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 Ten 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.
Quick Ben, Kalam, and Stormy appear at the slagged remains of Y’Ghatan and are stunned and saddened by what they see — not just the melted ruins but the large burial mounds nearby. Quick Ben deduces it was the olive oil and wonders if the firestorm were intentional. Quick senses something and they move toward it.
Apsalar looks upon Y’Ghatan, then sees the above trio moving toward her, recognizing Quick Ben and Kalam. Curdle and Telorast are made nervous by the three, especially Quick Ben. Quick Ben wonders if Apsalar is there to enact vengeance for Shadowthrone, and claims he at least isn’t dancing to any god’s strings. Apsalar tells him he smells of Hood, Kalam of Cotillion, and Stormy of the T’lan Imass and the Fire of Life, and therefore perhaps they aren’t so “free” of the gods as Quick wants to think. She adds that “fire, shadow, and death” align against a single enemy, but that the enemy is not currently singular, may never have been singular, and the alliance against said enemy may not last. Kalama asks if Quick is working for Hood but Quick replies it’s the other way around, but now the gods are at war and he needs to figure things out. He and Stormy spar a bit then they agree to travel together to catch up to the 14th. Quick Ben asks what Apsalar is hiding (Telorast and Curdle) and she say’s they’re shy.
SCENES THREE through SEVEN
After some “discussion,” Hellian makes Touchy and Brethless both corporals to replace Urb, who was made sergeant. Hellian wanders off and her squad discusses her, with Touchy and Brethless saying if they keep her drunk everything will be fine. Gesler considers the rearrangement of squads, then thinks back sadly of Truth and wonders if their losses were with the “gain” of killing a few hundred fanatics. Bottle argues with Smiles over the wisdom of keeping Y’Ghatan (the rat) now that she’s got a litter. Koryk finds a paupers grave pit and starts to pick out bones to replace what was lost.
Fiddler and Gesler are reunited with Quick’s group. Stormy learns about Truth. Fiddler says he’ll tell them their story as they try to catch up to the 14th, adding he wants to introduce Quick to Bottle.
Paran, Hedge, and Ganath stand atop a bridge in a “half-born” realm. Hedge says they have to cross it into a “long forgotten world” that may or may not belong to Hood. Ganath says this place pre-dates the Holds, is “our [Jaghut’s] vision of the underworld. Verdith’anath, the Bridge of Death.” She tries to convince him this isn’t the way, but he says he’s seen this in visions. She warns him his otataral sword won’t be anything special in this realm. Paran calls a Karpolan Demesand and a Trygalle Guild carriage. As the guild prepares to cross, Hedge asks Paran what’s in it for the dead Bridgeburners who after all thought they were done with war. He asks what it means to ascend and Paran says he doesn’t really know, but he offers up his theory that Ascendants are similar to unchained/unaligned gods and they have a “strength of will” and “unusual degree of efficacy.” When they act, it “ripples” through everything. Hedge hopes Paran’s making a “Soldier” card in the Deck might indicate who is guiding the Bridgeburner dead down their “long road.” Paran asks who they are marching to war against and Hedge says it’s more “what” than who but they are interrupted. They cross the bridge and are assailed, losing people on the way. They reach the wreckage of another Guild carriage and they speculate as to whether the carriage was destroyed by a guardian or some other force chancing to come the other way. Paran thinks it was the two Hounds of Shadow he freed from Dragnipur, saying they came here because he’d needed them to “blaze the trail” (though he didn’t know it at the time).
They clear the path and continue reaching the end of the bridge and passing through a gate to find a body of water just on the other side. Paran says the lake shouldn’t be there; it’s floodwater, but is interrupted by a ghastly cry and the sound of thunder as something big approaches.
Amanda’s Reaction to Chapter Ten:
That extract at the start of the chapter by Fisher Kel Tath seems to be positive on the face of things, until you realize that it is called Soldier Dying. I like this idea, though, at the end of life: “I found myself among friends and so was made at ease with my modest list of farewells.”
This is an incredibly poignant moment — Quick, Kalam and Stormy coming face to face with the destruction of Y’Ghatan. What hurts my soul a little is just how quickly Quick and Kalam make the right assumptions about what has occurred and what caused it — might the senseless death have been avoided had they been with the Fourteenth as battle commenced?
Also, Stormy’s sarcastic comment towards Quick and his general attitude show that he hasn’t even contemplated the idea of Truth having been lost. I don’t like the foreknowledge of his reaction on finding out what has happened.
So Apsalar meets up with Quick, Kalam and Stormy — and what a fraught, tense meeting it is! How interesting this is: “Thus, fire, shadow and death, drawn together even as the forces and gods of such forces find alignment against a single foe. Yet, I feel I should warn you all — that foe is no longer singular and, perhaps, never was. And present alliances may not last.” This is just filled with foreboding for the future.
How angry is Kalam that Quick Ben has been keeping such a monumental secret about who he is dealing with? I did forget that Quick Ben and Hood had had those conversations a few volumes back - and it just makes it more obvious how much of a hand Hood is currently deciding to take.
And check out Quick Ben’s reactions: snapping at Kalam, uneasy shrugs, skittish/diffident glances, bridling at accusations — he is not happy about the situation with Hood either. And I suspect part of that is to do with what exactly Hood is going to take in exchange.
Oh, and I’ll just pop in this quote to remember: “I, for one, am not particularly surprised to find our paths converging once more.” So Apsalar is joining the Fourteenth — which may or may not contain the final target “for assassination.” Who might it be?
Hmm, the section with Hellian was pitched wrong for me. I especially didn’t like her comment about how women deal with men — by disfiguring themselves. It really jarred me.
Gesler’s section makes it very clear that squads have been rearranged. I don’t know if this is genius or madness. I mean, on the one hand the squads needed to be reformed because of missing people and it prevents too much loyalty to each other rather than to the guys in charge. But, on the other hand, the existing squads went through literal hell together and perhaps should have stayed tied.
These are the sentences that caught my eye: “Maybe in one way it made sense to reorganize the squads, but Gesler wasn’t sure of the captain’s timing. It was Fist Keneb’s responsibility, anyway, and he’d likely prefer splitting up soldiers who were, one and all now, veterans.” Y’Ghatan certainly turned the Fourteenth from pretenders into true soldiers.
Again, we flit from character to character as they heal and prepare to march. Once again we’re able to compare and contrast reactions, both between them and between time periods. For instance, Hellian has lost that direction that got her through Y’Ghatan. Koryk has become the silent individual again. It seems only Bottle seems to be at all similar before, during and after — and that might well be because of the voices he hears and his special magic.
Nice reunion between Fiddler and Quick, Kalam, Apsalar and Stormy. I always see Fiddler as an older chap as well — I keep forgetting that he isn’t!
I guess these characters in the Malazan Empire change names because of the importance attached to names? Fiddler is saying something by becoming Strings, as Sorry became Apsalar and Crokus became Cutter. Their new names represent who they have become?
Poor Stormy. Poor, poor Stormy. Even expecting it, it is painful to see his grief.
Right, this is a long old section to end the chapter with. It’s fun and a little scary, with so much detail and hints about things that are happening elsewhere or due to happen in the future. We have discussed the Trygalle Trade Guild a couple of times, and I confess that I am now finding them a little bit deus ex machina. Why are they popping up here to help Paran get through? What overall purpose in the series do they serve? I’m not that keen on their presence, if I’m honest.
Paran and Hedge’s discussion is fairly fundamental, I think, with the latter telling the former that the ascendant Bridgeburners are not just the nice guys we’ve encountered so far, they also include “plain bastards.” The former describes ascendants with probably the most detail we’ve seen so far, although confesses that it is mostly a theory that he has developed, rather than actual truth.
And how about this line: “When an ascendant acts, ripples run through...everything.” A lot like ta’veren from the Wheel of Time?
Certainly this is something I hadn’t considered — what is in it for the ascendants? Especially those who never intended or wanted to be an ascendant! The Bridgeburners are now being pulled into a war against...something...and I agree that they should have some reason for fighting. Here it sounds as though part of that will involve being given a card in the Deck - validation of them and their purpose. They will, I guess, become the Unaligned Soldiers? In the same deck as Oponn?
We’ve waited a while to find out what happened to those two released Hounds of Shadow — now we find that they are leading Paran further into this ancient realm to find what he seeks. An interesting place to pause.
Bill’s Reaction to Chapter Ten
From ashes to ashes, death to death via Fisher’s poem to the story’s action.
When I think of how incredibly dismaying this must be, I think as well as to what adds to the level of depression over this beyond the simple facts of the slag heap and the burial mound. One is that they appear out of a warren and are immediately faced with the devastation. If they had, for instance, been marching toward this, they would have seen smoke, would have smelled smoke, would have seen vultures, etc. They would have had time to steel themselves for what they’re about to face. Instead it’s just wham! The other aspect I think of is Quick Ben — so many losses, so many arrivals on scenes such as this. Pale. Black Coral. Y’Ghatan.
On a more positive note, I love how fast Quick Ben is, as Amanda points out, in figuring out just what happened here. I do so much like how smart so many of these characters are. So Quick not only figures out the olive oil as fuel, but also that it might have been deliberate and also that Leoman might have left his own people to die and saved himself. And here it isn’t just Quick Ben — note how fast Stormy figures out where the munitions were used and also how much of them must have been used.
A needed moment of comedy from Stormy here, with his “sound argument from the High Mage . . . I’m convinced,” after Quick’s less than specific sensory impression.
Three “terrible” men indeed...
It’s a nice reminder that Hood is very involved in the game, something we’ve not had a reference to in some time and that is important not to lose sight of
That is a pretty portentous line, Amanda cites, the “fire, shadow, and death.” Also good to note that it’s an indication that we shouldn’t be so sure we know exactly who the “enemy” is.
I like that amidst such highly serious discussion — gods and Death and the like — Quick still manages to call Fiddler and Hedge “idiots.”
Who indeed is that “final target”? I’m going to say that we’ve been given a pretty solid clue in earlier dialogue if you consider the target comes from Cotillion and the target is implied to be in the 14th army.
I can see what you mean about the Hellian scene Amanda. It didn’t bother me so much because Hellian is such a unique case I didn’t see her comment as any sort of generalized stance. And I did like how her “leadership” style plays opposite of the “shut up or I’ll wail the sh-t out of you” and how it so totally throws everyone because of that. I’m also not even sure she believes what she says. I did like the banter however, especially Maybe’s “We ain’t gonna listen to you anyways. You’re both idiots.”
This reunion scene is I think a very moving one. The obvious emotional wallop comes from Stormy (big tough guy wise-cracking don’t care about anything Stormy) learning about Truth and walking off crying. But the quieter moments are just as moving I think: Quick commenting on just how young Fiddler is (think on that for a moment — all Fiddler has seen and done and in such a young life), the two of them reminiscing about Mallet (which of course calls up Mallet’s guilt over Whiskeyjack’s death — sadness atop sadness), recalling Paran (which calls up Paran’s death, his lost love, and then of course his sisters), and then Crokus becoming Cutter and all that implies not just for Cutter but for all of them who move in this world. It’s just a great quietly moving scene that packs so much in. As usual, giving us a little break with some humor at the end.
Remember the card with Paran on a bridge from earlier?
I know what you mean about the Trade Guild, Amanda. I admit I sometimes have the same feeling, if not whole-heartedly at least so it nags a bit here and there. The “why” however isn’t really much of a question; they’re just a business. They’re here because Paran contracted with them to be here (or to be wherever he called them to).
I love that sense of myth in Ganath’s name: Verdith’anath, the Bridge of Death.
So is Ganath’s speculation about what Hood knows or doesn’t know, what he would or would not lay claim to mere speculation? Educated guesses because she knows this realm? Or does she actually know Hood that well?
“It is a conceit to believe that death has a single manifestation” is a nice echo of Scillara’s earlier comment on the God of War.
And then we get yet another example of “layers” in this series, and how what lies beneath (literally or abstractly) is not removed from the world but affects it on some way, “shape[s] all that lies above.”
More tease as to the big game. Hedge tells Paran not only that the dead are marching to war against something (as opposed to someone he implies), but that it will involve “helping all of humanity.”
We’ve nuttered back and forth about ascendants and gods and this is certainly one of the more explicit distinctions made between them, as well as an explanation of what makes them what they are. Though it’s still a bit vague. I’d say it sounds like it’s explaining a lot more than it is. (I’m fine with that by they way.)
As a minor side nod to language — I like how Hedge’s simile of Paran making a card is “like shaking a handful of wheat flour over an invisible web” fits into what has been running imagery surrounding spiders and webs throughout the book.
It’s also interesting, Paran’s speculation that the dead soldiers may be an embodiment of “a force of nature, as if some long lost law was being reasserted, and you’re the ones who will deliver it. Eventually.” I find it interesting as we’ve had several references now to law or justice being delivered via Icarium and then later via Dejim. We’ve also got Apsalar seemingly delivering some sort of “justice” off her list. They’re not all necessarily the exact same, but it seems a pattern to me.
Another throw-away — I like that one of the few specific examples of the wreckage littering the bridge is a “gameboard,” as this is all a big chess-like game with people moving pieces back and forth across the world of the board. (With some of those pieces doing their own thing.)
A true “da da duh” cliffhanger chapter ending. Will Batman escape the Guardian of the Bridge of Death? See you next week, same Bat-time, same Bat-channel...
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.