Malazan Reread of the Fallen

Malazan Reread of the Fallen: Blood and Bone, Chapter Eight (Part Two)

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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 Eight (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 Eight (Part Two)

SCENE ONE
Hanu and Saeng’s progress is stopped by a river (none of her people can swim and Hanu would just sink). As they travel along its bank, she asks him if he’d ever had a girlfriend or wife, but he says they weren’t allowed: “Our loyalty is to be absolute.” He says though he’d already pledged his loyalty as her guardian and when she expresses her guilt over binding him, he tells her it came of watching the Nak-ta spirits all pledging their own loyalty and service to her—“I knew then that you were special.” He adds that’s how he knew she was “The Priestess of Light come again,” and when she rejects the idea, he explains how the Thaumaturgs had feared some “rising power.” They’re interrupted by the appearance of a gibbon-like creature who says Saeng should listen to Hanu, then adds he has come to give her a warning. He sends Hanu flying, then incapacitates Saeng. She begins to beg him to stop, and he scoffs, telling her she’s in the jungle—begging won’t help. He asks if Citravaghra had taught her nothing, and when she realizes he’s talking of the Night Hunter (the man-leopard being), she admits he’d said she had power. He forces her to use it, and she sends a blast of power at the creature, who is impressed but fails to satisfy Saeng with answers so she sends a series of powerful blasts, finally knocking down a massive tree. The creature, even more suitably impressed (and intimidated) tells her the seers among them, like the Thaumaturgs, senses something “terrifying” coming and that she might “play a part.” She asks the creature (Varakapi) what this terrible thing is, and he answers, “change.” Looking up, she spots a bridge in the distance, and the creature takes advantage of her distraction to disappear.

SCENE TWO
They reach the bridge after a laborious trek and decide to camp under it for the night. While Hanu forages for firewood, the dead, mostly young women, come to Saeng, asking her to help them. She tells them she cannot, and they leave as Hanu returns. Hanu senses the area is a “sad place,” and she informs him that it was a site of many voluntary and involuntary suicides, girls “pregnant or lovesick or just plain despairing.” As she talks on more and more dispiritedly, Hanu tells her not to torture herself, she can’t do anything about it, but she replies they think she can somehow. Eventually she sleeps while he keeps watch (he has no need to sleep thanks to his treatments).

SCENE THREE
In the morning they start to cross, only to be met by an old man in the middle of the bridge. Hanu draws his sword, telling Saeng he’s a Thaumaturgs. The old man admits it, but says he “fled them but could not escape them.” He asks them to follow, saying they get “so few visitors.” As he turns away, Hanu tells Saeng the man is mad, saying “It is one of the curses the Thaumaturgs level against any among their number who disagree, foment trouble, or desert the common orthodoxy.” She wonders why they don’t just kill them, and Hanu answers the examples of their biggest fear—no thought—serve as better deterrents. As he leads them on, babbling more than a little, winds set loose red and gold glowers, which he calls the “tears of Himatan,” saying Himatan “weeps for her children.” He leads them to a village on the other side of the bridge where they eat a banquet. When she asks the Thaumaturg what they call the Banner, he tells her it is “the coming judgment of the High King Kallor. This night it shall fall.” Saeng is suddenly struck dumb, and then she realizes why the food tasted like nothing: “All were ghosts. The people. The children. Even the village itself. Gone, long gone, Wiped from the earth.” She asks the old man why they don’t flee, and he replies there’s neither time nor a place to flee to. As for the banquet, he says it’s to celebrate the High King, under whom they had centuries of peace. She’s shocked they honor Kallor and he’s shocked she’s shocked. As a pillar of green light begins, she begs him to tell her how to avert it, but he answers he doesn’t know, “I can only say that you must not despair. What rises must fall only to rise again. What has gone shall come again. It is the way of the world.” She begs him from ore than mere homilies, and he says, “Those who reach for fire shall be destroyed by fire. For she is the Destroyer and the Creator and in her dance are we revealed.” There’s a roar like thunder and Saeng screams.

SCENE FOUR
Skinner’s group arrives back with the army. Skinner notes the army has moved less than he’d have expected, and when Petal says, “none will see daylight again,” Mara replies, “Well then… Things are proceeding nicely.” They head off to report to Golan.

SCENE FIVE
Golan upbraids them for their long absence, but when Skinner asks if they’ve had lots of battles, a clerk says Ardata’s attacks have greatly fallen off. Skinner says things are working as planned then, and they’re dismissed.

SCENE SIX
Skinner’s company meets by themselves. Shijel (the weaponmaster) says he thinks they’re wasting their time and Petal agrees, noting that Ardata’s attention is clearly not here and wondering therefore where it is, what has captured it. Skinner thinks that’s a decent point, and Petal expands on it, arguing perhaps they shouldn’t have let the shard of the Crippled God “wander willy-nilly through the jungle,” since if it falls into Ardata’s hands that could be problematical. Mara’s shocked she didn’t think of that, and Skinner admits he might have been a bit hasty. They decide they need to find the CG’s priest and end the meeting.

SCENE SEVEN
The fisherfolk of Tien, having learned long ago not to mess with the dolmens, never cease to marvel at how often foolish foreigners keep doing so, much to their own detriment and often deaths. Usually there’s lots of light and sound and clouds and they’ve returned now since the newest group of foreigners arrived and then fled. They send out “the weakest and least important of them” to check out what was happening, So Gall (“Lackwit”) heads out to the edge of the dolmens, where he thinks he hears a woman crying out in pain. Crawling closer he sees what looks like a bat or snake, a “naga” or lizard-snake. One of the standing stones falls and calm returns to the central ring, though it now feels scorching hot. He sees a naked woman with strange eyes that pierce right through him. She walks by (scorning his peed-in clothes that she otherwise might have taken), heading for Himatan. He returns to his people and tells them a great spirit had wandered from the forest, been trapped in the dolmens, and is now returning to Himatan. They call him a liar.

 

Amanda’s Response

Heh, getting the impression that Hanu just isn’t the most graceful of individuals: “…Hanu nearly pitched forward down the steep cliff of its shore in a repeat of his plunge into the sinkhole.”

As Bill says, I love the imagery of this jungle—all the looks at the birds, the flowers, the sounds, the atmosphere. It’s been a while since a location was brought to life so thoroughly for me by an author and it’s very impressive.

Haha, sometimes I read Bill’s commentary as I write mine, to see where we agree and whether there are any conflicting points of view about what we’ve read. So far we are in accord, since the segue from beautiful descriptions of locations into asking about his girlfriends (“yeah, so you got bae, innit?”) feels very incongruous.

Hmm, guess Hanu had more than just his tongue removed, by the sounds of this.

It strikes me that always, in these sorts of situations, the person who doesn’t seek power is the one who perhaps should be put in that position, which suggests greatness is going to be thrust upon Saeng. Especially when we then see just how much power is at Saeng’s disposal!

I concur that change is one of the most terrifying things imaginable. Also, when we’re given this picture of the jungle as a constant, with its peace and its ancient traditions, the idea of change really is given horrible meaning. Plus, we’ve seen the reactions of its denizens at invasion so far and the change that has already occurred, and it seems that their terror at change will have a resounding effect.

Also, considering how Ardata treats other magic users (or the effect she has on them—Sour being barely able to make a small spell happen), isn’t it interesting that Saeng maintains all her power and, in fact, is greeted by the wards of Ardata as someone who is going to play a part?

When Hanu draws his weapon on the mad Thaumaturg, I do wonder if he is being aggressive towards the environment he was created from, or whether he wants to bring peace to this soul who has been treated with the same cruelty that he has?

Heh, I think I would always be reluctant to take any gifts from natives—even crowns of flowers—because you just don’t know what it might signify. Honoured guests here, but perhaps a mark of a sacrifice elsewhere!

I think that this is an eminently sensible reaction, and that most characters in the Malazan series would do and say the same: “Saeng could only blink at the mage. ‘You… honour Kallor?’”

Ah, these Disavowed really love their allies, don’t they?

“None will see daylight again,” Petal affirmed.

“Well then,” Mara said, and she invited Skinner onward. “Things are proceeding nicely.”

So this armour that Ardata gave Skinner is the only thing that doesn’t rust in her jungle? Quelle surprise.

Again, we’re seeing Mara presented as less than intelligent and I don’t like it: “Mara started, surprised. Ye gods! Why didn’t I think of that?”

 

Bill’s Response

That’s a great image with Hanu and the birds: “They floated down to cover Hanu’s glittering armour in a layer of even more intense sapphire blue and creamy gold.” And I like as well how we’re never left to forget that we’re in the jungle; we get constant reminders via flora and fauna, visual and sounds and scents and temperature.

This is a nice moment between the two of them, but Saeng’s question about girlfriends seems to come a bit out of the blue (even the word seems odd).

I’m assuming that flash of “searing hot metal” she picks up from his thoughts is him being neutered. Anyone have a different reading?

I suppose Saeng could be the “rising power” the Thaumaturgs fear. But really, given what we’ve seen in this book, one certainly has one’s choice of suspects, wouldn’t you say? Saeng. Kallor returned. Celeste. Queen of Dreams. Spite. Heck, even Osserc is loitering in the background (though perhaps the “rising” part of “rising power” precludes those last three).

This feels like a bit of a Baloo/King Louie moment.

Is this a bit of foreshadowing: “I hope I fall as gracefully” (Saeng)?

I knew it wouldn’t (this is a re-read after all), but I’m still glad her knocking down the tree didn’t uncover the long-lost temple of light.

This was a sadly lovely scene with the young female dead and I found myself wishing Esslemont had lingered here a bit longer, let us really steep in the centuries-old grief, the sense of the same old story getting repeated again and again here.

Kallor sure did like his stone faces, didn’t he?

Yet another example of the willful cruelty of the Thaumaturgs, their harsh discipline of those that break from their orthodoxy, robbing them of that which is most important to them—their minds. Interestingly enough, we’ve seen some doubt creeping into some of the individual Thaumaturgs we’ve seen, some orthodoxy-cracking if not out and out breaking. Is this a reminder of that, a hint that one may fully break, or a foreshadowing of what might come to one who does, or a preparation for why they do not in the end fully break?

I like the many hints Esslemont offers up to us that this village is a ghostly artifact—Saeng’s sense of being unnerved at the first children’s appearance, their “outmoded” appearance, the lack of a path, the lack of certainty over the smells she “thought” she sensed, the villagers looking like characters from “some old story,” her disturbing sense that this meeting was “fated,” the lack of taste to the food., the banner overhead appearing “unaccountably intense.” It almost seems inevitable when we get the revelation.

Interesting to see a different take on Kallor. Kallor the peace-bringer. Hard to picture, no?

It’s been a little while since we’ve had a good reference to potential betrayal, so it’s good to be back amongst Skinner’s group. We have their obvious lack of fealty to their alleged allies the Thaumaturgs (doesn’t sound like it’s supposed to go well with them), but we also have Mara considering forging a bit of a clique in order to give her some influence in command decisions: “for Skinner’s own good, of course.” Of course.

We do get a good bit of attention paid now and then to Skinner’s armor. Hmmm.

Have to say, hadn’t expected Skinner to react so well to some implied criticism of his leadership. And I’m with Mara on the, why didn’t any of them think that letting Celeste (not that they know of “Celeste” per se) get together with Ardata might be a problem? Or at least a “complication”?

Apparently you just can’t keep a good woman (or whatever Spite is… ) down. You just knew she had to get back into play.

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.

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