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 Nineteen 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.
Just a note that Amanda is traveling for work yet again—Frankfurt Book Fair this time—and so will be adding comments later, as she can.
Seren Pedac thinks back on her time with Hull, believing she had “used/raped/killed” him, done so via her need for a hero and purity and then her tearing him down via reality and cynicism. Believing she kills what she loves, she thinks it good that Trull is dead, and begins to let her love for him bloom, as she is no longer a threat to him. Fear and she spar over just what Trull meant by giving her the sword, and he tells her that he once gave up a love and now he will defend her for his brother’s love until he the day he dies. Udinaas talks of Mother Dark taking Father Light as husband and says he wonders about those three brothers: Andarist, Anomander, Silchas. He wonders if maybe the rift between them and Mother Dark wasn’t her marriage to Father Light but learning who their father was. He warns her the myths and tales are untrustworthy, they distort and pare down, preferring “manageable numbers.” He tells her Andarist is dead and she wonders how he knows, what he learns in his nightmares and decides, calling it self-defense, to use Mockra on him later to learn his secrets, though she considers it a “rape” of his mind.
Udinaas now sees Silchas Ruin “in a new light,” as one of many aggrieved children, ones involved in long wars. He wonders where the Children of Light are then thinks it a good thing they’re not around. He sees Ruin and Clip on one side and Fear and Scabandari on the other and worries things won’t end well. He doesn’t trust his night visions, unsure of whose they really were, and refusing to give in to them. Seren asks Clip why there is light in this realm of Kurald Galain/Darkness. He tells her they walk a road, a gift from Father Light, Kurald Liosan. Udinaas says he knows where the road ends but explains he won’t tell Seren because it might keep her alive in “what’s to come.” Udinaas brings up that they are being tracked by Menandore and Clip realizes she wants Scabandari’s finnest for herself. Ruin tells them the Tiste were the very first children, rising in realms that were “elemental.” Udinaas mocks the argument and Clip’s belief that “nothing preceded Darkness,” asking about Nothing and Chaos, and Fire/Light. Ruin walks away but then, unseen by anyone save Udinaas, who turns to listen more. Fear says the Kechra (K’Chain Che’Malle) “bound all that exists to time, thus assuring the annihilation of everything,” but he doesn’t see that as chaos. Clip says, “Chaos pursues,” that Mother Dark scattered it but it seeks ever to become one again. Udinaas says she must have had allies, been helped by betrayal, but then says since Mother Dark herself had to be born of something, there must have been an even earlier betrayal within Chaos. Fear asks how Udinaas Menandore was after them and he begs off the question, thinking maybe he shouldn’t have revealed that “this useless slave does not walk alone.”
Seren uses Mockra to enter Udinaas’ mind when he sleeps. She finds him in a blasted, hot realm. A dragon passes overheard, then Feather Witch appears. She tells him Menandore merely uses him as a weapon, then informs him of her status as Destra Irant to the Errant and tells him he should be T’orrued Segul and that with him and her and the about-to-found Mortal Sword, the Errant will rise to domination once more. The Edur will be destroyed, Lether rise, and the two of them will be rich and powerful. Udinaas shocks her by saying he’s already sent the Errant away, and Menandore as well. She reaches for him and he shoves her aside, saying he’s done with rapes, then walks toward Seren Pedac (there in serpent form).
Seren wakes to Udinaas’ hand around her throat. He tells her if she ever enters his mind again he’ll kill her. Fear throws him aside and Seren tells him to stop, that it was her fault and Udinaas had the right. Udinaas tells Ruin to make it light and when he tries to pretend it’s night Udinaas insists. Clip warns Udinaas he knows too much. Kettle watches all this tumult and whispers, “What they do to each other” to Wither, who replies, “It is what it is to live.”
Venitt Sathad sits at a bar in Drene following a night of riots, which still continue. The mob had stormed Factor Letur Anict’s estate but been forced back. Orbyn Truthfinder joins him and tells him that the Factor has set assassins against Brohl Handar in the army sent after Redmask. The two discuss the financial collapse, the inevitable awakening of the Edur, the fall of the Liberty Consign, the Malazan invasion, and the Bolkando Conspiracy becoming real. Orbyn says he knows what Venitt does for Rautos and knows he’ll be going to the Factor soon. Venitt agrees, and says that because the Overseer Handar isn’t around, the Factor will have to be the one to restore order and Venitt expects Orbyn and his agents to help. Orbyn realizes to his dismay that Venitt has some sympathy for the mob, believing it to actually be “just.” Venitt tells him he will sacrifice his people, the Patriotist agents, to the people’s rage. Orbyn says Venitt may be too late and Venitt thinks Tehol and Bugg have caused this collapse and, recalling his own Indebted nature, thinks they have nothing to fear from him – the assassin of Rautos Hivanar. He hopes the two take “the bastard down.”
Bivatt and Handar are pursuing Redmask’s army. Handar wonders about the cairns they pass, with faces painted white and odd offerings. Bivatt seems to know something but won’t tell. The Letherii catch up to Redmask at Q’uson Tapi, an old salt lake.
Bivatt has made a connection between the cairns and the fleet of war canoes she’d found earlier. Two days earlier she had seen one of the cairn makers watching her and she thinks they are not alone on this plain, fearing that maybe Redmask has made alliance with these strangers. She expects, otherwise, to be able to use Letherii sorcery to wipe out Redmask at Q’uson Tapi, where magic will not be suppressed.
Toc watches as the Awl dismantle the wagon and make walkways and platform in preparation for the final battle. Torrent and Toc exchange barbs.
Redmask recalls killing the Elder who had known the truth of his past, thinking he’d enjoyed the killing but now the face haunts him. As the rain begins to fall, he thinks of his victory tomorrow, the glorious opportunity given to him by his K’Chain Che’Malle.
Bill’s Reaction to Chapter Nineteen
I’ll just say about the Toc poem – it’s pretty explicit. You’ve been warned.
Reading Seren’s little opening monologue about waiting to be swept off her feet by some tall male hero saving her from her life, one could argue it as a stereotypical view of women; a diminishing one as well. But one of the things that writing on such a huge canvas does is allow Erikson to give us a full spectrum of characters. Were Seren the only female in the story, or one of only a handful, one might make that argument. But it’s kind of hard to do that in this universe where we have clearly seen our share of women who are not at all waiting for Prince Charming. Some are their own heroes of their lives, some are heroes of others’ lives, some would chop up Prince Charming and have him for dinner (literally).
It’s a little discomfiting to me, the analogy Seren makes with regard to the various “rape” images in this scene – her own rape of course, her “rape” of Hull, her “rape” of Udinaas. We use that metaphor all the time, of course, “rape of the land,” etc. But coming from one who has suffered actual, physical rape, it still makes me wince a bit. Even as I acknowledge that physical rape has given her the prism through which she sees the world, leading her down that path of thought rather than away from it.
Anyone else think this is a somewhat ominous line? “It was safe, wasn’t it . . . that old dream shining anew. Safe, because Trull was dead. No harm, none at all.”
Once again, I like the sharpness of Udinaas’ mind – his recognition of what a blind minnow means. He’s a smart guy, that Udinaas.
It’s been a while since my last Forge of Darkness reference, so I’ll just say how, well, innnnnnteresting it is to read Udinaas’ questions and speculations about the Andii history – the rift between Mother Dark and the brothers, the way “history” may be wrong, the idea of what came before Mother Dark, and so. Veeeerrrry innnnnteresting.
One really does get a sense this group is walking into it, hm? Fear swearing to protect Seren before he dies, Kettle suddenly grown silent, Udinaas’ hints of “what is to come.” As Seren says, it appears “something terrible was coming.”
Lots of self-justification from Seren upon this realization of something bad coming. “I have a right to protect myself. Defend myself.” And then note how she refers to Udinaas at the end: “I will have your secrets, Slave.” Always easier to justify mistreatment when one can dehumanize the other. Not Udinaas, but “slave.”
And a nice move from that to Udinaas himself, thinking, “He’d been a slave, but he was a slave no longer.” Doesn’t particularly bode well for what Seren has planned, I’d say.
I have to say, Seren’s form as “serpent” is a bit too on the nose for me.
Did anyone think Feather Witch running her hands through “her wild, burnished hair,” or her “sultry voice” was going to work on Udinaas? Didn’t think so.
And again, I love Udinaas’ puncturing insight: “Where is your flesh hiding right now . . . Some airless, stinking hovel that you have proclaimed a temple.” Bullseye!
And what a crushing ending to this scene, Kettle’s so, so sad line—“what they do to each other”—and then even sadder, Wither’s response, “It is what it is to live, child.” And then, piling on the sad, Kettle’s foreshadowing, “It made all that she knew was coming a little easier to bear.”
And here’s an example of a character who has been barely a blip on the page—Venitt Sathad—and yet, he comes so alive in this scene and you have to love the way he chooses side in this. Last chapter we saw Janath asking Tehol why he was doing what he was doing. And we get a nice answer in Venitt here: “Take the bastards down. Every damned one of them. Take them all down.”
If only more thought as Brohl Handar does: “The world is harsh enough. It does not need our deliberate cruelties.”
So the mystery, if it was much of one, of the murdered Elder is solved. Not much surprise there. What is a bit more surprising is that Redmask is haunted by it. Not the first mention, by the way, of ghosts and hauntings in this book. And we’ll see more going forward.
And here are some interesting lines to file away regarding that Elder:
Words that held terrible truths, truths that would destroy Redmask, would destroy any chance he had of leading the Awl to victory” What did the Elder know?
Here’s a bit more to file:
Is that [his weapons] now Awl enough? Am I not more Awl than any other among the Renfayar? Among the warriors gathered here?
I’m not so sure I’d want to swear by “the lizard eyes of the K’Chain Che’Malle.” Just sayin’.
You can really get a sense of things rushing toward the end in all these plot lines. All that foreshadowing and all those ominous lines in the Ruin group. Tehol’s scheme not playing out in reality out in the outskirts. The Malazans cutting through the Letherii defense. Bivatt catching up to Redmask. The actual physical appearance, as opposed to just signs, of a White Face. And we’ve had that word “convergence” show up. We’re getting there….