Literature / Deadhouse Gates

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Coltaine rattles slow
across the burning land.
The wind howls through the bones
of his hate-ridden command.
Coltaine leads a chain of dogs
ever snapping at his hand.

Coltaine's fist bleeds the journey home
along rivers of red-soaked sand.
His train howls through his bones
in spiteful reprimand.
Coltaine leads a chain of dogs
ever snapping at his hand.

A marching song of the Bonehunters

Deadhouse Gates is the second book of ten in Malazan Book of the Fallen, and the first in the Seven Cities arc. It was released in 2000, and is preceded by Gardens of the Moon.

Following the death of Adjunct Lorn in Darujhistan, the Empress has chosen Tavore Paran, sister of Ganoes Paran, as her replacement. Tavore's first act as Adjunct is as politically logical as it is callous: the noble houses of Unta are purged, and her younger sister Felisin with them. Felisin is shipped to the otataral mines as a slave along with the handless historian Heboric and the silent Baudin.

On the subcontinent of the Seven Cities, Dryjhna the Apocalyptic — the Whirlwind Goddess — has chosen a mortal prophet, Sha'ik. Religious fanatics are stirring up anti-Malazan sentiments, proclaiming that the Whirlwind, a religiously mandated uprising, is at hand. As historian Duiker finds himself on site, he witnesses as Coltaine, the newly-appointed Fist in the region, starts preparing his forces for the protection of the seemingly-inevitable exodus of Malazan civilians across the continent that will take place.

Elsewhere, the wandering duo known as Mappo Runt and Icarium find that a convergence of shapeshifters is going to take place soon. The amnesiac Icarium finds himself drawn as well, and the pair set off.

Oblivious to the troubles of the Seven Cities, Crokus and Apsalar, both free from their respective gods now, attempt to cross the Holy Desert Raraku, the sacred centre of the Whirlwind, on their way to Apsalar's old home. Two Bridgeburners, Fiddler and the assassin Kalam, are escorting them — but Raraku is a special place, and this is not the first time it has seen Bridgeburners.

Followed by Memories of Ice.

Deadhouse Gates provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Animal Theme Naming: The Wickan Clans are named after animals, e.g. Crow Clan, Foolish Dog Clan, Weasel Clan.
  • Anti-Climax: After a bloody journey across the continents and through other dimensions, Kalam finally reaches the Empress to assassinate her. They talk it out. And she wasn't really there anyway.
  • Badass Natives:
    • The Wickans. Though they're from Quon Tali and the book is set on Seven Cities, even the Seven Cities natives are impressed by their battle prowess. Coltaine is the most badass of them all by being more cunning and fiercer than his followers.
    • The Khundryl, who join the final battle just to see who's the boss tribe on Seven Cities and drive away most of the tribes assaulting the Malazan forces. Even Coltaine is impressed, although the Khundryl come to the conclusion that the Wickans are even more badass than them.
  • Bigger Is Better in Bed: Averted when Felisin Paran finds Beneth's immense size physically painful, even though Beneth himself is quite proud and thinks his assets are great.
  • Butterfly of Death and Rebirth: A particularly bloody battle is fought on a river crossing that just happens to be the mating ground for a large group of migrating butterflies. Their symbolism is used to represent several things: the ephemerality of life, the instinctual drive to mate and then die, and as an omen of the slaughter to come, as they coat the river in a yellow coat first, before being replaced by the red of human blood. Finally, a thousand of them are used as Psycho Pomps for the soul of a particularly powerful warlock.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The conch Kimloc the Tanno Spiritwalker gives to Fiddler. It sits forgotten in a bag for 400 pages, until he remembers it and uses it against the D'ivers within Tremorlor.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Sha'ik's bodyguards are not merely eccentric and deadly; remember Leoman of the Flails and Toblakai for later, because they are Important.
  • Crossing the Desert: All of the plotlines involve a crossing of a desert — either the Holy Desert Raraku or the Otataral Desert — or a very hot and dry region at some point.
  • Dead Guy on Display:
    • This trope is first presented during flashbacks of Duiker, when he remembers how Empress Laseen crucified the defeated Wickan warlocks to the city wall in Unta.
    • Then encountered by Kalam before outside the ruins of a sacked city. Hundreds of children have been crucified and left to die, once again hitting home how deep the hatred of the Malazans runs in the ranks of the Army of the Apocylypse.
    • At the end of the book there is the horrifying crucifixion of Coltaine and the entire Seventh Army all along the Aren road for miles, much to the horror of everyone watching from Aren's city wall.
  • Downer Ending: The Chain of Dogs ends with the slaughter of Coltaine and the entire Seventh Army, and the subsequent execution of the Aren Army along with historian Duiker. Felisin starts to lose her identity to the Whirlwind Goddess and is left only with her obsession with vengeance against her sister. Icarium awakens having forgotten the events of the entire book, and Mappo leaves him to his ignorance, leading to the realization that something like this has happened to them many times already. Adjunct Tavore arrives at Aren to continue the war against the Whirlwind.
  • Dracolich: Kulp and the others on the Silanda hitch a ride on the sorcerous trail of an undead dragon. It's Olar Ethil, and it is seen again at the end of the book, watching Iskaral Pust and the aftermath of the Path of Hands.
  • First-Episode Spoiler: Deadhouse Gates, the second book in the series, introduces a new setting and as soon as Chapter 5, Sha'ik, leader of the Whirlwind Rebellion, is shot in the head on the brink of starting said rebellion. Seeing as the rebellion still is led by a seer named Sha'ik until its end, this comes as quite a shock to anyone not in the know.
  • Foreshadowing: Korbolo Dom's fondness for crucifixion.
  • Hate Sink: The Chain of Dogs (a massive host of refugees marching across the continent) is constantly being attacked by enemy armies, but our viewpoint character for these sections of the story never gets more than a few glimpses of the enemy leaders. Without a face or personality to put to them, it's hard to dislike the armies of the Apocalypse on a personal level. Instead we're invited to vent our loathing upon a group of whiny nobles within the Chain of Dogs, who protest the commander's actions at every turn, are openly cruel to their servants, and get a lot of their fellow refugees killed through incompetence.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: At the end of the Chain of Dogs, the remnants of the Seventh Army and the Wickans sacrifice themselves in a Last Stand to delay Korbolo Dom's army until the refugees reach Aren.
  • Iconic Sequel Character: Karsa Orlong is first introduced in this book as Sha'ik's unnamed Toblakai bodyguard. Also, Leoman of the Flails, Gesler and Stormy, Blistig, Keneb, Lostara Yil, Pearl, and T'amber.
  • Just Whistle: The conch that Kimloc gives Fiddler in the beginning of the book. He almost forgets about it, but when he finally uses it, the effect is impressive. Not only does it go absolutely apeshit on every living being in the Azath labyrinth, it's also responsible for the ascension of the Bridgeburner battalion in Memories of Ice.
  • Macabre Moth Motif: The whole sub-continent is sinking into bloody rebellion, and the capemoth, a native kind of moth that thrives on rotting flesh, can be seen everywhere. It is also one of the symbols associated with Hood, Lord of Death.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: Dryjhna the Apocalyptic, goddess of whirlwind.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Coltaine and the Seventh Army escort thirty thousand Malazan civilians across Seven Cities, and are systematically decimated by the Armies of the Apocalypse in the process, only to finally be slaughtered within sight of the walls of Aren, the last city in the subcontinent under Malazan control.
  • Percussive Prevention: Near the end of the book, Icarium is about to wreak havoc on the Azath and, in consequence, either be trapped by it or let all the beasties it's already trapped run free, so his friend Mappo just whacks him over the head. Ya know, just in case. It works.
  • Rape, Pillage, and Burn: The Whirlwind breaks out with the citizens of Seven Cities turning against their Malazan occupiers, including sizable civilian enclaves, in an orgy of fanatic savagery. Later, this is adapted as a strategy by Korbolo Dom and his Army of the Apocalypse.
  • Refuge in Audacity: Apsalar's plan for getting into Tremorlor, the Azath House, is to walk up and open the door. Much to her surprise, but not anyone else's, it fails.
  • Tactical Withdrawal: The entire Chain of Dogs is one long fighting retreat.
  • The Reveal: A major one pertaining to the Myth Arc: Shadowthrone and Cotillion, the new lords of the Realm of Shadow, are actually the old Emperor Kellanved and his personal assassin Dancer, who were murdered by Laseen years prior to the start of the series. Their violent deaths were actually their steppingstone to godhood, but that's not common knowledge until Fiddler figures it out in Deadhouse Gates, although a couple of hints are dropped previously in Gardens of the Moon.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: After a continent-wide rebellion breaks out on the subcontinent of Seven Cities, a horribly outnumbered army manages to travel the entire breadth of said toward the city of Aren, the only remaining refuge for the Malazans, all the while defending huge numbers of civilians. After fighting and winning over two dozen large-scale attacks alone through all manner of obstacles they get within shoutong distance and the remaining soldiers fight to the death in order to get those they escorted to safety. The commander of Aren then listens to his treacherous adviser and marches out his 10,000 troops where they are forced to surrender and are all crucified, togetehr with the commander who led his army across the continent. If it hadn't been for some people acting on their own to secure the city, Aren and all its inhabitants would have been lost as well. For the bulk of the characters involved it was still too late, though.
  • Too Dumb to Live: At the climax of the Chain of Dogs arc, High Fist Pormqual panics when he notices the size of the enemy army besieging the city and attempts to surrender. All his officers agree that the city can hold easily against a siege, but Pormqual overrides them and marches most of the garrison outside to disarm—evidently forgetting that the Chain of Dogs happened because the uprising was conducting a pogrom against the "Mezla" outsiders. He is killed out of hand, and his army is crucified.
  • Undying Loyalty: The Wickans and, later, the Seventh Army to Coltaine.
    ''The Seventh were falling, and falling, using naught but flesh and bone to shield their leaders - the ones who had led them across a continent, to die now, almost within the shadow of Aren's high walls.
  • War Is Glorious: A belief of Korbolo Dom's, as will be shown even more clearly in ''House of Chains''.
  • War Is Hell: The Chain of Dogs.
  • Wham Episode:
    • Chapter 5 has several in a row as pieces fall into place. Apsalar still has the Rope's memories and at least some of his skills. The Emperor and his inner circle were not assassinated when Empress Laseen took over. They Ascended. Emperor Kellanved now rules High House Shadow and Dancer became the patron of assassins. If that led you to look at the appendix in the back of the book, you'll notice another of the inner circle in the high houses.
    • In the scene when Sha'ik fulfills the prophecy by opening the Book of Dryjna, all expectations are thrown aside as she is unexpectedly shot in the head.
    • Felisin, Heboric and Kulp are ambushed by Gryllen inside the Whirlwind. Kulp is murdered, and Baudin suddenly returns to save them in a gruesome Heroic Sacrifice which leaves Felisin broken, providing the set up for the next wham:
    • After several chapters hinting at Apsalar journeying to Sha'ik's corpse to enact her prophecised resurrection, Felisin arrives instead.
    • The slaughter of Coltaine and the entire 7th Army at the novel's climax is remembered as one of the most shocking moments in the series.

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