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 Seventeen 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.
Banaschar enters Coop’s Hanged Man Inn in Malaz City and meets with a man he knows only as “Foreigner,” who tells him lots of transports have come in from Korel. A recent purge had killed some local Wickans in the Mouse Quarter; Duiker, Coltaine, Bult, etc. are now considered traitors, and rumors abound: neither Coltaine nor Sha’ik are really dead, the rebellion in Seven Cities isn’t really over, plague and a new Sha’ik Reborn, Drek’s priests and priestesses have disappeared to hunt Wickans, a citizen army prepares to march on the Wickan Plains, Tayschrenn is in Mock’s Hold. Banaschar can sense Tayschrenn and has sent messages to him but gotten no response. Foreigner says Banaschar seems to be slowly giving up, and that he (Foreigner} has been waiting for years but has come to a kind of faith, adding he’s not “unfamiliar with drowning.” Temper joins them.
Aboard a ship in the north sea, Ahlrada Ahn recalls a Bluerose tapestry depicting a history of the Andii. Ahn thinks of his placement as a spy among the Edur, recalls how Rhulad banished Trull, how he was ordered to find Fear and Udinaas, failed and was nearly executed before being ordered out again to seek champions to fight Rhulad. He recalls as well how they found “fallen kin . . . lesser creatures.” He thinks that maybe they had found someone who might kill Rhulad, though not forever.
The Letheri Commander Atri-Preda Yan Tovis (Twilight) tells a seasick Veed that Tomad Sengar isn’t impressed with Icarium and Veed needs to convince him otherwise or they’ll pitch them overboard. Icarium says he doesn’t want to kill anyone. Veed points out their fellow passengers, the fallen Edur who had been enslaved and thought the Edur saviors but are now mistreated. Veed reminds Icarium they seek vengeance for “what they witnessed” of the Edur and warns him they won’t get the chance if Icarium doesn’t rouse himself. When Icarium protests against killing innocents, Veed rejects the idea that there is any innocence and tells him only Icarium can end the abomination of the Edur Empire and do justice. Tovis tells them Sengar is considering a test for Icarium.
Cotillion arrives at the First Throne and meets Ibra Gholan and Minala, who is battered and wounded. She tells them the Edur arrive via chaos warren and have attacked four times, inflicting heavy losses on her children, adding without the T’lan Imass, Trull, and Apt, she would have lost. Cotillion says the warren is evidence of the alliance they had feared and implies worse will come. He agrees to send more help “when the need is greatest.” Minala, angered, tells him she’s lost hundreds and more are dying. He replies Shadowthrone will come heal the wounded. Trull thinks once the Edur recognize him, they will return with warlocks. Cotillion speaks with Monok Ochem, Onrack, and Trull. Onrack says the Edur, when they win the Throne, will realize they cannot use it and wonders why Minala’s children sacrifice to defend it. Cotillion says because the Edur will use Chaos to destroy the throne and when Onrack asks if that’s a problem, Cotillion has no answer. Monok and Onrack argue and Onrack says he fights for his own reasons. Cotillion wonders why Monok can’t call more T’lan Imass and Monok answers the others journey to war. When Cotillion says they cannot win in Assail and there is nothing to gain there anyway, Onrack says the Imass continue out of pride, warning Cotillion that the power of the First Throne over the T’lan Imass is weakening as Shadowthrone “loses ever more substance.” Cotillion asks if they can restore the Throne’s power, but when the Imass make clear they will try and kill Onrack if he replies, Cotillion tells him not to. Monok calls Cotillion dangerous and says they need to think about him. Trull asks if Cotillion will withdraw them now that the First Throne defense has no meaning, but the answer is no. Minala begs Cotillion to take the children and he says he can’t. Onrack says Cotillion is walking an unseen path and they won’t see him again (much to Cotillion’s dismay). Panek tells Cotillion he misses Edgewalker’s stories of dragons and shadows, and of how “they all cast shadows, Uncle . . . into your realm . . . That’s why there’s so many prisoners.” Cotillion is shocked by the implication.
Trull doesn’t understand why the Edur fight half-heartedly, or even why they’re here and not seeking the Throne of Shadow, wondering if it’s because of the alliance with the Crippled God and the Unbound Imass. Onrack tells Trull Minala prays Trull will fight on, defending her children and when Trull weeps, he apologizes, saying he’d hoped to instill pride but has caused despair. He tells him he senses an “animal” presence watching them with compassion. Shadowthrone appears and says it isn’t him and then begins to heal.
Feather Witch tells Samar to teach her language. Samar refuses and when Feather Witch threatens her, Samar says Karsa will kill everyone on the ship (save the chained) if Samar is killed. Feather Witch leaves and Samar thinks of her as dangerous, one without honor. She worries she’s now thinking of Karsa as a weapon as well and wonders if he knows he’s being used, then thinks he does and will turn on his manipulator(s) eventually. The Taxilian tells Samar how he was captured, how the Edur warlocks killed the Tanno Spiritwalker on the Taxilian’s ship (thought the Spiritwalker resisted longer than expected). He explains he is “teaching” Feather Witch four languages (extending his usefulness) and says the two halves of the Edur fleet plan to meet near Sepik then head home. They discuss Karsa and the “liberated” Edur below decks, but are interrupted by the sighting of the Malazan fleet. The Taxilian tells her the Edur plan on annihilating the fleet this time because Sengar’s ships are behind the Malazans.
Banaschar heads to Coop’s, noticing that he’s being followed. He meets Braven Tooth and tries to get him to help get Banschar’s message to Tayschrenn. Braven Tooth says he’s in mourning for lost friends in Y’Ghatan he just heard of. Temper joins them.
Pearl, in Mallick Rel’s room in Mock’s Hold, mourns Lostara Yil’s death. He tells Rel his report will upset Rel’s plans, but Rel says Rel alone was a true witness to events on Seven Cities and that history is “revised.” Pearl knows Rel’s agents are everywhere, whispering rumors, making Rel into a hero, stirring up the populace against the Wickans. Rel tells Pearl to talk to Dom in the catacombs and listen to his story of how he was really Laseen’s agent when he fought with Sha’ik, that he was going to kill Sha’ik, but then “discovered” a “greater betrayal.” Pearl warns Rel that the Claw is outside the Jhistal priest’s influence but Rel seems to threaten the Claw itself.
Amanda’s Reaction to Chapter Seventeen
Hello! *waves wildly* I definitely needed that break. I’m now on the fourth chapter of today, so you’ll forgive me for being a bit brief in my reactions (you can go back and check my thoughts on the three chapters I missed now in the comments section). But I thought best to pick up the thread of the re-read. As Bill said, sometimes it ends up wiping you out trying to do in-depth analysis of each chapter!
Ouch. That snippet from Kayessan hurts — seeing how Coltaine’s actions could be reversed easily and portrayed as betrayal. I’m sure some commanders from history would be aghast at how their actions are now presented...
We’ve seen Malaz City and particularly Coop’s Hanged Man Inn before, when we did the read of Night of Knives — and it definitely seems much more infused with flavour and drama the way that Erikson writes it.
Ah, another mysterious character! Foreigner this time, rather than Traveler or any of the others. Based on past experience we’ll either learn almost immediately through clues who he might be, or it will be one of those ongoing mysteries... Straight away we discover that he has an accent that a person very well traveled cannot place.
And Banaschar — an ex-priest of D’rek. Ex why? His desire, his god’s demise? Oooh, what does he have over Tayschrenn that the High Mage should be responding to his messages?
We’ve seen a number of casual references to Korel, and it’s starting to build to the point where I’m expecting us to head to that locale soon.
Another little clue as to Foriegner’s identity: “whose massive hands and wrists were scarred and puckered with weals.”
I really like the way Erikson makes clear the fact that rumour and false tales can be enormously damaging. The sacking of the Mouse Quarter, the stoning of Wickans etc — all because of tales coming secondhand. This must have happened so often in the past, and happens now. We have the media creating panic — at least in this Malazan world there isn’t anything like that!
Woo! Hi, Temper!
A nod to Star Wars? “Somewhere in the vaults of a city far, far away...”
Fabulous look at the three brothers born to Mother Dark — and an interesting nod to the fact that Anomander has denied his darkness in favour of chaos. Especially because we now know that chaos is something we should be watching out for in this series.
Equally fabulous seeing how Ahlrada Ahn hid amongst the Tiste Edur as a spy, watching them rather than hiding with the rest of his kin in Bluerose.
I enjoyed the whole section that brings us up to date with the happenings in Letherii and the Edur overlords establishing their empire. Rhulad’s madness seems to be worse and worse, with barely a leash on it, and now this horrendous plan to find a champion (Guest!) who will be able to defeat him finally. What is most poignant is Ahlrada Ahn’s thoughts about Trull, his regret that he watched Trull’s shorning and was not brave enough to speak up or tell Trull he was right.
Huh! While Ahlrada picked up Karsa, Tomad Sengar picked up Icarium... Is this Icarium’s true task? To destroy Rhulad? Or has he been sent there to meet Karsa and destroy him?
It makes me sad that Cotillion’s customary condition is grief-laden, that he remembers joy only with nostalgia.
Ah! Now this is a passage that is so fundamentally true: “And the blood, which they had shed so profusely, had yielded no evidence of its taint, for neither the name of a people nor the hue of their skin, nor indeed the cast of their features, could make life’s blood any less pure, or precious.”
I did forget that Minala was one of those protecting the First Throne. (Bad reader!) Here another mention of the fact that those attacking the First Throne are from chaos and here: “Proof of the alliance we had feared would come to pass.” Tiste Edur and K’Chain Nah-Ruk? [Bill: Edur and the Crippled God]
Oh bless Trull Sengar — more misery for him... Killing his own kin in order to protect the First Throne; a terrible option.
Ha! I love the fact that Cotillion contemplates the fact his hair needs cutting — how mundane, indeed! Oh, and I have worked out the PERFECT person to play Cotillion in a Malazan movie: Tom Hiddleston, who plays Loki in The Avengers! Thoughts? And general thoughts about any other casting? I know you guys have probably considered this before...
Wow, it is remarkable to see Cotillion lose control here, shouting at Monok Ochem about the T’lan Imass persisting in a war on Assail that seems to avail them naught.
Oh my word! Shadowthrone is gradually losing substance, becoming impure — what effect, if any, does that have on events?
My mind is full from all the information coming my way, the blows that I am receiving, concerning the actual non-obedience of the T’lan Imass, the fact that it is known how to restore the power of the First Throne. Almost too much!
I wish, I truly wish, that I could comprehend the stunning effect of some of these words — I am actually jealous of you re-readers in this case, that you know exactly what is meant when Panek says: “They all cast shadows, Uncle [...] Into your realm. Every one of them. That’s why there’s so many...prisoners.” I am wondering if it is relating to dragons, since we saw Telorast and Curdle as prisoners in the Shadow Realm.
With this brief glance at Trull and Onrack — and with the background I’m now aware of regarding Trull — I can suddenly see the fondness that many of you had for this duo. I am especially touched here by Onrack’s attempts to ease Trull’s pain and grief.
I like that Samar Dev immediately recognises the negative aspects of Feather Witch’s character, makes me think more of her. Same applies for the fact that she recognises in herself that she has started thinking of Karsa as a weapon. This is the kind of self-realization that is awesome to see in a character.
From the conversation between Samar and Taxilian we learn that this Edur fleet is going to end up around Sepik — I’m remembering what Grub said!
What?! The Imperial Fleet is at risk? This is starting to become truly explosive...
Amused by Banaschar’s internal thoughts, particularly about the reports of the person following him!
How is it possible to feel sorry for Pearl? Yet I do, in his grief about Lostara. And how about this? “Hood take this damned, foul city anyway. Why must imperial events ever converge here? [...] Genabackis had Pale. Korel had the Stormwall. Seven Cities has Y’Ghatan. In the heart of the Malazan Empire, we have Malaz City. Where is begins, so it returns, again and again. And again. Festering sores that never heal, and when the fever rises, the blood wells forth, sudden, a deluge.”
Ick. Mallick Rel. Isn’t he dead yet? I was hoping he would have met a rather horrid fate... And what a sinister end to the chapter — knowing that Rel is planting those rumours, that Rel and Dom are in cahoots. Not good!
Bill’s Reaction to Chapter Seventeen
I hate this storyline with the rewriting of history regarding Coltaine and the others. I love the theme, think it very well handled and more than plausible. But oh, how I hate it.
Yep, Foreigner is a mystery. We are granted a few (not obvious) clues:
- the unplaceable accent
- his “hands and wrists scarred and puckered with weals”
- he talks like a sailor according to Banaschar
- he is not unfamiliar with drowning
Note how Erikson again weaves in reminders to us when Foreigner’s accent is introduced, as we have Banaschar name among the places he’s been: Nemil, Perish, Shal-Morzinn, etc. which either have been mentioned in regard to other characters or will be.
So there are the flames/fire implied in the opening poem — the populace is being manipulated, attitudes are being molded, and events are being set into motion. And how easy it is, to turn the mob against someone, anyone the finger is pointed at.
That’s a nice narrative tease with regard to Tayschrenn: why is he in Malazan? What does Banschar know that also keeps him there? What frantic message is he trying to get to Tayschrenn? Is Tayschrenn not getting the messages or ignoring them?
“The world, Ahlrada Ahn knew, was indifferent to the necessity of preservation.” That’s a great, if somewhat sad, line and one which sums up so much of one of this series’ themes. As for the “endless repetition of willful stupidity that so bound peoples and civilizations,” well, we’ve certainly heard a myriad of variations on that topic, and seen it in a myriad of images as well.
Well, even if we didn’t know at this point that Bluerose was an Andii place, do you think some of the titles might have tipped us off? The Obsidian Throne, the Black Winged Lord, the Onyx Wizards. Hmmmmm
It’s a sad reminder of Andarist, especially when we get to the line “he would continue his guardianship of Mother Dark, in isolation, and in this would be found the measure of his life.” And indeed, it was.
It’s also interesting to hear Silchas Ruin as the one who attempted “reconciliation,” mediation — something to keep in mind.
“Betrayal ever haunts those three brothers” Well, “ever” is a pretty long, ongoing concept. Does this mean we should be wary of betrayal still, with those brothers remaining?
And of course, outside of the interesting tidbits in this, the section also serves as a nice tidy reminder recap of past events: the war against the K’Chain Che’malle, the turning away of Mother Dark, the betrayal of Scabandari, Hannan Mosag’s unification of the Edur tribes, the shorning of Trull (and now we see who one of the “brothers” in that scene was), Fear and Udinaas’ disappearance, the fleets sent out to seek champions.
And I’m with you, Amanda, how sad is Ahn’s regret, his too-late recognition of Trull’s honor and clear sightedness?
Note how we get a glimpse of the corruption and cruelty the Edur have fallen into (note as well the use of “poison,” that word that was such a repeated theme in Midnight Tides): “their [the Letherii] overlords did nothing beyond consuming wine and the endless courses of meals; or took to their sumptuous beds Letherii slave women, and those that they”mi use dup, left broken and raving with the poison of Edur seed, were simply flung over the rail.”
Veed is good at what he does, huh? Will Icarium find a last innocent to refute Veed’s claim?
And yes, Yan Tovis does, as Icarium says, “hide herself.”
Cotillion. I’m not sure there’s a character that evokes more emotion from me more consistently. We can see the effects of ascendancy, of long-life, that struggle he has to recollect his moments of “unmitigated joy.” It’s not just the loss of memory that is problematic, but if we are the sums of our memories, of our experiences — if they are what makes us what we are, then how can we not become something other than we are once we’ve forgotten so much?
And how smooth a move is it that after Veed speaks of innocence Cotillion muses on how “that golden past moment of true peace and wellness . . . was rooted in childhood, in a time before the strictures of enlightenment had afflicted the soul, when what had seemed simple unfolded its complexity like the petals of a poison flower, to waft its miasma of decay.”
And how often is this the truth of our world: “too young in truth to be soldiers.”
And how often has this truth gone willfully ignored in our world: “neither the name of a people nor the hue of their skin, nor indeed the cast of their features, could make life’s blood any less pure, or precious.”
I like how Cotillion stands as the antithesis of Veed with his sharp justification of “the rightly punished,” while Cotillion calls those who make such distinctions “Wilful fools with murder in their rotted hearts . . . with such conviction, the plunging of knives proved so very easy.”
When we read Cotilion’s “The fallen had but one message to deliver to the living, and it had nothing to do with forgiveness,” let’s not forget what this series is called....
Yes, you have to love the haircut thought coming out of nowhere like that. Talk about humanizing this near-god. And not just with the hair cut thought, but then the thought after that — that it was his way of trying to avoid dealing with the horror of facing Minala.
I’ve mentioned before how Erikson often gives us the sense of a much wider world, that what we see here is just one of infinite stories and Assail is yet another example of this. How intriguing, after all, is this “To hell with Assail . . . You cannot win there! You send clan after clan, all into the same destructive maw . . . Among the Tyrants there it is nothing but a game!” We’ve had other tiny references to Assail, but very little. It remains a big story off our stage.
And now we get some clarity on the First Throne. The power Shadowthrone has over the Imass is limited: the Throne was already weakened it seems by the passage of time, its control was limited to the Logros simply because they happened to still be close by, Shadowthrone’s increasing thinness, his spreading of himself, further attenuates the Throne’s power. It also appears quite likely that the Throne’s power can be refreshed, though Onrack’s revelation of the method, if he knows it, is cut off when the other T’lan Imass make clear they’ll try and stop him.
I really like this characterization of Cotillion: “You think what must not be though . . . You are as a hunter who walks a path no one else can see.” Something to keep in mind as we move forward.
That line of Minala’s: “there wasn’t enough time” is such a haunting line. That moment between her and Cotillion is so fraught with pain on both sides. That little bit of slapstick with Onrack’s spear point slipping through his chest is a welcome respite.
“I would know more of this Trull Sengar.” I think the two, Trull and Cotillion, would get along quite well. Quite well indeed. And how appropriate and telling is it that Trull says he feels sorry for Cotillion — Cotillion, the god who speaks so often of compassion and empathy, pitied by someone. And we know Cotillion would echo these lines of Trull’s: “a world in which children were subjected to such things was a world in which compassion was a hollow word.”
Well, I’m not going to speculate on Edgewalker’s words to Panek and from Panek to Cotillion here, though we should file this passage away for a later discussion. But I’d say Amanda that there isn’t a lot that this rereader at least considers he knows “exactly what is meant.”
After their little bit of slapstick a few pages ago, that’s a wonderfully moving scene between Trull and Onrack. And here is something to file away: “I smell a presence. It is faint, animal. It comforts me . . . I feel as if we are being observed . . . and in those eyes there is vast compassion . . .”
Yes, Samar Dev is a smart woman. She sees right through Feather Witch, sees that Karsa is merely waiting to turn the tables on those that seek to use him, and even more impressively, sees as Amanda says, into herself, recognizing how she also is beginning to view Karsa as a weapon.
I like how we get another reference to a Tanno Spiritwalker, the way the idea is kept in the series after one played such a major role so once again, the concept of the Spiritwalkers and their power isn’t just a narrative one-off, a handy plot device used and discarded
And wouldn’t you love to hear one of the Taxilian’s language lessons?
The meeting of the Edur Empire and the Malazan Empire. Oh, “explosive” indeed, Amanda.
In case we didn’t have reason enough to hate the mob rule now going after the Wickans, we get the poor cobbler carrying around his dead little boy with the caved in skull. And that image will stay with us when we meet the instigator of all this — Mallick Rel. Boy, I hate Mallick Rel.
It would sort of fun to line up all the various way through all these books that Erikson refers to the liquids these folks all drink and just read them through one after the other, like the red-vine tea “a local concoction sometimes used to kill ants.”
Remember that weather vane atop Mock’s Hold from the very beginning?
Oh, I so want Pearl to “launch a poison-sheathed quarrel into the flabby neck of Mallick Rel.” I so want that.
If Rel feels he can threaten the Claw, he has grown powerful indeed. As you say Amanda, a sinister ending....
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.