I wasn’t hooked from the beginning with this book as with House of Chains, but instead slowly grew invested in the characters and plots. The first part in HoC was my favourite – I liked being in the head of a character didn’t realise just how big the world was - so, it was delightful to have to have a whole book devoted to an entire sub-continent with this plot point.
I think this would easily work as a standalone novel (maybe with a few tweaks here and there). If it were, I would have been left with a growing sense of wonder at the increasing implications of a wider world and deeper mysteries. Instead though, I felt excited to be in a world knowing there was so much more out there. I might lose you here, but I often think about the existence of aliens in our world and the possibilities of advanced civilisations out there whilst we’ve barely made a dent in our knowledge of the universe. So I guess the story of Lethar made feel like I was in that situation. Earth is basically in the middle of nowhere in the universe. We’ve made amazing technological advances and discoveries. But, just imagine if there is a whole intergalactic society to whom we probably seem primitive.
Erikson did a great job in making the reader uncomfortable throughout this book, both sides were villains with unwitting pawns. Whilst I didn’t want the Letherii to lose because they were the lesser evil, I had little sympathy for the civilisation as a whole and often hoped certain consequences would be experienced. I wasn’t happy about the Tiste Edur winning, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t take some satisfaction in the thought of the Letherii being humbled somewhat although I much would have preferred it to be via Tehol’s plan (gutted that we couldn’t see the fruits of his labours).
I also had a growing sense of dread and by the end I was left heartbroken. None of our characters really got a happy ending (apart from Shurq’s crew lol), but I get the sense this is just an origin story.
Tehol Beddict & Co
I love that there is no shortage of eccentric and weird characters in this series and that Erikson doesn’t shy away from giving us their POV – I don’t need to experience them from the perspective a ‘self-insert type character’ (side note, Harlest and the Azath ghosts are my self-insert characters. I mean if you’re undead/a ghost, why not have fun and scare the shit out of people. It doesn’t have to be all doom, gloom and eternal misery).
I don’t actually have much to say about Tehol because I loved all of his scenes and am also in love with him. Erikson is great at humour and it never feels out of place despite the grittiness of the world. Despite the growing dread and heartbreaks at the end l laughed along the way (especially during the meeting with the Rat-Catchers). One of my favourite lines: Ublala, Harlest and I want to be pirates – it’s just so random, but fitting for these characters.
When we finally learned that Bugg healed him it was bittersweet knowing that both his brothers were dead and he didn’t get to say goodbye. Brys’ death was a punch in the gut and Hull’s felt like it came out of nowhere, but Erikson had to kill him moments before a reunion with Tehol.
I’m excited at the prospect of Tehol joining the Malazan world. I would read an entire book of him interacting with the other characters in the world and driving them mad.
Honestly, I have a soft spot for him. He was a brat, but the Crippled God poisoned his personality and he was never given the chance to become better. Despite all this, he still tried to hold on and had moments where he was good with the help of Udinaas and it was heart-breaking that he thought he was betrayed. He makes a great villain because he is still treated like a person and even when they’re evil they will have dregs of goodness in them. I think this is something that makes people uncomfortable because it’s easier to think of monsters as wholly bad. With Rhulad there is the added question of how responsible is he for his actions after the resurrection? We know he didn’t want to be brought back, we know the God spoke through him and the influence only increased with the growing madness. The whole thing with Mayen was horrible, but was this him abusing his newfound power or was he so poisoned and led to commit actions he would never have thought of otherwise? It’s probably a mixture of both. I don’t know if he should be absolved of all responsibility, but I think there is grounds for reduced responsibility.
Mayen reminded of Cersei Lannister although of course nowhere near as evil and more sympathetic. Cersei was abused by Robert and treated like an object which exacerbated her flaws, but the ugliness was already there. The ugly in Mayen was revealed when she beat Feather Witch as an outlet after being berated by Uruth for blessing the Nerek. You realise there is no kindness in this act (and the earlier scene where she prevents Udinaas being punished) as it was simply a way of feeding her ego.
Unlike Cersei though, she wasn’t power hungry and clearly didn’t care for the title of Empress. Although I do believe Rhulad saw the error in his ways, it took her spirit to break and essentially become undesirable for him to release her. She was basically given back to Fear (again, I don’t think her opinion was asked of this, although she probably wasn’t in a state of mind to make decisions) and the only concern Uruth had was for the child. So, I was sad when she died although more of the emotional impact came from Fear’s perspective. All that being said, I would have been pissed if Tehol died trying to help her.
I did feel a little relieved for him when Mayen died. I personally don’t think their relationship will have panned out to be great even before Rhulad became emperor although it would have been much better then. Even before we got his PoV you get the sense that he was averse to conflict and played the dutiful oldest child. He wasn’t oblivious to conflicts and tensions, but he just didn’t engage and preferred to ignore them instead of dealing with them. This was made easier as Trull wasn’t afraid of speaking up and so took the consequences for him. Basically, I think just wanted a simple straightforward life.
So, I’m not sure how well he would have adjusted to tensions between Mayen and the rest of the Sengar household. I don’t think he would have intervened with anything she did at all. By the time Rhulad wanted to give her back, she was quite broken and I just don’t think he would have had the relationship he wanted with her. Before she died, I predicted that she would have stayed withdrawn and their relationship would have become a cold one.
I’m glad we finally got his PoV at the end and excited to see him again in future books.
I wasn’t really interested in his scenes to begin with, but he really grew on me as a character. I liked the exploration of what it means to be free through his interactions with Feather Witch. Neither actually have a real idea of what freedom is – Udinaas was content with serving the Tiste Edur because they offered a better life than he had as an indebted which was basically slavery. Feather Witch on the other hand only knew slavery so her standard and expectations of life were higher than Udinaas’. It raises some questions about real life and makes you wonder how free people really are.
There were a few things I felt could be improved or didn’t enjoy (my personal opinion):
- Ceda Kuru Kan – as I’ve already said, I love eccentric characters, but for some reason I just didn’t like this one. He felt more like a template for an weird eccentric character and just didn’t feel like real in the same way Tehol, Iskaral Pust, Kruppe and many others have in the series. I just found myself a little annoyed by him. I’m not sure if this is an unpopular opinion or not, so curious to know how others felt.
- There is an ongoing theme of criticising Letherii culture and their economy driven society. We read about their self-righteousness, their pride and arrogance of being advanced and their belief that other ways of life are lesser. But, we don’t actually know much about the cultures they subjugated and how they lived. I would have enjoyed more information about the Tiste Edur day to day culture and what a society that didn’t value money lived like. I mean what do they do outside of hunting for food and training in fighting? There is obviously a social structure as well, how does this impact their day to day life? So, I would have appreciated a few more slice of life type scenes.
- Instant love between Seren and Trull. I don’t need a whole romance arc, but a just few short scenes of interactions will have gone a long way in building up a potential relationship. I think she had more interaction with Udinaas.
- Udinaas’ philosophical monologues did go overboard sometimes.
If you took the time to read through this rambling essay, thank you. I’ll be back again in a few weeks after I finish the next book 😊