Forge of Darkness by Steven Erikson

Malazan Reread of the Fallen: Forge of Darkness, Chapter Two


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 readers. Today we’re reading Forge of Darkness, Chapter Two.

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, Chapter Two


Hunn Raal and Osserc watch as Kadaspala paints a portrait of Osserc’s father Vath Urusander, commander of the Kurald legions (now known as Urusander’s Legion). Seeing that Urusander is about to snap after sitting so long, Raal steps in (taking Kadaspala’s anger on himself) to interrupt the sitting. Kadaspala complains about Mother Dark “stealing” all the light, pointing out how it makes his portraits “useless.” Raal and Osserc discuss Urusander’s obsession with Forkrul cylinders, their “laws of governance. The compact of society.” Osserc says the Tiste people are in need of “reformation” thanks to the current troubles, which Raal ascribes to Draconus, “dubious heir” to a Lesser House. Raal thinks the solution is to marry Urusander to Mother Dark, despite (or really because of) Urusander’s lack of ambition. Raal argues that the Legions have been abandoned after winning the wars, forgotten. Osserc tries to explain that keeping the Legion active is costly, but Raal says they’re being thrown out onto the streets and also argues that the Tiste will want the Legions around when the enemies will be back. He sees Urusander as a “savior.” He tries to manipulate Osserc by saying once Urusander becomes king Osserc can take over the Legion (Osserc is resentful his father wouldn’t let him serve). This despite the “true irony” he feels that his own line (Issgin) had a greater claim on the throne, even more so, he thinks, than Mother Dark. He knows most think if conflict breaks out amongst the nobles that the Legion would not become involved, but he will ensure otherwise.

Kadaspala cleans up, thinking how he “despised the notion of betters. Station and wealth were flimsy props thrown up in front of people as flawed and mortal as anyone else.” His goal is always to “see true, and then make that truth plain to see for everyone else.” He wonders at his own contradiction in “adhering to the belief that every life was of equal value, a value that was immense, while at the same time despising everyone he knew.” Save for his beloved sister Enesdia. He hopes he can leave before being asked to paint Osserc, as “there was nothing in the Lord’s son that he wanted to paint, no depths… disfigured by Hunn Raal’s incessant chipping away.” He thinks Osserc is fated for obscurity or a crushing thanks to being caught between the two powerful men in his life. His bigger concern though is Mother Dark, how her “power grows… stealing the light.” He wonders, “What future has an artist when all is in darkness?” He joins Urusander at dinner and the two discuss Urusander’s studies into law. Urusander says he struggles with how written law is pure but becomes less so and less definite in its “practical application”: “The law bends to those in power… depends upon the whims of those in power and before too long the law becomes a twisted thing.” Kadaspala argues that laws are “subjugation,” but Urusander replies only to ameliorate damage or behavior harmful to society. Kadaspala says “Laws decide which forms of oppression are allowed… those laws are servants to those in power, for whom oppression is given as aright over those who have little or no power.” He relates this to art criticism, saying it too is a form of oppression by “imposing rules on aesthetic appreciation… belittling the views of those who appreciate a certain work but are unable or unwilling to articulate their reasons… It is the act of those in power… through the control of personal taste.”

Enesdia spars fondly but with tension with Cryl of House Durav, who is a hostage in her own House of Enes.

Exiting Enesdia’s room, Cryl thinks how the practice of keeping hostages (he has only a few months left) is “more of an exchange” than an imprisonment. He recognizes how things have gotten awkward between him and Enesdia as “they struggled to find their places… the proper distance between them,” though he acknowledges perhaps that sense is just his. He feels later she had “outgrown him in every way,” mocking him constantly. He finds Lord Jaen looking at the Azathanai inscription on the hearth tile and even as he ponders the strange Tiste ban on learning the script, Jaen tells him that the poet Gallan claims he can read Azathanai and thus has “the blasphemous privilege of knowing the sacred words of each noble family.” Cryl tries to allay Jaen’s concern by saying Gallan says the knowledge is only his, but Jaen replies that “poets cannot be trusted.” Cryl asks permission to ride out in search of eckalla (none have been seen for years) in the hills. The two sadly discuss the impending changes—Enesdia’s soon-to-be marriage (with Andarist) and Cryl’s coming release. Cryl prepares to leave, thinking he’ll never come back no matter what he says, and how his journey will be futile: “the eckalla were gone, the last one slain decades ago… The hills are lifeless.”

Waiting out the rain under a tree, Hish Tulla thinks of how in her youth it had seemed to others that she’d “given her heart away… with careless ease” but in reality “she’d simply wanted it in someone else’s hands.” She wondered if no one could “see the hurt she felt, each and every time she was cast aside.” She looks at the three brothers standing at their father’s gravesite (two of whom she had “known the pleasures of”) and wonders if Enesdia knew her good luck in marrying the third (Andarist) and how soon it would be before “she chafed at her bridling.” As for herself, she knows she will not take a husband at this point in her life. As the rain clears, she moves forward to where the brothers stood where Nimander lay, two years dead. She asks forgiveness for the interruption, but Silchas Ruin says she needn’t worry. Anomander adds that they aren’t there in memorium but out of curiosity, explaining that the words on their father’s gravestone faced inward and they were debating prying it up to see what it said. Andarist points out that it is Silchas who wants to because of his “need to know everything,” though the words are Azathanai and so will be indecipherable, making it not worth the curse in looking. Ruin scoffs at the superstition, then tells Hish Tulla they’re heading to Andarist’s new house to meet the mason that Rake has hired as a wedding gift to carve the hearthstone. She asks them to wait to pry up the stone until she’s gone, then rides off toward Kharkanas thinking Ruin will most likely do it even if he would recognize barely a hieroglyph here or there, and how the three would then feel guilt, and how that would make Andarist angry, since that emotion is not a good thing to bring to a new home.

Rake says his heart still “swells” at sight of Tulla (he was her first lover, their relationship ended when he went off to war), while Ruin says it’s more than his heart that does so. Andarist, hoping to distract Ruin, asks him why he ended the relationship, and Ruin replies that he “realized that she was ephemeral… I could not grasp hold… there was something missing,” and he thinks the same is probably true for others who “draw near, only to see too sharply his own failing and in shame pulls away.” Rake thinks he might be right, but Silchas adds she doesn’t seem to have suffered in her isolation, comparing her to a “work of high art… the closer you get, the more she blurs.” Rake asks if he thinks she might be an ally, but Ruin says she’s more likely neutral. Rake agrees, then asks what about the stone. Ruin says they’ll leave it for now—they have a ways to travel, more rain is likely, and he doesn’t want to spoil Andarist’s future (though he himself doesn’t buy into omens etc.). They prepare to set out, discussing gifts, and Andarist thinks how through their father’s loyalty to Mother Dark, he has gifted them her “elevation of his sons,” with Rake lifted highest of them all as First Son of Darkness. When Andarist and Silchas spar a bit more over the gravestone, Rake tells them to stop: “The blood ever flows between us and ever shall… I will not stand alone. I see you both with me, at my side. Peace shall be our legacy—we will achieve it together.” Ruin rethinks Rake’s earlier question and tells him that Hish Tulla may in fact “see the nobility in what you seek,” and both he and Andarist agree Rake should approach her as a possible ally. Andarist thinks to himself that “a struggle was coming, and in Mother Dark’s name they would find themselves at the very center… They could afford no divisiveness or contention.” Ruin notes the rain is clearing, which should please the mason. When Andarist points out it’s said the Azathanai have power over earth and sky, Rake says his invitation didn’t include permission for Azathanai sorcery, though he doesn’t so much mind a clear sky as they travel. Ruin says they’ll arrive “with steam rising from us like children born of chaos.”

The Azathanai High Mason warns the Tiste workers away, says he will use sorcery to transport the massive hearthstone. Sparo (head Tiste mason), when the Mason (Caladan Brood it’s soon to be revealed) says there’s nothing to fear, replies that “Earth magic is feral and never sits well with us.” The Mason responds that the Tiste nevertheless “invite its gifts time and time again.” When Brood notes that Sparo not being a hunter is odd amongst the Tiste, Sparo says that’s becoming less the case, “as most of the beasts our slain and shall never return to our lands. It seems our days of glorious hunting will soon be at an end.” Brood says they should hope they don’t then turn to the last prey left to slay—each other. Brood magics the hearthstone into the house foundation even as Rake and his brothers arrive to watch. Andarist and Rake move closer to see it put into place, but Silchas says he’s fine where he is. The two brothers and Sparo enter the Hall where the stone hovers over its spot at the hearth. Brood tells Rake that as giver of the gift, “you bind yourself by blood and vow to what shall be made here and to the secret words carved upon this hearthstone.” He adds if Rake’s loyalty is “uncertain, speak now. Once this stone finds its place, the binding of the vow can never be broken, and should you fail in your love, your loyalty, then even I cannot answer for the consequences.” Rake points out this sounds more like a threat or curse than gift, but Brood replies, “Such potential exists in every gift.” Rake starts to say he’s paid for Brood’s service, but the Mason corrects him, saying the coins paid for the materials and transport, but “for my talents I take no coin.” When Rake says he must have paid for more than a few wagons etc., considering the cost, Brood informs him the that “Jhelarkan quarries are contested. Lives were lost in the procurement of this stone. Aggrieved families required compensation.” To which an angered Rake replies, “This distresses me.” Brood, however, merely points out if Rake wanted a lesser gift, he should have asked someone else, “Yet you sought the finest worker of stone to reflect the measure of your fealty to your brother and his pending union… This hearthstone is without equal in the realm of the Tiste.” When Rake, still upset, upbraids him for now demanding his blood-vow, Brood corrects him again, saying, “I do not. The stone demands. The words carved upon its face demand. The honour you wish to do to your brother demands.” Rake argues that he doesn’t know that in fact the Azathanai glyphs do “avow love, fidelity, and fecundity,” and so Brood is asking for a blood vow and binding to words Rake will never know. Brood agrees, saying, “On this you have nothing but your faith. In my integrity, and of course in your own.” Rake cuts his palm so blood falls upon the earth, and Brood drops the stone into place. Confirming it is done, Rake angrily says Brood went too far, and demands Brood bind himself by blood and vow to him: “Be worthy of my faith.” Brood says Rake already has his blood—pointing to the stone—then adds that what he asks is unprecedented: “Tiste affairs are of no concern of mine, nor am I about to vow allegiance to a noble of Wise Kharkanas when it seems that such an avowal might well engulf me in bloodshed.” Rake tells him there is peace in the realm and it will remain so, but then adds he is not asking Brood’s allegiance or demand “bloodshed in my name.” Andarist tries to warn Rake against this, noting that “binding by blood pulls both ways.” He also shocks Rake by saying Rake merely swore to uphold him, Enesdia, and their wedding, so “if such was not your sentiment from the very first, best we not hear it now?” When Rake questions Brood’s integrity thanks to his hesitation at Rake’s demand, Brood angrily tells him he if goes forward with this, he will hold Rake to the vow, “and its truth shall be timeless for as long as both of us shall live. And you may have cause to regret it.” Andarist against tries to dissuade his brother, but Rake merely asks Brood about the consequences he mentions. Brood though replies he has no idea, since this has never been done. Perhaps each will be bound to the other’s summons, perhaps they will “each know each other’s mind… Shall we for ever stand in opposition to one another, or shall we stand as one?” He warns him he does this out of pride, and so he should consider carefully. Rake says nothing, and so Brood gives his blood vow. Rake tells him he wants to know his name (he’s known only as High Mason), and Brood gives it to him. Rake says it’s good to know if they’re to be allies, but Brood says that “still remains to be seen,” the same answer he gives when Rake says again “no blood shed in my name or cause.”


Bill’s Response

A few things I like about this opening scene, some direct, some more indirect/subtle:

  • The early sense of decay/decline: note the references early on to “unused rooms” and how “more than half [the candles] were melted down to stumps,” the unfurnished wing, how “what had once seemed opulent now struck Hunn as tattered and worn.
  • The very efficient characterization that arises
  • Osserc as resentful, easily manipulated, fearful of his father
  • Kadaspala as temperamental
  • Urusander as lacking ambition, obsessed with the FA and their writings
  • Hunn Raal as a man with a cause (always dangerous those ones), a man who feels wronged (also dangerous). A manipulative, devious person willing to use people for his purpose, but also a man who took the assassin’s knife meant for Urusander
  • The contrast between Urusander as passive (sitting being painted) and Raal as active (alert to what all are doing or about to do, interrupting the sitting)
  • The quick little background details: the Forulkan War, the war against the Jhelarkan, Mother Dark apparently just starting to steal the light, the tension amongst the nobility, between the Upper and Lower Houses, between the nobility and the Legion
  • The theme we’ve seen before on how history is malleable, as Hunn Raal thinks how he “had been central in promulgating that legend [of Urusander’s heritage]. So much of history was nothing but gaping holes that needed filling with whatever was expedient”

Anyone else get the feeling Erikson isn’t a fan of critics?

Well, that’s not too ominous, is it—Enesdia looking at her dress and noting how it is “the color of blood”? Of course, we know things are not going to end well with her.

The sense of decline from earlier continues, as does the indictment of the Tiste for their lack of stewardship in yet another description of a creature hunted to extinction. this section begins and ends incredibly darkly, from Enesdia’s rumination on her dress being to the color of blood to “The eckall are gone. The hills are lifeless.”

I like that we meet our three oh-so-familiar and oh-so-major characters—Rake, Andarist, and Silchas—by observing them first, which is a subtle way of telling us perhaps that they may not be as central to this story as we may have expected. It emphasizes that they are players in a tale that involves so many others. And it also offers up this echoing observation: These three brothers had a way of standing apart even when they stood together.” Plus, I just like Hish Tulla.

We get Rake’s title as First Son of Darkness, newly granted apparently.

Knowing what we know, the bit of tension between brothers, Andarist’s concern that there be no “contention” amongst them, the way they work together, Andarist’s line about the cost of the mason and how “One day I hope to answer your sacrifice brother with one as worthy and noble as our own”; it all reverberates so strongly. The tension is right at the start with that observation by Hish Tulla about them standing together but apart, then in their debate over the gravestone. In the next scene, we get more as Andarist tries to dissuade Rake from demanding Brood’s blood vow. So seeds are there of “contention,” even if quickly resolved.

As for the scene with Brood, I remember being pleasantly surprised by the reveal of just who that was at the end of the scene. And how unexpected this was—that this was how Rake and Brood were first linked—so early, and with such inherent conflict. Always nice when prequels can surprise you.

Once again we get reference to the potential civil war brewing. And we get somewhat parallel imagery to the references earlier to the ice breaking underfoot, with Brood’s earth magic and transport of the stone buckling and “fissuring” the ground it moves over, which could portend a bit of instability, of fragmentation and impending “cracks.”

These opening chapters really set up quite a lot of tension and conflict—between Houses, between ranks, between soldiers and civilians, fathers and sons, between brothers, comrades, even between artists and critics. The pot is clearly set to boil…


Amanda’s Response

We get an immediate look at the fact that darkness is becoming prevalent at the start of this chapter, and also an indication of the way these highborn are treated—a servant is standing in wait to immediately transfer to a new candle when one flickers out. This is then suggested a page or so later to be due to Mother Dark.

How interesting that we saw L’oric with daddy issues, and now we see his own father demonstrating the same where Urusander is concerned. Talk about Osserc being overshadowed by the fact his father is a living legend.

With Urusander seeming so volatile and with his belief that he had single-handedly saved the Tiste people, you can see the potential for a rift, although with his lack of ambition perhaps it will be someone close to him who helps the rift open.

Hunn doesn’t seem to have a huge amount of respect for Osserc—indeed, if he took a blade meant for Urusander, it suggests his loyalty rests with the father.

We are getting a real sense of decline, of the Tiste going into the long night. What was once opulent is now faded, there are ruins, breeds of animal have been hunted to extinction. What has happened to bring them to this point?

Ah, this could be translated into “false news” or “alternative facts”: “So much of history was nothing but gaping holes that needed filling with whatever was expedient…”

Here goes Hunn, whispering the words that could create the rift I mentioned: “We fought and so many of us died, and we won. We won the war for everyone in the realm. And now, well, they’d rather forget we ever existed. It’s not right, how we’re treated, and you know it.”

Is this a case of Kadaspala protesting too much, when he clarifies that there is nothing untoward in his love for his sister? Especially since he then refers to his desire to paint her as obsessive. It all feels a little Lannister. Also, he seems pretty damn arrogant, with all his talk of his talent.

His observations regarding Osserc are given weight by everything we know will follow—I confess I am loving this aspect of the prequel: seeing characters that we know well as youngsters. “The boy was destined for obscurity, unless he could be prised away from his father and his so-called friend.”

Hmm, it’s a little disconcerting that Urusander believes Forkrul justice to be the way forward, especially when he considers that it will bring about a proper and peaceful governance of society. Is that the same peace referred to in the first chapter?

Heh, I agree with Bill in that Erikson seems against criticism—the idea that it is a form of oppression, and imposes rules on aesthetic appreciation. Having said that, I’ve felt oppressed when I’ve said that I haven’t liked a novel, and people have told me exactly why I should like it. Personal preference is everything.

I won’t mention the menace of the red dress—Bill has covered that well—but I will say that perhaps Cryl’s comment about the red being more vermilion than scarlet is due to the changing nature of the light, rather than him being argumentative.

Erikson writes really well about the futility of unrequited love, and relationships changing from childlike friendship to something more adult.

Ha, I love this: “Poets, young Cryl, cannot be trusted.”

Ooh, Durav—linked to Spinnock somehow! “You Duravs are a feral lot.” Feels apt that we maybe probably likely just saw Spinnock in another form in our last novel.

It’s sad that after Cryl admitting to himself that he no longer really knows Enesdia, Jaen takes his words as gospel because he still believes the two of them are close friends.

Ouch. This cuts a little too close to the quick on a personal level, this admission of Hish’s: “The failing was that it [her heard] was so easily won, and therefore became a thing of little worth for the recipient.”

Man, imagine having been the lover of both Silchas Ruin and Anomander Rake… And clearly rejected by both as well, going by her previous words.

It makes me glad that Anomander shows more open affection to Hish, and regards her with courtesy and warmth. I wouldn’t have liked to see too much difference in this character.

This is such a sharp observation: “These three brothers had a way of standing apart, even when they stood together.” We have seen the repercussions of these fraught relations across various novels. What we haven’t seen so much of is the warmth between the brothers, young as they are here. I think, as they grew older and the years passed them, they withdrew and grew colder of necessity.

Given the slightly derogatory attitude we’ve seen from various Tiste to the Azathanai, why do they insist on bringing the masons back to their lands, time and again?

Well, this seems horribly prophetic:

“Then let us hope,” rumbled the mason, “that the Tiste do not turn to the final prey left them.”

Sparo frowned. “And what manner of creature might that be?”

“Why, each other, of course.”

This last long scene featuring the High Mason—and what a stunning reveal that it is Caladan Brood!—is confusing in the extreme to me. There are so many undercurrents, things unsaid and implied, and I feel as though I watched the scene and felt the tension, but had no idea what might have caused it. I’m sure y’all can help me out with some suggestions and answers!

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; 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.


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