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 the second part of chapter five 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.
Bakune heads to the city courts to find them closed and guarded by Guardians of the Faith. He is escorted to a room where he is to be a judge, along with Arten, Chief Divine of the Guardians and a priest named Kureh. Ipshank is brought in and when asked to give his name calls himself “Prophet,” saying his religion serves no gods and all gods and denying the divinity of the Lady. Beside his heresy, he’s charged with the murder of a young girl, thanks to “witnesses” and “evidence” found on the body. An execution notice is drawn up, but Bakune refuses to sign it, though Ipshank tells him not to sacrifice himself on Ipshank’s behalf. Bakune is dragged to a cell, passing the strangely “unruffled” Ipshank.
The Army of Reform has reached the plains, having passed through self-burned fields and villages, as well as many corpses, killed as heretics. Smoke is rising in front of them and Carr wonders if there is fighting in Blight. Ivanr worries the split leadership of Martal and Hegil will cause trouble if it comes to battle.
They find the city of Blight burning, its southern gate open, and the citizens and Jourilans fleeing. Martel decides to go around the city, which impresses Ivanr. She tells them their squad is being harassed by Jourilan lancers.
Carr and Ivanr try to hold their 10th squad against the lancers, but are in trouble until Sister Gosh uses sorcery to send smoke toward the lancers and break them.
Suth’s group prepares for the assault, and wonder what the Blues are going to do with an odd contraption. The transport ships near Aamil harbor, a stronghold built to defend against sea attacks. Suth’s ship takes arrows, but the outer defense towers are blown up. The Skolati sends out fire ships, but they do little damage. More arrow swarms strike, sharper are used, and then the Moranth employ their contraption, which turns out to be a siege tower. The marines climb up and began the ground assault. Suth’s squad comes across Kyle examining strangely desiccated corpses of Malazan soldiers. Kyle leads them into a temple where they confront priests who turn sorcery on them, but Kyle’s sword protects him and those near him. Kyle kills one of the priests, and the Lady speaks through him, saying, “I see you now… The Bitch Queen would send her soldier. But it will take more than you.” They kill the others and head out.
Rillish, with his two captured Marese galleys, is late for the assault but finally limping towards Aamil. As they get closer they see a Skolati merchant caravel. Rillish is prepared to ignore it at first, but then sees a figure wearing distinctive armour on-board. He boards the vessel and tries to get the three Korelri Chosen—for that is who they are—to surrender. They commit suicide in the sea rather than give themselves over. The ship is filled with people being taken to the Stormwall and Rillish says they will be freed in Aamil.
Rillish arrives at Aamil and is reunited with Devaleth—they are each pleased that the other survived. Devaleth is sore about the fact that the blockade has been broken. Rillish goes to report to High Fist Greymane, who mocks Rillish for arriving so late. Rillish is given further instructions, but will be accompanied by Kyle, and Rillish believes he is being supervised.
A fisherman—Orzu—watches three men and a woman approach, and is surprised because of the remoteness of his village. These are, of course, the Crimson Guard, and they buy passage to Korelri with this man. Little do they realise it involves the whole clan!
It must be pretty terrifying for those living under the command of this Malazan Overlord—knowing that retribution is on the way and they’re about to become caught up in a civil war between people who don’t even belong to these lands. And, thanks to these issues: “They were sliding back into the ancient age of superstition and religious rule.”
Ha, oh, I did love this bait and switch—where Bakune is so obviously terrified about his fate, and automatically sits in the rough seat for the person on trial, when he is actually meant to be one of the judges.
And then I’m so proud of him for refusing to co-operate in the clearly rigged trial of this priest of Fener (and now, presumably, the Crippled God? It is that same priest we saw before?) Bakune really is a very strong and dignified character—although he can seem somewhat prissy, I do warm to him because of his very powerful moral fortitude.
Ah, religious war—always so seemly: “They also met corpses. Impaled, crucified, eviscerated. Some hung from scorched trees. Many bore signs or had carved into their flesh the condemnation Heretic.” This is sad because it is so true to events that have occurred in our darkest history of religious wars.
Bit dark that this Martal ordered the mutilated bodies to be left as they were. And then Ivanr thinks once again (holy emphasis, Batman!) that it’s odd he’s never heard of her before. Does that mean Martal might have a different name that we—and Ivanr—might have heard of?
Ah, Sister Gosh—seems as though she’s happy to help out in this battle, fighting against the Lady. I like the exchange:
“If the Lady knew there was magery here on this field, you’d be a dead woman.”
“Then it’s a good thing there was none o’ that. Just an errant gust of wind and smoke from the city, hey?”
Got to wonder why Ivanr thinks this: “Sir? When did that happen? And what did that make him?” After all, he’s been pretty strong since he’s come into the Army of Reform, and helped out with training etc, so Sir should be the least he gets. But maybe that is more a reflection on his character?
I do like the use of Suth as a person asking questions and wondering why certain events are happening—makes it very easy and smooth for Esslemont to give the reader info. It’s certainly not a whole ‘as you well know, Erik’ sort of situation, since Suth has so recently joined up and knows nothing of the Moranth or of Malazan saboteurs.
I really don’t know why, but the use of the word ‘catamaran’ really threw me out of my reading here, because I can only see them as those sleek ships that we have nowadays!
Haha, me too: “Suth began to wonder how this woman managed to survive any engagement.” Keri is a bit excitable!
Outstanding battle sequence—really excellent work. I think this might be Esslemont’s forte.
I liked the ‘You carrying?’ Like a gang member asked if he has a gun.
And I particularly like the way Suth supports Keri in her decisions, and has his initial thoughts of her flighty behaviour turned on its head as she proceeds to cause carnage. Skilfully worked through this sequence of scenes.
Well, damn, that is a pretty strong reaction to the possibility of surrender by the Korelri Chosen. And now all I can hear is: “Never give up, never surrender” from Galaxy Quest!
This also crossed my mind as well:
“So those were Korelri?”
“And we are to invade their lands?”
Greymane is a bit of a bastard when he says: “Here at last, Fist Rillish Jal Keth. Now that the fighting is over.” Not exactly showing a forgive and forget mentality.
I did find Orzu and his family a charming addition, these Sea-Folk, although they are presented as a lonely and desolate little tribe. I think the most worrying thing is that last bit, where Shell and Ena talk about the Lady and the fact that the priests all want to be a martyr to the cause, and all want to die for her. That sort of zealotry never ends well...
This is the second time Ivanr has remarked he has never heard of Martal before, with the sense that he should have. Are we being set up for some grand revelation? She does come off at least as smart and competent here—letting the refugees become a burden, not falling for her own burden of taking over the city. And quoting someone about “squatting in towns as the surest route to failure.” I’m guessing Kallenved?
Similarly, this is the second time he’s commented on the potential disruption of the command structure in the Army of Reform—again, are we being set up for some bad event resulting from this?
And the Synod of Stygg makes its first active appearance. Perhaps these people will be of more help than one might have guessed upon first meeting them.
The naval attack is again, well done here I thought. I especially liked the catamaran siege tower. My only question was why the Skolati didn’t have hot oil, but otherwise, I thoroughly enjoyed the attack and felt it kept me pretty well grounded in what was happening.
I know a lot of times the Malazans do allow local religions/cult to stay, but I do have to wonder if Kyle is telling the truth or knows the truth when he tells the priests they can keep worshipping the Lady if they surrender. That seems unlikely to me based on what we’ve seen so far of the Lady’s cult, and thinking back to Greymane and Nok’s reaction to what Devaleth had said.
So now it seems we have answered the question about who the Queen was that the Lady had referenced before. It is not some Stormrider queen, which means it must be the Queen of Dreams, whom we’ve seen connected to Kyle before.
Crazy Stormguard. I suppose that’s one way to keep your ability to say “we’ve never lost.”
Despite the battle scenes, it’s almost as if there is more tension in the non-violent meeting between Rillish and Greymane. I like how this relationship has been set up, and I think it’s a nice job of getting the reader to want to see more of it.
The scene with the Sea-Folk and Blues’ group is a nice mix of dark and light. Blues inadvertently “hiring” the entire clan, with boat after boat after boat showing up is a nice bit of comedy. But then Shell’s talk with Ena brings it to a darker point as we see the Sea-Folk apparently knowing the Lady’s true self, knowing her not as the Lady, but “The Destroyer.” And once again, we see the priests of the Lady painted in an ugly light. Based on what we know, it’s a good think that Shell puts Ena’s words together with her own sense of the “Lady’s baleful hot gaze” and decides to warn them all not to try to access their warrens. Though it will make the rescue attempt a bit more difficult, since we know the Stormguard are supposed to be pretty good fighters and they will not have their magery limited.
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.