Welcome to the Malazan Reread 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 chapter one of Stonewielder.
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 spoiler thread has been set up for outright Malazan spoiler discussion.
Just a note to say that Bill’s house is full of plague this week, so he will be catching up his commentary at a later point in the comments section. Let’s all wish him a swift recovery!
We’re introduced to Lord Protector of the Stormwall Hiam and his aide, Staff Marshal Shool as they discuss the dwindling number of Wall defenders. Hiam tells Shool to press for more provincial call-ups and when Shool asks if Hiam expects an offensive from the Malazans, Hiam says an offensive, but not from them.
As Hiam and Shool exit, Hiam thinks of how the Malazans are mere distractions from the real enemy (the Riders). Hiam meets Wall Marshall/Quartermaster Quint and performs an inspection that reveals worsened equipment. Hiam thinks how the tribute and taxes are a lot less, especially with the Malazan “emboldening” certain regions. Quint complains about how the Wall is more reliant than ever on foreign levies, informs Hiam of a bad crack in the Wall near Vor, and complains about Master Engineer Stimins’ focus on minor issues. Hiam defends Stimins, saying he’s worried about the Wall’s foundations, a concern Quint dismisses. Quint scorns most of the new “recruits” as useless and warns they won’t get more than another season out of the “Malazan” champion (the prisoner laughs whenever they call him Malazan) because he has a death wish.
Hiam finds Stimins inspecting the wall. Stimins tells him the constant assault of frost and the moisture freezing “explosively” was undermining the wall, though he says they could have one year or a hundred.
Ivanr is farming in an isolated area in deep southern Jourilan and is visited by the priestess, a “foreigner come to convert an entire land.” From narration and the Priestess, we learn Ivanr had years of dueling and training, is part Toblakai, and “defied the call to the Stormwall.” The Priestess says his concern of being not “worthy” or not certain doesn’t matter to Dessembrae, the Lord of Tragedy, who requires that minds be open. Ivanr warns her that the Lady has always ruthlessly dealt with upstart religions. She leaves him the symbol of Dessembrae’s cult—an iron nail and lace of leather that look like a miniature sword.
Ivanr recalls how years ago he’d refused the Call and refused to fight or train anymore. He’d been beaten and exiled from the city and so he’d just kept walking south until he hit this area, home to purebred and mixed Thel. Then rumors of the Dessembrae cult had arisen, preaching against the Wall, the Lady, and advocating non-violence. After that the prisoner squads of the heretics had started being marched by.
A month after the Priestess’ visit, an old mean leads a group of beggar heretics by and stops to ask Ivanr for water. He tells Ivanr he can’t hide from life.
Bakune is inspecting the corpse of a nun from the Our Lady Hospice, apparently a madwoman. Bakune is unsure though and decides to visit the Abbot at the Temple. When he informs the Watch, he is dismayed by where their lack of enthusiasm.
Bakune enters the Cloister, passing by Guardians of the Faith, a military order created to deal with the Malazan invasions and one which Bakune dislikes for its rival nature and the ways it sets itself above the law. He meets with Abbot Starvann, who tells him he’d already learned of Sister Prudence’s death, who’d had to have been restrained due to mental problems for some time. When Bakune asks about her duties, the Abbot says nothing unordinary. Before leaving, Bakune asks if Prudence had any friends and the Abbot says Sister Charity, but she left the order years ago.
Kyle, who had taken up as a hired sword for a man named Best, hasn’t done much for a year but his boss Tar Kargin gets him and others together for a money-collecting job. Kyle isn’t a fan.
Kargin tells Kyle that Greymane’s backers have foreclosed on his school, but some out-of-towner bought up his debts.
Kyle goes to the school and finds Greymane completely drunk. He tells them he thinks the Malazans have found him. Four strangers show up and Greymane knows them, identifying them as Korelri veterans of the Stormwall. Greymane tells Kyle to use his special sword, but Kyle tells him it as stolen from his room. The Korelri leader, Cullel, tells Greymane he’s been found guilty of making pacts with the enemy, and Greymane admits he talked to them. Kyle is getting it handed to him when Greymane suddenly has his own special sword with which he cuts down the Korelri. Before dying, Cullel calls Greymane “Stonewielder” and tells Kyle the sword was his reward. Greymane says the sword, which he calls useless, was given to him by the Stormriders when he spoke to them out of gratitude for talking to them, adding they found the sword deep beneath the sea and that it is very old. He says the Riders claimed they weren’t the enemy at all and that the Korelri were “denying them access to their own territory and blocking some kind of holy obligation or holy pilgrimage.” He explains how he was arrested by Malazan High Command, governor Hemel ‘Et Kelal, even though he’d been in command of the Malazan military in Korel. Greymane says he’ll get Kyle’s sword back (Best stole it) and meet him at the waterfront where they’ll find a ship heading out in the morning.
The next morning, on board a ship, Kyle sees Greymane, carrying Kyle’s sword, running toward the dock chased by a small army.
A Delanss nobleman, who’d worked with the Korelri, meets a woman (whom he considers a “fanatic”) at Greymane’s abandoned school. He apologizes for not having captured Greymane, but she says it isn’t a problem; she and her people now know Greymane is “exactly the one we want.”
Corlo, held prisoner by the Korelri Chosen, is taken from his cell and led to Iron Bars’ barracks, where he’s told to convince him of where his “best interests lie.” Corlo finds Bars wild-looking, holding a blade to his own neck (which Corlo points out won’t do anything). Corlo hopes Bars can still feel something. Iron Bars tells him he can’t go on like this, that he’s dying despite being immortal. When Corlo suggests Bars walk away, his commander tells him he refuses to leave any of the Guard behind. Corlo tells him the Chosen won’t kill any of the Guard; they need everyone, and he suggests Bars go to Stratem. Corlo scorns the idea, recalling how Skinner mocked him and how the Guard betrayed its vow, then left him and his group to rot. Though it pains him, he tells Bars he has to hang on, “for the men.” He leaves, considering himself a traitor to his friend.
Kiska is about to enter the Deadhouse on Malaz Island, when Agayla stops her and brings her to her shop. Agayla says she’s heard of how Tayschrenn was sucked into a void and has since disappeared, and tries to reassure Kiska that she’d done all she could as Tayschrenn’s bodyguard, but the Avowed are pretty high-class opponents. Kiska tells her she was going to ask the Deadhouse Guardian to help her find the mage in return for Kiska’s promise of service, and when Agayla criticizes the idea, Kiska is a bit condescending and dismissive of her aunt’s power/knowledge with regard to such deep matters/powers. Agayla reminds Kiska she’s not all that grown up yet and tells her to sleep, and dream.
Agayla communes with the Enchantress, telling her she may have a solution to a problem they’d already discussed. The Enchantress tells her to bring Kiska. Agayla sorrows over this path, but couldn’t think how else to stop Kiska.
In Banith, a group of four thugs hired by the City Watch are about to attack the new priest in his temple, when they are interrupted by a huge figure who tells them he is a thief. He knocks out two and the other two flee. The priest finds him bent over the bodies and asks what he’s doing. The two (Ipshank—the priest, Manask—the thief) know each other from before. Ipshank tells Manask he has found a new god other than Fener. Ipshank tells Manask he’ll ruin everything, and Manask assumes Ipshank is running a new scam, just like the old days. Ipshank, though, says there’s no scam; he’s retired. He leaves Manask in the alley, saying they’re no longer associates. Manask leaves, thinking this “no longer associates” is part of the scam, that this is just how they’re “playing it.”
So, anyone else delighted at learning a new word? For me, thalassocracy fits totally into that. Had not a clue what it meant on first reading it.
It is a little odd reading that snippet of history and knowing that the Malazans failed to conquer Korel by sea, especially as they are now seen as invaders in the current day. How did they conquer Korel if not by sea? Or have they not conquered it?
The repetitive tactics mentioned about the Stormriders—it brought nothing to mind so much as the same tactics employed in the trenches during World War I. Throwing millions of men forwards in an effort to scrape a little more ground. It also made me think about how effective the Stormriders would be with a master strategist on their side. Having read a little more of the chapter, I then thought that maybe it’s just those who thought the attempts by the Stormriders were futile didn’t actually see their long game at all in trying to bring down the Stormwall.
Temal-Esh—the same Temal that we saw in the prologue?
I’ve got to say, it seems as though recruiting bodies for the Stormwall would be a difficult activity! It’s not exactly a fun existence, so I’m not surprised by the drop in numbers. Esslemont was at pains to make this important, so I am guessing we shall hear more about this. Also, it strikes me that “recruitment” will be on a little less than voluntary basis!
I am not clear at all what is going on in the exchange concerning the offensive not being done by the Malazans, where Shool feels the need to apologise to Lord Protector Hiam? What is going on there? Why is an apology necessary?
Hmm, falling numbers on the Wall and a drop in the quality of materials and supplies… Looks like things are going a little downhill:
“As they made their inspection tour, Hiam could not help noting troubling details even as he passed them over without comment: cracked steps in ill-repair; torn baskets that ought to be replaced; thin frayed rope past its best years; the tattered edges of Quint’s cloak and his cracked sandals.”
Hmm, so a Master Engineer is worried about the foundations of the Stormwall… Reckon that might have a bearing on later events?
The current champion must be Iron Bars!
And it seems, from what the Engineer says, that the Stormriders really have been playing a very long game when it comes to removing the Wall. I’m betting that, out of the two options he gives, the Stormwall probably doesn’t have another 100 years in it!
I’m intrigued but confused about the scene between the Priestess of Dessembrae and Ivanr, half-Toblakai and person who refused the call to fight on the Wall. It’s early days, though—I’ll be patient! Just wondering whether Traveller is Dessembrae at this point? He’s always confused me, being Dessembrae. Not sure how that works, and definitely not sure how it was affected by events at the end of Toll the Hounds.
Isn’t it odd how alternative religions are often seen as places where orgies and baby eating is conducted? We’re really not very tolerant of that which is different. “It seemed strange to him that everyone should be so ready to believe that a cult that preached nonviolence should also be murdering babies.”
And back to Bakune, where it’s made clear that there have been a number of corpses recently and he probably hasn’t even seen all of them. This particular corpse, a nun, died in a particularly grisly manner. Are we looking at a serial killer? Or death in the name of religion, this cult of Dessembrae that seems keen to bring others down?
Why does Bakune have so little influence and reputation? Because of where he comes from? Because the role of Assessor is seen as unimportant and/or futile?
Hmm, this doesn’t sound like a very healthy state of affairs:
“Here also patrolled Guardians of the Faith in their dark severe robes, armed with iron-heeled staves. The order had begun as a militant cadre of the faith in response to the Malazan invasions. It was charged with the duty to protect the pilgrims, and the faith itself, from backsliding and corruption.”
Our Lady sounds like a very jealous goddess, if she requires this much.
Heh, this struck me as odd wording: “He drew off his other glove to better appreciate the blossoms of the late-blooming winter-lace…” Why does he need his glove off to do that? Just an idle query!
I can’t help but still see Kyle as this young, green lad, with little experience of the world, so it seems strange to me that he is now a sellsword and making a living (or trying to) in Delanss. The comment about him becoming aware of needing cash for living expenses does make me think about the sheltering bubble of the armed forces, how making the transition to civilian life can be hard. Certainly I’ve known a few soldiers personally who have found it hard to adjust.
This Kyle, who examines goblets in what seems like a bored fashion while an old man has his hand beaten to a pulp, just doesn’t seem like the character we met before.
So someone has bought Orjin’s debts? Out of a kind-hearted sense of doing the right thing? I really doubt it!
Ha, Greymane really has put himself about over the course of his life, hasn’t he? Not just being involved with the Malazans, but also with the Crimson Guard and now we find out that he spoke with the Stormriders as well.
Huh. Greymane is the titular Stonewielder, and the sword was given to him by the Stormriders… A few more pieces of the puzzle have been put onto the table, but I have no idea yet about the overall picture.
What “ancient obligation” or “holy pilgrimage” is the Stormwall and therefore, I guess, the goddess preventing the Stormriders from doing?
Haha, and now Orjin is back to being Greymane! My mind is awhirl with ALL THE NAMES!
I’m wondering if the woman who encounters the Delanss nobleman in Greymane’s old school is also from the Wall, and that actually they want Greymane to become the next Champion?
Ye Gods, I didn’t stop to think how the vow of someone in the Crimson Guard would affect them on the Stormwall! No wonder Iron Bars has proved so resilient. “I’m dying but I cannot die.” What an absolute nightmare.
Hmm, Kiska might have grown up, but in the presence of her Aunt, you can still see hints of the truculent and rather horrible youngster she was in Night of Knives! I guess that we all feel that, though, on returning to our loved ones and spending time with them after living away from home and being self-sufficient. Suddenly home seems small, and we seem all-powerful! Doesn’t take much for those loved ones to put you in your place, as Agayla does here with Kiska.
Queen? Is Agayla in service to the Queen of Dreams? Or is it some other Queen?
And then an introduction to Manask and Ipshank (the Priest we saw before)—I wonder if Esslemont can write this duo to the same level of effect as those we see from Erikson.
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.