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 the first half of Chapter Twenty-Two 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.
Veed, Icarium, and the Edur travel through a lifeless realm on their way to another battle, another throne. Veed thinks that it is not a bad idea to limit war and starts to wonder at his past desires. Ahn calls a rest and tells Veed they are close. Veed tells Icarium Ahn is deceiving his companions and Icarium realizes he has been too careless, too oblivious, and then also wonders if it takes a deceiver to spot a deceiver. He tells Veed he no longer believes that they are/were friends. Veed worries he has been careless.
Captain Varat Taun (second to Yan Tovis/Twilight), leads his Letherii archers forward. He thinks of his wife and daughter and the idea that he will see them again. He pities Ahn, up ahead, thinking of how easy it was for Varat (from Bluerose) to pierce Ahn’s disguise. He wonders if its purpose is mere survival or if Ahn is a spy. If the latter, Varat wishes him luck. Varat wants to impress Twilight, whom he considers the best commander in a long time. They get ready to exit the realm.
Steth and Aystar, two of the rescued crucified children sneak up on Onrack as part of a stalking game they play. When Onrack tells Steth to come down from a boulder, Steth says the enemy won’t come back; they were scared off by the ferocity of the last defense. As he says this, he is killed by an arrow. Onrack tells Aystar to run.
Trull looks on the ravaged face of Minala and considers the impact of watching her children fight and die and watch their companions die as well. He thinks of how they fight to guard a vacant throne (the First Throne), one claimed by a near-insubstantial ghost, fight to keep it from those that would hand it to the Crippled God, and thinks they have no chance. Aystar comes in screaming and they ready their defense. Ibra Gholan says a shaman has come with them this time, along with humans and a greater number of Edur. Trull heads to where Onrack fights.
Ahn says they have to deal with Onrack; he can hold the narrow entry forever otherwise. Veed says to let Icarium loose but the Edur warlock (Sathbaro Rangar) scoffs and says to withdraw the soldiers; he’ll deal with Onrack. Just then Trull enters behind Onrack and Ahn recognizes him. Rangar starts calling up chaos sorcery and is killed by a Soletaken (Monok Ochem).
Icarium looks down at the corpse of one of Minala’s children and tells Veed he refuses to kill children. Veed pulls Icarium forward and as Ahn steps in front of the Soletaken, Icarium draws his sword and Monok Ochem flees. The Edur run forward.
Ahn is shocked to see children waiting to fight behind Trull, whom he is surprised and dismayed to see standing in the chokeway. Kholb Harat and Saur Bathrada are thrilled to find the “traitor” and attack fiercely. Realizing Trull is protecting the children behind him, and in response as well to the regret that has long overtaken him, Ahn steps in to save Trull, taking a wound as he does so.
As he fights the two Edur, Trull wonders why Minala is holding Apt back, for what larger enemy. He’s surprised at Ahn’s sudden help, though he uses the aid to kill Bathrada as Ahn kills Harat. Ahn begs Trull to let him fight beside him as amends. Suddenly a loud keening strikes them all.
Onrack steps into Icarium’s path and is quickly battered back to fall broken and unmoving, though he succeeded in turning Icarium around so that his unfocused rage is now directed at the Edur and Letherii.
Trull watches as Icarium slaughters the attackers. Ahn begins to apologize for everything but is interrupted by Minala, badly (perhaps fatally) wounded, who asks where Monok Ochem is. Suddenly they’re all shoved back by a huge wind, strong enough to lift the corpses of the children into the air and spin them around as Icarium moves toward them. The rest flee as Trull meets Icarium and somehow manages to stand his ground, though Ahn is fatally wounded in an attempt to help.
Varat Tuan watches in wonder as Trull holds against Icarium. Nearby, Veed is weeping. Tuan sees Trull’s spear shatter, then watches as Apt leaps out to attack Icarium, driving him momentarily back though she is killed for her effort. Trull drags Ahn’s body back with him into the chamber with the throne.
In the chamber, Trull sees that Monok Ochem has been fused to the First Throne. Ibra Gholan announces that Ochem has “failed” and moves to face Icarium. Ahn dies.
Ibra Gholan is shattered by Icarium, who moves yet again toward Trull.
Quick Ben stumbles out of a warren cursing Shadowthrone. Seeing Icarium advancing (and clearly hostile) he throws him back with sorcery. This happens repeatedly, with Quick growing weaker and Icarium stronger each time, until Quick, nearly weeping blood from all his pores, passes out, seemingly near death. Trull steps to meet Icarium when suddenly the Eres’al appears behind Icarium and puts him to sleep with a touch to his hip. She then disappears. Veed tells Varat to help him get Icarium through the Edur gate so he may yet face Rhulad. Varat, thinking even Rhulad might die if he faces Icarium, helps drag him to the gate.
Cotillion appears, asking Trull, who is wiping blood from Quick Ben’s face, if the mage will live. Trull, angry, tells Cotillion Quick Ben wasn’t enough and wonders whom Cotillion was planning to send once Quick failed. Cotillion says he was going to face Icarium himself. Trull apologizes and asks about the Eres’al. Cotillion says her intervention was unexpected and adds Shadowthrone is on his way to heal who can be healed. Onrack enters and tells them about Icarium being taken through the gate. Cotillion curses the Nameless Ones, saying they are using Icarium as a weapon and even they don’t know what will happen if he faces Rhulad. Trull tells Cotillion he will not fight to defend the throne again, nor he pleads, should Onrack or the children. Cotillion agrees and turns away to sit with his head in his hands.
Amanda’s Reaction to Chapter Twenty-Four
For the first time in a large number of chapters (*winks*) I want to draw your attention to the poem at the start of the chapter. “Draw a breath, a deep breath, now hold it, my friends, hold it long for the world the world drowns.” Perfectly highlights the way I feel right now. We feel as though we’ve now begun the true story, so let’s take a deep breath and dive in...
Beautiful imagery and atmosphere built of this creepy, dark, deathly place that Taralack Veed walks through: “lifeless,” “shroud,” “sob of boots,” “soft-voiced curse”...
Interestingly, we see some real development in Veed’s character, some absorption of civilised ways and a realisation that complete annihilation makes no sense.
A very clear difference highlighted between Icarium and Veed in this exchange:
“He commands with honour,” Icarium said.
“He is a fool,” the Gral said under his breath.
Having said that, as well as showing the fine side of Icarium, it also highlights his naivety and inexperience with the world, since Veed is the one who has to point out the fact that Ahlrada Ahn is not like the others they march with.
Ha! Even not being completely sure about Icarium and what role he has to play in the future, I couldn’t help a quick fist pump at the fact that Icarium has begun to realise what Taralack Veed is. *grins*
This is powerful writing — from the awkwardness of Onrack expressing affection in return to Aystar and then immediately to the shock of Steth’s death. Look at that: a character who has been named and present for barely three paragraphs and I feel grief at the manner of his passing.
Right, I confess, I carried on reading through to the end of this chapter without pausing for breath — what amazing stuff. The biggest part of it, I guess, is finally seeing Icarium unleashed and, I think, realising that Lifestealer is very different from Icarium. How horribly devastating he is — and how disturbing that, even with all his power and ability, the Nameless Ones still don’t know whether he can destroy Rhulad.
I liked the quiet exchange between Onrack and Trull when all had quietened, about both continuing their pathetic existence. What I liked is the fact they’re still together and still fighting.
You know, for just a moment, when Quick Ben spoke about the other side of Hood’s gate, I thought we’d lost him as well as Kalam. The two of them in one book.... That would probably have entailed me putting down this series, I have to admit!
I really like that Ahlrada Ahn achieved peace finally, even if it did entail death. It was good to see someone who had become so tortured go to their rest.
And whose heart didn’t break slightly at the image from the end of the chapter — that of Cotillion, with his head in his hands. If you were unmoved, then you have no heart!
So, almost to the end of The Bonehunters, and this has been a truly stormy ride...
Bill’s Reaction to Chapter Twenty-Four
I agree Amanda, that setting is filled with wonderfully dark and depressing imagery. And a good way to keep before us the omnipresent sense of what war means not just to the soldiers who fight it, but also to the land itself.
I also like that little echo of something we’ve seen earlier, when Ahn says “It would not do to be seen here by its inhabitants. True, we would be as apparitions to them, ghostly, simply one more trudging line of soldiers.” Remember back to that ghostly line of soldiers we saw in Raraku.
And yes, we are starting to see a Veed who has been “tainted” by civilization. It will be interesting to watch whether this is the beginning of a progression or not.
I think it’s also pretty typical of Erikson, and a good move, that just as Veed seems to be on the verge of becoming a bit more likable, we have Icarium calling him out for his deception. And we so want this to be the break, so want him to stop before he faces Minala’s children. But...
And then we get to dip into a soldier’s feelings as so often is the case in these books, as we listen in on Varat Taun thinking of his wife, his daughter. And we so want him to survive this and so worry that this moment of intimacy might have sealed his death.
I have to say as well that I kind of enjoy the idea that Ahlarada Ahn has lived for so long among the Edur and here we’ve got two people able to suss out pretty easily that he is not in fact Edur.
You’re right, Amanda, it’s amazing that we can feel such sorrow at the death of Steth. Part of it I think is the obvious fact he’s a child. Part of it is that horrible history (which Erikson is smart enough to remind us of at the very start)—that crucifixion. If anyone deserves not to die here, it’s these kids. Part of it is the fact they are playing. After all that, they are playing. Part of it is Onrack’s warmth toward them. Part of it the suddenness, the fact he’s killed in front of Aystar, the fact that he’s killed even as he is displaying the wonderfully naïve optimism of youth. All of this is wonderfully (painfully) manipulative on Erikson’s part. And it all works so well.
Poor Icarium: “I will not kill children!” Imagine if he had not been stopped. Imagine Icarium waking to himself surrounded by the corpses of children.
And then the same horror on Ahn’s part as well (yea for these two). And then his moment of redemption, stepping in to save Trull, even stepping in to take on Icarium.
Speaking of Trull and Icarium, I’m curious as to what people think of Trull standing up to Icarium here, especially as he’s wounded and at least a little on the ropes against just the two Edur, and also as we see how relatively ineffective Onrack is (though he does turn the weapon upon the weapon bearers). I have my own view, but I’m going to hold off until the comments. Anyone?
And then poor Apt. Perhaps the most painful loss in this scene. And there we go again. Grieving over a non-human, not-even-close-to-human creature whom we haven’t even seen that much of over the span of all these pages.
And poor Minala. Healed, but with “pitifully few children still alive.” Think she won’t carry this beyond this scene?
And who wants to sit on the Throne now, with Monok all fused into it and all?
Bad timing for Kalam that Shadowthrone needed him now. And how well do you think Quick Ben is going to take it when he learns what this cost Kalam? What I like, though, is that Quick Ben gives it his all, even to the point of nearly dying. Though he saves enough to express how ticked off he is at Shadowthrone and Cotillion. Though I’ll admit, part of me was a bit surprised Quick Ben didn’t figure out this was Icarium, though to give him a break, he was tossed into the midst of it to say the least.
A small thing, but I like how Icarium stops being Icarium in the narrative and becomes simply “Lifestealer.”
As with Trull taking on Icarium, I’m curious as to people’s feelings about the Eres’al showing up and bringing this to an end. I’ll chime in in the comments section.
It’s a good thing the Eres’al showed up obviously, but raise your hands if you would have paid to have seen just a little of Cotillion taking on Icarium.
And what a closing image. Along with Fiddler, Cotillion is so one of my favorite characters and this, his compassion, his empathy, his sense of responsibility, his all-so-human pain even as he is ascended, is the reason why. And I like how Erikson makes this all hit home by giving us the litany of Cotillion’s “power”: “Cotillion, the Patron of Assassins, the god.”
Okay, Epilogue and wrap up next folks. Take a breath, indeed...
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.