Literature: House of Chains

Trull: I will preface my tale with an admittedly cautionary observation.
Monok: Tell me this observation.
Trull: I shall, bonecaster. It concerns nature... and the exigency of maintaining balance. Pressures and forces are ever in opposition. And the striving is ever towards a balance. This is beyond the gods, of course — it is a current of existence — but no, beyond even that, for existence itself is opposed by oblivion. It is a struggle that encompasses all, that defines every island in the Abyss. Or so I now believe. Life is answered by death. Dark by light. Overwhelming success by catastrophic failure. Horrific curse by breathtaking blessing. It seems the inclination of all people to lose sight of that truth, particularly when blinded by triumph upon triumph. See before me, if you will, this small fire. A modest victory. But if I feed it, my own eager delight is answered, until this entire plain is aflame, then the forest, then the world itself. Thus, an assertion of wisdom here... in the quenching of these flames once this meat is cooked. After all, igniting this entire world wil also kill everything in it, if not in flames then in subsequent starvation. Do you see my point, Monok Ochem?
Monok: I do not, Trull Sengar. This prefaces nothing.
Onrack: You are wrong, Monok Ochem. It prefaces... Everything.

House of Chains is the fourth book of ten in Malazan Book of the Fallen, and the second in the Seven Cities arc. It was released in 2002, and is preceded by Memories of Ice.

Karsa Orlong is a proud young Teblor, and has grown up listening to the tales of his grandfather. He has heard of daring raids on other villages, where the menfolk were slain and the women raped, as is right of the strong. He has heard of how the tiny children of the lowlands are weak and deserve only to be attacked, for such is the duty and right of the strong, and he has heard of the plunder and glory one such raid might bring him. Against his foolish father's wishes, he sets out on such a raid with his two closest companions, a bloodwood sword and a supply of blood-oil to keep it sharp with — but while the Teblor Karsa is a mere pup at eighty years of age, to civilization such a period of time is enough for mighty empires to rise.

Years later, the newly-appointed Adjunct to Empress Laseen, Tavore Paran, arrives in the Seven Cities with the 14th Malazan Army. Following the Chain of Dogs, the Army of the Apocalypse has withdrawn to the center of Holy Desert Raraku, where Sha'ik Reborn is gathering her forces in the ancient city at the center of the Whirlwind. Despite consisting almost entirely of fresh recruits, the Adjunct orders the 14th to march in pursuit of the veteran Dogslayers and towards the center of Raraku.

Ganoes Paran, now Master of the Deck, realises that the Crippled God is seeking to gain recognition as a god in the Deck of Dragons, and as its Master, it is Ganoes' decision whether such a terrible god may gain recognition; a young man named Cutter is sailing on a small skiff to a legendary island to do the bidding of Shadowthrone; and on a distant shore on the edge of a broken realm, an oddly solitary T'lan Imass comes upon a man with a shaved head who was exiled and left to die by a people thought myth.

Followed by Midnight Tides.

House of Chains contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Barbarian Hero: Karsa Orlong is, per Word of God, a deliberate Deconstruction of the "barbarian fantasy", and Karsa's viewpoints are as a result not heroic in any sense of the word.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Karsa Orlong's culture uses rape as a social reward, considers people of other species fair game — calling them "children" — and sees weakness as something to be exploited.
  • Dramatic Irony: Adjunct Tavore sends agents to track down her sister, Felisin, who was supposed to be smuggled away from the Otataral Mines by a member of the Talon. The reader knows that Felisin is now known as Sha'ik Reborn, and stands in direct opposition to Tavore and the 14th army. In the end, Tavore kills Sha'ik Reborn in a duel, and the agents, having realised the truth, decide against telling her, with Tavore never suspecting.
  • Everybody Knew Already: It is completely obvious to both the reader and the characters what Sergeant Strings' real identity is. Halfway through the book the rest of the cast tells him to knock it off. Fiddler — after a brief moment of indignation when he realises how poor his disguise is — reluctantly drops the act, at least around his closer comrades.
  • Origins Episode: The first quarter of the novelnote  gives the background story of Toblakai, a minor character from Deadhouse Gates.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: As with the rest of the series, certain parts of the book were played out as roleplaying game campaigns first. In this book, per Word of God, most of the Karsa Orlong segment in the first part was taken from such a section, where Steven Erikson deliberately distorted the descriptions to the detriment of the person playing as Karsa. Eventually, the player got fed up and, in a moment of frustration, decided to attack an important character who was just introduced. Thus, the scene where the Tiste Edur on Silanda are killed was created, setting the stage for the their appearance in Deadhouse Gates.
  • Traumatic Haircut: Trull Sengar receives one in the prologue. Among the Tiste Edur, shaving a warrior's head and treating it so that the hair will never grow back again is a sign of casting out said warrior and deleting him from the tribe's memory.
  • Villain Protagonist: Karsa Orlong, whose Point of View is used exclusively during the first quarter of the book, comes from a culture that glorifies rape, murder and violence in general, and his adherence to their customs is considered extreme even by his friends.