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.
Once again, Amanda is at BEA and is angrily frustrated at her lack of wireless. She’ll join us on our next post...
Chapter Twenty-Three, Part One
Kalam watches more people stream toward the waterfront and wonders who is organizing this and why they didn’t know that hundreds will die if they face the ship, what with the munitions aboard and Quick Ben as well. He checks to make sure he still has one of Quick Ben’s acorns with him. He can hear screams in the distance and see smoke from burning buildings and wonders if this is the beginning of the end of the Empire. He thinks Tavore should be returning in triumph and wonders if Laseen is fully in control any more. He knows his moment of decision, a life and death one for him he believes, is quickly approaching.
Bottle moves through the city, sensing Mockra filling the streets, filling people with a hunger for violence. He reaches Agayla’s home and introduces himself (they’re related via marriage). He tells her he’s looking for someone and needs her help. She grabs his doll and asks if that’s the person. When he replies yes, she says she’s left him no choice and agrees to help him “save the world.” Bottle thinks Tavore never mentioned that.
Balm’s squad on the jetty face an angry crowd. Keneb joins them and is told Fiddler and Gesler are “scouting.” Keneb says the transports are withdrawing out of arrow range, and Destriant Run’Thurvian has given assurance the Silanda and Froth Wolf (Tavore’s ship) which will stay moored, won’t burn. The squad will be on their own, though the Froth Wolf will cover them with their ballista. The crowd shoots flaming arrows at the Froth Wolf (to no effect) and the squad retaliates with munitions. The mob charges and the fight is on. Koryk thinks they’re killing their own people now. They beat back the mob and it retreats a little ways.
Aboard the Froth Wolf, Keneb angrily tells Captain Rynag there were out-of-uniform soldiers in the attacking mob and Rynag denies knowing anything about it. Rynag says the mob want the Wickans, that a pogrom has started and an army is now marching into the Wickan Plains. Keneb threatens to land the Fourteenth and put an end to it all. He orders Rynag off the ship.
Koryk kills Rynag with an arrow. Keneb yells out who was responsible and when Koryk says him, Keneb tells him he just murdered a captain of the Untan Palace Guard. Koryk agrees and waits to be arrested, but Keneb says nothing else. The mob prepares to charge again.
Run’Thurvian asks Keneb what’s going on and Keneb tells him betrayal. He tells the Destriant the squads are holding the jetty and the ships aren’t leaving because they’re waiting for Tavore; they are hers, not the Empire’s, and the Empire can go to hell. The Destriant smiles and bows.
Fiddler, Gesler, and Stormy all congregate at Braven Tooth’s. Fiddler pulls out his fiddle and asks for names of the fallen and the others begin to contribute (Gentur, Mudslinger, Kulp, Baudin, Coltaine, Whiskeyjack, etc.). Fiddler begins to play the “sad dirge in my heads that needs to come out.”
Tavore’s group are let into Mock’s Hold by the gatekeeper Lubben. They pass by Claw guards and are met by another, who leads them into an antechamber where the Red Blades stay (save Baralta and Lostara), then the rest enter another room to be met by Laseen, Dom, and Rel. Kalam spars verbally with Rel until Laseen orders him to sit quiet, telling him she did not request his presence, a statement in which Kalam hears some sort of hidden question. Baralta requests that the Empress countermand Tavore’s order making him a fist in the Fourteenth Army and removing the Red Blades from the Fourteenth. Laseen agrees and dismisses him. Lostara follows him out. Laseen asks Tavore why the ruse with the plague flags and Tavore replies Keneb has seemingly decided it was unsafe to land the troops. She adds it appears the Empire labors under mistaken belief with regard to the Chain of Dogs. She wonders at the presence and promotion of both Dom and Rel, whom she accuses of rebellion and slaughter. Laseen replies, somewhat condescendingly, that Tavore childishly believes “some truths are intransigent and undeniable,” but in reality, “all truths are malleable,” and anyway, the population no longer seems to care much for truth. She runs through a litany of setbacks (Korel, Dujek’s loss, plague, etc.) and says the Empire must reshape itself. Rel demands Tavore hand over the Wickans and Khundryl as sacrificial victims. Dom asks who the foreign ships are and when Tavore says they are the Perish and they’ve pledged allegiance, Dom asks to whom. Tavore doesn’t answer but asks to speak to Laseen alone. Rel accuses Tavore of treason and Tavore in turn says the Empire has never had an immortal patron and wonders what a Jhistal priest is doing here. She wonders if this is personal vengeance for Kellanved wiping out the old Jhistal cult. Kalam thinks he sees fear in Laseen’s eyes. Dom states he is now High Fist and First Sword and as such commander of the Fourteenth. Laseen tells Tavore the Adjunct was never an army command position and she wants Tavore back with her at Unta. Tavore agrees, saying she’ll need to return briefly to the docks to inform Keneb. Rel reminds Laseen of Nil and Nether and though Tavore says they’re useless since the trauma of the Chain of Dogs, Laseen orders their arrest. Laseen says the Empire must have the Wickan Plains now that the Seven Cities harvest is gone.
Kalam thinks he sees something pass between Tavore and Laseen as they look at each other and Laseen asks if Tavore is ready. The Adjunct says she is and rises to go. Kalam says he’ll see her out and Laseen asks him to return, offering him command of the Claw. Kalam thinks Laseen knows he’d use it against Rel and Dom, though it would be after the purge of Wickans, and some others. He, T’amber, and Tavore leave. T’amber asks how many Hands await them and Kalam says maybe eight, saying Laseen won’t let Tavore reach the ships, fearing civil war. Tavore says instead they plan to leave the Empire and never return. Kalam says he can walk back in the room and do what Laseen needs/wants him to do—kill Dom and Rel. Tavore tells him to go, saying she has other concerns beyond the empire, though she won’t tell him. T’amber though, says there is a convergence going on, that Rel participates but is also guided by some unknown, that killing him may save not just the Empire but the world, and yet, she and Tavore stand no chance without his help. Kalam says Tavore could just wait until he kills Dom and Rel and then tries to convince Laseen to stop the pogrom, that with the Claw he can stop it all. Tavore tells him the Claw has been greatly infiltrated and adds killing the two men will not stop the pogrom, or war with the Perish, and also warns him Rel draws upon Elder power and so may not be so easy to kill as Kalam thinks. Kalam asks T’amber whose life matters more—hers or Tavore’s—and T’amber answers the Adjunct’s. When asked Kalam’s or her own, T’amber says Kalam’s. He then asks Tavore to choose herself or the Fourteenth and she tells him Keneb has his orders. Kalam decides and hears Fiddler’s song in the back of his head. He tells them it won’t be easy and they head out.
Pearl joins Laseen and the others and the Empress tells him Kalam has chosen and Pearl now must do his task, adding she’ll have a pleasant surprise for him upon his return. He says he’ll be back soon and she warns him against overconfidence. Rel orders him to send to Hands to kill Nil and Nether when he’s done, as well as Keneb. Pearl asks about Quick Ben and the Empress tell him to leave Quick alone while Rel says Quick Ben’s power is an illusion and he’ll do noting to reveal his true lack of power. Pearl leaves.
Lubben gives Kalam a warning as they pass through the gatehouse. They can see fire and hear noise from the docks and realize the squads there are holding off the mob so far, despite being so outnumbered.
Lostara helps Baralta out of his armor as he talks about his plans for getting healed and then plans for him and her. She brings up the time he had her kill all the innocent people in the garrison back in Seven Cities when they were trailing Kalam, saying it was her biggest regret. He tells her she’s got talent for such thinks and she agrees, killing him. She leaves, thinking Cotillion had been right about him.
The squads at the jetty are holding but taking losses. Koryk wonders what Quick Ben is doing and also what the damned music is in his head. A Perish ship slides in and the Perish relieve them. Nether asks where Bottle is and Koryk says in the City. Smiles tells her not to worry, her “heart’s desire” will get back. When Koryk says Nil and Nether should take shelter onboard, they tell him the squads fight for the Wickans and they choose to witness. He tells them to retreat anyway and they bow and do so.
Tavore’s group is ambushed at the bottom of the steps, but having been warned by Lubben, Kalam kills several while Tavore and T’amber kill one each, though T’amber has two daggers plunged into her. She pulls them out like they were nothing and tells Kalam not to worry about her. They move out with T’amber somehow able to sense the hunting Hands nearby (she says she can smell their fear and aggression). They’re attacked again and beat them off, with T’amber killing eight Claw despite getting a dagger deep into the lungs. Kalam directs them to a well that will lead them underground. He asks Tavore if she can hear music and she says yes, faintly. He drops into the well, thinking, “Fiddler, you’re breaking my heart.”
Pearl gives his orders to the Claw. He has prepared a paralt-poisoned quarrel for Kalam and he heads for the Mouse with his handpicked crew, who are surprised that he thinks Kalam’s group will get that far.
Kalam comes across a murdered Hand and tells Tavore it appears the Claw is turning on itself. He kills some trailing Claw and they move on, as he wonders how T’amber is even conscious.
Bill’s Reaction to Chapter Twenty-three, Part One
I like how Kalam reminds the reader that despite the great advantage in numbers, the mobs will take huge losses due to not just the professionalism and armors/arms of the squads, but the hugely unbalancing Moranth munitions, which shows whoever is organizing this (cough Rel cough) has no concern at all about the populace and is willing to sacrifice hundreds if not thousands to his gain.
Ahh—the famed Quick Ben acorn....
It’s certainly an interesting narrative choice to have the character who muses on the thin veneer of civilization, the one so easily stripped away, be an assassin (and a very good one as well, as we’re about to see). Though then again, I suppose, who would know better. I’d guess as well for an assassin, it’s that “senselessness” that’s the killer (no pun intended. Well, maybe it was).
Imagine if it had been Crump unpacking that box of munitions instead of Cuttle....
Koryk is pretty sharp in this scene, pretty aware of what is going on, paying close attention to voices, to who is directing things, and the like. We’re seeing some of these relatively new characters starting to come into their own. But that sharpness also, which we as readers approve of, as we approve of his taking out the mage, makes his killing of Rynag a bit more of a shock—not just the killing, but shooting him in the back.
I love this scene with Keneb and the Destriant. Love the way Keneb feels his way slowly through to the realization, the way it builds to “we’re hers, now. It’s done, and the damned empire can rot.” It’s hard to imagine as a reader after this that anything good can come out of the meeting with Laseen and Tavore. Sure, it was unlikely anyway, but this seems to put the kibosh on it ending well. I also love Keneb’s line “Betrayal, Destriant, stalks this night like a god, right here in Malaz City.”
Fiddler deserves that punch from Braven Tooth I’d say. But also, there’s just a bit of irony in those lines of Fiddler’s: “Your ghosts—we’re back—never to leave you alone, never to give you a moment’s rest . . . “ Think of what is going on with the dead soldiers, the Bridgeburners, Hedge. And Fiddler himself just may get a bit close with the idea of being “haunted.”
And how fast can Erikson go from rough humor to incredibly moving? That litany of names, some of whom we haven’t seen for a while and so Erikson, as usual, refuses to let us forget them—Kulp, Baudin, for instance. And then Fiddler’s song, his dirge. I think Erikson should get credit for not having this become simply a climactic battle scene (we do get just a bit of that), but to add some depth and poignancy to it as well. And not just in this scene, but also how this dirge will play out in the background of all that is to come.
Nice symmetry for Lubben to warn Kalam on the way up and then later on the way down.
And there’s that weather vane again....
Man, if all the Claws weren’t bad enough in terms of creating a bad feeling for Tavore’s group, how about walking in and seeing Dom and Rel seated with Laseen. Dom in his High Fist uniform no less.
And here we get to for me what is a very frustrating scene. Mostly because it involves Laseen, whom I find one of the most, if not the most, frustrating characters in this entire series. In many ways, she is akin to Tavore in that we just don’t get into her head and so we’re left to grasp at shadows, left to speculate: is she incredibly incompetent or incredibly competent? Was she one and then became the other? Is she in charge or has she lost control? Was it one then the other? Is she against Tavore? Or for Tavore? Is she forcing her out of the Empire out of idiocy, or so Tavore has a free hand to deal with what’s coming (think of all those Perish warnings and what Agayla says to Bottle about the end of the world) And so on. I will say that when we get to a later book we’ll see more of her, but I’m not sure I’d say I felt all that much clearer for the extra “info.” I’m sure we’ll have a good debate on her here, so let’s have at it. It’s also more than possible that I’m forgetting key info in later books (this really is a reread for me folks, seriously, no matter how often it appears it may not be. It’s actually my second reread for this reread as I went through the series entire before starting—hard to believe, huh?)
Well, “welcome home” is not a bad start. Then of course we get right into “why are you lying to your Empress.” Er. Awwwwkwaaaaard.
And then we get one of the most depressing speeches you’ll ever hear:
You appear to hold to the childish notion that some truths are intransigent and undeniable. Alas, the adult world is never so simple. All truths are malleable. Subject, by necessity, to revision. Have you not yet observed, Tavore, that in the minds of the people in this empire, truth is without relevance? It has lost its power. It no longer effects change, and indeed, the very will of the people—born of fear and ignorance, granted—the very will, as I said, can in turn revise those truths, can transform, if you like, the lies of convenience into faith, and that faith in turn is not open to challenge.
Ouch. Now, in the context of this novel, this is bad enough. Any reader has got to be as rabid as good old Keneb was about twisting the truth of Coltaine’s sacrifice, of the Chain of Dogs, of Duiker, into some sort of treason. Piled atop that is the indignation of Dom and Rel (HIHMR) being raised up as part of that twisting. As I said, in the novel’s context, I’m gritting my teeth all through this. But in the context outside the novel, in the real-world context, boy this is just so wearyingly sad. I’d love to argue against Laseen here. I’d love to say truth, or Truth, always prevails. But seriously? Have you seen our world? Rereading this passage in the midst of our presidential election, it’s impossible not to say Laseen is so right all the way through—truth is malleable, truth often loses to fear and ignorance, untruths become faith and thus become “true” (in my arguments here with political opposites I call it “faith-based ‘argument’). I won’t go into specific politics here, but just say Laseen has us nailed.
Do you think Rel actually thinks Tavore “serves another” or is just using that concept? I don’t think he’s necessarily wrong, by the way, though “serve” might not be the word I would use.
It’s interesting. I assume when Tavore tells Rel the Empire has always steered clear of an “immortal patron” she is referring to Mael since Rel is a Jhistal priest. I just find it funny that as readers, we know Mael wouldn’t actually be on board with a guy like Rel (wait for it).
Okay, Tavore asks to be alone with Laseen and Kalam sees a “flicker of fear” in Laseen’s eyes. So we can ask:
- Does Kalam see what he thinks he sees?
- If so, is Laseen afraid of being alone with Tavore?
- Or, if so, is Laseen afraid of what Rel might do if Tavore pushes such a thing?
- Or is Laseen fearful because she’s “playing” at being against Tavore, but really isn’t and doesn’t want Rel to catch on?
Tavore certainly has Dom’s measure—“barbarians.” It’s clear who the brains are in this pairing.
Don’t know why, but when Kalam hears “the slamming of doors, the clatter and crunch of portcullis dropping . . . light dimmed,” I flashed to the Mystery Science Theater visuals. Maybe that’s just me.
I not only like how Tavore pulls out that tidbit of info about how Kellanved wiped out the Jhistal cult, or how she implies therefore that Rel is merely seeking personal vengeance, or her “it takes one to know one” innuendo coming after Rel’s reference to the Wickans as “an ignorant and backward people,” but that she learned about the cult by reading Duiker. I just always love how these people keep coming back and having an influence.
And another of those moments. What is the underplay beneath “Are you ready, Adjunct?”
- Ready to be sacrificed?
- Ready to play this out and get you and your army the hell out of here to do what you have to do?
Why do Laseen’s eyes go “flat” after she and Tavore locks gazes?
- Is she realizing Tavore is turning against her and she goes “flat” in cold anger or as an opponent?
- Does she go flat in locking off her emotions knowing that Tavore leaving with the army takes away some needed muscle from Laseen?
That mysterious missing Topper....
What hand is it that guides Rel? The Crippled God’s?
How does T’amber know what she knows? Is it because of that “more than just T’amber” that we’ve been getting hints about? Is someone leaking in the Laseen administration? Or are these subtle hints that Laseen is giving this info to them and so is doing this purposely?
I think this is a good back and forth not only for the ambiguity of the above but because I think the reader needs to be convinced themselves why Kalam shouldn’t just go in and kill those two, cuz let’s admit it, it’s what we all want him to do, isn’t it?
And now Kalam, as Keneb said about the 14th, is hers.
Laseen’s surprise for Pearl? I’m guessing Lostara, but that’s a pretty ominous thing to say in this world, in this place, in this context.
Rel (HIHMR). He may be a master manipulator, but boy does he miss on Quick Ben. As Pearl well knows (and doesn’t let on—good for him)
I like this slow scene between Lostara and Tene—the disrobing of the armor. The way it’s both gentle and filled with tension. And, as always, the way the past rears its ugly head—“That morning of murder, Commander, remains my greatest regret.” And Cotillion is right once more.
Anybody else think you could read, in Smile’s conversation about Bottle with Nil and Nether, the word “rat” in air quotes with a bit of a double entendre there?
There’s a word we haven’t heard for a while: “witness.” And I love that bow. And Koryk’s realization regarding it.
And then we get the run to the ships. Any other series, you might think, well, they’ll take some hits but get there safe. But in this series, you never know. It wouldn’t be a total shock to have one, two, or even all of them fail to make it (just as it wouldn’t be a total shock to have one, two, or all of them die and then show up again).
Which is what made this a good place to stop—the suspense. But admit it, a bunch of you kept going, didn’t you?
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.