Malazan Reread of the Fallen

Malazan Re-read of the Fallen: Reaper’s Gale, Chapter Twenty

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 readers. In this article, we’ll cover Chapter Twenty 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.


Chapter Twenty


Bruthen Trana wanders underwater, driven by some goal he’d forgotten. He finds an Azath house and is invited in by “Knuckles/Setch” who warns him not to speak of dragons to the other guest. Knuckles introduces him to his mother Kilmandaros. Knuckles and Kilmandaros discuss her imprisonment in the Azath (she’s since been able to leave), for which she blames Rake’s betrayal. Knuckles says she betrayed Rake. They tell Bruthen he seeks the Place of Names and once there he must walk the path. Knuckles sends him on his way.


Udinaas’ son by Menandore, Rud Elalle, is grown and has been raised by the Bentract Imass in the Refugium. Menandore arrives to speak to him and he warns her we will not allow the Bentract to be harmed. She scoffs and tells him the new Imass that recently arrived will break the Bentract’s illusion and advises him to kill them first. They discuss the imminent arrival of Ruin’s group and Menandore’s sisters (Sukul and Sheltatha) and Rud thinks he is no longer sure it is a good idea to prevent Ruin achieving Scabandari’s Finnest. Menandore leaves and he goes to meet the newcomers he’s been watching approach (Quick Ben’s group).


Rud introduces himself to Quick’s group and they do the same. He tells them other T’lan Imass have arrived. On the way to meet the Bentract leader Ulshun Pral, Quick and Hedge squabble.


Onrack and Trull discuss Rud’s mother-son connection with the dragon that just passed overhead and assume he too is Soletaken Eleint. Onrack says he fears for the Bentract and the Refugium and Trull tell him they’ll protect both while Quick Ben and Hedge do whatever Cotillion wanted of them. As they approach the Bentract, they spot the three new T’lan Imass and Onrack and Trull take an immediate dislike to them, as does Quick Ben. Onrack speaks to them and tells the others they are Bentract who joined the ritual, unlike Ulshun Pral’s group. The three are the chief Hostille Rator and two bonecasters: Til’aras Benok and Gr’istanas Ish’ilm. Pral’s group has no bonecaster anymore. Onrack says the three had planned usurping the Bentract but are terrified of Rud.


The Adjunct plans to sail out tomorrow, led by Shurq Elalle. The Malazans tried to keep the Silanda secret from the Andii but Nimander knows; the ship had carried his parents in search of Rake. He follows his sister, knowing what Phaed is planning (he’s been awake days waiting for her to make her move), and when she tries to stab Sandalath he stops her, then starts to strangle her, knowing the “truth” of her. He is pulled off by Withal. Sandalath questions him as to what is going on and she and Withal eventually realize Nimander saved Sandalath from being murdered by Phaed. Withal thinks Phaed should be killed, but Sandalath says it would be better to leave them on the island, rejecting Withal’s concern that Phaed will kill Nimander, saying that would leave her alone and drive her crazy. Nimander agrees and begs them to take the Silanda away. Sandalath goes out into the corridor and Withal throws Phaed through the window to her death. He tells everyone Phaed threw herself through and Nimander backs him up. Talking to his love in his head, Nimander says they (the other Andii from the island) will stay and “turn them [the Shake] from the barbarity that has taken them and so twisted their memories.”


Twilight and Yedan Derryg watch the Malazans sailing away. They discuss their suspicions about Phaed’s death and then their concern over the Shake witches. Derryg tells her the Andii might help with the witches and then they discuss the Malazans, with Derryg thinking they’re more formidable than Twilight had thought.


Kindly. Pores. Nuff’ said.


Masan and Cord talk, Cord telling her while Quick Ben was a High Mage, Sinn, “well, she’s the real thing.” Ebron comes up from a card game and tells Cord his magic doesn’t work well on Crump, saying the Mott Irregulars were mage-hunters, and among them the Boles were legendary.


Banaschar tells Shurq there is a ritual to find her soul and bind it to her body again. She tells him she’s fine as she is and lets him look “inward.” He sees the ootooloo in her – “roots filling your entire being . . . . You are dead and yet not dead.” He tells her it’s a parasite and she shrugs it off. Banaschar leaves and the Adjunct and Lostara join Shurq. Shurq tells Tavore about an uncle of hers who took ship with the Meckros and later she heard his ship was destroyed by ice then vanished. Tavore says she wants to hear about the Patriotists.


Sirryn delivers the chancellor’s orders to Hanradi Khalag, leader of the Edur army. After Hanradi leaves, Sirryn delivers separate orders to the Letherii commander, which gives him “considerable freedom” in the battle, telling him that any friction with Hanradi will probably not be a problem.


In prison, Janath has started to recall her earlier torment at Tanal Yathvanar’s hands. Tanal, who has visited once, tells her Karos is obsessed with the bug puzzle and that Tanal has made himself Karos’ beneficiary. Janath thinks if Tehol is killed, he will become a martyr.


Samar tells Karsa she is worried what will happen when he faces Rhulad. He tells her his spirits are eager for the “sacrifice they will make” and tells her that when the time comes, she must free the spirits she has bound to her knife. Also, he wants to have sex with her.


Veed thinks even Icarium will be bested by Rhulad, though it will take a long time and many deaths. Senior Assessor disagrees and tells him “the end is never what you imagine.” When asked when he will finally watch a match, the monk says the first he’ll watch will be Karsa’s.


Rhulad, over his third victim, thinks how he wants to die for real and feels that soon something will be different. He has rejected Karos Invictad’s advice to have Tehol publically humiliated before the Emperor, thinking Tehol would not, in fact, be humiliated, would instead challenge the Emperor as none had since Brys. From Mosag he has learned how his empire is unraveling and from Gnol he has learned how the Malazans are progressing toward Lether. The Empire has also been invaded by the Bolkando group. Rhulad thinks all this chaos will lead to a rebirth, allowing him to shape what is to come.


Father Witch tells the Errant their cult is growing among the Letherii slaves and indebted. She says she has promised them a return to the golden age of the Errant’s rule even over the other gods and he tells her this is a myth, the past was a time of plurality and tolerance. She says the past is what she says it is. He tries to dissuade her from her path, telling her “the lives of others are not yours to use” and people will choose their own path, even if it is one of misery. She replies that the first thing to do is take away the freedom of choice; then you can use them.


Bill’s Reaction to Chapter Twenty

That’s a rough opening to this chapter, with Bruthen wandering the depths and thinking how all is dissolution, how all falls:

Ships . . . the lives on those ships. Whales, dhenrabi, the tiniest crustacean. Plans, schemes, and grandiose visions. Love, faith and honor. Ambition, lust, and malice. He could reach down and scoop it all into his hands, watching the water tug it away, fling it out into a swirling, momentary path of glittering glory, then gone once more.

An appropriate image for a series entitled “the Fallen,” perhaps. Or perhaps not, as what we see, what we “witness” again and again is how these characters continue to fight despite the fact that everything falls. This image also makes one wonder, I’d say, about how our long-lived ascendants go on seeing this happen again and again. It brings a sense of understanding, perhaps, to the “dour nature” of those Andii.

Note that description of Knuckles/Setch: “extra joints on his arms and legs, and what seemed to be a sternum horizontally hinged in the middle.” That should ring a bit of a bell. We’ll see more of Knuckles/Setch later. (That latter name, by the way, is sort of a shortened conjoined name.)

Interesting, after Trana’s “our lives are like mayflies” passage to have Setch—a long-lived guy—reference how his and Kilmandaros’ lives are “as flitting dreams to the Azath.” It’s all relative, I guess.

I love that little dialogue about Rake. Poor guy – always keeps his word and everyone is always trying to “anticipate” his allegedly inevitable betrayal. What’s a guy to do?

From not speaking of dragons to dragons (well, Eleint at least). And our first of several forebodings regarding the Refugium: Rud’s feeling that “time was coming to an end.” No coincidence that this feeling arises with the arrival of strangers.

We also get more mention of convergence, though this time we don’t get the word itself. But we’ve got lots of folks in this area and Rud telling Menandore that Ruin’s group and her sisters are fast approaching.

Note, too, that Menandore should perhaps not be so confident in convincing her son to follow her desires. He’s doing quite a nice job of standing up to her both out loud and internally – warning her he’ll protect the Imass, refusing to kill the newcomers, thinking to himself that maybe Ruin has the right of it (whatever “it” is), having admiration for his true father, Udinaas. The boy is coming into his own and it’s not all clear that Menandore is ready for it.

Speaking of not being ready for it, you have to love her dismissal of Quick’s group, then her attempt to intimidate them, which goes just a little awry thanks to the emlava cubs. And she might have been just a bit more rudely surprised by Hedge’s cusser and Quick Ben’s magics (something to file away by the way).

Boy, Hedge moved pretty quickly from that sense of happiness at Quick’s familiar face to real annoyance with the guy, huh? I can see how Quick’s lack of “lucidity” might be kind of frustrating to those always around him.

Speaking of foreboding, not a lot of good thoughts circling around those new T’lan Imass that have arrived.

This stylistic switch in this scene with Nimander, the almost stream of consciousness is a nice move on Erikson’s part, I think, and highly effective at conveying Nimander’s exhausted state – both physical exhaustion and emotional exhaustion, as well as his horror, the way he’s moving through a nightmare. And what a nightmare – parents dead but alive on the Silanda, sister plotting murder, a dark and stormy night, following her through the darkness into the room, breaking her wrists, strangling her, then being stopped, then trying to convince them killing Phaed is the good idea, then thinking it isn’t going to happen, then watching her get tossed through the window. We’ll have to see if he recovers from this traumatic night.

Note too all those references in his thoughts of sea and shore – aligning him linguistically with the Shake, and then later aligning him more directly with them as he thinks of staying there to, well, shake up the Shake, who have forgotten who/what they were. Something we’ve had lots of hints of and which became especially clear when Deadsmell had begun referencing their names and their past.

And what about Withal? I remember that was a shock to me on my first read. Hadn’t seen that coming – that cold-blooded a decision. And of course, this sets up some suspense for later. Nimander is so sure Sandalath would leave Withal if she knew he had killed Phaed – will she ever find out the truth? And if so, will she leave him?

And some more hints of things to come in the discussion between Twilight and her half-brother: more references to Sinn’s power (something emphasized earlier in the description of the ice not dying easily and something emphasized later by Cord to Masan), and more references to the witches being a problem. Something, it seems, will have to be done about them if Twilight is to rule as queen in her own right. And that’s a great line from Yedan at the end: “the people greet you, Queen.”

Speaking of funny, Kindly and Pores. Need more be said? Don’t you just want to see these two on screen? I’m trying to think of two people to play them – any ideas?

Coming after the emotionally wrought scene with Nimander (and a tougher style), we’re getting a lot of comic relief in these scenes: the end of Twilight’s scene, the Kindly-Pores duo, Masan and Cord and Crump and Ebron, and then Shurq’s very dry “Yes, fine, I grasp the allusions” as Banaschar goes on and on and on about the Worm of Autumn. Not only is this comic tone a relief from what has come before, but it allows us to breathe a bit before we get to a very difficult scene with Janath – once more in the hands of a monster, calling up all that had happened to her earlier and making us fear that it might all happen again.

Buried in that fear and despair though, as well as among the more philosophical musings on her part about how it had been the willing greed of so many that had allowed Tehol to destroy them, and how Invictad risks making Tehol a martyr, we get a few pertinent plot points: Invictad’s growing obsession with his two-headed bug and her recognition of her respect and even affection for Tehol.

What does Karsa anticipate with the spirits? What will be their sacrifice?

Turns out Janath is not the only one with a newfound respect for Tehol. Rhulad himself admires the guy. As much as he admires Brys (will he get a chance to admire Brys again?). We get more of a sense of things rushing toward an end via Rhulad, of a “convergence” – the Malazans pressing inward, the Bolkando Conspiracy crossing the borders, an imminent “Great Battle,” the Empire falling apart around him, Rhulad working his way quickly closer and closer to Karsa and Icarium. Rhulad senses an end coming. Or several actually. His own (which he’s had multiple times of course), which he feels might somehow be “different.” And his Empire’s – an ending that will leave it available to be reshaped into something else. He looks forward to doing so, though of course, one has to wonder if he’ll be the one doing the shaping.

I’m not much of a fan of the Errant, I confess. Though he does have his moments, I think. But I tell you, next to Feather Witch, it’s hard not to like the guy. Or anyone else for that matter. I think she’d make me root for Sauron.

Bill Capossere writes short stories and essays, plays ultimate frisbee, teaches as an adjunct English instructor at several local colleges, and writes SF/F reviews for


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