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 Two 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.
Ammanas, Pust, and Cotillion meet in Shadow. After some silence, broken by Pusts “inner” thoughts, Shadowthrone tells Pust he’ll have to do and dismisses him. Cotillion comments on how insubstantial Ammanas looks. Shadowthrone asks if Cotillion thinks Pust will arrive in time and be sufficient and Cotillion says no to both. Shadowthrone disappears and Cotilion walks through Shadow, thinking of how much it changes and worrying if Shadowthrone is overextended, or if he himself is. He is joined by Edgewalker, who tells him the Hounds, like Edgewalker, see paths in Shadow Cotillion does not. He adds he’s come to listen to Cotillion’s forthcoming conversation and when Cotillion bridles reassures him that he is not (yet) Cotillion’s enemy. They enter a ring of standing stones where three dragons are chained. Edgewalker says his experience is what allowed him to conclude Cotillion would speak to the dragons of freeing them. Cotillion figures out Edgewalker wants to know what Cotillion knows and bargains to speak to them if Edgwalker tells Cotilion some information. Edgewalker gives him only the dragons’ names and says their crime was ambition. Cotillion tells the dragons a war is coming and wants to know which side they’ll fight on if freed. They give him some information about Shadow, dragons, the Crippled God. When Cotillion leaves, Edgewalker admits he underestimated Cotillion and offers possible assistance as an “elemental force.”
Mappo has been turning over stones and finding the fossilized bones of Jaghut children beneath them as Icarium wades on the Raraku Sea. Exiting the water, Icarium tells Mappo he thinks he is close to finding the truth. Mappo tells Icarium the cities he recalls are all gone but one, long dead due to natural and mortal-made changes, though new ones have sprung up. Icarium recalls doing something in the city of Trebur and they decide to head to its ruin, with Mappo thinking they did this 80 years ago and fearing that unlike then, Icarium will now remember what happened there.
Cutter’s group (Scillara, Felisin Younger, Greyfrog, Heboric)are encamped in the desert on their way to the coast to take passage to Otataral Island. Greyfrog tells Cutter he has yet to hear from L’oric and is troubled by that. Cutter goes to find Heboric and tells Greyfrog to guard the women as he worries about the riders they recently passed. Heboric tells Cutter he still sees the ghosts of the land, but only those who fall in battle. They had back to camp.
Scillara wonders why she is the only one Greyfrog doesn’t speak to telepathically. She bemoans the annoyances of pregnancy and wonders what she’ll do with a child. The riders from earlier show up armed and Scillara tells them to leave Felisin alone and she’ll do what they want. Greyfrog kills them all quickly and violently, horrifying Felisin.
Cutter and Heboric arrive and figure out what just occurred though Greyfrog at first tries to pretend nothing happened.
Smiles and Koryk spar in camp and Smiles eventually stabs his leg — representative of the misery and tension in the Fourteenth as they chase Leoman’s army. Bottle has notes lots of messages back and forth between Dujek and Tavore but doesn’t want to get too nosy, worried Quick Ben will sniff him out. Cuttle arrives. Bottle heads out for a walk.
Fiddler and Kalam are off a ways, Kalam thinking of the bad news re the Bridgeburners and the oddity of their ascension, partly pleased and partly uneasy over it. Fiddler tells Kalam bad things are coming and the two discuss Pearl and Lostara, the Empress, Tavore. Quick Ben arrives via the Imperial Warren from a meeting with Tavore and says he can’t figure her. He adds someone was spying and that Tavore has plans for Kalam. The discuss how shaky the army is and worry over Cuttle’s attitude. They’re joined by Tayschrenn and Dujek and two bodyguards (Kiska and Hattar). Quick Ben tells his friends their earlier suspicions of Tayschrenn were misplaced, though he and Tayschrenn spar verbally a bit until Dujek calls an end to it.
Pearl and Lostara are spying on the meeting. Lostara leaves and Pearl thinks they are made for each other.
Amanda’s Reaction to Chapter Two
Well, I’ve never quite heard it put like that before — but I quite fancy being a tyrant!
Oh my, I know that some of you dislike Iskaral Pust, but I loved meeting him here again. That way he has, of speaking every single thought that goes through his head, really tickles me.
I’m intrigued by the way that Shadowthrone is described initially: “Insubstantial, fading in and out of sight, smoky and wisp-threaded, Ammanas fidgeted on the ancient Throne of Shadow.” First off, it doesn’t seem as though Cotillion is similarly afflicted. It’s also interesting that he is called Ammanas rather than Shadowthrone (although that could be the sentence structure). Finally, he is fidgeting on the throne — is it not comfortable for him?
This really make me laugh! “My lord? Flick eyes away! This god is insane. I serve an insane god! What kind of expression does that warrant?”
Hmm, one of the rare occasions we see Ammanas and Cotillion conversing together — does it seem as though they’re not quite pulling in the same direction?
So this jumped out at me, concerning the plans of Ammanas and Cotillion: “So be it. After all, we have done this before. And succeeded.” Now, one of the things that they were successful at was entering the Azath and ascending to the Throne of Shadow. So what are they planning to do now?
And I think that this might indicate that the Shadow Throne is not in the hands of its rightful owner: “So much in this realm had lost its rightful...place. Confusion triggered a seething tumult in pockets where shadows gathered.”
Hmm, if it were me I reckon that I would have made more of an effort to become mates with Edgewalker...
Here’s something we’ve seen touched on before (as well as the shoreline): “Standing stones are always half-buried, Cotillion. And the makers were rarely ignorant of the significance of that. Overworld and underworld.”
This is a BIG encounter and conversation, between Cotillion, Edgewalker, and the three Eleint. It is one of those conversations where you feel absolute trust in the author — where various hints from previous novels are realised and new questions are raised. My main question now is regarding Edgewalker... He as much says that he is an Elder God here, by using Cotillion’s words back at him (“an elemental force”). We’ve now seen him a few times and we have no clear idea about who he is, what side he’s on (although, really, we have no real idea which side is the good and which side is the bad!); he sees Cotillion and Ammanas as usurpers, which suggests that he sees the Shadow Realm as something rightfully his?
This is certainly true within the series! “Their crime was...ambition. It is a common enough crime.” The creature turned back to Cotillion. “Perhaps endemic.”
And the actual conversation with the three dragons is equally illuminating and frustrating, in terms of what information is given. First we hear that Cotillion suspects there is a big war coming, the biggest, one that will involve all of the parties that we’ve heard of and more we’re yet to meet. He’s talking sides — but which side does he fall on? And he is seeking allies.
I think we already knew that the Tiste Andii had a hand in the destruction of the Shadow Realm, in an effort to prevent the Edur from taking the Throne (and now we might know more as to why, considering Rhulad Sengar rules the Edur!) — here it is made explicit the destruction that was done. And we get a hint that Anomandaris — Anomander Rake — might not be quite the good guy we’ve seen him as so far. I mean, sure, you don’t want an immortal madman in the employ of the Crippled God sitting on the Throne of Shadows, but destroying the whole realm to prevent it? Pretty drastic steps...
We learn that Kurald Emurlahn is still suffering sundering, which implies that there is something occurring to keep the problem happening. And, if something has happened to sunder that warren, is there equally something that could cause sundering in all the other warrens?
Cotillion shows just how kickass he is with just a single statement here:
“You believe that Ammanas is sitting on the wrong Shadow Throne.”
“The true throne is not even in this fragment of Emurlahn.” [Does beg the question where it is! - Bill]
Cotillion crossed his arms and smiled. “And is Ammanas?”
The dragons said nothing, and he sensed, with great satisfaction, their sudden disquiet.
Wow. “And I should now presume that for each of the warrens, Elder and new, there is a corresponding dragon? You are the flavours of K’rul’s blood?” WOW. This is new! And here’s something... I see K’rul as one of the good guys and the fact that the dragons were doing K’rul’s bidding sort of makes them good guys as well. And, since they were imprisoned by Anomander, does that make him a bad guy? Perhaps the Malazan series really is above good guys and bad guys?
Eep. I forget who did this to Scabandari Bloodeye: “The one whose fist shattered his skull and so destroyed his body holds no allegiance to us, nor, we suspect, to anyone but herself.” Another dragon?
K’rul sent the dragons to try and heal Emurlahn — since the warrens are part of him, maybe he has just selfish reasons for fixing up the Elder Warren of Shadow?
Okay, so the Soletaken have the blood of the Eleint within their veins because they drank of Tiam’s blood. And they have not been held in a warren like the rest of the dragons. So it is the Soletaken who have caused the warrens to weaken? Here we have: “After spilling draconean blood in the heart of Kurald Emurlahn! After opening the first, fatal wound upon that warren! What did he think gates were?” Does that mean that any mage who uses the warrens is wounding them one tiny step at a time?
We hear that Silanah and Eloth share the power of Thyr — not sure whether that will prove to be important later!
Heh, I feel a little bit like Cotillion at this point: “...and had made discoveries along the way — so much to think about, in fact, that his mind was numb, besieged by all that he had learned.”
I feel stupid in that I can’t comprehend completely what information Ampelas gives Cotillion when he says: “A sundered realm is the weakest realm of all! Why do you think the Crippled God is working through it?” Is that confirmation that the Crippled God is an Elder God?
“Very well, Cotillion, I will give the matter some consideration.”
“Take your time.”
“That seems a contrary notion.”
“If one is lacking a grasp of sarcasm, I imagine it does at that.”
Oh yay! From one of my favourite characters to one of my favourite duos — The Bonehunters is an embarrassment of riches so far. It is simply awesome to encounter Mappo Runt’s particular brand of thoughtfulness again. “When the conflagration consumed children, then the distinction between the sane and the sociopath ceased to exist. It was his flaw, he well knew, to yearn to seek the truth of every side, to comprehend the myriad justifications for committing the most brutal crimes.”
Is anyone else desperately amused by the image of ICARIUM gambolling like a puppy in this new sea?
Icarium almost seems to represent the idea of Alzheimer’s, especially with sentences like this: “Some nightmare the night before had scoured away Icarium’s memories. This had been happening more often of late. Troubling. And...crushing.”
It’s neat how once you’ve identified one theme you can see various occasions where it is casually inserted into the novels Erikson writes (whether he intended this one or not is questionable but I still enjoy the way it builds things in my head): “Look at this freshwater sea, Mappo. The new shoreline burgeons with sudden life.”
Nice to see Icarium and Mappo, but this interlude is mostly reintroducing readers to this tragic duo, rather than producing anything new. Erikson does it gracefully though — no info-dumps from him about what has gone before!
My memory is failing me... I can’t remember how Cutter ended up with the Felisin Younger gang! Help?
Nice to see Greyfrog again *grins* “Declaration. It is said that the wasps of the desert guard gems and such. Query. Has Cutter heard such tales? Anticipatory pause.”
Crokus/Cutter is really all about choices, isn’t he? He sort of represents the Sliding Doors principle — one tiny decision can have massive repercussions. “What I was is not what I am. Two men, identical faces, but different eyes. In what they have seen, in what they reflect upon the world.”
So sexy... “Mounds of flesh, water storage vessels, there on the hips and behind. On the chest-”
Anyone else a tad uncomfortable with Greyfrog’s weird obsession with Felisin?
What a sad, sad idea of motherhood from poor Scillara: “What was it mothers did anyway? Sell their babies, mostly. To temples, to slavers, to the harem merchants if it’s a girl. Or keep it and teach it to beg. Steal. Sell its body.”
The scene involving the four men coming for Scillara and Felisin is traumatic in many ways — from the way that Scillara reaches to tug at her tunic and offers her body, to the fact that Felisin sits mute and white at the idea of being taken against her will again, to the deaths of the four men by Greyfrog. Despite the fact there is a lot about these men to hate, their deaths are dark and unpleasant.
Intriguing also to feel happily inclined towards Greyfrog purely because of the manner in which he talks. It’s fairly cutesome, as far as these things go in the Malazan books. But then we know what Greyfrog is capable of doing — it’s Erikson confounding expectations again.
And now a quick pitstop with Smiles, Bottle et all. I am liking this method of stopping off at all of what will presumably become the main players to remind us where they are and what they’re up to.
This here sort of gives me visions of what it must have been like for those soldiers in Iraq once the actual war was supposedly over: “The Fourteenth Army was tired. Miserable. It didn’t like itself, much. Deprived of delivering fullest vengeance upon Sha’ik and the murderers, rapists and cutthroats who followed her, and now in slow pursuit of the last remnant of that rebel army, along crumbling, dusty roads in a parched land, through sandstorms and worse, the Fourteenth still waited for a resolution.”
Man, this is poignant and almost brings me to tears, with the depth of knowledge we have now of events: “Fiddler and Hedge had been as close as brothers. When together, they had been mayhem. A conjoined mindset more dangerous than amusing most of the time. As legendary as the Bridgeburners themselves. It had been a fateful decision back there on the shoreline of Lake Azur, their parting.”
The conversation between Fiddler, Kalam and Quick Ben is quick and smart, and talking in shorthand to a great extent. But why wouldn’t they? They’ve known each other for years and worked together well. They wouldn’t need to slow things down just so that a reader can keep up. We’ve got mentions here of Tavore and Laseen and what they’re up to, musings on Tavore’s abilities, fooling Pearl so that he takes different stories back to Laseen (no wonder she has trust issues!), and the idea that Tavore wants to build a cadre of assassins. I’ve probably missed absolutely loads of little hints in amongst that!
Hey, lots of reunions in this little lot — Tayschrenn (and, boy, look at that resentment bubbling between him and the Bridgeburners!) and Dujek Onearm, and two old faces from Night of Knives.
Set up, set up, set up — but with that immense scene with Cotillion and the dragons. The Bonehunters is still only grinding into first gear, and I’m looking forward to more!
Bill’s Reaction to Chapter Two
Not a lot to say about the opening scene save I enjoyed the humor of Pust (an acquired taste for some, I know) and also liked how we are seeing Shadowthrone as more attenuated and incorporeal with a little hint that maybe he literally isn’t “all there.” And a nice little tease of something important and seemingly dangerous going down soon with the do you think he’ll get there on time and will he suffice conversation once Pust leaves.
Now, that Cotillion scene.
Once again, as in the earlier scene with Apsalar, I love this mercurial nature of Shadow, the way it ever shifts (as of course, would befit a realm of Shadow), the way things appear far away one time and close the next. I also like how the “rulers” are pretty much ignored.
It’s also of interest with all the looks we get in this world of brutality, cruelty, war, and so on, that our few glimpses into other realms show us more of the same — that’s a pretty wide-ranging and harsh condemnation of the “human” condition I’d say.
And more tease of what’s to come, as Cotillion muses on how the stakes are far greater this time (and they haven’t been exactly low before).
Good old mysterious Edgewalker. I love how Cotillion talks to him like the old guy in your house whose stories you’ve hear a billion times: “Yes, I know . . .you walk paths unseen...”
But I also like how each of them surprises the other here and that leads to them forging if not an alliance at least a mutual respect and a possibility of working together for shared goals (not that those goals are ever clear of course). And then, as you say Amanda, that’s pretty big if he is indeed an “elemental force.” If.
“Dragons are at the heart of all that will come.” Yes. Yes they are. Remember.
There is a war coming. Yes. Yes there is. Though not necessarily the one thought.
Amanda’s right — that revelation by Cotillion that Shadowthrone isn’t as empty-headed as he looks (sometimes literally) is a great scene. And yet again, gains some respect. As does his mention of Scabandari Bloodeye. Always key when negotiating.
Bloodeye’s soul is still out there and alive. We sort of thought that but good to have confirmation.
I won’t tell you here Amanda, but I will say who smashed in Bloodeye’s face is one of those questions that will actually be concretely answered. I will say the wound isn’t very dragon-like though.
Speaking of questions, just what did Draconus do that makes him the “most reviled of all”?
More respect for Cotillion, this time when he reveals he knows something of Olar Ethil’s aspect. As a big myth fan, I have to applaud the use of the civilizing myth of a god (or some “force”) bringing fire to “humanity.”
“Unlike Tiam, when we’re killed we stay dead.” File.
“How do you kill an elemental force”?
I’m realizing how hard it is to discuss this scene without spoilers, so I’m going to hold off and see what develops in the forums and what the comfort level is. If not much, it’s definitely a scene we will revisit down the road.
After all that info, it’s a good bit of comic relief to end the scene.
Mappo is just a great tragic figure in this series. It might be a good idea here since we go at such a glacial pace, to remind as we meet Mappo here that the prologue colors this scene for the careful reader. From our discussion earlier:
“We have chosen one current, a terrible, unchained force — chosen to guide it, to shape its course unseen and unchallenged. We intend to drive one force upon another, and so effect mutual annihilation.” Think of what great force with a “guide” that we’ve seen, one associated with the Nameless Ones.
And from the Fourth: “We must acknowledge grief for the impending demise of an honourable servant . . . “ And whom have we met that serves the Nameless Ones? Put that together with “guide” and “terrible force” (not to mention “annihilation”) and I think you can figure out the intended victim(s?) of Dejim.
I just talked above of how the series reveals brutality not only this world but seemingly in a myriad, possibly infinite number of realms. And here we have Mappo with his own reflection on brutality’s ubiquitous and self-spawning nature, how it goes on “one incident leading to another, until a conflagration burgeoned.” File. I also like how he compares it to a crystal — something hard-edged.
And as with the economic aspects of our last novel, it’s hard to read that line Amanda cites: “When the conflagration consumed children, then the distinction between the sane and the sociopath ceased to exist,” and not look at our own world and be horrified.
And from crystals we make this nice linguistic move to how Mappo tries to see every side, since what is a crystal but a multi-faceted/faced object?
And then another nice move from the almost existential angst of Mappo’s awareness to the blissful oblivion of Icarium: “eyes bright with pleasure” as he strides out of cleansing, purifying water.
We know the great fear of what Icarium can do if unleashed. What was the thing he did in Trebur, the City of Domes? What does Mappo dread will be revealed?
And from one journey to another, as we rejoin more old friends in Cutter, Heboric, and the others.
It’s a bit sadly funny that we see both Apsalar and Cutter performing tasks as each thinks themselves unworthy of affection/love/adoration.
Hmm, is someone in this book the spider? (Sudden flash to When Harry Met Sally “Is one of us supposed to be a dog in this scenario”)
You’re right Amanda. This scene with the thwarted attack is disturbing on so many levels: Scillara’s numbness/jadedness, Felisin’s horror, and Greyfrog’s brutality — Mister Comic Relief Ain’t He Cute just a moment ago.
Bottle and the Eres’al — don’t forget about her.
I like the quick way Erikson reminds us of a few things in this scene — what happened to the Bridgeburners, the ones split off in Darujhistan, the ascension, etc.
Like you Amanda, I do love this repartee between Fiddler, Kalam, and Quick. Just another example of how good a job this series does with friendships. And what do Quick Ben and Kalam know that makes them tell Fiddler to maybe consider heading to Daru?
Love too that moment between Quick Ben and Tayschrenn (especially coming after Quick tells the other to cool their jets) when he reveals he was once a High Mage. And how can you not love the name: Rule the Rude?
Just like old times indeed. And good to be back with old friends....
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.