Our exploration of the geography of Steven Erikson and Ian Esslemont’s Malazan world continues.
Located to the south of Quon Tali and Malaz Isle lies a continent which has been torn apart, geographically and metaphorically, to the point where its very name is disputed. To some of the inhabitants it’s Korel, to others Fist, to others still Theft, and to others Korelri. Some cartographers count the mainland part of the landmass as one distinct continent, Stratem, and the islands as a distinct subcontinent. Others hold that both the islands and the nearby mainland are one subcontinent and Stratem proper does not begin until the continent-spanning central mountain range. Others refuse to get drawn into such arguments, finding them tedious in the extreme.
Korelri is a continent that is aware of the outside world but not particularly interested in it. Travelling to Korelri is problematic: immense, sorcery-spawned ice floes off the west coast prevent easy access to nearby Jacuruku (sometimes called Korel’s “sister continent” due to its proximity), whilst the Bloodmare Ocean to the east is prohibited, as the far shores of that sea wash against the forbidden landmass of Assail, which all right-thinking people avoid.
The more direct route to the north, straight across the Sea of Storms to nearby Malaz Island and thence the south coast of Quon Tali, is suicide: the straits fairly swarm with hostile, alien creatures known as the Stormriders. The point of origin of these entities is unknown. It is known that they relentlessly smash themselves against the Stormwall of Korelri, ceaselessly attempting to breach it to (presumably) ravage the lands beyond.
It’s certainly not impossible to travel to the continent – sweeping out far to the east will bring travellers to the north coast of the island of Fist and even further to the west around the ice fields beyond Jacuruku will (eventually) bring you to the south-western coast of Stratem – but it’s more trouble than it’s worth for many. The Korelri (of Theftian, or Fistian, or Jourilan) people of the continent are fractious, unreliable and in constant conflict with one another, and the continent’s resources are limited.
Approximately 120,000 years ago, the continent of Jacuruku was conquered by the High King, Kallor, whose armies also made forays onto the nearby landmass of Korelri. Kallor’s rule became tyrannical and barbaric, until in desperation a conclave of eight mages summoned the being known as Kaminsod, apparently an utterly alien entity, a god of another world in another reality. Their purpose is unclear, whether they wanted to use Kaminsod to destroy Kallor or believing that his alien sorcery would allow them to overcome Kallor in some fashion. In any case, the summoning went awry and Kaminsod’s material form was brought crashing to the ground in a titanic explosion.
Kaminsod’s fall shattered the continent of Korelri. The Many Isles already lay about its coast, suggesting the continent may have been flooding or fragmenting naturally anyway, but the Fall accelerated the process. Numerous channels opened and the sea rushed in, splinting the northern half of the continent into dozens of large islands and hundreds of small ones. Kaminsod was imprisoned, becoming known as the Crippled God or Chained One, but the other gods were unable to help Korelri or its people. As for Kallor, it fell to three gods to combine their power to overthrow him two years after the Fall, and even this did not go according to plan.
Korelri was repopulated in later millennia, possibly by colonists from the First Empire of Seven Cities. The dominant deity of Korelri became Our Lady the Blessed Saviour, a goddess of tremendous power in the shattered islands but unknown in the world beyond.
3,411 years before Burn’s Sleep, the builder Temal was granted a vision by the Lady that led him to build the Stormwall, an immense fortification stretching for over 100 leagues along the north-western coast of the island of Korelri. The Stormwall and its fanatical religious defenders, the Stormguard, have prevented the mysterious Stormriders from invading Korelri ever since.
In 1066 Burn’s Sleep the mercenary army known as the Crimson Guard swore the Vow and became the (literally) undying enemies of the Malazan Empire. Driven from Quon Tali, they built redoubts on the continent of Stratem far to the south. In 1067 the Malazan Empire invaded Stratem from both east and west, but the Crimson Guard defeated their armies; the severe distances involved and the relatively constrained threat of the Crimson Guard made further such invasions uneconomical and they were abandoned.
Circa 1135 Burn’s Sleep, the Malazan Empire found a safe sea route across the Strait of Storms, swinging wide to the east, beyond the Storin Reef, and thus landing on the island of Fist from the north and east. After initial scouting forays, the Malazan 6th Army invaded Fist and formally occupied the kingdom of Rool, along with its capital Paliss. However, the invasion soon turned sour with the army’s commander, Greymane, was disgraced and forced to abandon his command. In 1158 the 6th Army turned rebel and effectively seceded from the Malazan Empire. The 6th Army was outlawed (a second 6th Army was later reconstituted for the Genabackan campaign) but the Malazan Empire was overstretched on Seven Cities and Genabackis and was unable to bring the rebels to heel. All communication with Fist was subsequently lost.
The continent to the south of Quon Tali is divided into two distinct subcontinents by the immense Aurgatt Range. Everything to the south is known as Stratem, a relatively sparsely-populated land of remote villages and townships separated by hundreds of leagues of wild forests and hills. This land is the home of the Crimson Guard, a hard-to-explore wilderness which the Malazan Empire has only once tried to invade, with such catastrophic results that a century later they haven’t even thought about repeating the effort.
North of the Aurgatt Range and its accompanying glaciers is the subcontinent known variously as Korel, Korelri, Fist, Theft, Jourilan or “the Elder Continent.” The reason for the nomenclature chaos is that the northern subcontinent was smashed asunder in the original Fall of the Crippled God, with numerous islands formed. Each one of these islands has attempted to place its name on the rest of the landmass, which is heavily disputed by the rest. The major islands of the subcontinent are Korel, Theft (although technically part of the same island as Korelri, its radically different culture ensures it is named separately), Remnant Isle, Protector Isle, and Fist. The smaller islands are innumerable.
Korel is the longest and narrowest island of the archipelago, stretching for many hundreds of leagues along the Strait of Storms. The western half of the island is dominated by the Stormwall, a colossal fortification standing on the Dead Shore. The Stormwall’s purpose is to hold back the Stormriders, the strange creatures who live in the ocean deeps to the north. The Stormriders frequently attack the Stormwall in an attempt to invade the lands beyond, but the Stormguard have held them back for near four thousand years.
The nation of Korelri lies in the shadow of the Stormwall, with its four major cities of Shelter, Storm, Kor and Elri. The cities exist to service the Stormwall and help provide resources for the continued defence of the continent.
East of Kor lies the Blood Isthmus, linking Korelri to the small nation of Katakan. Katakan and its four major cities (Xixr, Bali, Poon and Molz) are protected from the Stormriders by the Storin Reef, an immense series of reefs and islands located to the north, around which the Stormriders chose not to pass. This geological formation is also held by some to mark the boundary between the Strait or Sea of Storms to the west and Reacher’s Ocean to the north and east.
Katakan’s name suggests it may have been established by colonists from the island of Jakatakan (later renamed Malaz Isle when the city of Malaz deposed Jakata as the primary city of the landmass) to the north-west, across the Strait of Storms, but the truth of this remains unknown.
East of Katakan lies the peninsula of Theft, a region home to numerous independent city-states (including Danig, Stall, Filk, Rip, Steel and Grest). Theft is a lawless land, with each city having its own king and many of the cities serving as bases for pirates and corsairs. The most notable city of the region is Lamentable Moll, a city surrounded and infested by strange, mystical barrows. It is believed that these barrows allow the city to act as a base of operations for mages, who are otherwise outlawed in much of Korelri.
Fist is the most heavily-populated of the islands of Korelri, which is probably why the name “Fist” is often used to apply to the entire landmass (to the disdain of the other islands). Fist consists of a wilderness area in the north-west, beyond the Trembling Range, and three distinct nations: Skolati along the east coast, Rool along the south-western coast and Mare in the south.
Skolati consists of several autonomous city-states, the most formidable of which is Aamil. Rool is a far more powerful nation with a capital at Paliss and numerous cities along the coast and in the interior. Rool was conquered by the Malazan 6th Army several decades ago. When the 6th Army seceded from the Empire (following Greymane’s disgrace and disappearance), it was still in control of Rool. The current status of the kingdom is unknown.
Mare is one of the most well-known Korelri nations outside of the continent, mainly due to the kingdom’s maritime culture. The Marese fleet is large, powerful and formidable, and has blockaded the island of Fist for over twenty years. The Malazan Imperial Navy clashed with the Marese several times during the 6th Army’s invasion of Fist and was defeated several times. The last naval defeat was so significant that the Malazan Empire abandoned its attempts to resupply the 6th Army (some believe this led to the 6th Army’s defection, as they felt abandoned, but this is debatable). The Marese field a very large number of Ruse-wielding mages and use massive rams in battle to smash enemy ships to pieces. Even the Malazans, whose shipboard mages found themselves stymied by Mare’s sorcerers, were unable to counteract this tactic.
Remnant Isle is the largest surviving chunk of the island that use to lie in this region before the Fall of the Crippled God. During the Fall this island bore the brunt of the impact, with a massive explosion forming the Tower Sea out of the resulting crater and throwing up the Children Ridge Mountains around the edges. At the heart of the Tower Sea lies the holy Sky Tower, the most powerful stronghold of the Stormguard.
Stygg was a kingdom on the mainland of the Korelri/Stratem continent. The kingdom consisted of eight major cities: Cast, Dim, Drak, Ebon, Shade, Shale, Shroud and Sty. Several years ago, the kingdom was invaded by Jheck tribespeople from the Deep Wilderness to the south and conquered. The city-states of Theft to the north contemplated launching a counter-attack, but the Jheck idiotically burned the Styggian fleet at anchor, limiting their threat to the rest of the Korelri continent. The Jheck apparently later retreated back into the Deep Wilderness.
The Three Nations
Lying close to one another on the mainland of Korelri are three neighbouring states: Jasston, a small nation lying on the edge of the Plains of Blight; Dourkan and the Jourilan Empire. Dourkan is a martial kingdom and a staunch supporter of the Stormwall, sending troops across Crack Strait to help hold the wall. They also provide mercenaries to the highest bidder.
The Jourilan Empire is the largest of the three nations – although its name is somewhat grandiose given its overall small size – and the most heavily-populated. The Jourilan are also firm supporters of the Stormwall and worshippers of the Lady, but the imperial government is noted for its harshness towards its poor people. The Empire has had to suppress rebellions in the past, but has not learned from these mistakes with repressive measures still in place today.
To the south of Jourilan and the Plains of Blight lies the Iceback Range, beyond which lies a series of glaciers and tundra abutting the continent-spanning Aurgatt Range. This huge mountain range splits the continent in two, with Korelri (or the Lands of Fist) including all the lands to the north and the subcontinent of Stratem consisting of all the lands to the south.
Stratem far exceeds Korelri in landmass size but falling far below it in terms of population. Stratem consists of huge areas of wilderness, league after league of wild, untapped forest, desolate plains and towering hills. Travel between Korelri and Stratem is limited to ships (made difficult by the treacherous Ice Island Sea to the east) and a single hazardous mountain pass leading through the south of the Jourilan Empire to the north-western part of Stratem. This route has led to the establishment of isolated trading posts and fishing villages along the White Spires Ocean, including Canton Landing.
Further east lies the Sea of Chimes, a near-landlocked body of water that opens into the Bloodmare Ocean at the Straits of Thick. The shores of this sea are claimed by the Crimson Guard, an exiled mercenary army from Quon Tali who have vowed vengeance against the Malazan Empire. The Crimson Guard are predominantly based at Fortress Haven but have also established outlying forts and holdings at North Bastion, Iron Citadel, Exile and Thick. Elsewhere on the continent’s coast lies Toll’s City, the home of the easily-offended Chanters, who once tried to conquer the continent with the help of the Crimson Guard before the latter realised the Chanters were insane and abandoned negotiations.