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 Six 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.
Corabb feels Leoman is hiding something from him and blames Dunsparrow, whom he sees as corrupting Leoman. Leoman has ruthlessly taken control of Y’Ghatan and sealed it, locking away a fortune of olive oil. Corabb and Dunsparrow spar, with Dunsparrow’s complexity somewhat confusing to the black and white view of Corabb. Leoman orders the evacuation of the city save for soldiers.
Corabb recalls Leoman’s view of the history of cities — why they grow. Leoman tells him the priests are resisting the evacuation. Corabb starts to suffer from heat prostration. They arrive at the central temple, formerly of Scalissara, now the temple of the Queen of Dreams. Leoman tells Corabb he plans to speak with the goddess.
Mappo and Icarium discuss dragons and how the gods seem under assault. They speculate as to what/who could have killed Sorrit. They identify the wood as Blackwood and the “rust” as otataral and then discus the power of blood. They deduce Sorrit was killed in the Shadow Realm by the Tiste Edur. Icarium says he recognizes the Jaghut who performed the Omtose Phellack, saying she was tired of the K’Chain’s attempts to colonize and didn’t care they were engaged in civil war. Icarium nears the truth of himself, concluding he is cursed, that Mappo is not just his friend but is meant to protect the world from Icarium. Mappo tells him it isn’t so simple. Icarium decides they will go to the Jhag Odhan to look for Jaghut and, Mappo believes, ask them to imprison him forever in ice, though Mappo thinks they’ll just kill him.
Keneb rides through the sixteen barrows outside Y’Ghatan holding Malazan bones, Bent band Roach beside him. He meets with Gall and Temul, who tells him the city was evacuated and a narrow, seemingly unfinished trench encircles the city. Temul suggests the punch through at night using munitions, though they all know Tavore will simply do what she thinks best. They believe Leoman, knowing he has no chance, means to die a martyr and bloody the Malazans before dying.
Bottle spreads word that Faradan Sort is calling a meeting of sergeants, finding the camp just a bit chaotic and the soldiers going stir crazy and getting at each other.
Bottle returns to his (Fiddler’s) squad. Gesler’s group returns from the Imperial Warren. They discuss the siege plans and the upcoming meeting and why they don’t just send the Claw in. Cuttle says the rumor is Laseen has pulled them all in and veteran companies were called back to Malaz City. Bottle wonders out to the meeting site. He recalls his grandmother’s belief the Empire, while not great, was better than what had been before. He thinks the army feels lost. Summoning creatures, he tasks them to spy later, then the Eres ‘al arrives and he thinks she has “followed” the army as it echoes in her own time. She indicates her pregnancy and he studies the unborn, realizing among other things that the father is Tiste Edur, the child “the only pure candidate for a new Throne of Shadow . . . a healed realm.” He believes she wants him to be her god and he says “fine” and she disappears.
Keneb meets Tavore, Blistig, and Baralta in her tent. Baralta worries they are missing something and they discuss Temul’s suggestions. Tavore dismisses Blistig and Baralta and then tells Keneb she does not command by consensus and she alone will answer to the Empress. Keneb asks why they rejected Dujek’s offer of help and she tells him his host is decimated and Dujek himself broken. He realizes she is keeping the hope of Dujek alive and sacrificing herself. He leaves, upset at the news and determined to confirm her judgment.
Fiddler confirms Tavore’s belief for Keneb.
Paran’s ship puts in at Kansu. He and Apsalar discuss the Bridgeburners in Darujhistan. Paran admits he is less easy with K’rul since the Elder God’s assistance with the Pannion Seer. He is unsure if the Elder Gods are opposing the Crippled God. Apsalar wonders if he is ascended and warns him to be careful before they disembark.
Apsalar notes the city seems less crowded and quieter. Paran tells her its plague making its way across Seven Cities. She identifies Poliel and he agrees, then tells her all those in the temple of D’rek were slaughtered, including the healers. They go their own ways.
Samar and Karsa briefly debate progress. Karsa senses a beast has been laired nearby and Samar realizes the spirits in the area have fled.
Kalam is climbing along the underside of a sky keep, wondering at Quick Ben’s sudden loss of magic power. He calls on Cotillion, who appears and then takes him to the edge of the fissure where Quick Ben and Stormy were. Kalam climbs down and finds QB and Stormy unconscious, Stormy’s legs broken. Cotillion “heals” Stormy, informing the others that he was already healing due to his being “annealed” aboard the Silanda. He identifies the chamber they’re in as an Elder God temple and Kalam, noting how Cotillion reacts to QB, thinks the god knows something about his friend. Cotillion leaves.
Greyfrog tells Cutter he feels something bad coming. They decide to move.
Mappo and Icarium are attacked by Dejim Nebrah and Mappo falls with one of them over the edge of a cliff.
Amanda’s Reaction to Chapter Six
In case we weren’t getting the whole war between gods thing, this snippet at the beginning of Chapter Six gives us a quick reminder. Although the manner in which they pick sides seems more than random! I wonder if the gods themselves take side in this fashion — dropped from heaven on one side or the other of a line of blood.
Corabb here is in the position we most find him in — the shadow behind a leader: “...in the bar of shadow cast by the great helm’s ridged brow.” And certainly he doesn’t like Dunsparrow’s presence near Leoman — and not because she’s a Malazan, but because she’s a woman and so could prove to be a distraction. This is the first time that Corabb has seemed at all sinister, as he considers what to do about Dunsparrow.
Here is an interesting perspective — a god who has been dropped by the people because she wasn’t able to withstand the conquerors who took Y’Ghatan. A god of olives and growing things discarded with gods of war becoming stronger — a sign of the times?
The temple has been nicked by the Queen of Dreams. We’ve seen her mentioned a couple of times, but she’s truly mysterious so far. We don’t know which side she’ll fall in the war. We don’t know what her intentions are. And we don’t know her representatives in mortal form.
I wonder what was happening in and around Y’Ghatan when Leoman was a foundling child looked after by the priestesses — what he saw that might have contributed to his feelings about the Malazans.
Hmm, Leoman has certainly burst onto the scene, what with killing the Falah’d and now also drowning seven representatives of the guilds in their own olive oil! See, I don’t have feelings either way about Leoman and his conquest of Y’Ghatan up until this point: “The first tour of the barracks had revealed the military base as little more than a raucous harem, thick with smoke and pool-eyed, prepubescent boys and girls [...] Thirty officers were executed that first day, the most senior one by Leoman’s own hand.” Of that I fiercely approve.
Why would Dunsparrow be so willing to fight against her own people? What has driven her to this?
A nice little distinction of race here: “Malazans were...Malazans, dammit. All of a kind, no matter the hue of their skin, the tilt of their eyes, no matter all the variations within that Hood-cursed empire.” It is nice to see that sort of blinkered attitude in a novel, because it makes for dawning awareness that actually we do that far too often — assume that people are all the same when they’re part of a race.
Corabb’s jealousy is tiresome already... I sort of like Corabb, but I confess I’m finding him a little dull to read about at the moment. On the other hand, I am liking Leoman’s story so far. I mean, I don’t want him to win in the siege or anything, going by who is fighting on the other side, but I don’t want him to die or anything...
And he especially intrigues me here when he states his intention to speak to the Queen of Dreams herself — maybe some of my questions will be answered here!
There must be something truly tragic about seeing a dragon ritually murdered. Something unnatural about it. Here are more hints about the gods and the war: “The pantheon is being made vulnerable. Fener, drawn into this world, and now Osserc — the very source of his power under assault. How many other gods and goddesses are under siege, I wonder?”
These little sections that deal with Mappo and Icarium often give us what I believe to be quite crucial pieces of information. Here we have the fact that blood is power, and that if the blood spilled is tainted by murder or ritual or anything else of violence, it taints the power that passes onto someone else. So, the person who killed Sorrit carries that curse? We also hear the fact that Sorrit has been spiked on otataral. I remember the dragon of otataral — is there a link between dragons and otataral?
And now Icarium starts to remember something of himself and realises that the world needs protecting from him. You know something? With the fact that Dejim Nebrahl is waiting to ambush him (I think) this would be a rough day for that to happen — for that to possibly be the last thing he knows.
The Barrow of Dassem Ultor is a sad place, desecrated and shown no respect. Lucky that the bodies of he and his First Sword were never placed there. It doesn’t make you think any more kindly of Y’Ghatan and its prior occupants, does it? Although, here’s the problem — the Malazans were conquering and, although we’ve seen decent parts to their rule, it means a lack of freedom — so, truly, does Dassem Ultor’s supposed resting place not deserve desecration for what they did. Ha, these shades of grey are problematic, aren’t they? Isn’t it a shame when the bad guys don’t wear black hats so that they can be identified readily.
It’s awesome to see Temul again and to hear that he is more and more like Coltaine every day. This quote aches my heart: “Lean, hawk-faced, with far too many losses pooled in his black eyes. The Crow clan warriors who had so resented his command at Aren were silent these days.”
I’m not sure it’s at all good when the commanders and experts in an army are unwilling to put forward their own opinions because they think their commander would not listen. Surely a commander should be willing to listen to opinions before taking decisions? Mind, this is a commander who sent away her finest assassin and her High Mage from the forthcoming battle on what appears to be a fool’s errand...
Definitely noting that Grub believes there to be glory in Temul’s future!
Huh, I really wouldn’t be that comfortable if my leader at the start of a battle went into it preparing for death... It doesn’t exactly fill you with confidence, does it?
Really enjoying this little stroll through the different companies of the Fourteenth Army — all of them finding many and varied ways in which to waste time: taking wagons apart, trying to add herbs to a pot of water, sleeping... And this comment made me snort:
“You ain’t got time to waste? Why, what makes you unique?”
And another delicious moment, with the soldiers huddling nervously away from the Moranth munitions until Bottle points out: “If that box goes up, it’ll knock down Y’Ghatan’s wall from here, and you and most of this army will be red hail.”
It must be terrifying to the soldiers who go in first — when the enemy are freshest, when they have all their weapons and projectile missiles intact, when there is massive danger of death and maiming. The sappers represent all those soldiers from history who have been used in the vanguard of a military operation. And yet those soldiers tend to be those who keep the blackest sense of humour — I guess if you didn’t laugh, you’d curl up into a little ball and cry about your lack of future?
So now we hear that Laseen is pulling back all the Claw tight around her in Malaz City. What is coming that has prompted that?
I like being inside Bottle’s thoughts — his consideration about youth and how the future is seen by such is something that I think we’ve all come to the same conclusion about: “The future was not consciously rushed into — it was just the place you suddenly ended up in, battered and weary and wondering how in Hood’s name you got there.”
And a nice little reminder to keep this in mind: “Assuming, of course, that voice belonged to his grandmother. He had begun to suspect otherwise.”
Bottle’s “grandmother” says this about the various races, but could it not be equally applied to the gods? “All prod and pull. The old with their ambitions and the young with their eager mindless zeal.”
Well, the end of Bottle’s section here is more than a little odd. The ‘ape’ carrying what is a Tiste Edur child, born to the Throne of Shadow which will reside in a healed warren. And is it an Eres’al carrying this child? I’m not sure I can quite work out what is happening — but, I guess the upshot is that Bottle is being regarded as a god. How many people need to see him as such before it starts coming true then?
Why is it that Tavore cannot also see this? “Keneb watched Blistig and Baralta leave, reading in an array of small signs — posture, the set of their shoulders and the stiffness of their gaits — the depth of their demoralization.” Tavore really does frustrate me as a reader — you just want to shake her and tell her to pay attention to her troops.
She is COLD! “As you say, Adjunct. However, your officers do feel responsible — for their soldiers-”
“Many of whom will die, sooner or later, on some field of battle.”
Oh my. All those people waiting for Dujek to join their force and now we find that Tavore has turned down his offer of aid.
And oh wow. Suddenly I have a LOT of respect for Tavore: “So long as they believe he is there, poised behind us and ready to march to our aid, they will do as you command. You do not want to take that away from them, yet by your silence you sacrifice yourself, you sacrifice the respect they would accord you-”
Hmm, Paran has “grown less easy” with the presence of K’rul — the Elder Gods coming back into the game sounds like it isn’t something that you’d want. But we thought K’rul — because of Kruppe, mostly — was one of the good guys...
Plague. Poliel. Sounds like they’re linked. And if it’s plague — as in, something that causes the body to become ill and distressed — I’m so pointing fingers at the Crippled God! Poliel and D’rek seem to be two sides of the same coin. Am I way off wondering whether Poliel is killing D’rek’s followers to reduce his power?
I like knowing that there is still some warmth in Apsalar, where she realises that she misses Paran and that being close to him is a danger.
I do believe that Karsa is coining the saying ‘the grass is always greener’ when he says: “Better is never what you think it is.”
The scene with Kalam climbing the sky keep and summoning Cotillion is a joy to read, from start to finish. I especially *loved* Cotillion’s entrance, casually eating that apple while Kalam clings to the rock for his life. And then his smart arse comment: “If you needed a ride [...] you’d be better off with a wagon, or a horse.” It is all a sheer delight and does absolutely nothing to dent my love for Cotillion. I think in the swooning stakes he’s taking over from Anomander Rake!
What is it that Cotillion knows about Quick Ben? His history with shadow? But then that’s something Kalam would also know, surely? Why does Quick Ben make an ascendant as cool as Cotillion nervous? And when is Cotillion going to get proper godhood?
MAAAPPPPPOOOOOO! Although, you know, he isn’t actually dead yet, right? No body. But falling just cannot be good. And leaving Icarium to himself at this juncture really is not a good idea... So a nice little cliffhanger all round to end Chapter Six. And, lo, we approach THAT chapter, as you vets have started to refer to it.
Bill’s Reaction to Chapter Six
That is a great image of the gods that opens the chapter, and a nice echo/reminder of how we started, with spiders and webs and a temple of a god. And if the schemes are “cut,” does that mean they may ride the wind and so change direction/goals?
Yet another reminder that Leoman is planning something, something he wants to keep from Corabb.
And those “bleached rooftops of Y’Ghatan” are perhaps a bit bone-like? Or perhaps something else I’ll try to remember to revisit in a while.
A few lines of surprising importance:
- “the cylindrical, flat-topped storage buildings called maethgara that housed in vast containers the olive oil for which the city . . . was renowned.”
- “the statues . . . destroyed in the last conflagration.”
- “Leoman had sealed Y’Ghatan, imprisoning within its new walls an emperor’s ransom in olive oil. The maethgara were filled to bursting . . .“
- Corabb: “Why would she choose to fight against her own people? Only a criminal, an outlaw, would do that . . .”
- Corabb: “betrayal is a dark taint . . .”
I like the way Dunsparrow offesr up a more complex world of thought to Corabb who has some difficulty when faced with a more gray reality than he likes to think in. He is a man for whom, as Amanda points out, “Malazans were Malazans, dammit.” But then, he does note their variations, and he recognizes that Dunsparrow’s words are confusing, which means he isn’t wholly blind to what she is saying. Something to keep in mind.
Note Leoman’s flinch at Corabb’s title “Hand of the Apocalypse.”
And also his strange order in a time of siege to send the civilians out with their livestock. Think about that.
And speaking of titles: Leoman the Fallen.
Here’s our resident anthropologist again with Leoman’s theory that cities are born of protection rather than convenience or surplus. And what, then, does that say about humanity? I do like the idea as well that the same “marauding tribes” that terrify the city’s originators (pre-city), via their terrorizing force the creation of the city, and thus bring about their own demise through the eventual shift in balance of power and the conquering of the tribes by the city.
In that same passage, it’s a bit of an unsettling image, though certainly true, that cities always “build upon the bones of its forebears.” (Remember those “bleached rooftops” from earlier.)
Love Corabb’s surreal moments — the toads and now the heat prostration due to the giant helm.
We obviously have been told again and again that the gods are at war in this book, but it’s a good reminder, that point about Fener, as it’s been a while. And that is a point we definitely do not want to lose track of.
That’s a good question regarding dragons and otataral, Amanda, and certainly one we’ll revisit. And a good reminder as well of the otataral dragon, another fact we want to keep in our heads.
I don’t think it requires too much sharpness of mind to put together Dejim Nebrahl “targets,” the reminders that his quarry is nearing, and Icarium’s sudden realizations and his sudden decision to end it all and realize that this storyline is about to come to its, um, convergence.
I’m with you Amanda on really finding the growth of Temul not just enjoyable, but also moving.
That’s a pretty sharp detail we’re given as readers — this “two paces wide” trench that seems unfinished. We should note Keneb’s suspicion about that and his thought that Leoman could have easily made it much broader in the time he had — the implication being that the width has little to do with time and more to do with purpose.
And note as well Gall’s belief — Leoman “means to bleed us, Keneb. Before he falls . . . he will die fighting and so will become another martyr.” Is this truly Leoman’s plan?
Another lovely omen — Roach gnawing on a bone from the barrows.
Yes, Bottle’s walk through camp is quite the humorous stroll — a nice break of tension after the war planning and before, well, before what’s coming. I like that Erikson takes the time to do this sort of thing.
Yes, what is going on with Laseen back at Malaz City? Recall a little throwaway line from our favorite Avowed?
Captain Kindly mention! Who doesn’t smile whenever that name comes up, those of you re-readers?
That’s a pretty strong reaction from Smiles at mention of her father....
“the wind remained hot as the breath of a furnace.”
And the omens keep coming: heroes and conquerors (of both sides) “immortalized” on a midden heap, Coltain’s death scene on a shard, “carrion birds, capemoths, and rhizan wheeling overhead like swarming flies.” Just filled with optimism these images....
I like that little detail of Bottle’s, his preference for the local aesthetic of pottery vs the Malazan-style — a sense perhaps of what is lost in the swallowing of one culture by another, to place beside the list of what is gained. And I like how it is placed in such a fragile container.
And again, that sense of time and cycles that so permeates this world, layer upon layer, and really, what has changed in all those images on all this wreckage of so many rulers, so many societies? The weapons change, maybe, but the scenes are the same — violent all.
So, Eres’al. Let the speculation begin?
What is the future abomination?
Is the “future” the Eres’al’s or Bottle’s?
Who is the child born of a Tiste Edur father? (hmm)
Who is the Tiste Edur?
What is the demarcation Bottle sees between Eres’al and post-Eres’al? What is the loss of innocence that takes place in that transtition?
What is the “new” Throne of Shadow?
How will Shadow be “healed”?
And through Bottle, perhaps, we get a sense of what it is like to be a god, to be needed, to be the receptacle of hope and faith. “So, is this how a god feels?”
“the engineers found the ruins beneath the streets to be a maze of pockets . . .”
Baralta, like Keneb, is nervous about Leoman’s plans. And let’s just say that if it’s Blistig telling us not to think too much about it, well, not exactly an endorsement of that view.
This could be Tavore’s tag line throughout: “Me? Understand me? Perhaps. But that is not the most important issue here.” I think, Amanda, that you’ll find Tavore does in many ways think of nothing but her troops. And let’s face it, when Fiddler starts to show respect toward someone, it’s hard as a reader not to get pulled in his wake.
More hints that things among the pantheon may not be as clearcut as is thought, by characters or readers.
Remember we’ve had several mentions of Poliel before, so in typical Erikson fashion, when she starts to play an active role, we’re prepared as readers for this.
I agree that while on the surface Apsalar’s thoughts and words to Paran seem cold and aloof, it’s clear she’s making herself that way, and just as clear I’d say that she’s failing at it.
Samar Dev offers up a very common defense among fantasy writers for the lack of technology in their fantasy worlds: “Magic obviates the need for invention . . . and so we remain eternally stifled.” Personally, I think it’s the kind of defense that looks good from a distance, or at a quick glance, but doesn’t really hold up when one examines it more closely. Anyone wish to discuss?
I do enjoy the two sides of the argument we’re presented: progress as if nothing is lost and tradition as if ignorance is wisdom. One would have liked to have seen those arguments fleshed out and see if the two could have met in the middle (I actually had this debate at last night’s book club on A Visit from the Goon Squad, and it got pretty heated.)
Yep, I’m with you Amanda — absolutely loved that entire scene in the Imperial Warren. Get three of my favorite characters together in one place and I’ll eat that up every time and beg for more. The apple — classic.
Oh, that mysterious Quick Ben. Such a tease.
You’re right, Amanda. First rule of characters falling over cliffs. Always wait to see the body. And sometimes even then . . . (It is a fantasy after all.)
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.