Welcome to the Malazan Reread 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 first part of chapter six of Stonewielder.
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 spoiler thread has been set up for outright Malazan spoiler discussion.
Thanks to all for your patience; Amanda and I greatly appreciate it. I’m back this way now that the play madness is done (unless of course it ends up on Broadway where I hear the lights are brighter…). Amanda is still busy and so will either be adding her comments later or joining us in the next chapter. Thanks again!
Hiam and the Chosen fight the Riders, Hiam growing exhausted and feeling his age as he faces wave after wave. Eventually, the chosen beat the Riders off. Quint reports that the Wind Tower nearly fell but Marshall Real “called for the Lady’s Grace and was answered.” The two celebrate Real as a Holy Martyr. Quint also reports that their Champion (Bars) is doing OK and should have “another season” in him. Quint upbraids Hiam for fighting, but the two are interrupted by a message regarding an emissary from the Overlord of Fist (Yeull). Hiam leaves.
At the Great Tower, Hiam enters to meet Marshall Shool and the emissary, a Malazan named Lord Hurback. Hurback tells them they’ve heard reports that the Malazan invasion fleet was “broken” and had managed to land only a few “stray vessels” on the Skolati shores, news that Hiam thinks is the opposite of what he’s heard. Hurback hands over the message from Reull, a pledge of ten thousand men for the wall. Hiam knows he has to accept, but he worries as he asks what Yeull expects in return. Hurback calls it “the smallest of requests…” and fills him in.
Ivanr is met by Beneth, the old pilgrim who tells him the Priestess was taken and imprisoned, but before being taken she declared that Ivanr was her disciple and “true heir in the Path.” Ivanr refuses, telling them to find someone else to follow or better yet, not follow anyone, but the pilgrim says it’s too late.
As they march, Ivanr complains about the short bows, but Carr tells him these are peasants; they aren’t trained to use real ones. When Ivanr asks about the massive carriages, Carr says he has no idea what Martal plans for them.
As they continue to march for several days, Ivanr worries about the massing Jourilan cavalry always staying just ahead of the army. After a while, he confronts Martal about the plans for this problem and she mocks him for refusing to be part of command responsibilities but wanting to know plans. He accepts that he deserved that, then she tells him the cavalry is massing for an attack in anticipation of better terrain. She adds she, meanwhile, is waiting for rain.
After almost three weeks of imprisonment, Bakune is awakened by loud noises outside his cell. Bakune is rescued by the delicate and discrete efforts of Manask and Ipshank.
Blues, Shells, and Fingers continue traveling with the Sea-Folk. Shells is repulsed by the Sea-Folk’s habits/ways of life, but Lazar points out the wisdom of their methods, such as slathering themselves in animal fat to ward off cold and wet.
A Jasston warship (south of Remnant Isle) intercepts the Sea-Folk vessels, and Ena tells Shell they always stop them and steal, calling it “fees and taxes.” Shell and the rest of the Guard are angered when the warship impresses one of the Sea-Folk (probably for the Wall), but hold off. The Sea-Folk tell the Guard not to interfere and just wait. After a short while, the impressed boy arrives, having jumped off and swum back. The ships then come across what the Sea-Folk call The Ring, “A haunt of the Lady herself… A great circle ridge around a deep hole. Some say it is bottomless. And it is guarded.”
Leoman and Kiska exit the cave upon hearing strange sounds. They see a migration of gigantic insectoid creatures pulling huge boats on wheeled platforms. One of them, calling himself Least Branch, bends off to speak to Kiska and Leoman, telling them his people’s home was destroyed by a “Chaos Whorl.” He adds that his people are trying to find a new home, but also want to warn people and if they can, find the Guardian (Edgewalker). He invites them to join him, saying it’s “dangerous” around there, with the Hounds around.
Least Branch tells them they can find the Whorl by backtracking his people’s path, but he warns them “we sense behind it an unhinged intelligence.” He requests that Kiska asks Edgewalker why he did nothing for his people, why he did not intervene. Kiska promises.
The army of Rool has been assembled—the core of which is six thousand of the Malazan Sixth. They are led by Enesh-jer and advised by Ussu, while Borun commands his own Moranth troops. Ussu wonders where the Malazans are now, having landed ten days ago. The army reaches a significant bridge and Ussu asks Borun to blow it. Borun notes Yeull hadn’t ordered it blown, and Ussu says they can just blame the Malazans.
At the fortress guarding the bridge, Ussu finds that the Captain has been relieved of duty by a group of priests, led by Abbot Nerra. The Abbot greets the Envoy (chosen for his devotion to the Lady, not his military knowledge) plans to hold the fortress over Ussu’s objections. Borun tells Ussu the fortress will never hold and he and Ussu make contingency plans of withdrawal. And then they will use “that recourse of which [Ussu] spoke.” Ussu also asks for prisoners so he can do some scrying.
Suth’s group is overlooking the bridge and fortress. Len can’t believe the Sixth hasn’t blown the bridge; it’s such an obvious military move. Faro listens in on the officers and then tells the squad that the assault will come tomorrow night and that they need to keep the bridge up so Greymane can cross it with the main army. He also warns them there are Moranth with munitions with the Rool army.
Ussu meets with the Envoy and tells him his scrying has revealed the enemy is close and probably about to attack. He suggests withdrawing from the far shore, but the Envoy rejects his advice. When Ussu asks what has happened to Enesh-jer, whom he’d known as a young lt. in the Sixth, Enesh-jer reminds Ussu of how the Lady has destroyed all Ussu’s fellow mages, that her power is “paramount” in this land and the other upstart gods will lose, as will the Malazans. And even if the Malazans defeat the Roolian army, he says the Stormguard have never been defeated. When Ussu points out the Chosen only defend the Wall and will not involve themselves in the invasion, Enesh-jer calls him a fool.
Rillish thinks over the past few days’ march and the plans for the upcoming assault. He recalls how his forces have been split by flash floods and landslides, “as if the very land were battling them.” Greymane is a day and night of forced marching away and Rillish’s task is to hold until the army arrives.
Suth’s group has been charged with taking the bridge. Yana and her boyfriend fulfill their usual pre-battle ritual of making up (they’ll break up after the battle). Suth heads off with a woman to get un-tense.
There continues to be a sense of ominous foreboding surrounding Hiam, whether centering on the Wall, the Chosen, or him individually. We see it here with his almost being killed by a reader, his “calm acceptance [of] this was how it should end for him.” And we see it as well in his recognition of his age: “The spirit is willing but age has wrought its betrayal… to fall to so pedestrian an enemy—the snail’s crawl of the years.” This last one of Esslemont’s better lines, by the way I think. The dark future continues to intrude as he later thinks how much he will miss his men, that his biggest regret when the inevitable comes is that he “will share no more time with my brothers.”
And in case we think all this foreboding is focused merely on the body of Lord Protector Hiam, we get a quick little reminder that Master Engineer Stimins is still poking around the Wall. That’s very, very worried Stimins, btw.
I like the little detail of the Stormrider saluting the Chosen as the Riders retreat and Hiam cursing their “façade of honour and courtesy.” One wonders just how Hiam knows it is a “façade,” since he and his people have apparently never actually treated with the Riders or know anything about them. Maybe he shouldn’t be so quick to assume. Maybe a sense that the Riders could be, in fact, honorable and courteous might lead to a peace of sorts. I also like how we see this willful blindness to the ways of other cultures come up again in the way Shell scorns the ways of the Sea-Folk, while Lazar recognizes the wisdom in what they do.
And before we leave the Riders, another intriguing detail is the way one of them, after being stabbed, falls into water and “dissolves like ice rotting.” That’s a little interesting.
Lord Hurback is a nice symbol of how the Sixth has fallen, the way he dresses in rich furs, fills his finger with rings, and reacts with surprise that someone of such rank as the Lord Protector actually fights. It’ll be interesting to see if the Sixth can pull itself out of its apparent downward spiral and match Greymane’s force Malazan to Malazan.
It’s a nice bit of suspense, and well done too, the way the reader is teased with some big quid pro quo between Yeull and the Lord Protector. We know Yeull has offered 10, 000 men, a huge gift. Just what is going to be commensurate that Yeull will ask for in return? Even as a first-time reader I’m pretty sure I wasn’t buying the “smallest of requests” line Hurback feeds Hiam.
Speaking of setting up future events, just what might be set in motion with Ivanr being named the Priestess’ disciple and heir? And while he refuses, it is perhaps not coincidental that in this chapter we also see him at first refuse any command responsibility and then begin to take it on.
It’s a small little moment, but I like the realism of the short bow problem with this army. Too often in fantasy we come across characters with no weapons training pick up a sword or bow or sling and almost instinctively use it in near-expert fashion, not only not chopping off their own hands or shooting the guy in front of them, but laying waste to the enemy. I like this bit of realism here.
And more suspense—just what are those carriages going to be used for? And does it have to do with the rain Martal is hoping for? And while we’re there, Esslemont may as well throw us some continued suspense with regard to Martal himself, as Ivanr yet again tries to plumb the mystery of her background.
Oh, I do love me some Manask. The “delicate touch.” The “unparalleled skills in stealth and deception.” The way he “sneaks up” on unsuspecting guards and “spies out the way.” And oh, that hung head of Ipshank is so perfect. Can’t you just see it in your mind?
As I mentioned above, I really like this section with Shell and the Sea-Folk for the way we see an ugly side of Shell and a too-common experience of how a “civilized” culture looks down on the “closet barbarians.” And Lazar is the nice contrast to that blindness. We also see a nice touch of the same theme with how the “smart” folks, the civilized ones, think the Sea-Folk are committing suicide by jumping into the water when they’re actually escaping.
Think that Ring might come back around?
One of the many aspects of this series I like is the near-constant reminder that we’re only seeing a small bit of this universe and Least Branch and his people are a great example of this. I love the image of this migration, this whole new group of people, events happening elsewhere. And also the idea of Edgewalker as Guardian with some responsibilities that he is being to charged with shirking.
A Chaos Whorl. Well, that can’t be good. Clearly you can’t just drop a Whorl into a story like that, so obviously we’ll be exploring this further. And maybe that “unhinged intelligence” Least Branch thinks might lie behind it.
I have to say, Ussu at this point is one of the more intriguing characters. I like his so complexity at this stage—the way as a reader I recoil from his use of prisoners for scrying, but also feel for him with regard to his sense of how the Sixth is going downhill, his obvious intelligence, his opposition to the Lady, his relationship with Borun. I’m curious how others feel about him at this point.
More suspense—what is the “recourse” that Borun and Ussu have discussed?
I’ve mentioned how Kyle hasn’t done much for me so far, here or in earlier books. So when Rillish thinks how Kyle has “that certain something that made men and women willing to follow his orders,” and then recalls how “the troopers regarded him, the deference, the way their eyes tracked that weapon at his hip,” it feels a bit empty and a bit of a cheap shortcut to me. I’d rather get a dramatic sense of this rather than being told I’m supposed to accept this by a character.
Lots of teasing going on this chapter—I like how much suspense over a variety of issues we’ve been set up for. Now we just have to hope the suspense is worth the wait.