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.
Chapter Twenty-Two Part Two will begin with the scene that starts “Grub and three friends, playing in a cave.”
Chapter Twenty-Two, Part One
A boat is sent from the patrolling Jakartan fleet to Tavore’s flagship. The boarding/”welcoming” party, led by Hadar, tells Tavore she wasn’t expected for months and alludes to the “revelations” that the Wickans were “complicit” in the deaths of Pormqual and his army, which angers and stuns all aboard the flagship. Hadar informs them the fleet has met the Edur fleet and after suffering losses at first due to the Edur sorcery, the Malazans have done better by adding more mages. He adds the fleet was also sent to watch for Tavore and they’d had to rush to get to her, having just gotten a message from the Empress of Tavore’s unexpected arrival. His orders for Tavore are for her to take her fleet to Malaz City, where he assumes the Empress is.
As Hadar departs. Apsalar says Kalam and Quick Ben are still undecided and then tells Quick Ben he is laboring under a misunderstanding, making it clear that her defense of him and his sister in Poliel’s temple was her decision alone. He asks why and she walks away. Quick and Kalam agree they’re all undecided, save perhaps Tavore, and they discuss what appears to be rising tension and gamesmanship between Tavore and Laseen.
On Silanda, Koryk, Smiles, etc. are holding Tiste Andii heads and waving at the passing Jakartan ships. Several are overtaken by sudden diarrhea and defecate over the ship’s side.
Kindly and Pores comments on the Silanda activity and the lack of response from the Jakartan fleet. Kindly points out the fleet is manned by Untan “coddled nobleborn pups,” then orders Pores to stop two of his own men now defecating over the ship’s side.
The entire Fourteenth Army gives the same “send-off.” Destriant Run’Thurvian asks Keneb about relationships between parts of the Malazan army, then discusses the sorceries aboard the Silanda: Kurald Emurlahn, Tellann, Telas, and Toblakai, adding that some members of the latter race appeared able to “become something of a warren themselves.” Run’Thurvian asks about the tension between Laseen and Tavore, and when Keneb tries to reassure him, the Destriant says that is good because the 14th army won’t be enough for what is coming.
The ships near Malaz Island. Quick Ben tells Kalam both the Empress and Tayschrenn are there. Tavore tells Quick Ben to get Fiddler and Bottle and bring them back, that the time has come for one of Fiddler’s “games.”
Quick Ben collects Fiddler and Bottle and returns with them. They join Tavore, T’amber, Keneb, Apsalar, and Kalam as “players” in the game.
Fiddler tells Tavore the game isn’t a good idea and T’amber agrees, saying at least her participation as a player isn’t a great idea, as she’d warned Tavore earlier. Fiddler says the deck is T’amber’s and he asks who she is. T’amber asks if it matters and Fiddler begins, dealing out cards.
- Dealer (Fiddler) gets Soldier of High House Life
- Empty Chair (Bottle’s spot) gets Weaver of Life
- Kalam gets Obelisk, the Sleeping Goddess, unaligned, a “reversed field”
- Apsalar gets Assassin of High House Shadow
- Quick Ben gets Lifeslayer (Icarium) and it puts him in a “different hole” than the one he thought
- T’amber gets Throne, the “hinge” or “pivot” card
- Keneb gets Lord of Wolves, throne card of High House War and he asks where Grub is.
- Informed Grub is on Nok’s ship, Fiddler deals three more cards, “friends” of Grub’s: Crown, Sceptre, Orb
- Tavore gets House of War, Guardians of the Road, or Guardians of the Dead
- Oponn is dealt — “decisions yet to be made”
- Herald of High House Death is dealt between Kalam and Quick Ben
- Keneb gets Spinner of Death, Queen of Dark, Queen of Life, King in Chains
- Bottle gets Deathslayer
- Kalam gets Obelisk then King of High House Shadows and Fiddler says Oponn was for him earlier
- T’amber gets Virgin of Death
- Quick Ben gets Consort in Chains
- Tavore gets Master of the Deck
- Fiddler gets Priest of Life
The game ends and Apsalar, Fiddler, Quick Ben, and Kalam leave, not turning over the facedown card first dealt to Quick Ben. Tavore turns it over to reveal Knight of Shadows. She’s never heard of it and when she asks T’amber, she denies making it. Keneb points out it’s a picture of a Tiste Edur with a spear. Tavore says it was Kalam that had a decision yet to make and when she says the Herald of Death intervenes, T’amber says it is an “inactive version,” which she calls a “crucial” distinction. Tavore orders all ships to stay in the harbor refusing any orders to moor. She says the 14th, particularly the Wickans, clearly are being painted as villains and she fears what might be done to them. She also wants the Perish free to choose to stay or go with Tavore if things turn bad with Laseen. Keneb fears civil war and points out the Perish swore to Tavore, not Laseen. Tavore dismisses him and speaks privately with Bottle.
Pearl watches Tavore’s fleet near, wondering how they arrived so soon, what the strange huge ships are, and how the Empress had known they’d be there. Laseen asks Pearl’s opinion of Tavore and when he says she doesn’t inspire him or the 14th Army, Laseen says Tavore hasn’t failed them once, adding Y’Ghatan went as well as it could have. Pearl says perception matters more, telling her Tavore never emerges “untarnished,” mostly due to the legend of Coltaine. He thinks he sees why Coltaine is now being “unmanned” and tells Laseen it won’t work, that it merely taints them all. She replies he needs more faith in civilization’s resiliency. She continues that the foreigners (the Perish) must have seen something in Tavore Laseen and Pearl do not, then wonders why Tavore is leaving her ships out in the harbor, calling it Tavore’s “first move.” Pearl thinks the Empress wants the ships to disembark to cause a riot.
Laseen leads him into a room with Mallick Rel and Korbolo Dom. Rel tells Pearl to dispatch a Hand of the Claw against Banaschar. Pearl notes Rel now wears the sign of a High Fist and wishes he could kill him. Pearl pleads with Laseen to listen to Tavore but is dismissed. Pearl leaves, feeling a coward and fantasizing about killing Dom and Rel later, while he wonders if Topper has been killed. He thinks Dom and Rel will turn on Laseen for all that she thinks she is using them. He wonders if she knows she has trapped herself and if she will ask Tavore for help, of Tavore will recognize such a plea. Pearl meets two Claw who seek confirmation of the kill order. He gives it and thinks the Claw are his, noting Laseen brought six hundred with her. He thinks he will clean house tomorrow, wondering if that’s what Laseen wants. He heads home unsure of whom he will use the Claw on.
Helian wonders why they aren’t disembarking or tying up at the piers, which are crowded with soldiers and civilians. She then jumps/falls in and neither Touchy nor Breathless reports it (or tries to save her).
The Oponn twins discuss how they tried to keep their card out of Fiddler’s game and how there are now “three ashore.” The Lady asks if they can be sure they “comprehend all the players” and worries they might end up dead. He is angry that Fiddler “usurped” their power and she tells him to cast the bones on “his fate [Fiddler’s]” he does so and when they look, their faces shift from bemusement to confusion to terror.
Amanda’s Reaction to Chapter Twenty-Two, Part One
It is nice to see the support that Tavore shows to her soldiers here — making sure the Untans do not casually show disdain. What Keneb thinks is quite telling, I believe: “Adjunct Tavore, you miss nothing, do you? Ever. Why do you continue to surprise me? No, wrong way of putting that — why am I constantly surprised?”
This is the first time, isn’t it, that we’ve seen the awful rumours about the Chain of Dogs coming up against people who actually experienced it or saw the results closehand? Again, I like the immediate vehemence in denial and the fierceness of the Adjunct in support.
Hmm, what reason for the Empress summoning Tavore before her? I have a great sense of foreboding about this, as if Laseen will not be too pleased by the course of recent events.
Kalam hears nothing when Apsalar sneaks up on them... That’s very interesting, and seems to indicate a level of power between them.
Heh, Apsalar talks about them being undecided — could be in relation to their chat in the previous chapter about whether to go with the Adjunct or with the Empress, or it could be in relation to whether they can trust her. If it’s the latter, then I think the sneaking around isn’t exactly going to help her cause!
Something sinister but ever so funny about the crew of the Silanda mocking the Jakatakan with the heads of the Tiste Andii. And, now I write that, something sad about it too (for the Tiste Andii, obviously!)
Toilet humour... Sometimes Erikson gets this right and sometimes it just has no humorous value at all. Personally I could do without most of it in favour of more sharp and funny dialogue, which Erikson does fantastically!
It must be horribly difficult for the foot soldiers of an army to know that there are tensions between your leader and an overall leader. Hence QB and Kalam talking about having the same feeling as before Pale, when they were essentially thrown to the wolves thanks to tensions higher up.
Looking forward to this game! Especially with the players who are involved....
Ooh, why does T’amber want to withdraw? Concerned with what Fiddler might find out about her? It is going to be interesting seeing more of her, since this is the first time we’ve really been face to face with her, and seen her as an active (albeit reluctant) participant.
Well! That game was just as amazing as I anticipated! Of course, I barely followed a damn word. I like having glimpses and grasping at some of the meanings, but I also love when the veterans take me through it by the hand, pointing out as many subtleties as aren’t spoilers! (Hint, hint!) Forgive me for not saying much, but as a first time reader I have little to say. Very interesting again seeing T’amber say that Fiddler’s methods might not be orthodox, but he certainly has hit the truth. And how does she know this? T’amber is becoming incredibly intriguing....
Finally, as well, we hear from Tavore that she’s not expecting a kind reception from the Empress — which begs the question, what did the Empress want Tavore to achieve? Why is Tavore no longer the Hand of the Empress?
So it seems that Laseen was at the root of trying to turn people against the idea and myth of Coltaine and his achievements? Which certainly acts against her Adjunct. I also feel that Laseen is really underestimating the way that the 14th feel about their leader. Yes, we’ve had a few instances where people have spoken about not knowing her, but it’s very different from not giving her their loyalty. Although... that would mean going against the Empress and therefore going against the idea of the Malazan Empire.
Tavore is to face Mallick Rel and Korbolo Dom as part of her welcoming committee? Ouch, that is COLD!
How much of Laseen’s current attitude is down to these two “advisors” she now has? How much power has she handed across to them, if they are able to order a Claw around without her demurring the fact?
I feel very uneasy with the fact that someone as disillusioned and uncertain as Pearl is thinking about taking the Claw from the Empress. (Or certainly commanding them in the absence of her direct command.) Is this a character who can end up redeeming the louche idea we have of him so far?
Haha, Brethless and Touchy are just brilliant in this discussion of who to tell about Hellian *giggles*
And a curious little scene with the brother and sister who make up Oponn. Especially curious their reaction after trying to affect the fate of Fiddler — confusion and terror? Who has a hold on Fiddler that would cause that reaction?
Bill’s Reaction to Chapter Twenty-Two, Part One
Well, we certainly don’t waste any time revealing how far the Empire has fallen if these are the troops being employed. Look at how these Untans are described:
- “expensive armor”
- “bedecked” (hardly a warrior-like word)
- “watery, uneasy”
- “I am Extent Hadar, of House Hadar in Unta, firstborn”
We’ve had lots of references to the quality of the Malazan military/administration heading downhill and it seems we can add this to the list. Though it is interesting that a little later Hadar tells us they’ve managed to deal with the Edur fleet by increasing both the number and quality of their mages, which seems a bit incongruous with all we’ve heard regarding that aspect especially.
I too like that line of Keneb’s, Amanda — his realization that he has been looking at things backwards. As the tension grows between Laseen and Tavore, we begin to see people moving toward Tavore or wondering about choosing a side. Oh, and the book is nearing its end. Hmmm.
The fact that Nok is the one to fiercely respond (while Keneb and Tavore react accordingly) also raises the stakes a bit for the Empress and Empire. He is, after all, not an inconsequential figure — either historically or currently.
Tiny little thing, but I like the appropriateness of Fiddler coming out of the hold “like a rat” just before he converses with Bottle.
Actually, Amanda, I’d think the Tiste Andii heads might like the new view — gotta be kinda dull to be have been stuck on that ship in a pile, or in bags.
I do know what you mean and sometimes Erikson does miss for me as well. This one I actually didn’t mind so much mostly because I liked the bit between Kindly and Pores that the toilet issued precipitated, which I find much more funny than the toilet aspect itself.
So here we get some reason for Karsa’s imperviousness or near-imperviousness to sorcery: “There could arise individuals, warriors, who became something of a warren unto themselves.” [Amanda: Ha, completely missed that line — duly filed!]
Boy, the Destriant is just a little ominously cryptic, eh? “Your Fourteenth Army will not be enough.” That’s chilling enough, but the way we seem headed between Tavore and Laseen, one has to wonder who or what will come to the 14th’s assistance. (Of course, we did just see someone else with an army, an army that just got a bit bigger and tougher. Hmmmm.)
Anybody else have a moment of silence for Joyful Union when Quick Ben said, “Tayschrenn’s there, like a scorpion under a rock”?
Kalam rolling his shoulders — often a precursor to violence in this series (not just Kalam).
Speaking of humor, Koryk’s line cracked me up: “that’d beat the view I got now . . . Sir.” The first part is very, very funny. But that pause before “sir” is classic.
Okay, a few asides on Fiddler’s game. Some I’m not covering because it’s tough to do without spoilers and as usual in that case, I’ll bow to what happens in discussion
Empty chair (Bottle’s spot) get Weaver of Life: Now, we have a few items with Bottle. One is Weaver brings up the idea, especially in this book, of webs and spiders and thus Ardata. Another is his close association with the Eres’al. But here’s a reminder from our reread of Night of Knives (set on Malaz Island if you recall): Tayschrenn asks Kiska what her aunt Agayla does and Kiska says, “she weaves.” And we see Agayla weaving as well. And we know Agayla is connected to the Queen of Dreams.
Quick Ben getting Lifeslayer as Icarium. Let’s put together a few pieces here:
- Quick Ben is associated with Icarium (note the phrasing as well: “to deal with”)
- Icarium is on his way to the Throne of Shadow
- Quick Ben owes Shadowthrone
- Cotillion told Minala help would come when needed
Tavore gets Guardians of the Road/the Dead: We know she’s going to war. And we have a sense of the Guardians of the Dead are the Bridgeburners.
Oponn is dealt meaning “decisions to be made” — and later this is associated with Kalam. We’ve seen him make one decision earlier with regard to Laseen. We know he is currently undecided about Tavore. Tavore and Laseen are heading toward a meeting. Will Kalam have to decide between the two? Or is this something else?
Bottle gets Deathslayer. A reminder that the card was described as the Crippled God earlier.
Kalam connected to Shadowthrone via King of High House Shadows. And remember he ends up (he has a “reverse field”) with Obelisk, the Sleeping goddess.
Knight of Shadow should be pretty clear: It’s an Edur (narrow the field) with a spear (and while they all use one, we have one who is especially known for his spear work) and it’s an Edur associated with Shadow and we know Trull is using his spear to defend the Throne of Shadow. Remember this card was to Quick Ben, who also has “to deal with” Icarium, who is going to the Throne where Trull is and, apparently, where Quick Ben may be as well.
Okay, have at it in discussion.
Things certainly seem to be coming to a head as Tavore now acts decisively with a sense of, as you say Amanda, a lack of welcome from the Empress. Of course, acting as if she fears herself to perceived by the Empress as the enemy of the Empress can only make her be perceived that way even more. Classic conundrum.
Pearl I think has misjudged how the army feels about Tavore. And he was a little slow on the uptake about why the Empress was allowing Coltaine to be besmirched. But if Coltaine is to be lowered so Tavore can be raised, why does Laseen intimate she does not perceive something in Tavore? And does Tavore’s ignoring of the order to dock indicate that she is showing Laseen what Laseen hopes/fears to see? And what then, should we make of Pearl’s guess that Laseen has put herself in a terrible position and now seeks help in being extricated? Do we believe Laseen is that incompetent? Rel that manipulative? Pearl that insightful? What about his suspicion that Laseen has “given” him the Claw to use?
With all the duos, opposites, parallels, etc. we have in this series, I find it interesting that we are coming to an intersection between these two female characters — Laseen and Tavore — of whom we as readers know almost nothing, characters whom we have seen only through the eyes of others, and those others, in both cases, never seem to “guess the mind of” as Pearl says, either of them. They are riddles wrapped in mysteries inside enigmas.
I like the focus on the word “intersection” here, for we’ve come to several indeed.
Rel and Dom. Grr. As much as I go back and forth on Pearl, I gotta like his reaction to these two.
Remember we’ve had some hints earlier in the book that Pearl might be in some trouble at the end of this novel. In that light, it’s interesting how Erikson portrays him here: thinking himself a “coward,” groping for answers and direction, putting things off, then saying “let them all die.”
Good balancing of all this tension with the little bit of slapstick humor regarding Hellian.
Oh Oponn, haven’t you learned this from the prior books: “never mess with mortals.” Love that close to that scene!
Things are moving quickly!
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.