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 Fifteen 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.
Just a note that once again, Amanda will not be joining us this post.
Paran (as Captain Kindly) forces his way past Noto Boil (the company cutter, priest to Soliel — Mistress of Healing and sister goddess of Poliel) to see Dujek, who is on the edge of death. In the sick room with Dujek is Fist Rythe Bude, who knows Kindly. She fled Shal-Morzinn after defying the Three who have ruled the land for thousands of years (and also kept Dancer and Kellanved out). Paran tells Noto Boil he is coming with Paran to attack Poliel in the temple.
Hurlochel tries to talk Paran out of the assault. Paran complains about Soliel doing nothing, saying the “so-called friendly, sympathetic gods have the most to answer for.” He orders Hurlochel to ready the army to march in a few das. Paran and Noto start for the city.
Trapped in Poliel’s temple, Quick Ben’s sister Torahaval recalls hunting him down at age ten when he’d used magic to give nightmares to his family and how he’d anticipated and planned for her hunting him down. Beside her, Bridthok categorizes foreign coins. Torahaval thinks of how Poliel will soon choose another lover from among the prisoners, now that the current one, Sribin, is rotting away. Bridthok says the Sha’ik cult has risen again around a new Sha’ik in the City of the Fallen and Poliel was harvesting an army for her, while behind all is the Crippled God. Bridthok tells her they are summoned and as they go to Poliel, Torahaval remembers a nightmare Quick Ben had told her of when he was a child: he had died but still wandered the world searching for what he had forgotten. She wonders if he had forgotten how to live.
Fiddler drags Bottle to meet Quick Ben and Kalam. Quick is stuck with a doll ritual and Bottle helps. Bottle deduces one doll is a girl related to Quick who is in desperate trouble and Quick realizes it is Torahaval. Bottle reforms the Shadowthrone doll into a Hound carrying something like a snake, then falls asleep. Quick senses the Eres was with Bottle.
Apsalar has been spying on the above meeting. She remembers that Torahaval’s name had been on Mebra’s list and thinks that both Cotillion and Shadowthrone want Torahaval dead, which she thinks is too bad. She senses Quick Ben is going to do something to help his sister and she begins to Shadow Dance.
Telorast and Curdle, watching Apsalar, decide to never mess with her. Telorast says “the doom’s come upon us” and they decide to “cause trouble.”
Quick Ben says he has to go in (meet with Shadowthrone) and Kalam is going to stay to pull him back. Fiddler has a bad feeling about it.
Paran and Noto Boil enter the city. They meet a child chosen by Soliel. The girl recalls being saved from rape by Malazans long ago (Fiddler in his gral disguise, Apsalar and Crokus back in Deadhouse Gates). She warns them enemies are coming, led by a “broke-face” man (the guard whose face was nearly bitten off by Fiddler’s horse in Deadhouse Gates). She says she will lead them to safety but Paran refuses, saying he expects a different offer from Soliel later. He sends Noto with the girl, saying he expects Soliel will “make use of” him. Paran leaves.
Noto starts to reject Paran and Soliel (through the girl) tells him to shut up, that “in that man the entire world hangs in balance and I shall not be for ever known as the one responsible for altering that condition.” She says she not plans “to witness.”
Paran meets a mob led by Brokeface, who tells him Poliel wishes to know who it is that resists her before the mob kills Paran. After noting that there is “ a beast” in Paran’s eyes, Brokeface agrees to take him to Poliel to make the offer Paran says he is there for.
Torahaval thinks she has worshipped at many gods and has realized the worship is mere reflection of the worshiper and that a single god is tortured by the multiple desires of the adherents. She also believes the gentler gods have the cruelest worshipers thanks to their certainty. Torahaval is chosen by Poliel as Sribin’s replacement. Paran’s arrival interrupts.
Paran rides in to face Poliel, sitting on a throne of malformed bones. He throws the otataral shard at her and it pierces her hand, causing her agony and the loosing of chaos power.
Quick Ben meets with Shadowthrone. Shadowthrone tells him Torahaval has earned no mercy and she has severed all ties with Quick Ben anyway, but Quick says she’s tried to but he has threads tied to her she cannot break. Shadowthrone forces Quick Ben to agree he owes Shadowthrone and then sends Quick to his sister. Shadowthrone cuts threads in the room.
Bottle sees the threads have been cut by Shadowthrone and says he can’t do anything. They then note Apsalar has seemingly joined the gray wherever Quick is. Fiddler and Kalam leave.
Captain Sweetcreek is about to take command again when she is interrupted in her yelling at Hurlochel by the arrival of the Shadowhounds racing through the camp (one literally running over Hurlochel’s group) and into the city. Hurlochel wonders why the Shadowhounds looked terrified then the Deragoth arrive.
Noto’s horse bolts, dropping him to the ground. He hears “thunder.”
Paran tells Poliel she made a big mistake messing with mortals.
Brokeface thinks he is now alone again, and remembers the day his life/pride was shattered years ago when Fiddler’s horse bit his face, causing all to look on him with revulsion and then he in turn wishing to cause misery and terror to others. Poliel has been a “gift” and he’s furious with Paran for killing her.
Quick Ben arrives in the throne room beside Torahaval. He realizes there is otataral nearby so he’ll have to physically move her out of its range before he can do anything. He hears the hounds coming.
Paran exits, just missing getting trampled by the Shadowhounds. He sees Noto and the girl and tells them they’re going to Soliel’s temple, just as the Deragoth arrive.
Quick Ben starts to drag his sister out, thinking he’s dead, that the Shadowhounds have come for him and Shadowthrone has outsmarted him.
Brokeface purposely steps in front of one of the Shadowhounds hoping to be killed but is just shouldered aside. He sees Apsalar attacking the Hounds, forcing them back then guarding the doorway with Telorast and Curdle by her side. She tells Brokeface to follow quick and his sister through a bolthole behind the throne. He says he just wants to die and she tells him to go to Soliel’s Temple. When he tells her Soliel is “ever turned away,” Apsalar tell shim not today thanks to Paran. The Deragoth arrive.
Brokeface catches up to Quick and helps him with Torahaval.
Apsalar tells Telorast and Curdle it’s time to go and leaves.
Poliel feels trapped. The Crippled God has withdrawn his power. She believes Paran understood nothing and that mortals seek their own destruction even as they deliver it to others and the world itself. She thinks “diseased minds and foul souls” had brought her into this world to heal the land, heal Burn, once they were all gone via “fever.” The Shadowhound tosses Dejim’s last body onto the dais and leave just before the Deragoth arrive and kill both Dejim and Poliel.
Brokeface convinces Quick Ben to bring his sister to Soliel’s temple
Paran and Noto arrive in Soliel’s temple and Paran summons the goddess, who arrives furious. She starts to say Paran has made a terrible mistake, but he interrupts and tells her to start healing, starting with giving Noto some of her power so he can heal the army outside the city. She agrees, though she implies Paran will soon be suffering. Quick Ben arrives and he and Paran discuss how Quick bargained with Shadowthrone to save his sister. Before leaving, Quick Ben asks Paran if they can trust Tavore and Paran tells him she will do what needs to be done and she makes no distinction between her needs and the needs of her soldiers. They agree to share a beer when it’s all over and Quick leaves just before his sister wakes.
Quick Ben arrives back at the camp where Bottle is waiting. He tells Quick Fiddler and Kalam discovered Apsalar with blood on her knives and are confronting her, thinking she killed Quick Ben. Quick Ben stops things before they get out of hand, upbraiding Kalam. Sort arrives to say they’re marching. Quick thanks Apsalar, though she says she doesn’t know what he means. He believes she wants to die.
Cotillion meets with Shadowthrone, who is surrounded by wounded shadowhounds. Shadowthrone says he had Quick Ben but Cotillion ruined it (via Apsalar).
Paran arrives back in camp with Noto and is told Dujek died. Paran realizes this is what Soliel had been talking about. Sweetcreek informs him the army voted to make Paran their leader, their High Fist.
Bill’s Reaction to Chapter Fifteen
That is not a good sighting of Dujek and it’s pretty horrible for the reader who has seen him in his moments of power. Even worse is that Dujek is not dying fighting, but is gasping away his life horribly on a cot in a tent. Of course, by now, we know as readers that near-dead doesn’t always mean dead, and dead doesn’t always mean dead, so the tension is will Dujek die or not; if he does, will he stay dead or not; if he does and stays dead, will it be “dead dead” or “walking around dead”?
I love this scene with Rythe Bude because it’s a great example of how authors can do some worldbuilding by creating a world larger than the one they’re dealing with in the story, as opposed to the kind of worldbuilding where you feel the world is constructed solely for the story and so all the world is bound within the story (if that makes sense). In other words, I like that we just get this brief little lesson on this almost entirely mysterious land and all of it will lead in this story to, well, nothing much. But still we get great and intriguing details:
- Shal-Morzinn is ruled by three sorcerers who are at least a thousand years old.
- They’re powerful enough to have made even Dancer and Kellanved think twice.
- They burns their corpses, filling them with oil so the chest explodes and frees the soul.
Tell me you don’t want a novel exploring this place....
Paran’s line: “It’s the so-called friendly, sympathetic gods who have the most to answer for” brings up some interesting questions for the reader since we’ve now might wonder how Paran might deal (or not) with some “friendly, sympathetic gods” that we’ve already seen, such as K’rul or Mael. And his eyes flaring like a “beast’s” when he talks of bringing such gods to account (and I love Hurlochel’s wide-eyed response) makes one think those gods better watch out.
“I’d swear it with one heel on Hood’s own foreskin.” I don’t have anything deep to say about this line; I just enjoyed it a lot.
“In the meantime, you command the Host, sir.” And thus it begins — Paran gets himself an army. And not so “meantime” it will turn out....
Not that I’m condoning the youthful cruelty of Quick Ben, but I love how this scene shows him as untrustworthy, devious, manipulative, powerful even as a ten-year-old, one who even then is layering schemes inside of schemes. And I think if anyone was in trouble and counting on Quick Ben to help, and knew this, it would make them feel a bit better.
Bottle has grown before our eyes as readers as more and more he is revealed to be someone of some power and significance (no matter how he tries to hide it). Seeing Quick Ben’s dilemma and fixing it is yet another way he steps up in our regard.
Note that very throwaway line by Fiddler when Quick asks if Fiddler understands him — “As clear as the moon lately.” It’s a nice subtle way to remind the sharp reader that something very funny is happening with the moon.
Apsalar’s line of thinking about Torahaval being marked for death — “both Cotillion and Shadowthrone wanted the woman dead, and they usually got what they wanted. Thanks to me and people like me. The gods place knives in our mortal hands, and need do nothing more” — is nicely ambiguous. Is this Apsalar saying it in a resigned tone of voice, planning on killing Torahaval? Or is this a resentful Apsalar saying it in a bitter tone, meaning she just might not let them “get what they wanted” this time?
I have to admit, I’m not remembering what is coming enough to know what Telorast means by “the doom’s come upon us” (save for something that I do not believe is what she means). Anyone got this? I do like the “I say we cause trouble.” Reminds me of “I aim to misbehave” from good old Malcolm Reynolds.
Love the “not the otataral one, idiot.” Nice mood breaker amidst the growing tension.
Speaking of worldbuilding, I so love that the voice of Soliel is the little girl Fiddler saved back in DG, just as the leader of the Poliel’s mob is the guard Fiddler’s horse bit in that same book. I like the way it keeps the world alive, I like that these sort of things reward readers/rereaders, and I like how Fiddler’s good deed gets rewarded in such unexpected ways.
More discussion of religion here: “All that is worshipped is but a reflection of the worshiper.” Again, I find myself nodding in agreement. I’m not sure how one avoids this sort of thing, since there is the seemingly inherent contradiction in believing in a being wholly above humanity yet one can only think as a human, and thus the wholly inhuman being ends up with all-too-human qualities. But clearly lots of people manage to get past this. I do like how Erikson forces us to examine such things though. Or I suppose, offers us the opportunity to. He can’t make a reader stop and think about it after all.
And there is “certainty” rearing its ugly head again. Funny timing, as I my ten-year-old and I were just reading one of his new magazines (Calliope, I think) which was all about the Protestant Reformation and I had to explain why all those people were getting burned at the stake.
Web imagery also making its appearance yet again, not for the first time in this chapter, though I didn’t point out the earlier one.
A nice little reminder of Dunsparrow. Erikson is really pretty relentless in keeping names and plotlines before the readers’ eyes, something other huge, sprawling epic authors could take a lesson from I think. Not just the idea (rather than having characters disappear from the mind entirely for hundreds if not thousands of pages) but the economy of it — we don’t need a recap of prior events, an expository paragraph or even sentence or two — just remind us of the name. The good reader will do the rest.
There’s a lot going on in this scene with Paran and Poliel. Two powerful beings, each acting with a sense of knowledge and well, even certainty, but each not really fully understanding things. For instance, Poliel saying “Blood was their path. And so we choose to poison it.” [italics Erikson’s] seems to confuse Paran who frowns then shrugs. I assume she is referring to the Elder Gods and the Crippled God poisoning the warrens. Anyone have a different take? And of course, Poliel doesn’t understand what Paran really is or what he plans. I do like Paran’s regret over what he feels forced to do.
So what will Shadowthrone require of Quick Ben to pay his debt? Stay tuned....
“Mess with mortals . . . and you pay.” We’ve seen variations on this line before and it remains a favorite running concept in this series for me.
So, Brokeface. A minor character. And, as presented to us earlier and now here, a not at all likable one. And one that most authors wouldn’t waste their time with I think save to make him unlikable. But here, even amidst all the literally world-shaking events going on involving major personages and ascendants and gods (Quick Ben, Paran, Poliel, Shadowthrone) we get a few paragraphs to delve into the psyche of Brokeface. The way his pride was broken the day he was maimed. The way the maiming drove his life (and I’m not saying here he had not choice in the direction) down a certain path. Then we get a few lines about his desire to die. And we get to “witness” to use the series’ terms, the possibility than the reality it seems of rebirth. We get to see someone respond to him not with revulsion with “simple regard” and already, one thinks, that begins the healing. As I said, I don’t think many authors would have spent those lines on such a character, but its moments like these that more than, say, the battle scenes, that separate for me this series from others.
And then, perhaps trying to top himself, he gets me to feel sorry even for Poliel. This is what point of view can do. This is what complexity can do. This is what careful eschewing of “certainty” can do. It robs the reader of the ease of the Dark Lord — all evil because he’s evil, and that’s all we need know. But now we get Poliel feeling betrayed. Betrayed by the Crippled God, who withdrew his lent strength it seems. Betrayed by Paran, whom she seems to believe should have understood that a war against the Elder Gods stood mortals in good stead? We get to think about how (if I’m reading this right — feel free as always to correct me) her warping and disfigurement of humans via her plague is mere revelation of the warping and disfigurement that lies within them. We get to think of her performing an act of mercy — not on a human scale — but on a larger scale that humans can’t ever consider — that by killing them off she is saving the planet. For after all, she thinks, who is doing more to destroy the land, the world, than the mortals who despoil all they touch seemingly (hard to argue that point — on a world scale, we are as virulent a parasite as they come). We get to see how she sees herself — someone dragged into the world for the world, dragged in by “diseased minds and foul souls.” Erikson forces us out of our parochial mindset where we “humans centre salvation solely upon themselves.”
I love that Quick Ben, who will face down Shadowthrone, Andii assassins, Rake, and sundry other powerful creatures, flees before his angry sister wakes up. Humanizes him a bit.
“Tavore will do what needs to be done.” Yes. Yes she will. Remember.
There’s so much for the reader to enjoy in these scenes: Poliel taken care of. Quick’s sister saved. Quick saved. Quick and Paran sharing a moment. Quick and Apsalar sharing a moment. The humor with Shadowthrone and Cotillion and the hounds. And then we’re hit with the news of Dujek’s death. An offstage death. A horrible death. And the impact is heightened by the news coming when it does. And heightened by its having its own line: “Dujek Onearm is dead.” And by it ending a chapter. So much for triumph....