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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.
  • Conscription: The Chain of Dogs goes on for so long and bleeds so much, Coltaine has to conscript the servants of the Nobility as more foot soldiers, providing them with barely any weapons or training.
  • 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:
    • During flashbacks, Duiker remembers how Empress Laseen crucified the defeated Wickan warlocks to the city wall in Unta.
    • Outside the ruins of a sacked city, Kalam encounters hundreds of children that have been crucified and left to die, once again hitting home how deep the hatred towards 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.
  • Defensive Feint Trap: The 7th Army's Sappers build a stone road across a deep river overnight, with a Whirlwind army on both sides. Coltaine leads half of the Wickans to ford the river on horseback while the other half stays to guard the crossing. The entire refugee train is able to cross in one morning, then the rearguard Wickans gallop to the safety of the other bank and reform to face their pursuers- but the Sappers don't move out of their way. The Whirlwind army crosses the road in pursuit when the Sappers reveal their own secret gambit: they buried their entire cache of Moranth munitions in the road, linked to a single cord of rope as the detonator, and blow it as thousands of Whirlwind soldiers are barely 50 paces away. Duiker nearly has a heart attack when he realizes how many people and pack animals just crossed a highway that could've exploded if any of the stones shifted too much.
  • 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.
  • Face–Heel Turn:
    • Korbolo Dom was a Napan Fist in the Malazan armies, but was passed over for promotion by Laseen due to his bloody nature. He opts to seize power as a military overlord and join the armies of the Whirlwind, slaughtering the Malazans en masse and even killing half of his legion (the half that refused to desert with him). He is left in command of the armies of the Apocalypse, answering only to Sha'ik. In House of Chains, we find out that Korbolo Dom was actually Laseen's backup plan the whole time. If Coltaine wasn't able to pacify Seven Cities, then Korbolo Dom was supposed to betray Sha'ik to the Empress and destroy the Whirlwind from within (though much of this comes from Korbolo begging for his life, but it would fit Laseen's MO to have a backup lackey). Come The Bonehunters, we find that Korbolo has become High Fist of all Malazan armies and is leading a pogrom against the Wickan people, taking out the anger of the Mezla for their impending starvation on those who fought hardest to stop it.
    • Then there's Felisin. She starts off as an Alpha Bitch ex-noble with sympathetic qualities, only to find herself leading the genocidal rebellion as Sha'ik Reborn, all to spite her sister- the one who sold her into slavery as a loyalty pledge to the Empress.
  • First-Episode Twist: 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, Cuttle, and T'amber.
  • It's All About Me: Felisin's entire attitude when it comes to herself, Baudin, and Heboric. She regularly slights and baits Baudin (the man most responsible for keeping them alive) and even thinks of abandoning Heboric in the desert to save food and water (even though he is their ticket off the island).
  • 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.
  • Mission Creep: Coltaine's entire mandate and the Chain of Dogs. Every leg of the journey brings new refugee columns he needs to save and slows him down even further. By the book's finale, he's leading a city's worth of emaciated- but still living- Malazans and protecting them with a few hundred survivors from his legions.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Blistig calls on the best archer in all of Aren's garrison, "Squint", to Mercy Kill Coltaine as he hangs from a crucifix, tortured by the army of the Whirlwind in sight of the entire Malazan army. Squint does it in one shot and is left a sobbing wreck, deserts, and becomes an inconsolable alcoholic.
  • Occupiers Out of Our Country: The Whirlwind is a mass uprising of the peoples and tribes of Seven Cities to cast off Malazan "oppression" from their shores. After the uprising begins, only Aren and the Wickans and the Khundryl remain to oppose an entire continent.
  • 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.
  • Red Shirt: When Duiker first arrives in Seven Cities, his tour guide is one Corporal List while everyone else in the army is undergoing training exercises. The reason List always has so much time to be his guide? He keeps getting killed right when the exercises start. List survives the entire Chain of Dogs, only to die within sight of the gates of Aren at Coltaine's side.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!: As High Fist Pormqual orders the Aren army to march out and surrender, Fist Blistig realizes how stupid this plan is and orders several companies of soldiers to remain inside the walls against the High Fist's orders. When the whole garrison is crucified the armies of the Whirlwind are confronted by just enough Malazans on the walls to hold it against them until Tavore arrives. Blistig's plan tags him as a coward but saves the civilians Coltaine gave his life to protect.
  • Shamed by a Mob: The prologue to Deadhouse Gates shows the aftermath of the Daru' campaign in Genabackis. Laseen pre-empts a coup by having the noble families in the capital seized and sentenced to a life slavery in the Otataral Mines, marched through the city like common criminals to the docks, completely at the mercy of the poor. Some have their clothing stripped off them in shame, some have filth thrown on them, many are outright murdered before they complete the journey. Laseen's new Adjunct, Tavore Paran, sentences her own sister Felisin to this fate as a show of loyalty.
  • 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 the land toward the city of Aren, the only remaining refuge for the Malazans, all while defending huge numbers of civilians. After fighting and winning dozens of attacks through all manner of obstacles they get within shouting distance of the gates and the remaining soldiers fight to the death in order to get the refugees inside the walls. The garrison commander then listens to his treacherous adviser and marches his army out where they are surrounded, disarmed, and crucified. 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.
  • Tactical Withdrawal: The entire Chain of Dogs is one long fighting retreat.
  • Those Two Guys: Gesler and Stormy, members of the Malazan Coast Guard. They spend most of the book fighting each other Like an Old Married Couple, but are still frighteningly competent. Even when they encounter a ship crewed by decapitated Tiste Edur, are accidentally made into Ascendants when they stumble into a Warren, smuggle a party of Imperial Fugitives off a prison island, find Coltaine by sailing the undead galley through magical dimensions, and continue to bully one another through the Apocalypse all the way to Aren's harbor. And this doesn't take into account the shenanigans they get up to for the rest of the series.
  • 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. The journey is nothing but one hopeless battle and journey of deprivation after another. Only Coltaine's gambits, the determination of the 7th Army, and even a few instances of getting lucky keep the whole thing from turning into a massacre.
  • 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.
  • You Cannot Kill An Idea: Laseen dispatches Coltaine and the Wickans to pacify Seven Cities for her, but Coltaine realizes the futility of the measure before his soldiers disembark from their ships. The Whirlwind is anticipated in every bazaar, pier, and tavern and no amount of torture or execution will stop it. The Malazan armies can only hope to survive it once it begins.
  • You Shall Not Pass!: Cuttle's gambit at Sikhala River, when the Sappers blow up all of their munitions to destroy the road they'd spent all night building. Hundreds of Whirlwind soldiers are evaporated and Korbolo Dom is left stranded, with no way to pursue them for days.