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Literature / The Kharkanas Trilogy

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… so you have found me and would know the tale. When a poet speaks of truth to another poet, what hope has truth? Let me ask this, then. Does one find memory in invention? Or will you find invention in memory? Which bows in servitude before the other? Will the measure of greatness be weighed solely in the details?

The Kharkanas Trilogy by Canadian author Steven Erikson serves as a Prequel to The Malazan Book of the Fallen. It is set millennia before the main series and deals with the Tiste people and the events surrounding the sundering of their home realm of Kurald Galain.

The trilogy consists of Forge of Darkness (2012), Fall of Light (2016) and Walk in Shadow (TBA).

It is a conflicted time in the city-state of Kurald Galain. A costly war has just been won and while the realm's inhabitants are recuperating, Mother Dark has surrounded herself by eternal Night in the centre of her capital city of Kharkanas. Voices can be heard demanding that she clasp the hand of Vatha Urusander — the commoner's great war hero — in marriage to seal the hard-won peace, but her Consort Lord Draconus stands in the way — and he's an upstart noble at that.

On the edge of the lands of Kurald Galain, at the Plain of Glimmer Fate, the dead Vitr sea is stirring, coughing up ancient powers nobody can make sense of.

And beyond the Bareth Solitude, in the lands of the mysterious Azathanai, a bargain has been struck and a murder commited, both of which will have far reaching repercussions.

Rumors of civil war rear their ugly heads and Mother Dark's chosen sons — Anomander, Andarist and Silchas Ruin of the Purake Hold — find themselves caught in the middle. But Andarist is about to be married, and Anomander has commissioned a reknown Azathanai mason with the hearthstone of Andarist's new estate...

The Kharkanas Trilogy provides examples of:

  • The Alcoholic: Hunn Raal, one of the commanders in Urusander's Legion. Nobody likes him and his constant drinking makes everyone think he's a useless fool. Evidence shows it's Obfuscating Stupidity.
  • Altar Diplomacy: Although both Arranged Marriages and love marriages occur among the nobility of Kurald Galain, the entire plot of the trilogy basically hinges on the nobility's wish for one particular Arranged Marriage to happen, namely one between the reigning queen and living goddess Mother Dark and the commoner's war hero Vatha Urusander. The latter, however, just wants his peace and Mother Dark has other amorous ambitions. This riles the nobility up so badly they split into two factions (each centered around one of the unwilling spouses-to-be) and start a civil war, creating a situation where the marriage is not only desirable but necessary to bring back peace. To add insult to injury, all of this happens before the backdrop of a culture where it's perfectly normal for nobles to marry for love.
  • Amnesiacs are Innocent: T'riss, upon resurfacing from the Vitr, has no memories that predate this event. She is almost childlike in her ignorance of the world she's found herself in and her behaviour verges on The Ingenue. However, her lack of understanding of common morals and supposedly innocent meddling in worldly affairs creeps everyone out instead of being endearing.
  • Amnesiac Lover: Fall of Light reveals that T'riss is this for Ardata, having lost all memories predating her venture into Starvald Demelain. The latter means to find T'riss and help her regain her memories so that, presumably, they can return to being Happily Married.
  • Arranged Marriage: Kagamandra Tulas and Faror Hend. After the announcement, Faror Hend immediately runs off to join the Wardens of the Outer Reaches, while Tulas is dead set on finding her and telling her that she can do whatever she wants. Sharenas Ankhadu points out how both of them are idiots, that Tulas' mindset is an insult to Faror Hend and how sitting down and talking for a change instead of jumping to conclusions could be beneficial to both sides.
  • Ascended Extra:
    • Prazek and Dathenar, only mentioned in passing in the last book of the main series, get their own point of view in Fall of Light, most of which they spend commenting on what's going on.
    • Hish Tulla, only mentioned by name in the main series, becomes one of the principal characters involved in the Tiste civil war and gets her own point of view and storyline.
    • Court historian Rise Herat, only ever cited as the author of some historical writings quoted in the main series before, gets to prove his competence as a schemer of court intrigues in this trilogy. He fails, badly.
    • Scara Bandaris, a Posthumous Character who only really appears in one scene in the fifth book of the Malazan Book of the Fallen, gets his own point of view as well.
  • Attractiveness Isolation: Hish Tulla is subjected to this both at court in general — thus preferring to remain at home at Tulla Hold unless summoned to court — and from men she's actually been together with before already, namely Anomander Rake and Silchas Ruin. Although by the beginning of Forge of Darkness she's so used to it she fears change.
  • Blue Blood: In contrast to the main series where there was much focus on the lower ranks of society and barely any nobility, the Kharkanas Trilogy deals mostly with the noble families of the Tiste.
  • Brick Joke: At one point, Errastas conjures a huge pile of dirt out of nowhere. When Haut and Korya come visit Varandas, he shows Haut a huge hole that suddenly appeared in his backyard. In typical Jaghut fashion, they spend some time contemplating it, then decide to use it as a latrine. The next day, when Korya has to pee, Varandas kindly informs her there's a hole in the backyard, and please do not worry, you couldn't possibly miss. Don't fall in, though.
  • Call-Forward:
    • When, in Forge of Darkness, Kadaspala stumbles upon a village of slaughtered Deniers — among them a child — he feels 'like a man without eyes'. Feeling helpless, in a moment of anger, he fantasizes about painting/creating a mad god with the face of darkness and a dead child's eyes. Then he seems to forget about it. When he first appears in Toll the Hounds in the main series, he's blind due to having ripped out his own eyes, has gone mad, and is trying to create the Child God by intricate tattoo patterns.
    • Silchas Ruin makes an offhand remark about arriving at Andarist's estate 'like children born of chaos'. In the main series, he and his brother Anomander have become Soletaken Eleint, taking the chaos of dragonic blood inside, with Silchas being known as the more draconic (and as such chaotic) of the two.
    • Silchas Ruin and Scara Bandaris joke about giving Kagamandra Tulas the Jheck hostages as a wedding present, because he likes dogs. This is how, by the time of the Malazan Book of the Fallen, the Hounds of Shadow came to be, with Tulas as their original master.
    • In the same scene, Silchas Ruin and Scara Bandaris have a brief conversation establishing their close friendship, where Scara states that the upcoming conflict should not be solved by the sword. When he leaves, two of the Jheck pups Silchas had been watching fall into a vicious scrap. In Midnight Tides, book five of the main series, Scabandari betrays Silchas Ruin and knifes him in the back.
  • Can't Hold His Liquor: Galar Baras can't stomach alcohol, although he never explains what exactly it does to him.
  • Cerebus Retcon: In the main series, there's some joking about finding Hood a wife. Made less funny in Forge of Darkness by the murder of Karish, Hood's actual wife, which almost drives him insane and is the reason he calls for the War on Death and ends up as the Lord of Death.
  • The Champion:
    • It's downplayed, but Gripp Galas becomes one for Hish Tulla, somewhat subverting the expectation of the Chivalric Romance the whole thing whiffs of, which is that Anomander Rake would take that role.
    • Orfantal dreams of becoming the Champion for someone one day, and being a Knight in Shining Armor. Of course, his dreams take a turn for the dark the moment he gets to imagining being betrayed and stabbed in the back by an ally.
    • Enesdia seems to entertain the idea of Cryl Durav becoming her Champion after her marriage to Andarist, so she can have both. Subverted because Cryl is very much aware of how this would never work.
  • Chick Magnet: Spinnock Durav, just barely out of the clueless territory. He is just old enough to join the Wardens of the Outher Reaches, walking eye candy — which the Warden's uniform just so happens to accentuate — , and usually all smiles and flirting. It's not like he's trying, it's just the way he is, but he's got the attention of every female within sight.
  • Child by Rape: In Fall of Light, Korlat's conception — only vaguely hinted at during The Crippled God — is shown. She is the product of Draconus' Finnest becoming too influenced by the evilness of Draconus' daughters and raping a young Sandalath when the opportunity presents itself. A Mystical Pregnancy ensues, resulting in That Thing Is Not My Child! and causing Sandalath to only see Korlat as a tool to protect Orfantal forever, which she charges Korlat with.
  • Darker and Edgier: Due to the much reduced amount of comedic relief compared to the main series, and the — per Word of God intentional — Shakespearean slant of the story, the heavy themes and horrible things that happen leave no time to catch a breath. It also dials up the Unreliable Narrator and use of In Medias Res compared to the main series, which already is known for both.
  • The Dragons Come Back: At the end of Forge of Darkness, the portal to Starvald Demelain is opened and the Eleint, rumored to be creatures of myth, come flying in. What consequences this has exactly is left to Fall of Light to show.
  • The Dragonslayer: One of the early Tiste creation myths tells of Tiste heroes who slew a many-headed dragon, drank her blood and became as gods. This is exactly the story we are presented with in the main series regarding how Anomander Rake and Silchas Ruin came to be draconic shapeshifters, namely by slaying Tiamat, the many-headed ur-dragon, and drinking her blood. This is yet another instance of this trilogy calling into question what had previously been established as fact in the main series, following the theme of Steven Erikson questioning how much we can truly trust what we believe we know about history.
  • Dude, She's A Lesbian: Subverted. When Chick Magnet Spinnock tells his cousin Faror Hend that he fancies Finarra Stone, Faror promptly informs him that Finarra prefers women. However, Faror herself is in love with Spinnock, so her motives are anything but straighforward, and as is shown later, Finarra actually is bi.
  • Enfant Terrible: Three for the price of one: the triplets Envy, Spite and Malice. They enjoy torturing their brother Arathan, including siccing a rabig dog on him or making him almost drown in an icy lake. Later, Envy and Spite murder Malice (who eventually gets better), but to cover up their deed, instead of hiding the corpse, they decide the best course to take is to murder everyone else present within the keep as well. Then they discover that (almost) dying wakes some dormant powers within them, e.g. influencing people far away...
  • Enraged by Idiocy: The biggest reason Kadaspala Enes behaves like a Jerkass. He often sees through people and hates it how they shower him with praise when he's looking and call him a pretentious brat when he's not. Add such remarks while he's painting, and he's this close to stabbing people with brushes.
  • Everyone Is Bi: Blink and you miss it, but it's implied. It seems to be the norm that among the Tiste people, marriage happens between opposite sex partners in order to produce children, but outside of marriage no one seems to bat an eye at whoever anyone is sleeping with and several point of view characters are shown to be attracted to people of both genders.
  • Express Delivery: The second book, Fall of Light, has Sandalath be assaulted by Lord Draconus' power repository that has become corrupted by too much evil in its vicinity and taken on a humanoid form. Due to the assailants supernatural state, Sandalath goes through several pregnancies in a row which each take mere moments from conception to delivery until something capable of life is produced. Contrary to expectation, the result is not a Fetus Terrible, but a somewhat weird looking but otherwise sweet child with a case of accelerated aging — also known from the main series as Korlat.
  • Finishing Each Other's Sentences: Prazek and Dathenar occasionally do that, although due to the length of their sentences, it's easy to miss.
  • Foreshadowing: Kadaspala feels 'like a man without eyes' when faced with the tragedy of a village of slaughtered Deniers. At the end of Forge of Darkness, he rips out his own eyes in despair.
  • Gargle Blaster: Riktal, a throat-burning spirit Hust Henarald is very fond of, as he's breathed so many hot fumes in the Hust Forge his throat does not register anything less potent.
  • God in Human Form: Draconus lives among the Tiste and poses as one himself, despite being their creator. He also doesn't have his whole power in this form, as he put a part of his soul away into a Finnest.
  • Great Offscreen War: There are a few...
    • The story happens just a few years after the Forulkan War, which is often referenced but never explicitly shown. Almost all characters have in some way been influenced by it, be it through participating or losing a good chunk of their families to it, and the entire population of Kurald Galain has been decimated; some noble houses are almost gone. All that is shown for certain is that the Tiste won.
    • Either parallel to or shortly after the Forulkan War, the war against the Jhelarkan happened, but even less is shown of that even though it must have happened recently enough that the Jhelarkan are still licking their wounds and have yet to deliver the promised hostages as of the start of the first volume.
    • At the end of the second volume a far more ancient war is hinted at. It's supposed to have been scarily similar to the current civil war, hinting that history is repeating itself, but that's all that is said about it.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Prazek and Dathenar, two captains of the Houseblades of House Purake who spend all their time together, even sharing a tent and Finishing Each Other's Sentences. Almost the entirety of their combined point of view in Fall of Light consists of them bantering back and forth while on their way to the Hust Legion.
  • Just Friends: Cohort commanders Kagamandra Tulas and Sharenas Ankhadu — who at first entertains intentions to seduce Tulas' betrothed out of boredom — develop a strong friendship during the course of Forge of Darkness which eventually turns into mutual romantic feelings. They have a moment of barely reigned in flirting, but as Tulas is betrothed, he decrees that they shall never talk about it again. Sharenas' agreement amounts to "Sure, buddy".
  • Kissing Cousins:
    • Hunn Raal's three cousins Serap, Risp and Sevegg seem devoted to him, and rumor has it that's because their loyalties are forged beneath the furs. They're second cousins, so it's legal, but still raises eye brows.
    • Averted with Faror Hend and Spinnock Durav. They're first cousins, and Faror Hend's attraction to Spinnock is so obvious even her commander has to tell her off.
  • The Lad-ette: Toras Redone, who is a battlefield-experienced commander in the Hust Legion, is never seen in anything other than sweat-stained leathers and prefers to spend time with her legion rather than at court. She also drinks profusely.
  • Lady Drunk: Toras Redone, again. Though she a commander in the Hust Legion, she is also a married woman from the nobility, and used to be very beautiful. Kellaras notes how she still is beautiful, but in a dissolute way, due to the amount of alcohol she consumes.
  • Lighter and Softer: Structurally. Compared to the Rotating Arcs and Two Lines, No Waiting structure of the ten books long main series, the Kharkanas Trilogy will have, as per Word of God, a more typical, straighforward trilogy structure.
  • Liquid Courage: Toras Redone has admitted to Galar Baras that she first had to get seriously drunk to have the courage to invite him to her bed. She does it again during Forge of Darkness.
  • Love Confessor: Towards the end of Fall of Light, Ivis and Pelk come to talk about their past together and how Pelk has found a new love and moved on. Eventually, after some prodding, Ivis admit that he, too, has fallen in love again, with Sandalath Drukorlat, but would not tell her because of their different social status and age gap.
  • Love Ruins the Realm: Draconus' love for Mother Dark and the fact that he gifts her with the Terondai, thus making her the Elder Goddess of Darkness and creating the Gate of Kurald Galain, is the cause for both the civil war within Kurald Galain, which eventually rips apart the entire realm, and the Jaghut's War on Death, by requiering the death of Karish, Hood's wife, to create the Terondai.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • Envy, Spite and Malice, named by their father Lord Draconus. He comments how if there were a fourth one, she'd be named Venom.
    • T'riss, which is meaningful in-universe, as it means 'born of the sea'. Faror Hend names her thus because T'riss emerged from the Vitr.
  • Mystical Pregnancy: Sandalath is assaulted by Lord Draconus' power repository that has become corrupted by too much evil in its vicinity and taken on a humanoid form, resulting in several mystical pregnancies with Express Delivery, until something capable of life is produced. While the resulting child is — contrary to expectation — not a Fetus Terrible, Sandalath is quite obviously traumatised for life and comes to see Korlat only as a tool created to protect her first child, Orfantal, from any harm — especially since Korlat is subject to accelerated aging.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: K'rul sets out to create a new magic system that can be used by everyone, creating the opportunity for younger, mortal races to see eye to eye with Azathanai and Elder Gods. However, this new magic promptly makes the already fairly violent Tiste civil war into a powered conflict, with just a handful of mages on each side able to obliterate masses of people.
  • Peerless Love Interest:
    • Invoked. Hish Tulla is one for both Anomander Rake and Silchas Ruin, who consider her the World's Most Beautiful Woman and thus, even though both have scored first base before, they still see her as unreachable and virtuous and only to be worshipped from afar.
    • Dragged through the mud and deconstructed with Enesdia. Her betrothed Andarist has delusions about her Incorruptible Pure Pureness. Her brother Kadaspala has an unhealthy obsession — though not of a romantic nature — with how pure and virtuous she is and considers her impending marriage to be detrimental to those qualities. Others consider her vain and spoiled. She is none of these extremes, and the only one who sees that, Cryl Durav, thinks she only considers him her adopted brother and is unreacheable for him for other reasons.
  • Prequel: The Kharkanas Trilogy is a prequel to the Malazan Book of the Fallen, set in The Time of Myths and telling an important part of the setting's backstory. It originally seemed like there was no need for a prequel as the backstory is covered quite extensively in the main series, however it turns out that a few millennia of time can change what actually happened into myths hardly related to the truth anymore. So even knowing how events eventually play out, how things ended up the way they did is a wholly different matter, sometimes overturning supposedly known facts without actually contradicting them.
  • Prequel in the Lost Age: The trilogy is set in the time the Tiste still lived in the realm of Kurald Galain, before the civil war that made Mother Dark turn away, sundered the realm and drove the Tiste out and into the world of the main series.
  • Raised by Natives: Korya Delat was raised by Haut following the Tiste tradition of exchanging hostages. Even though the Jaghut do not follow that tradition, the Tiste just dropped off a kid of vaguely noble blood which nobody wanted in Jaghut lands and called it a day. Since there's no mention of Korya's parents and everyone back home seems to have forgotten of her existence, she likely is an orphan. Now, even though Haut does try his best to educate her properly, the Jaghut are big proponents of the Misery Builds Character approach and live in solitary towers in the middle of nowhere, so Korya ends up with a heaping of No Social Skills. Unfortunately, shortly before she comes of age, civil war breaks out in Kurald Galain and makes a return impossible. Still, Tiste culture comes a-knockin' with Arathan getting dropped off at Gothos' tower and shows Korya how enstranged she's become from her own people.
  • Runaway Fiancée: Deconstructed with Kagamandra Tulas and Faror Hend. As soon as her betrothal to Kagamandra Tulas is announced, Faror Hend joins the Wardens of the Outer Reaches. She knows it's a silly method to postpone the inevitable, but she keeps running away whenever she hears that Tulas is close by, even intentionally putting herself in harm's way.
  • Straight Gay:
    • Horult Chiv is casually revealed to be gay and actually married to Lord Drethdenan, for whom he also serves as the captain of the Houseblades. That's all that sets him apart from any other Houseblade.
    • Captain Havaral of the Wardens reveals that he's gay as one of his last thoughts shortly before being killed in a battle. He is introduced as an average Warden veteran.
  • Stupid Sexy Friend: Or cousin. Faror Hend struggles with her lustful feelings towards her younger cousin Spinnock Durav, who in turn thinks he can act freely around her as she is his cousin and thus in no danger of misunderstanding his smiles and flirty remarks. He is suitably squicked when she confronts him.
  • Teen Pregnancy: Sandalath Drukorlat gave birth to her son Orfantal while she still was the teenage equivalent of a Tiste. It was a disgrace in her mother's eyes, especially as the child's father was some random drunk soldier who seduced Sandalath. Nerys allows her daughter to keep the child, but no word of it being her son is to get out and she has the two separated as soon as an opportunity provides itself at the start of Forge of Darkness.
  • Theme Twin Naming: The main series gives us the twins Envy and Spite, both named by their father. This prequel trilogy reveals that they're actually triplets and the third one used to be named Malice. Draconus adds that if there was a fourth one she'd be named Venom. He obviously had preconceived notions about his daughters.
  • Those Two Guys: Prazek and Dathenar, two captains of the Houseblades of House Purake. They are very similar in character, are never seen apart, are always talking and Finishing Each Other's Sentences and have Greek Chorus tendencies.
  • The Time of Myths: The trilogy is set millennia before the events of the Malazan Book of the Fallen and features characters and events considered mythical by the time of the main series. Here the Elder Gods are not even gods yet, and the Imass still mortal — and K'rul has just made his bargain with the Eleint.
  • Title Drop:
    • At the end of Forge of Darkness, Caladan Brood claims that by the blood surrendered from both Mother Dark, the goddess, and her children, 'Darkness is forged'.
    • In Forge of Darkness there are also two on one page for Walk in Shadow. When Rise Herat contemplates the flooded city and likens Dorssan Ryl's bridges to 'where dwelt equity, hope and cherished lives', when he sees people being swept by water through the shadows of said bridges, the narration says: 'Such shadows could not be walked.' And later, when he imagines flinging himself from the Citadel's tower, his thoughts are:
      Rise Herat: Of all the falls promised me by this vantage, I will take the river. Each and every time, I will take the river. And perhaps, one day, I will walk in shadows.
  • Unlucky Childhood Friend: Of the very unlucky kind. Cryl Durav and Enesdia grew up together, and Cryl is very much aware of his feelings towards her. Enesdia, on the other hand, thinks of him as just a second brother, although what her behaviour says is at odds with this. It ends tragically with both of them dead at Enesdia's wedding.
  • Unreliable Narrator: The story is narrated by the poet Gallan to Fisher kel Tath (or so he claims), and in the prelude to Forge of Darkness, Gallan flat-out admits to not be telling the truth:
    No matter; what I do not recall I shall invent. [...] And if I spoke of sacrifices, I lied.
  • World's Most Beautiful Woman: Hish Tulla. She is so beautiful and ephemeral that even Anomander Rake considers himself not good enough.

Alternative Title(s): Kharkanas Trilogy