Category Archives: Malazan

Blogging Malazan, Book 1: Continuing Chapter Two

…now, we flash back.

Tattersail is woken from her warm bed, which she currently shares with fellow (but subordinate) sorcerer Calot.  They’re summoned to a gathering called by High Fist Dujek Onearm.  They hurry in that direction, and then we get to see the first bit of visual imagery in the book that made me go “WHOA.”

Drawing her cloak against the chill, Tattersail paused outside the tent and turned to study the enormous mountain hanging suspended a quarter-mile above the city of Pale.  She scanned the battered face of Moon’s Spawn – it’s name for as long as she could remember.  Ragged as a blackened tooth, the basalt fortress was home to the most powerful enemy the Malazan Empire had ever faced.  High above the earth, Moon’s Spawn could not be breached by siege.  Even Laseen’s own undead army, the T’lan Imass, who traveled as easily as dust on the wind, were unable, or unwilling, to penetrate its magical defenses.

In other words, the besieged city of Pale has found some powerful friends.  Sorcerers called the Tiste Andii, commanded by warlord Caladan Brood (that name!) dropped from the floating mountain to drive back Malazan forces.  The long siege has ground to a halt, except for the efforts by the Bridgeburners to keep tunneling under the city walls.

The sorcerers continue into their meeting with Onearm and the Empress’s high mage Tayschrenn, and fellow sorcerer Hairlock (who is dying so dramatically at the beginning of the chapter).  It’s an uncomfortable meeting.  Hairlock is a dour presence, Tayschrenn a dramatic one, and the plan — to toss six high mages’s power up at Moon’s Spawn — seems a crazy one.  It takes more discussion and some poetry before the front-line mages realize who they’re really up against:  Anomander Rake, one of the Tiste Andii, and Archmage of Moon’s Spawn.  All we know of the Tiste Andii at this time is that they have “elder blood,” and are scary, scary peeps.

The battle begins.  The mages cast fiery spells at the floating mountain.  It stops in place, something it hasn’t done in years.  A portal atop it opens.  Great Ravens pour out, and for the first time, Anomander Rake is seen:

(Italics are in the original)  Mane of Chaos.  Anomander Rake.  Lord of the black-skinned Tiste Andii, who has looked down on a hundred thousand winters, who has tasted the blood of dragons, who leads the last of his kind, seated in the Throne of Sorrow and a kingdom tragic and fey – a kingdom with no land to call its own.

The mages loose all their power, but Rake responds with a black, necrous power that engulfs the whole army as it roils toward them.  This is something different.  “Kurald Galain sorcery.  Elder magic, the Breath of Chaos.”  Hairlock is struck down.  Calot diverts his power to protect his lover and commander Tattersail’s.  Mages fall to demons and fire.  When Tattersail can raise her head again, she sees the cost of this battle:  Onearm’s host is obliterated.  Three of the six mages are dead.

And, something worse:  she can feel that something else was involved, something big, something different.  The scene feels like it was touched by the involvement of …a god?  Hood, the god of Death?  No.  Something else.  Her sight keeps swiveling back toward the young woman who travels with the Bridgeburners, but that seems like a dead end.

Flashback’s over.

Quick Ben and the other Bridgeburners work hurriedly to do something with Hairlock’s fading body.  It’s strange magic, magic Tattersail doesn’t know (to her shock).  They work swiftly to try and avoid the attention of the fifteen year old girl called Sorry in their ranks.  In the end, they hand Tattersail a small package and send her across the killing fields to set it in her tent.  Ravens scatter as the package moves through them.

The siege of Pale is done.  Next up is Daujhistan.  The army doesn’t pause.

Tattersail returns to her tent with the package.  She sets it down and reaches for her prophetic Deck of Dragons.  It calls to her.  She’s indulging in some anguished reflection when the package moves.  Twitches.  Then says her name.  And out of the wrapping steps a yellow marionette that speaks with Hairlock’s voice.  He’s undergone soul shifting, an ancient, chaotic magic.  In his presence, Tattersail’s warren (her magical source and conduit) springs to life.  The deck is calling her.  She has to answer.

First card to set the stage!  The Knight of Dark, black-skinned, half-dragon, with something just out of sight above his head.  Second card!  Oponn.  The Jester of Chance.  A lady and a lord, twins, balancing.  A tiny disc is suspended in the small space between them.  The coin is spinning in the card.  Hairlock commands her to draw a third card, but …no.  She holds.  The marionette is furious, but Tattersail knows what she needs to know.  She hears a spinning coin; Hairlock does not.  The Knight of Dark is out there, unpredictable and cold, but Chance’s coin is spinning.  “Oponn whirled two faces to the cosmos, but it was the Lady’s bet.  Spin on, silver.  Spin on.

Blogging Malazan, Book 1: The Rest of Chapter One

(This has a secondary post title of “Blogging Malazan with a Maine Coon Cat on My Face.”)

Chapter One, continued

A recruiting sergeant in a backwater near the killing field looks up to see a girl in front of him.  No more than twelve, but with old eyes.  She has a specific assignment preference:  the Genabackan campaign, under High Fist Dujek Onearm’s command.  Her name?  “Sorry.  My name is Sorry.”

…scene change!

Ganoes Paran travels an old and forlorn thoroughfare toward Gerrom, a small trading settlement.  It’s deserted, but not corpse-strewn…until he reaches the Constabulary full of suffocated men.  The track Lorn talked about is being erased, bit by bit.

He reflects.  It’s a massive step up career-wise to be absorbed into Lorn’s detail.  He believes himself to be a hard and confident man now, but he certainly hasn’t lived by the old command of “live quietly.”  As he contemplates, he chances upon a green-clothed man in the road, wielding a single long-knife.  His beringed fingers hold up a clay jug.  He offers a drink before informing Ganoes that he’s to be escorted back to Lorn…after a feast and a drink.  The man is called Topper, he’s a Claw (assassin-bodyguard) of Laseen, and he once slaughtered the royal line (in total) of Unta.

They banter, and then we get our first view of a Warren, a magical path.

[Paran] sighed, fighting off a sudden chill.  Within he could see a grayish pathway, humped on either side by low mounded walls and vaulted overhead by impenetrable ocher-hued mist.  The air swept past into the portal like a drawn breath, revealing the pathway to be of ash as invisible currents stirred and raised spinning dust-devils.

It’s Ganoes’ first warren too.  They travel through the warren in hours what would take days otherwise.  They pop out in Unta (Ganoes’ city of origin), pass through a magical void…and end up in front of the Empress on her throne of twisted bone.  He gives his report to Lorn in her tower, the Tower of Dust.  He’s reassigned, but the hunt for the burst of sorcery will continue.

Unta is unchanged, except for his formerly noble role within it.  At his family’s home, he finds his father’s man Gamet, as well as his sisters.  His sister Tavore is severe and uncompromising.  His family’s hall is smaller than he remembered.

(A nice grace note here — Ganoes’ youngest sister Felisin is also mentioned, and as we move to Chapter Two, we see that Felisin is the author of the poetry that begins the next chapter.)


Chapter Two

We’re now in the 1163rd year of Burn’s Sleep.  Two years have passed.

A sorceress called Tattersail observes the carnage of a battle just past, by the fallen city of Pale.  Her emblem of command in the 2nd Army’s wizard cadre is stained and scorched.  She can still sense the sorcery recently unleashed; something waits in the silence.

A voice says, “They’re coming,” and she turns to see a fellow wizard called Hairlock on the ground, destroyed from the hips down.  Only his sorcery keeps him briefly alive.  The two exchange sharp words:  Hairlock is certain he can escape death; Tattersail is not.  They’re interrupted by the arrival of three men and a woman searching for a particular person.  A few words reveal that the new arrivals are the Ninth Squad in the 2nd Army — they’re Bridgeburners, and the sergeant among them is Whiskeyjack, a legend.  All the Bridgeburners are legends.

Tattersail is the last wizard left standing — but the Bridgeburners have their own mage with them, a tall, slender man called Quick Ben.  Whiskeyjack only has thirty men, given the siege just ended.  He had fourteen hundred that morning.  Their siege tunnels gave way, and instead of getting help, the High Mage (and Tattersail’s boss) Tayschrenn stopped them.

(to be continued!)

Blogging Malazan, Book 1: Prologue and Chapter One

Gardens of the Moon: Book One of the Malazan Book of the Fallen, by Steven Erikson



It’s the 1154th year of Burn’s Sleep.  Ganoes Paran looks down on riots in the Mouse Quarter of the ancient imperial capital of Malaz City.  He’s young, the son of a wine merchant.  Magic battles rage below.  We don’t know anything, except that it’s a tumultuous time.  High ranking men are dead.  A soldier – a Bridgeburner, an elite – pauses to speak to Ganoes.  The boy asks, is it true?  Did the dead man betray a god?  And the Bridgeburner answers like this:

Every decision you make can change the world.  The best life is the one the gods don’t notice.  You want to live free, boy, live quietly.

Another Bridgeburner with a pockmarked face and a fiddle stops by.  He’s only a few years older than Ganoes’ twelve, but speaks his opinions like a peer.  The soldiers discuss the out-of-control mages laying unnecessary waste to the Mouse Quarter.  They discuss a woman, Surly, who dislikes protectiveness, who takes a new name that means “Thronemaster,” who acts with efficient brutality when the Emperor isn’t around.

And here she is Herself, the woman who was Surly but is now Laseen, blue-skinned, flanked by Claw bodyguards.  Ganoes is stunned by the Bridgeburner’s informality with a woman of immense and frightening power.  The Bridgeburner, the Commander of the Bridgeburners, calls Laseen out on the destruction in the city, only to be ripped a new one and told to get out of town.

Laseen leaves.  Ganoes and the Commander look back out over the town.  They have this exchange:

“One day I’ll be a soldier,” Ganoes said.

The man grunted.  “Only if you fail at all else, son.  Taking up the sword is the last act of desperate men.  Mark my words and find yourself a more worthy dream.”

Ganoes scowled.  “You’re not like the other soldiers I’ve talked to.  You sound more like my father.”

“But I’m not your father,” the man growled.

“The world,” Ganoes said, “doesn’t need another wine merchant.”

The commander’s eyes narrowed, gauging.  He opened his mouth to make the obvious reply, then shut it again.

Malaz City is burning.  The air gains the sweet reek of burning pigs.


Chapter One:

It’s now the 1161st year of Burn’s Sleep.  An old woman and a fishergirl stand by the side of a road, watching a massive column of soldiers pass.  The old woman mentions the kin she sent to war before Laseen, “in the days of the Emperor.”  The fishergirl barely listens.

Her bright eyes darted among the soldiers passing before her.  The young men atop their high-backed saddles held expressions stern and fixed straight ahead.  The few women who rode among them sat tall and somehow fiercer than the men.  The sunset cast red glints from their helms, flashing so that the girl’s eyes stung and her vision blurred.

The fishergirl exchanges small talk with the old woman Rigga, then says, “Isn’t it wonderful?” of the column.  The woman Rigga’s hand shoots out, snagging the fishergirl painfully by the hair.  There’s a prophecy to deliver.  Rigga the old woman is also Riggalai the seer and wax-witch.  The fishergirl will be given a sword and a horse and sent across the sea to war, and shadow will take her soul.

Rigga is saying, “Look to the Lord spawned in Darkness; his is the hand that shall free you, though he’ll know it not–” when a soldier interrupts.  The old woman is harassing a pretty young one.  The soldier’s gauntleted hand cracks across the old woman’s head.  Her dead body flops to the ground.  The candles that signal necromancy roll out of her bag.  The soldiers ride off.  Only dust remains in their wake.

The girl is broken in some deep emotional way.  She speaks of her father in her own voice until she suddenly speaks in another voice entirely.  Shadows pour across the road.  A hand falls on her shoulder.  Two men are near, both black-clad, one hooded and tall, the other shorter.  They speak like old-time companions about the dead seer.

The shorter man raises his arms.  The air rends, blackness fades, and seven huge Hounds now sit in the road.  “Something to gnaw on Laseen’s mind,” the shorter man says with a giggle.  The short one is Ammanas.  The tall one, Cotillion.  The Hounds catch up with the column of soldiers; the fishergirl can hear their screams.  Ammanas tells the fishergirl she’s the pawn of a god now, and everything else fades away.

Switch scenes.  A captain rides alongside a woman called Lorn, the Adjunct to the Empress, which makes her Laseen’s personal servant.  The captain is not entirely pleased or comfortable to have such a woman nearby.  She points out that he survived the purges of the Empress after her ascendance.  They have 1100 soldiers with them to patrol where they’re going.  He tells her, “The carnage stretches half a league from the sea, Adjunct, and a quarter-league inland.”

They reach a hill’s summit and look beyond.  Crows and gulls’ cries fill the air.  Beneath a carpet of feeding birds lie nearly four hundred corpses of men and horses. The captain explains:  all these dead had arms drawn.  They fought.  All the dead are the Empress’s troops.  The carnage is horrific.  One man rides out of the gory scene to greet them:  Ganoes Paran from the prologue, now a lieutenant.  He reports that a fishing village nearby is also full of its dead.  But, a man and his daughter are missing.  The wounds to the dead have been made by “natural weapons.”  Teeth.  No evidence is left behind, no scat, no hair.

Lorn and Ganoes share barbed conversation – he’s a noble, and nobles rarely take commissions.  Ganoes speaks of the horrors he’s seen with a bluntness that verges on rude.  He’s therefore surprised when Lorn bogarts him from his current position to become an officer on her own staff.

She tells the truth as she knows it (or as she’s willing to tell it):  the deaths of the 400 were a diversion from a mighty sorcerer’s hidden deed.  She sends him to the next town over to ask about a fisherman and his daughter.  Before he’s off, though, Lorn makes Ganoes’ captain look into any new recruits, either young women or old men, in the Empress’s forces.  The captain agrees, sourly.

(And good GOD I forgot how long these chapters were.  We’ll just adjourn for today.  And perhaps cut down on the detail in the future.)

Blogging Malazan, Book 1: Introduction

I’ve always loved fantasy series.  And archaeology and anthropology.  And long sagas and grimdark history, so when my husband recommended Steven Erikson‘s Malazan Book of the Fallen series (which I believe was up to about #3 at the time), I gladly checked it out.  I was enthralled with the first few books.  Great military fantasy with an absorbing magic system and compelling characters!  A truly diverse range of peoples and appearances and gods and yeah!

After a while, I started feeling Malazan fatigue.  It’s a big slog of a saga, ten books in all (not to mention material from Erikson’s old gaming/plotting partner Ian Esslemont).  It suffers from what I call “Guy Gavriel Kay Disease” (with love, because I do love Kay), in that every badass you meet is slightly more badass than the last badass until it gets sort of ridiculous.  Kay doesn’t go beyond trilogies, so he’s never reached that eventual tipping point of ludicrous levels of power, but Erikson has ten books in which to up the ante, and by book six, I was expecting someone who could split the world with a glare.

Short story long, I abandoned the series before book eight.  I didn’t want to.  I just couldn’t fathom ordering another massive doorstop from Amazon UK and then trying to remember the huge matrix of characters and cultures.  So!  Given that I’m currently in a period of underemployment, it’s a great time to go back, give it another go, and blog every few chapters to see what I think of the whole thing.  I don’t promise anything; it’s a huge slog of a series, as I said.  But I’ll start and give it a whirl, and we’ll see what happens.

Of course, note that I’m going to be blogging plot like crazy.  I hate spoiler complaints, hate them.  And this is a series that was published between 1999 and 2011.  But still:  spoilers!  Nothing but spoilers!