Malazan Reread of the Fallen

Malazan Re-read of the Fallen: The Bonehunters, Chapter Twenty-One

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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 Chapter Twenty-One 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.

Just a note. The next two chapters are both long and packed, so we will be splitting each in half. Chapter Twenty-Two Part One will end with the scene that closes with “Never, dear gods. Never mess with mortals.” Part Two will begin with the scene that starts “Grub and three friends, playing in a cave.”

 

CHAPTER TWENTY ONE

SCENE ONE

Felisin is being worshipped as Sha’ik Reborn and she has fallen into excess, with all here needs, as she says, being met and also increasing. She has grown fat, picked up desires for wine and rustleaf and sex. She believes this is the true apocalypse — one of excess and desire and devouring. She has a hard time imagining this paradise in the after-life Kulat speak of, and believes there were levels of salvation instead. She retains some doubt about what she does. She meets with Mathok (Leoman’s past friend who now controls the army), who deliver the Holy Book of Dryjhna to her. Felisin tells him she has need of neither book nor army and his men’s days of slaughter are over, saying her weapon is the promise of salvation. He drops the book and orders his army out, leaving Felisin to her “bloated, disgusting world.”

SCENE TWO

Mathok surrenders to Paran who says he and his men are free to go where they will. Paran says he wishes to speak to the leader of the City of the Fallen and Mathok castigates her and her followers. Paran says there is power there and Mathok agrees, then suggests Paran slaughter them to rid the world of the “plague” of their religion, which he says will grow quickly. Paran worries Mathok is right, but dismisses the suggestion, though he changes his mind about speaking to Felisin. Paran says they’ll return to Aren and Mathok puts his army into Paran’s service. Paran makes him a Fist and calls for Ormulogun, thinking he’ll need to make a new card called Salvation, believing it will eventually break free of the Chained God’s influence and be an unaligned force. He worries he should have done as Mathok suggested, noting he and Mathok are alike “in our weakness,” which is why he likes Mathok.

SCENE THREE

Mathok tells Hurlochel that the first Sha’ik Reborn (Felisin elder) was Malazan and that Tavore never knew that. Hurlochel, fearing what may be possible revelations, doesn’t question him further, and forgets to bring it up to Paran.

SCENE FOUR

Ahlrada Ahn recalls the atrocity of what the Edur had done in Sepik. He feels emptied by it, tainted, and considers suicide. Veed and Icarium join Ahlrada, other Edur, and several warlocks as they prepare another assault on the throne. One warlock says they’ve been deceived, that Icarium is no great warrior; instead the warlock senses “in you nothing. Vast emptiness.” Ahn thinks the warlock a fool. They all travel via warren to Drift Avalii to assault the Throne of Shadow. The warlock notes all the demons have fled and wonders why, but Ahn thinks it’s because of Icarium. An owl snatches prey nearby.

SCENE FIVE

Icarium tells Veed the shadow spirits left upon his arrival and there would have been a man who was skilled enough to possibly kill even Icarium, which Veed deems impossible. They enter the courtyard and Icarium tells them there is no need to go further.

SCENE SIX

Ahn and the warlocks enter the Throne’s chamber and find it destroyed, smashed to pieces. Ahn tells the weeping warlock it is time to try for the other throne.

SCENE SEVEN

The news of the throne infuriates the Edur. They prepare to head out to attack the First Throne. Icarium suddenly laughs, telling Veed “the weaver deceives the worshipper.”

SCENE EIGHT

The Throne of Shadow returns to its former self and Shadowthrone steps forward to watch the war party leave. At the last moment, Icarium looks back and Shadowthrone sees amusement in his eyes as Icarium nods to him. The Edur leave via warren.

SCENE NINE

Run’Thurvian tells Tavore that Shal-Morzinn’s three sorcerer kings will not allow the fleet passage. He suggests travel by warren instead to the world of Fanderay and Togg, which would also save them months, adding they began preparing this gate two years ago. They say they’ll need Quick Ben to add his power and they agree to open the gate at dawn.

SCENE TEN

Kalam and Quick discuss if the other is “with” Tavore or not, agreeing she is difficult to know and thus the whole idea is much harder than when they were “with” Whiskeyjack or Dujek.

SCENE ELEVEN

The Silanda passes through the age into a sea filled with icebergs. Fiddler is sick.

SCENE TWELVE

The night of the jade storm, four Malazan ship enter Malaz City harbor, part of a fleet that had driven away a strange attacking fleet. The ships had picked up some castaways: two Malazans and seven Tiste Andii, all of whom are now at Coops, where Banaschar is talking to Braven Tooth, who says the Empire is getting scared and paranoid and dangerous. He fills in the details of the castaways — marooned on Drift Avalii, a fight between Edur and Andii, Traveller. They left when Traveller told them to, then got shipwrecked on an island. Braven Tooth says Traveller sounds like someone familiar. He adds the Andii are led by Nimander, who is the first son of Anomander Rake — all of them are related to Rake, though by different mothers. Phaed’s mother, for instance, was Lady Envy. The news seems to shock Banaschar.

SCENE THIRTEEN

Foreigner looks at the Andii and is trying to come to a decision.

SCENE FOURTEEN

Cartheron Crust is aboard the Drowned Rat and anxious, partially due to the “malice” that seems to have infected the city, the pogrom against the Wickans, and “all that other stuff.” He looks at Mock’s Hold and fantasizes about killing Tayschrenn. Four silver-topped dromons are sighted coming into the harbor and Crust orders his first mate to get the crew back to the warehouses; he wants to be going soon, now that the Empress is arriving. Looking at the jade storm, he thinks he’d seen something similar once before that had resulted in “a mountain of otataral.” He wonders whom Laseen has brought with her.

 

Amanda’s Reaction to Chapter Twenty-One

Poor Sha’ik — on the one hand still the girl she was, wondering about why people would bow and scrape in her presence and smoking rustleaf, and on the other changing into someone new: “…and those needs — much to her surprise — were growing in count with every day that passed.”

Fat characters in fantasy are always done so badly. Either you have softened eunuchs, or fat jolly innkeepers, or various other stereotypes. I am so tired of fat people being seen negatively. I hope that Erikson steers clear of the tropes and doesn’t equate the new Sha’ik as fat = bad person. It would make me sigh.

I don’t know, someone who has voyeuristic tendencies always gives me the creeps (I’m sorry to any of the readers here who do have voyeuristic tendencies…) I have a feeling that those readers with healthy voyeuristic tendencies are probably decrying the fact that all voyeuristic representation in novels is ugly and ill-done! You often develop a dislike for any character who has these tendencies thanks to the way they are portrayed.

These few paragraphs showing Felisin’s new life make me so very sad and faintly disgusted. Why doesn’t she fight back more? Why does she seem so accepting?

A happy nod by Erikson to the fact that there are stories within stories occurring in this world: “A difficult journey, one worthy of its own epic, no doubt.”

Now this is a strange point — Felisin offers a life of excess, but no war, and is refused by those who wish to keep bearing armies and taking the fight to the Malazans. Which is the worse path of these, do you think? I have been disgusted by the life presented that Felisin is now living but equally I have hated the life of constant warfare faced by some of these characters. Both paths are equally flawed, I think.

I like this passage very much: “We dwelt in the Holy Desert Raraku, a desert now a sea. We fought as rebels, but the rebellion has ended. We believed. We believe no longer.” It is easy to see from this just how torn from their roots so many people have been during this story.

Does this say Crippled God to you? “A religion of the maimed and broken. A religion proffering salvation…you just have to die first.”

So easy Paran avoids a fight and gains “four thousand or so of this continent’s finest light cavalry…” It almost makes me think we’re reading the wrong series and there is ta’veren at work here.

Personally I like both Paran and Mathok for their weakness — for the fact that they are unable to destroy Sha’ik and her followers, even though it might well lead to greater bloodshed. It leaves you respecting their humanity.

Did we already know that Felisin was Malazan? [Bill: He’s referring to the original Sha’ik — Tavore and Paran’s sister.] I do apologise, because I suspect we very well did and it’s one of those crucial little details that I should be remembering. I do think that there will be regret over the fact that Hurlochel didn’t manage to tell Paran of this fact.

Sometimes Erikson takes my breath away with the sheer cruelty of his writing — do you think the following was hard for him to consider and write? Or did he laugh gleefully at the idea of putting this into written form? “One by one, mothers were forced to throw their babies and children into the roaring flames. Those women were then raped and, finally, beheaded. Husbands, brothers and fathers were made to watch. When they alone remained alive, they were systematically dismembered and left, armless and legless, to bleed out among bleating, blood-splashed sheep.” I am actually feeling physically sick — and I don’t honestly know how Ahlrada Ahn can bear to remain with these monsters.

Oh! Icarium is being taken into Drift Avalii, where dwells Traveller, protecting the Throne of Shadow. The Edur are certainly attacking various Thrones, aren’t they? But where has Traveller gone? “There was…someone…a man, but he too is hone. Some time past. He is the one I would have faced.” I guess he has left because of the destruction of the throne — who on earth managed to destroy a Throne?

Haha! I should have suspected Shadowthrone. I love that Icarium realises exactly what is going on and acknowledges Shadowthrone with the ghost of a smile and a nod. And I especially love the way ST says “Idiots!”

Ah, Shal-Morzinn again — and an indication of the devastation that will probably follow.

The Adjunct agrees bloody quickly to this rather audacious plan, doesn’t she? Not too many questions, a quiet command that Quick Ben will lend his power to the scheme. And how about that “…taxing, yes, but not so arduous as to leave you damaged…”

And note this too: “Just how many spirits and gods are pushing us around here?” Hood, Soliel, Poliel, the Crippled God, Shadowthrone, Cotillion, Ardata, Eres’al, Edgewalker, Togg and Fanderay — I’m sure there are more involved as well!

An intriguing conversation between Kalam and Quick Ben this time — what would happen if they decided they were against the Adjunct? Looks like they’re weighing in against Laseen and I can see why they’d be nervous about that fact.

Oh man! Giggling like crazy at this: “I said good news, Bottle. Like, we’re all about to drop off the world’s edge. Something like that.”

“Oh. Well,” he called out as the man slithered across the deck, “there’s seals!”

Back to Malaz City, where we get a hint of just how close to bursting the city is — and then we discover just where some of the defenders of Drift Avalii have ended up. A quick canter through the relations, where we learn that the son of Anomander Rake had sexy fun with Lady Envy — bet that went down well!

I like this reminder of who Traveller really is: “That one named Traveller, he’s the one that interests me…something familiar about him, the way ‘Slinger d’scribes ‘im, the way he fought — killing everything fast, wi’out breaking a sweat.” And again I ask, where has Traveller gone?

 

Bill’s Reaction to Chapter Twenty-One

I know what you mean Amanda about the cliché of the fat character. I think here though Erikson is using it as more a metaphor for the self-destructive hunger/insatiability, rather than the cheap and easy fat = villain. The line about how “apocalypse was announced in excess. The world ended in a glut . . .” seems spot on to me, in that it is our materialistic/consumer-driven/required accelerated growth culture that has such a deleterious effect on the world. Humanity does indeed “devour.”

In a general sense regarding the “fat” character, I do understand how in a pre-industrial world the fat character does serve as a shorthand for a person who is relatively indolent (not a lot of fat serfs for instance) and relatively wealthy (to afford a consistent diet of caloric food). I wonder if that translates so often into “fat = bad” because the “good guys” are usually the underdogs and thus neither rich nor powerful enough to be either indolent, well fed, or both.

Still on the fat note, one has to wonder as well as a reader I would think if Felisin is being “fattened up” in terms of a sacrifice — metaphorically if not literally. (Though in this world who knows?)

That inner monologue gives us the hope that Felisin will resist, at least until she is somehow saved if she doesn’t have the will to break free herself.

There’s a nice job of using physical detail to set the contrast between Mathok’s people and Felisin’s to prepare us for Mathok’s departure. After we get the description of the rustleaf and “silver tongs,” needs being met and “pleasures of the flesh,” of curtains and painted panels and “cushions of her own fat,” we get Mathok’s group described in these terms: “hard, weathered faces, the streaks of sweat through a layer of dust, the worn leather armour.” No surprise the scorn these people have for what they see around them.

So many loaded words in Mathok’s description of the City of the Fallen to Paran: poisoned, fallen, insatiable, plague.

Felisin’s new path and Mathok’s do both seem a bit the path of extremes as you say Amanda. Is there no middle ground between war, violence, privation and peace, utter indolence, debauchery? Seems a pretty wide ground between the two.

I was going to point to that same line, Amanda, from Mathok about how their lives have been turned totally upside down, no foundation left.

I like the symmetry between both Paran and Tavore (brother and sister) having armies handed to them (both will use them by the way). There is also an interesting broken symmetry. Tavore marched in and killed a Felisin who was Sha’ik. Paran turns aside from a Felisin who is Sha’ik.

It’s also of note that Paran seems to think the Crippled God may have created a monster here, one that will soon slip its, um, chain.

And thus by the forgetfulness of Hurlochel is Paran spared the knowledge (and perhaps Tavore as well) that his youngest sister was killed by his other sister.

That is indeed a brutal scene obviously. To be honest, it is so brutal, I have a hard time placing Tomad Sengar there. I can accept that a few of the warriors have turned sadists, even that they might intimidate the others into such atrocity (at least partaking in passive manner, though even this seems too measured and reasoned an atrocity to me), but while I could perhaps muddy my way through to some explanation for Tomad being involved in this, it’s a lot of work for me to do based on what we’ve seen of him earlier.

I like the little twist Erikson throws in here to keep us on our toes. Here we are assuming this is yet another attack on the First Throne, since that’s what’s been referenced so much recently, and it turns out to be an attack on the Throne of Shadow, which we’ve probably forgotten about by now.

I also like how Ahn is portrayed as the most insightful of all of them, seeing Icarium’s danger, Veed’s fear, the warlock’s ignorance. And deducing that Icarium is the reason the island is empty and thus wondering what the hell are we bringing with us? Insightful, but not insightful enough.

And while we have to cheer these guys not getting the throne, that sense of “victory” is more than tempered by how this loss ratchets up their anger, their desire for “slaughter” as they head out for the other throne, which we recall is guarded by Minala’s children, so many of whom have already paid such a horrible price. And there as well are Trull and Onrack. Will Ahn face Trull?

That’s a great moment between Icarium and Shadowthrone. And prepares us I’d say for a nice contrast for the Icarium we’ll soon see.

Yes, there are a lot of gods involved. Perhaps even “pushing.” But we’ve seen what happens when gods mess with mortals. And we’ve seen gods ally themselves with mortals. And some of those gods are quasi-mortal — Shadowthrone and especially Cotillion. So it isn’t quite so bad as it sounds.

One of the rare times Quick Ben says he doesn’t know something and it appears he really doesn’t, or at least, I believe him (can’t recall if this remains true or not).

Sorry, but I don’t remember — is this our first intimation of well, intimacy, between Tavore and T’amber?

I’m curious — it’s hard for me to separate myself as a rereader from first-time reaction quite often. In this scene, I really want Quick and Kalam to be on Tavore’s side, but I don’t know if I would feel that way not knowing what I know. So what is the response from first-time readers?

I don’t actually have much to say about these last two scenes. It’s mostly either recap or pretty basic exposition or set-up for what’s to come. In other words, pretty straightforward plot. Though that last line from Crust regarding otataral is intriguing.


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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