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 Twelve 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.
Brohl Handar and Atri-Preda Bivatt observe what looks like the war camp of the Awl, expecting the battle tomorrow. Bivatt tells Handar she’s relieved as it looks like the Awl will use the same old failed tactics and mentions how the battle site—Bast Fulmar—is a valley of some “arcane significance” to the Awl. Handar is surprised she let the Awl choose the battle site but she says it’s a good setting: good visibility for the mages, open territory, and she thinks the Edur will probably not need to be used. Handar notes a lack of outriders/pickets and she dismisses his concern, saying the Awl wanted them to see the camp. They ride back with Handar thinking Bivatt, under instruction from Factor Anict, wants it to be a solely Letherii victory.
Toc fletches his arrows in the train of the Awl, which has been set up to look like a war camp, while Redmask and his warriors are hidden elsewhere on the plain. Torrent mocks Toc’s weapons, then leaves. The elder who knows Redmask joins Toc and says he doesn’t trust him, noting the suspicious magic surrounding Toc’s arrows. Toc and the elder exchange “secrets,” though the elder thinks Toc is playing a lying game. The elder’s last secret is that Redmask will betray the Awl. After their “game,” the elder tells Toc that Torrent thinks Toc will run and plans on killing Toc when he does so. Toc agrees his courage may be broken, but says Torrent will have a hard time catching him. Toc yells to Torrent (hiding in the shadows) that the Awl will have to face the question of cowardice tomorrow and wonders if Redmask can “bully” them into honor.
Hedge catches up to the T’lan Imass he’s been trailing—Emroth of Kron clan. She’s badly damaged, with only one arm. He joins her in walking “north.” She tells him she can’t turn to dust in this place, much to her dismay, as Hedge yammers on. When he hits a little too close to home, she tells him to stop and he points out how the Imass’ vengeance on the Jaghut was unnecessary and in fact did worse damage to the Imass themselves. She says she is unbound and her memories, specifically memories of love, have broken her. Farther north they spot Omtose Phellack, which Emroth says they’ll have to cross. When Hedge asks what’s on the other side, she replies she thinks it’s “home,” and Hedge thinks she just “[made] things a lot harder.”
Udinaas, fevered for days, “dreams” himself crippled, overlooking a wrecked temple and surrounded by hundreds of Forkrul Assail corpses littering the hillsides. The Errant appears, covered in blood and screams out in fury. The Errant tells Udinaas “Can you feel this grief?” and says they are for him, so their deaths will not be empty of meaning. Menandore, in dragon form, arrives and tells the Errant Udinaas is hers, but then agrees to give him to the Errant in exchange for a simple “nudge” to remove her sisters’ interference, though she says the child Udinaas fathered by her is not part of the deal. The Errant warns her the “child” is now grown and “his mind is his own.” When he calls this warning an act of “mercy,” she scoffs and tells him Udinaas will fail him, as “he has no faith, the compassion within him . . . [is] ever moments from annihilation.” Udinaas banishes the two.
Kettle speaks to Udinaas still in his dream, telling him the temple had broken because it couldn’t hold all the grief and Udinaas had been meant to see it “so you’d understand when everything happens. And not be sad. And be able to do what he wants you to do, just not in the way he thought it would be.” Before leaving, she tells him not to cry too soon. Udinaas thinks his dreams are like “lessons in taking control.”
Seren, worried about Udinaas, asks Clip when they’ll head into lower altitudes so she can find healing herbs. Clip says Udinaas’ fever isn’t wholly natural and Ruin agrees, saying old, fragmented sorcery permeates the area. He thinks it might be K’Chain Che’Malle, though he isn’t sure, nor does he know why only Udinaas seems to be affected. Seren tries to find snow to melt and wonders why so much of the past snowfalls that have accreted into glaciers seem to have passed through “smoke, ash, pieces of once living things.” As she digs, she uncovers a spear which Clip identifies as T’lan Imass. When Seren asks if that name is supposed to mean something to her, he says, “it will.” Clip then tells her he has been “blessed” by Mother Dark, that he can “walk the Darkness,” something Ruin doesn’t know, adding Seren shouldn’t tell Ruin since Clip is the only one who can stop Ruin from killing her and Udinaas, whom Ruin sees as enemies. When Seren scoffs at the idea of the two of them posing a threat to Ruin, Clip refuses to explain. Seren plans on giving the spear to Udinaas as a crutch and Clip mysteriously says, “It belongs with us.” When she does give it to Udinaas, Ruin tells Udinaas that he’ll have to give it up at some point (and not to Ruin). Clip mentions he’s never seen a spear fighter he couldn’t take easily and Fear laughs, to Seren’s enjoyment.
Quick Ben bemoans the loss of friends and knows he is trying to avoid making more friends for fear of more pain. He, Trull, and Onrack are being tracked by giant catfish and they discuss using Quick Ben’s gate to exit. Quick, though, fears some unknown consequences for Onrack, who replies he is expendable and if he has to be left behind, he’ll turn to dust and “join oblivion.” Just before being attacked, they move through Quick Ben’s gate into the world he’d entered before and Onrack is returned to full life. Onrack asks if they’ve entered Tellann and Quick Ben says he isn’t sure.
Redmask tells an ancient tale of long ago, how the land descended from sky to earth. He talks of the Shaman of the Antlers (T’lan Imass) who, he says, cursed the earth. Though they left to fight their wars, Redmask says the Awl do not forgive. Bast Fulmar, he tells his warriors, was not the site of battle between the Awl and K’Chain Che’Malle as both the Awl and Letherii think. It was where the T’lan Imass performed their ritual of Tellann and drained the valley of magic, meaning the Letherii sorcery will not work.
Twilight’s group reaches Boaral Keep near the coast and speaks to two old women. It turns out the two women, Pully and Skwish, are Shake witches. They have been cursing the Letherii leader of the keep with madness, cursing the entire line with killing their wives. The keep’s master of arms, Yedan Derryg, has ridden to the coast having heard rumors of monsters/demons. He is Twilight’s half-brother and also Shake (part of The Watch). Twilight, who had been princess, is now queen of the Shake, as her mother died about a year ago. She orders the two to lift the curse. Pully says it’s too late and Twilight decides to execute him, “avoiding” arrest. Pully informs Twilight the witches have chosen her a husband—Shake Brullyg on Second Maiden Fort, though they no longer know what is going on there, which is something unprecedented.
Bivatt had been surprised to find the Awl already set up in force at Bast Fulmar and then was told most of their dogs had been poisoned. She notes the Awl warriors are more disciplined then usual and they are using spears, not the faulty weapons sold to them by the Factor. Brohl Handar suggests Bivatt withdraw, offering several critiques and then informing her that the valley is dead to magic. The battle begins and does not go well for the Letherii as the Awl employ unusual tactics. Suffering major losses, Bivatt orders retreat, hoping to use her mages on the plain. Then she is told of “demons” attacking and being pursued by the Letherii mages. She tries to order the mages back.
As the battle commences, Brohl Handar sends reinforcements to the supply camp, having a bad feeling about things. The camp is attacked by K’Chain Che’Malle and Handar rides to its aid but is badly wounded.
Bivatt sees a K’Chain Che’Malle wreak havoc amongst her shoulders until being driven off by sorcery. She retreats toward camp hoping Handar fought off the attack there. Redmask seems content to let them retreat.
Twilight rides with three others towards the coast. She thinks of how the prison island had been sacred to the Shake and has been freed too late, thinking of how sometimes the Shake would see “demon-kissed children” born to them, some of whom would become witches using the Old Ways and others that would be tossed from the cliffs to the “thirsty sea.” She had fled the “barbaric legacy” of her people and the “nihilism of a self-inflicted crime.” She had understood better once she saw a fully demonic birth. She had thought the coven obliterated and thinks how the shouldermen are a “devolution” from “truly knowing the god that was the shore.” She thinks the coven does what it desires and wishes the Letherii had succeeded in wiping them out. She has spent time hand-picking her soldiers, choosing those with Shake blood. They run across Yedan Derryg and his soldiers, who are also Shake. He told her that like her he’d thought his title—Watch—was merely “honorific” but he felt himself summoned three nights ago, adding that they’ve discovered strangers have arrived, though they leave no tracks. Then they see a glow and investigating, they find hundreds of ships burning on the shore and Twilight recognizes them as Malazan, from a continent where they’d killed thousands when their fleets clashed. She tells Derryg they journey to the isle and the hell with warning the Edur and Letherii.
Bill’s Reaction to Chapter Twelve
Bivatt certainly is displaying that Letherii arrogance (though grounded in past experience), arrogance quickly revealed as we shift to the deception in the camp.
I love the back and forth between Toc and the Elder, with the Elder thinking (not too unreasonably after all) that Toc is playing some sort of lying game. If you just listed his lines and read them, it’s a pretty amazing succession of the surreal:
- I suckled at the tit of a K’Chain Che’Malle matron.
- These arrows were made by a dead man. Dead for a hundred thousand years.
- This body you see isn’t mine. I stole it.
- This body’s father was a dead man—he gasped his last breath even as his seed was taken
- This body grew strong on human meat.
- [I should have died] more times than I can count. Started with a piece of a moon. Then a damned puppet . . .
Just one of those would have sufficed for a single person’s experience with the fantastic, one would think. And Toc isn’t done.
That closing line is one that reverberates throughout the series but is apparent many times in this chapter as well: “thought about old friends long gone.” It’s a line that moves us nicely to one of those friends—Hedge—and also meshes with Emroth’s later lines about her memories, then leads us eventually into Quick Ben’s litany of the friends he’s lost.
I like how matter-of-fact the meeting is between Hedge and Emroth (by the way, we’ve seen a very similarly named T’lan Imass earlier. Anyone?). Here is one dead person meeting another dead person in a land of the dead and it’s “hey . . .”
It’s been a while since we’ve re-examined the Imass-Jaghut war (remember waaaaay back when it seemed so easy to just say “Imass good. Jaghut bad”?) We get a nicely phrased mini-lecture from Hedge on the topic. I particularly like the insight in “you made of yourselves the first victims.” Something it seems always to be guarded against in such wars. I also really like the ironic metaphor of the Imass facing off against the icy cold of Omtose Phellack by making themselves, their hearts, even colder.
Poor Udinaas. How must it feel to be tossed back and forth between two figures like the Errant and Menandore? And it isn’t like Menandore, after “claiming” him, does much bargaining. She comes down in dragon form all huffy and puffy and “Oh no you don’t—he’s MINE!” And then the Errant tosses off an “I’ll give you an anti-sister nudge for him.” And Menandore is like “Deal!” I mean, she could have held out a bit more for the guy. Maybe for a full “push.” Two nudges and a pinch? Even worse, she then tells the Errant he bought himself a dud. Caveat emptor buddy.
Not exactly a random mentioning of Menandore and Udinaas’ son here. Remember where we saw him? Here is what we said about this in Midnight Tides:
Udinaas and Feather Witch enter another world where they are taken by Imass. In the distance lies a wrecked Meckros city “plucked from the sea and sea ice.” Udinaas explains to Feather Witch how the Imass’ strong memories have manifested them as real people in this realm. The Imass have been joined by a Meckros boy named Rud Ellale who can speak Letherii. He says the Bentract took him in after Menandore saved him from the city. Rud is Udinaas’ son by Menandore and is draconic Soletaken. The head Imass, Ulshun Pral, leads them to 12 gates which were sealed by the bonecaster that took the Imass through and tells them they are in an overflow of Starvald Demelain.
Something to keep in mind.
We’ve had a running theme of sorrow/grief play out in the relationship between Udinaas and Kettle, and it’s built upon here as well when Kettle tells him he’ll need to “understand when everything happens. And not be sad . . . [and] don’t cry too soon.” It’s hard to imagine things ending well with all this build-up, I’d say.
Once he wakes for real, Udinaas’ pronouncements of what might happen if this were still a dream are somewhat interesting. Especially if one considers that his “dreams” aren’t exactly fictional. Is there something to what he says or has the fever truly “boiled his brain” as Clip says?
That spear seems to have some weight attached to it in terms of future narrative. First, it’s given lots of description. Clip says, “It belongs with us.” And Ruin “flinches” at its approach and then tells Udinaas he’ll have to eventually give it up. Curiouser and curiouser.
And a few more curiosities in Clip’s scene with Seren:
- What does he know about Seren and Udinaas in terms of why Ruin sees them as enemies?
- If he can “walk” the Darkness, why is he letting them struggle through mountains? Does that mean only he can do it, or, if he could bring them through, what requires him to bide for time?
- Is he truly blessed by the up-to-now-only-been-described-as-withdrawn Mother Dark? And if so, to what end? (And if anyone is so blessed, why not Rake?)
- And while we’re on the topic of Clip, does anyone not see his line “I’ve yet to face a warrior with a spear I couldn’t cut to pieces” as a big ole banner screaming “Here comes Trull!”?
It’s a nice tonal/emotional shift from the past few scenes to Quick Ben’s inner thoughts in this scene. The survivor’s sorrow and to some extent grief is a moving idea and it’s well expressed here, no matter that Quick himself “sneers” at the implied self-pity. Of course, as a reader, that self-awareness, self-deprecation only endears this character to us even more. As does his warmth, his guarded warmth, toward his two “noble” companions: the “humble Tiste Edur with his too-full heart, his raw wound of grief; nor that damned T’lan Imass who now waded through a turgid sea of memories, as if seeking one—just one—that did not sob with futility.” Note the compassion evident in how he thinks of them.
I also like the bit of comic relief to break up the sorrow: “We were assuming you were warding us from them [the giant catfish].”
Anybody else have to look up “prognathous”?
How moving is that scene where Onrack is reborn (nice touch with the little semi-halo of birds swirling around him)? We don’t react merely to his rebirth but also to Trull’s tears of joy for his friend. It’s a true double emotional whammy. Though in our shared joy at this resurrection, it’s hard to quell that horrifying thought—what if this is only temporary? What would it be like to lose this all over again?
And I love that shift from Onrack’s rebirth, his becoming “young again” to Redmask’s opening line “When the world was young . . .” What a great transition. Even better, the transition turns out to be way more concrete than it seems, as Redmask’s story turns out to be about the Imass and the T’lan ritual. Didn’t see that coming at the start, did you?
That sneaky Redmask—setting up in a magic-free zone. That’s gonna hurt….
Well, we’ve had, as I mentioned, increasing mentions of the Shake. Lots of intimations that that storyline, whatever it was with those people, was going to bloom into something bigger. And here we have it beginning as suddenly the whole plot line explodes:
- Twilight was the Shake princess.
- Twilight is now the Shake queen.
- Shake Brullyg (whom Shurq Ellale is trying to see and who seems to be being held prisoner on his own island) is her betrothed (which she’s just learned).
- There’s a coven of 200 Shake witches. And they seem to have some real power going by these two.
- Twilight has a Shake half-brother.
- That half-brother is known as The Watch, begging the question of course, what is he watching for?
- And by the end of this chapter, Twilight has claimed her mantle of authority (though that’s not to say it’s going to be given easily to her or fully to her) and the Shake are about to go on the move. More to come.
I’m not going to go into much detail regarding the battle, save to say:
a) Boy, did Bivatt get her butt handed to her.
b) Erikson is one of the better handlers of battle scenes in fantasy, I think. It’s been a while since we’ve had one of these and it’s good just to note in general how it all feels quite real in terms of tactics and how it also feels (to me at least) quite clear. That doesn’t mean I don’t reread a line or two here and there to figure out the logistics, but it means that first of all, there are logistics (I hate logistic-free battles!) and it only takes a quick reread of a line or two to ground me in just what is happening to whom and where.
Okay, show of hands. Brohl Handar. Dead? Or alive? (I’m not telling.)
I mentioned last time that we were catching our breath, that things were building. And look where we end up, 40% of the way into the book: “The Malazans are on our shore.” Tell me that didn’t shiver your blood when you read that. I call those sorts of moments “Mufasa moments” after that great scene in The Lion King:
Banzai: Now that’s power.
Shenzi: Tell me about it. I just hear that name and I shudder.
Shenzi: Ooooh! Do it again!
Banzai: Mufasa, Mufasa, Mufasa!
Shenzi: it tingles me!
So I’ll just end on that line again: “The Malazans are on our shore.”