Welcome back to the Malazan Reread of the Fallen! Every post will start off with a summary of events, followed by reaction and commentary by your hosts Bill and Amanda, and finally comments from Tor.com readers. Today we’re tackling the prelude to Forge of Darkness.
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, but 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.
Forge of Darkness, Prelude
The blind poet Gallan has been found by another (revealed at the end of the prologue to be Fisher) who seeks a particular tale. Gallan muses on truth and memory (telling Fisher later that “what I do not recall I shall invent”), on theme and detail, on those who “believe they are each both beginning and end… [that] failing their dramatic arrival it would cease to exist.” He warns “It is in my nature to wear masks, and to speak in a multitude of voices through lips not my own,” arguing that singular vision “is our barrier to understanding.” He tells Fisher that his words will live forever, but characterizes this not as a boast, but as a curse, saying “My legacy is a carcass in waiting, and it will be picked over until dust devours all there is.” He explains he “did not imagine finding my final moments here upon an altar, beneath a hovering knife. I did not believe my life was a sacrifice; not to any greater cause, nor as payment into the hands of fame and respect.” Calling Anomandaris a “brave title,” he cautions that it is not his tale alone, that Gallan’s “story will not fit into a small box. Indeed, he is perhaps the least of it,” though he admits he may not be giving Rake enough credit. As for his own place in the tale, he says it is “nowhere… Walk the Hall of Portraits and you will not find my face.” At the close he says if he spoke about sacrifice, he was lying. Finally, he warns Fisher to remember what he hears, for “Should you err, the list-makers will eat you alive.”
In a general vein before hitting the prelude specifically, I just want to say a few things about the prequel in general. Prequels I’ve found are pretty hit and miss. Usually, the misses for me arise because the prequel feels wholly, or nearly wholly, perfunctory and mechanical. I imagine the author sitting there with a list of characters and events from the prior work(s) and composing by checking off items on the list: Where this style of dress comes from? Check. Why this character hates this other character? Check. Why this item is called what it is? Check. In short, the author is more explaining than creating, is focused more on connecting dots than creating rich characters and story.
The Malazan universe offers up a great setting to avoid these potential problems, thanks to its epic sense of scale and time, which allows Erikson to set this prequel thousands of years in the past, giving him a built-in kind of freedom from the checklist way of doing things. Why? Because nobody expects things from thousands of years ago to match up perfectly with things of the present. Of course events have been distorted, mythologized, wholly forgotten, or passed down entirely incorrectly; anybody who has ever played the old telephone game—pass a message around a classroom—knows how quickly things go off the rails in just a few minutes, let a lone a few centuries. You can see how this would be a greatly freeing perk (as a side note, it also lets the author off the hook for any ahem, “timeline” issues that may arise). What moves the Malazan universe from a “great” setting for this sort of thing to a perfect one is that the characters are so long-lived that Erikson gets the best of both worlds: freedom to create a world relatively unhindered by the necessity of matching things up exactly combined with the luxury of keeping many of the same characters that so engaged the readers in the first series (even if portrayed in somewhat different light)
Even better, this whole prologue is a doubling down of the above, in that by giving us a frame of Gallan relating this whole story to Fisher, Erikson frees himself even more from the narrative ties that bind. How? By having Gallan out and out tell us that he is an unreliable narrator: “What I do not recall I shall invent” and “if I spoke of sacrifices I lied.” Well there you go—the obliterating eraser of time or the revising creativity of a poet, either one will suffice to explain away the unexpected with regard to characters or events. Brilliant I say.
The prologue also fits into the long-running metafictional aspects of the Malazan world, and one can assume we’ll hear more about constructing a story as we go on. Erikson also explores metafiction in his novellas as we’ve seen, and that line about Fisher getting “eaten alive” should call up a memory (fond or not) of Crack’d Pot Trail and its nightly repasts. Erikson himself of course is set up for this, ready to be attacked by the “list-makers”—the critics, his fans (“but that date can’t be right!”)
He also prepares those fans, many of whom are probably eager to hear a lot more about fan favorite Rake, to be if not disappointed maybe surprised a little. Hold on, we’re warned—there may be less Rake in here than you were expecting/hoping for (“It is not Anomander’s tale alone… He is perhaps the least of it”), and he might not quite be the character you were expecting. It is a bit of a turn, for instance, to think of Rake getting “pushed” anywhere he doesn’t want to go. In any case, the audience is indeed hungry, and that hunger is certainly pretty endless (“where’s the next book dammit!?”)
Beyond the metafictional nods, we get a few other familiar points. The idea of empathy of course, via Gallan’s line that singular vision is “our barrier to understanding.” And the idea of the metaphor made literal, as when he tell Fisher: “A blind man will not rush; he but feels his way, as befits an uncertain world. See me, then, as a metaphor made real.” Which also makes one wonder if that altar and “hovering knife” is metaphorical as well, or ominously real.
Having Gallan kick of the prequel also places Forge nicely in the epic mode—what is more traditionally epic after all than having the tale told orally, a poet to an audience, even if an audience of one? That this is Fisher listening to Gallan is a great reveal. A surprise, but an almost inevitable one—of course it’s Fisher. Who better? Though it of course raises a few questions.
One quick question as we prepare to enter the story. We’ve always tried to avoid major spoilers in the recap/primary commentary and then somewhat if to a lesser kinda-sorta extent in the comments below. Since we’re starting a brand new trilogy, we thought we’d check to see if that’s how you’d like to continue. We could choose to try to avoid all spoilers for the Malazan universe, just for this series (in other words, not worry about spoilers for the original series), avoid spoilers just in the recap/commentary but not the comments, avoid spoilers throughout, or not avoid them at all. Let us know your preferences in the comments. And welcome back!
The first part of the prelude that jumps out is “There are no singular tales. Nothing that stands alone is worth looking at.” This is partially because Erikson seems to be pointing out the fact that this story links to the Malazan series we’ve already read—as in, those events documented make no real sense without these events to show the path travelled.
It also makes me think about the point we made about the Gardens of the Moon, about jumping into an already existing story and having to catch up as it goes along. It seems almost a warning that we’ll have to do some work to see how everything fits.
I do love this poke at egotistic people who believe the world revolves around them and that they are the most important part of any tale: “They have somewhere to go, and wherever that place is, why, it needs them, and failing their dramatic arrival it would surely cease to exist.”
So we are told upfront that we have an unreliable narrator here, one who will invent what he does not recall. I like Bill’s perspective—that this is a great way to be able to wave away any mistakes in the telling of the tale and how it fits into the future Malazan story.
It feels like poetry to go from seeing Fisher in Esslemont’s novel, with his contemplation that Jethiss might be Anomander reborn, to seeing him here, listening to Gallan’s tale that shows where Anomander first began.
This line here: “It may be that I do not credit him enough.” I wonder if Gallan would credit him more knowing what happened to Anomander at the last, what he sacrificed. It’s going to be interesting seeing a younger Anomander who “is perhaps the least of it.”
Finally, this prelude is a stark reminder of the depth of Erikson’s writing—there will be no skimming here, every word needs to be dwelt upon to consider its meaning before making sense of the whole. Hard work—and I hope as rewarding as his original series.
After training and working as an accountant for over a decade, Amanda Rutter became an editor with Angry Robot, helping to sign books and authors for the Strange Chemistry imprint. Since leaving Angry Robot, she has been a freelance editor—through her own company AR Editorial Solutions, BubbleCow and Wise Ink—and a literary agent for Red Sofa Literary Agency. In her free time, she is a yarn fiend, knitting and crocheting a storm.
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.