Malazan Reread of the Fallen

Malazan Reread of the Fallen: Blood and Bone, Chapter Fifteen (Part One)

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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 Fifteen (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 Fifteen (Part One)

SCENE ONE
As Saeng tries to deal with the pillar of power in the temple, the first Master, Shu-Jen, enters, but before he can do anything, Pon-lor kills him by stopping his heart. Pon-lor deals with three more who soon arrive, but then is faced by the remaining five Masters. The Prime Master, Surin, tells Pon-lor he’s done well, but the Masters are now aware of his special condition and can deal with him, adding that the condition is fatal, which Pon-lor already knew. Surin calls him foolish for trying to stop the ritual, saying Kallor must be destroyed, “at all costs. It is our sacred trust to do so… the purpose of our order.” Pon-lor though wonders if perhaps Kallor had just kept them contained and that was why they conspired against him. Surin tries to still Pon-lor’s heart, but as Pon-lor watches with his two eyes (each seeing something different), he notices that the light of the altar’s ray-burst was stronger than the Master’s ritual, and he can feel the pressure on his heart fade. Distracted, Surin is suddenly decapitated by Hanu and the other masters try to pull themselves free of the ritual that has escaped their control but they’re incinerated. Pon-lor sees Saeng sinking into the light, and it looks to him as if she is holding “an object of pure brilliance—the source of the argent.” Hanu reaches into the light, his armor melting away, and pulls Saeng out. He carries her outside with Pon-lor following, and a they exit they see a dark cloud over the top of the temple that was “black as soot [and] climbed enormously tall then its top swelled out into a great suspended circular crown of night.” They take cover just as something strikes the complex like “a great swatting hand came out of the west.” Trees and walls fall amidst huge clouds of dirt and dust. As Pon-lor watches, “the broken fragments of his mind finally drifted out of touch with one another… His memories, his awareness, his very identity became not only incoherent… but utterly blank . . until it smothers his identity and consciousness into complete nothingness and he wandered lost and unremembering within his own skull.”

SCENE TWO
Ardata appears with the same young woman as before, and K’azz goes to speak with her. The two head off alone into the jungle and the rest wait. Shimmer seems to notice that the light had shifted in the west and that “a new glow seemed to be diminishing the baleful emerald presence of the Visitor.” Her observation is interrupted by the appearance of Skinner’s group, who has them surrounded. As they get ready to fight they’re suddenly blinded by a powerful flash of light from the west. Lor hits the ground screaming and bleeding from the eyes, mouth and nose, moans that the Warrens were struck, then passes out. Mara is down too. As Shimmer is about to reach for her sword to take on Skinner, K’azz and Ardata appear. Shimmer tells skinner Ardata will kill him, but he motions to his armor and says “She cannot kill me—no on can.” Shimmer notices that nearly all the mages were unconscious or incapacitated. K’azz asks Ardata what happened, and Ardata replies, “A surprise. A great surprise. Something very strange and unexpected.” Shimmer asks if it was a “disruption in the warrens,” but Ardata says something “far more” than that—“an impact. But over now.” She turns her attention to Skinner, saying it was good to see him. Skinner tells K’azz it was foolish of him to come, but Ardata interrupts and tells him to be careful. When asked, K’azz says he and Ardata spoke of “responsibilities,” and Skinner replies he has his own, to his people, “to lead them to the most advantageous position I can gain for them.” In that vein, he asks K’azz to step down as commander of the Guard and let Skinner take his place, adding it doesn’t appear K’azz has much interest in any of it anyway from what he’s heard. Shimmer is depressed to think there’s actually some logic to Skinner’s request, as the Guard has no money but has taken no contracts, had sworn unending opposition to the Malazan Empire yet had retreated from all such opposition, and, she thinks, he has a point about K’azz’s seeming lack of interest in being commander.

K’azz though, apparently “remorseful”, says he can’t, that he and Skinner are “stuck with each other,” and he invites Skinner and his followers back to the Guard. Skinner says he’ll return all right, but with the condition he says, as he arms himself, that K’azz is dead. K’azz begs Skinner not to do this, but Skinner has contempt for K’azz’s apparently groveling for his own life. Ardata interrupts to say she has one “final request” of Skinner, saying he should “consider carefully before answering.” She asks him to reconsider her offer and stand at her side. Skinner says they’ve talked about this already, that “this place is not for me,” and he has no desire to stay there. Ardata repeats, “no wish” to herself, staring off a bit into the distant west, then finally comes to what “some decision she seemed to dread.” She tells Skinner if he goes, she has to take back her gift. Skinner says she herself had said nobody could do it, not even her, and she agrees that she’d said nobody could “take” it, but she can “ask that it return” to her. She gestures and Skinner’s black armor reveals itself to be made of hundreds of spiders that start to unlock their legs from each other and then dig into Skinner’s flesh even as he slaps at them and screams. As he falls to the ground, with the spiders “disappearing into him,” he reaches out a hand toward Ardata but she just looks on impassively. “Inhuman,” Shimmer recalls K’azz saying about Ardata, “Not human.” Skinner is reduced to a skeleton and then the spiders parade under Ardata’s robe and disappear.

Shimmer thinks, “Oh Skinner. I am so sorry. We all tried to warn you. Yet you would not be turned from your path. You betrayed everyone. . And in the end, so too were you.” K’azz says, “Perilous indeed are the gifts of Ardata,” and then Murk’s show up, with T’riss announcing their arrival by replying to K’azz, “As are all gifts of the Azathanai.” Ardata asks who she is, and when T’riss simply answers, “just a sorceress,” Ardata wonders how she wasn’t overcome by the disturbance like all the other mages. T’riss says she manages to protect herself just in time. Ardata asks if she knows T’riss, and T’riss replies possibly, even as Shimmer feels a sudden rise of power/energy and wonders if this is going to turn into a confrontation of some sort. When asked what she wants, T’riss says a lot, but first they should talk about Ardata’s daughter. When Ardata laughingly replies she has no daughter, T’riss says “That is a terrible thing to say.” Ardata responds angrily and the ground begins to tremble. K’azz signals retreat and as she moves backwards Shimmer bumps into the young woman who came with Ardata, but as she does so the girl appears for a moment,” as if she were an aged crone, her face disfigured, the flesh swollen, grey and pebbled, the eyes clouded to blind white staring orbs.” As she holds her steady, the girl (now back to looking that way) says to her, “It is you… The one I have seen so often. Even when I was a child. Why is that?” Shimmer is struck silent, thinking “Unmerciful gods! It is her. One and the same. The child, woman, crone. Oh, the fate that awaits you.” Shimmer tells her to be brave, and the girl startles in recognition, then nods.

T’riss motions the girl to her, and when Ardata says the girl is frightened by strangers, T’riss replies that “perhaps it is you who are frightened that others should see her.” Ardata calls up more power and yells indignantly, “Who are you? How dare you!” then sets the ground afire between her and T’riss. Ina jumps forward to pull the girl away from the flaming/melting earth, even as her own sandals, clothes, and hair catch fire. Shimmer watches as the soldiers throw a blanket over her to douse the flames, and thinks she sees the young girl weeping. T’riss tells Ardata that “It is time to let go,” and when Ardata yells again, “Who are you?” T’riss responds, “Looks closely, sister.” Ardata steps backwards, shocked, and T’riss says again, “Let it all go, sister.” Ardata though yells, No! and strikes with her power at T’riss, who is able to hold the thrust at bay while everyone else retreats/flees the fight. As they all run together, Shimmer sees a dome of power race toward them, “swallowing trees and ruins as it came.” The leap behind an earthen mound just before the power bursts and a huge pressure wave strikes them, knocking them to the ground and showering them with dust and branches and leaves and then “countless flower petals. They rained down over everyone in tears of crimson, purest white and orange and pink.” As she recovers, Shimmer muses over what just happened:

She could only guess that [Ardata] was somehow holding on to everything. The past, the present, the future. Grasping them all at once and not letting anything go. Not even discerning between them. And perhaps she could live like that, as one of these Elder Gods. But what of others? What of her daughter? If indeed the girl was her daughter—not that she had to be. She deserved a life regardless. Even if it would be a hard one.

She then watches as Black the Lesser and K’azz shake hands, signifying that the Guard was united once again, “As we should be. One company. One troop. One family?” She sleeps.

SCENES THREE & FOUR
Jatal wakes to drifting ash and a blasted landscape. Scarza jokes that “they missed! Us in any case.” Jatal says they have to look for Kallor, and Scarza says he guesses they’ll find him under a big rock. Jatal doesn’t remember much of what happened after a flash of light, not even the ensuing firestorm, though Scarza says it had been Jatal’s idea of running into the stream that had saved them both. Jatal looks up to see the Visitor still overhead and when he readies himself to move on, Scarza asks if he’s really in such a hurry to die. Jatal answers, “live or die, it matters not.” When Scarza assures him Kallor must be dead, Jatal says he’s positive he’s alive. They head out. As they walk, Jatal notices the trees have been flattened in the same direction, all coming from the southeast—the point of impact, and he assumes that’s where they’ll find Kallor. Scarza wonders what they’ll do then, saying he’d wanted to kill Kallor, but now he’s just tired of it all and only wants a drink. Jatal though merely thinks he’ll see Andanii soon, “Soon I shall give myself to you.”

 

Amanda’s Response

Surin says, ‘Do you know who is coming?’ I’m interested in who that might be. Is it Kallor, since he seems to have such ties with the people on this continent? Or do they mean the Crippled God, since the Visitor has obviously been mentioned a number of times through this novel?

I, like Bill, appreciate the visuals of this scene in the temple, but…umm…I’m really not that sure what Saeng is accomplishing here. It makes a point that, however pretty the writing is of something, if the reader isn’t sure what is happening in a scene, then the writer hasn’t quite done their job.

I felt sorry for the manner of Pon-lor’s end, and felt it echoed something like Alzheimer’s, with the way his mind dispersed and he lost himself, all the time while being aware that it was happening.

Bill says we’ll discuss the slim black cloud next time. That’s good, because I haven’t got a clue what it is, who is powering it, and what it is meant to be achieving!

I’m interested in when Shimmer sees Ardata again, with the young woman, and as she backs away towards camp, they seem to share some sort of recognition and awareness—any ideas about this?

It must be quite a sinister thing to normally be able to sense people coming upon you, especially those you were once so close to, and then have yourself surrounded in this fashion.

The Warrens being struck—I guess that links back to what is happening with Saeng? Or is something else having that effect?

I like that fact that Shimmer seems to be thinking many of the things that readers would be thinking about the Crimson Guard at the moment—what exactly is their purpose? Sure, they vowed themselves against the Malazans, but they seem to be more lost than anything else—on a continent that doesn’t really hold that many Malazans, and away from the crux of the happenings that do feature a huge amount of them.

What is it that K’azz is pleading for here, if not his life?

Okay, so we always knew there was something fishy about that armour, right? Since it stayed perfect despite what happened to everyone else’s? But what a horrible way to go. As someone who is rather terrified of our eight-legged friends (think Ron level of terror, from The Chamber of Secrets), this just seems like the worst way on earth to go to your death. Eaten by spiders.

Equally, for someone who has been built up all story, who was shown to be a hardass and took down a gigantic worm from the inside—well, this just seems to be rather anticlimactic. I’m not that satisfied with the way this part of the story has suddenly gone.

And then T’riss arrives, and my understanding goes even further south. Who is Ardata’s daughter, and why does Shimmer know her? What is Ardata protecting her from? I feel that a lot of my pleasure and enjoyment of this big showdown is being stripped away because I simply have too many questions about what is happening. I’m sure that some of it is my fault, thanks to my poor memory for details, but some of it is simply that these scene isn’t working as hard as it could be.

I think Shimmer’s thought about the Crimson Guard all being reunited is rather premature, surely? So Black the Lesser shakes K’azz’s hand, but what about the rest of them?

Death-wish Jatal is rapidly turning into Obsessed-Beyond-All-Measure Jatal, and is becoming of very limited appeal. I do hope there is some resolution to this soon.

So, frankly, feeling a little bit disappointed. This is all happening so quick, with very little explanation, and it almost feels as though this convergence is somehow disconnected from the story that has come before. After the slow build, and the various journeys through the jungle, this is too much, in some ways—all these lights, and explosions of power, and sudden characters being of huge importance when they haven’t even featured before. I hope the back half of chapter fifteen redeems it a little.

 

Bill’s Response

This is a nicely cinematic scene in the temple, with the blinding light, Saeng encased in the liquid “argent” power, the tendrils of light curling outward sizzling away the Masters, etc. I think though my favorite two moments of this scene are when Hanu thrusts his arm into the light unconcerned with what it will do to him (I’m not quite sure how his armor melts away but his arm is intact, unless Saeng protects him, though I’m unclear why she doesn’t protect his armor) and how as they flee the chamber Hanu is concerned enough about Saeng that he grabs a cloak for her.

I thought the passage describing the ending of Pon-Lor’s mind was wonderfully done and quite moving. And a nice craft technique with the parallel between the outer events and the inner mental events.

As for those outer events, I’m going to hold off discussing the storms/firestorms/impacts etc. until the end as we’ll get a little more info about them in the next few pages and it seems like it would be better to discuss what we know or don’t know once we have all the players described.

A nice few quick bits of foreshadowing in these next few pages:

  1. Shimmer thinking that hanging around might be dangerous for her commander as “Skinner might decide to eliminate him.” Which of course he does decide.
  2. And another when Gwynn tells Shimmer that Ardata’s powerful presence blinds the mages, which nicely explains how Skinner’s group can sneak up on the elite Guard.
  3. Shimmer whispering to Skinner that Ardata will kill him, which she does (though we should always add the caveat in this series that “killed” and “dead” don’t always mean what we think they mean).

A bit of mystery, with Ardata being surprised by the greater-than-a-disruption of the warrens, an “impact” as she calls it. Is she surprised by the impact? By Saeng’s intervention? Someone else?

I like how Shimmer reacts to Skinner’s proposal to K’azz, not with the anger one would expect (at his arrogance, his condescension, his betrayal) but in horror at her own realization that while his methods leave more than a little to be desired, Skinner actually has some valid points.

I do wish we had more of a sense of just why Ardata wants Skinner at her side, but I’ll talk more about this complaint in our wrap up I think, so I’ll just note it here and move on.

To that horrid death, even for a character one doesn’t like much. It’s a cool image—you can see that on the movie screen, drawn out over some agonizing seconds—those armor scales becomes not scales but spiders, etc. But what a way to go. And again, I like the unexpected reaction from Shimmer and her fellow Guard—not relief or “he deserved it” but anger at seeing one of their own—even one who had been dis-avowed—going down like this.

Did anyone else feel like they’d wandered into a Tolkien book with the “Perilous indeed are the gifts of Ardata” and “As are all gifts of the Azathanai”?

I’m going to say the same about Ardata’s daughter as I did about Ardata-Skinner, and also leave it there until the wrap up.

I love this “oh shit” moment as everyone in the area decides to hightail it out, the hell with who everyone is or who might not trust someone or who might be opposed to someone. It’s all just “time to go!” and a mad scramble, and “pick up those mages!” and one-armed half-burned woman scooping up the Three Faces of Eve and a big ‘ole ball of energy coming crackling after them. That reminded me of one of those classic repeated scenes in Star Trek where someone fires something at them and they have to back back back the ship up biting their fingernails that that big glowy thing on the screen will run out of power before it hits them.

I like the fall of petals in the aftermath, but could have done without the “tears of crimson” I think.

And I do like that reference to Ardata holding on to everything—to past, present, and future, etc. But this is such a big deal and we’re so near the end that again, I’m going to hold off for the wrap up to talk about it, since it seems to be so much at the core of much of the whole novel.

From one aftermath to another, as we shift to Jatal. I really do like Scarza quite a bit in this novel, and here you just wish Jatal would go along with him on the whole “let’s just get a drink” thing. Deathwish-Jatal, like Lovesick-Jatal and Jealous-Jatal is, I think, good in only brief exposure. And since we’re at the 95% point, clearly we’ll see the end of this version of him one way or the other pretty soon.

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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