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.
Two more notes:
First, poor Amanda is stuck at BEA in a hotel with wireless issues, so she’ll be adding her comments later this week.
Second, as with this chapter, we’ll be splitting Chapter 23 into two posts. Our first post will end with scene that closes with the line: “She hefted her sword. “Let’s go find the next ambush, shall we? The second post will begin with the scene that opens with the line: “Tears glistened beneath Stormy’s eyes . . ."
Chapter Twenty-Two, Part Two
Bottle is finishing a doll, according to Tavore’s orders, which he thinks are really based on T’amber’s wishes. Bottle, speaking to the doll, says he’s never seen him, that the doll has a “sliver of iron” in its gut, and that Tavore wants Bottle to find him in Malaz City. Tavore enters and says Quick Ben is ready to send Bottle across and that T’amber says Bottle will know whom to seek help from, adding when asked that T’amber is “Someone a lot more than she once was.” Bottle heads out.
Kalam worries Tavore’s plans are too risky and extreme. Curdle and Telorast tell him Apsalar is gone and that they are scared of who is in the City. Tene Baralta and his Red Blades go ashore and Tavore, Kalam, and T’amber worry they are betrayed. Tavore asks Kalam to be her own escort, along with T’amber. He agrees to get her to Mock’s Hold and Tavore seems disappointed, while T’amber seems angry at him, as if they expected more.
The Red Blades land and Tene Baralta gives orders as if they are there to protect Tavore, though Lostara Yil considers it all a lie.
Banaschar and Braven Tooth, in Coops, are asked by a pair of soldiers (Mudslinger and Gentur) about foreigner and both say they haven’t seen him in days. They hear shouts outside and think how the city’s mood has grown uglier by the hour. Banaschar tells Braven Tooth he plans on speaking to Tayschrenn tonight, that he’ll lose his would-be assassin in the crowd. He offers to buy Braven Tooth a drink, saying he’s stolen lots of money from D’rek’s temples, though he feels guilty every time he uses it. He leaves.
Braven Tooth notes Banaschar’s follower slip out after him and he asks Mudslinger and Gentur to stop the Claw from killing Banaschar. They head out after the Claw.
A crowd has gathered at the docks, armed, ugly, and agents (provocateurs) are amongst them to stir them up against the Wickans on Tavore’s ships. Suddenly a fireball crosses the sky and lands far off in the water. The crowd takes it as an omen.
The Claw after Banaschar, Saygen Maral, follows his target, thinking of his “divided loyalties.” He thinks how he is now an agent of Rel’s, as were many Claws; Rel has formed his own group—the Black Glove. He anticipates a “night of slaughter such as this city has never before experienced” when Tavore’s people land. Maral is warned via a magical talisman he is being followed himself and he prepares an ambush in an alley.
Gentur and Mudslinger follow Maral into the alley and are killed.
Maral heads back out but has now lost Banaschar.
Tavore’s flagship moors at the dock and is met by a group of guardsmen led by Captain Rynag, who tells Tavore he is to temporarily take command of the Fourteenth Army and they should disembark and stand down. He adds that Quick Ben is ordered to stay on board the ship. Tavore, T’amber, and Kalam head to the dock and are escorted away by Rynig’s guards and Tavore’s Red Blades. Rynig orders Keneb to start bringing in the transports and to keep the Perish ships outside the bay, then to start having the soldiers disembark unarmed. Keneb tells Rynig Nok outranks him and so he’ll do what he wants with his fleet, that the Perish have their own commander who may or may not accept orders from Rynig, and that Keneb cannot have his army disembark because they carry plague from Seven Cities. He adds that the two ships that have come ashore, and those persons who disembarked, were plague-free, though.
Lostara and Kalam discuss the crowd issue as they head toward Mock’s Hold. Lostara tells Kalam the plague ruse was smart. Kalam says Fiddler, and probably Gesler and Stormy, has come ashore as well. When Kalam says Baralta was smart to “act on his own” as escort, Lostara intimates it’s for no good purpose. The crowd suddenly scatters as news is shouted that the ships carry plague flags.
Banaschar hides in an alley, feeling magic being wielded all over. He heads to the waterfront, passing through the fleeing crowd. An old women warns him of plague, but he thinks how he can’t sense Poliel anywhere, then smiles. He’s grabbed from behind and someone screams.
Someone climbs out of the harbor onto land.
Hellian rests, thinking of the horrific swim she’d just had, in armor (which she’d dumper), covered in eels. She looks up and sees someone she knows, she draws her knife, creeps forward, and reaches.
Maral comes on Banaschar and sees some woman staring at the priest. He moves forward, spins Banaschar around, and brings his knife up to kill him.
Banaschar watches confused as Hellian grabs Maral’s knife arm and breaks it, then drops Maral and begins beating his head against the ground, yelling “This one’s mine” until she kills him. Banaschar grabs her and she pulls her knife on him and says he’s under arrest. Someone screams.
Fiddler, Gesler, and Stormy, nearby, stare at Hellian’s actions. Then Gesler and Stormy had across the river while Fiddler aims for the Centre District, the three having agreed to meet in a bell. Fiddler finds a shop and picks up one of his specially made crossbows he’d ordered long ago from Tak, the craftsman and shop owner. Tak shows him the improvements he’s made over Fiddler’s original order. When Fiddler asks how much, Tak says no charge since Fiddler and Dujek had saved his life during the Mouse purge. He adds four others he’s made. Tak then sells him an ugly old fiddle for thousands and tells him a story about Braven Tooth and how Limp got his name. Fiddler asks if Braven Tooth lives in the same place.
Hellian drags Banaschar off as he tries to explain he had nothing to do with the slaughter of the priests in D’rek’s temple. They end up near the Deadhouse and when Hellian says she’s thirsty, Banaschar suggest Coop’s. She doesn’t trust him and drags him to another pub. Banaschar says it’s called Smiley’s, it once belonged to the old Emperor and Cotillion, and the current proprietor is rumored to be related to Kellanved. A mob passes them carrying pitch and Banaschar assumes they aim to fire the ships due to the plague, adding that the eel marks on Hellian could be mistaken for plague marks. They head into Smiley’s and are seated. The owner, who appears Dal Honese, heads off to deal with unruly people at the door and transforms into a demon which tears the head off of one of the mob at the door and throws it at the others who run away. He turns back into the Dal Honese and goes to get them their drinks. Banaschar identifies him as a Kenryll’ah demon.
Koryk, aboard the Silanda which is moored at the dock, warns Balm the crowd is growing and getting uglier. They pass out munitions then several of the squad head out to the jetty to hold off the crowd from trying to board.
Bill’s Reaction to Chapter Twenty-Two, Part Two
We’ve had lots of hints that T’amber isn’t what she seems and Bottle’s line here about how “That knowing look, like she’s plunged through, right into my heart” is a bit of a clue.
And who is Bottle looking for? We’ve got two clues: that sliver of iron in the gut and the scars on the forearms.
The tension has been rising and quickening and we’re not coming to the thick of it. We see it in Tavore’s desperation, we’ll see it in actual fighting, we see it in the structure as we whip from scene to scene, the constant references to mobs and flame and screams. We get it in the withholding of information. Who is Bottle seeking? Where did Apsalar go? Why has Baralta led the Red Blades out? What will they do? What will Kalam decide? Who is Mudslinger seeking? What just pulled itself from the bay water? We get it in chase scenes: Banaschar followed by a Claw, the Claw followed by Mudslinger. And the list goes on. I think the tension is handled extremely well in lots of various ways in these closing chapters.
Another clue to T’amber—she has lots and lots of patience. Though Kalam strains it somewhat by only minimally agreeing to go with Tavore.
So the Red Blades are seemingly going to betray the Adjunct. But one of them at least, Lostara, seems not particularly thrilled with that. You might recall a conversation she had with Cotillion. Remember earlier she had heard Tene conversing with someone (Gethol though she didn’t know that) and had thought how Cotillion would leave “the choice” to her. What will she choose?
So is Banaschar telling the truth about roomfuls of coin? And if so, could that money be put to some use beyond pitchers of Malaz Dark?
So now we learn that Mudslinger was looking for Foreigner, though it’s withheld as to why. And we get a bit of an ominous tone when Braven Tooth sets him and Gentur on the Claw and then hears “a handful of knuckle dice” from the back of the room.
I like how amidst all this movement and chaos and sweeping toward the climax, we come full circle and get lots of reminders of the scene we opened with—the purge of the Mouse Quarter. Here we have Saygen Maral thinking of how his mother had been killed in the cull of the Wax Witches and this set him down the path toward him being conscripted by Rel against Laseen. While later, we see Tax giving Fiddler the crossbows and recalling how Fiddler and Dujek had saved his life in that same setting. And then Kalam will end up heading that way as well. Just another example of how the past is never truly past, and how these scenes from thousands of pages ago (thousands and thousands in this case) reverberate throughout. Everything has consequences in this series. Everything ripples.
“The Black Glove.” Sounds like some 1950s B horror movie you’d see on late-night TV.
But we can see Rel’s effectiveness, not only has he turned many Claw, but he’s got his agents in the crowd, he’s set the spark, and he’s got influence among the City Watch and officers as well—his tentacles appear to be everywhere.
Even with the little bit of foreshadowing with those dice, the speed with which Maral drops Gentur and Mudslinger, nothing even approaching an actual fight, is a bit stunning I’d say. I also like how, I think, Erikson plays a bit with the language earlier when he has Maral’s thoughts interrupted with a “prickling in his shoulder” which a reader might at first take as “Yes! Mudslinger stabbed him!” But not to be... The whole chase turned out to be a bit of a McGuffin. And there are those dice again.
And so we clear off at least one of Fiddler’s card readings: Keneb as Spinner of Death, spinning lies about plague. Very clever. I enjoyed his dry delivery of the various bits and pieces to Rynag and especially loved his closing lines when he says Rynag can feel free to override the plague edict and order them all ashore anyway:
"Regardless of the slaughter our presence would deliver to Malaz Island—and, inevitably, to the entire mainland... Unquestionably, the name of Captain Rynag will acquire legendary status, at least among devotees to Poliel—nothing wrong with seeing the positives, don’t you think?”
I like this back and forth in the Hellian-Maral-Banaschar scene. The quick cuts do a nice job of increasing suspense and tension I thought, but also Hellian offers up some comic relief for an otherwise wholly fraught chapter.
As does the scene with Tak and Fiddler, though part of me thinks it runs just a bit overlong (I felt the same about the following scene between Banaschar and Hellian). I loved the “I’ll give you the crossbows for free cuz you saved my life. Oh, and this fiddle is a couple grand. And you have to pay for the bow separate.” As well as the story where we learn how Limp got his name and his first broken leg.
Speaking of going full-circle, we’re back to where it all began: Smiley’s bar, the Deadhouse. And there may just be a reason we get reminded of the existence of the Deadhouse. Just saying....
Leaving Balm without the whistle for Silanda does seem a little silly.
Well, lots of stuff obviously set up—a meeting between Tavore and Laseen, possible civil war, lots of munitions being handed out, the Claw split, Kalam trying to decide, Lostara having to decide. It’s all about to start flying now....
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.