus for magic.
So the tombs are not K’Chain Che’Malle? What could they be? Especially since it won’t be anything that we’ve already seen from the Malazan region, since the Crimson Guard would be familiar with them. Forkrul Assail, since we’re starting to hear more about them again?
We see here, with the appearance of Finadd Arlidas Tullid, that the common people in the army no longer trust their superiors—the queen and prince are taken prisoner, the king won’t leave Letheras and the Ceda has apparently lost his mind. Desertion has started, which isn’t exactly going to help the case against the Edur!
So, Meckros is cool! I love the way that Corlo builds himself up to be a major talent so that he is left alone. “He’ll kill us all, sir. Every one of us. He won’t even break a sweat. And he’ll start with you, Finadd. He’ll pluck your brain out and drop it in a cauldron of boiling oil.”
I have a feeling we’ll be seeing that demon that they’re working on again… [Bill: Yep!]
The revelations from Trull are painful and come hard, one after another. First: “There was something wrong, clearly, with singling out a demon, with making it obvious that the creature was intelligent, an individual.” Second: “Trull Sengar had found himself mostly shunned by his warrior kin and by the women.” Third: “The demon was not free, and had it been so it would not now be here, at his side.” His existence is starting to become very painful.
Fear is no longer talking directly to him and now his squad want to replace him as leader. Trull sees it as a direct result of his having raised a hand to the Edur woman, but we’ve seen this displacement all the way through the novel—right from the first moment we saw Trull and observed his questioning nature. He loves to ask all the awkward questions.
More emphasis about the fact that the Blue Rose are Tiste Andii, and a warning that they are not half as subdued as we were given to believe—it follows on the back of learning that they deliberately fooled the Letherii with the saddles they provided. I suspect they have a role to play.
This is a real commentary on race relations, isn’t it?
“Your brother sought the healing of a fallen comrade-”
“And did not demons fight at High Fort? Did not many of them give their lives to win victory?”
I like Uruth’s attitude to the situation.
Ouch! And then we find out shortly afterwards that Uruth knows the only way to access the demon’s realm is to sacrifice Lilac. That is cold! (Although I’m now remembering it was Uruth, on her arrival, who said they needed to eat the horses…) I can see exactly why Trull will not endure the sacrifice of Lilac—but he doesn’t even stop to think about how this further rebellion will cause harm to him.
Oh, and then a quick abuse of the idea that the demon was in real plight. Erikson constantly keeps me on my toes.
That tale of Dresh Lake is both deeply amusing and rather scary!
This is a very interesting conversation between Hull and Udinaas, discussing the nature of slavery and Indebtedness. For all that Hull continues to brood on his past, he is now informed by Udinaas that none of that has any effect on his future with the Tiste Edur. That has to sting a little—or, alternatively, be completely freeing. I liked the little aside concerning Tehol, and it is a nice moment when Udinaas gains his freedom (albeit rather cynical).
It’s a terrifying moment, where Rhulad says: “I drowned a world.”
What gets me is that, despite Rhulad’s ambitions (driven by The Crippled God) he clearly didn’t succeed in his plans. He can’t have, because he, and his sword, are not present in the future timeline that we’ve already read about. [Bill: Sure about that? Remember K’rul to Envy in Callows from Memories of Ice: “death “came from the sea. A warren-twisted fleet. Cold-eyed, unhuman killers. Seeking, ever seeking . . . a worthy challenge.” Also the shadows warning to Paran in the same book: “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!”]
Why would Seren not want to go with the Crimson Guard? She knows that Letheras is a dangerous place; she gets on with the guys she’s met; there is little waiting for her at home—and why does she try to use Meckros against Iron Bars? I’m sure it’ll come good, but her motivations are not immediately obvious to me.
Bill’s Reaction to Chapter Twenty-One
You’re right, Amanda, that we don’t have anywhere near a clear view of the magic here, but Corlo’s dialogue does offer us some clarity and is yet another of the myriad examples of how if you wait long enough someone will come along to at least help a little with your confusion, remind you of something, or prepare you for something to come. In this case, we get some info on the difference between warren and Hold, some detailed warren talk, mention of Ruse which will play a part coming up. (I’m not sure if we’ve heard of Ruse before), the fact that Kurald Emurlahn was shattered, etc. This is a tough thing to do well, I think. Often it comes across as very clumsy and/or artificial. The “As you you know Jim” moment from those old 50s film when one scientist explains something to another scientist who knows already knows it but the director needs to the audience to learn it: “As you know Jim, the gravity on Mars . . .” I think this comes across as pretty natural in both set-up, tone, and content.
I like the continued characterization of Iron Bars’, the way his insight and close observation of Seren goes implied rather than directly stated, and how he is going to allow Seren her privacy until she decides she wants him there.
Here’s a line that prepares us for a major theme: “As if the only genuine gestures were the small ones, the ones devoid of an audience. As if true honesty belonged to solitude, since to be witnessed was to perform, and performance was inherently false since it invited expectation.” In the short term, we’ll soon hear Udinaas talk of expectation. But more significant and more long-running will be this idea of “witness.”
I don’t recall if we see more of the diadem—anyone? It is intriguing, n’est ce pas?
Well, the ruins aren’t Assail, but that isn’t a bad, nor an irrelevant guess for what’s going on here. We haven’t seen much good come of opening up barrows and letting things out in this series.
I like the way Trull’s future official shorning is prefigured by this little unofficial shunning. Our knowledge of what this ends also adds some poignancy I think to the scene where Uruth calls an end to it—a scene that should make us so happy for Trull but simply reminds us of how even more isolated he ends up.
It’s also a sharp way—via his recognition that his companionship with Lilac is tainted by Lilac’s lack of choice in the matter—of characterizing Trull’s inability to blind himself to reality; he is not one for self-delusion and this is what will lead to his shorning.
Nice little moment of how the world sometimes spins on its own way despite the “grand actions” of the people who walk it: “Trull looked away. Southward, the sprawl of farms on the other side of Thetil. No livestock, no workers in the fields. The rains had been kind, all was a luscious deep green.”
I love imagining the scene when Ahlrada Ahn offers up the “big reveal” to Trull and Trull sort of shrugs and say “yeah, I can see that.” It’s like when someone gears up for a big argument and their “opponent” agrees with them right away and the person still wants to argue.
Gotta love how the big bad warriors listen to angry momma when she comes to town.
It is sort of funny though how we whipsaw back and forth with Uruth in this chapter. First we cheer her on for her defense of Trull, her bringing together the brothers again, the way she is angry over the disrespect shown the demons—”And did not demons fight at High Fort? Did not many of them give their lives to win victory?”—then we hiss at her the way she treats Lilac—”You are a peasant, demon. All I need from you is the path into your realm. Keep your opinions to yourself—then we really are upset with her when we “learn” she plans to sacrifice Lilac, then we’re sorry we judged her so harshly when we find out Lilac lied. She’s always had that dislikable aspect of her disregard of those “beneath” her and this chapter ends up confirming that view I’d say.
I’ve pointed to lots of foreshadowing that the Edur will lose by winning this war, lots of characters talking of how the Edur will become like the Letherii in the end, and this little bit about how their army is becoming the same—”I suppose we are indeed an army now. In the Letherii fashion . . . “—is a bit of concrete foreshadowing perhaps.
I absolutely love that quiet dignity of Lilac’s dialogue concerning the cycles of history and the actions of the great:
“I am a caster of nets. Tyrants and emperors rise and fall. Civilizations burgeon then die, but there are always casters of nets. And tillers of the soil, and herders in the pastures. We are where civilization begins and when it ends, we are there to begin it again . . . The selves are not eternal. Only the tasks . . . Life will return eventually. It always does.”
And hasn’t the series shown us this in book after book as characters repeatedly trod the broken pottery of past cultures, pick up ancient broken tools, wanders through mysterious ruins, wander the ashen paths of long-dead civilizations? Beyond the content, I love the language and rhythm of this passage as well. How much more effective and evocative and poignant is “caster of nets” than “fisherman”? And that repetitive feel of “and tillers of soil, and herders in the pastures.” I’d add to it as well, “and soldiers in the field.”
Uruth’s response to Trull’s freeing of Lilac (paradoxically by binding him): “You are difficult to understand and the effort wearies me” cracks me up every time—the plaint of the long-suffering mother.
I also might borrow her “and the effort wearies me” to describe the need to distinguish between Kenryll’ah and Kenyl’rah. Sigh.
What’s going on in Lilac’s realm is also an interesting sort of way to maybe convey the idea that inequity, tyranny, abuse of power are apparently inherent in sentient societies. As is the struggle against these aspects.
Poor Trull, to view his sense of empathy as “weakness” and his description of what a good warrior is rings a bit a false—“a follower of commands,” capable of shutting out all unnecessary thoughts in service to the cause . . . certainty a blinding fire—given all we’ve seen and heard with regard to the perils/evils of “certainty” and explanations as to how the Malazan soliders are the best due to their lack of blind obedience. “I do not belong” indeed.
Ahh, Dresh Lake. The law of unintended consequences. Of meddling where we don’t know what we’re doing. Of the interconnectedness, so little of which we actually are aware of. Thank god this sort of thing never happens in our real world!
That’s a great Tehol story from Hull and it’s also nice to see his utter faith in Tehol.
Destroying a world is pretty “epic.” That it happens “off-stage” says something I’d say about the scope of this series. We’re moving closer to the big finish folks . . . (82% of the way done according to my trusty Kindle!)
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.