Forge of Darkness by Steven Erikson

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


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 Four.

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 Four

Three Wardens of the Outer Reach (Captain Finarra Stone, Spinnock Durav, and his cousin Faror Hend) are on patrol on the Glimmer Fate plain, which is arid and hot. The plains border the Vitr Sea, which has something in it that kills the grass nearby, dissolves rock, and stings the lungs. Nobody knows the Vitr’s source, or how to stop its slow but steady advance across the land, which will have it at the borders of Kurald Galain in “perhaps less than a dozen centuries.” It also has been troubled of late—the last three patrols driven back by storms—though today it is more peaceful. Finarra has ridden out of sight, and Faror is tempted by the idea of lying with Spinnock (he himself enjoys flirting with her), despite her being betrothed, eleven years his elder, and his cousin (the one thing that really stops her). Spinnock mentions he’s heard that the Azathanai can make vessels that will hold Vitr, and wonders what use might come of collecting it. The two prepare to make camp.

Finarra comes across a huge, headless carcass of some creature washed out of the Sea, something that has never happened before in her experience. Most of it has been dissolved by Vitr, making it hard to identify, and she wonders if this was “some earthbound kin to the legendary Eleint,” who were said to be winged. Shockingly, the body somehow moves, coming fast at her, killing her horse and knocking her aside and badly injuring her. She watches as it sags and then more skin dissolves and split, revealing ribs, then she starts to move away and head back, avoiding the shore in case more creature were spit out, though her more inland route means she’ll have to worry about wolves. As she walks, she thinks about the legends of the world’s birth in darkness, then the “kiss of Chaos, as a spark of enlivening and as a force in opposition. Entwined with the imposition of order that was implicit in Darkness, Chaos began the war that was life. The sun opened its eye and so slashed in two all existence, dividing the worldly realm into Light and Dark—and they too warred… the struggle of life itself.” She considers how Mother Dark was once simply a mortal Tiste, “Yet now they call her goddess. Now, we are to kneel before her, and know her face as Dark’s own, her presence as the elemental force itself.” She wonders, “treasonously” she knows, “what has become of us that we should so descend into superstition?” It’s all the same thing, she muses, a soldier commanded by a superior, a citizen by the law: “Disobey at peril to your life. If not your life then your freedom and if not your freedom then your will and if not your will, then your desire… coins of varying measure… Rule my flesh, rule my soul, the currency is the same.” Her thoughts are interrupted by a sudden wolf attack.

Faror Hend and Spinnock hear the fight and Faror heads out to see if it is Finarra. When he tells her to be careful, she makes the decision to close off their flirting and harshly (albeit more so than she had wished) she tells him he has “many cousins.” Riding out she forces herself to think of her fiancée, Kagamandra Tulas, picturing his face, gaunt from war—“years of deprivation and hunger—“ and how “in his eyes there was something hollow, like emptied shells, haunted by cruel memories… She knew he did not lover her; she believed he was no longer capable of love.” He had saved his commander, Silchas Ruin, and was rewarded by a new High House via his marriage to her, meaning, she knows, that “for the sake of her own bloodline, she would have to find a way to love Tulas.” She finds a trail of dead wolves, and is about to set off to find what she assumes is her dead commander when a badly injured Finarra appears, warning her to stay quiet because “something has walked out of the sea”, leaving a trail of footprints and puddles of Vitr. After upbraiding her for risking her life just to collect a corpse (Faror realized that part of her had welcomed that death: “Her future felt hopeless—was it not simpler to surrender her life now?”), Finarra decides she has to take care of her wound, but that they’ll have to track whatever it was that came out of the Vitr.

As they slowly make their way back to camp, Finarra thinks of what she had seen in Faror’s eyes: “There was a lust for death, flowering black and fierce . .. a flaw among the Tiste, emerging in each and every generation… The mind backed into a corner… Seeing nothing but walls—no way through, no hope of escape—it then longed for turmoil’s end, the sudden absence of self found in some heroic but doomed deed . . intended to distract others, offering false motivations.” She’s pretty sure it’s Faror’s unwanted betrothal, combined with being around the charming Spinnock and his clear feelings for Faror, that have combined to push Faror down that path. Finarra thinks she’ll need to reassign them far away from teach other, though that might not work. There is, however, an alternative, “an abuse of her rank,” and one that might lead to repercussions, sacrifice, and the questioning of her motives.

They arrive at camp, Finarra barely conscious and her arm already looking infected. They burn it with a hot blade, treat it with salve, and bind it, though Finarra is till feverish. Faror tells Spinnock to take Finarra to the outpost while she tracks the stranger.

Spinnock heads out with Finarra and Faror begins her tracking, finding even more dead wolves on the trail, “cut down and left dying from terrible wounds.” Eventually she comes across a slim, young women, sunburned and naked save for a wolf pelt thrown over her. After saying she’s no threat, Faror asks if she is an Azathanai. The woman says she can understand Faror, though she’s not speaking the woman’s language, adding she knows that word Azathanai, using it in a different tongue then translating it as “the people who were never born.” Faror doesn’t recognize the language (not Azathanai or Forulkan), and introduces herself, saying she’s tracked the woman from the Vitr Sea. The woman says she doesn’t remember anything, including a sea. Faror says she’ll escort her to Kharkanas and Mother Dark, asking if it’s OK if she calls her T’riss (“born of the sea”). The woman agrees, then, saying that Faror’s horse seems “useful,” decides she’d like one of her own, shocking and scaring Faror by using sorcery to make a horse-like creature out of the plainsgrass and then clothes for herself similar to what. They head south toward Kharkanas, with T’riss saying Mother Dark is a “nice title.”

Sharenas Ankhadu, veteran and former cohort commander of the Legion and in particular its wars against the Jheleck, rides now behind Hunn Raal and Osserc with other former officers, though not her older sister Infayen Menand or cousin Tathe Lorat. She believes, however, that “if sides must be chosen in the days to come,” she was sure they would pick correctly. On the other hand, she isn’t so sure of all her comrades, including Ilgast Rend, master of a Great House, who had asked Raal if Urusander know of their mission. Osserc had lied and said yes, Urusander had approved it. Sharenas considers Osserc “childish and irritating” and prone to “tirades and impulsive reactions,” but can overlook that thanks to his father Urusander — “the source of the reasoning voice through which their claims for recognition and justice would be heard.” Her three cousins Serap, Risp, and Sevegg are also in the troop, and she suspects they all are sleeping with Hunn Raal (despite all being second cousins). She herself expects she’ll do the same, though mostly to “take him down a few notches” thanks to his “untoward arrogance ever warring with his duty to Lord Urusander” and the fact that he isn’t “highborn enough.” The final important member of their group is Kagamandra Tulas, and Sharenas can’t wait to see him meet Faror Hend, his betrothed, when they reach the Warden’s Outpost, their goal tonight. She (and every other women she believes) knows that Tulas is “dead inside… His wounded soul… discarded on some field of battled. He was a husk… as if he but longed for death.” Sharenas pities Faror Hend, and thinks how when Urusander takes power such things as political marriages will be gone: “the power of the Greater Houses… would be struck aside. Service to the realm would be the only standard of value, of worth.” In that case, ironically, Tulas will be “a most valuable prize,” and Urusander’s right-hand man (though still a wretched husband. As she considers the pair, she realizes that Faror Hend must have asked to come out here to flee Tulas, and she plots to be Faror’s “confidante” when she’ll need someone to comfort her once Tulas has “tracked her down.”

Ilgast Rend rides ahead of Sharenas with Hunn Raal and Osserc, unimpressed with either. He thinks Raal “vain and arrogant” and Osserc the “palest reflection” of Urusander. He has an interior rant about how the Tiste have fallen: “Wives cheated, husbands wandered, even Mother Dark had taken for herself a lover. Whelps were falling to the floor like sour fruit.” Even Urusander, an excellent commander in war, had gone off into “arcane indulgences” and, Rend thinks, would make “an indifferent king,” even as his supporters became disappointed in his unwillingness to grant favors.: “No gifts of wealth, no grants of land or power, not tipped scales of court influence.” It won’t take long, he thinks, before Urusander’s supporters start plotting against him. More worrisome is that Urusander’s ascension would lead to civil war: “Decorum was a fragile thing. It would not take much to see it shattered. In a world of blood, everyone drowns.” He’s disappointed that Sharenas is here with amongst the foolish and overly ambitious, “he’d thought her wiser.” As for himself, he sees himself as a bridge between two sides: With the blood of a Greater House in his veins, and his history as cohort commanders, he stood aside the chasm.” So far he’s held off the pull of either side, though he fears he’s waited too long and will be pushed. He isn’t happy with Mother Dark’s cult or the “immorality of a Consort.” He sees in her religion a “burgeoning strain of sexual excess… Any faith that encouraged the mind to set aside its greatest gifts—of reason, of skepticism—in favour of empty platitudes and the glory of an end to thinking, well he would have none of it.” Although he believes Draconus has to go and Mother Dark needs a “proper marriage or none at all,” he doesn’t necessarily believe that means Urusander. He plans on speaking to his old friend Calat Hustain, after Raal’s attempt to enlist Hustain to their cause fails. He hopes the two of them, he and Hustain, can find some solution. If someone were to kill Raal, if Urusander lost himself in his obsessions, he’d be fine with that—Mother Dark he thinks will soon tire of Draconus or perhaps even just disappear into her sorcery. He recalls when she was just a beautiful women, “possessor of unimaginable strengths and unexpected frailties,” and how that changed when she “found the Gate.” They reach the road to the Warden’s Outpost, and Rend thinks how the Wardens are a “loose rabble of misfits” and how “in a decent society there must be a place for misfits, a place free of prejudice and torment… such people were not left to the alleys, the shadows beneath bridges, the gutters and slums… not thrown out into the wilderness, and not throat-cut either. Misfits had a place in the world and must be cherished, for one day they might be needed.” They reach the outpost gate.


Bill’s Response

Well, hard to imagine much good happening in these Outer Reaches given this opening, what with “black grasses”, “spiky blades,” “cauldron of a furnace” and the way iron burned, leather “shriveled and cracked,” skin became “hot and irritated,” and how the Wardens and their horses “suffered terribly.” Not to mention the deleterious effects of the Vitr Sea. Not only does this description set us up for the bad about to happen, it also is good to keep in mind later in this chapter when Sharenas thinks about how Faror Hend might have come here to avoid being with Kagamandra Tulas—that’s a lot to put up with to avoid someone, which means you must really, really want to avoid them.

Spinnock! Nice timing to meet a young Spinnock after our recent discussion on the possibility that he reappears in Assail. Maybe we’ll spot some clues…

Nice little quick mention of wolves here, setting us up for later.

Also a nice bit of sliding important information in when Faror looks at the Sea and thinks, “Its promise was dissolution,” an odd phrasing that, to describe death/dissolution as a “promise”. Here it just seems to mean the inevitable result of touching it, but this phrase takes on much more meaning when we learn a bit more about her and her desire for such “dissolution.” Nicely done.

We also are told that things appear on the cusp of a change, as the Sea has been much more stormy lately. I also like how we get a sense of the longevity of the Tiste. I’m thinking how we short-lived humans have a hard time taking seriously something like climate change with its “decades-away” (kinda sorta) promise of big trouble, and here you have a Tiste worrying about the time, “less than a dozen centuries away” when Kurald Galain would be threatened—“A few millennia were a short span indeed.” We might all be a bit better off generally if we could borrow at least a little of that long view.

“the scholars and philosophers of Kharkanas were an inward-looking, xenophobic lot, dismissive of foreigners and their foreign ways.” This is such a toss off line, but again, carries some weight. How strong is a society, how stable and adaptable can it be, if those allegedly the wisest among them are “inward-looking” and “xenophobic”? I’d say history teaches us that doesn’t bode well for a culture/society.

‘I have heard rumours,’ Spinnock went on, sheathing his sword, ‘that there are Azathanai vessels capable of holding Vitr. Made of strange and rare stone, they must be.’… ‘If there are such vessels,’ she now said, ‘one wonders what purpose might be served by collecting Vitr.’

Might we see such vessels, or learn one’s purpose?

So you can tell we’re back in time here relative to the other tales with the idea that the dragons/Eleint are “legendary.”

Kind of hard to blame Finarra for getting too close to a headless body on the assumption that it’s dead and thus no threat. In this world of sorcery, however, it appears “will” can go a long way

This may have been the first reference to creatures (the “highest—a kind of reptilian boar” and the wolves) that doesn’t also note their impending or already-occurred extinction. Probably no coincidence that it is in a place wholly inhospitable to the Tiste.

Yes, all this early-world/creation myth does “snarl mortal thoughts,” but being a big mythology fan I still eat it up. It’s interesting to see these so-early thoughts on the topic given their weight in the later series. And we also get “shadows” and “uncertainty”—clearly some of our favorite Malazan words…

We’ve had a sense already of how on edge everyone is in this Tiste world, the soldiers, the class differences, etc. And now we get the religious messiness as well, with Finarra clearly not so happy about Mother Dark’s religion: “What has become of us that we should so descend into superstition,” a question she knows is “treasonous,” which of course highlights the potential for conflict and violence.

That’s a cruel place to end this segment, mid-attack. I think it shows Erikson’s recognition that along with all the deep mythology and philosophy, the questions of will and submission etc., we still need the usual narrative bells and whistles, like action and suspense. (though based on some comments, he perhaps hasn’t nailed that balance for everyone…)

One of the themes that has run throughout all these novels is the impact of war and Tulas is yet another example of this, a soldier who seemingly (remember we are getting others’ perspectives of this, not his) came back “dead” from the war—not the first time we’ve heard this idea.

This little aside about Faror’s betrothed also keeps the class issue forefront, with references to “Lesser Houses”, “station,” and “lowborn.” Again, hard to think this constant and close focus on rank is a good sign for a society.

Not wholly sure I’m reading this right, but I like that Faror puts the horribly injured wolf, with its “laboring heart,” out of its misery.

Here is that more direct reference to Faror’s death wish I’d mentioned earlier. It’s interesting that this trait of the Tiste which we saw highlighted as well in the Malazan series wasn’t simply the result, as I think many of us thought, of their cataclysmic past, their dwindling numbers, their exile from home, but seemingly began here at home.

Finarra seems a good commander in the way she sees right to the issue with both Faror and Spinnock, and determines to do something about it. As for her other “option” beyond reassignment, is she talking about seducing one and if so which one? Or something else entirely? Though it seems Faror has come to her own epiphany and solution.

“Changes are coming to this world.” Oh Faror, you have no idea.

T’riss! And we get to see her get her name! So one of the most powerful figures in the world we’ve known comes out of the Vitr Sea a confused young woman. Albeit one with a lot of power obviously (grass horse, ya know). As in the main series, she’s a character with a lot of questions. Is she Azathanai? Why does she not remember anything? How did she come from the sea? Why does she want to get to Kharkanas? Is it to meet with Mother Dark? If so, why?

The section with Sharenas does a nice job of complicating things. Up to now we’ve had lots of references to the various factions in potential conflict, but here we get conflict within factions, conflict amongst (alleged) allies. Raal doesn’t like Osserc. Rend doesn’t like Raal. Infayen Menand and Tathe Lorat chose not to come (though Sharenas thinks they can be counted upon). Raal doesn’t tell Urusander everything. Osserc lies to Rend. Rend doesn’t like Osserc. And is unimpressed with Urusander as potential king. And on it goes. Beyond the general implication that conflict awaits, we get a pretty heavy foreshadowing that Hunn Raal is going to betray Urusander. Question is, can we trust Sharenas’ opinion on this?

Anyone else just waiting for the scene where Ilgast Rend yells at a bunch of young (relatively) Tiste to “get off my lawn!”?

Rend clearly doesn’t think much of Urusander’s supporters in terms of their “high minded ideals” (my words, not Erikson’s) if he’s predicting that once they realize Urusander isn’t going to be handing out awards (land, titles, etc.) they’ll turn on him.

Of course, he’s equal opportunity, as he’s not a big fan of Mother Dark either. While the whole prudish aspect isn’t appealing, I’m with him on the “Any faith that encouraged the mind to set aside its greatest gifts—of reason, of skepticism—in favour of empty platitudes and the glory of an end to thinking, well he would have none of it.”

So how did Mother Dark just stumble across “the Gate”? Guess we’ll have to wait for that one…


Amanda’s Response

If this land is so hot and parched, it makes it seem inconsistent to have grasses as thick as fur and as tall as a horse’s shoulder—it might be a tiny thing, but it can make the worldbuilding more flimsy. Like, if leather slowly shrivels and cracks in just a day, how is this grass not just surviving but flourishing?

Ah, a look at young Spinnock Durav! And isn’t it nice symmetry that after just seeing him gain a sword in Assail, we watch him handling a newly-granted blade in this novel. It makes me wonder: was this serendipitous, or something that Erikson did deliberately?

Agree that this area does not seem at all pleasant—if the rasping sound of a sword being sharpened is reassuring, we’re not given to look on this as a happy jaunt of a trip. Begs the question why these Wardens are required! What are they guarding against? Just the Vitr?

Although that doesn’t sound like a ‘just’! The Vitr is really mysterious. I just can’t visualise this shifting silver sea. And it seems that few, if any, actually know what it does or is there for.

I find it amusing seeing here that they were running out of time because they only had a few millennia left until the Vitr expands too far towards them—these long-lived creatures have such a different perspective. You would have thought a long life would give them too much patience for politics and civil war—they would have seen so many different times come and go, that they should realise everything is just temporary.

So Faror fancies her cousin, but realises their bloodline is too close for her to do anything. I wonder if this is just said so that Erikson can show the desirability of Spinnock, or because something will come of this forbidden desire.

We’ve already seen the Azathanai skill with stone, so no surprise if they can create vessels to hold Vitr. The use of the word vessel makes me think about Korya as well. Not sure if there is any connection.

Hmm, seems that Spinnock might be paving the way to make a play for his cousin, with his remarks about the age difference between them not seeming so vast. I like his easy confession that the word play of poets is not for him—not for me, either, to be truthful. I find poems confusing and too full of hidden meanings.

“Among all the Tiste, only a few had ever claimed to have seen a dragon.” This is amusing, considering some of them are going to change into dragons after not too long a period from this.

When a creature is so determined to leave the Vitr that it crawls onwards when half-dissolved and missing a head, you do have to ask what the Vitr consists of—and how painful it must be to be submerged in it.

I worry a little about the section where Finarra’s thoughts turn to philosophy about Chaos and Dark and life and death and war. I have always found these sections quite hard work, and I don’t think I’m alone. In the Book of the Fallen, Erikson found the right balance, assisted by characters who were as far from philosophy as it was possible to be, but here the characters are all Tiste, are all long-lived, and it gives the impression that they will all do a lot of musing on various lofty notions.

This I can understand of her perspective: “After all, Mother Dark had, before embracing Darkness, been a mortal Tiste woman […] Yet now they call her goddess.” Apart from feeling a physical difference in her presence, what is there to say that she is a goddess? What is to say that those who Ascend in the Book of the Fallen are to become gods and goddesses? The belief of others?

The idea of marrying for a family and not for love is one well known within past history, but in stories it rarely goes well. Especially when one of the parties is obsessing about someone else. And surely the idea of obsessions is that they cannot be contained, trapped, imprisoned—by their nature, they consume.

Faror wishes to die because of her longing for her cousin? Or simply because of the ennui that became characteristic of the Tiste Andii?

Ah, Finarra has thoughts about that very thing: “She had seen it before, had come to believe it was a flaw among the Tiste, emerging in each and every generation, like poisonous weeds in a field of grain.”

I’m curious as to what Finarra plans to do to prevent the continuation of Faror and Spinnock’s longing for each other—is she planning to seduce one of them?

Considering how worried they are about the wolves of the Glimmer Fate, it must be truly terrifying for Faror to see these wolves killed in such a casual manner on her approach to the stranger who came from the Vitr.

“Changes are coming to this world.” She’s not wrong.

And what’s this? More mystery about the Azathanai, as they are referred to as ‘the people who were never born’.

So that is how T’riss gained her name. And we have more symmetry here with Assail—a person coming from the sea with no memory, and given a name by the person who found them. Jethiss also seems to be the male variant of T’riss, considering both names mean ‘one who comes from the sea’.

That horse of bound black grass would be something to see on the big screen—it is a positively cinematic moment.

T’riss’ comment regarding Mother Dark—“That is a nice title”—cannot be throwaway or casual, but not sure what she means. Is it that Mother Dark is going to become a true mother to the Andii, or that it is merely a title that anyone can carry, in the same way that Son of Darkness is?

In Sharenas’ section, she thinks about the renown of her two elder kin—who might they be?

Hunn Raal is honorable? We have seen some hints to the contrary, in actual fact.

We straight away learn that Hunn Raal has probably bedded his three second cousins, and that is in stark contrast to the way that Spinnock and Faror have behaved.

And it looks like we’re on a collision course between Kagamandra Tulas and Faror—what’s the betting he discovers her on the very occasion she has slipped where her cousin is concerned? Or is Erikson going to be less obvious than that? (Probably).

Again, a glimpse into the chaos and depravity afflicting the Tiste Andii—a very different picture from those we saw in the Book of the Fallen: “Abyss knew, this was an age of frenzied spilling among the Tiste. Wives cheated, husbands wandered, and now even Mother Dark had taken for herself a lover.”

We’ve seen mention of superstition regarding the religion growing around Mother Dark. Here Ilgast refers to it as a cult. Who exactly is on board with Mother Dark and her new direction? We’re only really seeing those who oppose.

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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