Malazan Reread of the Fallen

Malazan Re-read of the Fallen: Return of the Crimson Guard, Chapter Two, Part Two


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 the rest of Chapter Two of Return of the Crimson Guard (RotCG).

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.


Chapter Two Part Two


Mallick Rel walks the street of Diviners amidst lots of fortune tellers. He stops when a boy says “A great many enemies oppose you . . . You risk all . . . but for a prize beyond your imaginings.” Rel tells him he’s right and, laughing, gives him money. He continues on and buys a Deck and then has his eye caught by a necklace made of “chains in miniature . . . slivers of bone from the very remains of the poor victims of that fiend Coltaine’s death march.” The vendor praises Laseen “in her call for all Quon to rise against the traitorous Wickans” and says Rel must have the necklace so “we may all learn from what it carries.” Rel agrees to purchase it, and expresses interest as well in a charm to “deflect Hood’s eternal hunger.”


Later, Rel visits Lady Batevari, recently arrived, supposedly from Darujhistan. Batevari is known to be sensitive to patterns in the Warrens. She is called the High Priestess of the Queen of Dreams, though she and the temple seem at odds and so nobody is sure if she is official. Some consider her a sham. Lady Batevari arrives, guided by a young girl named Taya. The Priestess, in a seeming trance, she sees:

“New colliding against the Old and a Usurpation! . . .  Houses collapsing and powers turning on each other, they all eye the injured but he is not the weakest. No, yet his time will come . . . One hides in the dark while they all contend. Yet does he see his Path truly—if at all? The Darkest . . . His Doom is so close at hand! As for the brightest. He is ever the most exposed while She who watches will miss her chance and the beasts arise to chase one last chance to survive this coming translation. So the Pantheon shall perish. And from the ashes will arise . . . ”

She comes out of it before saying what will arise. Rel tells her that her prediction of the coming of the Guard was right and that they are closer than anyone thinks. Before she exits, she says she knows Rel really comes to see her to steal Taya away. Rel is angered to see Taya laugh at the idea. After Lady Batevari leaves, Taya dismisses the prophecy as pretty obvious, given the fall of Fener, rise of Trake, new Houses in the Deck and so on. Rel confirms the Guard is near and implies something big is coming. She asks if he has an informant in the Guard and he scoffs at the idea, warning her not to think of them as mercenaries but as a military order. She hopes not like the “dreary” ones out of Elingarth. Rel says he needs Assemblyman Imry, from the Kan Confederacy, to step down and when he gives suggested ways Taya snaps at him not to tell her how to do her job. He insists it happen soon and she agrees, though it may be “messy.” They agree they have “mutual ambitions” and then she warns him she has thwarted two assassination attempts on him the past month and he wonders if this is a threat. He asks that she have Lady Batevari speak more of the Guard’s return and the “firm hand needed” and then leaves.


Outside, Rel is proud of himself for having found Taya, who is really the daughter of Vorcan Radoc, the prime assassin of Darujhistan. Taya is here to take vengeance on the Empire for killing her mother, though Rel thinks she’ll be surprised by the form that vengeance takes. As he heads away, he thinks how his own mage bodyguard, Oryan, whom Rel had liberated from the prison in Aren, has thwarted many assassination attempts on Rel, using strange Elder magic. As he thinks of Mael, he wonders if the gods are in fact meddling as Lady Batevari had said, but then dismisses the idea and thinks he’ll have a talk with Mael soon.


Ghelel is working with her fencing-master Quinn when he stops the exercise suddenly. They hear fighting and she sees Malazans outside their room. Quinn grabs her and tells her to be quiet, they have to hide, saying she’s more important than she knows. They find a hidden trapdoor and hide below. He tells her it seems the local Fist is taking hostages from the First Families because of concerns over insurrection or secession, seeing as the Talian noble houses never really accepted being ruled by the Empire.


They start to exit at night but are met by waiting soldiers, who tell Quinn just to send the girl out. As the Malazans fire the stable, they make a run out the back, Quinn killing the two soldiers in their way. They fight there way free with Quinn badly wounded. He calls her Ghelel Rhik Tayliin, which surprises her as the only Tayliins she knows are the last rulers of Talian before the Malazan conquest, but Kellanved and Dancer had killed them all. They’re rescued by a group of soldiers led by Amaron, Quinn’s old commander and a Napan, now an intelligence gatherer for the insurrection. He tells her the hostages are for the Malazans to get safe passage out of Tali, which is now in the hands of the noble families. He adds General Choss, former High Fist and supposedly dead is the military commander. They head for Quinn’s manor house.


Ereko and Traveller reach a tiny village called Canton’s Landing. At night, Ereko remembers again Traveller’s arrival at the Wall. Ereko’s own section was now rarely attempted by the Stormriders. He watches as Traveller survives several attacks and is startled when Wandwielders, the Stormrider mages, arrive to take Traveller on. Traveller kills one, then turns his back and when another arrives, he tosses his sword down. It appears to Ereko that the two combatants spoke to one another before the Wandwielders withdrew. That night Ereko broke his and Traveller ‘schains and carried the insensate Traveller away. The next morning the two introduce themselves and Traveller apologizes but says he needs to return to get his sword back.


The village’s headman tells them their village is afflicted by sea raiders and soon they’ll be all dead. Traveller asks to see anything the raiders have left behind and when he looks at it, agrees to help. The headman says the villagers will help Traveller build his boat and warns the “grey raiders” will be back soon.


On the Wickan frontier, Sergeant Chord’s Malazan patrol comes across a group of Malazans “settlers” that have attacked a Wickan religious pilgrimage, killing elders and children and keeping others to rape and to sell. The leader of the settlers, fresh from raping a young Wickan girl, tells Chord these are Malazan lands, “as the Empress has reminded us all,” and it’s time they were “cleansed,” reminded Chord that the Empress has offered free land to those who would farm it. He calls the survivors captives of war and Chord takes that opportunity to say he’s claiming them as an agent of the throne. The Wickan girl demands a knife fight to the death against her rapist as Wickan Law allows and Chord enforces it. She kills the settler leader and Chord takes her and the other survivors to the fort, worried that things are going to get bad for his small garrison.


It’s been a month at sea for the Guard and Kyle has been sea sick for much of it, as they head for Stratem, the Guards adopted homeland. Slate performs an aborted Deck reading; all he got was that the Queen of the House of Life dominates. They are called up on deck, armed, and they see Stormriders on the waves. The Stormriders salute the Kestrel. Asone goes by, Kyle raises his tulwar in his own salute which is reciprocated by the Rider. From behind, Greymane comments and when Kyle says maybe it was saluting Greymane, the Malazan replies he’d told them to “cut that out long ago,” which Kyle takes as a joke. Greymane explains he’d grown up on an island south of Quon Tali and so was familiar with Stormriders. He’d been put in charge of the Korel invasion, but after years of stalemated fighting, he tried something no one else had and it “lit a fire under the Korelri . . . and got me arrested by command. I made a mistake—misjudged the situation—and a lot of people got killed that didn’t have to.” He leaves then and Kyle is frustrated that the man he wants to hate for killing the wind spirit is not what he’d expected.


Later, Stoop tells Kyle to relax, he’s “home,” as home for a soldier is his company; a soldier can never go home again. Kyle asks how long Stoop’s been with the Guard and Stoop says 160 years or so, remembered the night 600 of them took the vow. He tells Kyle they were the only ones to stop the Malazans, Skinner even fought Dassem (Traveller), but it “broke them” and then the Duke disappeared, and they split up. But now, he says, they’re going back to reclaim their homeland, and he wonders maybe if some group found the Duke, saying they’d been searching for him everywhere.


Slate offers to do a Deck reading for Kyle, explaining the Deck ahead of time. Staring at the card for the King of House of Chains, Kyle seems to start to call up some power when Slate pulls him out by turning the card over, saying they’ll try some other time. That night, Kyle tries to dream of a woman and a fountain.


In the Untan Harbor, Nait Simal ‘Ap Url, a guard, watches merchant ships heading out. Later, he sees offerings to the sea god cult floating on the water and thinks how there’s been a lot more of that lately. He mocks the superstition.


Fist Genist D’irdel is moving toward Fort Saran, his new command for the next four years, much to his dismay. He’s surprised by the number of Seti camps surrounding the fort. Riding with him is Captain Moss, who though only attached for a few weeks has already annoyed Genist, partially because of deference Moss has already been granted by the sergeants. When Genist tells Moss to advance, Moss reminds him the scouts haven’t returned yet, which Genist dismisses scornfully, telling him “We’re not at the front . . . This is the centre of the continent.”


Entering the fort, Genist is met by a group of veteran soldiers, none of whom he recognizes. The leader introduces himself as Toc the Elder, which stuns Genist and causes Moss to get the “hardest face Genist had ever seen on the man.” Toc calls out to Genist’s soldiers and asks if anyone knows him: “flank commander under Dassem . . . scour[er] of Nom Purge, [he who] brought the Seti into the fold.” Genist recalls that it was Toc the Elder who had negotiated the treaties with the Seti and led thousands of them. Turning, Genist sees five Seti elders watching and he worries what might be starting here. As he ponders the thought, “his” soldiers start chanting “Toc the Elder! Toc the Elder!”


Amanda’s Reaction to Chapter Two Part Two

I really like this glimpse of the charlatans that offer fortunes and futures, since in these Malazan books we’ve seen so many true visions and little of the false representations that must spring up. However, this little urchin lad does seem to be telling the truth. And what a grotty picture of Mallick Rel this is, to start us off into his storyline… He’s just such a grim person.

I also really enjoy the idea of Dragons decks and their reflection with Tarot decks—the fact that a deck might stay in a family for generations, and that people will feel an affinity with certain decks.

Damn, I really do hate Mallick Rel—the idea of him having this necklace which emphasizes the traitorous nature of Coltaine just makes me feel ill. Please tell me he is going to get his comeuppance! PLEASE!

Lady Batevari from Darujhistan, who is said to be High Priestess of the Queen of Dreams—someone we’ve met before?

There are some interesting tidbits in her little speech about the gods though. Does “brother ‘gainst sister” mean Tavore and Paran? I suspect they will come up against each other in the battles to come. “They all eye the injured but he is not the weakest”—is this the Crippled God? If not, who? And who is the weakest in the whole affair? All the gods seem to have suffered setbacks that we have seen up til now. “One hides in the dark while they all contend”—someone to do with the Tisti Andii and the Warren of Darkness? Maybe Anomander! If so, that Doom doesn’t sound like too much fun. And what will arise in their place…?

Ugh, I thought Taya was merely a slip of a girl who was leading Rel on with her charms—it somehow makes it worse that she is in league with him, and taking advantage of what could be a confused old lady (unless this Priestess of the Queen of Dreams is fully aware and is playing them both?)

Ah! Daughter of Vorcan, who we met all the way back in Gardens of the Moon (and isn’t that a long time ago now?) She does have talents then. And it seems as though Rel is setting himself against Laseen, if he is making sure he has people around him that she’s not aware of… Especially since Taya is here for revenge against the Empire who slew her mother. And who is the physical representation of the Empire? That would be Laseen. A dark alliance, this one.

Damn, I forgot that Mallick Rel was associated with Mael. It can’t be true, surely. Not now that we’ve met Bugg and spent time with him. Bugg couldn’t possibly have taken on someone like Rel, can he?

Poor Ghelel! It would never be good to find out that Laseen is hunting for more people to execute, to purge the Empire of the Old Guard and others, but to then hear that members of your family might already have been taken… Not nice. I like Quinn immediately—I’m hoping it’s not one of those responses that you’ll all decry in the comments, as with Clip!

I don’t like it that Malazan soldiers are involved in this raid to take Ghelel. I mean, I know that not all Malazan soldiers can be like the Bridgeburners and Bonehunters, and I know that some would stick with Laseen as the rightful Empress, but it’s hard to read having been conditioned to think of Malazans as the good guys. Mind, that means I’m automatically assuming in this case that Ghelel and Quinn are the good guys—but I find that people who try to kidnap/kill you are generally not the good guys….

Quinn has a particular talent, isn’t he? I wonder if we’ve known him under a different name?

Ghelel thinks: “Fandaray take them!” This is now a few times we’ve seen that Togg and Fandaray are in people’s minds, after their revival and taking of the Thrones. I like that continuity between books.

Eep, I was a bit worried that we’d lose Quinn as soon as I decided that I liked him! And in his ravings he reveals that Ghelel is actually called: “Ghelel Rhik Tayliin” which means absolutely nothing to me.

Ereko is quite clearly badass, considering that the Riders learnt not to face him on the Wall. Also, he rescued Traveller from the Wall. Definitely someone worth keeping an eye on!

I like these mysterious couple of sentences: “Auroras played like waves themselves across the night sky. The lights of another world, or so claimed the Korelri.” In fact, I like the whole sequence detailing the rescue of Traveller—from the way we learn that Erekos takes his orders from the Queen of Dreams (two quick mentions—seems as though she’ll be a player in this book), to the way that Traveller dryly informs Erekos that they left his sword behind. Good stuff.

Grey raiders = Tiste Edur? [Bill: yep.]

Damn, more Malazans that I dislike, especially the rape. Especially the rape of a Wickan child. Just not nice. I do wish, to all the gods, that rape was reduced in its usage through fantasy tales. Yes, it happens. We all know it happens. Yes, it could be said to make tales more gritty and real. But my God I’m getting so tired of it. I can’t even imagine how those who have been raped feel when they encounter casual mentions of it in fantasy tales.

Hmm, has Kyle been marked by a god, with that scent of perfume and the feel of a hand against his brow? Could be a dream, could not.

Here is a sharp reminder of the old vs. new conflict between those of the Crimson Guard: “The adopted homeland of the Crimson Guard. A land that meant nothing to Kyle.”

“It’s just a bunch of cards.” How many of us have thought the same about Tarot cards? Yet some people believe absolutely fervently that they give an indication of what might occur in the future. Again, nice reflection between the two.

So… was that Rider saluting Greymane? Or was it Kyle that drew the reaction? And is it because of his extra special sword?

Little hints about Greymane and the action that got him exiled from Korel. I would like to know more. I reluctantly like Greymane—I don’t know whether I’m supposed to! I think I mostly like him because Kyle doesn’t, and I’m finding Kyle a bit whiny and a pain in the ass.

This I really like. It’s something I’ve experienced when I left home and moved three hours away from friends and family. I imagine it’s absolutely magnified if you’re involved in the military—because that really takes you away from everything you used to know and changes you as a person: “What happens to us when we go back to those places, hey? […] We find out something we don’t want to know—that they ain’t home no more. No one there recognizes us no more. We don’t fit in. No one understands.”

So the Avowed will fall on the day that K’azz does, hmm? That’s the way the Vow works? And where the hell is K’azz? Seems like the Crimson Guard have been looking for him for a while.

Poor Kyle—I forgot he was a tribesman and that a ship would be entirely out of his comfort zone! Maybe some of the whiny attitude can be forgiven….

This detailed look at the deck is fantastic. It’s great to see how well the deck reflects real world happenings, like Shadow appearing so recently and powers coming and going. Also love to see the way that the cards from the House of Chains are crippled themselves, warped and not quite right. Does Kyle have an affinity with the House of Chains then? Is that why this reaction, and also why Slate decides to end the reading?

Toc the Elder! Toc the Elder!


Bill’s Reaction to Chapter Two Part Two

Mallick Rel. I hate him. Been a while since I got to say that.

It’s interesting that the Wax Witches are out in seemingly plain sight with no problem in Diviner’s Row, considering we began this series (o so long ago) with a purge of said Wax Witches. Anybody remember a reference to how they were allowed back in good (or at least tolerated) grace? I don’t recall.

I also like this broader view of “talent”—both real (if minor) and fake and wouldn’t mind seeing more of it. In a world with real magic, it’s impossible to think others wouldn’t try to take advantage of it, whether they could do magic or not.

Wouldn’t you like to think Rel is “haunted” by the Chain of Dogs? (The “like waves” are a nice touch though). And yes Amanda, I’m assuming we all do hope he gets some kind of “lesson,” if not the one he thinks (and hope that charm against Hood doesn’t work at all).

For all the talk of Laseen’s incompetence or not, her plans or not, etc., her use of the Wickans as scapegoats is perhaps the one thing that makes it so hard for me to view her in a positive light. I think more of this comes up later, though it’s only a vague memory.

I’m pretty sure we have not met Lady Betevari anywhere earlier Amanda (anyone else?). I have no memory of it at least. What is actually important here is her companion, as we see soon. Her point of origin—Darujhistan—is more a clue to Taya than the Lady.

I like Rel having to suffer through the Lady’s bad taste in decoration and wine, however.

As to the Lady’s prediction, which I’d say based on her trance-like state and Taya’s reaction we’re meant to take seriously despite the fact that much of her “prophecy” is fed to her:

New vs. old I’d say has both a godly meaning and a, as she puts it, “mundane realm” reading: old gods and new gods (though lines aren’t drawn quite so clearly) and Old Guard vs. Laseen. I’m not sure “brother against sister” needs to be read literally (I’m thinking it could be the non-sexist brother vs brother concept of civil war), but if it were, I’d probably connect it to the Twins rather than Tavore and Paran. I’d be with you Amanda on the Crippled God as “the injured . . . [but] not the weakest . . . whose time will come.” There are lots of possibilities for the one hiding in the dark (Fener comes to mind for instance), but I’d say you’re making a good guess as to the “darkest”—Rake. And you’re right, Doom doesn’t sound like much fun. The brightest would seem to imply Liosan. “She who watches” might be the Queen of Dreams, possibly Ardata, whom we’ve told is hiding (which could also make her the hider but that just didn’t feel right to me). And the beasts that rise—well, could be our Wolves. Might be one other possibility for this book, but I’ll leave it there.

Just as I love Rel having to suffer through the Lady’s bad taste, I’m also loving him having to suffer through Taya’s response to the ludicrous idea that he could “steal” her away.

Just a reminder, Amanda, that Taya’s mother isn’t actually dead. If you recall, Vorcan was grabbed by Rallick Nom and brought into the Azath House in Gardens of the Moon.

Rel’s line about the Guard’s vow—“their greatest strength and greatest weakness” would serve as well for the T’lan Imass I’d say. Much as I hate him, I have to admit Rel isn’t stupid.

You’re right Amanda, that Rel is playing his own game against Laseen. To what end, well, what might be the ultimate goal were Laseen undermined? We also have hints that he’s keeping things close to the vest with Taya as well, but that such lack of “honor amongst thieves” goes both ways, as Taya is showing her own claws a bit (well, she’s not showing her “claws” exactly, but, you know….)

That’s a nice little throwaway reminder of the Grey Swords (and thus the Wolves, and the Perish) with Taya’s scornful comparison of the Crimson Guard to “the ones out of Elingarth.”

I think as daughter of Vorcan, her “dancer” outfit, and her muscular shoulders, we could probably have guessed what her “unmatched skills” might be before Rel tells us himself she’s a master assassin.

That’s an intriguing little tease about the tattooed mage and his “unconventional talents” who acts as one of Rel’s guardians.

As for Rel and Mael, Amanda, remember all the conversations in past books about how sometimes the gods are trapped by their followers/worshipers, are bound by them down paths not of their choosing. That’s the case with Mael/Bugg. Though nothing says relationships can’t change, eh?

Young girl in the midst of a fencing match with her fencing master when soldiers are sent to take her… Can anyone fill in other names besides Ghelel and Quinn?

It is interesting, isn’t it, as Amanda says, to find oneself rooting against Malazans in this scene, hoping Ghelel and Quinn get away. But should we? That’s a good question Amanda.

In a slightly related note, it’s also interesting the darker glimpses we get of Shadowthrone and Cotillion as Kellanved and Dancer—earlier we had the reference to Kellanved killing thousands of his own troops and now we have them killing the Tayliins’ entire (so they thought) line.

Just out of curiosity (not a complaint), has anyone read a book where someone that was thought to be a long-lost prince/princess thought to have died in the cull but miraculously spirited away and raised up turned out not to be? Really was just a kitchen boy or smith’s apprentice or lady’s servant or or or? (If not, dibs on that idea!)

Amaron is a name we’ve heard before (though spelled differently)—from our discussion of House of Chains:

Nok says the answer to her question “lies in what was both a strength and a flaw of the Emperor’s family . . .. Kellanved began with but one companion—Dancer. The two then hired a handful of locals . . . Myself, Ameron, Dujek . . . Hawl my wife . . . The Napan Isles had just been annexed by Unta and were providing a staging point for the Untan king’s planned invasion of Kartool.”
So we’ve had hints earlier—Janul declaring himself “Tyrant” of one area, Laseen referring to domestic tensions, Urko treating with the Moranth, Malazans fortifying Li Heng seemingly in anticipation of an attack of some sort. And now we’ve get an actual insurrection, with Tali being taken over by the Talian noble families, led by more Old Guard—Choss and Amaron. And then Toc taking the fort at the end. Internal and external threats for poor Laseen—Old Guard, subjects rebelling, Rel plotting, Crimson Guard coming….

I do like Ereko’s point of view, his wryly quiet suffering: “Enchantress give me the patience to endure.”

I also like this scene on the Wall—I think the description is well done, the sense of alienness and desperation and it piques my interest as a reader in wanting to see more of this, wanting to know more about the Stormriders, the Wall, the Chosen and so forth. We will further down the road.

And a great ending to that scene with the eye roll by Ereko when he learns he has to go back to get Traveller’s sword.

Yes, more Malazans to detest. But also more to like. You’ve got to like Chord (and his men) in this scene a lot, his disgust at what is happening, his attempt to rectify what he can, his enforcing of the knife fight, knowing exactly how it would end. Though that’s a pretty ominous closing line about his concerns as to the possible results of this on his men and the others at their undermanned garrison. And as I mentioned earlier, this is the part I just can’t get by with Laseen, the very methodical encouragement of just this sort of thing. She knows very well what is going on out in the plains.

We will find out more about Greymane and those Stormriders Amanda. As for liking him because Kyle doesn’t, well, even here Kyle is beginning to like him against his own desires. We’ll have to see if Greymane continues to grow on him, and if Kyle will grow on you.

It’s that famous line: “You can’t go back home again.” Campbell would call this the end of the hero’s journey—the Return that finds the hero back but not wholly, because either the hero has so changed in their experiences that home can’t feel like home again, or because the hero has been so changed that those he left can’t quite trust him the same, are a little bit leery, especially if, like the soldier, it’s assumed they’ve done “bad things.”

Is it an affinity to the House of Chains or is it Kyle having a talent but being unaware of it? Or something else? I think so far Esslemont has done a very nice job with a lot of these sort of early teases—little mysteries (such as where is K’azz) to engage the reader and entice him/her forward.

Speaking of mysteries—Isn’t Moss just a little curious? Attached only a few weeks (already a bit of a curiosity), with an authority that the others pick up on and defer to immediately, and note that reaction to Toc the Elder: that “hardened” face. What’s up with that?

The “the scouts haven’t returned yet . . . it’s not regulation” back and forth with Genist reminds me of the Star Trek: Wrath of Khan scene where Khan suckers Kirk, though Saavik tries to warn him, and afterward Kirk tells her “you keep quoting the regulations at me” or something like that.

That’s a lot of detail to get about the jackal standards, those “sworn to the terror of the plains, Ryllandaras, the white jackal. An ancient power of the same blood, so legend went, as the First Heroes themselves.” I’m just saying a lot of details for just a squad of soldiers.

Genist is slow to the uptake, but he eventually gets it. Toc the Elder!

Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.

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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