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 Reaper’s Gale by Steven Erikson (RG).
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.
Tanal Yathvanar delivers a new puzzle to Invigilator Karos, commander of the Patriotists and in Tanal’s mind “the most powerful man next to the Emperor.” The two join the Tiste Edur liaison, Bruthen Trana, to inspect a line of prisoners, some of whom have lost consciousness. Only a portion of the 300 + prisoners, most are there as political prisoners or due to guilt by association, such as a poet who wrote a call for revolution. Karos goes through the charges against each as Tanal thinks admiringly of the Invigilator’s “perfect laws of compulsion and control.” Once Karos finishes, Bruthen Trana leaves. Karos solves the puzzle and says he needs better ones, then discusses business, noting a lack of coinage in the city and saying he wants to meet with the leader of the Liberty Consign. Tanal says Rautos Hivanar has a theory and Karos agrees to meet with him. Karos tasks Tanal to find out what Trana’s purpose is in his weekly visits and suggests possibly investigating him, which shocks Tanal somewhat, Karos reminds him the Patriotists have a charter to “police the empire” and figure out who is “loyal and disloyal” regardless of if they are Edur or Letherii.
Rautos Hivanar one of the richest Letherii and leader of the Liberty Consign (an association of wealth families in the Empire) suspects someone is deliberately sabotaging the economy. He is surprisingly less concerned with that than with a new mystery recent flooding has brought to light. He is obsessed with figuring out the purpose of a series of boulders, posts, ands strange objects the river’s current had revealed, some strange mechanism he thinks. He tells his main assistant to go to Drene to find out for the Consign what is happening there, saying the Factor of that area isn’t giving enough information. He is happy to hear that the Invigilator is finally willing to meet with him concerning his theory on the economic sabotage.
Atri-Preda Bivatt’s Bluerose cavalry has massacred an Awl’dan camp, including elders and children, taking their herds in the name of the Factor, Letur Anict. She implies by tone she doesn’t much care for what her army is doing with the Awl, telling the Edur Overseer, Brohl Handar the Awl are not trespassers and implying this is to enrich the Factor. She asks Handar if he ever wonders who won their war. Handar thinks of how the Awl have been mostly decimated and that Anict holds the most power in this region. Bivatt tells him the “official” story is that the Awl and others are aligned in the “Bolkando Conspiracy” which threatens the Empire, but in reality there is no conspiracy. Though, she adds, they did fight and barely defeat a group of mercenaries recently of whom they know nothing. Handar asks why Factor Anict wants to enrich himself so much and when she replies gold give power over people, he says not the Edur, who are “indifferent” to wealth. Bivatt tells him that is no longer so, saying Edur have confiscated lands, are taking Indebted as slaves.
Silchas Ruin and some of his group approach an Edur slaver group, telling them they captured two Letherii (Udinaas and Kettle) that belong to him and he wants them back. When the Edur refuses, Ruin kills most of them. When Kettle says she was raped, Ruin goes off to kill the other Edur. Fear and Udinaas spar as they always do. Seren thinks how those pursuing them do so in strange manner, more akin to herding than chasing. Udinaas discovers the slavers were carrying weapons. Ruin returns.
Tanal Yathvanar looks down on a woman he’s been torturing, reveling in his power and immunity, though he thinks Karos knows of his proclivities. He joins Karos and Hivanar, who has convinced the Invigilator that someone is sabotaging the economy and asked the Patriotists to take the lead in finding the person. Hivanar also tells them to back off their arrests of academics and scholars, whose friends have brought concerns to him. Karos agrees, saying perhaps they’ve already done their job of quelling sedition among that group. After Hivanar leaves, Karos tells Yathvanar to free the woman in his room. Yathvanar says he will, but thinks he “won’t suffer alone.”
Tehol and Bugg discuss Ezgara the two-headed bug, manipulating their economic sabotage, and making a special “clever box.”
Amanda’s Reaction to Chapter One
I think that this first sentence in the extract from The Hiroth Dynasty describes many of the uneasy relationships we’ve been seeing across the novels: “Two forces, once in vicious opposition, now found themselves virtual bedmates, although neither could decide which of them had their legs pried open first.”
Is this “strange object” merely a toy? Or is it something believed to be a toy but isn’t? Something from the Bluerose people, who we know as Tiste Andii.
What a nasty little contrast between talking about the unusual gift and then seeing the treatment of the prisoners—tortured by being left in the sun for hours without any sustenance.
It is rough heading back into the very grey area of the Letherii vs Edur after spending a book dealing with people you can see as being much more the good guys. Yes, these Letherii are being held as prisoners and dealt with cruelly, but I’m forced to question what they did to earn this treatment from the Edur! Both are as bad as each other!
Having said that, these misdemeanours seem more petty than anything that deserves the treatment they’re receiving: “The proprietor of an inn, the tavern of which was frequented by undesirable elements—disenchanted soldiers, in fact…”
Ooh! Interesting comment about this body called the Patriotists: “The Patriotists…possess the imperial charter to police the empire. In that charter no distinction is made between Edur and Letherii, only between the loyal and disloyal.”
So, altogether, not completely sure what is happening here, but I’m guessing we’re seeing the new situation in Letheras, after the events of Midnight Tides.
We move on from the Patriotists to hear about the Liberty Consign, “an association of the wealthiest families in the Lether Empire.” It’s clear that everyone is currently scuffling to mark out new lives and different organisations under the rule of the Edur.
Heh, now who do we possibly know that would be striving to achieve economic sabotage?
I wonder what is it that Rautos has found, this (possible?) barrow, with the tools of a previous civilisation. In my experience, unearthing something long forgotten in these books doesn’t usually end well.
Rautos has a very likable curiosity, for me.
Never a good sign when a slaughter encompasses elders, women and children. I don’t find that the army of Atri-Preda Bivatt is being endeared to me by their actions. Especially when they then attack the dogs as well! And the scalping… Well, these people are not pleasant at all.
Oh, now this is an incredibly poignant question in my mind: “Do you ever wonder, Overseer, which of us truly won that war?” And, I guess, the reverse as well—who really lost.
So we’re not loving Letur Anict either, are we? The “official version” of the Awl antagonistic tendencies being spread in order to raise ire towards them, all in order to justify the slaughter of the Awl and make himself richer. Especially when the Atri-Preda makes it clear that this is a blatant lie, and that the Awl are mostly squabbling amongst themselves.
It seems as though anyone can create a reason for a war. And sadly that can equally be a comment on the Malazan series or of real world events.
Silchas Ruin is a genuinely chilling character, isn’t he? More than Rake did, Silchas reminds me of Elric of Melnibone, with his albino appearance and his height with that slender appearance.
I don’t know why, but this tickled me in a very dark way: “…the other with a third of his skull sliced away. This latter one turned away as the fighting continued, reaching down to collect the fragment of scalp and bone…”
Oh man… Kettle’s casual mention of rape makes it so much more painful than if she was outraged and screaming about it:
“Silchas Ruin approached Kettle. “Hurt you. How?”
“The usual way,” she replied. “With the thing between his legs.”
She’s so young, and this loss of innocence, especially compared to what we saw of her in Midnight Tides, is exceptionally hard to read.
I am glad that Silchas is prepared to visit bloody vengeance on them for their actions.
Fear and Seren present very different views here—she doesn’t mind that Silchas plans to hunt down and kill the other members of her race, while Fear resents any killing of the Edur and prays for their souls. I think this says a great deal about the two different cultures we’re dealing with here.
Ah yes, we see as well the reactions between Tiste Andii and Tiste Edur—as Seren says: “…you know, if those two are any indication, it’s no wonder the Edur and the Andii fought ten thousand wars.”
This is a group of people with far too many secrets, and outright hostility towards each other. Fear is the biggest part of this, having reason to hate both Udinaas and Silchas Ruin. Not easy for them to work together.
Okay, I really didn’t like Tanal Yathvanar at the start of this chapter—but now I positively hate him. “He wasn’t much interested in beating his women, just in seeing them beaten.” I hope to god we see his comeuppance, and it’s nice already to see that he is experiencing possible restitution for his actions.
Ahhhh. Before we even knew truly, the dialogue and the chat between these two reveals it to be Tehol and Bugg. Nice to see them back! They’re the one real high point for me of the Letherii Empire.
What I love most about their dialogue is that most of it is nonsensical, and just now and then there will be a sentence that pushes forward the plot.
Bill’s Reaction to Chapter One
So we get an early mention of Bluerose, a place that’s been popping up a lot lately in little tossed-off lines. Something to think about…
Tanal is not one of the most pleasant characters we will meet, and so this makes a good introduction to him as we see his brutality right from the very start as he kicks the unconscious prisoner awake and threatens to break his bones. This is actually one of his nicer acts/threats.
We also get an intriguing introduction to Karos in his immediately clear love of puzzles. As we soon learn he’s in charge of the sort of not-so-secret police in the new Empire, one has to wonder how his love of solving puzzles might have an impact on his love of seeing/manipulating conspiracies and sedition.
I really like how efficiently Erikson portrays the McCarthy-like process of the Patriotists:
- Right away we get the usual key phrases: “known associations,” “no specific crimes,” “frequented” bad establishments, “informed.”
- Then we get the Invigilator’s rulebook: “bribe the weak to expose the strong. Kill the strong and the rest are yours,” and so on. We’ve seen this so many times in our history any such book would have to be considered public domain at this point I’d think.
- Then the inevitable corruption such power brings, Karos’ forty-five percent interest in the establishment of the “traitor” innkeeper.
- The way such organizations always will turn on the those that unleashed them, seeing it as their “mandate” to go wherever their suspicions (real, paranoid, or manufactured) lead them. As Karos says, “no distinction is made.”
It’s an interesting parallel between these two men—Karos and Rautos. We meet both and are introduced early on to their intelligence (Rautos doing scholarly research, Karos with his quick solution to the puzzle), their compulsive/obsessive natures (Karos with his puzzles, Rautos with his archaeological dig), and the way these compulsions can distract them from their usual main goals.
“Strange construct,” “antiquity,” “mechanism,”: We’ve seen some of these words before in association with someone….
It’d be difficult to paint an uglier picture of Letherii genocide than we get here in Drene: Slaughter of old people and children, scalping, collecting Awl skins as trophies, killing dogs as “sport,” all topped off by the rapaciousness of it all, the greed for more land, more gold. And for that reason, it’s also hard not to like Atri-Preda Bivatt, who seems not to care much for what she’s involved in: “not my campaign” [italics mine], her facial expressions, her defense of the Awl against the charge of trespassing and her scorn for the manufactured “Conspiracy.” As well as her clear-minded view of “cultural assimilation,” the genocidal nature of her own people, and the effect of “victory” on the Edur.
After the dialogue-driven, action-driven nature of this scene, I really like the closing few paragraphs. That image of the three Awl dogs watching, their silhouettes, —it’s a bit ominous and creepy, and I like as well how the number parallels are red-masked Awl and his two taloned killing machines. Then the way Brohl almost loses his balance—which fits his sense of being lost out here as well as the impact of Bivatt’s revelation re the Edur. And then the carrion bird of course.
Anyone else kinda wonder why the “remaining eight” Edur took so long to run?
A few interesting mysteries pop up in this scene:
- Why are the slavers carting weapons?
- Where is Wyval?
- Why are their pursuers not simply overwhelming them with numbers?
I’m wondering in this scene about reactions to Kettle’s rape—the rape itself and the group’s individual reactions to the rape.
Speaking of rape, here we have Tanal’s true sick perversion revealed and we can see how “restrained” he was in the earlier scene with the prisoners. And as well it continues the depiction of such organizations with Tanal’s musing that he it’s the “perfect haven for people like him” and his belief that Karos knows all about what he is doing with these women. The way the uniform becomes symbol, the way they are treated differently from all others—allowed to bear dagger and shortsword.
Concern for Tehol might become a bit heightened here, as we see two clearly smart and compulsive men join forces to find out just who is the economic saboteur. (Though such concern is also lessened by knowledge that he has an Elder God in his corner. Often literally.)
We have the possibility of some internal dissension being set up for possible future plot as Tanal is furious at Karos’ order to give up his toy.
And no coincidence we move from Tanal and Karos’ willingness to let him do what he wants so long as Karos as a say in to whom he does it to “depravity” and a “sick” soul.
Probably not a bad idea to get some comic relief in before this chapter exhausts us with tragedy. We’ve got genocide, slaughter of children, rampant abuse of power and corruption, Ruin wiping out Edur and Letherii, Kettle raped, a reminder of Seren’s rape, and rape/torture. Just a little grim.
It’s also a bit of a relief, especially after seeing the meeting just concluded, that Tehol seems to have a plan, one beyond the sabotage.
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.