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 Fourteen 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 Amanda will not be joining us this post)
Scillara argues with L’oric and the village women over her decision to give up her baby. Barathol has decided to go with the group once Cutter is able to travel. Barathol and Scillara discuss her traveling companions and she tells him to unbury Heboric as Cutter won’t want to leave him there. Barathol and Chaur go to disinter Heboric and Greyfrog speaks in Barthol’s mind, asking him to help cut him out of his former body. They get Heboric’s body and head back to town.
Greyfrog speaks to Scillara (now that she has delivered). Scillara tells L’oric the baby’s father is Korbol Dom. When she asks why Heboric was killed by the T’lan Imass, L’oric says it is part of the war between the gods. He and Scillara spar more over her decision then he leaves, saying her choice has upset Greyfrog. Greyfrog tells her L’oric is wrong and Scillara asks him to teach L’oric some humility and rid him of his certainty. Greyfrog joins L’oric.
Cutter wakes, then finds himself elsewhere as an unseen observer of Leoman and Dunsparrow entering a courtyard via warren to meet with the Queen of Dreams. She tells Leoman she’d been hoping Corabb would come with him as his favored status by the Lady (Oponn) would have been useful. She discusses Dunsparrow’s ties to Hood, Hood’s vengeance on Whiskeyjack for Dunsparrow being stolen from the god, Hood’s regret for that vengeance, the idea he might use Dunsparrow for “restitution.” The Queen of Dreams freezes Leoman and Dunsparrow and looks at Cutter, who wakes realizing she had brought him there to overhear. Barathol enters and identifies himself as Kalam’s distant cousin, tells him Scillara is alive and has given birth.
L’oric muses on how the town had brought about its own destruction and how Barathol isn’t what he’d expected, recalling what had happened in Aren and wondering why Barathol had killed Aren’s Fist. He thinks Barathol had “given up on humanity” and lost all faith, making all the less understandable to L’oric why the townsfolk respected hi so much. Greyfrog tells a story of his people involving gods’ relationships to their worshipers. The two of them leave.
Barathol works in his smithy on something to counter the T’lan Imass.
Karsa’s group come across a Jaghut corpse whose chest seems to have imploded. Samar thinks the sorcery is D’riss. Beyond the tree they discover the corpses of a half-dozen Anibar. Karsa says a scaled bear-like creature came and took one of the corpses and is probably nearby. He describes the killers (saying he knows them) and says they took a child with them. He is interrupted by the scaled bear and he rushes after it when it flees him.
Karsa returns, the bear having escaped him. Samar thinks the Anibar should simple flee the area until the invaders leave. Karsa says she doesn’t understand this place, saying he has scene many omens and they are watched by creatures all the time. The two discuss how the moon appears to be breaking up—describing how it has grown larger, has a corona around it. Samar tells Karsa it is the last moon of what once was many and speculates perhaps two collided, adding the tides are now different. Karsa remarks on the growing number of “fireswords” in the sky each night. The two then discuss Karsa’s past and plans (with Samar making erroneous assumptions) and then spar on the benefits/pitfalls of civilization.
As he and Pust travel, Mappo recalls a battle against the Nemil, remembering how many Trell had already succumbed to the life around the trader forts and settlements, from which Mappo himself had fled. The leader of the outnumbered Trell is the elder Trynigarr, who says next to nothing. Using unusual tactics, the Trell slaughter the Nemil. Trynigarr led more battles until the Nemil were forced to a truce, then he ended up a drunk after the Trell had surrendered due to starvation when the bhederin had been slaughtered. Mappo suspects Pust is delaying him. They run into Spite, who tells them she will ally with Mappo, also saying she’s pleased with what Shadowthrone has done with the Hounds, Dejim, and the Deragoth. She admits she helped free Dejim to kill Mappo, but says she’s been outlawed by the Nameless Ones and is happy Dejim failed. A waiting ship will take them across the world toward Icarium. Pust refuses to let Mappo go alone and it is agreed the three will travel together.
A nine-year-old boy wakes after surviving plague to an empty village where birds and dogs have fed on the dead. He walks out of the village, the dogs with him. He is skeletal and his joints have purple nodules on them. He leads the dogs north.
The same boy is brought to Felisin, who recognizes him as a Carrier. Kulat will do what is done with Carriers, train them and send them out to spread plague and gather more “Broken.” The worshipers have been clearing the ancient city as more arrived and turning it into a living city. All her needs save her growing sexual desire have been met. Kulat tells her the boy is healing and will stop being a Carrier and Felisin orders him kept in the palace. Kulat protests but she overrules him, much to his dismay, and she decides to rename the boy Crokus.
Bill’s Reaction to Chapter Fourteen
I love that we bring Kimloc back here, just because I liked the old guy and it’s been a while since we’ve had a reason to think of him. I confess I also like what he has to say, as it mirrors so much of my own views on the matter. I asked before if people thought there was commentary on Christianity in the prior chapters and I’d say it’s literally impossible to read this and not think of much of the world’s major religions, many of which have this vision of the post-death paradise. This isn’t to say one should read Kimloc as a mouthpiece for Erikson; there’s no reason to take anything a character says as the view of the author. But I like that Erikson uses his characters to make us think on these sort of deeper topics. Finally, I just have to point out the obvious—that focus Kimloc (who is presented to us as a pretty good guy) on empathy and compassion, two words that hang over this entire series.
Kimloc is someone whom we’ve been presented to in a fashion so as to bend us toward liking him I think. The same holds true for L’oric, for the most part, but here my response is just the opposite. I remember wondering where this guy had come from and why is he being such an insufferable prig? And I can’t say I reacted any differently on this reread. And I loved Barathol’s attitude toward him and especially his pointed “how old do they have to get before you lose all sympathy for them?”
I did like Hayrith’s characterization of him and the others harassing Scillara as “pompous twits,” but liked even better her intuitive description of L’oric: “He’s so proper he burns to the touch. Or rather, he burns everything he touches.” And later, “[L’oric] showing up here didn’t just burn you—it left you scorched, Barathol.” Which of course we readers smile at and pat ourselves on the back for catching the Liosan/fire warren wink.
Okay, to recap the results of that horrific seemingly fatal attack:
- Cutter healed
- Scillara not as bad as it looked
- Greyfrog reborn
- Heboric unburied and carried along (hmmmmm)
I was clearly in the minority last chapter when I mentioned I’d felt a bit cheated by that scene based on how it was described and how it ends up the same as if someone had just opened a warren in front of Felisin and had her walk into it and disappear.
Interesting that L’oric says “it is us mortals” who will pay the cost of gods warring. That’s some commitment to the undercover role.
We had empathy and compassion in the epigraph, and Scillara gives us another key word: certainty, when she begs Greyfrog to break L’oric’s sense of certainty.
And the war between the gods gets more complex. So the Queen of Dreams was hoping to get Corabb in the deal with Leoman, as he is favored by the Lady (which makes one wonder how that will have an impact now that Corabb has yoked himself to the Fourteenth and Tavore) and instead gets Dunsparrow. The question thus arises—is this in fact as she seems to think a proffered alliance from Hood?
And we get poor Mallet left off the hook even more, Hood having kept Whiskeyjack from accepting all those offers of healing as a means of vengeance for Whiskeyjack stealing Dunsparrow. What is equally interesting is the idea that Hood (Death after all) has regrets. And may attempt to make reparations.
So the Queen of Dreams knowing Cutter is there, having seemingly brought him there, calls into question all that he overheard: was she as surprised as she seemed that Corabb wasn’t there, that Dunsparrow was, that Hood is offering an alliance? Why the specificity about Dunsparrow’s background and Hood’s attitude toward Whiskeyjack? Why the little mini-lecture on Hood involving himself in a single death? Is this for Cutter? For Cotillion, whom Cutter speaks to? For Apsalar, whom he may speak to? For one of his current companions?
Just a little throwaway detail—note the spiders implied in the ceiling of the room where Cutter awakes: “ceiling layered in the carcasses of sucked-dry insects.”
And a bit of a tease—what is the history between Barathol and Kalam? And now that they’re both in the same book, will we see them meet?
I like how thousands of pages after we’ve learned just how fantastic the Red Blades are we get an explanation for it here: Barathol’s murder of the fist being “the first and deepest stain upon their honor, fueling their extreme acts of zealotry ever since.” And then we get a little mystery to keep us piqued for a while—why did Barathol kill that fist? What has “crushed” his faith in humanity and/or redemption? Are we going to have to wait another several thousand pages? (I will say on this topic, it does seem a bit odd nobody else thought of how the T’lan Imass didn’t need someone to open the doors)
This little section is what saves L’oric for me in this chapter, his self-awareness of his own issues: “Admit it, L’oric, you have never been able to gather followers, no matter how noble your cause.” The first step to solving one’s problem, they say....
Once again, I find myself nodding with a little treatise on religion. In this case, Greyfrog’s story, which is a pretty sharp takedown of what is done in religion’s name as well as of monotheism in general. As I take it, the argument is monotheism requires a simple/unitary world/culture view, and since the world/humanity isn’t unitary, it further requires the attempt by adherents to make it so. And thus: war, Crusades, jihads, stake burnings, etc.
I like the idea that such horrors done in a god’s name (when the god did not ask for such) weakens it then kills it. In the world of Malaz, where the gods are literal, it certainly raises a host of questions.
What is Barathol making in that forge for the Imass? One thing to rule them all, one thing to bind them?
L’oric’s recognition of how this hamlet had self-destructed due to the short-sighted nature of its inhabitants (“The forest must have seemed endless, or at least immortal, and so they had harvested with frenzied abandon. But now the trees were gone and only the Lorax remained to speak for them”) leads us nicely into Samar Dev’s thought process as she scans the land through the prism of progress and civilization:
She found herself viewing her surroundings in terms of trees left unharvested . . . of more efficient ways to gather the elongated, mud-colored grains . . . She could think only of resources the best means of exploiting them
Which in turn leads us nicely in her later discussion with Karsa about the merits of civilization. Though it is interesting that she so defends civilization there whereas here she recognizes that her focus on exploitation “felt less and less like a virtue.” Which is another point in which I find myself nodding, thinking of how often I drive past areas around me and wonder at our obsession with filling in every crack of green save for the few tame parks set aside for soccer fields.
I have to say I love Samar’s unwillingness to suffer the indignity of wearing juniper stems in favor of being bitten by swarming flies. Yes, and she’s the “wise” one....
“She half-believed this man [Karsa] could cut a swath through an entire pantheon of gods.” File.
Well, one mystery solved. We now know where the guardian went that ran into Paran’s card....
Okay, I mentioned a few times earlier that we were getting a lot of references to the moon, and now we’ve gotten quite detailed and it would appear to be a Pretty Big Deal. The moon is “crumbling”? Why does it look bigger? What is the corona around it? What are those “fireswords” arcing down in the night sky? Why is there more dust in the sky? Why are the tides being affected? This is clearly something we’re going to have to watch.
Samar is one of those typical “complex” characters in this series. She can be so smart—her inventions, her knowledge of the skies above, the connection between moon and tide, the idea of geology. And yet also so wrong—the way she looks at this environment, her assumptions on Karsa. The conversation between her and Karsa reminds me of the end of A Few Good Men (odd I know) in that you can’t simply side with one side. Is Nicholson’s character a monster? Yep. Does he make good points? Yep. Does civilization improve things? Yep. We’ve seen lots of evidence of that in the ways the Malazan conquests have an impact on the conquered lands—the outlawing of slavery for instance. Does civilization destroy things? Yep. We’ve had lots of evidence of that as well—Karsa’s people, Mappo’s Trell, Lether. It’s hard to root wholly for or against either side here, which makes it so much more like the real world.
Speaking of Mappo’s Trell, how tragic is the ending to that story—the vastly outnumbered Trell and their oh-so-taciturn leader being wily and unpredictable and using scorpions (a moment of silence please for Joyful Union) to gain “victory” and all of it ending symbolically as a drunk in an alley bemoaning not just the loss of the bhederin but also that the slaughter was made easier by half-breed Trell. And tell me you can read that passage and not substitute bison for bhederin. I sure can’t (granted, I’m steeped in American here in, well, America). As a side note, I have to say I love that one of the more detailed battled we get (and this is pretty detailed and lengthy) is a flashback to a battle that is nearly utterly inconsequential in the actual plot of the story.
You have to love that introduction of Spite—“she was eating an apple, its skin the deep hue of blood.” Archetype much?
Okay, I’m sure you all spotted it, but it’s part of the job description so: “Her [Spite’s] eyes narrowed momentarily on the mule . . ."
Yes, this is going to go well, Pust and Spite traveling together . . .
I don’t actually have much to say about Felisin at this point, save to say this scene does not bode well for comfort to come in reading her storyline. Being a Felisin, though, why would one expect differently?