Malazan Reread of the Fallen

Malazan Re-read of the Fallen: Return of the Crimson Guard, Chapter Three, 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 second half of Chapter Three 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.

Just a note that Amanda will be adding her bit in the comments, as she’s in the midst of traveling. Also, our splitting point for Chapter IV will be ending Part One at “They know lad. They know. Word’s bein’ spread,” and beginning Part Two at “The Imperial Council was convened in new quarters…” The split is roughly halfway through; in my print version the two scenes are separated by asterisks.


Chapter Three Part Two


Sunny and Hurl tail Storo out of the inn, while Silk the mage and Jalor and Rell are also following, though less obviously. Hurl realizes Storo is going to meet the pirates he’d told them he’d started out with, a group outlawed by Laseen. She worries the pirates might turn Storo and Sunny shows her he’s wearing a bevy of cussers and the like. They follow Storo into a warehouse and hide so as to eavesdrop on his conversation with a trio who are clearly Old Guard. One, Orlat, presses Storo for an answer and when Storo says they already know his answer, Orlat says he is “sorry it has to be that way.” The two others disappear and six veterans step beside Orlat as Rell steps up beside Storo. Sunny and Hurl are surprised by one of Orlat’s men, but Silk sends him “elsewhere.” While Rell holds off four soldiers, Sunny and Hurl, with some help from Jalor, escape the “sent elsewhere” guy and the female mage that had been with Orlat earlier, then set off munitions to open an exit. Storos’ squad retreats to a river launch while Shaky covers them. After they get away, Storo tells them Fist Rheena is dead and there’s been a coup in the city. He says Orlat told him the Seti and Tali and other old kingdoms were rebelling and that many of the Malazan garrisons, undermanned, had probably turned to the Old Guard, adding he himself had served under Urko. Marveling at Silk’s seeming newfound magical abilities/strength, Sunny wonders if he is a Claw, but he says he’s from Li Heng and so he “pulls more out of myself here than anywhere.” They’re met by an old woman healer named Liss, who refers to them as “loyalists,” and calls Hurl “Builder.” She has an odd reaction to Rell though, hissing at him and muttering something Sunny can’t catch. Leaving Liss behind, they head to the palace, evading gates thanks to Silk’s arrangements, which makes Hurl think Silk might even be “more than” a Claw. Storo says they enter the place, control the old Protectoress’ Throne Room (the City Temple), then meet the garrison in the morning. When Sunny asks if Silk will get them into the palace via Imperial Warren, Silk replies no one can enter the City Temple by Warren and they’ll use the secret passage instead.


Silk leads them into the sewers and they find a statue of a jackal: “Ryllandaras. The White Jackal of Winter. Quon’s Curse. The man-jackal First Hero who rampaged for centuries across these central plains rendering them all but impassable but for the intercession of the tribes who worshipped him—the Old Seti.” When Sunny says Kellanved or the Emperor slew him, Silk responds “that’s one version of things,” and describes how long ago, when Hen was one of the most powerful independent city-states, Ryllandaras and the Seti were its chief enemies. The statue is an entrance to a hidden passage.


Hurl tells Silk he’s revealed himself as a city mage back when Kellanved came and Silk doesn’t argue. Silk says this passage was never used because “she wouldn’t flee…and abandon her city,” the “she” being “Shalmanat. Protectress of Li Heng for millennia. Some said since its first founding as a caravan crossroads. Slain by Kellanved—or Dancer to be precise.” Silk admits he had known something was in the wind and Silk realizes it had been Silk who had put together much of the squad and she wonders if he’s also influenced where they were posted. They enter the temple, filled with white, and Rell kills four guards almost instantaneously. They defeat another squad then run into a magistrate—Plengyllen—who having heard of the coup runs from them, calling them assassins.


Storo’s squad continues to take on Orlat’s men, while the garrison mostly stays out of it. Near dawn, they reach the marshaling grounds to find Orlat and fifty men there waiting. When Orlat tells Storo to surrender, they have no idea who they were up against, Storo says it’s the other way around, then sends Rell, whom he’s been keeping back, forward.


After Rell kills or wounds almost half his soldiers, Orlat calls on his two mages, who advance in a wave of Thyr fire magic. Rell refuses to leave and the others retreat down the hallway. Silk appears and faces down the mages, calling them ignorant for using Thyr, “a degenerate warren. Bastard child of incestuous union,” and then calls upon Kurald Liosan. Hurl is flattened by light and whiteness and sees the two mages and Orlat and his soldiers incinerated.


Bill’s Reaction to Chapter Three, Part Two

I like that little bit of local color Esslemont gives us the Sunny and Hurl tail Storo through the city—the taverns, whores, late night workers, the blacksmith’s hammering ringing out. And I liked as well how he moved us smoothly from that into a bit of characterization regarding Hurl.

Here’s an early reference to Rell’s skill: “that guy was just amazing…The young fellow would just look away all shamefaced whenever the subject of promotion or commendation came up.” Something to keep in mind (especially that latter part) as we see his skill later in this chapter.

Well, we had suspicions already this was an Old Guard meeting and “a gang outlawed by the Empress” would seem to confirm that.

It’s nice to see the Moranth alchemicals getting a bit broadened here, when Hurl uses them to open the locked door. You’d like to think the knowledge does get used in other ways beyond the stuff that blows other stuff up (though to be fair, there is a fair bit of nuance among the blow-up things). I also liked that throwaway line about the “engineering academy” and wouldn’t mind seeing a short story or two set in one of those.

Again, another nice bit of vivid detail, here as the two crawl across the crates: “They stank of tar and dust and bat droppings and trailed cobwebs…” Some visual, some odor, some tactile….

Another hint to what we’re about to see in regards to Rell: “Six veterans. This could give Rell a run for his money.” Implying of course that she wouldn’t be surprised if he takes them all on. And a bit later, “Rell never made a sound when he fought, ever.” Later on, she’ll muse that “In all the years campaigning together she’d yet to see him cut. There was something unnatural about that.”

“Plain squad mage.” I do so enjoy that tradition….

Two interesting tidbits with their meeting with the mage healer Liss: the way she calls Hurl “Builder” and her reaction to Rell (who’s becoming quite the mystery boy early on in this chapter.)

Speaking of mystery, Silk is also picking up some early airs of the same, first with the recognition that he’s seemingly more powerful than he’s ever shown, then the suspicion that he’s a Claw, then Liss telling him the two of them have “faded.” His might be an interesting perspective going forward, city mage of a once-proud city-state conquered by the Malazan Empire.

So we’ve had a few side references to Ryllandaras. Anyone thinking that stopping for a paragraph or two of more detail about this First Hero might be setting us up? Especially with Silk’s heavy-with-implication “That’s one version if it,” when Sunny says Dancer killed Ryllandaras. Just a few reminders from our earlier book regarding the name:

  • In Deadhouse Gates, Mappo and Icarium meet a Ryllandaras in the form of wolves.
  • Mappo: “Your brother Treach had it in mind that he killed you. Where was that chasm? Dal Hon? Or was it Li Heng? You were D’ivers jackals then, I seem to recall.”
  • Later, Kimloc, the Tanno Spiritwalker tells Fiddler: “the Emperor clashed with both Treach and Ryllandaras outside Li Heng. I was there.”
  • In House of Chains, Karsa meets the same wolf D’ivers, who tries to warn him off encountering Icarium.
  • In The Bonehunters, Heboric refers to Ryllandaras as “a Soletaken who escaped the slaughter.”
  • And finally, and perhaps most pertinent, in Memories of Ice, when Treach returns to himself, he recalls: We fled [the T’lan Imass], a handful of survivors. Ryllandaras, old friend—we fell out, clashed, then clashed again on another continent. He had gone the farthest, found a way to control the gifts—Soletaken and D’ivers both. White Jackal.

That’s a nice little hint by Esslemont of Silk’s move near the end of this chapter when they enter the temple and it’s so bright: “very white and bright—though no source of light was visible.” We had a hint earlier, when Silk uses white light again Orlat’s mage at the warehouse door, and in a bit we get him saving the captain from “some kind of shadow thing” via a “flash of blinding pure white light.”

Another little tidbit about Rell:

“I thought you had some kinda code…Ain’t that against your code, them being unarmed n’ all?”

“They were armed,” answer Rell…“they were just slow.”

This before a much fuller reveal of his abilities:

Hurl was astonished by his form, speed, and most of all, his ruthless surgical efficiency. He seemed to have been trained exactly how to cut for maximum disabling or plain maiming power…It was more a slaughter than a fight.

Speaking of a more full reveal, we now get Silk in full Kurald Liosan anger. And, as we’ve seen from the Liosan, condescension as well—note the “bastard practitioners of a degenerate warren…Retarded child…sad ignorance.” That a pretty good ending I’d say, for a chapter that was mostly skirmish.

So we’ve got a bit of mystery surrounding two seemingly pretty powerful characters: Silk and Rell. And an undermanned garrison holding a city against a coup. And let’s not forget our little mini-lesson in Ryllandaras.

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


Back to the top of the page


Subscribe to this thread

Post a Comment

All comments must meet the community standards outlined in's Moderation Policy or be subject to moderation. Thank you for keeping the discussion, and our community, civil and respectful.

Hate the CAPTCHA? members can edit comments, skip the preview, and never have to prove they're not robots. Join now!

Our Privacy Notice has been updated to explain how we use cookies, which you accept by continuing to use this website. To withdraw your consent, see Your Choices.