The wait for Fall of Light, the second book in Steven Erikson’s Kharkanas Trilogy, is almost over! Given the number of characters and complexity of plot, we thought that a semi-brief (believe me, this is brief, the first few drafts were far longer) refresher of the first novel in the trilogy, Forge of Darkness, might come in handy. Considering the scope and scale of that book, this is not meant to be exhaustive, merely a highlight reel. And since it’s a recap, by definition there will be major spoilers. Really. Major ones. People who die and everything. Even people who die, come back, and maybe die again (this is Malazan after all). You’ve been warned.
The story is constructed around the frame of a tale told by one poet, Gallan, to another, Fisher. Gallan opens the story, interrupts his tale periodically to comment on events, then closes the tale.
It’s a time of great tension and impending change amongst the Tiste and fear of civil war shadows (see what I did there?) their world. They’ve just fought several wars, most recently against the Forulkan and the Jhelkin (who can shift between human and beast shape), and the Legion’s returning soldiers, who feel unappreciated and mistreated by the highborn desire compensation for their sacrifice. The Tiste leader, Mother Dark, is on the way toward becoming a goddess and the blossoming religion is still in its early stages, with those who have not bought into her new role/religion derisively labeled “Deniers.” Mother Dark has chosen Draconus, a relatively unknown adoptee of a small Tiste House, as her Consort, and he has given her the gift of Night, allowing her to wrap herself in Darkness. The highborn, however, neither like nor trust Draconus and see his elevation as a threat to their power and privilege. Meanwhile, those not of the highborn are beginning to chafe in this highly stratified society as issues of class and inequality bubble up. Amidst this political, social, and religious unrest, Mother Dark has named Anomander of House Purake her First Son of Darkness. The one promise of joy the book offers up is the highborn wedding soon to take place between Anomander’s brother Andarist and Enesdia of House Jaen.
To the west of the Tiste live the mysterious god-like Azathanai, one of whom—K’rul—has bled himself into the world, gifting its inhabitants with the burgeoning of a new, strange magic. On another border, the Vitr Sea, a deadly ocean of seeming magic, is eating away at the land. And beyond the land of the Azathanai, the Jaghut have walked away from their civilization, leaving their great city empty save for he who convinced them to give up their idea of civilization: The Lord of Hate. And some Jaghut now move amongst the Dog-Runners (pre-Imass), acting as gods.
Legion (mostly centered at Neret Sorr):
- Vatha Urusander: Commander of the Legion
- Osserc: Vatha’s son
- Renarr: Urusander’s eventual adopted daughter after Osserc kills her fiancé
- Hunn Raal: Urusander’s second, though he’s pretty much running things as a shadow commander without the knowledge of Urusander, manipulating events to hasten civil war and install Urusander as Mother Dark’s husband/fellow ruler.
- Sharenas Ankhadu: former Legion soldier, sister of Sukhul
- Serap, Risp, Sevegg: soldiers, cousins to Hunn Raal
- Captain Scara Bandaris
- Ilgast Rend: master of a Great House, Legion officer
- Captain Esthala
- Kagamandara Tulas: war hero rewarded with a High House, engaged to Faror Hend
Wardens of the Outer Reach:
- Calat Hustain: Commander
- Faror Hend of House Durav
- Finarra Stone
- Spinnock Durav, cousin to Faror
- Feren: contracted with Draconus to travel with them to the west
- Rint: Feren’s brother who also travels with Draconus
- Hust Henerald: Head of Hust Hold, Chief forger of the weapons/armor of the Legion
- Toras Redone: Commander
- Galar Baras: Liaison officer the Citadel in Kharkanas
Highborn and their associates:
- Purake Hold
- Anomander Purake
- Andarist Purake
- Silchas Ruin
- Kellaras: weaponsmaster
- Dracons Hold
- Arathan: Draconus’ son, up to this point unacknowledged by his father
- Spite, Envy, Malice: Draconus’ three daughters by Olar Ethil
- Sagarand: Arathan’s tutor
- Ivis: Master of Arms
- Raskan: Gate Sergeant
- Tulla Hold
- Hish Tulla: head of her house, former lover of Anomander and Silchas
- Sukul Ankhadu: Sharenas’ sister, taken in by Hish Tulla
- Rancept: Castellan of the House and a Denier (with an intriguing dog—Ribs)
- Abara Delack House
- Korya Delat: Tiste girl given as hostage to the Jaghut Haut, who says he is making a Mahybe (an empty vessel) of her
- Nerys Drukorlat: Head of House Delack
- Sandalath Drukorlat: daughter to Nerys, given as hostage to House Draconis
- Orfantal: Sandalath’s bastard son, given to House Purake to serve them
- Wreneck: stable boy, Orfantal’s childhood friend until Nerys forbade it
- House Enes
- Kadaspala: famed artist/portraitist
- Enesdia: Kadaspala’s sister, about to be married to Andarist
- Cryl: A hostage in the House of Jaen, in love with Enesdia
- Mother Dark
- Emral Lanear: High Priestess
- Syntarra: High Priestess
- Rise Herat: Court Historian
- Cedorpul: Priest
- Endest Silann: acolyte
The Shake (two sects: Yan—Sons of the Mother and Yedan, Daughters of the Father):
- Mother Sheccanto Derran
- Father Skelenal
- Warlock Resh
- Caplo Dreem: assassin
- Caladan Brood: High Mason
- Grizzin Farl “The Protector”
- Sechul Lath
- Olar Ethil
- Gothos: the Jaghut Lord of Hate
MAJOR PLOT ARCS/EVENTS
Draconus and Arathan
Draconus decides to leave Arathan with Gothos and on the way to stop off among the Azathanai to pick up a gift for Mother Dark he had requested made. On the journey, Sagarand strikes Arathan and suffers a bad broken leg when Arathan’s warhorse retaliates. Fired by Draconus, he’s escorted to the Shake Monastery. He vows vengeance on both Draconus and Arathan. Draconus asks Feren to introduce Arathan to sex, not knowing she’d lost a child and was desperate for another. Arathan falls in love with her, and seeing it has gotten too serious and Feren too desperate, Draconus (with her full understanding) has her end the relationship, but not until Arathan has already impregnated her. Both Arathan and Rint are angry and bitter toward Draconus over the matter.
Draconus meets with Grizzin Farl, who mentions Arathan’s mother (unknown so far) is “grieving,” and adds he’s traveling to the Citadel to ask Mother Dark if she plans on using Darkness as a weapon and against whom. Later, in the Azathanai village, Olar Ethil tell Feren she carries a girl, and later kills Raskan (she sees it as mercy). In retaliation, Rint sets the tree Olar Ethil perches in on fire, causing her great pain. Draconus’ and Arathan continue on and the guards return home. Draconus receives his gift—a folding of Night, the “Terondai”—crafted by Errastas, though he learns that in the making of it Errastas and Sechul Lath killed Hood’s wife Karrish, with Errastas seeking to use her blood as a means to power and warping K’rul’s gifts of sorcery to his own ends.
Draconus and Arathan continue on to Gothos, where Draconus tells Kilmandaros what Errastas and Sechul Lath did. She goes to look for them, grieving. Draconus frees Hood (who has been chained with Gothos so as to prevent him from doing anything rash). When Draconus tells him he will avenge Karrish, Hood calls him a fool and declares he will wage a war on Death. Draconus leaves Arathan with Gothos and departs via Darkness just as Arathan accuses him of being an Azathanai. Draconus unfolds the Terondai in the Citadel as a gift, but Mother Dark, witnessing through the eyes of her priestess Emral, flees. As Night unfolds, the river god dies and the river turns black. Grizzin Farl tells Mother Dark Draconus has surrendered part of his own power to her out of love, something never before done, and he has given her the Gate of Kurald Galain.
Patrolling the shore of the Vitr Sea, Finarra comes across a dragon. She thinks it’s dead but it wounds her and she flees, coming across a trail of something else that walked out of the sea. Faror and Spinnock find her, and Spinnock takes Finarra back while Faror tracks the Vitr creature, a woman who has powerful sorcery, but recalls nothing, not even her name, save that she fought the Vitr for ages. Faror names her T’riss (born of the sea) and says she’ll escort her to Kharkanas and Mother Dark. Faror thinks she’s an Azathanai who was exploring the Vitr. They encounter Warlock Resh and Caplo Dreem, who decide to take T’riss first to Mother Sheccanto. At the Shake monastery, T’riss tells Mother Sheccanto “Your faith is empty. But I expect you already know that. There was a spirit here, a god of sorts. From the river near here… In chaining and harnessing the power of the water you bound the spirit and stole from it its life.” T’riss resurrects the god and tells Caplo “Now you must contend with what you purport to worship and give answer to the many things you have done in its name.” T’riss pledges she is no threat to Mother Dark, though she does “bring change. Will she welcome it or resist it? Only she can answer.”
Resh and Caplo escort her to Mother Dark’s temple (which used to be the river god’s). As they move through the city, the river is flooding, but T’riss says Mother Dark is asserting her domain and the flood subsides. Caplo explains how the last Tiste queen died in battle with her husband and how Mother Dark was the queen’s half-sister, but was deemed “unsuitable” for the throne. Mother Sheccanto and Father Skelenal are distant kin of the former Queen, and could perhaps claim the throne. Resh says the throne was transformed, is now called the Throne of Night, and MD sits on it in the temple.
T’riss meets with Mother Dark and Syntarra then disappears. The temple is now sanctified (Vitr was somehow involved). Syntarra rushes out white and glowing, saying, “I chose my gift.” The darkness is somehow changed in the temple, Mother Dark’s skin and hair are now totally black, and all who enter have their skin darkened (though Rake’s hair turns silver, T’riss had told him she would “make visible the defiance within you as a gift.”). Rake asks Mother Dark to name his enemy so he can protect the realm, but she refuses, simply telling him to win the peace and not draw his sword. She warns there is now a religious schism and Syntarra will gain adherents, adding though that “the schism is necessary, the wound must be made so that it can be healed.”
Hunn Raal’s Manipulations/Civil War
Hunn Raal does not like the “upstart” Draconus and is perhaps scheming as well to get his “demoted” house back in good graces. Hearing of T’riss and the dragon carcass, Raal thinks he can use this new “threat” to get the Legion reformed. He goes to the Citadel to inform them of the “danger.” When Syntarra exits, changed, she goes to him and he tells her to ask sanctuary of Urusander and show him that the purity of her skin is a symbol, her light a power of “justice.” She declares she’ll now be a High Priestess of Light (of “Liossan”), declare Urusander Father Light, and share her gift with him and others. Raal tells her their enemies are Draconus, the Deniers, the Monasteries and once they’ve “purged the realm” Mother Dark can wed Urusander so Light and Dark are in balance and all conflict ended.
Under Raal’s orders, groups of disbanded Legion soldiers kill the Deniers in the forest. A group led by Captain Esthala’s husband Silann is spotted by Orfantal’s escort to the Citadel. Silann’s troop kills all of them save Orfantal and Gripp Galas (former footman to Anomander), who escape and make it to Tully Hold. Narad joins a group of disbanded Legion soldiers under Corporal Bursa who slaughter Deniers, though he did not kill any himself save one out of mercy. Kadaspala, riding through the forest to the wedding, comes across the site and then the soldiers and accuses them of murder and atrocity, promising himself he “shall paint the face of darkness. And give it a dead child’s eyes.”
Bursa’s group joins another led by Infayen Menand and after changing into Denier-like clothing they attack Enesdia’s wedding party at Andarist’s new house, killing all including Jaen, Cryl, and Enesdia, whom they brutally rape first. When Narad’s turn comes he whispers for forgiveness in her ear, and she dies under him though he didn’t realize at the time. Kadaspala arrives soon after and gouges out his own eyes in grief.
Other soldiers attack and kill Nerys Drukorlat, rape and stab her maid Jinia, and stab Wreneck, leaving him and the maid for dead as they burn the house. Wreneck manages to escape, pulling Jinia with him. Captain Esthala’s group, flying the banner of Draconus, slaughter the unsuspecting Borderswords in their village, killing nearly all, including the children. Risp is killed by a young girl Bordersword named Lahanis. Fener’s group arrives soon after and the Borderswords announce they’ll go after Draconus’ Hold.
Another group of Legion soldiers led by Captains Hallyd Bahann and Tathe Lorat slaughter the monks in the monastery, helped by Sagander showing them the secret ways in. Lorat rewards Sagander with her young daughter Sheltatha, though he doesn’t take advantage of her. Hunn Raal poisons nearly the entire Hust Legion. Scara Bandaris returns to his soldiers and learning of their attack on the Deniers and the wedding party, resigns the Legion and leaves, joined by Narad and Bursa.
Haut tells Korya they’re going to journey to speak to some Jaghut. They are diverted by a sorcerous path created by Errastas via Karish’s blood. They arrive to find the body and Haut can tell she was killed by one or more Azathanai. Haut and Korya stop at a Jaghut tower and meet with Varandas, who made the dolls she once played with. He tells Korya Haut thinks she’s his last hope” “The slayer of Karrish set you upon a trail… The killers wishes to stir us to life… but I wonder if that path was not made for you instead.” She asks about the dolls and he tells her his art is soul-shifting, my latest dolls… I name Nacht” The series he gave her he’d called Bolead.”
Early on the three brothers go to Andarist’s new home where Caladan Brood is installing the hearthstone—a wedding gift from Rake. Brood asks a blood vow from Rake to bind himself to the hearthstone and the words on it (Rake will never know what they say). Rake grudgingly does so but then demands a vow from Brood to tie him to Rake. Brood reluctantly does so, warning it will be timeless.
Anomander sends Kellaras to Hust Henarald to commission a sword. Hust delivers his blade to Rake, telling him “in its will it demands the purest hand. To draw a weapon is to announce an end to uncertainty. It brooks no doubt in its wielder,” adding he forged it in a secret place known to certain Azathanai—the first forge. Rake brings it to Mother Dark to bless but she does not. He demands she give him a cause to fight for, but she refuses to answer and he leaves with his brothers for the wedding. They arrive at Andarist’s estate to find the carnage. Rake draws his sword, saying he will name it “Vengeance,” but Andarist begs him not to, saying, “Vengeance deceives… Name your sword Vengeance and it will ever claim the wrong blood. In this blade’s wake I see the death of a thousand innocents… Vengeance is the slayer of righteousness…Vengeance is not pure. It rewards with a bitter aftertaste. It is a thirst that cannot be assuaged.” He begs Rake to let him name it “Grief” instead, but Rake refuses. Andarist says, “You will take my grief or never again shall I look upon you, or call you brother, or know your blood as mine.” Rake leaves, though Ruin begs him to name it Grief. Ruin tells Andarist he’ll get him back and Andarist tells him to go, saying Ruin now has to choose. (This idea of giving up claim a claim to vengeance or a predilection toward violence is echoed throughout several of the storylines.)
Back at the Citadel, Rake meets with Mother Dark and tells her he will defend the city no matter what she says. She tells Grizzin Farl about Rake that, “If I had another path, less painful for him, I would choose it.” She adds, “I am prepared to bear what will come… by solitude alone can I endure a long existence, and a role in all is to come.” Before leaving, Rake dismisses Gripp from his service so he can go off with his love (Hish Tulla).
Osserc meets a young woman (Renarr) on the road on his return from the Vitr Sea and has sex with her. Her mother died defending Urusander and her father hates him. Osserc informs his father about the alleged invasion but Urusander is indifferent and dismissive of Osserc, who is shocked to learn his father had never planned on leaving him the Legion. Osserc takes off and on his way out is accosted by Renarr’s betrothed, who has seemingly beaten her (reality is different). Osserc strangles him, though he is at least somewhat under the control of Spite or Envy. Lt. Serap arrives the next morning, and it’s quickly figured out that Osserc is the likely murderer. Gurren, Renarr’s father, started rumors he’d killed her boyfriend because Osserc had saved her a life of beatings. He’s dying and in return wants Urusander to adopt Renarr. Urusander agrees.
Malice, Envy, Spite/Draconus’ Hold
Malice, Envy, and Spite hate Sandalath. They discuss how they only grow up similar to the Tiste for the first 8-9 years then their dad, Draconus, had said they’d grow up “scary fast” because they’re “different’ thanks to their mother. They tell Malice though you have to almost die first. Malice asks them to make her grow fast and they break her neck. When she’s dead, they say it didn’t work. They hide the body and decide they’ll have to do something about the house staff. They also discuss something they fear in a sealed room: “That’s only what he’s left behind. It wears his armour. It paces back and forth.” They kill several houseworkers, using newly found powers of sorcery. Malice shows up, her eyes looking empty and dead. The Bordersword army arrives and under Ivis’ command Draconus’ Houseblades rout them. Rint is killed. During the battle, Envy and Spite shove Malice into an oven and burn her up. On the battlefield, Ivis comes across Lahanis, and she tells them they attacked because Draconus’ people had slaughtered her village. He denies it, and they both realize it was the Legion. He tells Lahanis to ride back with that message.
Serap tells Urusander that the Legion must be recalled, reporting about what happened in the Citadel with T’riss, the flood, and Syntarra, adding as well that the Deniers are woken to their old faith, that there are rumors of Deniers among the Hust, the Wardens, the Borderswords, even the Highborn, and that they face a religious war. He refuses to start a civil war against the highborn or by turning on Draconus. She suggests he wed Mother Dark as a means of bringing peace and he says he’ll talk to Mother Dark about it.
Upon arrival from the Citadel, Syntarra tells Urusander that the change in her will allow her to stand in opposition to Mother Dark as the right hand opposes the left: Light and Dark. Urusander says he intends to disavow the Legion from the acts against the Deniers and outlaw those who performed them. In a meeting with Urusander, Sharenas, Serap, and others, where they learn of the slaughter of the wedding party, Syntarra tells them a “crowded soul is a place of shadows and gloom. Scour it clean, and nothing will remain to block the light… see how [I] am transformed by the Light burning in my soul.” She tells Urusander to “do what needs to be done to return Kurald Galain to peace… as proof of my power I will yield now this gift.” Tulas flees the room and Sharenas rushes after him, then light fills the room and all those in it exit with their skin turned white. Tulas says he will not fight in a civil war and he and Sharenas leave.
Meanwhile Ilgast Rend has also been delivered the wedding procession news and decides that he cannot wait for Calat Hustain’s return; he must deal with Urusander while he’s still weak. He sends a message to Calat that he plans to attack Urusander with the Wardens.
- Calat Hustain rides to the Vitr sea with Spinnock (leaving Ilgast Rend in command of the Wardens) to see the evidence of “invasion” and dragons himself. They see a wall of fire hovering above the sea. Nine dragons fly out and then the fire closes. Waves from the sea strike an unseen barrier and are thrown back.
- Kagamandara and Sharenas bond on their shared journey, each expressing a love for the other even as she tells him to be a good husband to Faror.
- As a prank “wedding gift”, Ruin and Scara Bandaris decide to give 50 Jheleck hostages nobody wants to Kagamandra Tulas.
- Violence and vengeance, particularly the way they are often rooted in selfishness/ego and rebound to more violence and grief
- Environmental degradation/destruction
- Status quo versus change
- The relationship between gods and their worshipers
- Empathy and compassion (there’s a shocker!)
- What it means to be “human”/”civilized” and the benefits-pitfalls of society/civilization
Bill Capossere writes short stories, essays and plays; does reviews for the LA Review of Books and Fantasy Literature, as well as for Tor.com; and works as an adjunct English instructor. In his non-writing and reading time, he plays ultimate Frisbee (though less often and more slowly than he used to) and disc golf.