Fri
Jun 8 2012 1:00pm

Malazan Re-read of the Fallen: The Bonehunters, Chapter Twenty-Three, Part One

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

SCENE 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.

SCENE TWO

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.

SCENE THREE

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.

SCENE FOUR

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.

SCENE FIVE

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.

SCENE SIX

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.

SCENE SEVEN

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.”

SCENE EIGHT

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.

SCENE NINE

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.

SCENE TEN

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.

SCENE ELEVEN

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.

SCENE TWELVE

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.

SCENE THIRTEEN

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.”

SCENE FOURTEEN

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.

SCENE FIFTEEN-SEVENTEEN

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.

Bill Capossere writes short stories and essays, plays ultimate frisbee, teaches as an adjunct English instructor at several local colleges, and writes SF/F reviews for fantasyliterature.com.

48 comments
Paul Boyd
1. GoodOldSatan
... sure did, straight from the beginning of Chap 22 to the end of 23.

When/how does Laseen know that Kalam has made his decision? When he leaves (the room) with Tavore? When he does not return and do what we all wanted him to do? We don't see the decision 'till after he's left the room.

Thanks Bill for explaining the "surpise" for Pearl (as I slap my head).

Ahh, a female character reflecting on Cotillion's wisdom after a killing.

Kalam.
Steven Halter
2. stevenhalter
My take is that Laseen has worked herself into quite a fix. I think that she is a very good assassin but not a particularly good Empress.
She saw that the crops from 7C were not going to be coming in and went with the Rel solution of "blame the Wickans." Unfortunately, this leaves her with Rel (&Dom) in positions of power. Rather like seeing that the bridge is out ahead and grabbing on to a cobra to kill the guy in the passenger seat -- while still heading down the road (now holding a cobra). Maybe not the best plan.
As Bill says, it is frustrating not to get a POV from Laseen so we don't know for sure what is going on. However, the little speech Laseen gives (above) sure paints her in the cynical corner.
At this point in the story (and I'm not saying it ever will or won't change) we really haven't seen her do much that is really useful. So, the argument that says she is following mysterious plans that she, Dancer and Kel made seems lacking. Cotillion doesn't seem to think much of her choices either.
Steven Halter
3. stevenhalter
On a more concrete topic, I love the Kalam fight scenes. SE does these extremely well. Fully choreographed and intense. Even when he is facing multiple opponents it is very believable as all the moves are shown. Shock, divide, attack. Keep going.

Another piece of tension is from Kalam thinking about his QB acorn and then the marines wondering just where QB is. At this point, it makes one wonder if Kalam can really rely on QB getting there.

Also, Rel really does show he isn't quite the mastermind he thinks in underestimating QB.
Jordanes
4. Jordanes
I choose to believe that Laseen is freeing Tavore from the bonds of Empire for a greater purpose.

"Are you ready, Tavore?" clinches it for me.

At the same time, Laseen is continuing to be coldly pragmatic. She knows she can't just let Tavore and a whole army go without some kind of repurcussions (as we will see in RotCG, the Empire was well on the bring of civil war anyway) - it has to be staged as Tavore rebelling and 'betraying' the Empire.

Furthermore, the Empire needs to be fed. However horrible the context, the food has to come from somewhere and its usual source - Seven Cities - is unavailable. So hard decisions have to be made.

Laseen is not easy (impossible?) to like, but that doesn't make her incompetent. Her major problem is giving Rel and Dom too much power - I think she was truly hoping that Kalam would come back and take care of them. But, best laid plans and all.

@ 2 shalter: There is no suggestion anywhere that Laseen is continuing to work with Shadowthrone and Dancer. In fact, I highly doubt it. But it doesn't mean she can't get her info from elsewhere (for instance, how did she know exactly where Tavore and the 14th's fleet would pop up?). Tayschrenn could be one suggestion I suppose.


Finally, I know it's a book and I'm reading it, not listening to it, and that I have no actual idea what the song sounds like, but I swear I can hear Fiddler's tune in the back of my head all the way through these scenes! :D
Steven Halter
5. stevenhalter
Jordanes@4:Just to be clear, I don't think Laseen is working with Cot or ST, but others suggest it from time to time. I think she thinks she is working for the Empire--striving to be all that she can be and be all "realistic". She just doesn't make the best decisions all of the time.

Tay would be the obvious source of knowledge. Although then one might wonder why she doesn't just ask him to rid her of a troublesome Jhistal priest.
James Golden
6. Treemaster
Laseen's always been portrayed pretty negatively, including back at the beginning of Gardens of the Moon. It's possible she has a secret plan, which includes releasing Tavore, but it doesn't seem likely. Why authorize the claw to try to kill her? It could be staged, but the claw make a real effort to try to kill her. I'm in Laseen-is-incompetent camp. Particularly since the Empire has done nothing but decline and fall since she began her rule.
Jordanes
7. Tufty
I agree with Jordanes, and actually like to take it a step further...

Tavore is, in her and others' words, taking the 14th out of the Empire, to a faraway place, to save the world, never to return. This setup of the 14th as having 'betrayed' the Empire, of being on their own and acting independently, is being setup by Tavore and Laseen because it is needed for several reasons:

1 - Recall Tavore's discussion with Keneb pre-Y'Ghatan, on how soldiers in the 14th were expecting/counting on Dujek to reinforce them? They won't have that where they are going and the soldiers must not have the illusion that reinforcements from the Empire will show up to save them... because they won't. The soldiers of the 14th need to have their own courage, and be dependent only on the soldiers at their sides. And, now that they trust more in Tavore than they did in HoC, they need to believe that they are equal to the task Tavore puts them to.

2 - On the flip side, while Tavore and the 14th are doing their business, the Empire will not suffer any repercussions from the 14th's actions, because the 14th is a bunch of renegades who ran away. This is a step being taken by Laseen to keep her Empire and its people safe. It's sort of like the Dujek-WJ conversation in MoI about how they knew what all the Ascendants were up to but were pretending the Pannion War was just another domestic war - keeping their heads down and their motivations concealed, trying to look like just an ordinary nation.
Steven Halter
8. stevenhalter
Tufty@7:All of those things could be true, but I just haven't seen much evidence that Laseen is an effective Empress. So, I think she messed up and is trying to fill in some holes on the fly.
She's hoping that Kalam will come back and help her kill Rel & Dom. She doesn't trust Tavore anymore and is consigning her (& the army) to their fates.
Paul Boyd
9. GoodOldSatan
Jordanes@4: I'm trying to see how Laseen could be freeing Tavore. ... Is this the reasoning:
1) Rel and Dom want Tavore (the Wickans and the Kundryl) dead because that will give support to a pogrom over in northeastern Quon Tali to free up some land for farmers to feed the Empire.
2) Rel has subverted some Claw for his own purposes (The Throne?)
3) Laseen is afraid of Rel (and/or his Claw)
4) Killing Rel (via, say Kalam, Pearl, or Topper) would screw-up the plans for Quon Tali.
5) Thus, she is trapped and cannot directly help Tavore (who she sends to her expected death via the multiple Claw Hands awaiting).

On the other hand, applying Ockham's Razor ... she could have wanted to further Rel and Dom's plan, kill Tavore and move on with the business of running the Empire.

Tavore's statement about needing to speak with Keneb was clearly a ruse that Laseen (and Rel and Dom) saw through.

And, just to confuse things a little more ... if Laseen really did want Tavore to suceed, then it was clear that Tavore would need Kalam's assistance. Thus, I think, she would have wanted him to decide to go with Tavore.
Jordanes
10. Jordanes
@6 Treemaster:

It should be remembered that a lot of the Claw no longer answer to Laseen, but to Rel and his Black Glove organisation. Laseen most likely knows this, and therefore there's nothing she can do to stop the Claw attacking Tavore and co. (additionally, she can't just be seen to let them go either - it's obvious that no one believes the "I need to inform Keneb" line).

@9 GoodOldSatan:

Yeah, I think Laseen did know that Tavore would need Kalam. But that wouldn't stop her from selfishly wishing he would come back and get rid of Dom and Rel for her....

She does need Dom and Rel though - she needs new 'heroes' to spearhead the Wickan pogrom. I doubt she worries overmuch about Dom, but Rel is someone who feels like he is already almost - if not completely - beyond Laseen's ability to control. It's Catch-22: She needs Rel on her side to lead the Wickan pogrom and to keep the Claw, which he now controls a lot of, in line, BUT at the same time if she keeping Rel around means keeping the Claw out of her control and putting someone who wants her dead in a position of power :P
karl oswald
11. Toster
ah, Catch-22. fantastic.

and ah, poor laseen. i'm sure she's trying to believe all those things she says about truth, but i'm certain she knows just how dangerous dom and rel are. yet what can she do? let the empire starve? no, she makes a desperate decision, much like a starving person will do themselves. unfortunately, many desperate choices turn out to be the wrong ones, since you were just flailing around grabbing at whatever was within your reach. we can see this hear as she offers kalam the claw, knowing that dom and rel know she wants kalam to kill them.

i don't see laseen as incompetent (she presided over the entire genebackan campaign, which, even with ascendants as opponents, was succesful), she's just not competent enough to escape this snare.
Darren Kuik
12. djk1978
I'm not on board with the Laseen is on Tavore's side. I don't think Laseen has any knowledge about what Tavore's ultimate objective is. Tavore's conversation with Kalam shows that even he doesn't know.

I believe Laseen was hoping to convince Tavore to see reason and step down, reassume her position as Adjunct. The meeting was a guage to see if Tavore was a threat to her throne or to Dom and Rel. The flat look she gives Tavore when Tavore stands to leave suggest to me that she is resigned to having Tavore and T'amber killed lest they start the very civil war that Kalam expected. She has no idea that Tavore is about to sail away with the 14th and the Perish. I don't see anything to suggest otherwise. Rel's words don't mean anything there except that he's poisoning Laseen against Tavore. Given how little he is aware of Quick Ben I can't imagine he knows anything about inscrutable Tavore.

Furthermore, the fact that she is concerned about Rel and Dom has little, IMO, to do with Tavore. She is aware enough to see how they have wormed into those positions and she is now in jeopardy. Kalam can help her escape that, but if he does Tavore and T'amber are just as dead. Her only sadness is that Kalam chooses to die with them. There's no indication to me that she wants Pearl to do anything but carry out his orders. She doesn't trust Pearl to handle Dom and Rel. Kalam could handle it. Laseen could too, if she dared to get her hands dirty again. Makes you wonder how strong she views Rel, that she dare not assassinate him herself.

I agree with Toster. Laseen isn't totally incompetent. What she is is a bit short sighted, and in this case she's gotten into a pickle from which she can't easily get out.
Jordanes
13. Suqleg
Is there any other Fantasy author who can write in the grey area of the human condition as well as Erikson?

No good answers, no everyone wins situations. People are going to die en masse no matter how things play out on almost every level. The cynicism is warranted when reality bares it's ugly head.

Allot of underestimating Laseen in my opinion. She is the Empress of the Malazan Empire, Has cadres of mages at her disposal. We do her an injustice for thinking she has less than full comprehension of the causality of all choices made,
Chris Hawks
14. SaltManZ
I'ma agree with Toster and djk. I reeeeally don't think Laseen and Tavore are in cahoots at all, given what we find out later (muuuuch later) about Tavore's, shall we say, ties, and Laseen's relationship to them.
Darren Kuik
15. djk1978
Suqleg@13: She's the empress of something she did not build. Most of what she holds was built by Kellanved and Dancer, and she hasn't exactly gone from strength to strength with the debacles on Genabackis and Seven Cities.

More importantly though, I think Mallick Rel has really cut her off from a lot of her sources. If he's inflitrated the Claw, arguably Laseen's closest allies, then he's really in there.

And finally, as I said, if Tavore's officers, army and confidants are mostly unaware of what Tavore intends, how would anyone else know? They can only surmise, and they have that mostly wrong.
Brian R
16. Mayhem
I think everyone is overlooking one small point - Laseen is purely focussed on the Empire. All her concerns revolve around making sure it survives. And to that extent, she is almost always in the right.
The confusion here is that more than one party involved is now looking beyond the Empire, at greater things than just Quon Tali or Seven Cities.

Laseen has worked herself into a corner because she has been forced to use every resource available to put out brushfires, and most of them have been expended. Whole armies have revolted or disappeared from the earth. She badly needs Tavore back at her side, not off leading campaigns. I am certain that Laseen knows all about Tavore's military prowess, she wouldn't have gotten the 14th if she didn't.
But the flat stare means that Laseen now knows that her adjunct is no longer able to be just that. And so she unleashes Pearl and Rel to make it a clean cut.
Brian R
17. Mayhem
@djk
Kellanved and Dancer built the Empire, with Surly as the hidden knife.
But they left her in charge to *run* it when they went off exploring, and at that point they abdicated their responsibilities. The events of the Shadow Moon forced them to the realisation that they had lost control. The events subsequent have brought Cotillion rapidly and Shadowthrone eventually to the realisation that it wasn't their empire to lose any more. They had to let it go.
There's a nice conversation to come that makes this more obvious.
Darren Kuik
18. djk1978
Mayhem @16: That's more or less the same point that I was trying to make about Laseen and Tavore. Laseen needs Tavore for the Empire, Tavore has other goals. And yes, I read that flat look exactly the same way. If Tavore won't go back to Laseen's side as Adjunct then she dies.

@17: Totally agree, my point was that they built it and she runs what is left, and that administration isn't exactly the greatest. It seemed that Suqleg was suggesting that because Laseen was empress she couldn't possibly be ignorant of Tavore's motivations or of how things were playing out. While I think she is exactly that and there has been little to show so far that suggests she is particularly competent.
shirley thistlewood
19. twoodmom
Laseen did not have full control of the Claw even before Rel arrived. Remember Kalam & Minala were going to have to fight their way out after the interview where Kalam originally planned to kill her. Topper told Laseen he could not/would not call off the Claw.
Tricia Irish
20. Tektonica
Great Laseen/Tavore discussion. Thanks all!

The good points have been argued, so I won't blither on. I just want to say that I think Laseen seems a fairly incompetent ruler, to me. Perhaps she's a great assassin, but administration? No. Not a very good judge of people either, if she's been listening to the advice of Rel and Dom, and putting those two, not only in power, but in a position to threaten her very own position. I'm not impressed.

One question for the troops here.....What army does Laseen have left? Paran has Dujeks army and Tavore has the 14th. Is there another we haven't seen on stage? Can Laseen afford to kill a whole army? Or does she just want the Wickens and Kundryl ? Very wasteful.

It seems like a little "diplomacy" might have worked with the Wickens too. Do the Malazans know that word? I've never seen it mentioned or used.
Steven Halter
21. stevenhalter
Tek@20:Kelanved used diplomacy of a sort--note that Coltaine joined with the Empire. Plowing up the entire plain would probably not have been a good bargaining point for Laseen though.

There are armies on the mainland. How loyal they may be might be a problem. Note that pretty much everywhere is conquered territory.
Steven Halter
22. stevenhalter
Laseen sees everything through the prism of a master assassin. Her thoughts do not go with diplomacy or really with long term plans. She sees an obstacle--kill it. She should have been paying more attention to 7C--there were people telling her to do that. If 7C hadn't fallen there wouldn't be a grain problem.
Also, when you have a grain problem is a bit too late to create a solution. Some planning on having more than one source of food supplies would have been a good idea.
Brian R
23. Mayhem
@Tek
She has more armies than you think.
The 9th & 11th are involved on Genabackis, presumably mostly in the north.
The 4th, 6th, 8th & 13th are involved with Korel, exactly how is laid out in Stonewielder.
Paran has the remains of the 2nd & 5th, and Tavore has the 14th.
The 3rd was lost under Whiskeyjack before the start of GotM & we saw the 7th die with Coltaine. The 1st was Dassem's and disbanded after he died.
No idea abouth the 10th & 12th.
There are also a large number of other armies floating around, some we see in RotCG, some are mentioned in passing.

Overall, things aren't looking good for the empire. Seven Cities is mostly quiet now, between the rebellion & the plague there isn't much left. Quon Tali however is seething with rebellion between the city states, North Genabackis is still under martial law, and Theft/Korel is a mire. I can't really blame Laseen for grabbing whatever straws she can.

@shalter
With regards the use of the plains for grain, I get the impression that famine hasn't hit the Empire as yet, Laseen is rather planning for the future.
We may find ourselves facing starvation before the subcontinent can recover
implies that the recovery of Seven Cities will be slow - most of the farmers are dead after all and that will gut the production from the arable land for a generation or more. So she plans to expand the agriculture on the still heavily populated Quon Tali to take up the slack.

As for her seeming capitulation to Rel ..
The apparent loss of Topper in the Imperial Warren has left vacant the command of the Claw.
.. this plays out in the events of RotCG
Darren Kuik
24. djk1978
Just to add to the active armies question, even if there are few active Laseen can always recruit/draft/conscript another one.
Mieneke van der Salm
25. Mieneke
Laseen is completely losing control, isn't she? I know I'm only a first time reader, but it doesn't seem to me as if she and Tavore are in cahoots. If that were true, I'm convinced T'amber would know, as Tavore doesn't seem to keep any secrets from her, but she really seems to believe that Laseen wants them dead.

How heartbreaking is that scene with Fiddler, Gessler, Stormy and Braven Tooth? I do wonder about that last name Fiddler mentions 'And one more – no name yet, and it's not so bad as that.' Is that someone we already know?
Jordanes
26. Tufty
A lot of people have said Laseen allowing Rel and Dom to rise to these positions is a big show of incompetence. I think you need to stop putting Rel and Dom together.

Rel is definitely a snake and his infiltration of the Claw is very problematic. I'd agree with letting him rise being a bad choice on Laseen's part.

Dom, on the other hand, while bloodthirsty and a traitor, is also a veteran military commander, one who was good enough to command the Bridgeburners before Dujek did. Laseen has just lost Dujek, WJ and Coltaine. Now she's losing Tavore. All her other senior commanders might be no more than Pormqual clones (though we'll see later that Anand is fairly capable). She may *need* a veteran commander to take the role of High Fist and First Sword, in order to give the army a leader and scare off new military threats to the Empire.
Darren Kuik
27. djk1978
I don't have much quarrel with that except for the fact that Dom has been shown to be relatively useless as a commander, first against Coltaine and second against Tavore. So yes, he's senior, but is all that much more capable than Pormqual? Only marginally. I'd say without Mallick Rel's influence Dom is still disgraced.
Pirmin Schanne
28. Torvald Nom
Duiker described Dom as a very capable commander (cf. here), and he managed to defeat the Khundryl in open battle, as well as take down Coltaine in the end (after the latter had basically fulfilled his mission, granted).
Neither was he defeated by Tavore; his Dogslayers were cut down by the ghostly legions of Raraku.

Dom has very big issues, but it's not that he's not capable of winning (being a turncoat and mass murderer, on the other hand, are).
Bill Capossere
29. Billcap
I knew Laseen would spark a great conversation.

For the record, I’m in the “she’s not in cahoots with Tavore” league. I admit that “Are you ready” can be read to strongly imply the two are working together and that is their “code” so to speak. But I wonder if that’s in large part because I so want them to be in cahoots.

The problem I have with that reading is is the sheer determination to kill Tavore that ensues aferward. Is she in total control of the Claw? No. But could she have made Tavore’s escape much, much easier? Absolutely in my mind. Giving Kalam the chance to stay would also have obviously not only weakened Tavore’ chances had he accepted; it would have made those chances impossible as we see. And I can’t buy she is so afraid of Rel that letting Tavore go via the ruse of speaking to Keneb would be impossible for her. If the idea is that such transparent not doing what Rel wants is too frightful, then she has no power whatsover, and it doesn’t play that way. Nor can I accept the idea that letting them go is a way to “cull” the Claw’s turned elements—that’s leaving a bit too much to chance to say the least.

So no, I don’t think she and Tavore are working together or that Laseen is freeing Tavore for greater things or even willingly sacrificing Tavore and her army.

As for her competency, I think she was a competent administrator when she had good people. When she didn’t, her flaws—mostly a lack of long-range planning, especially in comparison to Kellanved and Dancer (granted, an unfair comparison)—became more apparent and cost her more and it became a spiral downward as one mishap led to another. And let’s face it, she’s also trying to run an empire in the midst of a war amongst the gods, so her situation isn’t great.

My view for what it’s worth. We’ll certainly have lots more to say on this when we read Return.
Darren Kuik
30. djk1978
Torvald, thanks for the correction. I had Kamist Reloe and Korbolo Dom confused there.
Darren Kuik
31. djk1978
Also noting that I will sadly be away for a few weeks so I have to miss the spectacular last bit of this book. Hopefully back before anything new kicks off though.
Rajesh Vaidya
32. Buddhacat
One of the puzzles of this series is the state of the Malazan Empire: We see it through many many POVs, of course. But the tendency is to think of the Kellanved / Dancer era as being a "golden age" and the Laseen era as being "decline." But there is no evidence that the KD era was in fact a golden age. It was one of wars and conquest - first the continent of Quon Tali itself, then the Seven Cities, Korel, and Genabackis. Given the state of those continents when Laseen took over (i.e, the First Sword still fighting/ just done outside Y'Ghatan, quagmire in Northern Genabackis, setbacks in Korel with Greymane "disappearing"), I don't think we can say that the KD campaigns were unmitigated successes. Their great success was with Quon Tali, and even here we see a great rebellion in RotCG.

So, while I think Laseen made mistakes, I don't see incompetence.

Finally, I am firmly in the camp of Laseen and Tavore not being in cahoots. Laseen probably pegged her as an emerging threat in this book's time frame, and probably had old suspicions of Tavore having links with the Old Emperor (Talon Baudin protecting Felisin - I can't believe that Laseen didn't know of it; she let it go for her own reasons, waiting for an opportunity to test Tavore may be, which came in these chapters here.)
Amir Noam
33. Amir
Bill @29:
As for her competency, I think she was a competent administrator when she had good people.
Agreed. And this also demonstrates Laseen's glaring weakness as a leader. Kellanved managed to get a group of highly effective people (military commanders, mages, administrators, soldiers, etc.) to follow him and be loyal to his cause.

Look at what happened to this group of people once Kellanved was assasinated - some faked their own death and hid. Other stayed but were culled or marginalized by Laseen (e.g. demoting Whiskeyjack - one of the best commanders left in the empire - to a mere sergeant). Very few indeed remained where they were (Nok, Tayschrenn, Dujek).

So, yes, Lasseen is in a tough spot since she lacks competent advisors and commanders to run the empire. But her poor leadership skills are the main reason she failed to maintain them in the first place.
Jordanes
34. Cassanne
As an aside, what's up with Lubben and Braven Tooth (and perhaps Agayla)? Both men are described as having been around for at least a century, unchanging. They also have a strange appearance: Braven huge and disturbingly hairy, Lubben hunchbacked and mysterious. Are they ascendants? Local gods? Half-gods? More elder gods walking around in mortal bodies? They just feel not quite human to me.
Amir Noam
35. Amir
Cassanne @34,

At times, it feels as if anyone who was ever in close vicinity to Kellanved gets to be around a century later.
Brian R
36. Mayhem
@34 & 35
I'd write it off as simply people in the malazan world live longer than we do. They are human, but they aren't exactly like us.
It seems more like the average lifespan is probably 120ish, so unless you get killed early you just keep going. I think of them as similar to the spanish/greek grandfathers I've met, who have been active and working all their lives and are fully capable of walking me into the ground even into their 90s. One guy was 97 and still spent his days walking the hills looking after his flocks. He took his time chasing goats, but was damn quick with a staff. Different world.

As for size & appearance, there is no shortage of big hulking types in the world - plenty of them as Heavies in the malazan armies. Especially if they have some mixed blood in their ancestry, like Barghast or Trell. The main thing that separates people like Braven & Temp out is that they're smart.

Hmm, mixed blood could easily account for some of the differences too - humans could live much longer if they have some Trell or TTT ancestry, some of whom easily manage a thousand years or more unless killed ...
Brian R
37. Mayhem
And a favourite quote for tomorrow before someone beats me to it ...

'Stormy, it’s for you'
Iris Creemers
38. SamarDev
Tufty @ 26
She may 'need' a veteran commander to take the role of High Fist and First Sword, in order to give the army a leader and scare off new military threats to the Empire.
I understand Laseens need for a High Fist, even ranking High Fist because there are not many great names left, and Dom might be in his place there (if we 'forget' his treason).

But naming him First Hand, that is, seeing him as the rightful successor of Dassem Ultor? No way. First Hand is more than just being the Highest Fist or best fighter, it is kind of a mascotte / hero for all the soldiers to fight for.

As I would say in Dutch to Laseen: Dat was een beetje dom (= that was a bit stupid). *

*btw, I just realise that I now like Dom's name, cause it means 'stupid' ;-)
Tricia Irish
39. Tektonica
Amir@33:

To add to your post about Kell's top people abondoning ship....Laseen also perptrated the Mouse purge of magicians, and then purged the nobles too. Maybe some of the nobles were useless, but my guess is she lost a lot of talent, as well as the educated populace. She didn't leave herself a lot of top people to choose from for support.

fwiw, I don't think she and Tavore were in cahoots either. They seem far too different in motivation and character, to me
Steven Halter
40. stevenhalter
@various on Laseen's purges:I agree that Laseen's paraoias are one key part of her problem. She killed/demoted/forced into hiding a bunch of people who would have been very useful.
Laseen's style is management through fear. Kel commanded the loyalty of his people (with some fear too). We remarked upon this in some past thread.
Live by fear, live in fear.
Steven Halter
41. stevenhalter
On a meta level, I think this really shows off how SE can get readers to invest in characters about whom so little is really known. We've mentioned in the past, how we'll meet a person, demon, etc. and in a couple of lines we feel for that character.
We've had more than a couple of lines relating to Laseen, but no POV and very little actual on screen time. Yet, we have feeling and commitment (good and bad) to the character. Cool writing.
Tricia Irish
42. Tektonica
I wish we had a "like" button we could use on peoples posts! So many good ones here. Thanks to all for the info on the state of the Malazan armies and on Laseen. Good discussion.

Totally agree Shalter..."like".
Jordanes
43. cj1734
i don't know if i've missed it somewhere, but are we doing RotCG or RG next?
Mieneke van der Salm
44. Mieneke
Samar @38: OMG! I almost snorted my lemonade over my screen. Dom indeed!

cj1734 @43: According to this page here we're doing RotCG next.
Jordanes
45. King of Flames
I think people are overestimating Kellanved. He had access to a lot of things Laseen doesn't. He had successful campaigns, but he had thousands of unstoppable undead warriors to fight them.

Laseen is far, far more resourceful with much less to work with.

I can't really see Kellanved doing much better against Rake than she did.

As for her lack of long range planning, wasn't it said somewhere that Laseen inverted the command structure so the right people would be on the ground when Kellanved tried for revenge (via Sorry).
Steven Halter
46. stevenhalter
@45:The Malazan world seems quite littered with those who thought Kellanved was overestimated.

We'll be able to say a bit more about Kel/Laseen in today's discussion.
Tabby Alleman
47. Tabbyfl55
fwiw at this point, I don't buy that Lostara was the "surprise" that Laseen had for Pearl. I think it was the Claw. I don't think Pearl was the official commander of the Claw, he just thought of them as "his" because he was the liason in Topper's absence. I think if Kalem had made The Other Decision, the Claw would have been his, but since he didn't, Laseen would now give it to Pearl.
Jordanes
48. aaronthere
i've always had a different perspective on Laseen's handling of Tavore.

It seems to me that Laseen deals with problematic situations rather consistently by placing people she doesn't trust into scenarios where their survival/ability to accomplish said goal is low. Putting Coltaine in charge of the Chain of Dogs is the perfect example of this. She doesn't trust him, so she places him in charge of moving the Wickans a vast distance. If he succeeds, then she wins by accomplishing said goal, if he dies and fails, she wins as well, by getting rid of someone she doesn't want around. A strategy that works better in theory I think...

Don't forget GotM starts out with thorough cullings of all royalty. The only exceptions to this are Paran and Tavore. Paran is placed in charge of the Bridgeburners (also old guard and not thoroughly trusted), who are written off in Pale then again in Capustan. Again, if they succeed she wins, if they die she wins. Sending Tavore to 7 cities is the same too...

I don't think Laseen expected either Paran or Tavore to suceed in their appointed missions, so when Tavore finally arrives in Malaz city at the end of BH, I think Laseen has no choice but to turn against her.

Finally, I think the problem with this strategy is that once all of the old guard is killed off (or "drowned" as the case may be) there are very few capable choices left for positions of power, so she is trapped with whomever is left, i.e. Rel and Dom.

I know it's not a perfect theory but it holds up well for me.

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