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-Three 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.
The Edur armies arrive at Brans Keep. Fear and Trull had been horrified by Rhulad’s return, frozen so only Udinaas could comfort him. Udinaas thinks how sorcery would be the major weapon of the upcoming battle, and perhaps the weapon of all future ones. Feather Witch joins him to look over the battlefield. They agree Lether will lose and it’s made clear Feather Witch has learned he is no longer Indebted. They discuss Mayen’s addiction, her weaning off the white nectar, and how the Edur (save Trull) have all changed. Feather Witch doesn’t recognize Mosag’s sorcery and Udinaas tells her how the K’risnan are all malformed from its use. Feather Witch tells him Uruth and the women still use Kurald Emurlahn. The sorcery/battle begins.
Trull and Ahlrada watch the battle start—huge powers of sorcery.
Udinaas feels the fear and compulsion as the Andii wraiths are sent forward. Feather Witch feels the Letherii sorcery grow—the Empty Hold—but Udinaas says it won’t be enough.
Preda Unnutal Hebaz watches the Edur magic (really Mosag’s) strike, tearing apart the Letherii sorcery and causing incredible destruction and death.
Letherii sorcery kills thousands of Edur, demons, and wraiths. Columns of Mosag’s sorcery continue to wipe out more and more Letherii, tens of thousands, and Ahlrada Ahn tells Trull it must stop. Trull tells him it is not Rhulad; it is Mosag doing it. Trull thinks it is madness. His group starts to move forward.
Udinaas watches sorcery approach the hill he, Feather Witch, and the Edur women and children are standing on. At the last minute he and Feather Witch are saved by Edur women wielding Emurlahn. Udinaas watches Rhulad lead Edur across the field while the Letherii flee, some cut down by Jheck and demons. Mosag’s sorcery seems out of control. As some of Mosag’s pillars separate from the ground, bones and armor etc. come pouring out of the sky killing even more. Udinaas tells Feather Witch to go help Uruth and the others, telling her they just saved their lives. Udinaas runs into Hull and tells him the death will continue on to Letheras. They return to the hill. Udinaas sees Rhulad heading toward Mosag and hurries to catch up.
Canarth spars with Ahlrada and then Trull and Trull challenges him to a fight. Trull knocks him out relatively easily. Ahlrada wants Trull to finish Canarth and when Trull refuses to at least be punished by Fear, but Trull orders them all to say nothing of it.
Udinaas catches up to Rhulad and sees he is close to madness. Theradas knocks Udinaas down, angering Rhulad, though Udinaas lets Theradas’ story that it was an “accident” stand. When Mosag tells Rhulad the day is won, Rhulad is angered at the slaughter and method of slaughter, the lack of glory. Rhulad draws his sword and advances on Mosag but is stopped by Udinaas telling him his brothers and father are nearing. Udinaas counsels Rhulad his anger was right but to keep it “cold” and wait for his family, then disavow what was done. Udinaas sees Mosag’s hatred toward Rhulad and knows Mosag will need to be killed soon. Binadas arrives and Rhulad asks how his army fared and Binadas replied they fought without sorcery. Tomad informs them Uruth has recovered and Fear says the two demons continue to hunt the Forkrul Assail. Rhulad calls out Hull and apologizes for the “victory” and disavows it wholly, and with it Mosag. He then says they will march to Letheras and claim the throne tomorrow, ordering the dead buried together—Lether and Edur.
Udinaas is left alone with Trull. Trull acknowledges Udinaas as Rhulad’s prime advisor and asks if he truly plans to stand between Rhulad and Mosag, between Rhulad and his “brothers” such as Theradas, marveling at his arrogance. Udinaas refutes the idea of arrogance and says none of them have ended up where they are by choice. He says he merely wants to ensure no one gets hurt more than they have been. Trull is relieved that Rhulad was furious over the sorcerous slaughter, though he doesn’t know the real reason or that the “nobler” reason was really Udinaas’. Trull admits to fear at what is coming and says he feels the world is coming apart. Udinaas says they’ll have to try and hold it together and Trull warns him to watch out for his enemies.
Amanda’s Reaction to Chapter Twenty-Three
I find this extract amusing, being as the Academy Ceiling collapses as they talk about the potential of such. The convergence of rivers—is this what makes the foundations of the Eternal Domicile so unstable?
It would be very easy to only see the monster in Rhulad and his resurrection—until you see his state as it happens. Although traumatic, I’m actually glad that Rhulad’s brothers witnessed it. It sort of firms up the better relations they’ve managed to foster, because they can see what a curse this eternal life is.
Although Rhulad is once again alone, apart from his slave: “Rhulad wept openly, with only the slave’s arm across his shoulders for comfort.”
It says something about how terrifying Rhulad must be in his moments of reawakening, considering that the party are fleeing more from him than the unutterably scary Forkrul Assail!
Erikson really is hammering home this comparison between sorcery and nuclear weapons: “Sorcery was the weapon for the battle to come. Perhaps it was, in truth, the face of future wars the world over. Senseless annihilation, the obliteration of lives in numbers beyond counting.”
Is it just Rhulad who is causing this effect among the Edur? “They have all changed, Udinaas. They are as if…fevered.”
Is this not reminding you of the T’lan Imass? In fact, there has been much mention of dust so far in this chapter: “Grainy streams of what seemed to be dust were rising from the two sorcerors, and their faces were twisted in silent pain.”
Well, this is a hideous way of waging war. I mean, there is no good way, but this really does show us the massive slaughter generated. These pillars of sorcery that destroy whole regiments; apparently created by Hannan Mosag… I can see why Rhulad wants to have words.
The most sobering part is here: “Slaughter, then. A squalid investment […] training all those soldiers […] Tens of thousands of dead Letherii; no point in even burying what’s left of them. Two, maybe three thousand dead Tiste Edur.”
The last scenes, involving the factions developing between the Tiste Edur, is both subtle and involved. The main thing I’ve taken from it is that Udinaas has stepped up to a true advisory role to Rhulad. Here, the Emperor was planning to slaughter Hannan Mosag where he stood for the sorcery he produced—but, as we learn right at the end, he wanted Mosag dead because he’d taken away Rhulad’s chance for battle and death. It is Udinaas who directs him towards another way—where power is being stolen away from Hannan Mosag, so that (I guess) he can’t be made a martyr?
That was really all I took from this chapter. I know it’s a brief analysis but we only cover twenty pages or so, which is a teeny amount compared to some. Back on Friday with more to say!
Bill’s Reaction to Chapter Twenty-Three
That extract probably does go a way to explaining at least some of the “shoring” issues. But it’s also setting us up for future events, in which Settle Lake, its depth, and its cavern below will all be important.
The “ochre cloud” is indeed a bit ominous, calling up an image of a cloud of blood.
I love that oh-so-Letherii imagery Udinaas uses in his musings on battle and war: “Count the measures and mull over balances, observed the stacked bodies like stacked coins . . .”
And let’s simply say this line is just a little ironic in this series: “Udinaas envied the warriors and soldiers their simple lives. For them, there was no coming back from death . . .”
That connection between sorcery and nuclear bombs is certainly there, as Amanda says. But I’d also guess that this sort of realization that the “face of future wars the world over. Senseless annihilation, the obliteration of lives in numbers beyond counting” occurred whenever a new technology offered itself up to the battlefield, whether it be the bow and arrow, the horse, the rifle, the tank, the machine gun, the plane, etc. What must the WWI soldiers have thought seeing the cavalry charge into machine gun fire?
And of course, the description of war as a “Logical extension of governments, kings, and emperors. War as a class of wills” has a strong echo of Clausewitz’s “War is the continuation of politics by other means.” And in true Letherii style, one could also easily replace “politics” with “economics.”
I wonder if there is a connection being attempted between Mayen’s addiction and the Edur as a whole—each in the grip of a fevered addiction, neither willing to give it up, to listen to “reason” (Trull in the case of the Edur). One could also make an argument for the Lether addiction to gold in the mix as well, all of them “poisoned” to use Feather Witch’s words.
Poor Ahlrada—”this is what it means to be an Edur warrior today”—if he only knew.
I do think few people do grand sorcery as Erikson does. How often do you see this kind of description arising from a scene of magic in a fantasy novel:
impossibly, the lake beside the keep lift in a mass of muddy water and foam. Saw, as the front wall of the keep bowed inward, pulling away from the flanking towers, dust shooting outward like geysers, and vanishing back into a billowing cloud. Then the east tower swayed, enough to pitch from the edge the mangonel atop it, taking most of the crew with it . . . The west tower leaned back, it enormous foundation stones pushed outward, and suddenly it vanished into a cloud of its own rubble.
I mean, whew! It just seems to me we rarely get not only the level of power inherent in this scene, but the real world nature of it, the way magic is tied to earth and stone, is associated with stress (“bowed”) and force (“rubble”); it all too often seems disconnected from the real world. Not that it doesn’t have real world effects in other novels, but it’s often so abstract or prettified; you don’t get a sense of it as an actual force of nature, as acting on the world so much as acting on a Photoshop kind of “layer” of the world. If that makes any sense to anybody but me.
There’s something almost grossly poetic about the dust-to-dust aspect, the corpses falling from the sky creating more corpses, the first of Rhulad’s “rain/reign.”
Again, in Letherii fashion, Udinaas sums up the day in true Letherii fashion: “A squallid investment, wouldn’t you say? Training all those soldiers . . .”
This line: “the bright white bones and shining iron,” throws all the havoc and ugliness and horror into sharp, emphatic contrast. And again, similarly, later when it is described as “Only bones and gleaming iron, white teeth and glittering coins.”
As you say Amanda, it should come as no surprise based on how the Edur “unity” started, but we’re starting to see fractures already, personified by Theradas and Mosag and Canarth. We’ve of course seen Trull constantly on the outs, but it’s also interesting here to see Binadas somewhat caught in the middle, as well as Ahlrada being considered on Trull’s side.
The war is now a foregone conclusion, as, it appears, is the fall of Lether. But still lots of open questions, open fates. And on we go.
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.