Malazan Reread of the Fallen

Malazan Re-read of the Fallen: The Bonehunters, Chapter Seven (Part Two)

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Welcome to the Malazan Re-read of the Fallen! Every post will start off with a summary of events, followed by reaction and commentary by your hosts Bill and Amanda (with Amanda, new to the series, going first), and finally comments from Tor.com readers. In this article, we’ll cover the second half of Chapter Seven of The Bonehunters by Steven Erikson (TB).

A fair warning before we get started: We’ll be discussing both novel and whole-series themes, narrative arcs that run across the entire series, and foreshadowing. Note: The summary of events will be free of major spoilers and we’re going to try keeping the reader comments the same. A forum thread has been set up for outright Malazan spoiler discussion.

Chapter Seven (Part Two)

SCENE ONE

Blistig watches as horribly wounded go past him and the city turns into slag. Pearl arrives and asks if Tavore is broken, adding he has lost a friend tonight. Pearl continues, saying Dujek will be told that the 14th is done as an army and that Leoman escaped under the protection of the Queen of Dreams, which is he admits to being troubled by. Blistig leaves, thinking on Leoman’s evil.

SCENE TWO

Bottle rides a rat down deeper, leading the survivors and flashes back to the start.

SCENE THREE

Bottle finds a rat and waits for it to come up to them. Gesler tells everyone to adopt a child. Fiddler puts himself last with Corabb, saying he’ll help close the opening behind them. Urb knocks Hellian out when she panics about spiders. They start down.

SCENE FOUR-EIGHT

Smiles encourages the girl ahead of her while the boy behind her accidentally tortures Smiles with pain by touching her burned feet. Koryk is chanting constantly, the girl keeps stopping, and Smiles thinks she’s been through worse. Crump’s singing is driving Gesler crazy. Gesler, sensing he is not bothered by the heat and fire and smoke like the others, keeps seeing Truth’s sacrifice in his mind. Tarr drags the overweight Balgrid though the narrow areas, threatening him that Urb will poke him from behind with his knife. Balm “encourages” the boy in front of him by telling him if he stops the lizards will eat him, even as Deadsmell tries to get him to stop scaring the kid. Corabb and Fiddler bring up the rear, their hands badly burned from shutting the opening with the hot copper doors. Fiddler gets half-buried by the temple caving in and Corabb pulls him free.

SCENE NINE-ELEVEN

Bottle reaches a shaft. As he starts to head down part collapses and he falls into large webs then jams himself to a halt. He scares the huge spiders away with images of fire. He passes out, comes to, and begins to climb down. As they wait, Koryk thinks of his Death Song night, the Seti rite of passage into adulthood. He asks Shard if Limp is OK and Shard says he knocked him out to stop his screaming. Several of the soldiers talk and spar while waiting.

SCENE TWELVE

Corabb is realizing the Malazans aren’t all the monsters he had thought but were just real people, soldiers, like him. He worries Fiddler is dying.

SCENE THIRTEEN & FOURTEEN

Bottle enters a room filled with urns filled with honey. Cuttle joins him and Bottle says they should ease their burns with the honey. Bottle notes the urns are First Empire but the iron lids are Jaghut. The honey still tastes fresh. Both realize too late it has an opiate effect and Bottle falls to the floor and knocks himself out. Corabb drags the now-unconscious Fiddler to the shaft and carries him down to find everyone “asleep” amidst the urns. He puts honey on Fiddler then himself then starts to pass out.

SCENE FIFTEEN

Keneb is in the camp, unsure if it’s been one or two days of healing. Grub tells him Tavore wants them to leave and head west due to plague in the east. Before leaving, he says something is buried but neither Tavore nor Keneb sees it.

SCENE SIXTEEN

Nil, Nether, and Blistig are in Tavore’s tent. The warlocks report the spirits are being driven insane, are cursing the humans for so wounding the land. When he says the healers say the worst is over, Tavore orders preparations for departure for Sotka to rendezvous with Nok’s fleet. They realize it is a race against the plague now. Blistig leaves.

SCENE SEVENTEEN

Tavore asks why Poliel is striking with plague here and now, but the warlocks have no answer. They tell her Leoman was saved by the Queen of Dreams, though again they don’t know why. Temul arrives, saying he found Sinn trying to get back into the ruins, adding she’s lost her mind. Tavore orders her cleaned up and guarded — they leave. Tavore says she will not pursue Leoman but as long as he lives Y’Ghatan will be curse rather than victory. Nil says it won’t rise again, but Tavore dismisses him as too young. She leaves and Nil and Nether laugh at the thought they are “young”, then talk of how Leoman will grow in legends.

SCENE EIGHTEEN

Kindly finds Pores, whose left hand has melted together, and ask why he’s lollygagging. He tells him Baralta lost an arm then gives him order to prepare for the march.

SCENE NINETEEN

Faradan Sort finds Sinn, orders the others away, and tells Sinn she thinks she knows what is happening and to just listen for a while.

SCENE TWENTY

Keneb prepares to start the march, thinking of Baralta who lost his nose and lips in addition to the arm and wonders if he’ll stay sane. Temul rides up to say they couldn’t find Sort and Sinn and that Tavore has ordered any found deserters to be killed. They begin the march.

SCENE TWENTY ONE TO TWENTY SEVEN

(various visions from the honey-opiate)

  • Balm sees the Dal Honese pantheon warring over him, all of them “disgusting deities”
  • Smiles recalls when her village, after having no successful fishing for too long, returned to the old ways and sacrificed her twin sister to the ocean and Mael, which is why she left.
  • Koryk had been born to a young Seti whore and like the other half-bloods kept the traditions even more so than the full-bloods, who became Malazan after riding off to war, though he knew even then the worship was empty of true gods. The fetishes, he thinks, are something wholly else.
  • Crump sees the Mott Salamander God, who tells him to pull his tail and trap him like all mortals want to do to gods. The God threatens him that his brothers are looking for him “because of what you did” and Crump will need the god then. When Crump pulls the tail it comes off and the god runs away laughing.
  • Corabb sees a child, a new Sha’ik in the desert. He tells her it must all end, how thirsty can she be. When the child reaches him he is blind and hears her whisper “Help me.”
  • Fiddler sees Hedge who says Fiddler isn’t with the Bridgeburners who cheated death and that Fiddler has to keep going, has “to take us with you right to the end. He adds that the worlds have burned over Y’Ghatan, warren up on warren, all the ghosts and memories have been burnt to nothing.
  • Bottle finds himself on a charred grassland with his Ere’ Sal and other like her. He recalls seeing as a child the last wild ape of Malaz Island in a cage and having a moment of shared empathy that broke Bottle’s heart. It seems that moment of compassion began his ability to ride life-sparks. The Ere’ Sal touches his forehead then makes a fist that starts to come down, when he wakes.

SCENE TWENTY EIGHT

Bottle wakes to find his burn pains gone and the air foul. Cuttle wakes next and tells him he dreamt of a tiger getting killed by two undead lizards and the tiger ascended (Treach and K’Chain). Treach had been trying to tell Cuttle that the dying was necessary. They start to wake the others.

SCENE TWENTY NINE

Gesler wakes from a dream of fire and shadowy figures dancing around him. He realized in the dream he was the fire.

SCENE THIRTY

Bottle reaches a passage blocked by a huge cornerstone a little off the floor with a pit on the other side and a shaft going up. Cuttle says they’ll try and dig it out and when Bottle says they should go back he tells Bottle there is no back thanks to the temple’s collapse.

SCENE THIRTY ONE

The children are sent ahead in case they might fit under the stone. Smiles can’t believe she’s counting on Bottle, though she thinks he was surprisingly nice to her about Sort’s seeming dislike. She thinks about children and how if only the children survive she’ll haunt them the rest of their lives.

SCENE THIRTY TWO

After the children pass through, Cuttle works until his knife breaks. Bottle realizes if they can get through they’ll be in a tunnel cut by looters from the outside. Cuttle kicks the stone out and there is a collapse as the rock comes down, leaving a shaft opening to sun. Bottle tries to dig the hole out wider. Cuttle worries they lost a girl into the pit.

SCENE THIRTY THREE

Sort and Sinn are on a ridge north of the city, Sort worrying maybe her belief that Sinn had sensed something was wrong. They spot a child and Sort thinks she’s a scavenger. Sinn heads toward her and then climbs the hillside wall. Sort rides over and tells Sinn they need to give it up for the day. Sinn reaches into a hole.

SCENE THIRTY FOUR

Bottle his losing his strength and is beginning to pass out/die, then Sinn reaches his hand, snapping him out of it.

SCENE THIRTY FIVE

Sort hears a voice from the hole and realizes Sinn is holding someone’s hand.

SCENE THIRTY SIX

Sort begins to dig them out while the children who had been on the other side of the obstructing rock are coming out another way with Smiles. She tells them Tavore didn’t wait or order searches; she and Sinn deserted to look, adding it’s been three days. She breaks a sword and then tells anxious Bottle it wasn’t her Stormwall sword; they had been left behind “in somebody” — she kept the scabbard. Bottle gets free and saves his rat just before Sort is about to stomp on it, telling her it (he names it Y’Ghatan) saved all their lives. He also finds out Sort had known about his trick calling himself Smiles earlier and to his dismay, Smiles now knows about it too.

SCENE THIRTY SEVEN

Gesler does a roll call and sees everybody makes it out save Fiddler and Corabb.

SCENE THIRTY EIGHT

Corabb had gotten lost and thinks the two of them are dead and he’d be proud to appear at Hood’s Gate with this Malazan. He has freed himself, he thinks, of certainty. Fiddler wakes and when Corabb says he’s dragged him a day or so, Fiddler asks why he didn’t just leave him. Corabb first says so the Malazans wouldn’t kill him, but then admits he simply couldn’t. Fiddler gives Corabb his real name and then they are found by Gesler and he leads them out.

 

Amanda’s Reaction to Chapter Seven (Part Two)

I have a funny feeling that we possibly shouldn’t have split the chapter in terms of reading and commenting, as soon as I started reading this section. You see, I have been at Eastercon this past weekend and ill and so did not manage to continue reading the chapter — and now, when I start, I have lost that sense of building and tension and panic that filled me when I put the book down last week.

Makes me very aware of what artists some writers can be, in terms of creating work that generates a particular rush of feeling. I doubt it was the intention of Erikson to have people put down The Bonehunters halfway through Chapter Seven, and now I wish I hadn’t. I might just go back and re-read to get me in the mood!

Pearl’s eyes were red — crying about Lostara? I do agree with his perspective on the burned and injured; sometimes it must be better to be dead than to be in such extreme pain and additionally always have the memory of it having happened. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder doesn’t even come close!

A nice little note here as well about how secondary sources will tell a different story from primary sources, and how the victor tells what happened. Y’Ghatan will be a tremendous victory in the annals of history.

Pearl automatically assumes that the Adjunct should be on her knees and that the Fourteenth Army is finished as a fighting force. I don’t think it will be as simple as that, at all, based on what has gone before.

I love the way that Erikson makes even this rat seem important and worthwhile. One thing I’ve noticed is that in Erikson we rarely get the anonymous cannon fodder that we have in other books. Like in the Wheel of Time; the Trollocs are a faceless horde that we have no emotions about. In the Malazan novels, it seems everything has a personality — including a rat to be used as a way out of the city.

Plus the gentle respect of Bottle for this rat — referencing the it is a female rat; making sure that she feels comfortable with him riding her.

First in, last out, right? Fiddler holds to the Bridgeburners’ ideals to the end. And his attitude towards Corabb is fantastic — acceptance of his offer to head out last together.

This scene with Urb and Hellian is just great — first the punch and then when he says: “Ain’t had any other sergeant, and I mean to keep it that way.”

Anyone starting to feel a little claustrophobic?

It’s nice to see Smiles trying to help the girl child instead of giving into her incomprehension of how to treat children. “If only this brat of a girl wouldn’t keep stopping. Another nudge. “Go on, lass. Not much more, you’ll see…”

Haha! Always, Erikson manages to make me laugh, even in the depths of darkness. Here, the fact that Gesler is inadvertently tickling Tulip’s feet.

Songs. *sigh* Like poems, I’m very tempted to just skip over them entirely. I do wonder what prompts authors to feel that only a poem or song will do!

It is really interesting seeing the different attitudes and approaches to being down there, trapped in the dark, in pain. Prayers, songs, swearing, joking — it’s like an echo of how we saw the soldiers prior to the battle and their ways of dealing with that.

Ugh! Spiders! Why do they have to be such a theme in this book. I think I would need knocking out like Hellian if I had to face what Bottle faced…

It’s a wonderful contrast with the start of Chapter Seven, this desperate and hard crawl through the darkness. In the first half it was all explosions and wild fighting. Now we experience the claustrophobic near certainty of dying, buried under ground — the faint wish that we had been taken in battle rather than feeling this pants-wetting terror of having crushing weight just above you and waiting to collapse. Yes, I am claustrophobic — can you tell? *shudders*

Corabb has such a distinct sense of honour: “Corabb could have kept up had he been alone back here, but he would not leave the Malazan sergeant behind. Enemy or no, such things were not done.”

Nasty dissonance to see Corabb’s dawning realisation that these Malazan are just men, just soldiers and Widdershins sneering: “Don’t order me around, bastard. You’re a prisoner. Remember that.”

It is rather surreal — this idea of a room filled with urns of honey, thousands upon thousands of years old and with more than a touch of poppy in it. I can see things getting even stranger, because it looks as though Bottle and Gesler have no chance of warning everyone.

Guys, I loving Corabb more and more. He has absolutely no need to bring Fiddler with him, especially not with the effort required, but he does. He makes a herculean effort, in fact!

The honey is called the “God Bringer”? That doesn’t sound as though it’s about to go well….

It’s as though every single word of Grub’s is telling us something. He warns here of the plague that is coming, and talks about something being buried — this could be reference to the soldiers who still remain within Y’Ghatan. I also note this: “To find what’s inside us, you got to take everything else away, you see?” This seems to be about the Fourteenth — from here on Tavore will know what her survivors are made of.

It’s a fair question by Tavore — why Poliel? Why now? What has prompted her to step into the game?

Is Sinn trying to get back into the city because she knows that some are trapped there?

This is a key sentence, I think: “Young? How easily she forgets.”

Pores and Kindly are a terrific pair — great dialogue.

It’s not a nice image of ash drifting over the army ready to march — the ash of their dead as well as the ash of the city. I guess they aren’t waiting for Fiddler et al because they believe them to have died. Faradan Sort and Sinn are, I guess, heading to find them? Also, anyone else find it a mite uncomfortable that Faradan Sort projects her own ideas onto Sinn because the latter is not prepared to talk?

From the ridiculous to the terrifying, these dream states of those trapped belowgrounds are dripping with details. But should I be paying attention to the individual deities of the Dal Honese menagerie or to the fact that Mael is referred to as the Eldest God? This is the problem with dreams.

There are some sentences that do just spring out: “It’s the cycle, you see. Order and chaos, a far older cycle than life and death…”

So Crump was once Jamber Bole? Someone we’ve already met?

Fiddler and Hedge are so touching together, with their casual insults and the desperate knowledge that Fiddler should have been with them when they ascended. Looks like Fiddler is taking them with him on some kind of journey though. Oh, and what relevance the fact that all those memories have been scoured from Y’Ghatan? It sounds like it has left the whole area dead of magic, of memories, of realms.

Ha! Again, something being said here, an event we’ve already seen, but with more depth or hidden meaning: “I dreamed…a tiger, it had died — cut to pieces, in fact, by these giant undead lizards that ran on two feet. Died, yet ascended, only it was the death part it was telling me about. The dying part — I don’t understand. Treach had to die, I think, to arrive.”

And then back into the darkness, the crawling, the misery. The sudden quashing of any hope, then the tiny sliver of sunlight that suggests they might be able to reach the surface. At the same time Faradan Sort and Sinn are on the surface and possibly coming to find them. It makes the pulse speed up, for sure! (especially because you know that with an author like Erikson the possibility of everyone dying instead of being rescued isn’t all that far-fetched!)

It’s been three or possibly four days since the breach — Erikson does well to convey that sense of confusion where there was absolutely no sense of time passing while buried with the soldiers and children below.

Awwww, the rat is staying! I had a truly terrible moment when I thought Faradan Sort was going to kill YET ANOTHER beloved pet.

Right, that scene between Corabb and Fiddler? One of the best. Right up there. The quiet talking; the knowledge from Fiddler that Corabb has stayed with him against all the odds; the admission of his true name; and, finally, this exchange:

“Lead us on, then,” Corabb said, reaching back to grasp Fiddler’s harness once more.

Gesler made to move past him. “I can do that-“

“No. I have dragged him this far.”

“Fid?”

“For Hood’s sake, Gesler, I’ve never been in better hands.”

Just the perfect end to what was a bloody traumatic — and yet wonderful — reading experience.

 

Bill’s Reaction to Chapter Seven (Part Two)

I know what you’re saying about the split Amanda, but I can’t imagine how long a post this would have been otherwise. But yes, I probably hadn’t thought of the impact on first-time readers of splitting — sigh.

Pearl does think he lost Lostara, but recall we saw her grabbed out of the flames at the last moments. You might be able to think of who that might be if you consider her background. (Plus we have a relatively limited number of characters who can pop into a flamestorm and pop out again.)

I think that line of Blistig’s “But we, we who are here this night, we will know the truth for the rest of our lives” is such a powerful line. Not even for its immediate meaning that the annals’ report of a “great victory” will be sugarcoating the reality, but just in the larger sense of war and soldiering — none can know the reality, the truth, beyond those who were in the midst. It reminds me a bit of Tim O’Brien’s idea in The Things They Carried of the difference between “accuracy” and “truth.” (Side note — if you haven’t read TTTC, do so.)

And though Blistig has a different sort of vision, his line “this Adjunct Tavore, she is far from finished” will also reverberate throughout this series.

I do like Pearl’s understated view toward the gods involving themselves: “I find this detail . . . troubling.”

This is a good scene with Blistig. We see him defend his army, his adjunct. He’s unwilling to immediately say the army is done. When he learns Leoman escaped, he immediately thinks of how such news might be turned to the Malazan’s advantage. It’s a bit of a hearkening back to the earlier Blistig as compared to what we’ve seen lately and where he’s going.

That’s a nice comparison, Amanda, with regard to the anonymous cannon fodder regarding the Trollocs. Of course, the template for modern fantasy for this is Tolkien’s orcs. Now I enjoy a good faceless horde of evil as the next person, but it is nice to sometimes get something a bit more complex as we do in this series.

Yep — Fid’s a true Bridgeburner. And the relationship between Hellian and Urb is simply great.

I also like how we get the little detail of the thinking ahead when they fill their skins with water before heading down. Remember a long ways back we got the lines that what separates the Malazan soldiers from so many others is their ability and freedom to think and we’re seeing that here. (We’ll just have to continue to ignore the whole Pormqual thing.)

Well, could we have any more literal depiction of the consistent them that we are always walking through the past, outside of any actual time travel scene? In addition, we get a reminder of the transience of life and civilizations and how that transience blurs all lines: “Kings and paupers, great mages and ambitious priests. All gone. Gone to dust.” One might, I suppose, also make a connection between the rats and humanity in this sense.

Who would have predicted such restraint from Smiles of all people? And what does it say that she had “known worse.” I mean, just think of that for a moment. (I admit, however, I could have done without the “starving puppies” eyes).

Yes, these scenes underground nicely echo the earlier scenes above ground. And also contrast nicely with the battle scenes just prior (you’re stealing all my moves, Amanda!) I also like how they have little bits and pieces interwoven — the song, the screaming, etc. Amidst the horror of the action and some of the more tragic thoughts (Smile’s recollection of “home,” Gesler mourning Truth) we get some nice bits of relieving humor, such the ticklish feet, Tarr threatening Balgrid, Balm’s “encouragement” of the boy in front of him. Another aspect I like is we never lose sight of details. It doesn’t become just a crawl through a feature-less, shadowy “underground.” Instead, we get lizards and spiders and rats (Oh my!), and empty carapaces and “patches of crumbling plaster . . . [a] frieze fronting that plaster . . . A strange clash of styles.” You always feel they are moving through an actual place.

You know, I don’t want to live through the Seti’s Child Death Song, but part of me really likes the concept behind it.

“If freedom was a god.” Another one of the possible tag lines for this series, though “If compassion were a god” would be the one I’d pick I think.

Fiddler. Rope. Have I mentioned I love this guy?

“Such things were not done.” Imagine the world where that was actually true.

This move of Corabb’s might be a bit quick, I wouldn’t have minded a somewhat slower pace to his realization that these Malazans are just like him, but I can live with it because I enjoy it so much. And I do like that Widdershins doesn’t make it quite so easy. And we’ll see this several times, the lack of trust in him. (Save from Fiddler — have I mentioned what I think about Fiddler?)

Again, I like how we take a moment to admire the architecture of the ruins, the way they have lasted. We don’t get much of that in America, where if something is a hundred years old we consider it near-ancient. But outside this country, it’s truly stunning some of what has lasted and is still used.

What is nice about the scope of these books, the doorstop nature of them, is that we can get the detail we get with Corabb helping Fiddler down which I think is useful in that first, it simply gives us a concrete explanation for how he does it rather than the so often magical way good guys get through bad situations. I also think it’s important to convey just how hard Corabb works for a former enemy — it isn’t really so much a plot description I’d say as it is characterization. It is the concrete embodiment of his earlier realization that the Malazans are just people.

By the way, honey? A good salve for burns.

Here again, a good view of Blistig, exhausted from working so hard with the wounded. Let’s not forget these good moments with him.

I like Nil’s line about how the spirits of the land hate the people for “this vast wound upon the land.” It’s a powerful idea, that what is done someplace can scar that place, haunt it in some fashion.

This is a bit of an early connection between Grub and Sinn — both of them knowing “there is something buried.”

If we ever doubted Nil and Nether are not young, the cynicism (no less cynical for being right) of the description of what will happen to Leoman (“They will say he breathed fire. They will say you could see the Apocalypse in his eyes.”) should dispel that.

Time for some good comic relief. Enter Kindly and Pores. Truly one of the great duos in this series. Love this dialogue.

I didn’t at all get a feeling of discomfort from Faradan Sort taking Sinn out. Sinn’s a mage, she desperately wants to get back, Sort seen some weird sh-t in her life. It actually made sense to me. I didn’t think she was projecting so much as interpreting or extrapolating. There certainly was no doubt Sinn wanted into the ruins.

On the other hand, I didn’t quite get Temul’s response to Keneb about orders from Malazan officers. They came a bit out of left field for me. Unless he’s just snappish for once again being ordered out of dying in a major battle.

Love those Dol Honese gods and Balm’s question: “Who thought up these goddesses anyway?” How can you not love a Dung Beetle God? Or the one-joke Salamander God of Mott?

But amidst the humor, we get the much darker tale of Smiles’ sister, and the much darker image of religion. The cruel hypocrisy of the priests. The blood that lies at the core of the old rites. It is an interesting perspective we get of Mael coming after meeting nice old Bugg. Is this a different side of him? A misreading of him? Something forced on him by his “worshipers”? An older, less civilized version of him? Did he run from it just as Smiles did? And what a tragic line to close with about that running, a line so many characters in this series could probably express.

In this scene we get as well a running theme — the world’s sacrifice (literal or no) of children.

I think there is a lot to the idea of half-bloods holding more firmly to traditions than full-bloods, that near-desperate desire to latch onto something concrete, to feel part of something whole, to be wholly something.

No, we haven’t met Jamber Bole. But the Bole brothers will indeed be important players. They have been mentioned earlier, as for instance having dealt pretty firmly with a necromancer and mages. We met “High Marshal Jib Bole” in Memories of Ice. That’s also the novel that tells us there are 23 Bole brothers as well as a sister “you wouldn’t want to meet.” It does set up a bit of a mystery though — what, if anything, did he do to cause him to be a fugitive from his brothers? And what, if anything, will happen if they catch him?

What is interesting in some of these is the relationship implied between gods and mortals. The Mott god says mortals want to trap gods, Balm wonders who came up with such horrible gods (begging the question — did people?), Mael has children sacrificed to him (at his request or is it pressed upon him by people?), and Sha’ik, the goddess, asks Corabb for help (to stop the horror done in her name?)

Oh, and then Fiddler and Hedge. Hedge and Fiddler. It’d be tough to rank favorite duos in this series, but these two would have to be up there. The deathless army of Bridgeburners. Hmmm.

And then perhaps the key scene in this section — Bottle’s meeting with the last ape. And the focus yet again on compassion, on empathy. “Compassion existed when and only when one could step outside oneself, to suddenly see the bars from inside the cage.” Just as we’ve seen Corabb do in this book.

I like that reminder of Treach, who has yet a role to play so good not to forget about him.

And a bit more mystery about Faradan Sort — not the first time she deserted, and who had she made pay for dealing with her, and who was the somebody she “left” her sword in?

The shift among povs is very effective here I think, drawing out the rescue, Bottle’s vision of a “return” to the ancient memory of grassland, the fear Sort will grab Sinn and go, the fear they’ll be blocked, that image of human contact, human touch, that acts as the seal to the rescue. One person reaching out to another and drawing them forth from the darkness — an image that so embodies the idea of empathy and compassion.

And after the rush of emotion, a nice bit of comic relief with Bottle learning that Sort knew he was not Smiles, and now Smiles knows as well. And a nice echo of that horrible moment with Joyful Union. Sort killing the rat (a rat for god’s sake!) at that moment would have ranked among the darkest ones of this series.

And then, after emotional release, more anxiety and sorrow with Corabb and Fiddler (though luckily not too long). And a reminder of the theme that so often walks hand in hand with the compassion/empathy one — certainty: “He was no believer in causes, not any more. Certainty was an illusion, a lie. Fanaticism was poison in the soul, and the first victim . . . was compassion.” And then, why not tie in another of our major themes: “Who could speak of freedom, when one’s own soul was bound in chains?” We’ve got the trifecta in this passage!

I’m with you, Amanda; it really is a great scene. That giving up of his name is so quietly moving. “A welcome gift” indeed.

And think of Gesler — after days of that crawling — coming back after them. Really, stop and think about it for a moment. Actually, that’s a pretty good place to stop and think.


Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.

Bill Capossere writes short stories and essays, plays ultimate frisbee, teaches as an adjunct English instructor at several local colleges, and writes SF/F reviews for fantasyliterature.com.

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