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 four 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.
East of the city of Ebon, the Synod of Stygg (magic folk) meets:
- Sister Esa
- Sister Gosh
- Sister Nebras
- Totsin Jurth
- Brother Carfin
- Brother Jool
The Synod elements are clearly opposed to/by the Lady. One, Sister Prentall, was captured and delivered to the Lady, which clearly implies eventual death. Another, Brother Blackleg, seemingly drank himself to death. They discuss the need to vote on what they should do based on “the proliferation of signs and portents,” (perhaps including the strangely high tide this night). Jool reads the Tiles and sees “conflagration… All paths lead to destruction… This season will see the grasp of the Lady tightened beyond all release. Or shattered beyond repair.” Jool sees the Malazans coming and all agree this will be a season of contention: “The Lady. The Stormriders. The Invaders… The Elders/The First.” The believe “The Lady and the Invaders shall bleed each other dry and they [Stormriders] will finally prevail.” Totsin wonders if they should reconsider, but the majority agree they have tired of The Lady’s “protection.” They separate.
Leoman (yes, yes, he’s still Jheval but the hell with it I say. I’m making my stand!) and Kiska are hiding in a crevice trying to wait out a pair of Shadow Hounds and decide to have a share moment. Leoman tells her he left Seven Cities with a woman he’d hoped could be a true partner, but she’d been surprised that he cared nothing for the future, a trait he says he has retained. Kiska tells of how she’d joined the Claw thinking it was a “shining perfect example of what could be right in the world” but then found it to be as corrupt and stupid as everything else, dangerously filled with incompetents and people concerned only with their own advancement and so she walked away, “rather than be a casualty of someone’s self-seeking.” Leoman, deciding share time was over, jumps out to see if the Hounds are still there. They are.
Rillish heads over to Admiral Nok’s flagship, thinking of all the rumors he’d heard of Greymane over the years and of how his reinstatement is further evidence of what Rillish had always suspected about Rel—he’ll do anything to win. He wonders if Rel sees the same quality in Greymane. He fears this meeting and is relegated to hoping Greymane won’t remember him. He has a sharing moment with Devaleth (there’s a lot of this going on seemingly). He tells her of his time in the first invasion when his group was caught by Mare warships off of Fist and hardly a fifth survived to shore, where they joined the Sixth army. There he was a witness to Governor Hemel’s court martial of Greymane and though he knew it was sketchy and that Greymane was merely becoming a scapegoat, he’d kept his mouth shut. He adds he thinks he’s going to pay for that when he meets Greymane, and she tells him she’ll do what she can, but reminds him she too is a traitor.
On Nok’s ship, Rillish and Devaleth meet Nok, Fish Khemet Shul of the Eight Army; Swirl, commander of the Blue Moranth; Kyle, now Greymane’s adjunct; and Greymane. Greymane tells Devaleth she’s a welcome addition due to the lack of mages. She points out that’s because The Lady’s “influence” makes most mages useless, but not the Ruse mages of Mare. Her usefulness becomes quickly clear when she warns them Mare has been aware of them for some time and is already sending out warships. Nok asks Rillish to debrief them about Fist, which shocks him as his intel—the best they seemingly have— is almost a decade old. He tells of how he’d been given orders to reach the Malazan High Command and relates a journey that stuns all there: crossing the entire Bloodmare Ocean, a tragic landing on the island of the Seguleh, and then final delivery of his urgent communication. Nok reveals that the very classified message was evidence that the Sixth had named themselves Overlord of Fist and declared itself sovereign, and that this fleet is the punitive blow for that mutiny (though it means they must invade Korel to do so).
Ivanr marches with the Army of Reform. He asks about the many mysterious high-sided wagons being built and doesn’t buy it when he’s told they’re for supplies. As they march, he continues to search for the boy he’d picked up earlier, who has been pressed into the ranks. As Martal, or The Black Queen as she’s called, rides by, he thinks it odd that he’d never heard of such a commander out of Katakan, where she’s supposedly from. He’s joined by a Lt. Carr, who has been assigned to act as his escort. Carr tells him the army is escorting the refugees to Blight, where they hope that the population will be sparked by their ideas and goals. Ivanr has his doubts. Coming across a depressingly incompetent “training” session, Ivanr takes over.
Ussu is slicing up yet another man, helped by his apprentices Yurgen, Temeth, Seel, and Igor (OK, kidding on that last one). He needs the heart/essence of this man to reach his Mockra Warren, the only way he’s found to get power in Korelri, where The Lady drives magic-users insane or to the point of suicide. Accessing his warren, he sees a vision of devastation: “Shores scoured clean by a tidal wave invasion of sea-borne demon Riders. The land poisoned, lifeless. Cities inundated, corpses lolling in the surf in numbers beyond comprehension.” The corpse is suddenly possessed by The Lady, who tells him she’s tolerated his heresy because she feels he has potential. She tells him to come to the Dark Side. He tells her the Malazans are coming and they should join forces. She’s impressed he’s seen this (he, meanwhile, is relieved she doesn’t know about their prisoner) and says she allowed the Malazans to land before to bring “a renewed vitality to the true faith” thanks to the challenge they presented. When he asks of the Riders, though, she grows furious, saying “That Queen bitch has ever stood in my way.” She tells him again to accept her and when she starts to threaten, Urgen decapitates the body. He decides next time he’ll gag the victim first.
Goss tells the men what’s going on: that Greymane is in command and that a select few will be selected to fight with the Moranth Blues that will lead the shore assault (and get some loot maybe). The selection will be via tryouts with the Malazans fighting against the Blues. Kyle and Suth are intrigued; Pyke complains a lot. Their turn comes up and Suth tells Goss to swap for last so they can watch the Moranth fight and also so perhaps they’ll be tired by the time it’s the Malazans’ turn. The first group is taken down quickly and easily because they fought as individuals and not disciplined soldiers, something Suth has now learned the power of. Len gets Suth to realize “trust” is the key, and Suth accepts that. The next two squads lose, each doing better than the prior one, each fighting more smartly and more coordinated. Suth’s squad also loses, but does better than most of the others and is chosen with two others to cross over to the Blues’ ships. Suth realizes the Blues were looking for those that would fight as a unit and to the bitter end, which doesn’t seem to bode well for the upcoming battle.
Karien’el shows up drunk at Bakune’s house and tells him the Malazan garrison (with the Watch) is marching away tomorrow and the Mare fleet has been raised in anticipation of a new Malazan invasion. Bakune is confused that Malazans will fight Malazans and disgusted, Karien’el explains how the Sixth are traitors and the Malazans are coming for them. When Bakune asks who will enforce the laws, the Captain tells him the Guardians of the Faith, and he warns Bakune to be careful of them. He then shocks Bakune by telling him he thinks the Malazans will win the day, and if he (Karien’el) doesn’t return, Bakune’s files are still around; he hasn’t destroyed them as he’d been ordered. He also tells him the two escorts from the Watch are now assigned to Bakune’s office and they’re good reliable men; it was the best he could do. The Captain leaves and Bakune thinks he never really knew him.
Hiam’s aide, Staff Marshall Shool, wakes him to say Riders have been sighted across a wide front and skirmishes have been reported. As he dresses, Hiam wonders if the Stormriders know how weak the defense is, or if they’re trying to create a diversion away from the center. Outside, he orders “The Champion” (Iron Bars) moved out. Looking outward, Hiam sees the Riders moving closer.
Corlo, in a cell with other prisoners, is ordered to attention and the men are unchained. He meets a Toblakai named Hagen, who says he is from the south, though Corlo can’t understand how that works, since south should be Stratem. Hagen has to carry Corlo, whose legs are too stiff and frozen to work right. They stop to pick up Iron Bars, who looks terrible, and then are brought to the wall, where Bars is brought to the lowest, outermost spot. Bars refuses to pick up the sword dropped at his feet, even when he is attacked by a pair of Riders. Instead, he disarms them and then the Riders drive them back with crossbows. The Chosen leader tells Corlo if Bars doesn’t fight next time, the Stormguard will kill him and put Corlo in his place. Corlo yells out to Bars that Seven of the Blade remain alive. Bars is shocked, and then when he is suddenly attacked, he fights and picks up the sword, pointing it at Corlo before turning back to face the Riders. Corlo thinks Bars will kill him if the Riders do not. Hagen and Corlo are dragged to the nearest tower and Hagen tells Corlo that Iron Bars reminds him of the Champion before Hagen—Traveller, who escaped. Corlo says he’s never heard of the man.
Hiam is helped into a tower, near frozen. Shool says he stood two shifts and Quint, angry, replies someone should have come to get him. Hiam says he’s fine but Quint tells Shool he can’t let Hiam do this again; they can’t afford to lose him. Shool agrees and Quint leaves, with Shool thinking they may need to call on the Lady by season’s end, as things aren’t starting well.
Heh, just to let you all know that I am a very active knitter, and so I don’t take it well when the knitter we’re shown seems a bit senile and odd! We’re not all old, grey and mad!
It is definitely a cute scene, though, with very active characterisation and a swift build by Esslemont of a very charming group. I especially chortled at the:
“I see conflagration.”
“Well...it is a fire.”
Although a neat little scene, it is clearly designed to create some foreshadowing about what it to come, what with visions and tile readings and whatnot. It seems as though the Lady and the Malazans are going to do battle, and leave the Stormriders free reign to… what? I mean, we have never known what their intent is. They’re always presented as being this evil force, but is that not more a matter of perspective and seeing it from a particular angle? I mean, we now know that we don’t like the Lady, right? What if the ultimate aim of the Stormriders is to bring her down—we’d be all in favour then, surely?
I forgot that Kiska was there on the night that the Hounds ran through Malaz City, when Shadowthrone and Cotillion ascended! That is going to give you a real respect for the Hounds, isn’t it? I doubt they are something you can just forget having seen.
I love the conversation between Leoman and Kiska as they hide from the Hounds and Leoman teases them with rocks. The idea of two people coming together where one feels ambition and the other doesn’t—well, that is the sort of incompatibility that would drive a relationship into the dust. This Leoman is so very different from the one we saw before, and I confess that it is difficult to reconcile them. It is one of the few occasions, I feel, where we are seeing some conflict between Erikson and Esslemont about how a character should be viewed. After all, did anyone ever think that Leoman could have given a boyish grin?
Now this Kiska I can finally get onboard with—she is one of the characters that I couldn’t ever have seen myself appreciating, but then she now says things like this:
“I came to see that many were only concerned with their own advancement and avoiding responsibility for mistakes, and I saw how this directly threatened the lives of those below and around them. Including myself. And so I walked away rather than be a casualty of someone’s self-seeking.”
Very intrigued to know about past events between Rillish and Greymane, especially considering Rillish is so worried about facing him:
“...the best he could hope for was that the man would fail to remember him. That would be the absolute best possibility. Otherwise… gods, how could he bear to face him?”
This sounds like anguish over something. We get a little bit of it as Rillish confesses to Devaleth that he chose to do nothing as Greymane was court martialed. Having seen Greymane in action, though, I could see him viewing this as pragmatism?
So the Lady is not able to interfere with mages who are involved with sea and the mysteries of Ruse? Might this give an indication why she wants the Stormriders put down?
Oh, now this is a sign of just how far Esslemont has come for me—and what a joy to see him improve to this extent. I loved the scene where Nok, Greymane, Rillish and the others meet to discuss the orders they have been given. I was breathless reading about Rillish’s achievements, especially on the island of the Seguleh. And then this ending:
“And so we fight not only an entire subcontinent, Marese, Korelri, Theftian and Dourkan, but Malazans as well. Traitorous Malazans. Gods below—are we enough for even one of these enemies?”
I think a lot of Ivanr for trying to seek out the boy that he brought in, and I feel bad alongside him at the idea that this boy has been drafted into the army. Not good, but not the first time we’ve seen children dealt with in this manner.
Heh, as soon as I saw Ivanr begin questioning the Army of Reform and the fact it seemed doomed to fail, I got a montage in my head of training, and improving the army—all set to some inspirational 80s power chords.
Ugh, not keen at all on Ussu’s method of gaining power—through sacrifice, mutilation, death. It is a very dark path, especially when shown with such a cool thought process: “Power existed here in the Korelri subcontinent. The followers of the Lady had access. And the source of that potential, he had discovered, lay in… sacrifice.” Also, not a great picture of the Lady—again.
Esslemont again emphasises the power of rumours as he goes back to Goss and Suth—how stories that, at their heart are true, are mangled into something entirely different.
Really enjoyed the battle scenes on the Lasana between the Moranth and those who have volunteered to fight with them. Also, linked back to the comments from a post or so ago, where we were talking about the Seguleh versus the Malazans, there is this:
“How was it that man for man, or woman for woman, no Kanese or Talian was a match for the Dal Hon warrior, yet years ago their tribal armies crashed like surf against the Malazan legion?”
It doesn’t look good that the Guardians of the Faith will be responsible now for peace keeping and authority—especially given what Bakune saw in his pattern of red dots.
It has to be said, this is the first time reading Esslemont that I have been caught up in the prose to the point where I find it difficult to pause and make comment. It is still harder than Erikson to have a lot to say because it is more simple and to the point, in my view, but it cannot be denied that it is very entertaining, especially bits like where Corlo expresses such incredulity at the fact his companion is a Toblakai.
What is it that Corlo has done to Iron Bars by saying: “Seven! Seven of the Blade!” Whatever it was, it seemed the only thing that has made Iron Bars snap back into fighting mode. And it seems terrible, from what Corlo then thinks: “From what I have done, Hagen of the Toblakai, there is no escaping.” It’s a stark and cold scene, this one on the Wall, and the Stormriders are pretty terrifying.
This “High and Mighty Synod of Styg Theurgists, Witches and Warlocks” doesn’t seem so high and mighty here, does it? What with the knitting, silver flask, one absentee picked up and probably killed by The Lady, the other absentee seemingly having drunk himself to death, and one of them living in a cave, um “subterranean domicile.” It’s a very charming introduction, I’d say and it does pique one’s interest as to where these folks will be going. What will their vote lead to?
We are getting a lot of omens and portents in this book, several visions by several characters. We’ve got Hiam’s references to an earlier vision of the total defeat of the Stormguard. The Queen of Dream’s discussion with Agayla. The reference here to the high tide and the final victory of the Stormriders. Stimins’ ominous exploration of the Wall’s weaknesses. Ussu’s vision of utter destructions, cities inundated, etc. Are we being set up for a twist on these visions, or is this foreshadowing? If the later, if it they turn out correct, are we diluting suspense here? Is it heavy-handed? Talk amongst yourselves…
Jakatakan. Yet another name change, referring to something we once knew by another name. (Malaz) At least here we get the familiar name right away.
Hard to picture Leoman in domestic squabbles. What sort of ambition did Dunsparrow have I wonder? Where is she now—trying to act on that ambition?
On the one hand, it strikes me as just a little too neat, but I do like the parallel in their stories, Kiska talking about joining something only to find it as corrupt/stupid as everything else, her refusal to “be a casualty of someone’s self-seeking,” both responses one could apply to Leoman’s time with the Whirlwind uprising. I think this is also goes a long ways toward explaining that difference in character we see between that Leoman and this one.
Tiny little thing I know, but I would rather have not had the Blue Moranth’s armor connected so directly to the sea—“His armoured plates shone with the deep blue of open ocean.” It’s the sort of thing I like to “get” on my own as a reader and while it is really minor, it makes me more aware of the writer at work.
I find Devaleth’s line about how the Mare mages “have turned our eyes to the sea” is why they can work magic without getting mind-wracked by The Lady. Would seem to perhaps explain why she also has a hard time with the Stormriders, creatures of the sea. But why that would be would be interesting to find out.
Devaleth’s already earning her money though I’d say.
I’ve always liked Rillish since we met him (at least, I think I have but it was a while ago), but you’ve got to like him even more now that we hear his back story. Remember, Devaleth is a water-witch and she’s impressed by his crossing the Bloodmare (and in a Skolati ship too! And we all know how awful those Skolati ships are. I mean, I’d never get on one). And then to land on Monster Island, um, Seguleh Island, and get off (and yes, he lost 30 marines, but we all know not losing all of them when facing the Seguleh is pretty damn good). And now it’s Swirl’s turn to be suitably impressed.
So I wonder what the cover story was about the Sixth, because it’s hard to imagine the army just up and disappears and nobody wonders/hears things. I’m thinking the Empire had to concoct something, maybe even going with the oldie but goodie—“they all drowned.”
So, do you think there were any high-level talks between the Malazans and Korel and Mare etc. along the lines of “we’re giving up on trying to invade and occupy your land—we just want to come in, take out our mutineers, and get out again”?
Mysterious wagons amidst an army alert! Remember back to the Chain of Dogs and some creative wagon use?
Speaking of mystery, Martal is a bit of one, with her funny nose and the fact that Ivanr had never heard of “any such military commander.” And she has a nickname: “The Black Queen.” That sounds kinda impressive.
Hmm, so his escort is a former acolyte priest whose family name is known. We know the priesthood is shaping up to be a player, is this a potential connection?
C’mon, admit it. When you first read the line about the trainees, you all just knew Ivanr was going to take over, right?
Well, here comes some of that “other, darker path” Ussu referenced earlier.
Nice little bit of foreshadowing with “Ussu once almost lost an arm to an entity that took possession of the corpse of a great boarhound.”
“The followers of the Lady had access. And the source of that potential, he had discovered, lay in sacrifice.” Connection to Bakune?
I think this is a bit of unfortunate ambiguity (though perhaps purposeful?), when the Lady says of the Riders: “I have no vision of them. She stymies me yet. That Queen bitch has ever stood in my way.” Is this the Stormrider Queen? Some powerful figure at their head? Or is this a reference to the only named Queen we’ve seen in this book—The Queen of Dreams? If so, is she linked to the Stormriders? Or is she merely a barrier to the Lady, hemming her in to her island so to speak, and thus the Stormriders merely the un-connected beneficiaries? And if so, whey is the Queen of Dreams so opposed to the Lady (well, besides the obvious blood sacrifice, driving folks insane, etc. etc.)
We’ve seen this referenced many times before and this little bit of auditioning to fight with the Moranth—this difference between fighting as individuals and fighting as soldiers. I’m not sure I needed it so starkly drawn, but I did like the little mini-battles and how they gradually changed and how we see Suth growing as this book moves forward.
So I mentioned earlier that some of Karien’el’s description could possibly be taken as an indication of his not feeling so thrilled about his job/actions. Whether that was intentional or not, we see here he clearly isn’t and it’s hard not to like the guy for this visit and his turning a blind eye to any of his people deserting , despite his bribe-taking etc. (and to feel for his benign disgust at how oblivious Bakune is) and hope he survives what is coming. And of course, that is completely amplified when he gives his big reveal, that all of Bakune’s work still exists. Go Karien’el!
But then, lest we feel too good for too long, we get to see poor Iron Bars. You’ve got to wonder when this poor guy is going to get a break. Perhaps Corlo’s news and his picking up the sword means the worm is about to turn. And at least we know help is on the way. And it’s hard not to feel a little more optimistic, even if it doesn’t pan out, to have a good-natured Toblakai around. That little mention of a previous escapee—Traveller—also keeps us hoping for good stuff coming.
Then again, the chapter ends with that “frigid wind” and yet another sense that things aren’t going to go so well for the Stormguard. Do we care about that though? Are these the guys we want to root for or against? We get a tease with the Stormriders, but wouldn’t it be nice to know more about them to gauge this a bit better?
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.