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 Eighteen 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.
Five days earlier, Bottle had watched through a rhizan as Tavore, Nok, Stormy, Gesler, Keneb and a few others observed the Silanda being towed in by one of Nok’s ships. Nok and Tavore give the ship back to Gesler and Stormy, who plan to crew it with Fiddler and Balm’s squads. Nok commented on the transformation of the army with the arrival of the survivors, as well as Quick Ben and Kalam. Tavore talked of the birth of the Bonehunters back in Aren, but the others told her the Bonehunters “drew first breath” only yesterday when she gave a decoration to Sort and Sinn “confirming” the Bonehunters. Keneb said before that Tavore was Laseen’s “property” and now she “belongs to the Fourteenth.” Tavore’s face revealed dismay and fear and those watching began to doubt. In present time aboard the Silanda, Bottle recalls the ceremony with Sort and Sin and thinks of the sigil designed by T’amber: a city wall in flames and a “sloped tel beneath that wall, a mass of gold human skulls,” an echo of the old Bridgeburners’ sigil. Bottle considers the chaotic sorcery of Silanda, how it seems to dislike him and how Gesler and Stormy seem immune. He wonders what Quick Ben, Kalam, and Fiddler are up to, the first two no aboard the Adjunct’s flagship along with Apsalar. Spying, he hears Gesler tell Fiddler Grub had been the one to give him the bone whistle. Fiddler shows them a Deck someone left him with new cards. They discuss how Tavore, Quick, and others are rattled and speculate about Pearl’s disappearance, then go through Fiddler’s Deck in more detail. Stormy recognizes the artwork as T’amber’s. They see Bottle’s rat, confront him, and he pretends not to know what they’re talking about. The alarms go off.
Kalam, up in the rigging, sees they’ve sailed into an ambush with a foreign fleet. He joins Tavore and Quick Ben on the deck and they notice the strange fleet is slowing down rather than attacking. Then they react to something they see.
On board the Silanda, flanking Tavore’s ship Fiddler and Bottle feel the Edur conjuring.
Samar Dev watches four Edur warlocks conjuring power that joins with the same from other Edur ships. Karsa joins her and she and the Taxilian tell him the Edur mean to destroy the Malazan Imperial fleet. Karsa tells Hanradi Khalag that if they destroy the fleet, more Malazans will come after them. Khalag says the Edur don’t fear them, which Karsa considers foolish. The sorcery begins to rise toward the fleet. Khalag recognizes the Silanda.
Quick identifies the magic as Elder Holds “shot through with chaos, with rot.” She surprises them by naming the Crippled God. She asks Quick to try and deal with it while she goes to get her sword, which Quick says might be able to save the flagship but that’s it. Quick prepares to fight, warning he might be a “little rusty.
Bottle, feeling Quick work, sends his own will at him, fine-tuning the sorcerer’s magic, then he feels the Eres ‘al take over.
Kalam sees Quick lift off the deck as if grabbed and shaken, then the magic starts to move to meet the Edur’s.
Khalag is stunned to see Elder magic challenging his own. The warlocks suddenly collapse and the Edur wall of magic implodes, followed by the subsiding of the “earthen wall of magic” that fought it. Khalag orders a retreat and Samar is pleased by how shaken they are. The Taxilian says the Edur are calling Quick a “Ceda” and Samar says to tell them the Malazans do have a Ceda and the Malazans were not afraid.
Kalam asks Quick where his Elder magic came from and Quick says it was an illusion, and that he had help, then more help, though he doesn’t know from whom. Then he says it began as illusion but then, and before he completes that thought the Adjunct demands a meeting with Quick Ben and Kalam and they tell her it has to be a two-way one, to which she agrees.
Fiddler tells Bottle to go get himself cleaned up as he’s “messed” himself. Bottle tells him “she likes doing that . . . She plays with me. With it,” then heads away.
Veed watches Tomad ordering the merging of the Edur fleets and thinks some sort of personal tragedy has struck the Edur commander. Veed was stunned by how the Edur used the Elder magic, more stunned by the response by the Malazans, and he thinks how the Malazans showed restraint while the Edur do not. Twilight tells Veed Icarium will be tested soon then, when asked, says Tomad heard that a ship commanded by one of his sons had been seen in the Malazan fleet, evidence his son was lost, adding Tomad now hates the Malazans. Veed lists all the enemies the Malazans have faced and the mention of Rake has an effect on Twilight and then Ahlrada Ahn, who says that’s impossible. Veed tells them of Moon’s Spawn and Pale and describes Rake. Veed then makes it clear he can tell by the reaction that he has suspicions regarding Ahn with regard to the idea of Tiste Andii. Ahn leaves and Twilight comments on Veed’s stranger certainty with regard to Icarium, telling him how many Rhulad has killed. She says Tomad needs to know for sure about Icarium before leading him to his son and when Veed says she means Tomad wants to know Icarium will fail, she doesn’t answer.
Masan Gilani muses happily on the idea that they have a High Mage in Quick Ben and that she is part of the Bonehunters, though she wonders what’s next and why the Empress recalled them. Sinn joins her and settles on her chest, telling Masan “They’re all dead.” Shard joins them and says Sinn won’t tell him what happened to her at their estate, that Masani is the first woman whose cloak she’s “crawled under.” Masani realizes Shard has been following to make sure nobody takes advantage of Sinn and tells him he needn’t worry about these squads. Crying, he says he knows. He tells her he and his crew are Bonehunters now, not Ashok, and she says she’ll sew the sigil on their cloaks.
Nil and Nether discuss how Bottle saved them all. Nil thinks Nether “likes” Bottle. They discuss the Eres ‘al: her use of Bottle, whether they should tell Tavore about the Eres ‘al and Bottle, and how they’ll decide depending on what Quick Ben says to Tavore.
Apsalar joins Squint at the ship’s rail. He tells her once she knows his name she’ll shun him. He wonders if there are battled and killing on the moon and if those people look at this world. Apsalar tells him she used to think there were beautiful gardens on the moon and once a young man fell in love with her when she told him that. He tells her his name and she doesn’t know him. He asks what happened to her young man and she says she left him, loved him too much to let him be entangled with what she is. She calls him a fool and tells her to find him—love is too rare. He asks if they can talk again and she says yes. He leaves and the two make clear in their inner thoughts each really knew who the other was: killer of Coltaine and once possessed by a god.
Cotillion joins Apsalar at the rail. She says she’s doing what he wanted. He tells her he’s been careless, then informs her that Cutter’s group was ambushed, there was a grave, and that he’s lost contact with Cutter, though he doesn’t know if it means Cutter is dead. He tells her Scillara gave birth and left the child in the nearby village and Heboric is dead. The girl (Felisin) is still alive, “precisely where we [he and Shadowthrone] wanted her to be” but under the control of the Crippled God as Sha’ik Reborn. Apsalar sees this all as justice and says perhaps it is best Cutter is dead if he failed to protect Felisin. Cotillion says she doesn’t mean that and she realizes she does not, then is weeping in Cotillion’s arms. He promises he’ll find Cutter.
Amanda’s Reaction to Chapter Eighteen
The rhizan on the imperial standard is being inhabited by Bottle? I only ask because of listening intently.
Hmm, what point to the Silanda being re-manned? I know by now that the Adjunct will have very specific plans here....
I LOVE it when the Adjunct says: “For Hood’s sake [...] his name is Fiddler. It is the worst-kept secret in this army, Keneb.”
I’m a bit disconcerted by the way that Gesler and Stormy are bantering back and forth here, considering the still-recent death of Truth. No mention of him at all here, and you would have thought getting back on the Silanda would bring him to mind?
A nice little nod to the fact that the Fourteenth Army (and, now, the Bonehunters) has regained heart thanks to the arrival of the veterans. T’amber created a sigil that cements the name of Bonehunters? What interest does she have in this matter? Not just a consort of Tavore, hmm? And apparently the sigil echoes that of the Bridgeburners and Bottle thinks of T’amber: “it was sheer genius.” Just a step towards being more than what she first seems.
Ouch. That moment truly would have been perfect bar for Tavore’s reaction — now what does she know that means she doesn’t feel the same loyalty to the Fourteenth as they do for her?
There is an odd difference between the feelings of horror that those trapped beneath Y’Ghatan feel about what happened, and the way that the 14th see them. The latter don’t really consider or know how events might have affected the former.
What is it about Bottle that offends the Silanda so?
It’s weird how, at the same time that this chapter talks about new acceptance within the 14th, Bottle makes clear that there is a massive difference between the old Bridgeburners and the new 14th. Bottle is certainly very suspicious of Kalam, Quick Ben, Fiddler and Apsalar.
Oooh! Nice little chat about the Deck of Dragons that Fiddler has been given. The wolves flanking the bone throne — Togg and Fanderay? Is the Mercenary in the House of War Karsa? Or has he not yet entered the Deck? And those Guardians of the Dead must be Hedge and the rest of the Bridgeburners! If the bone throne of the House of War is empty, who is going to step up and take it? Maybe that would be Karsa?
The poor king of the House of Chains must be Rhulad — screaming....
Intrigued by Chain — “a knot in the centre, with links stretching out in all directions” — would this be a person? An event? A place?
Fiddler really doesn’t want to accept or make it generally known that the Bridgeburners have ascended into the Deck, does he? He keeps skipping over that card and not letting people have a real look at it. Treach is absent a Destriant then?
Damn! Revelation after revelation in this section: Icarium is listed as Life Slayer. The Crippled God appears to be taking two positions in the Deck and is also Death Slayer (might this be one of his representatives, rather than him in actuality?) And, finally, it looks as though T’amber wanted Fiddler to have that Deck and to use it... She really is stepping into the game, isn’t she?
I’m unsure why it is so bad that Bottle is listening in, and why he doesn’t just ask to join the conversation? I mean, he’s part of the company and what they’re saying affects him — plus he was the one who led them out of Y’Ghatan. Why is he being excluded?
Ahh! I was so worried about the fleet being encircled by the Tiste Edur but I didn’t even contemplate the inclusion of a) Quick Ben and b) the Silanda, one of their own ships. This might well change matters a little bit.
We often talk about cinematic moments in these novels and here is a classic example, with the crackling magic emanating from each Edur sorcerer and then snapping upwards to join across each ship.
Do we know how Karsa is able to cut through the magic and remove the effect from Samar Dev? Does he have otataral about his person, I forget?
Hoo boy! Quick Ben is indeed alarming, with his sudden revelation that he is able to counter this Elder magic with Hold magic of his own: “...best give me some room. It’s been a while. I may be a little...rusty.”
Ooooh! (I’ve become reduced to just making vowel sounds at this point!) Is that scent of fur that fills Bottle’s head something to do with the Eres’al? Or...? His will was brushed aside like a cobweb — the spider reference makes me think of the way Shadowthrone cut through the threads and the ability of Ardata/Mogora. Maybe this is Pust and Mogora affecting matters? (Probably very wrong!)
Jesus — has Quick Ben got equal chaotic power to that of one hundred Edur warlocks?! Oops no, read a bit further — he had help... Who?
I know we’ve been seeing that Bottle sometimes gets a “reaction” to the goddess within him, but the excitement scene makes it a little too explicit for me here.
You know something? I was massively tickled by the idea of one of the Malazan soldiers on the ships waving to the Edur before being cuffed by his comrade.
We are given a very concrete difference here as to why we should really root for the Malazans against the Edur: “The Malazans might be bloodthirsty tyrants, but they are not insane. They understand caution. Restraint.
Sometimes I am a dumb reader, needing it spelled out that Tomad’s personal tragedy would, of course, be regarding Trull and his seeming death (thanks to the appearance of the Silanda). Thank goodness that Erikson sometimes sees fit to hold our hands!
Is it bad that I see Taralack Veed’s lack of realization over what disgusts people when he smooths his hair back with his own spit as a character defect? It just makes you think that this man is a beast. Also? The man is so ignorant of many of the undercurrents and events going on with these people he’s now with and yet barrels on regardless. Distasteful to me.
I like the subtlety of Masan chortling over the fact they now have a High Mage on their side, and then, all unaware, tucking Sinn into her cloak to warm her.
I’m... more than a little uncomfortable with Sinn’s behaviour towards Masan. Somehow it reads in a way that I can forgive more than Erikson using a man in Masan’s stead, but it’s still rough on the reader. I know it is to demonstrate how broken Sinn is and probably how much in need of comfort and love, but it is very difficult. I do like how Masan gently tells Shard that he has no need to fear for his sister in that particular company — and their acceptance of the new name for the regiment.
Poor Nether — Bottle not even glancing at her, and a god stealing what she would rather was her place! And here a real indication of what power now lies within Bottle thanks to the Eres’al: “Tell her what? That some wet-crotched soldier in Fiddler’s squad is more important to her and her army than Quick Ben, Kalam and Apsalar all put together?”
I really think that this old soldier’s words are important when he looks at the moon and says: “Another realm, with other armies crawling around in the fog, killing each other, draggin’ children into the streets, red swords flashing down over’n over.” The use of realm is what makes me wonder at it.
Oh! What a poignant conversation here between Squint and Apsalar. It’s painful returning to Squint and seeing what has become of his life. And I love the way that Apsalar pretends not to know who Squint is — although I do think that she didn’t expect the honesty and feeling behind his encouragement to find Cutter (or, rather, Crokus — the boy who loved her). I think they both gained a lot more than expected from that conversation. And then, delightfully, we find out that Squint also knows who she is. Just beautifully done and delicately handled.
And hell. From that to the pain of this conversation between Cotillion and Apsalar - her grief and guilt over sending Cutter away (especially coming after Squint’s words to her regarding the lad); his comfort of her. Somehow you don’t think of a god comforting a mortal. That tiny scene had a massive impact.
Bill’s Reaction to Chapter Eighteen
I find Tavore in this chapter to be extremely interesting as it is one of the few places we get a sense of her as someone not always in control. Not the way she rubs her eyes in that conversation with Nok and the others. It’s a small, trivial gesture for sure, but with Tavore, a surprisingly telling one. We don’t usually see signs of weariness from her. Then, a few lines later, the way she breaks a bit out of character with her impatience: “For Hood’s sake . . . His name is Fiddler. It is the worst-kept secret in this army.” Like Amanda, I love this line. But it is also, again I think, shows us a Tavore under less tight reign than usual. These two small moments, incredibly small, prepare us for that moment when her face seems to reveal her fear and doubt that then gets redoubled in the faces of those watching her.
I also like Keneb’s characterization of Fiddler and Balm’s people: “what a snarly bunch of malcontents you’ve selected.” And Gesler’s reply “Yes sir” as if he’d take any other kind.
I do agree with you Amanda, though, that it’s a little surprising we don’t get a sense of Truth being missed at their sighting of the Silanda, though we do see them arrive with Silanda already in view, so we can think to ourselves that perhaps they’ve already had that moment.
We’ve had a lot of talk prior to this about how the Bonehunters had yet to be forged or molded, about how “brittle” they were. And in this scene we’re granted some hope that now all of that is behind them. Nok has noted the transformation, Tavore has, as has Keneb. They’re all together and Tavore reveals she knows more than she lets on and has always thought of the Bonehunters as a unit, the others come right back at her with the praise and credit for “confirming” their birth and as our narrator says, it all would have been perfect had it ended there. But we don’t get a lot of simply perfectly happy in this series, and so we get that ripped away from us with the “growing dismay and fear” that creeps across Tavore’s face when Keneb tells her “You belong to us”. And then the growing fear and dismay across those who witness this moment, as “doubt twisted free like newborn vipers.” And what a great image with all its associations both generally and in this book/series: the snake in the garden, the snake in the grass, the “snake” in the sense of someone who betrays, the reptilian imagery of the K’Chain Che’Malle.
And you’re right Amanda. T’amber has been creeping around the edges for a while now, but she’s starting to come into sharper view and her “genius” in creating the sigil is one such example, as is her crafting of Fiddler’s new Deck, with all its accordantly surprising knowledge of events that crafting displays.
Unlike the earlier mention (or lack of mention) of Truth, here we get the usual Erikson in that dramatic events don’t merely get dropped once they’ve supplied the basic plot needs—dramatic events are usually traumatic events, and so they reverberate for some time as they should. And thus we get the revelation that the survivors of Y’Ghatan continue to have nightmares. As they should; one should be more surprised had that not been the case.
And I love picturing that scene (and again—would love to see this on screen) of the others “returning” what had been rifled from the survivors’ kits—the way the piles keep growing until they go way past what was taken. And the movingly ambiguous gift of the daggers—“the most personal and precious of all weapons—the fighter’s last resort. The weapon that, if necessary, would be used to take one’s own life in the face of something far worse. Now, what significance are we to take from that?” Always a double-edge....
That view of Bottle’s toward Quick, Fiddler, and Kalam is a bit jarring. Suspicion I can get, fear of what they’re hatching. But that word “evil” was a shocker, though Bottle does pull back on it “all right, not evil, but something.” It’s a word I never would have considered in that regard and it does seem a bit over the top—even pulled back—from Bottle.
Balm’s recitation of Tavore’s achievement would be so much more reassuring if we hadn’t just come off that scene with Pearl and Mallick Rel (maybe from now on, I’ll just use the acronym HIHMR: Hood, I hate Mallick Rel).
As for Fiddler’s Deck, my view:
- The wolves of war—that’s a good guess Amanda. And we’ll see more of the wolves, believe me.
- The Hunter—well, that’s easy as Fiddler identifies it as Treach for us, with Heboric tossed in there for good measure (That old man with no hands)
- Guardians of the Dead: the Bridgeburners
- Mercenary/Army: not sure we get enough at this point
- Lifeslayer: obviously Icarium, as Fiddler says
- Death Slayer: Crippled God
- King in Chains: I’d go with Rhulad as you do Amanda, consider the screaming
- Chain: that’s an interesting one. Crippled God with all his plans? Or is this more a concept?
I like Karsa’s contempt for the Edur’s attitude toward the Malazans.
Once more, Quick Ben reveals himself to be a man of surprising knowledge (plus ability).
I also like how his cockiness gets revealed when Bottle tears into him to do his fine-tuning.
We get two pov’s telling us how the Edur don’t rate with the Malazans: Samar Dev’s “maybe these Edur fools feel no compunction about unleashing such things when unopposed but the same stupidity cannot be said of you Malazan, whoever you are” and then Veed’s “The Malazans might be bloodthirsty tyrants, but they are not insane. They understand caution. Restraint. These Tiste Edur, unfortunately, do not.” Of course, we should recall amid all this praise of the Malazan “restraint” that:
- a) they don’t really wield Elder power
- b) Quick Ben/the Malazans weren’t actually in control
Nice tease with that meeting between Quick Ben, Kalam, and Tavore.
Yeah, I’m with you Amanda. Not sure I needed the post-ejaculation Bottle scene. In fact, pretty sure I didn’t.
In the list of Malazan enemies Veed offers Twilight, anyone get the Sorrel Tawrith reference—I’m completely blanking on that one
That’s a interesting aside with Ahlrada Ahn and Twilight—the “hidden knowledge between the two” that Veed senses in her “voicing of the Edur’s name.” It leaves the reader wondering if Twilight knows the truth about Ahn and if Ahn knows she knows and if Ahn knows the truth about Twilight....
I do like how Veed is left uncertain at the end of that conversation he was so sure he had won.
That scene with Sinn is disturbing and uncomfortable for the reader, which I’m pretty sure is, as you say Amanda, its point. Though knowing that doesn’t make it less discomfiting. Sinn is indeed “broken.” And thus the question becomes can she be “mended”? Other questions raised here:
What is meant by “they’re all dead”? Is that a foretelling? Is it a reference to what happened at the estate? Is it a reference to the survivors of Y’Ghatan? Is this memory, omen, metaphor?
Why the attention to Sinn being so “cold”? Is it just physical cold? Is it a sign of something else? Is it a metaphor for the inner Sinn? Again, an omen?
Then there is Shard’s line and all it implies: “She won’t tell me . . . what happened at the estate. What happened . . . to her.” Those ellipses are Erikson’s, not mine, and it’s great use of elision—sometimes what is not said reveals more than what is said.
Like you, I also liked that shared moment between Masan and Shard, his fear for his sister, Masan’s response, his statement that he and his group are Bonehunters not Ashok, her offer to “confirm” that. It was heartbreaking, the tears Shard weeps at the surprising revelation of the true goodness of these people. We’ve seen this before, this protectiveness of children as a defining characteristic of these characters and we’re not done with that idea yet.
A night for conversation it appears. Masan and Shard. Nil and Nether (another young girl not what she seems, not able to be just a young girl, one who has seen too much perhaps). And now Squint and Apsalar. As you say Amanda, this conversation is so beautifully done, especially that close when both are revealed to have known the other’s secret, and both had the empathy and the compassion (you didn’t think I’d go a whole chapter recap without tossing those words in, did you?) to not reveal what they knew. This whole conversation is filled with such sorrow and regret and pain. From the personal to the general, as when Squint imagines how killing (and note killing of children especially) seems to be one of the almost elemental fixtures of the universe—permeating all realms. And the contrast of that image with Apsalar’s lost-innocence one of the moon filled with beautiful, ever-blooming gardens. And good for Squint, not letting the wreckage of his own life create such bitterness that he stays silent when Apsalar talks about leaving Cutter (and as an aside, I love that this is Squint—this character that most author’s would have dropped long ago, think of how long it has been since we’ve had a reference to this character).
And, on the topic of compassion, up pops Cotillion. Cotillion, a god who feels responsible. A god who so lacks god’s arrogance that he “hedges” in his attempt to confess what he’s come to tell Apsalar. A god who takes a mortal (well, kinda mortal) into his arms as she weeps. A god who promises a mortal something without anything in return asked. I love this character.
Note how we cycle back here to the epigraph on truth. But poor Apsalar, truth as boulders setting down one atop the other, “blotting out the light, darkness closing in, grit and sand sifting down . . .” How appropriate that it’s the image of submersion, of a cave-in, coming after Y’Ghatan (and let’s remember, they did come out the other end). Or a tomb, in a world where we see so many creatures pinned under rocks (though we see many released). And if that tomb/cave-in imager isn’t bleak enough to end this chapter, we get Apsalar’s garden dying—those ever-blooming gardens that symbolize her youthful innocence and love before this god possessed her those years ago. That is such a crushing close. Let’s hope chapter nineteen perks us up a bit....
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.