Welcome back 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 Chapter Six (Part Two) of Ian Cameron Esslemont’s Blood and Bone.
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.
Blood and Bone Chapter Six (Part Two)
As they prepare to ride out, Jatal asks Andanii if she thinks it’s a good idea for both of them to be with the force, but she tells him it’s a great idea, forcing the families to accept both of them as commanders and giving them a joint force not beholden to family obligation. Jatal decides not to disabuse her of the notion it was all part of his master plan. He tells her of Warleader’s belief that so long as they don’t threaten the Thaumaturgs, the yakshakas won’t be an issue. She wonders how Warleader knows so much, something that hadn’t occurred to Jatal, and he thinks it’s probably a good idea to learn more about him. She suggests that’s probably smart preparation for the time when “we will no longer need him.” He wonders if she plans on double-crossing Warleader and is impressed and intimidated by her beauty, cunning, and ruthlessness. Warleader arrives and confirms (perhaps mockingly—Jatal is unsure) that Andanii and Jatal will command while he rides with his own troops. Jatal is annoyed, thinking it’s a silly arrangement since Warleader has the best intel. Jatal orders his second, Gorot, to send out scouts. They reach the main road in the middle of the night, and so far scouts have reported nothing—no armies, no barricades. While the soldiers take these reports as good news, they disturb Jatal and Andanii.
They reach the city, which seems nerve-wrackingly empty. Their scouts have seemingly disappeared, and Jatal eventually notices Warleader and his troops are no longer following. They finally come across a scout, who says the others have apparently gotten lost in the labyrinthine streets. He leads them to a walled compound, where Jatal kicks in a door. The ease of his doing so, and the apparent lack of preparation for attack, makes him even more uneasy, though he keeps this to himself thanks to his reputation as more scholar than warrior. In the compound they come across a room of Thaumaturg corpses lying in pools of blood. Andanii blames Warleader’s mercenaries, but Jatal doesn’t think so, puzzled by a set of barefoot footprints leading away. As they make plans to meet up with Kallor, a wounded yakshaka appears and fights with their soldiers even as more surround them. They make their way to a stairway heading down with a smell of rot coming out and a group heads down while others cover their retreat. In the tunnels underground they come across a dead yakshaka. They continue on, finding more corpses and lots of rooms, revealing to Jatal that the Thaumaturgs seems to live underground. They come to a large chamber filled with mummified bodies and corpses in “various states of dissection… [the room] a theatre for the systematic disassembling and deconstruction of the human body.” A Thaumaturg mage appears, blind and “smeared with gore.” Andanii pumps an arrow into him to no effect, and when the mage asks them what they’d give up to live forever, a guard decapitates him. Jatal and Andanii lead them away, and Jatal tells her he suspects all they’ve found is the work of the Shaduwam. They’re attacked by a yakshaka, which Andanii kills with a great bowshot. Entering another chamber they find lots of sarcophagi filled with decomposed people stew (sadly, no ladles apparently). One of the decomposing bodies, somehow still alive, raises a hand to Jatal as he looks in. He (Jatal, not the zombie-soup guy) loses consciousness.
He comes to and the others tell him he was stabbing the corpse. He tells them it wasn’t a corpse, but they don’t buy it. He calls out for the Shaduwam to show themselves, and Andanii tells him there’s no one there. But then one appears. Jatal tells them they’ve started a war by their acts, and when the Shaduwam says one has been going on for centuries, Jatal notes it’s between “brothers.” The Shaduwam agrees that “there is no antipathy so ferocious as between those closest in their philosophies or tenets. The narrower the disagreement of dogma, the wider the ocean of blood spilled.” Andanii says now the Thaumaturgs will come after them fully, and the Shaduwam says then they should strike first and eliminate them. Jatal hates it but realizes they have no choice. He tells the Shaduwam to take them to Warleader.
Warleader tells them he had no idea the Shaduwam were going to do what they did, but he agrees that the Thaumaturgs will retaliate. Andanii and Warleader agree their best choice is to press one while they have the advantage, move toward Anditi Pura. Jatal sees this as just another example of history repeating itself and considers attacking the city suicide. Warleader says the Shaduwam have some information that may change Jatal’s mind, and Jatal points out they could just be lying. Annoyed, Warleader agrees of course it has to be confirmed, but says that the Thaumaturgs are warring with Ardata, so this is a great time to strike. He goes to secure the area, leaving the council to them. Jatal argues against the idea, suggesting the Shaduwam will turn on them afterward, but Andanii thinks they’ll just go back to their hermit caves having satisfied their fanaticism. She asks what’s really bothering him and he can’t really name it, though in his thought it all has to do with his lack of trust of Warleader: “an eerie familiarity… That odd worshipful glance from the Agon priest to the man… his casual warming that he was aware of the alliance between [Jatal and Andanii].” She reassures him, saying so long as they stand together they’ll be fine, promising him that tonight they’ll be doing less “standing.” He is captured by her, though he knows his lust is dangerous.
I like the fact that Jatal is so clearly thinking about Andanii here as a political person first and a woman second when he asks if they should both go—this is nothing about it being ‘too dangerous’ or ‘a man’s job’, but instead a sharp analysis of how the future of their people would go if both of them were lost on a raid.
It really amuses me that Jatal curses, saying “By the Demon King Kell-Vor!” with little knowledge that he’s spent time in that dread personage’s company.
We’re presented with Jatal being an intelligent sort, so I both like it and don’t like it that Andanii seems one step ahead of him all the time with the questions she is considering. I like it because she is clearly intelligent enough to surpass him, but don’t like it because it seems inconsistent treatment of Jatal’s character.
If Jatal is a commander, why does he not simply command the Warleader to ride with them so that he can take advantage of the man’s knowledge?
I’m not sure I like how the rest of Jatal and Andanii’s forces are represented as being these hulking, brainless fighters. It’s quite lazy. Also, this whole section reads TRAP, and you wonder why Jatal and Andanii don’t at least pause to confer as to what might have caused the empty city.
There must be a sense of dread about whatever it was that damaged the Yakshaka so severely, considering two of Jatal’s own men are taken down so easily.
Another look at how repulsive the Thaumaturgs can be: “It was as if the surface was of no interest to them, or was used merely as sleight of hand to deceive and mislead. Their true vocation and interests lay beneath, hidden or shielded. And from what he’d seen so far, these practices struck him as detestable and obscene.”
This room with all the clinical representation of human body parts reminds me a little of this museum that I went to in Amsterdam. It was amazing, but perhaps this macabre desire to see how things work means we can sympathise a little with the Thaumaturgs. They are very close to modern society, it seems, in their attitudes to changing things.
The introduction of the Shaduwam comes a little out of nowhere. No mention of them before, no indication that some mad sect of priests exists and could be here.
Andanii is pretty badass actually. I like her.
Okay, this is properly grim, and I would hope no one in modern society does this! “The clutching clawed hands of bare tendon and bone. The skull fleshless where the bath had eaten all soft tissue but for a cap of scalp and hair. This poor creature had been alive!”
“For a moment Jatal felt as if he faced some hoary stern elder god out of legend.” Ho. Ho.
I actually don’t have a lot to say in this section because to me it doesn’t seem like a lot happens. For the first time in the novel I felt pace lagging a bit in this whole series of scenes of them entering the city, finding the bodies, etc. I know it’s supposed to be a slow build up of tension, of mystery (what is killing the Thaumaturgs?), and that’s certainly a tough tightrope to walk, but for me it tipped over a bit too much toward bogging down rather than building up. I did like that we see Jatal’s intelligence here, his awareness that things are going too easily, that people are acting weird, his sussing out about the Shaduwam, etc. but it seems we get maybe just a little too many of those, past the point where I got the point.
When the Shaduwam finally makes his appearance and we get some back and forth about the Shaduwam and the Thaumaturgs being two sects perhaps that split in a religious/philosophical decision, that becomes more engaging and interesting to me, and I actually wish it had gone on a bit longer, though it’s certainly hinted at that we’ll get more.
So again, for those that hadn’t figured out this was Kallor, we get a few more hints here, with Jatal thinking he looked like some “hoary stern elder god out of legend” and the description of his voice as “ash-dry.”
I do like Jatal’s belief that they’re just going down the same old brutal path of an eye for an eye just leaves everyone blind—“Escalation answering escalation until the only remaining option is annihilation. It was so pathetic and shortsighted. Couldn’t these two see the repeated insanity of it?” And of course, we know Kallor cannot; he “does not learn.” Will that continue to hold true? On a side note re Kallor, I’d love a momentary dip into his head as he is so clearly so painfully restraining himself by acting “nice” and “subservient” and being “open to criticism and second-guessing.” Oh, you know he is boiling inside.
I’ve mentioned several times how Esslemont does a nice job of keeping the reader on his/her toes with all these alliances/grudging alliances/temporary alliances/obviously lying through their teeth alliances. This uncertainty is nicely handled here as well: Are the Shaduwam and Kallor in league? Kallor and Andanii? Andanii and the Shaduwam? All three? And if so, will one turn on the other? Who can say at this point?
Ahh Jatal, will your, um, “sword” lead you into foolhardy danger?
After training and working as an accountant for over a decade, Amanda Rutter became an editor with Angry Robot, helping to sign books and authors for the Strange Chemistry imprint. Since leaving Angry Robot, she has been a freelance editor—through her own company AR Editorial Solutions, BubbleCow and Wise Ink—and a literary agent for Red Sofa Literary Agency. In her free time, she is a yarn fiend, knitting and crocheting a storm.
Bill Capossere writes short stories, essays and plays; does reviews for the LA Review of Books and Fantasy Literature, as well as for Tor.com; and works as an adjunct English instructor. In his non-writing and reading time, he plays ultimate Frisbee (though less often and more slowly than he used to) and disc golf.