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 Nineteen 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.
Barathol wakes to the sound of the sea and of Cutter and Scillara having sex. Yesterday they had met a caravan that told them the plague was broken. Barathol and Scillara discuss Cutter, with Scillara saying she’s helping him and Barathol worried she’ll hurt him if Cutter falls in love with her, which Scillara says is impossible.
Cutter wakes and Scillara asks if anyone had noticed how funny the moon looked and how some things seem to be getting closer. Barathol speculates something hit the moon (like the Crippled God hit their world) and that the blotches are smoke and ash or perhaps pieces of the moon. They decide to explore a nearby abandoned village.
They find a boat and supplies in the village. Scillara tells Cutter he needs to trust himself more and he says past events haven’t earned that. She tells him people like them can’t do anything when confronted by T’lan Imass or god; they just have to try and stay below their notice. Then they can “clean up the mess” once things get back to normal. They go back and forth a bit and Scillara thinks to herself Cutter needs to fear those who worship consistency and instead should embrace contradiction. They set sail for Otataral Island.
Onrack is impatient with waiting for death in defense of the First Throne. Trull joins him and says Monok has sensed the Edur have retreated for some reason, adding he doesn’t know how much longer he can fight. Minala has ordered the children to leave but they refused. Trull asks Onrack regrets his newly-awoken emotions, and Onrack replies it reminds him of why he is called “The Broken.” He continues to say he plans on challenging the Edur’s leader when they next attack, hoping to make them reconsider their alliance with the Crippled God or at least withdraw for a longer time. He adds he is “done with defending the indefensible [with] . . . witnessing the fall of friends” and says Trull will witness something the other Imass cannot do — Onrack will fight in anger.
Banaschar finds Pearl in his room waiting for him. Pearl asks why he is trying to get in touch with Tayschrenn. When Banaschar accuses Pearl of intercepting his messages, Pearl says it isn’t him and that Tayschrenn is being effectively isolated, which concerns Pearl. He makes it clear he knows something of Banaschar’s concern, referring to the slaughtering of adherents within D’rek’s cult. Pearl informs Banaschar someone apparently is considering assassinating him to prevent him from getting to Tayschrenn. Banaschar thinks there is a new group rival to the Claw that is trying to isolate Tayschrenn, and that Tayschrenn’s inaction so far leads this group to think he may not object to whatever action they plan. Banaschar and Pearl discuss the relationship between gods and their worshippers and the idea of betrayal. Banaschar says the adherents of D’rek were killed by the goddess for their betrayal: in the war of gods, D’rek’s adherents chose the Crippled God and demanded the “power of blood.” Banaschar says Tayschrenn, when he left the cult’s Grand Temple, took with him important texts that might help figure things out. Pearl gets the concern — that the gods will betray the mortals and “mortal blood will soak the earth” whether they worship or not. He says he will tell Laseen, who is coming soon to the island.
Mappo watches Spite in conversation with some spirit. Pust tells Mappo Mael is furious, is resisting this spirit but “She’s not afraid of him . . . of anyone,” adding that Mael’s ambivalence is what allows his followers to do what they want. The spirit leaves and joins them, informing them that the ship is crewed by Tiste Andii ghosts. She warns them a convergence is coming worst than any the world has ever seen. She, her sister, Icarium, and Mappo will be there. Mappo asks if he will stop Icarium or if Icarium is “the end of everything.” Spite says it may depend on how “prepared you are . . . your readiness, your faith.” Mappo says he understands.
Veed tells Icarium his test is approaching, that he will be set against enemies of the Edur. When Icarium asks who they are, Veed says it doesn’t matter; Icarium must convince the Edur by ending the battle, delivering peace with his sword.
Bottle senses something in the air. He tells Fiddler the Eres’al is with them and it is her presence setting Fiddler and Balm on edge, adding she is pushing them west faster than they’d go normally toward Sepik. Fiddler and he discuss the relative morality/ethics of using the kind of sorcery the Edur were using.
Quick Ben tells Kalam the Adjunct knows a lot more than she’s admitting. He says the Seven Cities uprising and subsequent plague served the Crippled God and Poliel and so the Malazans ‘won” but also lost. Kalam says they can’t worry about the gods and goddesses.
The fleet arrives at Sepik and finds the city slaughtered by the Edur. Apsalar tells Tavore the Edur had found their kin, a “remnant population” enslaved and took vengeance, adding the Edur are going home now. Tavore heads off to find Quick Ben. When asked by Keneb how she knows all this, Apsalar doesn’t reply, but Nether says a god comes to Apsalar and “breaks[s] her heart. Again and again.” Nil says Nether “lusts after someone [Grub]” and she runs off.
Cuttle points out since Sepik is an Imperial principality; the Edur attack is an act of war with the Empire. Bottle warns them they don’t’ want a war fought with Holds sorcery. When they say Quick Ben faced it down with some help, Bottle says some allies you don’t want, the ones whose goals are beyond comprehension. He thinks how the Eres’al is driving them through Mael’s realm in a hurry, “into the heart of a storm.”
Amanda’s Reaction to Chapter Nineteen
Now this delicate description of Cutter and Scillara coming together in love making and Barathol’s thought that she might be able to take the haunted expression from his eyes is much more what I expect from Erikson than any of his crude comments, such as where we saw Bottle ejaculating while the Eres’al rode him.
I like also that Scillara is so sure that she is doing right by Cutter, and that he won’t fall in love with her — it does make it almost a selfless act. And, finally on this point, it’s nice to see Cutter have a little more direction. He seemed completely desolate during his journey with Heboric and the others, and now he finally seems ready to take charge again.
The moon has been mentioned again — this surely can’t just be chance? Something has been happening with it since Mogora’s healing of Mappo Runt.
Oh... Chaur’s reaction to seeing the sea really touches my heart.
Why does Barathol choose Sanal’s Grief? I’m presuming there is a reason for that?
Okay. Ick. Forgot that Scillara has only just had a child and would still be issuing milk. Ick. I know other people might find this perfectly fine, but I consider it a little bit repugnant!
Scillara’s pragmatism is, I think, what Cutter most needs to hear right now. For a long time he’s been either directly influenced by a god, or surrounded by people who deal with gods — I think he’s lost sight and perspective of what he’s actually able to achieve. Sort of like Xander in Buffy (we keep using that as an example, don’t we?) — he’s surrounded by witches and Watchers and vampires and slayers and doesn’t have any powers of his own, yet still has his own place in proceedings, although he often needs reminding of this.
It is only after seeing the inhuman attitude of some T’lan Imass that you come to appreciate Onrack’s attitude — and especially his reaching towards anger as he considers the futility of “witnessing the fall of friends.”
For someone who has been trying to get messages to Tayschrenn, Banaschar sure seems to be ignorant of the fact that this might bring him to the attention of those who would wish him harm!
There is nothing more creepy than the idea of a person being in your room as you arrive back, sitting in the dark, aware of your name, and part of a group not known for being too pleasant...
I think that this question is at the heart of what Banaschar needs to convey: “Which is the greater crime, Pearl, a god betraying its followers, or its followers betraying their god?” Certainly the relationship between god and follower is being carefully examined in this novel and, indeed, across the series.
This conversation between them — this discussion of moral quandary — is very detailed and probably a little over my head, especially considering I don’t have any faith in a god.
D’rek killed her own followers? To avoid letting them go to the Crippled God? To give them the blood they demanded of her? Jesus! [Bill: No pun intended?]
And here we learn that Laseen is heading to Malaz City... What for? What are her plans? What part is she playing in the burgeoning war between the gods, if any?
Hmm, I’m unsure as to the ‘she’ who Spite talks to. A Dal Honese entity, as is suggested? Or maybe Eres’al? Certainly someone Mael is not keen on, by the sounds of what Pust says.
It seems distinctly odd to consider that Icarium would be a deliverer of peace, considering the amount of death and disaster that would precede any peace. “With my sword, I can deliver peace.” I think the only true way he could deliver peace with his sword is if he destroys himself....
There are a few instances now where it has been suggested that members of the Malazan Empire — prominent members — are no longer working for the benefit of the Empress. She is losing people, I think.
Haha! I’m definitely grinning at the idea of Quick Ben hiding in the bowels of the ship. Amused — and slightly scared at the idea!
Wow, that is a hell of a point that Quick makes... “The Uprising, what did it achieve? How about slaughter, anarchy, rotting corpses everywhere. And what arrived in the wake of that? Plague. The apocalypse, Kalam, wasn’t the war, it was the plague. So maybe we won and maybe we lost.” The Crippled God most certainly benefited from what happened in the Seven Cities.
So Tavore knows a lot more than she is saying, doesn’t she? Who is informing her?
Right, I know that we have spoken about Apsalar and Cotillion and the nature of their relationship, but quotes like this keep it ambiguous: “Because a god visits her, Fist. He comes to break her heart. Again and again.” Or is this to be interpreted that Cotillion’s news is always of a nature to hurt Apsalar? Care to comment?
And the Tiste Edur? Scary. Killing a whole island worth of people... I’m sure the Empress will see that as an act of war.
Lastly? Bottle’s continued warnings. Will no one listen to him?
Bill’s Reaction to Chapter Nineteen
This scene is presented very tenderly. For instance, Barathol thinks of it as “lovemaking” rather than any of the many more prosaic names he could have chosen (after all, this isn’t a “couple”). The sounds as well add to the soft presentation: the bedclothes “rustle,” there’s a “muted murmur” (the consonance enhances to softness), the background noise is a “susurration.” The simile continues the tender mood: the sea sounds “like wind stroking treetops.” And it happens at dawn — ever the sign of a new beginning and of hope.
With the tender, positive presentation, however, comes a bit of anxiety and potential trouble, as Barathol worries that if Scillara ends up rejecting or hurting Cutter, it will seal Cutter’s fate so he doesn’t recover, a nice bit of tension in this opening otherwise very warm pleasant scene (much as the reminder of the plague, though over, in the middle of the scene does).
As you say Amanda, yet another reference to something going on with the moon. Though this is a more straightforward, concrete reference than we usually get, even in its speculative portion. The idea that there are things moving in the sky apparently nearing this world, that there appears to be ash or smoke surrounding the “mottled” moon (I also like how “mottled” is often used in terms of disease which fits the whole plague imagery throughout), and then the speculation of Barathol that something is falling and maybe pieces of the moon have broken off.
I’d love to give you an answer for Sanal’s Grief versus Dhenrabi’s Tail Amanda, but I have no idea. It’s so specific one feels we should know these references somehow. Anyone? I was wondering if the Dhenrabi’s Tail is some bawdy joke that doesn’t end well for someone, but that’s merely a guess.
I can see your reaction to the milk moment Amanda, (there goes your “delicate” scene, eh?), but one way to look at it as well, beyond the physical reality, is that it’s a sign of Cutter beginning again, like a new baby just starting out.
I do like Scillara’s pragmatism. There are the people that need to, as she says, “reassert the normal world” once the “great and powerful” are done doing what they do. On the other hand, we also see that the “normal” folks, the “grunts” so to speak in this context, can in fact face down “things like the T’lan Imass, things like gods and goddesses.” Or as one wise old elf once said, “Such is oft the course of deeds that move the wheels of the world: small hands do them because they must, while the eyes of the great are elsewhere...”
I love how this philosophical discussion ends: “Get off your ass, woman. We’ve got a good wind...” Talk about cutting through with a knife.
“If you make a list of those people who worship consistency, you’ll find they’re one and all tyrants or would-be tyrants . . . Never fear contradiction, Cutter, it is the very heart of diversity.” This is, it seems to me, just another formulation of all those warnings we’ve had throughout this series from a variety of characters with regard to “certainty.” As well as another reformulation, via the word “diversity,” of the many positive allusions to the idea of empathy, of being able to put oneself in the place of “the other.” Clearly, one needs diversity to have an “other.”
That innocence of Chaur plays as nice background music to all of this. I also like the playfulness of how Scillara left a child behind but they still travel with a child anyway. One could also argue all of these people are children in the sense that they are all starting anew, some of them embarking on a second life, some on a third (or possibly more)
And from children and innocence, in a smooth move, we go to those who once were children but long, long ago, and whose innocence was stripped long ago as well — Minala’s children, witnesses to slaughter, victims of crucifixion, and now witnesses to their own slaughter in their seemingly futile defense of the First Throne. This passage also shows a tight sense of unity with what has come before in Onrack’s thoughts on “lying with lovers and the reference to “the first fire of life . . . To lie with a lover was to celebrate the creation of fire.” Recall that Cutter and Scillara made love near the fire and when Scillara sat up after having sex the first we see is “flint and iron, a patter of sparks as she awakened her pipe.”
Onrack’s memories of his fallen kin doomed to stare at the same spot for eternity is grim to say the least. But I do like how following the death we get the images of life, in the cyclical nature of this series: “some timid creature scampering through, a plant exuberant green pushing up from the earth [“the force that through the green fuse”] after a rain, birds pecking at seeds, insects building empires.” Also another commentary on the significance (or not) of human empire
This whole plot point is so heart-breaking — Cotillion’s arrival amidst so many dead children, his sorrow and guilt, Minala’s grief and guilt, Trull and Onrack’s guilt, grief, fighting against despair, Trull weeping over killing his kin, Onrack awakened to emotion and this is the emotion he must deal with, the children rejecting Minala’s order to abandon the throne. Not a lot concrete to pin one’s hope to — a vague promise of help from Cotillion (though only when things get “really” bad), and a vague sense of some animal-like presence that feels some empathy for them. Though the end of the scene does send a bit of a thrill — we’ve seen the efficiency of the T’lan Imass in their indifference; what might it be to see an Imass fighting with true emotion, with a true cause?
A relatively brief scene with Banaschar and Pearl, but one that sets us up with lots of intriguing storylines:
- Who is considering assassinating Banaschar?
- Will they succeed?
- Who feels strong enough to set themselves up against the Claw? (we’ve already had hints to this, which might give us our answer to our first question)
- What is the larger plan of that group?
- Will Tayschrenn intervene or not?
- Why is Laseen coming to Malaz Island?
- If D’rek has killed her own priests for choosing the side of the Crippled God, will D’rek now take an active role in the war itself? Is she going to be an ally to K’rul, Mael, and others?
I think you’re right about that pivotal question re which is the greater betrayal — a god of its followers or its followers’ betrayal of their god? The moral questions are in fascinating I think (as mentioned, I’m a big fan of these philosophical moments) even though I’m an atheist myself. But the problem, as Pearl says, is that the conversation devolves into a thicket of hypotheticals and complications. Maybe making a point that the “certainty” and “consistency” of organized religion is delusion at its core?
There’s an interesting contrast in this scene from the earlier ones. Where we had warmth and hope and “fire” in prior scenes, and a dawn that brought more warmth and seemingly hope, here we have Banaschar opting to not light the lantern (no fire), Banaschar “shivering,” Banaschar feeling “his heart smothered in a bed of ashes,” and “dawn was coming, and with it a dull chill.”
The “she” is the Eres’al Amanda. We get a clue when Mappo thinks of the spirit’s haze as “like dust skirling through yellow grasses,” its presence as “warm, dry, smelling of grasslands.” Later Bottle makes the connection more explicit when he notices the “wind itself was brown-tinged,” tells Fiddler. “She’s with us now” and confirms it’s the one Fiddler says “plays with your....”
When Pust says it is Mael’s “ambivalence that so frees his followers to do as they please,” we might want to recall we know one of Mael’s followers, a certain Jhistal priest. (HIHMR)
Mule! “It brayed again and in that sound Mappo imagined he could hear laughter.”
I think Icarium can be the deliverer of “peace” the same way nuclear war would deliver peace Amanda — the peace after the storm so to speak.
We’ve heard an argument similar to Veed’s before “two opposing forces — no matter how disparate their origins, no matter how righteously one begins the conflict — end up becoming virtually identical to each other. Brutality matches brutality.” Reminds me of that classic Star Trek episode with Abraham Lincoln when he tells Kirk (I think) the good guys must use the methods of the bad guys, match their savagery, then at the end when the aliens say there appears to be no difference between good and evil, Kirk says their motivations were different. I’m with Kirk on that one, as I’ve said before.
The conversation between Fiddler and Bottle is an interesting one along the same lines — just where does one draw the line in war? The Malazans employ sorcery as well, obviously. But what surprised me a bit is that Bottle didn’t bring up the Malazan munitions. This will be a debate we’ll return via other characters several times in this series. It seems an example to me of Scillara’s “contradictory” nature of humans. We’ll wage war against each other, but after WWI, we decided even war needed rules, such as no poison gas. That was seen as too horrific in an horrific war. An odd concept if one simply considers logic.
Funny to hear Kalam echoing Scillara’s words: “What these damned gods and goddesses are up to — it’s not our fight.” But is that true?
I think you’re right, Amanda, that the nature of Cotillion’s news breaks her heart, but it is unintended, and my guess is that its effect in turn breaks Cotillion’s own
And yes, when will people start listening to Bottle?
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.