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 Nine 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.
Note: Amanda is happily ensconced at Worldcon this week, having a lot more fun probably than any of us, so I’ll be posting solo the next three posts until she returns and catches up. Once she gets out of her costume of course….
Sukul Ankhadu sits outside a lean-to where her freed sister, Sheltatha Lore, is recovering from her experience in the Azath barrow. Sukul tells Sheltatha that Menandore was the one who betrayed her, with Sukul helpless. Sheltatha says that just means Menandore was the one who betrayed the others first, as all were planning betrayals. Sukul says she has a plan to trap Menandore and has “an answer” for Ruin as well. Sheltatha agrees to work with her and then tells her that Ruin turned his back deliberately to Scabandari, sensing the approach of powers that could destroy them both and planning on the Azath as an escape. She adds of them all, Ruin thinks the most “draconian. As cold, as calculating, as timeless.” As they prepare to leave, Sukul thinks to herself how Sheltatha has the same contempt for her that Menandore had, and that she plans to use Sheltatha’s lust for vengeance.
Samar Dev and Taxilian converse with Taxilian saying the people want Rhulad killed, but that the Emperor is unkillable and Karsa will fail. He tells her how he has noticed an underlying pattern in the city and that there are “courses of energy, like twisted wires…woven through this city,” something that was revealed by the collapse of Scale House, which he says may not have been accidental, adding that someone knows about these underlying energy patterns and has ensured that the network has remained standing. He believes something big is about to happen and warns her she should run. She replies she feels some sense of loyalty to Karsa, though she’ll think about it.
Taralack Veed watches Icarium and thinks about what the Nameless Ones have missed by worshipping a stone house, ignoring too long the living. He then turns his critical gaze on himself, wondering at his own role, his own “evil,” and wondering if Mappo’s decision to betray the Nameless Ones for Icarium was as evil a choice as he had once thought. Icarium tells Taralack that the Emperor is afraid and Veed wonders what the Emperor knows.
Yan Tovis (Twilight) recalls seeing Icarium, Veed, and the now-crazed Varat Taun emerge from the warren after the failed attack on the First Throne. She thinks how the First Throne and the Throne of Shadow were destroyed, how Veed said only Icarium was left standing and had shown himself worthy of facing Rhulad, then recalls the bad news that all paths to the Thrones were sealed. She is joined by a Cabalhii monk (“Senior Assessor”) who had volunteered to join the Edur fleet, a monk with a face painted like a clown’s but reputed to be a healer. He explains the nature and history of Cabal’s faith in the One God (his own sect, the Mockers, believes the One God to be insane). He heals Varat Taun, but when Taun mentions Icarium, the Senior Assessor flees the room. Taun tells Twilight Icarium is an abomination that should be sent away, but that he could indeed kill Rhulad. She orders him to join her when she leaves the city in two days, then to ride to join the Factor’s staff in Bluerose. They meet Veed who fears they will prevent Icarium from fighting, but Twilight tells him she and Taun are leaving and will try and take Senior Assessor with them, the only other person who seems might know the truth about Icarium. Veed tells her the Empire is being used as part of the war amongst the gods and tells her to ride far.
The Errant thinks how the Holds have faded, as he has as well. He enters his old temple and meets Fener, who bemoans being pulled into the world and the death of so many of his followers. He asks how the Errant has survived so long, but the Errant says he can’t help, telling him how his power had already been wounded thanks to the pogroms by the Forkrul Assail against his own followers. He willingly gave up what he had left, making him powerful only in this region. He warns Fener “they will want the raw power in you—in your blood” and Fener says he knows he has one final battle, and a war. Fener bargains sanctuary from the Errant by telling him how the Hold of Beasts has been awakened and that the Wolves are now the Throne. The Errant gives him sanctuary and agrees to block those calling on Fener.
Feather Witch tries to make sense of a tile casting involving Ice Hold, Beast Hold, and Gate of the Dragon, among others. She wonders where the Errant is and also wonders about Menandore’s involvement and whether or not she is now protecting Udinaas. She senses someone/something and tries to capture it. Instead it attempts to bargain with her, wondering what she plans to do with the finger. The ghost identifies itself as Kuru Qan (the Ceda killed by Trull) and she agrees to wait for his “encouragement” before using the finger.
Samar Dev and Taxilian investigate where the old temple/Scale House collapsed and Samar finds lots of rat spirits that feel ancient. She tells him she needs to think about things and she’ll tell him if she comes to any conclusions.
Tehol and Bugg arrive at Scale House and Bugg says he thinks he knows what Samar saw there, speaking of doors and saying he thinks he’s starting to understand what is coming and that the best thing to do is nothing.
Sirryn Kanar, lieutenant in the Palace Cell of the Patriotists and Sergeant of the Guard leads a violent, deadly raid on Nisall’s quarters to take her prisoner.
Bruthen Trana enters Nisall’s chamber soon after and orders a march on Patriotist headquarters to get Nisall and her handmaiden back. He is interrupted by Chancellor Gnol, who gives the “official” story of Nisall’s treachery and blames her for the deaths of the other handmaidens. Trana kills Gnol’s bodyguards and is about to kill Gnol when his aide tells him they have no time if they are to rescue Nisall. Trana leaves and Gnol vows to kill Trana.
Karos Invictad enters the room to interrogate Nisall and get her confession, telling her the handmaid has already confessed and been killed, though she’d cursed Karos in the name of a Shake god before dying. He brings her to his office where she signs a confession “for Rhulad.” She warns Karos Rhulad will be angry that Karos killed her since she bears his heir. He goes to get a healer to call her bluff. She hears shouting then Karos returns and stabs her in the heart.
Bruthen Trana enters just after and Karos says her confession required her death. Trana reads her confession then orders her body taken, backhanding Karos when he objects. He then beats Karos until his aide tells him the punishment is not his to give. He and his men leave.
Tanal Yathvanar enters the headquarters upset that Janath has disappeared and thinking it was Karos who did it. He finds the aftermath of the attack and learns what happened and also that Karos has noting to do with Janath’s disappearance. Karos tells him a war has begun tonight and this time the Letherii will not lose.
Trana tells his aide to hide the bodies and get Mosag, informing him war has begun tonight, though he expects nothing “overt” from Gnol or Karos. He believes the others weren’t ready for war yet and panicked by taking Nisall. He wants Mosag to investigate what precipitated the panic. His aide, K’ar Penath, one of Mosag’s sorcerers, agrees with the plans and with keeping Rhulad out of it.
Janath awakens at Tehol’s and it comes out that Tehol had fallen for Janath when he was her student. After some back and forth, she eventually says he reminds her of better days.
Rautos Hivanar addresses a meeting of the Liberty Consign and tells them they are facing an economic crisis due to sabotage causing a lack of coins, metals, etc. He tells them the Patriotists are investigating but have found nothing and he himself thinks they face a genius, but that their enemy cannot hide much longer. They discuss the events surrounding the arrest and death of Nisall and consider dropping the Patriotists in the future. Rautos says he has already begun hiring others for when the Consign will need them.
Bill’s Reaction to Chapter Nine
It’s just a bit funny to have Sheltatha Lore complaining about Ruin being “self-serving” and “heartless.” Especially with her willingness to admit they were all willing to betray each other (Menandore and Sukul Ankhadu).
So we get a few good teases in this scene between Sukul and Sheltatha—the mysterious plans to take down both Menandore and Ruin. And we also get a very interesting take on Ruin’s death—Sheltatha’s claim that Ruin knew what was coming, even invited it by turning his back on Scabandari. The mind-boggling idea of being entombed in the Azath for millennia as a means of escaping certain final destruction… Oh, I hope we see this scene in the pre-trilogy.
And I love her chilling recognition of Ruin’s personality (at least in her mind):
More than any of us—more even than Anomandaris…Silchas Ruin thinks draconian. As cold, as calculating, as timeless. Abyss below Sukul Ankhadu, you have no idea…Be sure of your schemes, sister…and no matter how sure you make yourself, leave us a means of escape. For when we fail.
Now that is a brutally honest self-appraisal in comparison to one’s opponent. Probably not a bad warning on her part.
We’ve obviously had lots of references to these underlying aspects to the city, to the artifacts, the mechanism, the energy etc., but in these last few chapters not only are we getting more references but they are longer scenes/passages and much more central. We knew those things were leading to something important, but now we’re getting not just confirmation but also a sense of tension, of urgency regarding the fact that, as Taxilian says, “something is going to happen.”
“Things are always more complex than they first seem.” Yep.
There’s a weighty image: “…the bleached, dusty stone and its faded frieze. On that frieze, faded images of imperial heroes and glory-soaked kings, chipped and scarred now…” Look upon my works, ye mighty…
With Icarium described “as if the Jhag had just stepped out from the frieze…” what might that be telling us about Icarium’s future?
As if to echo that line above regarding complexity, we see Veed continue to become more complex. We’ve already seen him having second thoughts, having regrets, and here we get a much more explicit and more likable view through his changing eyes:
“[Icarium is] A weapon and nothing more. Yet he lives, he breathes, and when something breathes, it is more than a weapon. Hot blood in the veins, the grace of motion, a cavort of thought and feelings in that skull.”
And note also—no surprise for this series—that this is the language of empathy and compassion—the ability to see Icarium not as an object—a weapon—and not as an “Other”—but more. And then he pivots to almost the opposite idea—the worship of stone, something that calls up images of something hard, cold, soulless, heartless. And this is what the Nameless Ones worship, something he now sees as “Worship taken to an absurd extreme.” I like as well how he imagines them worshipping the houses and their “echoing rooms,” which gives an aural sense of emptiness, equating this with a worship of nothingness, of emptiness—again, the antithesis of empathy and compassion, which are feelings of connectedness to something, they can’t exist in a void, an emptiness.
And then, from a writerly craft view, I like how Erikson takes that image of the empty walls, and of cold stone, and then puts humanity into them and a focus on the duality of humanity:
We are both house and dweller…so we will haunt the old rooms, walk the familiar corridors, until, turning a corner, we find ourselves facing a stranger, who can be none other than our most evil reflection. And then the knives are drawn and a life’s battle is waged…
And from such an unlikable beginning (one conveyed not only by acts and words but something as simple as the gesture with the spit), I find myself feeling bad for Veed in his recognition:
“The stranger has driven me back step by step. Until I no longer know myself…”
And who, amongst those who have lived a long enough life, haven’t at some point worried about becoming—for a moment, an hour, a week, years—someone they didn’t see themselves as?
I love this scene with the Senior Assessor because it’s another example of how this world is made more rich in small ways. We don’t need to have an entire subplot around this guy, we don’t need to visit the “Unified Sects of Cabal.” It’s just one of the unexamined nooks and crannies of this world that makes it feel larger and richer, it peels back just a little bit of the veil to remind us that despite our sense of the urgent and epic, we are seeing just a little bit of what happens in this world. And what a great nook and cranny. How can you not chuckle at the precision of 3,012 sects (you’d think the Grand Synod might have rounded down for simplicity) or the pride in “twenty-three months of uninterrupted peace.” A whole 23, eh? Or the “hope” that the world can be saved and the insane One God made sane again if only “every mortal in this realm achieve clarity of thought and a cogent regard of morality, and so acquire a profound humility and respect for all others and for the world in which they live.” As Twilight says, “Ah, I see.” And then the poor guy hears his god is here—Life Stealer.
And then the resurrection of Veed continues as we see empathy and compassion not only in thought but not in acts as he helps Varat Taun. And you find yourself perhaps wishing he’d take up with Twilight when she leaves the city.
As a small aside, I like that reminder of Janath—the scholars all “dead, or in prison.”
On the other hand, I don’t have much sympathy for the Errant “faded, trapped in this fragment of a continent.” I should have sympathy when we get to him talking of how he tried to stop blood sacrifices, “My words just got in your way, my cries for mercy for your fellow citizens—oh, how that enraged you.” But I have a hard time reconciling that image with my other images of him, here and in other books.
Okay, raise your hands, who really expected Fener to shop up here? Bringing with him some heavy foreshadowing (if one can trust his downed god’s sight): one last battle, a war, his death. (And let’s not forget who has been connected to that death.)
Anyone want to have at Feather Witch’s casting? These are always fun….
I do like how she’s so sure she’s caught the watcher she senses and then whoops, not so much. And isn’t it good to see our friend the Ceda again? And I love the way he cuts through her arrogance not just with his ease at refusing her compulsion but his snark when she asks if he’s going to spy on her all the time: “No, that would be cruel, not to mention dull…” Ouch.
Oh, I’m going to miss Tehol and Bugg when we leave them behind… But a good moment to take a breath of comedy, considering what’s to follow.
That’s a nice capsule view of the kind of person that would gravitate to something like the Patriotists; scary how easy such gravitation is to encourage. And the ease with which such violence comes to some, especially for those labeled “enemy”—“there could be no room for ‘understanding’ such people.” A lack of empathy makes violence, cruelty, and killing so easy. And such lack of empathy can be created surprisingly easily. Then, of course, there’s the “forever war.” (Once again, too bad fantasy never relates to real life….)
It’s easy to root for Bruthen Trana after such a scene, one compounded by the oily blatant warping of reality via Gnol. We’ve got two Edur trying to fight the good fight against corruption—Trana and Brohl Handar—and both now have been marked to die by one of their powerful opponents. Will either succeed? Or even survive?
And more references to the Shake—these are coming fast and furious now and from unexpected quarters. As with the same pattern regarding the artifacts, one can assume by now this is going to play a major role, and perhaps not too far off.
And how Letherii is that—the Errant’s alleged temples actually “private and wholly secular—businesses in fact, profiting from the ignorance of citizens. Their priests and priestesses are actors one and all.” The commodification of all, the lack of authenticity, religion turned to profit. Yes, all this only a commentary upon the fantasy land of Lether.
I remember being wholly surprised by Nisall’s murder my first time around here. I wouldn’t have been surprised had it happened a few pages earlier, but Erikson got me with the whole “I’m pregnant” thing, got me thinking she was going to hang around at least a little longer. I had no idea just how “little” that would be. And think how different things would be without K’ar Penath around.
Again, Tehol and Bugg ride in to save us from the abyss. And not just humor this time, but a sense of warmth and possible recuperation/rejuvenation as we get Janath’s “You remind me of better days.” Such an understated, plain line, almost trivial, and yet it carries so much in it, and so much to make us feel maybe something can be saved of this mess.
We’re less than a third of the way through and things appear to be heading toward a boil already with all this violence breaking out and the declaration of war between the Edur and Letherii. And then Rautos informing the group that they are on the edge of a crisis. Add to that the increasing pace of references to what lies beneath the city. And Karsa on deck to face Rhulad. And Icarium on deck. That’s not even counting the long-term plans of many of these characters. This already has the feel of a climax brewing, and yet we’re only a third of the way through the book (or, more precisely, 28% according to my Kindle). How are these things going to get dragged out for so many more pages… Or will they?