Welcome to the Malazan Re-read 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 Three of The Bonehunters by Steven Erikson (TB).
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 forum thread has been set up for outright Malazan spoiler discussion.
Apsalar wonders why if Shadowthrone wanted Mebra dead because of the Nameless Ones or possibly the old Shadow cult. She thinks the last person on her list of targets will be the hardest, tries to convince herself to simply do it, then thinks maybe she’ll talk to someone nearby about how to walk away. Cotillion appears and they discuss Mebra, Telorast and Curdle, Edgewalker, her future, and her upcoming visit.
Telorast and Curdle fade at the sunrise, much to their dismay. Apsalar finds the Pardu women and Gral from the night before. Upon her return, Telorast and Curdle tell her someone was in her room, though their description is a bit confusing.
Apsalar and the two ghosts return to Mebra’s place. The Pardu women arrive, Apsalar incapacitates them, and learns their employer is Karpolan Demesand of the Trygalle Trade Guild. The Pardu woman says they are returning from Y’Ghatan and they were trying to purchase information from Mebra. Apsalar explains what happened then knocks her out. They find tablets hidden under a pavestone with Mebra’s notes.
Samar Dev and Karsa have gone out to Moraval Keep. Karsa says he’ll go in himself when nobody can say the last time they saw any Malazans in the Keep.
Karsa breaks open the huge, locked iron doors of the keep, stunning his witnesses.
Inside, Karsa finds a pit where something massive had been spiked down. He is attacked by a giant short-tailed lizard and they fight.
Outside, Samar Dev, Captain Inashan and others wonder at the noise within. Samar Dev tells them the Keep is ancient and had been filled with strange mechanisms.
Karsa kills the lizard.
Karsa appears outside, looking terrible. He tells them he didn’t see any Malazans and leaves.
Corabb and Leoman discuss their destination: Y’Ghatan. Leoman corrects Corabb’s mistaken believe that Dassem Ultor died there and tells him Dassem ascended and is Dessembrae, The Lord of Tragedy. He adds he is a “reluctant god” and is in constant flight and/or possibly eternally hunting. He asks Corabb if he will stand beside him no matter what he commands and Corabb says yes.
Fiddler talks magic with Bottle. They find Nil and Nether engaged in a ritual crossing through Hood’s Gate to look for Sormo E’nath and dead Wickans from the Chain of Dogs. Bottle senses something and jumps in the ritual and finds them being upbraided by their mother. Bult’s ghost appears and tells them “we do not belong here” then leaves.
Quick Ben, Kalam, Stormy and others have gotten lost in the Imperial Warren (or out of it). They’re being followed by something out of Chaos. They wait and see lots of massive things “filling the sky” and Quick says it’s time to go.
Amanda’s Reaction to Chapter Three
“Bones in the Wall” - Author Unknown. “And yet I remain, with all my kin...” Deliberate mystery at the start of Chapter Three!
Ha! I can just imagine Curdle taking on a chamber pot as her new body in error. Erikson likes to throw in these little clues: “You want something alive. Really alive, with legs that work. Or wings...”
I find it curious that Apsalar considers Cutter to be naive. I mean, I do as well, but I also think you can level the same charge at Apsalar herself. Sure she has some of the memories of Cotillion, but that doesn’t mean she has any true experience. Certainly when it comes to love and feelings she seems very naive. I can’t help thinking, in fact, that Cutter and Apsalar are incredibly well suited, if only they could realise it.
Hmm, now we find out that Apsalar’s task is to kill a succession of people listed by Shadowthrone and Cotillion, “with the final target the most challenging of all...” And someone she feels no enmity towards. I guess we should start wondering who that person is. Has Erikson already started dropping little clues and I’m just missing them?
I like this: “Still, what made a god decide to kill some lowly mortal? The minor irritation of a stone in a moccasin. The slap of a branch on a wooded trail.” We’ve seen a number of occasions now where a mortal has proved to be much, much more than gods expect them to be.
We’ve spoken about the odd relationship between Apsalar and Cotillion before — here there is more to fuel it: “She reached up with one hand and brushed the line of his jaw, the gesture close to a caress. She caught the sudden intake of his breath, the slight widening of his eyes, but he would not look at her.” This seems to have hints of romance about it.
I am glad that Cotillion feels remorse for what he did to Apsalar — it was a grotesque action and he continues to use her (although with her assent), but he clearly have intentions of leaving her in a better position. I feel so sorry for her.
Ooh! Who is it that Apsalar is going to drop in on? I’m sure I’ll find out very soon, but my curiosity is piqued now!
It is interesting that someone is spying on Apsalar and trying to find out about her while she does the same to other people. Obviously she has been noted. A big, black, hairy demon with fangs and claws wearing boots, hmm? No one immediately comes to mind with that description, although my memory could be failing me.
Just as an aside and a possible discussion point, even when given a description of what a person or creature looks like, I generally don’t keep a visual of them in my head. I tend to gloss over the description. I know some people read really visually and can see everything represented down to the last hair and blade of grass, but I struggle to do this. Which kind of reader are you?
Speaking of not being able to picture things, I’m struggling to understand what this shadowy aqueduct thing is and where it has come from! Were I Apsalar (and you can be damn sure I’m glad I’m not!) I would be asking more questions about where it’s come from and who provided it... Certainly Apsalar isn’t able to pin down Telorast or Curdle on it:
“What is this?”
“We don’t know.”
“It is from the Shadow Realm, isn’t it? It has to be. Otherwise I would be unable to see it.”
“Oh yes. We think. Don’t we, Telorast?”
“Absolutely. Or not.”
It sounds like they might be in a different fragment of Kurald Emurlahn (dear God, that is difficult to spell!), especially because they see some Tiste Edur. Oh, and who is the person dead in the canal? And are they dead in the real world or in the shadow realm? Am I reading too much into all of this? Except...mention of “a most delicious throne”... Curious. The Shadow Throne — the real one? Or another throne? (Especially because Telorast says: “You have lost your mind. Naught but pain. Suffering. Affliction...” Hey, if it’s affliction is there finally a warren/throne, etc for the Crippled God? I mean, he is in the deck of dragons now... Maybe he has an associated dragon!)
Telorast and Curdle aren’t very good at keeping up appearances, are they? “Women, like you. Like us, too. I forgot. Yes, we’re all women here...”
Apsalar is badass. Needs to be said. She takes down these two Pardu caravan guards effortlessly, and is utterly ruthless in extracting information. Nasty. And then there is the point where the Pardu guard thinks that Apsalar will kill her after she’s given over her info.
Ooh! The Trygalle Trade Guild make another appearance.
Apsalar is actually referred to here as Shadow Dancer — I guess this is some kind of master assassin?
So the opening poem mentioned Y’Ghatan and now we have links to it through the Trygalle Trade guild, and these mysterious altar stones. Who is building an altar? And to whom?
I think me we know the cousin of Torahaval pretty well: “Torahaval is a bitch, with nothing of the humour of her cousin, nor his deadliness.” One Quick Ben? And some of Apsalar’s targets are of the Cult of Rashan?
Taralack Veed is “the most secret dagger of the Nameless Ones”? And that was the same guy we saw briefly watch the “unleashing of some ancient, terrible demon”? We’re certainly getting drip fed information about him — which usually signifies them being of importance later in the novel!
Oooh, interesting! “Known now as Ghost Hands, and in those hands is the power to destroy us all. This entire world.” The jade statues??
This whole sequence involving Karsa getting into Moraval Keep is a joy to read, from the little Falah’d to the way Karsa insists to Samar Dev that his name is not Toblakai and then the way he breaks into the Keep single-handedly through iron doors. Fantastic. I love him!
But... I don’t love the fight between him and the demon. Occasionally Bill has talked about fights and whatnot that jar him out of the reading — well, this was my moment. The sheer amount of damage? The fact that the creature is so enormously destructive? I know Karsa took down the two Hounds and we know he is some sort of super human but it just seems too much.
There is really dark humour in the line: “He’s probably raping someone!” given what we know of Karsa and his history.
And I do love the scene as Karsa emerges from the keep, and his statement that this massive demon was nothing important.
This is simply stunning and I love the ideas therein: “They could be naught but celestial roads, the paths walked by the dragons of the deep, and Elder Gods and the blacksmiths with suns for eyes who hammered stars into life; and the worlds spinning round those stars were simply dross, cast-offs from the forges, pale and smudged, on which crawled creatures preening with conceit.”
A slug? With roe? *feels nauseous*
Teehee — we’ve already discussed the possible identity now of Dassem Ultor, and here we’re having a little re-emphasis of the matter:
“No, my friend, the First Sword did not die, and he lives still.”
“Then where is he?”
“Where doesn’t matter. You should ask: Who is he? Ask that, Corabb Bhilan Thenu’alas, and I will give you answer.”
How does Leoman know? And what does he know about Dassem Ultor’s ascension?
Smiles is really prejudiced against the Seti, isn’t she? It’s a little foul to read since it smacks of racism.
There are lots of little hints about Bottle starting - the fact he knows Leoman is heading for Y’Ghatan, possibly those lizards? Aha, yes, the lizards are used for spying. I remember from Memories of Ice.
So Bottle has the potential to draw on more warrens than Quick Ben? Is this because of the Eres’al? And where did Quick Ben get his power from? Dear Lord, it does get frustrating when we get back to the points where I am asking more questions during the reading than answering.
Another hint that the warrens are pretty unbalanced: “By warren? They shouldn’t be doing that, you know. Not now. Not here...”
Yep, those warrens are pretty messed up! Nice little cliffhanger there featuring Quick Ben and Kalam en route to Y’Ghatan — where are they now? And what chaos is in store for them. Oh, and I totally laughed at:
“The Fourteenth’s motto,” Stormy said, with a loud sigh.
“Which?” Gesler asked. “And then we leave or No heroic stands?”
“Take your pick.”
Bill’s Reaction to Chapter Three
Clearly the poem is clueing us in that Y’Ghatan is going to be of some importance and by the end of the chapter it seems the final battle between Leoman’s army and the Fourteenth will take place there. The sense of the buried past, the past that lives, is a constant theme in this series, so no surprise we see it mentioned here, but perhaps also not a coincidence that “bones” play such a role as well in this poem, considering our book’s title.
And from the tragic dignity of the poem to our resident comic relief — this cracks me up every time this discussion over the urn. And coming after our earlier introduction to these two, where we learned they were familiar with Starvald Demelain and where Telorast hissed in “reptilian fashion,” we should perhaps as Amanda says note Telorast’s desire for a body with wings.
A nice transition echo from the poem that opens to Apsalar’s view of the city: “crouched on the sun-baked clay . . . the city . . . like something dead in the night.”
I find her musings over Cutter’s naivety sad and a bit moving. Her use of his original name — Crokus — for one. The fact that he had been naïve and no longer is for another. And the way it also calls up the image of a naïve young girl on a road near her fishing town who is now a reluctant assassin who thinks herself unworthy of love. And then a few paragraphs later, equally sad is her attempt to force herself to be that assassin, uncaring and unthinking because it is what she is. And her dream of walking away into a new life.
I like the two mystery folks we get teased with in her thoughts: the final target and the one she might ask about walking away (we have met him before if you can recall someone near this city who had in fact made himself a new life by disappearing)
“You are so unsuited to be a god, Cotillion.” That has to be one of the nicest things anyone has said about him. And I think it is a great way to sum him up.
Okay, the Apsalar near-caress. Let’s have at it....
Have I mentioned before how much I love this character — Cotillion? His humanity, his compassion, his empathy. The sad way he reacts to that touch. His heavy remorse over what he has done to her. The way he can smile at the thought of her visiting an old friend.
“The east horizon was in flames with the rising of the sun.”
I also like how Apsalar is taking the initiative to find out what was going on with Mebra because Cotillion had been “shaken” by the news.
And again, you have to laugh at Telorast and Curdle’s response to the sun: “By the Abyss, there’s a sun in this world? Have they gone mad?”
I think you’re okay with where Apsalar is in the canal city. I think it’s another example of how Shadows overlay Shadows, how the warren is layered, almost like parallel dimensions sharing the same space-time.
Ruthless is right in the description of Apsalar, which is an interesting and somewhat jarring to the reader depiction coming after seeing her so sad and depressed and then so soft with Cotillion. Keeps us on our toes and reminds us these characters are multi-faceted.
Karpolan is one of the original founders of the Guild and therefore pretty high up, and, as we’ve seen in Deadhouse Gates, pretty good at what he does (he delivers the box of munitions to Fiddler at the end amidst all that madness).
There’s that city Y’Ghatan again.
And yes, those Guild rides are “hairy” indeed.
The Shadow Dance is part of the Shadow cult and yes, is connected to assassination. Think of Cotillion known as “Dancer.” Recall as well that Lostara is a Shadow Dancer.
You’re right on all points regarding Veed, Amanda.
Loved Karsa getting into the Keep. Loved the reactions outside though. Loved the exit scene. Not so much the fight itself, like Amanda, though I did enjoy one aspect of it — the very “Huge Barbarian”/Conan/Tarzan aspect of it. But let’s not go away without filing “short tail” reptile.
It’s rare I think that Erikson waxes so poetical as that description of the stars — wouldn’t mind if we had more of that throughout. This is just a beautiful passage.
Leoman’s knowledge of Dassem is certainly intriguing. It’s a bit slapsticky, but I did like the humor in Corabb’s ignorantly ironic “Blessed Dessembrae . . .” And the little throwaway “he wanders . . .” I have to admit I don’t recall if we know why or learn why Leoman knows this. Anyone?
Leoman is pretty ominous in his words I’d say. What does he have planned that makes him wonder if Corabb will follow his orders? What about those orders will seem like “madness”? What will make the Malazans “curse” the name of Y’Ghatan “for all time”? Why are his plans a “burden”? Why does he care if it is “past cursing season” with the olives?
- Leoman “the gaze seemingly fixed on the licking flames”
- Leoman “slowly nodded, eyes once more on the flames.”
- “The trail of fire.”
- “Our trail of fire.”
Another one of those nice Erikson transitions, from the fire of Leoman and Corabb to Koryk blowing on a fire, “inhaling a cloud of ashes.”
Neffarias Bred, if you recall, was an infantry “heavy” whose exploits were the thing of legend mentioned in House of Chains: “I heard he killed eighteen raiders all in one night . . . Killed fifty raiders they say . . .”
Yes, Bottle is being raised up in importance for us. His abilities aren’t wholly related to the Eres ‘al. As for Quick Ben’s power. Oh, the mysteries of that character are legion....
Love the humor in the Nil and Nether scene — the mother lich, the motherly nagging on getting married and having children, followed by Bult’s nagging on the same. Too funny. Though Bult’s words “We do not belong here” are a nice tease to the reader.
Love as well the humorous byplay amongst Quick, Kalam, Stormy et. al in the warren. And that is just a great, great ending to a chapter. What might they be looking at — a bunch of things that are “massive, towering, black” and move through the sky? That should sound a little familiar....
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.