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 Seven (Part One) 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 Seven (Part One)
Summary (plus Amanda’s commentary!)
Since I’m on the chapter summary today (you lucky, lucky people), I am going to do it a slightly different way and throw my comments in and around the summary. This is because I feel as though I end up inserting my own commentary anyway whenever I do this, and so it seems like I just say the same things twice. So, saving me time and saving your eyes from bleeding. *grins*
We follow Murk and Sour as their procession, including the piece of the Crippled God but not Celeste, continue through the jungle. Celeste is wandering off somewhere. This scene is all about scene setting: the constant frustrations for Murk, including Sour releasing every single damn branch in his face, the biting insects, the squelch of his feet within his rotting boots. The picture Esslemont draws of this is masterful—from the humidity, to the monkeys watching their procession (which does seem crazy, at this point). At the end of the scene, Burastan summons Murk and Sour to the captain (who isn’t a captain, of course, and is no one to salute to).
Yusen waits for Murk and Sour with the scout Sweetly, who shows that they don’t need to collect water anymore since he has found a bloody great river. What I like about this scene is the fact that the river is running not far from them, but the claustrophobic hush and humidity of the jungle has ensured that they didn’t even know it was there. I also love the abrupt view into a world of colour and light and breeze as the fronds are pulled back, before they are trapped back in the jungle.
We also see Sour using his magic, and being afraid of Ardata’s possible response to him putting out feelers into the water to see what’s what. Sour establishes that they shouldn’t cross the river—at least not right now—and he seems cross about something (what, I don’t know). While he is doing that, Murk uses the shadows to move south and discovers they are being watched. He also finds that the enchanted shadow forest is still where he expects his Realm to be.
They decide to head south, and Murk and Sour have an interesting conversation about how their relative magics work. Murk uses an older power, and still talks about Warrens and whatnot, while Sour responds: “No! This ain’t Shadow. It ain’t a Realm—or a shadow of a real one. […] Houses, Holds, Realms. All that hoary old stuff. That’s the past. It’s all about paths now. No pledges or pacts or none o’ that stuff. It’s a new world, my friend.” This provides a stark reminder to the reader that the Malazan world never stands still, and powers are always shifting and changing.
Murk is woken from sleep by Yusen, telling him that a patrol has gone missing. He and Barustan head out into the jungle (on the way having a chat about why she has such a problem with Murk and Sour). Once they get a certain distance, Murk steps into Shadow and sees a glimpse of a person/cat hybrid. He is pulled out of Shadow by Barustan, who points above them to the missing patrol—butchered and gutted.
I love this scene. It’s tense, and allows for that spine-chilling moment when Barustan and Murk look up slowly and see the hanging carcasses. I don’t love Sour gawping at Barustan’s appearance thanks to her doing the fantasy equivalent of a wet t-shirt competition. Sure, she has taken off her armour because it might rot and rust, but why do we need to have it brought to our attention?
The next morning Yusen stops his patrols. As they walk, Sour gets more and more agitated, and tells Murk they are surrounded. Just then, the column stops, and Yusen tells the two that there is a reception committee waiting for them. After a rather tense stand-off (where all I could think about was Reservoir Dogs), Sour starts the process by dropping his weapons. He is also the first to approach the strangers, and I find that curious, considering he is no leader at all. It almost feels like something in him connects with something in them. The leader of the strangers is called Oroth-en. When he is asked about a city, he tells them that the Ritual Centres are empty of people, that they fled into the jungle, which doesn’t please Yusen. Oroth-en then tells them they should flee Himatan. Yusen says he understands, but for now could they be spared some food.
I enjoyed the juxtaposition of these people who have developed to jungle life, who are dressed appropriately for the conditions, and the bedraggled Malazans/Red Swords, who have been forced to strip themselves of armour, etc.
Ina wakes as she realises the ship has been becalmed. She goes on deck to realise that they are in some kind of protective bubble, that the storm still rages all around them. Her mistress—the Queen of Dreams—is faced by two figures: the Deceiver and the patron of killers. (Yay, Shadowthrone! Yay, Cotillion!) Shadowthrone goes through his usual vague warnings and dialogue (vague to me, anyway—I think the Queen is talking about Ardata when she refers to the one she is going to meet). I’m not really sure, all told, what purpose this meeting has, or what the Queen is being warned about. Readers, help!
Dancer asks Shadowthrone what that was all about, what the warning was, and Shadowthrone replies that he just throws them out to confuse people (WELL, THANKS A LOT, SHADOWTHRONE—see above for relevant confusion from me). Apparently even Shadowthrone is vexed and confused by the Azathanai. And does that include the Queen of Dreams? Is she one of them? “So, what do you think that damned Azathanai meant—the throne?” He seems to be referring to the Queen here. Love Dancer’s response about her probably tossing that out just to confuse him. These two are ace together, even if I don’t understand half of what Shadowthrone talks about!
Slow down for a moment at this opening and just visualize Sour and Murk walking one behind the other, Murk getting slapped in the face by a branch let go by Sour. Then again. Then again. Then again. Love picturing this trek. And while I can’t say I love the image of Sour’s little pouch of thumb flesh, I do enjoy Murk’s response, Sour’s own reply (“You should see my feet”), and Murk’s description of Sour as “an escapee from a lich yard.”
Then it’s a, well, “nice” isn’t the word, but an effective turn to the darker side. The lost men, the hunger, the madness-inducing constant swarm of bugs, the maggot-ridden rations. I continue to enjoy the presentation of this rare sort of fantasy setting—the jungle.
Oh Sour, “ain’t the heat—it’s the humidity.” Ouch.
I always like these moments of discussion about the magic and warrens etc., even if they can sometimes be maddeningly uninformative. And I have to admit, “school of thought” or “set of disciplines” are not phrases I would have expected out of Sour’s mouth. Here I like how the discussion maintains a running theme, that of change: “Houses, Holds, Realms. All that hoary old stuff. That’s the past. It’s all about paths now. No pledges or pacts or none of that stuff. It’s a new world, my friend.” Note how Sour though doesn’t really answer Murk’s point about how there’s always a price, no matter the method.
Another nice moment of detail and setting, this patrol out into the night—the sense of enclosure, of not being able to see, the tension over the missing patrol (you knew this wasn’t going to end well for them), the references to all the jungle life. And layered over it, increasing the tension, the dialogue between Murk and Barustan, her dislike/contempt for Murk and Sour. Which raises again another reason I so like this series, because events don’t stop having an impact because they were a few hundred or thousand pages ago. Here we are, seeing a character’s feelings about the Empire and the Whirlwind (cast you mind back to how long, long ago in our reread we dealt with that plot point) have a direct impact in interaction/action.
The scene with a character feeling a “rain” of blood and then slowly looking up to find butchered bodies is a classic suspense/horror move, but it always works.
So who is it that the Queen is going to meet that would make other powers “shy away”? The destination being what it is, and those last few lines between her and Ina, seem to perhaps point to a meeting with Ardata.
Interesting phrasing by her after Shadowthrone leaves, that he has not so much “taken” Shadow as Shadow is amused by him and thus tolerates his presence. I also enjoy her almost fond way of talking of him—“I would not have him change.” A sort of wry fondness for a quirky if at times frustrating child.
I both love how Shadowthrone “just throws those [his pronouncements/warnings] out there just to ‘confuse’” them, how proud he is of that, how annoyed Dancer is with it, and how the Queen could basically care less. And Dancer’s carefully nonchalant response to Shadowthrone’s concern about what she meant about the throne: “Oh, I think she just tossed that off to confuse you.” I’m so looking forward to the prequel with these two.
An interesting conversation between them on the Azathanai—that Shadowthrone hopes to “be the last” that is “vexed” by them. The long-range plan to defang them, to remove them, to “usurp” them?
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.