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 Thirteen 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.
Paran’s group has exited Omtose Phellack and arrived in Seven Cities near G’danisban. Ganath says she’ll go to deal with her ritual regarding a sky keep having failed and Paran agrees she can call on him for a favor. Paran gives Karpolan Lorn’s otataral sword as payment. Karpolan breaks it and gives Paran a shard. Ganath leaves and Paran rides toward the city. Two Malazan soldiers arrest him on suspicion of desertion and take him to Onearm’s Host.
In the camp, the captain (Sweetcreek) orders Paran imprisoned before being executed. Paran knocks out and ties up the captain and soldier and looks for someone he knows from before. He finds Hurlochel, the old chronicler, who tells him the plague is devastating Seven Cities and seems to be emanating from the grand Temple of Poliel in G’danisban. Dujek led an assault on the temple, met Poliel herself and returned with plague. Hurlochel convinces Paran to take command using Captain Kindly’s name. He also gives some background on Genabackis, including that the Crimson Guard just vanished.
Lostara joins the Y’Ghatan survivors. Sort fills her in, tells her Tene Baralta was badly wounded, and says she hasn’t asked Sinn to contact Tavore because she is a wild talent and runs the risk of becoming “avatars of chaos.” They discuss Sort’s background on the Wall, the role of Oponn/luck vs. skill in survival, the nature of sorcery.
Kalam recalls battles in Black Dog swamp with the Mott Irregulars and the Crimson Guard and the impact on the Bridgeburners. He tells Quick Ben he feels old and wonders what they’ve accomplished. Quick says he’s wondered why Kalam hasn’t killed Pearl for stabbing him in Malaz City. Kalam says they have bigger worries and they speculate on Tavore’s plans, the war between the gods, the Empress’ side, Paran’s role as Master of the Deck, with Apsalar warning Quick to be cautious with his schemes. Quick Ben says he’d like to see Pearl killed, implying he’d help Kalam.
Fiddler, carrying a little girl, goes back over the numbers killed. Fiddler asks if Corabb will join his squad. Corabb tells him about Leoman and Dunsparrow and Fiddler tells Kalam and Quick, informing the reader that Dunsparrow is Whiskeyjack’s younger sister, whom he was a quasi-uncle to when she grew up. Kalam says at least her being alive with Leoman and the Queen of Dreams is better than being dead and Fiddler says maybe not, explaining Dunsparrow was born to a dead woman and was given up to Hood in his temple, but Whiskeyjack and Fiddler broke in and took her back, though she’s already been consecrated in Hood’s name.
Apsalar thinks of Whiskeyjack’s secretive past, his being a mason and how it connected to the role in the Deck of Dragons. She thinks of Laseen’s rumored role in Dassem Ultor’s death, if it had been to sever ties with someone becoming a cult figure and linked to Hood (via being the Mortal Sword), wondering even if the Emperor had ordered it. She speculates if Whiskeyjack had been part of Dassem’s cult, if the Queen of Dreams knows about Dunsparrow, if the Queen is allied with Hood, if Dunsparrow is merely a pawn. She worries about becoming entangled with Kalam and Quick’s schemes, as well as wonders about Telorast and Curdle’s motivation for following her.
Bottle walks with Koryk, who is carrying finger bones to distribute to the other soldiers. Bottle worries about the upcoming meeting with Quick Ben and all his warrens. He feels the soldiers have gone through a rite of passage but it hasn’t left them reborn but more burdened, more brittle.
SCENES EIGHT through TWELVE
Hellian is miserable. Gesler realizes they’re killing themselves and suggests Apsalar ride ahead to let the Fourteenth know about them. They decide to send someone the Fourteenth knows — Masan Gilani. Apsalar gives Masan her horse and a knife and Masan heads out. Sort says they’ll march again after resting a bit. Nearby, Dejim Nebrahl reaches the ancient ruins of Yadeth Garath, having traced all the old cities’ paths desperately seeking food to answer its hunger. It senses food not far away.
Dejim attacks Masan, wounding her and killing her horse but is wounded as well, one of its bodies killed and one “crippled” by Masan. As Masan runs the howls of the Deragoth break out and one approaches her, making eye contact before moving past.
Dejim, down to four bodies (one wounded and lagging) flees. It loses scent of the Deragoth hunting it and wonders.
The Malazans catch glimpses of huge shapes in the dark, then Apsalar orders them off the road. Bottle tells Fiddler some huge “bear-wolf” is out there and other fast-moving creatures are coming up on them.
Dejim senses the Malazans but then is stunned to find itself facing a Deragoth. The Deragoth kill all but one of Dejim’s bodies, then one Deragoth takes the last body in its jaws and heads off, followed by the others.
Kalam and Quick check their drawers.
Back at the Fourteenth, Kindly yanks Pores out of the healing wagons (Pores had been wounded in an encounter with bandits). The command council is together and Ruthan Gudd is telling about long-ago events involving the T’lan Imass breaking Jaghut sorcery leading to the rising of the seas and destruction of a citadel now buried beneath the sea they’re overlooking. He says he is from the island of Strike, whose people believe they are the only remaining original inhabitants of Falar.
Keneb hopes they can find a place to take ship and he hopes to go home, see his family, make up for past mistakes. He thinks about the new cults “honoring” the Chain of Dogs and wonders what it means when one’s enemies take up one’s own heroes. Blistig advises moving on but Tavore says no and Nil says the weather will change. Keneb worries about Baralta, if his spirit has broken since he hasn’t spoken or moved in days, despite being healed as much as possible. Nether says Poliel is hunting Malazans.
The Y’Ghatan survivors find Masan. Fiddler asks Bottle what he sees when he looks at Telorast and Curdle and Bottle says he sees dragons.
Amanda’s Reaction to Chapter Thirteen
Two things I like about Chapter Thirteen immediately. One is Ganath’s reference to how this new inland sea of Raraku is already changing the weather systems and the air culture of the Seven Cities — more humid, more insects. And then I love how Erikson describes the way that Paran’s mount will hold its breath when it comes time to cinch the girth — this is something that I always had to sort out as well when I went horse riding regularly. You either have to press on the horse’s ribs when cinching to force them to breathe out, or you have to cinch the girth twice. These little details and accuracies show the immense amount of work Erikson must do to flavour his series.
I can see why Ganath would have an edge to her voice — Paran has made the world more dangerous and unpredictable with the release of the Deragoth.
What did Ganath’s now-broken ritual hold apart from the Sky Keep? Something to bear in mind! And the fact that at some point in the series ahead Ganath is going to be asking Paran to do something for her...
Why would they destroy the otataral sword? I know it is a rather nasty piece of gear for those who wield magic to face off against, but breaking it into pieces seems odd. And I’m interested in what Paran is going to be using that shard for in the future! I wonder how deliberate it is that Karpolan Demesand refers to him as Master of the Deck as he is invited to take that shard?
I can see completely why the Jaghut would not be interested in any war after what happened between them and the T’lan Imass. What does it say about the T’lan Imass that they’re pretty happy to jump right back in? (If not happy, at least getting involved...)
Does Paran still wear the cape he was issued as a Malazan soldier? That’s very cool, if so! And I do laugh at the idea of him being arrested as a possible deserter.
Wow, Paran has changed! Despite everything that has happened to him, you somehow still think of him as being that same lad we saw right back at the beginning of Gardens of the Moon. But, no! He is hardened, he has less patience, he has gained some of the roughness and skill of the Bridgeburners. Have to confess, I like him better now. And I would say that his journey has been one of the longest and one of those I can empathise with the most.
What Hurlochel discusses with Paran reminds me greatly of the episode of Buffy called “The Zeppo” — what we have here are massive events that have essentially taken place off-screen: the attempt to take a temple that has the Grey Goddess within. This is like the apocalypse that takes place in “The Zeppo” while Xander faces his own issues, which turn out to be just as huge and potentially destructive.
This line makes me incredibly sad: “If anybody earned their days in the sweet sun...” Said about the Bridgeburners, it reminds us that, despite everything they’ve been through, they are bound to be drawn into this war between gods since no one will remain exempt from participating on some level.
Geez, with all our concerns about the Fourteenth being an untested force (although whether that can still be said now...) here we see that Dujek’s force is completely washed up as well. And so Paran becomes Captain Kindly, which is even more amusing that it would have been because we’ve met said Captain Kindly!
I can’t imagine the Falari princess, Captain Sweetcreek, is going to take “kindly” (at least I amuse myself...) to having been punched out by someone who is about to outrank her. I can see fireworks ahead.
This is exceptionally powerful stuff: “There was strangeness in that moment of meeting, survivors eye to eye, both recognition and disbelief. Acceptance, a sense of something shared, and beneath it the ineffable flow of sorrow.”
The paragraph where Lostara considers Tene Baralta’s state of mind after his injury and his occasional bouts of sadistic cruelty before he lost his arm says something about how a person might react in the event that they are injured as badly as this. A person can either rise above the pain and their way of thinking before, or they can succumb entirely.
I love this!
“You survived Y’Ghatan,” Faradan Sort said. “How much of that was the Lady’s pull?”
Lostara considered for a moment, then replied, “None.”
Kalam’s thoughts are dark here, but who can say, hand on heart, that they haven’t had similar thoughts to this? “I suppose we were like that, once. Only...from then till now, Quick, what have we done? Damned little that meant anything.” I think a lot of people might look back on their lives and wonder what it is that they were doing, wondering what all that work and effort has led to. Now look, even I’m thinking dark thoughts! Fiddler gives us a similar thought: “It’s more of the same ‘cause that’s what soldiers do, that’s how soldiers live.”
Ouch. Apsalar not replying about whether she is to be feared by Quick Ben and Kalam makes me worried. Surely neither of those are the one that is on Cotillion’s list? I’d venture that possibly Pearl is the last person that she is to remove from the equation — especially if Cotillion is concerned that Kalam can’t do the job.
We’ve always known that Kalam is this mega assassin and he seems somehow invulnerable — to see this exchange between him and Quick, and to know his thoughts about whether he can tackle the possible master of the Claw, does diminish him. I hope none of it is true and Erikson is just messing with us.
Now this is interesting. Dunsparrow is Whiskeyjack’s sister. You know something? For a dead guy he is certainly impacting a hell of a lot indirectly on this novel, what with this and previously the fact that we found he was the Iron Prophet and is now sort of guiding Karsa’s steps.
Quick Ben is worried about it. Possibly panicked. That does NOT bode well. And now we hear that Fiddler and Whiskeyjack stole Dunsparrow away from Hood. What impact is that going to have on the story ahead?
I’m going to quote this wholesale because I think it’s very important about Whiskeyjack:
He’d been a mason, once, a worker in stone. She knew that much. A fraught profession among the arcana of divination and symbolism. Builder of barrows, the one who could make solid all of history, every monument to grandeur, every dolmen raised in eternal gestures of surrender. There were masons among many of the Houses in the Deck of Dragons, a signifier of both permanence and its illusion. Whiskeyjack, a mason who set his tools down, to embrace slaughter. Was it Hood’s own hand that guided him?
I think this is something that I seriously need to bear in mind, no matter how much I like Quick Ben and Kalam and think them utterly badass: “Two men, then, whom no-one could truly trust. Two men whom not even the gods could trust, for that matter.”
A very interesting observation by Bottle: “The Bridgeburners has been forged by the Holy Desert Raraku — so for us, wasn’t Y’Ghatan enough? It seemed that, for these soldiers here, the tempering had gone too far, creating something pitted and brittle, as if one more blow would shatter them.” Is this observation true? And, if so, what will that blow be?
Now, is Hellian just going mad from what she’s been through and from the lack of drink? [Bill: More the latter, I’d say.] Or is there something more to her thoughts about her skin being about to explode from bugs and worms? Has she been taken by a god?
I somehow didn’t feel the impact of Truth’s death because I felt sure that he couldn’t be dead in truth. I still think that. After all, we know that his skin and his trial through a previous fire has given him special skills and ability to endure heat. Why couldn’t he survive Y’Ghatan? I still suspect to see him again. And I guess this is the downside of Erikson bringing various folks back after we believed them dead — now we just can’t afford to believe. And so the true deaths of some characters pass by the wayside without true grief.
Dejim Nebrahl rather dangerously considers himself to be judge, jury and executioner on those he deems wanting, doesn’t he? Like those poor fisher-folk eking out a life that he destroys and feels gladly about because they didn’t remember something that no one bar students of history would recall. Trust Erikson to make us care about the lives and deaths of those who lived many thousands of years ago.
Okay, I now totally get what Bill was referring to when he spoke about maybe Dejim Nebrahl not being the terror it was before — now we see Masan Gilani managing to do some damage to what is supposed to be an unbelievably formidable enemy. This isn’t right, surely? I mean, Masan Gilani isn’t some superhero or ascendant or creature from nightmare — from what I can tell she is merely a soldier, a wanderer, a mother. The D’ivers was almost mad with hunger, but how can this be?
The scene where the Hound stops beside her and stares at her with those lambent amber eyes is immense, amazing. I was breathless reading it, and I could just imagine that happening in some horror movie!
Fevered minds... Or Hounds of Shadow. I think I’d rather be suffering the former. At least there is a chance of surviving.
The Hounds of Shadow have stolen the last of the Dejim Nebrahl? For what purpose?! (Oh, and stupendous battle scene between these two immense opponents.)
This really resonates and hurts after reading the Chain of Dogs: “When one’s enemy embraces the heroes of one’s own side, one feels strangely...cheated, as if the theft of life was but the beginning, and now the legends themselves have been stolen away, transformed in ways beyond control.”
And then a wonderful reveal (although of something already suspected) — Telorast and Curdle are dragons....
Bill’s Reaction to Chapter Thirteen
I also liked the detail, Amanda, of Paran’s horse, for several reasons: its realism, the recognition that humans are not the be-all and end-all together with the fact they often think they are (I think we’ve had similar reference to horses pressed into human ugliness before), and the way it serves as characterization for Paran — both that he is attentive enough to this and that he doesn’t begrudge the animal doing what it can.
And, in usual Malazan fashion, here is confirmation of what was hinted at before — that Ganath’s ritual involved Mappo and Icarium’s skykeep.
I also like the way Erikson gives us two teases early in this chapter: a) what favor might Ganath ask of Paran down the road and b) what use does Paran have in mind for the shard of the otataral sword? As for why break it, I suppose one possibility might be to divvy up its anti-magic properties among more Guild mages, something that is tough to do as the Empire so restricts it.
As for the Jaghut, by now we are no longer surprised at the long road we’ve come from when the T’lan Imass — Jaghut war was first presented to us.
I’m with you, Amanda — I love this Paran. I love the way he takes action, I love the action he takes, and I love his self-awareness about it. And it sets us up nicely for things to come with this character. And oh how I love that he takes the name of Captain Kindly — a character so great he works even when it isn’t the real character.
It does show us the scale of this series that you can have an encounter between a character like Dujek, who plays such a huge role in early books, and a goddess, and as you say, Amanda, have it all happen off-stage.
Just real quick before we leave this scene, note that little thruway tidbit of info from Hurlochel: The Crimson Guard all up and left as if they had somewhere to be. Somewhere to, perhaps, “return” to.
You’re stealing all my material, Amanda! But yep, that opening paragraph with Lostara rejoining the survivors is emotionally powerful and on target.
Remember this about Sinn: “without the discipline of schooling as an apprentice, they tend to become avatars of chaos. Power, yes, but indirected, wild.” I also like that Lostara asks what is essentially a readerly question — hey, how come your mages don’t just let the 14th know. (Though note how Sort doesn’t make any reply as to Quick Ben.)
I wonder, when humans first started using atlatls or spears or bows, did they ponder the morality of killing at a distance? We’ve certainly been asking Lostara’s question — “Is it better to look your foe in the eye as you take his life” — for some time. And in the modern-day world of drones, Sort’s words are highly relevant.
Kalam’s memory of Black Dog is a nice reminder that we came to the Bridgeburners in media res, that these guys have a long and powerfully connective history amongst them.
There’s a lot to file away in this discussion amongst the line here:
Fiddler carrying a child in a line of marchers, some doing the same. Save that image.
There are a lot of bricks being stacked with regard to our friend Pearl; will one land on his head?
What will Laseen do with regard to Tavore and the 14th? What will Tavore do in response to what Laseen does?
Speaking of filing away, let’s file away your concern about Kalam, Amanda.
You knew Dunsparrow was going to come up again, but this is a pretty big revelation. As is the whole background story. One, again, I love how the story characterizes both Whiskeyjack and Fiddler — that takes some nerve, to break into Hood’s temple and steal away Dunsparrow. It so fits what we’ve seen with these characters. I also love how it adds a whole new level of complexity to an already obviously complex tale. Think of how many permutations and combinations this opens up. Just to name a few: is Dunsparrow still connected to Hood and if so, is she a representative as an alliance between Hood and the Queen of Dreams or is she going undercover to spy out the Queen of Dreams? Is she a focus of vengeance from Hood and if so, will his aim strike as well at the Queen of Dreams and/or Leoman? Is Fiddler in Hood’s focus and if so, what might that mean? Since Whiskeyjack is dead, does it matter that Hood may think Whiskeyjack owes him something for what he stole? I’m sure you can add some more.
Finally, it’s another way Hood gets dragged into this story — something I’ve pointed to throughout this novel’s reread.
Funny, Amanda, but that line about Quick and Kalam just makes me like them all the more....
The poor 14th. It’s always been a worrisome army, hasn’t it? Always concerns about it being “brittle” or “fragile.” Concerns about its commander. They made it through the encounter with Sha’ik’s army, but it wasn’t their doing. They made it through Y’Ghatan, but as Bottle says, they didn’t come out the other side feeling tempered as yet. If Y’Ghatan wasn’t the crucible to forge these guys, what will be? Is it that it just hasn’t happened yet? Is it Bottle is just wrong? Is it that they have something else coming that will do it? Or will they end up like Coltaine’s army — destroyed in the forging or maybe even before then? We’ve got several candidates already for possible future blows: plague, the fleet not showing up to take them off, something Laseen does....
Death can be controversial in Malazan. I know what you mean about being concerned about how bringing people back can either make you always wonder if dead is going to stay dead and also runs the risk of lessening the impact. Since you brought up Buffy, I’ll say it reminds me of when Xander threatens to let a bomb explode with the bad guy zombie guy from high school in the room when the zombie guy scoffs at the threat because he’s already dead, Xander says something along the lines of: “Yeah, but this isn’t drinking with your buddies dead” (Huh, this wasn’t from “The Zeppo,” was it? That would be weird). We will certainly have lots and lots of opportunity to discuss this further as the series continues. We can talk about it in comments if you’d like, or wait a bit when we’ll get to have more examples to talk about.
Dejim’s viewpoint of humanity “deserving” death, destruction, and devastation for their willful denial of history does have something to it. After all, how many lessons in environmental destruction, overpopulation, climate change, etc. do we need? Of course, in the abstract, it’s always easy to judge who deserves what. I also find it a little bit of a gap in his argument that while nature is indeed indifferent to humanity’s desire for special treatment — the lands and seas do change, weather will wreak it will, etc. these are forces without wills whereas Dejim is not acting with “indifference” or as an agent of indifference or without will; he enjoys what he does, he chooses victims, he chooses to slaughter. It seems a bit too pat of a self-justification.
Masan. Dejim. Sigh. Discuss.
As for what the Deragoth will do with the one remaining Dejim, it’s possible to put together a theory. Think of who is involved in directing them: Paran and/or Shadowthrone. Who in Seven Cities is someone for one or both of those two to be concerned about? (The direction the last Dejim is being carried in might help, as well.)
Have I mentioned how much I love Kindly and Pores? These two should have their own show.
Ruthan Gudd seems to know a lot of old stuff, hey? Just saying....
That whole bit with Keneb was very sorrowful and effective I thought, beginning with his desire to “sail away,” his regrets with his family, the recognition of how everyone is bound in a “web” (more of the spider imagery in this particular book and more of the empathy theme from the series as a whole), and then most powerfully, the appropriation of the dead in those lines that Amanda quotes. And this is so true today as well (think of how some of our dead come back to hawk products). As a bit of a throwaway in there, note how Keneb thinks of how Temul/Duiker’s horse had eyes “filled with sorrow,” which just continues the thread we mentioned at the very start with Paran and his horse — just as Masan also focused on Apsalar’s horse. I’m not pointing to any great meaning here, just highlighting the consistency of the thread.
Yeah, the “reveal” regarding Telorast and Curdle really wasn’t much of a one — bit of an anticlimactic chapter ending. But that’s okay. Not every chapter needs to end with a home run.
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.