'Dryjhna was an author who, to be gracious, lived with malnourished talent. There are naught but bones in this tome, I am afraid. Obsessed with the taking of life, the annihilation of order. Yet not once does he offer anything in its stead. There is no rebirth among the ashes of his vision, and that saddens me. Does it sadden you, Toblakai?'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 Following the Chain of Dogs, the Army of the Apocalypse has withdrawn to the center of Holy Desert Raraku, where Sha'ik Reborn is gathering her forces in the ancient city at the center of the Whirlwind.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.
— Sha'ik Reborn
House of Chains provides 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. Karsa's adherence to these customs is considered extreme even by his friends. Thankfully, he moves away from this as he undergoes Character Development.
- 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.
- Even Evil Has Standards: Karsa may start out the novel as a serial rapist, but he is appalled when he finds out about Bidithal's paedophilia and abuse of Felisin Younger. It's entirely unsurprising when Bidithal winds up dead at Karsa's hand. This effectively commemorates Karsa's transition into an Anti-Villain (he ultimately ends up an admittedly dark Anti-Hero).
- Everybody Knew Already: It is completely obvious to both the reader and the characters what Sergeant Strings' real identity is. The novel doesn't even try to hide it, mentioning the name "Fiddler" in his internal monologue in his very first appearance as "Strings". 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.
- Goldfish Poop Gang: The Tiste Liosan Trull and Onrack encounter on their journey are mostly portrayed as humourless twits and are consequently ridiculed. Not even the other characters take them seriously, despite them being so rarely seen nowadays that their existence is considered mythical.
- Groin Attack: Karsa kills Bidithal by tearing off the latter's genitals with his bare hands, then shoving them into his mouth.
- He Will Not Cry, So I Cry for Him: Happens when Onrack the Brocken is told of his former wife's, aka the Goddess of the Apocalypse's, death. Trull Sengar cries in his stead, which kickstarts their Interspecies Friendship.
- Origins Episode: The first quarter of the novelnote gives the background story of Toblakai, a minor character from Deadhouse Gates.
- Pedophile Priest: Bidithal. Even Karsa is appalled, which leads to one of the most satisfying cases of Pay Evil unto Evil in the series.
- 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 their appearance in Deadhouse Gates.
- Retired Badass: Karsa Orlong meets Keeper, better known as Urko Crust, who has retired to a lonely tower a ways outside of Ehrlitan to collect and rebuild what amounts to dinosaur fossils. He's still got a mean punch, though, as Karsa finds out first hand.
- 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. His perspective starts out as unambiguously villainous, which, as mentioned above, was done deliberately. However, Karsa does undergo a certain amount of Character Development throughout the course of the novel and eventually becomes something of an Anti-Villain (though this may just be due to a case of being A Lighter Shade of Black).