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Literature / Midnight Tides

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"Of all the gifts Father Shadow has given his children, this one talent stands tallest. Look away to see. Trust in it, and you will be led to Shadow. Where all truths hide.
Look away to see.
Now, look away."

Midnight Tides is the fifth book of ten in Malazan Book of the Fallen, and the first in the Letherii arc. It was released in 2004, and is preceded by House of Chains. Events are ostensibly narrated by Trull Sengar, a character from the last book — and for its use of And Now for Someone Completely Different, as it introduces the last of the three major arcs. Despite this, it does not employ significant use of Lost in Medias Res — one of the hallmarks of the series — as it largely follows a more traditional storytelling structure than usual, and, as such, is a somewhat different read from the rest of the series.

Several years prior to Gardens of the Moon, the Tiste Edur have united under Hannan Mosag, their first high king in memory. Tensions are running high in the region, however, as the Letherii Empire to the south is becoming increasingly aggressive with its diplomacy with the approach of a sacred event known as the Seventh Closure. These tensions are only exacerbated when Trull Sengar arrives with the news that Letherii poachers have gone after the seals vital to the Edur populations in the area. Before a major incident can be made of this, though, Hannan Mosag announces he has had a dream of a gift from a god buried in the ice far to the north. In the dream, the Sengar brothers were shown to be part of the group to retrieve it, and so Fear, Trull, Binadas, Rhulad and their allies set out to find it.

To the south, in the Letherii capital of Letheras, the impoverished Tehol Beddict — middle brother of the Beddicts — wakes up on his roof for another day of doing nothing, accidentally exposing himself in public and bickering with his manservant, Bugg. Though once the wealthiest man in Letheras, his possessions now number only a blanket, a bed and some cooking pots, and he does not care much about changing this — at least not on the surface. When a trio of businesswomen approach him with an offer, however, he realises that the time might be right to set certain plans into motion.

In the imperial palace of Letheras, Brys Beddict — youngest of the Beddict brothers — has proven himself as the foremost swordsman in the Empire, and has thus earned the rank of Royal Champion, the King's closest bodyguard. Brys is an idealistic young man who only wishes to do his duty as a soldier of the Empire, but the court intrigues of Lether leave little room for a neutral party in their midst, and with the Seventh Closure approaching, events rapidly spiral out of control.

The undead burglar known as Shurq Elalle finds herself suddenly motivated to live again when Tehol offers her a deal; an undead girl named Kettle tries to warn people that the Azath House of Letheras is dying; and in the Sengar household, Udinaas, a slave of the Tiste Edur and a former Indebted of the capitalistic Letherii Empire, finds himself at the center of attention after a divination by the seer Feather Witch draws unwanted attention.

Followed by The Bonehunters.

Midnight Tides provides examples of the following tropes:

  • A Man Is Always Eager: Defied by Ublala Pung. Hired by Tehol as muscle, he can't get over the fact that all the women just want what's in his pants and don't treasure him for being a person with wants and needs.
  • And I Must Scream: Invoked by Brys Beddict during the climax. Brys realises that the only way to ensure that Rhulad Sengar can be removed as Emperor of the Tiste Edur is if he is incapacitated in such a way that he can't act, but also doesn't die to be resurrected and healed by the sword he carries. To that end, he severs every motive muscle and tendon in Rhulad's body.
  • And Now for Someone Completely Different: Midnight Tides takes place in a part of the setting that is completely unexplored at this point in the series, with only two characters being immediately recognizable. Even in a book series infamous for constantly changing viewpoint characters, Midnight Tides stands out.
  • Anti-Climax: Inside the dying Azath House lie a band of Toblakai gods as well as Silchas Ruin, a Tiste Andii Ascendant, and the entire book builds up to an epic showdown between them upon their escape. What happens instead is that the Toblakai face off against Badass Abnormal Iron Bars in The Last Dance and Silchas Ruin escapes Just in Time to take them down in a brief Curb-Stomp Battle that isn't even described.
  • Asshole Victim: The scheming Queen Janall and Prince Quillas are used as conduits for the Crippled God's magic, twisting their bodies into unrecognisable shapes without killing them.
  • Bigger Is Better in Bed: Played for Laughs with Ublala Pung. All the amazonian women want Ublala for his physical assets, but poor Ublala just can't deal with them not giving him any emotional support in return, so he runs away.
  • Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick: Tusked Milk is a popular alcoholic drink at some of the richer Letheras winehouses that contains orange rinds, honey and Tusked Seal sperm.
  • Break the Haughty: Rhulad Sengar is involuntary made The Dragon of the Crippled God and is granted immortality. Quickly realizing he got the short end of the stick in a Deal with the Devil he is slowly driven to madness by repeated incidents of dying and painfully coming Back from the Dead and the knowledge that he no longer has control over his life and fate.
  • Burning the Ships: Upon setting out to conquer the Kingdom of Lether, the Tiste Edur allow their home villages to be bombarded and utterly destroyed by magic, so as to not have anything possible dissenters could return to.
  • Calling Your Bathroom Breaks: The two Kenryll'ah demon princes are quite fond of both announcing they have to pee and talking about it to coordinate the act.
  • Came Back Strong: Rhulad Sengar's sword induces this effect; any time he's killed, the sword brings him back more powerful than he was before. Unfortunately, there's some overlap with Came Back Wrong as well — each resurrection chips away a bit more of his already frail sanity. At the end of Midnight Tides, Brys Beddict figures out the loophole in this power; he has to beat his without actually killing him or the problem will just become worse, so he carefully severs key tendons in Rhulad Sengar's arms and legs to leave him paralyzed but alive. Too bad someone else shows up a few minutes later and, not understanding the situation, performs what he thought was a Mercy Kill...
  • The Chain of Harm: Uruth, who as the Tiste Edur Emperor's mother has a very high standing among the women of her tribe, scolds said Emperor's wife for acting foolishly. Since Mayen cannot talk back, she takes it out on her slave Feather Witch by beating the latter. Feather Witch is unable to deal with the situation in any other way and in turn takes her frustration out verbally on fellow slave Udinaas, who's even lower than her in social status by being not only a slave but also an Indebted. The trope is then, however, defied by Udinaas who is fully aware of what is happening and quietly informs Feather Witch that he's not her doormat. Not anymore, anyway.
  • Character Narrator: The story is told by Trull Sengar to his companions following the epilogue in House of Chains, but there are numerous events recounted that are impossible for him to know.
  • Chick Magnet: Turudal Brizard is constantly being defined by his good looks, to the point where even Queen Janall takes him as a consort. This unexpectedly grants him a bit of a foothold in the games of deception in the Letherii court.
  • Child by Rape: Rud Elalle is the product of Menandore raping Udinaas to get at the Wyval blood he is temporarily infected with at the beginning of the book. Since she then drops off Rud in a community of Imass to be raised, though, Rud becomes a very friendly, caring youth willing to stand up to his own mother to protect the Imass. Upon meeting Rud for the first time, Udinaas has a That Thing Is Not My Child! reaction, but after getting used to the thought, he makes for a good father in the later books.
  • Create Your Own Villain: The Tiste Edur were perfectly happy to fight each other in tribal wars for thousands of years and leave everyone else alone. When Lether started to encroach on their territory with its usual methods of cultural and economic colonialism, though, they created a threat that gave momentum to Hannan Mosag's efforts at unification, indirectly bringing about the united nation for Rhulad Sengar to take over and lead into a war of conquest against the Letherii themselves.
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Ceda Kuru Qan pretends to be a borderline insane eccentric who doesn't understand the political and military situation around him at all, but is actually working with Mael to prepare a trap that will capture Hannan Mosag's sea demon and destroy the entire Tiste Edur invading army. He almost succeeds, but for Trull killing him.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: The entirety of Lether's military is steadily massacred battle after battle by the Tiste Edur's borrowed sorcery.
    • The tables get turned when the Edur invade the throne room of Lether and confront Kuru Qan and Bryss Beddict. Brys incapacitates Rhulad Sengar within moments and leaves him crippled on the floor without breaking a sweat- unable to move, and not injured enough to bleed to death. Too bad he got thirsty, though.
  • Defector from Decadence:
    • Hull Beddict used to be a rising star within the Letherii military, sent to the northern frontier of Lether to study the tribes who lived there. When the information he gathered was used to annex those tribes' lands and make their people Indebted, he resigned his rank and disappeared into the northern mountains.
    • His brother Tehol was one of the richest people in Lether, his financial genius propelling him to a position where he owned a quarter of the Letherii economy, but he became disgusted with the exploitative nature of the system, and collapsed his business empire on purpose, choosing a life of poverty with Bugg. This was actually a test case for bringing down the entire Letherii economy, which he begins to plot at the start of the book.
    • Trull Sengar, though always weary of the Tiste Edur march to war against Lether, finally abandons his brother when he lies immobilized by Brys Beddict on the floor of the throne room in the Eternal Domicile. He later goes back, only to be Shorn and taken into the Nascent to die by Rhulad.
  • Distant Prologue: The prologue of Midnight Tides takes places at an unnamed point during The Time of Myths, in this case during the Sundering of the Realm of Kurald Emurlahn in the Time of the Elder Gods, and shows the invasion of the Tiste Edur. It is continued as the prologue of Reaper's Gale.
  • Double Standard: Rape, Divine on Mortal: Menandore has her way with Udinaas against his will, making use of the Might Makes Right approach. The resulting child plays a big role later in the series.
  • Double Standard Rape: Female on Male and Double Standard: Rape, Divine on Mortal: Averted. When Menandore rapes Udinaas, it's treated as suitably horrifying, traumatic, and painful.
  • Eldritch Abomination: The nameless, forgotten water god bound by Hannan Mosag is implied to be a monstrous entity alien to a normal person's perceptions.
  • Et Tu, Brute?:
    • Downplayed, as Trull Sengar and Lilac have barely known each other, but seem to be developing an Interspecies Friendship. However, Lilac claims he's going to be killed by the Tiste Edur in order to negotiate with his realm's lords, knowing that Trull would then do anything he could to send Lilac home to safety. It was a lie, Lilac just wanted to return home, and while Trull understands that, he is left with a deep sense of having been betrayed.
    • Enforced with Rhulad Sengar who finally snaps for good when Udinaas, who's the closest thing Rhulad has to a friend, leaves him. Everyone thinks Udinaas betrayed Rhulad at a crutial moment, but Udinaas himself is almost killed by the Locqui Wyval leaving his body and has no say in the matter. Although he never considered Rhulad a friend to begin with.
  • Eunuchs Are Evil: Averted with First Eunuch Nifadas, who in all things sides with King Ezgara Diskanar against Queen Janall but otherwise is mostly interested in administrative concerns and the welfare of the Letherii Empire.
  • Evil Poacher: The entire conflict between Lether and the Tiste Edur is set off by these. Lether ships poach/massacre the Edur harvest of seals, killing enough creatures to potentially bring on The Famine. Lether says the incident came from misunderstandings of the old treaty and send a delegation to negotiate a clearer (read: more crippling) treaty. The Edur politely tell the delegation to get bent, kill the poachers and sink their ships, and then march to war.
  • Excrement Statement: After Rhulad Sengar's two Kenryll'ah demon bodyguards have thrown the Forkrul Assail named Serenity head first down a deep hole in the ground, they punctuate the occasion by peeing into it as well.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture: Per Word of God, Erikson set out to turn Lether into something not often seen in the fantasy genre- a fantasy interpretation of the United States of America. With its focus on continental expansion, devastation of tribal peoples, focus on debt and money, he may have done a bang up job.
  • Fingore: Brys Beddict loses two fingers in his duel against Rhulad Sengar. Both severed fingers end up being plot relevant come Reaper's Gale.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Unless one starts reading the series with this novel, House of Chains will have revealed that Trull is going to be Shorned and cast out from among his people.
  • Foreshadowing: Kuru Qan's description of Turudal Brizad as "such an errant, troubled lad". Brizad turns out to be the god Errant in disguise.
  • Glowing Eyelights of Undeath: Wither, though otherwise just a shadowy smear, has a pair of red glowing eyes.
  • God Was My Co-Pilot: Bugg is Mael, the Elder God of the Sea, explaining how he's such a capable assistant. Tehol, when he finds out, is not very surprised.
  • Greed: Lether operates with a laissez-faire capitalist economy for which nothing is ever enough, leading to the kingdom's ruthless expansionism.
  • Guile Hero: Tehol made his first fortune hiring homeless people to fish gems from the sewers of the nobility. He was seven at the time.
  • Guilt-Free Extermination War: Midnight Tides opens with the tail end of a mutual extermination war between the K'Chain Che'Malle and the allied Tiste Andii and Tiste Edur forces. The K'Chain Che'Malle have just lost but it's obvious that both sides went all-out on each other, going as far as employing suicide commandos and field-spanning destructive sorceries. The reason? The Tiste didn't want any competition when they set out to settle this world and the only thing both sides would've agreed upon would've been that there's not space enough for both races' egos.
  • Happiness in Slavery: Udinaas at the beginning, of the fourth kind. It's just that slaves among the Tiste Edur get food, shelter, mostly fair treatment and don't have to miss the company of their own kind thanks to having the other slaves around. Being free meant working on a trader galley to pay off some sliver of his inherited debt.
  • High-Altitude Battle: In the prologue, Scabandari Bloodeye and Silchas Ruin, aided by Silchas Ruin's Locqui Wyval and the combined Tiste Andii and Tiste Edur suicide commandos, battle the K'Chain sky keeps manned by the Short-Tails, preventing them from coming to the aid of the K'Chain Che'Malle armies on the plain below.
  • Impoverished Patrician: Tehol Beddict once owned about a quarter of he Letherii economy before an economic crash cost his investors most of their money and left him on the street. Tehol engineered the entire chain of events as proof-of-concept that the economy could be brought down, and actually hid most of the cash safely; technically, he still owns most of the city. He publicly lives in squalor to avoid suspicion and because it amuses him to confuse people.
  • In the Back: In the prologue, Scabandari Bloodeye stabs his closest ally and friend Silchas Ruin in the back. Since Silchas is too powerful to kill, the dagger has to be magically imbued in order to incapacitate him enough that Scabandari can bury him alive in an Azath Tower's grounds.
  • Jacob and Esau: There are the Beddict brothers, and although their parents are long dead by the start of the book comparisons are drawn In-Universe. The oldest brother, Hull, and the youngest, Brys, both take after their father; Hull in personality, especially their father's weaknesses, and Brys in the physical aspects, to the point of being their father's spitting image in martial ability and looks, apparently. The middle son, Tehol, on the other hand, is a gender-flipped version of their mother, especially in regards to personality and brains. He even comments on how there is no need to keep alive their parents' memory, as there are walking, talking versions of them still around.
  • Jerkass: Feather Witch takes every opportunity to be rude and verbally abusive to Udinaas for ambiguous reasons.
  • Last Stand: It is assumed towards the end that Brys Beddict would play this role. It is instead filled by Kuru Qan.
  • Legend Fades to Myth: The prologue shows how after the sundering of their home realms, the Tiste Edur and Tiste Andii invade the world in which the series is set, led by their respective leaders and good friends Scabandari Bloodeye and Silchas Ruin. Scabandari, whose forces are much higher in number than Silchas Ruin's, then betrays Silchas and has his followers slaughtered right there on the battlefield in order to eliminate any competition for his own people on this newly conquered world, then is himself killed by two Elder Gods for being such a treacherous little shit. Hundreds of thousands of years later, by the time of the book's main events, this tale has morphed into Silchas, now known as "the Betrayer", betraying Scabandari who then was maliciously hunted down and murdered by all of the Elder Gods and all the dragons and his soul stuffed into an eternal prison of unmeasurable agony. According to the descendants of his followers, anyway.
  • Lethal Chef: Inverted with Bugg, who is somehow able to keep himself and Tehol alive on a diet consisting of boiled sandals. As the Elder God of the Sea, this is not actually a problem.
  • Living Shadow: The shadow wraiths enslaved by the Tiste Edur, with two getting special mention:
    • Hannan Mosag's shadow wraith bodyguard, who usually just looks like his shadow unless one looks closely.
    • The ghost Wither is barely more than a shadowy smear which can change its shape at will.
  • The Man Behind the Man: The Crippled God strikes again, supporting Hannan Mosag in his unification of the Tiste Edur tribes and when it becomes clear he will not lead the Tiste Edur into a war of conquest, replacing him with the younger Rhulad Sengar, making sure he stays in line. We have seen his tendency towards this trope in Memories of Ice already. He is, in fact, backing several people throughout the series, because that is the only way he can influence the world around him at all.
  • Nested Ownership: Tehol Beddict's true and far reaching financial influence is shown when the dredging rights to the city's canals are discussed. Tehol tries to divert attention away from himself by saying the dredging rights are already owned by a merchant named Biri, but Shand points out that Tehol in turn owns Biri, so would he kindly stop playing a beggar, please?
  • Ominous Owl: Many have tried to make sense of the recurring appearances of owls in Midnight Tides. What is clear is that they are a symbol of death, appear in connection to Trull Sengar and get progressively deader. Owl #1 is seen happily munching on a freshly caught mouse. At this point Trull Sengar's world is still alright. Owl #2 has both a bloodied beak and bloodied claws and is seen in hurried flight, shortly before Trull and his brothers are about to leave on a mission for the Warlock King. Trull then finds owl #3, freshly dead, during the Tiste Edur's march south, while tensions between him and the other warriors grow. Owl #4, long dead and decaying, is found by Seren Pedac in her empty house in Letheras, right when the city is passing into Tiste Edur hands and Trull is about to fall into disgrace for good.
  • Only Sane Man: Trull Sengar is the only Tiste Edur of any importance who dares to openly speak out against his brother Rhulad's push for war with Lether.
  • Planet of Hats: The Letherii Empire's gimmick is ruthless capitalism — everything revolves around wealth, with expansionism being a means to acquiring more of it. Conquered cultures are forcibly assimilated, with no attempts at integration being made. Despite being a mixing pot of ethnicities, Lether is a very culturally homogeneous nation.
  • Rape as Drama: Seren Pedac is raped in Trate just before it falls to the Edur, bringing a drastic change to the direction of her character arc.
  • The Reveal: Kuru Qan and Bugg aka Elder God Mael have been working together all along in a Batman Gambit to subdue Hannan Mosag's demon.
  • Scaled Up: In the prologue, Silchas Ruin and Scabandari Bloodeye use their draconean form to better be able to attack the flying fortresses of the K'Chain Che'Malle, which they couldn't have reached otherwise.
  • Sealed Badass in a Can: The ancient Tiste Andii ascendant Silchas Ruin lies trapped in the grounds of a dying Azath House. He used to be one of the major players among the Tiste Andii and once led his followers into a new world while waging war on the K'Chain Che'Malle, but was betrayed and buried alive by his friend and ally Scabandari Bloodeye. His slow escape is one of the many plotlines of the book.
  • Sealed Evil in a Can:
    • Aside from Silchas Ruin, the grounds of the dying Azath Tower in Letheras hold within them a whole bunch of entities nobody wants to escape, among them Sheltatha Lore, the god of the Soletaken Jheck, the gods of the Toblakai, etc., and although not evil per se, if let loose into the world, they could create a lot of havoc.
    • A Forkrul Assail named Serenity is trapped within a barrow somewhere in the countryside of Lether. Rhulad Sengar decides to free it and immediately regrets that.
    • In a quarry, several Letherii workers come upon a Khalibaral demon sealed away in a cave. It manages to snatch three workers and a necromancer before the foreman calls for Bugg, who has no idea what to do about it until the Jaghut Huntress who originally sealed the demon away returns in time and recaptures the demon while complaining how humans can never seem to stop digging where they don't belong.
  • The Social Darwinist: Finadd Gerun Eberict, who uses his immunity from criminal prosecution to murder poor people in Letheras by the hundreds.
  • Strawman Political: The Letherii Empire takes capitalism to absurd levels, with large swaths of its population Indebted (forced into indentured servitude) as a result.
  • The Undead:
    • Generally, because Gothos, as a favour to Elder God Mael, a long time ago used a magical ice age to lock the region in a metaphysical stasis, the Warren of Death has never developed fully on Lether, causing havoc with the afterlife and making necromancy quite easy as souls have nowhere to go.
    • Specifically, Shurq Elalle, once the best burglar in Lether, died during a trial by ordeal called a Drowning and found out that one of her victims had cast a curse on her. After spending a few months stuck in a net on the bottom of the canals, she re-emerged, completely apathetic as her primary pleasure in life, sex, had been taken from her. Although rare, the ritual used here is not unique.
    • Then there's Harlest Eberict. Locked in the family estate after having been transformed into a ghoul by his own brother. He was charged with guarding the family home for all eternity and was resigned to his fate... until he sees how lifelike Shurq looks when she comes to rob the place.
  • Walk, Don't Swim:
    • Ublala Pung is sentenced to death by the Drownings, and made to swim across the canal burdened with a bag of gold. However, thanks to being a Tarthenal, he's bigger than a human and has four lungs, enabling him to simply walk across the canal's bottom and win his freedom.
    • The Guardian, an entity of unspecified origin which is set up by Mael, Elder God of the Sea, to guard the names of long forgotten gods, is basically a suit of armor that walks around on the sea bottom and challenges any intruders.
  • Was Too Hard on Him: Trull Sengar, after Rhulad is killed fighting the Jheck, wonders if he might have been too harsh on Rhulad and had distrusted him without reason.
  • Wham Episode: Rhulad Sengar makes the sudden transformation from minor side character to Arc Villain as he is brought Back from the Dead by the Crippled God to usurp Hannan Mosag's rule, and begins a full blown conquest of Lether.
  • Wham Line:
    'And then the corpse screamed.'
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?: The state of Necromancy in Lether leads to this. Particularly spiteful aristocrats will pay a Ceda large sums of money to curse their enemies with semi-eternal undeath. The victim will die of whatever cause and then immediately rise again, unable to move into the afterlife or enjoy the comforts of the living like tasty food, fulfilling rest, and any sort of sex. These individuals become pariahs simply from their smell, though they decay at such a slow rate that they seem to have eternal life. Shurq Ellale suffered this fate after robbing a member of the nobility, and Gerun Eberict has this done to his own brother, Harlest.
  • Whole Episode Flashback: The entire book takes place before Gardens of the Moon, and tells, in part, of how Trull Sengar ended up in the Nascent in the prologue of House of Chains.
  • Win Your Freedom: The Drownings are a popular public spectacle in Letheras in which condemned criminals who couldn't pay the required fine to win their freedom can do so by trying to swim across the canal with a sack full of coins strapped to their back. The amount of coins depends on the crime. Since few ever manage to make it across, wagers are usually made about things like the distance, number of strokes or the manner of drowning. note 
  • Would Hit a Girl: Trull Sengar, when he asks for a demon to be healed and the healer refuses on the grounds of demons being disposable, slaps her hard enough to draw blood. While he is shocked at this himself, he does not feel remorse as he considers his reasoning justified; anyone who fought should be worthy of healing, demon or not.
  • Wretched Hive: The slums of Letheras, home to exploited, starving Indebted and (though this is mostly just hinted at) a lot of criminal activity.