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 ten 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.
Greymane enters Banith and meets with Admiral Swirl of the Blue Moranth to plan. Devaleth is shocked that they plan to invade Korel. When she asks what they plan to do with the Stormwall, Kyle tells her the Malazans may have to step in if they “break the power of the Korelri.” She warns him the Malazans will be stuck there forever if that happens. To their dismay, Greymane orders Rillish and Kyle to stay behind in Banith and hold Rool in case they are repulsed from Korel. Devaleth tells them she thinks Greymane just saved their lives.
Suth finds out his group is staying. He is unhappy.
Bakuen watches the Malazans preparing to leave and think how different they seem from the overlord Malazans, then reflects the 6th Army probably was once the same. As he wonders what’s happened with Ipshank, Hyuke enters and tells him there will be issues once the Malazan’s main host leaves with minor insurrection and retribution, with it all escalating. He suggests that “this Roolian general up in the hills” whom the militia and insurgents mostly answer to has offered to keep things under control so long as Bakune looks the other way while he is “recurring and resupplying.” Hyuke says the general is busy now consolidating his power, but he’s given his word. When Bakune asks for a name, Hyuke reveals it is Karien’el.
Hiam and Yeull meet, Yeull having brought more than ten thousand troops. After a rough start, they agree that ten thousand will protect the Wall while both sides will defend the shores should the Malazans attack (though Hiam thinks to himself that’s unlikely). Ussü asks permission to speak to the current Champion and Hiam agrees. Ussü wonders to himself if this could be the famed Bars of the Crimson Guard, and then ponders what he could do with such a one with regard to his magery. With Hiam gone, Yeull tells Ussü that the Moranth aren’t coming, saying they can’t be trusted, not if the other Moranth have allied with Greymane. He adds that the Lady has told him that Greymane will land here.
Hiam tells the grudgingly “OK, You were right” Quint that the Stormguard needs Yeull and his men to get to the end of the season, and then when they help him regain his place, he’ll owe them big (to the tune of ten thousand men a year for ten years). Hiam dismisses rumors of Greymane landing on Korel, adding “[Stonewielder] is only one man.”
The army of Reform arrives outside the walled city of Ring, which is caught in civil battle between Reformists and Loyalists. Nearby is the Jourilan Imperial Army camp, who have threatened to execute the Priestess tomorrow at dawn. Sister Gosh appears and tells Ivanr she’s been hiding from some unknown, “some betrayer I’m sure,” saying there are almost none of the Synod left. She warns him not to trust anyone but her, then adds in three days it will be the end “of one order and the possible beginning of another,” reminding him to remember his vow. She apologizes that she can’t do more in the battle—“I will be fighting my own”—and urges him to trust Martal.
Ivanr is woken by the sounds of construction through the night. In the morning he finds the camp has been encircled by walls built of planks and the massive mysterious carriages, now transformed into archer and ballista platforms. On the field, the imperials drag a woman—Iv; assumes the Priestess—to a huge pyre, but when the fire won’t catch, she is beheaded instead, the head put atop a pike and mounted in the field. Ivanr wonders what legends will be told of the day, and he thinks what a sad waste of a life it turned out to be for her. Horns call a charge and when Ivanr tells Martal she’s doing just what the Imperials want, she says she hopes they think so, then rides out. The Imperial cavalry charges but then, having outstripped their own archers, they suffer heavy losses themselves by Martal’s archers and ballistae. As the wounded Martal is being tended to, the cutter tells Ivanr he was surprised nothing happened at the death of the Priestess. Ivanr tells him no, “She was just a woman who carried a message. And that message hadn’t died.” The old man sees that was perhaps part of her message. When the cutter then asks about the battle, Ivanr, though he knows it was a mere draw, speaks confidently and the cutter tells him, “Now you’re talking like a leader.” Ivanr realizes he might just have to act like one too, depending on Martal’s wounds.
The Imperials attack again and Martal, despite being badly wounded, shows herself out on the field and leads the Reform army in countermeasures that surprise Ivanr in their effectiveness, though once the Imperials withdraw he doesn’t see how the Reform Army can take another day like this one. He goes to Martal’s tent and she tells him she must be seen tomorrow no matter what, then asks him to tell her old commander—Greymane—they she tried her best, and that she would have liked to have seen him again. The cutter orders everyone out and Ivanr once again speaks to the army confidently, though he has been shaken by Martal’s wounds and even more by her revelation, which leaves him to wonder about her motives.
In the middle of the night, unable to sleep, Ivanr speaks to an old man who tells him Martal is dead. The old man reveals himself to be a mage (Totsin), but when he attacks Ivanr, he is stunned by Ivanr’s magical protection. Sister Esa appears and attacks Totsin, but is overcome and taken by the Lady. Ivanr manages to wound Totsin a bit, and Totsin flees. Ivanr beheads poor Sister Esa.
Sister Gosh appears later in Ivanr’s tent and tells him she’d told Esa not to take on Totsin, that Totsin was too strong with the Lady. She adds that Ivanr has to keep the Army fighting, saying “You’re here to do more than defeat these Imperials… You have to show that these nobles can be stood up to.” She leaves, saying she’ll do what she can.
Having seen the Stormwall a little and what it means, this really is a thunderous declaration: “The Malazans may have to step into the Korelris’ place for a time.” And, considering in this chapter we later see the long plan of Hiam and co regarding their deal with Yeull, you can see well why Devaleth would say that they are likely to be trapped there in perpetuity.
With the fact that Kyle has rather loyally stayed with Greymane, it seems callous that he then says Kyle is to stay with Rillish—until you then read from Devaleth’s point of view that Greymane might well be doing this to keep them safe. It seems as though Greymane may be trying to leave Rillish where they can’t interact together, but it is odd that he then says Kyle should stay as well. Unless he doesn’t trust Rillish to the point where he thinks Kyle needs to keep an eye! Hmm, Esslemont has done well to make us think over what is going on.
I like this: “Kyle and Rillish shared a rueful glance, then she saw in their faces the realization: as High Mage, she would be accompanying Greymane.” This is poignant for me after Devaleth has basically outlined the fact that it is unlikely anyone will be coming back from this mission.
I found it a little incomprehensible how gutted Suth et al are about staying behind—right until I read the bit where Suth is distraught that he won’t be able to help his fellow soldiers. Quite a change from the Suth we first met.
This book is definitely looking at themes of invasion, foreigners, conquerors—what with the two Malazan armies, both of whom are invaders here, and the Stormriders, who are trying to push into Korel. I like how Bakune is being used by Esslemont as a form of examining the way that invaders can change over time as well. “It was all cautiously encouraging—but then, no doubt the Sixth had also been similarly professional. In the beginning.”
Heh—what must Bakune think to hear that Karien’el is now a general, and someone with whom he must possibly negotiate. It’s nice to see that Bakune is still trying to maintain his morals in this difficult situation: “Play both sides. How distasteful. Was he to betray his vows to uphold the laws of the land?”
Hmm, I wonder if we’re to read anything into the fact that Yeull is constantly feeling cold right now, despite the wall of heat emanating from within his tent? It doesn’t seem right. Is Ussu perhaps the cause? Or the Lady? Plus, he does seem pretty highly strung, where Ussu is forced to ease him back in his seat.
I really don’t like the idea of Ussu going to talk with Iron Bars, with the potential for what he might do. I hope Iron Bars kills him, I really do. (Yes, my dislike for this character still remains strong!)
Here again some rather prejudiced mention of foreigners: “Yes! The Moranth. Exactly! They cannot be trusted. They are foreign. You cannot trust these foreigners.” This may just be an example of Yeull being all odd and paranoid, but it is also echoing some of the thoughts other people have through this book.
With the whole Ivanr/Martal battle section of the chapter, I liked one bit and disliked one bit, in terms of the way it was written. I liked that the Priestess died—somehow I was expecting a last ditch rescue effort and it defied my expectations (although Ivanr does think: “The woman—the Priestess, Ivanr could only assume from this distance—was dragged out.” So perhaps it was a decoy Priestess?) I did not like that Ivanr is still questioning Martal’s methods and battle experience—after all, she has now shown herself to be pretty damn capable, and yet he’s still thinking that she is making errors and not seeing what he sees. This grates on me—especially (and I hate to say, but it’s true) because she is a woman and he is a man.
I do also like the way that Ivanr is so determined to not be the spiritual leader his force requires, and yet he keeps saying things that show he has the mettle for the job: “She was just a woman who carried a message. And that message hasn’t died, has it?”
Aannd to finish on a negative nelly note—I didn’t like the whole Sister Esa/Totsin/Sister Gosh scene. It just doesn’t read that well, and had me falling out of the narrative because I felt incredulous at events.
It’s interesting reading this opening scene and Devaleth’s fear in the real world geopolitical context—this idea of invasion leading to a responsibility that the invaders might find themselves unable to easily extract themselves from. Could the Malazans destabilize this land and leave it unable to defend itself against the Riders? If there is indifference there toward such a result, is it just indifference? Is it that they know something more about the Riders? Is it the dislike of the Lady? Or of the Stormguard’s methods?
So what is Greymane’s motive here in leaving Rillish and Kyle behind? Is it dislike/mistrust of Rillish? Is it looking out for them? Esslemont certainly keeps us guessing here.
Last chapter I mentioned how Suth was being presented as maturing before our very eyes, and quoted these lines: “he could hardly remember the brash youth who’d joined up so many months ago. Then his goal had been to challenge everyone he met… Now the last thing he wanted was to draw his sword in anger. He’d be happy if he saw no more action.” That maturation is shown again here in somewhat ironic fashion in that he is now angry that he isn’t (seemingly) going to see any action, since his group is being left in Banith. But he desires action not for action’s sake, but because he feels the need to be there for his fellow soldiers: “He no longer needed to clash swords to see who was stronger… he wanted to go to be there for everyone else—they’d all be needed for this ugly set-to.” Suth’s growth is one of the better aspects of the novel I think.
We see continued insight from Bakune as well, another character who has grown. Here we see his perceptiveness when it comes to the effect a long-term occupation can have on the occupiers, as he watches the Malazans leave: “I imagine this is what they [the Sixth] must have looked like then too: disciplined, hardened, the veterans of invasions on five continents. But after a few decades of occupation, now look at them…” This is the same insight into the Sixth we’ve seen from Ussü. Besides showing us Bakune’s perceptiveness, it also makes one wonder how the Sixth will fare when we see (if we see) a Malazan on Malazan battle.
Good old Karien’el. You just have to hope he and Bakune meet again, don’t you?
Here’s a little bite added to the rescue storyline with regard to the Crimson Guard. Up to this point, I’d argue there has been little suspense in that storyline. I think it unlikely any reader would worry that Bars will be taken by a Rider or killed by a Stormguard. But the idea that Ussü might get hold of him for his rites, now that has a lot more downside and edginess to it. Especially with what we’ve seen of the Lady with regard to these rites lately.
No Moranth. Not a good sign for the Sixth it would seem.
So Hiam is making plans for the next decade: “We will keep him [Yeull] here for ten thousand men a year for the next ten years.” Hmm, hands of those who think that long-range plan will happen? Anyone? You in the back? Oh, just scratching your head. Anyone?
This sort of arrogance also is rarely a good omen: “Let him cripple his forces in some disastrous attempt at a landing… It will be all that much easier to sweep them away come the spring.” Or this sort of dismissal: “He is only one man, Shool. One man cannot undo the wall.”
It would seem Sister Gosh doesn’t have a lot of choices with regard to who the betrayer among them might be. Not a lot of the Synod left, as she herself notes.
You’d think if for such a big symbolism moment the Jourilans might have executed the Priestess a bit closer so as to make it clear that’s who it actually was. As it is, our first description of it via Ivanr is a bit muddy, as he can only “assume” it is her. I do like the whole fire-not-lighting-have-to-use-the-sword aspect though.
I’ve not much to say about the battle. I think it’s all pretty clear and all, and I am more than sure that Esslemont knows much more than I about all this, but like the earlier one, I just have this nagging sense that it doesn’t quite hold right for me. But mine was obviously a minority opinion on the last one and probably is here as well. And in any case, it doesn’t do much to detract for me.
It doesn’t look good for Martal, does it? And her “I have to be seen!” line would seem a pretty clear bit of foreshadowing.
It’s too bad Sister Esa didn’t do a better job with Totsin, but it does seem to me that Ivanr was a bit slow in this one. And this did detract a bit more for me. It seems that leaping for your sword and slashing might have been better done when Totsin was engaged, as opposed to watching the two fight for at least some amount of time before actually trying to do anything.
So if Sister Gosh told Ivanr they’d likely not meet again, but they just did, and now she’s “even more sure” they won’t meet again, does that mean they’ll meet again in a few hours?
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.