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 Ten 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.
Hedge, wandering through the realm “where the dead went,” comes across the skeleton of a dragon, the third he’d seen, all the bones covered in what looked like black, smoky glass that ran like water off the bones and onto the ground. He argues with the “wind” as he walks, believing it to be the remains of some forgotten god. The wind try to get him to despair and give up, getting him to admit that children number greatest among the fallen. But Hedge says he continues on because that’s what soldiers do.
Hedge comes across tracks and the wind tells him a T’lan Imass walks a few leagues ahead of him. Hedge smells snow and ice ahead.
Twilight, Varat Taun, and the Senior Assessor have ridden out from Letheras. Taun looks forward to being posted with his family, worries about Twilight’s softness in that assignment, wonders if she’s cowardly then dismisses the thought, thinks nowhere will be safe when Icarium faces Rhulad. He then thinks of how he and Veed survived and now Veed, whom he sees as a brother, has stayed behind. He tells Twilight he is going back, that maybe he and Veed can do something. The monk says he will return as well. Twilight rides on with her company.
Trull, Onrack, and Quick Ben have crossed the Shadow lake. Trull remarks on how the lake floor has been oddly even and wonders if it’s a grand concourse and Onrack says a similar-sized one—K’Chain Che’Malle—takes up the entire southeast peninsula of Stratem. When Trull bemoans being outclassed by his companions, Onrack informs him he is Knight of Shadow and points out the Eres’al has taken interest in him. Quick Ben decides to try a gate, telling them he thinks the Abyss is swallowing Shadow, that the realm is dying, “with every border an open wound.” Onrack says “other forces of his soul” are awakening with his memories and wonders what a warrior is to do when peace is at hand. Quick Ben disappears.
Quick Ben feels for weak spots in the surrounding area and senses the realm aware of him and thinks it feels almost feminine. He passes through ill air then to a valley with a miniature forest and huge dragonflies—a primordial tundra. He returns to the others.
Ballant, owner of the Harridict Tavern thinks he’s falling in love with Shurq Elalle and bemoans the cheap foreigners costing him good tavern money. Shurq tells Pretty some of the foreigners remind her a bit of Iron Bars’ Crimson Guard. Ballant tells her the foreigners have been meeting privately with Brullyg Shake (whom Shurq can’t get in to see) and then waste time at the tavern. Shurq Elalle realizes they’re waiting for something and they’re the ones who saved the island from the ice, giving them power over Brullyg. When she wonders if Brullyg is even alive still, Ballant tells her he’s been seen and she comes up with a plan to get in to Brullyg’s chamber
Ruin’s group have been climbing higher for days in the Bluerose Mountains, noting what’s been left behind by the dying glaciers: water, ice, sporing mold, decayed vegetation and animals. The migrating glaciers and the remnant magic of Omtose Phellack in them are threatening the Andii refuge and Seren wonders what Clip’s mission is as they move toward the heart of the Phellack ritual. She fears the mission will end in blood. Seren tells Udinaas Clip has taken her role as guide and Fear asks her not to leave. When she asks why, Udinaas tells her it’s because Fear thinks her betrothed to Trull. When he tells Fear Trull is dead and Rhulad lacks honor, Seren has to pull Fear off of Udinaas. When she tells Udinaas not to do it again if he “values his life,” Udinaas says all of them have a death wish. But when Kettle says she doesn’t want to die, Udinaas turns away in grief. Fear tells Seren Trull was “blind to his own truth” when he gave Seren the sword and Seren says Trull is dead, and thinks she is as well.
Clip and Ruin don’t get along.
Toc, riding with Redmask’s Awl army, recalls his earlier life and Anaster’s as well, thinking how this new body which had fed on human flesh still “knows hunger and desire” when it walks battlefields. He wonders how Redmask ended up with K’Chain Che’Malle bodyguards and wonders as well what sort of redemption he expects from Redmask. He wishes Tool were with him and thinks the world that keeps trying to make him a soldier can go fuck itself.
An Elder tells Redmask he should have killed Toc. The Elder says he is the last one of the Awl who was there before Redmask was expelled, saying “I know what she meant to you and I know why” and adding that Redmask should fear him and listen to him, as he is the voice of the Awl and he will not allow them to be betrayed. When Redmask says nothing, the Elder tells him he only has to fear if he plans evil, otherwise Redmask and the Elder can work together to defeat the Letherii. Forced to say something, Redmask says yes, “an end to the Letherii . . . Victory for the Awl.”
Stayandi (Abasard’s sister) recalls leaving the city for their settlement on the plains, the slaughter by the K’Chain Che’Malle, Abasard’s death, and how she had fled for days/weeks. She is adopted by wolves for a while then wakes alone to find the wolves had run off rather than face a hunter wearing wolf pelts and with a white painted face. He crouches down to her and when he leaves, she follows.
Redmask tells Toc one of the scouts found tracks of a dozen skilled men on foot, non-Letherii. When Redmask announces the battle with the Letherii will occur three leagues from their camp, Toc says he will stay and guard the train. Redmask assigns a young Awl named Torrent to stay there as well. Angry, Torrent tells Toc to tend to the smallest children and leave Torrent alone. When Toc reminds Torrent of how he and the Awl had abandoned the Grey Swords and threatens him, Torrent says Toc is cursed. Toc thinks he has a point.
Redmask speaks with several Awl about the upcoming battle. Natarkas says he doesn’t like the “new way of fighting. I see little honour in it.” Redmask agrees but says it is necessary.
Bill’s Reaction to Chapter Ten
It’s great to see Hedge again, both because I love him as a character and because it reminds me of what’s to come
I so like the voice of the wind/god here, both in style and content. “Your kind loves borders. Thresholds, divisions, delineations.” So true in so many ways. One of which, I’d say, includes a way of reading this in terms of that theme I keep returning to because it speaks so strongly to me—empathy. Because what is empathy but the ability to see beyond borders, to step past thresholds, to erase divisions and delineations? I like how the wind notes Hedge’s “irreverence,” a trait shared by so many of our characters and one which makes them so likable so often.
And how sad is the answer to the question: who numbers greatest among the fallen—children. We have seen a heavy focus on children throughout this series, and that focus will sharpen much more as we go forward. And how sad is it that Hedge knows, and that he connects it to how all must kill the child within them (innocence and perhaps more), and how moving the idea that despite that crushing admission, he marches on. And we will see that concept, as so often occurs, made literal.
Here is a conversatio to consider:
Your breath is getting cold.
Because you’re walking the wrong way . . .
Hood’s secret revealed at last . . .
Dragons with ribcages punched in. Hmmm.
And what T’lan Imass is Hedge trailing? Hmmm
We see that erasing of delineations mentioned above in Varat Taun’s sense that Veed—the “barbarian” (a word which itself means foreign or “other”)—has now become his “brother” via shared experience.
I don’t know why, but I love that line when Trull says “I hate it when everyone knows more than me.” Something about it just cracks me up, part of it I think is that this great epic hero feels so clueless so often.
That’s an interesting reaction from QB at the announcement that Trull is Knight of Shadow.
So often in this series we see one scene echo another and here’s another example of it. Just after we get Hedge refusing to give up life in the ease of dissolution promised to him by the wind and speaking of spitting in it/a god’s eye, we get Quick Ben tell Trull and Onrack that “life stays stubborn until it has no choice but to give up, and even then it’s likely to spit one last time in the eye of whatever’s likely killed it.”
That’s certainly an interesting imagery surrounding Quick Ben’s exit from the shadow realm—a feminine feel, a pushing through (or out), the sound of swishing blood
And where does he end up? Who might they meet there if anyone? Consider the tundra and that might be a clue.
So the foreigners are becoming a bit of a plot point here. We had the mysterious introduction of their ship, and now we get some very muddy sort of quasi-details. They remind Shurq of the Crimson Guard folks, they share some language with the Crimson Guard, they’re having private meetings with the Shake leader, or maybe they’re holding him prisoner. They have some powerful mages. They’re waiting for something. There’s a lot presented there to obviously get us wondering and a bit nervous, but it’s nicely vague enough to keep tension and make us really want to see that next keg delivery.
And from there we go to more questionable motivation, as we jump to Ruin’s group and Seren’s suspicions that Clip has ulterior motives. And a foreboding that the journey will end in blood.
I mentioned how so many scenes echo earlier ones in action or imagery or language and we see another example here with Udinaas and his metaphor:
“Our souls might as well be trapped in a haunted keep. Sure, we built it—each of us—with our own hands, but we’ve forgotten half the rooms . . . ” It’s a slightly different take on it than Veed’s earlier use of the house/rooms metaphor, but still the idea of how we don’t even know ourselves, sometimes merely unaware, sometimes purposely unwilling to look.
This group has been on the edge for so long, as we’ve commented on—always sniping at one another—but still Fear’s sudden violence against Udinaas is a bit of a surprise. As is Udinaas’ insight into their shared despair, their shared desire he thinks for death. Save for Kettle, whose plaintive “I don’t want to die” nails Udinaas like a stake through the heart. Remember his earlier line about grieving “innocence when we kill her.”
So what do you think, is Clip’s “Shall we continue onward and upward” mere geography, or a sly dig at the Narnia line?
That’s a good question by Toc—if we have a K’ell Hunter, the elite guard of a Matron, do we also have a Matron somewhere? Somewhere out in those mysterious eastern lands maybe?
I like how Toc sees that concept, “they mysterious eastern lands” as a necessity of the tribes (or really every culture). That place of danger and mystery where they can dump every fear and bogeyman, and then send their as-yet-unproven hero out into so they can have their adventures and come back forged. But let’s not forget we’ve seen this tale already told by Udinaas and it didn’t end well. And Toc himself gives us two possible endings: delivery or annihilation. Which one will it be for Redmask and the Awl?
And what the heck does Redmask have planned for those gutted myrid stuffed with a local tuber? Part of the “new ways” of fighting that lack all honor it would appear. And if so, what sort of hint, if any, does that give us as to which of those two possible conclusions we’ll come to?
And more questions arise. What does this Elder know of Redmask? What did he witness? Why the emphasis not on what the “she” meant to Redmask but “why”? (remember we learned earlier about Redmask’s sister being taken by the Factor and then killing herself before she could be exchanged for some Awl herds). What secret is so deadly that the knowledge is like “a dagger hovering over your [Redmask’s] heart”?
It’s a nice move from that scene, which reminds us of a young girl, a sister, stolen from a camp, a camp slaughtered, to Stayandi—a young girl, a sister, who had to flee a slaughtered camp.
And whom does she leave with? We’ve seen white faced folks before… And it’s kinda interesting this scene is sandwiched by Toc scenes.
Note the connections made between Toc and the children
That’s the second chapter that’s ended with a reference to a dirge. Never a good sign…
In lots of ways this chapter is a bit of a catch the breath, take a look back and set up a look ahead. We get little brief reminders and recaps of past events scattered throughout. And we get some clear set up scenes as pieces are moved about the table—Shurq planning on seeing what’s going on with the foreigners and Brullyg, Redmask’s new fighting methods, Stayandi and some white-faced folk, Hedge’s trip, Quick Ben’s trip, etc. It has a slightly less urgent feel than the last chapter, where things felt, as mentioned, like they were coming to a quick boil. We’ve stepped back a bit here and slowed things down. Will the pace still slow, or is this just the calm before a storm?