Before the Prologue
I skipped the Dramatis Personae and went straight to the first two epigraph. The first is a poem about the Book of the Fallen or something. I’m not that much of a poetry reader. The second is about the Emperor being dead as well as his right hand. Taken from Call to Shadow, written by Felisin.
In 1154 Year of Burn’s Sleep, the last year of Emperor Kellanved’s reign, a 12 year old Ganoes Stabro Paran looks over the Mouse Quarter of Malaz City as it burns. A commander of the Third, an elite division in the Imperial Army walks up to him. A silver brooch on his cloak signifies that he is a bridgeburner. While they watch the city burn, they discuss rumors that the First Sword of Empire Dassem Ultor is dead, rumored to have betrayed a god. The commander advises Ganoes to leave it alone but Ganoes assures the commander that he wants to be a soldier. Another bridgeburner joins them, only slightly older than Ganoes. They talk about how the sorcerers have lost control of the situation down in the city, all for the sake of hunting a few wax-witches. They talk about how one of the sorceress, Surly, has taken on a new name – Laseen, which is the Napan word for Thronemaster. A clear threat against the Emperor of Malazan. At that moment, Laseen appears behind them with two of her bodyguards – members of the Claws. The commander gives his companion a command and sends him off, in an attempt to contain the fires in the city. The commander and Laseen discuss her new name, the loss of control and Laseen’s history as a serving wench in the Old Quarter. The disaster on hand was caused by unseasoned sorcerers working to stop the wax-witches who defied Laseen’s new law in the practice of magic. Laseen leaves soon after. Ganoes and the commander discuss his dreams of becoming a soldier again as the abattoir catches fire and the smell of burnt pigs fill the air.
Ganoes: “I want to be a soldier. A hero.”
Commander: “You’ll grow out of it.”
Oh boy, I braced myself for the steep slope that the Malazan series is infamous for and still I felt the full force of it punch me right in the face. In the first few paragraphs alone, we are bombarded with no less than ten proper nouns. Year of Burn’s Sleep. Malazan Empire. Emperor Kellanved. Mock’s Vane. Mock’s Hold. Mouse Quarter. Malaz City. Ganoes Stabro Paran of the House of Paran. The Old Keep. The First. The Pinnacle. The Third. Seven Cities. Y’Ghatan. The First Sword of the Empire. Daseem Ultor. Korel Wars. Unta. The list goes on and on. Funnily enough one of the key characters in this scene, the commander in the Third, is not given a name.
Barring the slap in the face and coupled with the generally good reviews the book has received, I’m a little excited to learn more about the story. I have a feeling that Ganoes might be a one off prologue character (which seems like something of a trope when it comes to fantasy novels). Not sure where the commander will go, but I would be very interested in his story. It would be interesting to see if Laseen actually becomes a threat to the emperor and eventually becomes Empress. Seeing as it’s the last year of Emperor Kellanved’s reign, I’m inclined to think so. Oh, and what is Year of Burn’s Sleep? The first image that pops into mind is the gods and goddess of the Malazan universe sleeping in their equivalent of hell as it burns around them
Book One – Pale
A brief history piece written almost in an academic style. The Free Cities of Genabackis marshals a mercenary army to oppose the Imperium army under the command of High Fist Dujek Onearm which included the legions of Moranth. The Moranth alliance of 1156 marked the change in the science of warfare for the Malazan Imperium. Tiste Andii sorcerers in command of Moon’s Spawn, one of the mercenary groups under contract of the Free Cities represented the start of the continent’s Sorcery Enfilade with devastating consequences. In the Year of Burn’s Sleep 1163, the Siege of Pale ended with a legendary sorcerous conflagration. It is taken from Imperial Campaigns of 1158-1194, written by Imrygyn Tallobant.
The chapter begins with an epigraph. A poem titled Mother’s Lament by anonymous.
We then shift to the perspective of a fishergirl, watching soldiers match past as an old woman rambles on about the old days. We learned that Laseen is Empress and the last Emperor was killed and his bones scattered. The old woman has lost three husbands and two sons and feels hard done by, having live in a time when Itko Kan was independent and the Empire did not rule over her. The old woman grabs the girl and prophesies, linking herself to the girl. A passing soldier, assuming that the woman is threatening the girl, hits and kills her. Two hooded man, Cotillion and Ammanas, appear and summon seven massive Hounds and sends them after the soldiers. They discuss several things including the fact that Laseen is backed up against a wall after angering Moon’s Spawn. The two are eager to rush to aid in her fall before they miss it. They kidnap the fishergirl, planning to use her as the pawn of a god against Laseen.
Next, we see an old captain talking to the Adjunct of the Empress, Lorn, as they ride down a dusty road. We learn that Laseen ordered a purge after the last Emperor’s death. Riots and mass executions hit most of the Empire but did not reach Itko Kan. The two of them reach their destination. The Eighth Itko Kanese cavalry was slaughtered by an unknown enemy. The farmers and peasants in the area did not survive either. Lieutenant Ganoes Paran makes an appearance. He reports that all huts but two are empty. One belonged to an old woman found dead on the road and one to a father and daughter. He reports that the dead were killed with teeth.
Lorn orders Ganoes to bring her to the fishing village and the captain to clean up the evidences. Lorn is revealed to be a mage killer and she deducts that the massacre is a diversion. She enlists Ganoes under her command and sends him to Gerrom to search the records for the missing name of the missing duo. He is commanded to use the militia if the locals are cooperative. They return to the captain and Lorn commands him to go through the list of new recruits for young girls and old men. The adjunct then asks the captain to tell her the opinions of the soldiers on nobles making inroads in the command structure.
The scene changes to Kan, where Staff Sergeant Aragan is at the recruitment desk for the Malazan Marine. It’s a bad day for him. The captain has gone off to who knows where and the Adjunct of the Empress has popped up using her magical Warrens to get here from Unta. A small recruit appears before him and he’s about to send her away, but he thinks about Kan’s Fist’s command to recruit anything with all four limbs and a head. The Genabackis campaign is a mess. She recruits to be assigned under High Fist Dujek Onearm in the Genabackis campaign. She gives her name as Sorry.
Next, we follow Paran as he reaches Gerrom and finds it empty. A panicked, violentless flight. Except the Imperial Constabulary, which is full of uniformed corpses. He finds that the records have been destroyed and leaves the town behind. He takes the time to reflect on his day. A week ago, he had been assigned to breed horses under a captain with a command resentful of an inexperienced, noble blooded lieutenant. Today, he had volunteered to survey the aftermaths of the massacre to prove himself. He thinks back to the commander at Mock’s Hold and how disappointed he would be of today’s Paran.
A man, Topper, appears in front of Paran, spooking his mare. He is sent by the Adjunct who has grown impatient waiting for Paran’s results. Paran recognizes the name. A Tiste Andii who killed Unta’s royal line as a Claw. He offers Paran food and wine who takes it reluctantly, both because the Adjunct was impatient and because he was a noble of Unta. After breaking bread, the Claw opens a Warren for the Lieutenant to step through. They travel in the Warren to Unta. They redoubled their speed when Topper sees something. When they finally exit the Warrens, they come into the throne room where Laseen is. The Empress remarks that Paran had not listened to the commander’s advice. And the commander had not listened to hers. He is whisked away to meet with the Adjunct.
The Adjunct debriefs and briefs him. He will be central in her efforts to investigate the massacre but he is not to let anyone know. He is then dismissed to his father’s estate while the order to reassign him is processed. He rides to the Noble District thinking about how different it felt to be back. Back then, he was constantly escorted, now he rode alone shielded only by his armor. He reaches home and is greeted by a guardsman he does not recognize. The guardsman lets him in, having seen his face on a tapestry. His parents aren’t home, but his sister, Tavore, greets him.
“Three husbands and two sons, ten coin apiece a year. Five of ten’s fifty. Fifty coin a year’s cold company lass. Cold in winter, cold in bed.”
“I am an anathema to sorcery. That means, Lieutenant, that, even though I’m not a practitioner, I have a relationship with magic. Of sorts. We know each other if you will. I know the patterns of sorcery, and I know the patterns of the minds that use it.”
“Words are like coins – it pays to hoard.”
Oh boy. Laseen became the Empress and it’s the 7th year of her reign. It’s also 1161 YOBS (Year of Burn’s Sleep). That means the Siege of Pale ending with the legendary sorcerous conflagration mentioned in the text before the start of Part One has not happened yet. Holy God, spoilers! I’m sure it will be pretty epic to read about it 🙂
Also, seven years have passed since the prologue. You know this is a hard book when they don’t do the math for you. So the two mysterious men kidnapped a girl and plans to use her against Laseen. Immediate questions that pops to mind – Who are they? What’s so special about her? How does her being link to the old woman affect that plan? Who is the old woman anyway? I thought the strangers might be “good” people at first, but slaughtering the entire village to hide their move? That’s not so “good”, but I have a feeling Malazan isn’t exactly a series that’s black and white.
In this next scene, we switch between Lorn and the captain’s point of views very liberally. It’s not exactly an omniscient point of view and it’s slightly jarring when we’re in the captain’s head in one paragraph and the switches to Lorn in the next. And boy was I wrong about Ganoes. He appears in the very next chapter after the prologue too. And now he’s been promoted to serve under the Adjunct of the Empress. Pretty quick promotion, considering later he mentions that he’s only been assigned to horse breeding only a week ago.
Oh and the missing father-daughter and dead old woman? Plus the Itko Kan cavalry and the villagers massacred. Those two strangers from the first scene really mean their business, don’t they? Though I can’t say they were smart about it. Unless Lorn misread the situation and they weren’t really trying to hide their trail. I mean why draw the attention? Unless of course they intend to send a message to Laseen and spook her.
And the girl gets recruited to the Malazan Army. At least I assume she’s the girl that the strangers took. Didn’t Staff Sergeant Aragan get the memo? Granted it’s happening on the same day, so maybe he really didn’t get the memo. So she’s assigned to the Genabackis campaign. Does this mean she’ll be our POV at the end of the Siege of Pale? Would be interesting to see that. Maybe she’s one of the tinder boxes involved in the conflagration.
So our Ganoes finds the records in ruins. And I say our Ganoes like he’s going to be the character to root for. Which isn’t hard as he’s the only one with any sort of background and character to him by the end of this first chapter. There’s no sign of civilian casualty at Gerrom, only military. I would say it’s the duo from before, but won’t they have massacred the civilians as well, judging by their previous modus operandi. Maybe they’re working with other people who did this. Maybe it’s totally unrelated.
It would seem like our Ganoes has been struggling in the army for a while and took this exercise to help standout. And it’s succeeded. He’s gotten that nice promotion to return to Unta. And sooner than he thought too. I mean just how impatient is Lorn? It’s probably only been half a day or something for Ganoes to get to Gerrom. Topper doesn’t seem like a person I’ll like, but his past does sound pretty colorful. The Warren they travel in feels like the Ways from the Wheel of Time series, right down to the possible dangers within.
That’s a funny scene to behold. A horse walking into the throne room out of thin air and then maybe pooping on the posh carpets. Laseen must have a remarkable memory to remember Ganoes, especially considering he was 12 then and 19 now. I don’t know about you, but 12 year old me and 19 year old me looked pretty different. What was the advice Laseen gave the commander? I looked back at it and couldn’t seem to identify it. Was it basically just “stop being nosy”?
And then Ganoes returns home where only his sister Tavore is present. We get a mention of Felisin as his sister. Is it the same Felisin who wrote Call to Shadow? The ages seem to fit.
And that’s all for this week. If you’ve read this far, thank you very much! It covers very little but it takes me quite a long time to crank one of this out. It’s almost three times my usual average word count. I’ll try to speed up the process as much as I can, maybe do three chapters every two week, because at this rate, I’ll need about half a year to complete Gardens of the Moon.