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, and finally comments from Tor.com readers. Today we’re continuing Ian Cameron Esslemont’s Assail, covering chapter two.
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.
Assail: Chapter Two
Silverfox thinks her entire life a series of failures. She muses on the Imass war with the Jaghut that “dissolved into irrelevance countless millennia ago”, save for here on Assail where “remained one last vestige of that conflict, a soul-wrenching legacy that threatened even her sympathies for these ancient people.” She walks the coast waiting to greet the T’lan Imass drawn here by “this lingering presence,” a place where they would find something “none of them had ever anticipated, nor even imagined.”
Silverfox recalls how Pran Chole has often come to her when she was feeling particularly low, worried perhaps that she might try to end her life. Or just to be company for her, which she considers ironic considering she is never alone thanks to the presence in her of Tattersail, Bellurdan, and Nightchill. As she waits, she thinks how her accelerated again was starting to overwhelm her life, as it had her mothers. She’s joined at the fire by Pran Chole and Lanas Tog of the Kerluhm T’lan imass, the one who had brought the message regarding war in Assail (MoI). Pran Chole tells her not to be so upset with Lanas, who only did “what she thought she had to do” to get them to Assail. Silverfox, though (and Tattersail) still “could not believe that there would be those who would put their ancient enmity first,” and she is horrified at the thought of “witness [ing] it all over again.” More Kerluhm arrive on land, led by Othut K’ho, and Silverfox commands them that the war is over and she will release them all. But K’ho instead turns to Pran Chole and asks if he’s sensing what he thinks he is. Pran Chole says yes, adding that the Kron “name them beyond the boundary of the Ritual.” As Silverfox feared and expected, Othut replies the Kerluhm do not, and then the Kron and Kerluhm are fighting, with the Kerluhm eventually fleeing and the Kron in pursuit. Silverfox though worries about what will happen as the Kron numbers continue to shrink in these fights, and when Pron tells her she won’t be harmed even if their numbers shrink, she yells that she isn’t concerned about her safety but about the thousands in the north whom the Imass would murder. Pron replies that Omtose Phellack still protects them in the north, but she says they both know it is weakening. To that Pran Chole has no answer.
Fisher Kel Tath has returned to Assail thanks to hints from Deck readings and his own feeling that Assail was about to change, though on his arrival he finds the Bone Peninsula just as it was when he’d left ages ago: “Insular, murderous, and savage.” Despite the divining abilities of the Deck, however, Fisher was caught off guard by news of the gold strike. Sitting in a tavern, he overhears one set of commanders making plans for an alliance: Marshall Teal of Lether, Engulf the Broad from Genabackis, and a Malazan aristocrat—Malle of Gris. A boy shows up and tells Fisher that a foreigner washed ashore, a “strange one” the boy says, which explains why the boy’s father didn’t just kill the foreigner as usual. As he leads Fisher to the stranger, he tells him that Countess Iren’s soldiers have closed the roads around the inn. They run into one of the soldiers who wants to arrest Fisher for being a foreigner, but Fisher bribes his way through. Fisher is surprised to find that the unconscious stranger is a Tiste Andii, tall with long black hair streaked with white.
The boy tells Fisher the Andii was covered in ice, adding there was no shipwreck that night. Seeing the Andi’s hair, Fisher is shocked to think this might be, well, another Andii who had silver hair. And a sword. And a certain je ne sais quoi. But then he thinks it can’t be. As Fisher carries the Andii away, a fight breaks out and magic is employed (Serc and Telas). The allied group runs by retreating from the Countess’s soldiers.
Fisher joins the gold seekers later, dragging the still-unconscious Andii with him. He asks Malle why she’s come on this trip, and she replies she’s here to get capital for her family to regain its former glory/power. When asked the same question, Fisher says he wants to see how it all turns out, plus he likes gold. Fisher thinks there’s probably more to Malle’s reason than she lets on, musing perhaps she’s here to aim not for monetary power but “raw power itself”, as rumored exists on Assail. As Malle moves off with her fellow Malazans, Fisher recognizes Holden of Cawn, a Serc mage, and, Fisher recalls, a Claw. Holden, who also recognizes Fisher, tells him he’s retired. They continue on as Fisher worries the Andii may never regain consciousness.
Shimmer is surprised how easily her plans all come together. She plans to take with her: Black the Lesser, Black the Elder, Petal, Gwynn, Blues, and Cowl. She keeps trying to contact K’azz but to no avail. The night before they leave Petal offers to watch for her, and Shimmer recalls hearing he and Mara were having relationship issues.
Gwynn tells her they don’t have enough of, well, everything, but she says they’ll just have to make do. The Avowed have gathered en mass to see them off. They head off, with old Havvin as their pilot. Cowl tells her K’azz is not coming, he’s “hiding… from the truth… that we are cursed and he is responsible.” She asks what he means (knowing it has something to do with the Vow), but he tells her he refuses to do K’azz’s job for him. She waits all day for K’azz to show himself, but he doesn’t.
After a few days’ sail, they reach Fort Recluse and Blues and his group of Avowed. Then they pass a bonfire and after some issue with the ship’s crew and captain about investigating it (the shore is quite dangerous). They use the launch and bring K’azz on board, who seems disappointed they’re leaving for Assail, though he says he should have known Shimmer would call his bluff. Thinking of the name of the spot he’d met them—The Doomed Soldiers—and worrying it might be a bad omen, she prays to Burn to turn aside any doom, saying she will offer up her long-held dream of the future.
Kyle works as their ship sails toward Assail, spending much of his time with Tulan’s nephew Reuth, who was somewhat scorned by the crew for his lake of seamanship. Noticing Reuth seeming troubled, Kyle assumes it’s the crew’s mockery, but Reuth says no, it’s Kyle himself, finally working up to asking if Kyle is indeed Whiteblade. When Kyle is noncommittal, Reuth warns him if he is, there are those aboard who would kill him. Kyle replies he’ll be careful, but also says perhaps Reuth should not spend so much time with him. Reuth leaves and Kyle notices a group of ex-Stormguard standing with Storval, and he thinks Reuth was right about his warning, thinking accidents aboard ships are pretty easy to stage.
Esslemont does a nice bit of economical reminder work on with Silverfox early on here. It has after all been a while since we’ve seen her. Or even really heard much about her. So it’s a good idea and concisely done that we get a quick little zip through her backstory—Summoner, dead Rhivi mother, fast-aging, Whiskeyjack’s death, the trio of souls (Tattersail, Bullurdan, Nightchill). Some authors could learn something from the economy displayed here.
I like the cliffhanger close to this first section, leaving us to wonder just what this mysterious presence is that lies beyond the imagination of the Imass (though I confess I wonder just how imaginative they are… ). And how we’re kept guessing with vague references to thousands in the north, and the obvious implication that those thousands are Jaghut related in some sense at least, thanks to the reaction of the Imass and the reference to Omtose Phellack. This sort of waiting game is always a fine line, but so far it’s nicely done (and not overdone).
The scene on the beach is set up well by the negative thinking of Silverfox prior to it and the ominous imagery: “”the water, dark and webbed beneath the chill stars,” “darker shapes emerging from the trough,” “ravaged skulls,” “jagged stone tips of spears.”
It’s also a nice job of adding some built-in tension with ticking clock of the Kron’s fading numbers, implying that their protection won’t last much longer. And then we get another ticking clock via the fading of Omtose. Both of which add up to a greater sense of urgency.
Always good to see old characters in these books, so nice to see Fisher. And I enjoyed the small bit of humor that with all the divination going on—the Deck, the prophets (“noted” ones even), and of course “a certain priestess of the Queen of Dreams,”—he somehow missed the big news about the gold rush.
I do love the names of these places: The sea of Dread, the Anguish Coast, Destruction Bay, etc. As Enguf says, “hardly encouraging, that.” Esslemont must have had some fun brainstorming these.
As for the mysterious Andii, well, it’s obvious what we’re meant to think here is at least a possibility, so we can open to comments at this point, but I’m sure we’ll have a lot more to say about him as we go on. Perhaps we can start keeping track of clues/hints. Such as the silver hair.
More mystery—what is Malle here for? And is Holden truly retired? Both of these, with their questionable motivations, make for even more added tension to this early part of the novel, setting us up each time we see them to wonder about them
And I’d say Fisher’s worry about the Andii never waking up adds even more suspense, but does anyone really think this character is not going to wake? Didn’t think so.
And the mystery keeps coming via the questions about the Vow. I won’t belabor the point, but I think I’ve made my position clear that I think this particular mystery has been dragged on a bit too long for my liking. That said, I do like the little playfulness at the end of the scene when they pick up K’azz (which is also dragged out too long I’d argue) where Shimmer makes yet another vow, albeit a lower-case one this time.
I also enjoyed the quick little characterization scenes with a few of the lesser (in terms of page time/importance) CG—the quiet moment with Petal, who seems a nice schlump, and the supply scene with obsessively gloomy Gwynn
I suppose the ending scene of the chapter also adds some suspense with the hostility toward Kyle. But as with the Andii, I’m sure nobody thinks he’s going to buy it on this ship (though I guess suspense still applies just to a possible attack). And it’s Kyle. So there’s that (in my admittedly biased view).
I was tremendously glad to have some sort of recap as to Silverfox and where she came from, because that is way too many loooooong books ago. What I enjoyed, personally, was that the recap brought it back to life for me (and made me want to read Memories of Ice a great deal again—although I’m unsure how it would affect me, reading some of the characters featured and knowing where their future lies.
There is some rather heavy foreshadowing here that makes me irritated rather than intrigued: ‘a soul-wrenching legacy that threatened even her sympathies for these ancient people’ and ‘something none of them had ever anticipated, nor even imagined.’ To have one of these would be problematic—to have both following after each other across two paragraphs is too heavy handed.
We’re shown the fact that three huge characters were brought together within Silverfox to make her Summoner, so the dichotomy of that against her utter helplessness against those she is meant to be working with is done well.
In fact, Silverfox is all dichotomy. Consider, for example, the fact that she is destroying lives (her mother’s, her own) when she was brought into being to heal lives that have spent too long in senseless war. Consider the fact she is a youth (albeit one rapidly aging) who is dealing with the long-aged.
Ah, Fisher—it is so good to see old faces in this novel, especially those we haven’t seen in a great long while. Bill, I smiled as well at the idea that he had tried to work out the future through the paying of noted prophets, and nothing was mentioned about the gold rush.
Assail really does not wish to welcome outsiders, does it? What with the Sea of Dread, the Anguish Coast, the Demon Narrows, Destruction Bay. Nothing in those names say ‘come and visit, be welcome!’
Neither Malle nor Enguf read the contract they enter with Teal—probably nothing, but could be something. I only mention because I shudder at the idea of signing without reading.
Is Malle the Countess? [Bill: No—two different characters, the former foreign the latter native] Wasn’t completely clear to me.
A Tiste Andii! A mysterious Tiste Andii! And one that was covered in ice when discovered, despite the surroundings having no ice. A Jaghut link? It feels as though this is supposed to be picked up because of the emphasis: “Andii—with streaks of silver!” but it doesn’t help me work out who it might be. Fisher’s thought: “Could this be… him?” Which Tiste Andii have we encountered before with streaks of silver in their hair?
This quote doesn’t bode well: “He wasn’t surprised that these Lether soldiers and Genabackans had found the locals tougher to handle than they’d anticipated.”
I’m not sure I really got the subtlety here: “Singer, I am not of Gris. I am Gris.”
Okay, personally I didn’t get why we had the long-drawn-out ‘is K’azz coming or not?’ storyline. Yes, it’s fine to create tension, but since he almost immediately came on board ship after they left, it seemed daft to carry that one as long as it happened. Especially because we had that rather indulgent scene with the ship’s crew and the way that no one is willing to take responsibility for investigating the fire.
I do like the way Esslemont firmly draws the comparison between Shimmer (exchanging greetings, hugs, shaking hands) as she goes on board and leaves, and then K’azz (slinking on board amid little celebration).
You know, Kyle actually becomes more likeable when he has less knowledgeable characters to interact with, and teach. He seems a decent sort here. Although he probably is going to end up going over the side of the ship.
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.