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 half of chapter three 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.
Corlo is escorted out toward Bar’s rooms amidst cold and frost, meaning the Riders are ready to attack again. On his way to the wall, he passes by another Crimson Guard prisoner—Halfpeck. He wonders if Halfpeck knows of more of them alive, and he wishes he could access his warrens to find out, but both the otataral collar and the Lady’s inevitable attack (which drives mages insane) prevent that. Corlo is shocked at Bars’ appearance and seeming drunkenness.
Corlo struggles over whether the should tell Bars about Halfpeck. As they reach Bars’ holding cell, Corlo sees rage and a “fevered tinge of madness,” but no despair. As Bars is shoved into the cell, Corlo decides he’ll wait for the signs of despair.
Rillish, riding with Captain Peles through Unta, is impressed with Mallick Rel’s rebuilding of the capital. Noting Peles’ accouterments, he asks if she is a follower of the Wolves of War, and she says yes, she is sworn to what they call the Wolves of Winter. He senses more there, but is interrupted in any possible follow up by a summons from the Wickan shaman Su to a secret meeting. To assuage Peles’ suspicion, he asks her along.
On their way, Rillish learns Peles is from Perish, west of Seven Cities. When they meet Su, the shaman seems aware of Perish (Rillish hadn’t heard of it), and tells Peles, “I see the wolves running in your eyes… Peleshar Arkoveneth, you must not abandon hope… Do not give in to despair. That is my warning for you.” Turning to Rillish, she tells him the army he’s taking to Korel is “fighting the wrong war. Swords cannot win this war… As the Sixth has discovered to is own shamed failure.” She introduces him to a mage from Korel/Fist/Mare (a sea witch) and says she’s arranged to have Devaleth added to Rillish’s command as a cadre mage. To Rillish’s concerns about a Korel mage in the Malazan army, Su says Devaleth is concerned for her land and people and will not betray Rillish. He accepts and they leave.
At command central, Rillish is sent off by a surly lieutenant annoyed by Rillish’s tardiness to the Tower of Dust, which he’d thought had been assigned to the mage cadre. There he finds Devaleth and two cadre mages and he understands he and the Korel mage are going to be escorted through the warrens somewhere. They enter the Imperial Warren (with Devaleth scoffing at the name—“So may the fleas of a dog name the dog the Fleas’ dog”). As they walk he asks why she’s with the Malazans and she tells him “having all you know or have ever been taught overturned as a deep pit of lies is a humbling experience… It is no wonder no one is allowed to travel from our homelands.”
They exit in Kartool where the fleet is assembling and Rillish learns his old commander Greymane (“whom he had turned his back on”) is going to be in charge, news that turns Devaleth pale as she considers serving under he whom the Korelri call “The Great Betrayer.”
Bakune meets with Karien’el, Captain of the Watch. Karien’el annoys Bakune by asking if he has ever wondered why he’s never been promoted out of Banith and then by asking about his wife who has left him. Karien’el says he’s there about Bakune’s investigation, admitting his men had searched Bakune’s office. When Bakune says the Captain’s job is to enforce the law, Karien’el disputes that, saying his job is to enforce the will of those who make the law. He announces that Ipshank is the suspect and will be brought in soon. Bakune knows this is trumped up (the killings started long before Ipshank’s appearance in Banith). After the Captain leaves, Banith realizes Karien’el has come with the authority of the Abbot, which means Bakune has come “close enough” for the Abbot to be forced to act. He opens up the cabinet where he has stored all his evidence over the killings and finds it empty.
Aboard the Lasana troop ship, Captain Betteries displays a dead soldier who was killed by paralt spiders when he tried to desert on Kartool island. Afterward, Suth is about to fight with a loudmouth shirker/complainer named Pyke when Sergeant Goss steps in to stop it. Goss then strips Pyke of his rank and makes Len (the saboteur) the corporal.
Later, Suth asks Len what he knows about Goss. Len replies he doesn’t’ know much save rumors—he’s pushing 50, he’s served all his life, he’s new to the regulars, some think he’s a Claw (Len points out Goss’ nickname “Hunter” is the old hand’s term for Claw). Len adds not to worry about Pyke, but warns him to stay out of Faro’s hands as he’s a killer. Suth considers that and the fact that Faro listens to Goss.
That night while on watch, Suth and Len see huge Moranth Blue warships join the fleet. Len says that confirms their destination is Korel, saying the Empire “finally means to respond to these Marese defeats.”
The next day the soldiers discuss the Stormguard. Wess and Len say the Stormguard, who are the best soldiers, will continue to fight the Stormriders, while the Malazans will face the others—the Dourkan, Roolian, and Jourilan. Pyke laughs, pointing out that no Malazan ship has ever reached Korelri in over twenty years.
Hiam tours the wall thinking the weather means the Riders were coming, but knowing the Malazans (those “mindless expansionists”) were also coming. The Roolian priesthood of the Lady are marshaling troops and the Mare navy is assembling. He wonders what the Malazans even want with Korelri and considers if the priests might be right—it’s simply to crush the Lady’s religion. He comes across a squad helping Master Stimins checking “repairs” on the wall. Stimins himself is on a rope far below and Hiam tells the soldiers to bring him up. Alone with him, Hiam questions exactly what Stimins was looking for/at and when Stimins says it’s just “old research,” Hiam can see the engineer is shaken by something (he adds the men are also worried by this odd action). Stimins leaves without explaining, telling Hiam the commander has enough to worry about. Hiam is left alone to wonder why Stimins is now heading to check the Fourteenth Tower (Ice Tower)—“the lowest point in all the leagues of Stormwall.”
So the Lady seems like a very jealous Goddess, being as she is able/willing to limit access of mages to the Warrens? Things like this don’t make her seem the most pleasant: “...but so too would the Lady become aware of him. And he’d seen too much of the cruel insanity that resulted from her touch to risk that.”
The idea that the Stormriders come when the weather freezes makes them more ominous in a lot of ways. Also makes me think Jaghut, but I’m almost certainly wrong there. That is the one issue with making something so ubiquitous as a description of a race/event. In these Malazan books ice means Jaghut and spice means Soletaken. Except sometimes I guess it really does just mean winter and food...
More emphasis on these empty rooms and the fact that the Chosen are desperately shorthanded this season.
Poor Iron Bars. This really is the bleakest of existences. And this shows how very loyal he is, I think, by the fact that he is prepared to take up that bleak existence and the horrible non-death that accompanies his Vow due to the Chosen using Corlo to persuade him.
It feels odd to look on Laseen as a bad Empress. I mean, we knew she was really, with the way that she behaved and the manner in which she took power and then jealously guarded it. And it seems even odder to offer Mallick Rel any type of respect at all! But he does seem to know what he is up to…
It really isn’t taking very long for Rillish’s mission to start coming off the tracks, what with his curiosity about the Wolves of Winter and the swearing in business, and then the cryptic message from Su.
We’ve heard of Perish, haven’t we? Aren’t the Grey Helms that joined up with Tavore and the Bonehunters from there?
Have the Wickans made their encampment in the ruins of Rillish’s old manor house in Unta? I don’t know if that does him honour or is incredibly insensitive! Or… as we’re told, Rillish has made certain that the Wickans are able to use his old estate (now the property of the Empire). That is incredibly touching really.
Now we hear more about the way that this future battle will fall out—that it isn’t the might of swords that will decide it:
“Swords cannot win this war. Though the Empire sends many swords, perhaps even the most potent of all its swords, peace can never be brought to that land through force of arms.”
Is Stonewielder aka Greymane the most potent sword being referred to here? Because we’ve seen plenty of capable Empire swordsmen til now—is Greymane that effective? Or is he aided by that sword he wields—the sword that he is scared of himself?
Devaleth—we saw her escaping from the mines in RotCG, didn’t we?
With the way that he has travelled by Warren before, it seems odd that Rillish wouldn’t immediately assume that he’d be heading out that way again! Have to say, if it were me I probably wouldn’t want to just step into a Warren without knowing where I was going…
And back into the Imperial Warren, no less—seems that Devaleth has a decent idea about it: “Cockroaches invading the abandoned house of a lost god. Maggots wriggling across a corpse and claiming it as theirs…”
Then arrival in Kartool, where Rillish learns he is to serve under a man that he turned his back on—that can’t be a great way to begin a campaign! And then a little more background to Greymane: “It is one thing to join the enemy. But it is quite another to find oneself serving under a man condemned as the greatest fiend of the age. The Betrayer, they named him, the Korelri. The Great Betrayer.” Ye gods, what on earth did Greymane do to earn that name!
Having previously seen Bakune’s diligence to the case, and his map with the red dots, it feels even more painful to see this investigation closed to him, with an implication towards him of incompetence thanks to the fact he knows the wrong person is being set up for a fall, but doesn’t have the power to change what has been decided. Especially this:
“A decades-long career of sifted evidence, signed statements, maps, birth certificates, and so many—too many—certificates of death. Affidavits, registries, and witnessed accounts. Gone. All gone.”
Hmm, is Bakune ill then? Coughing and bringing up blood? Was this investigation to be his final act?
Couple of nice little scenes on board ship as we see how bored the crew are, and how easily tempers flare. It’s a very cool way of showing exactly how Goss is able to keep command effortlessly as well.
Ooh, do we think that Goss is an ex-Claw? Or is he perhaps of a different outfit? There is a very pointed comment that Faro—the rather lovely chap who is wanted for murder in several places- is prepared to listen to Goss. Shows the latter must be some sort of badass!
I wonder how true this could be:
“The Seguleh aren’t soldiers,” Len answered. He eyed the man directly. “Never forget that. If it came to war with them—we’d win.”
Also an interesting question raised in Hiam’s thoughts:
“What could these invaders possibly want here in this—and it had to be said—rather impoverished and frankly out-of-the-way region?”
I agree with you Amanda that the association of the Stormrider attacks with the onset of frost and cold both makes them more ominous/alien and also triggers and auto-Malazan response of Ice = Jaghut. We’ll have to see if there is at all any connection between the two.
I like the parallel between the otataral torc at Corlo’s neck and this line: “the cold clasped his throat like an enemy.” Nice touch.
Yes, more and more emphasis of how the Wall’s defenders are hurting, something this chapter will end on as well.
Yes, the Lady has hardly been painted as particularly benign so far, has she? Jealous, vindictive, mass murder, perhaps children-killing, and now this—driving warren users insane.
An interesting choice of colors to describe Iron Bar’s eyes with in the context of the wall and the season: “glacier-blue.”
“One had to give this Emperor his due.” Sigh. But yes. (Everytime I think Mallik, I think of saying it the way Seinfeld says “Neumann.”) Though one wonders if the capital’s “old attitude of arrogant superiority [becoming] if anything even greater” is the pride before a fall.
We should know by now that any reference to the Wolves of War/Winter (Togg and Fanderay) is probably going to be important. Remember Toc’s “I ride to all the gods of war”. And yes Amanda, Perish is where the Grey Helms are from. Probably not a bad idea for a reminder here of our recap from The Bonehunters:
The Malazan fleet are meeting the Perish, who have huge ships with wolf-head prows, wolf banners, wolf-pommeled swords. The welcoming contingent consists of Destriant Run’Thurvian, Mortal Sword Krughava, and Shield Anvil Tanakalian. Run’Thurvian says they have been waiting for “the Mezla” and then Krughava draws her sword and pledges the Perish army (13000 soldiers and 31 warships) to Tavore, saying the “end of the world” waits and the Perish will fight in the name of Togg and Fanderay.
I could have personally gone without Peshar’s “almost wolfish” smile when Rillish says Perish must not be an Imperial holding.
We certainly get a sense of Su power of personality when she’s described as ordering Nil and Nether around and by how quickly Rillish accedes to her summons, but still, the idea of Mallick Rel “squirming under her gaze” is more than a little telling (and surprising). I also absolutely love that little characterization when he thinks how Su “had an annoying way of acting as if her every utterance or act was pregnant with meaning” when she seems to know about Perish (or at least pretended she did).
And now that Su has been so built up, just what does she see coming that she must warn Peles to “not abandon hope”? And then, just what war should the Malazans be fighting if it is not the one they think they are? Is it against the Stormriders? The Lady? The Sixth army? Some unknown?
My own personal take Amanda is that it is indeed the literal sword that Su refers to rather than Greymane’s own swordsmanship (though that isn’t so bad)
Yes, Devaleth is from the Mines and we actually saw her employ her Ruse/Mare magery in that book.
There seems to be a lot of betrayers/traitors (or charges thereof) in this book, hmm? Greyman, Rillish, Devaleth, the Sixth. Bakune perhaps. Lots of conflicted loyalty going around maybe. Should be an interesting meeting between Rillish and Greymane (and you know after this scene Esslemont has to give it to us).
One wonders if Karien’el’s worn appearance and drinking has much to do with the way he always has to do this sort of thing—protect the powerful rather than enforce the law, kill an innocent, etc. Or is that giving him too much credit?
And yes, what a blow—that empty cabinet. And yes again, that coughed-up blood is a bit ominous. Never a good sign.
So whenever I get a scene like the one with the deserter, I always wonder, why is the author giving me this scene? In the sense that it doesn’t involve the main characters, seems a bit of a throwaway, doesn’t move plot along or characterize anyone. Does this mean those yellow-banded paralt spiders are going to be important down the road somewhere? Does this mean someone later on is going to try to desert? Is it to remind of a character who came from Kartool and hated spiders? Is it to set an ominous tone for this invasion—begun in death? (and not sword/battle death but sneaky underhanded death?)
I like the idea of the “soldier’s favourite pastime of out-strategizing Command.” Everyone always knows better than their bosses, right?
Not much to like about Pyke given the vocab that surrounds him in his introduction: sneer, contempt, irritation, mocking. Not to mention his belly-aching. And his name—Pike—something that pokes and prods you. (hmm, is Suth meant to be a truth-teller?)
Goss on the other hand is being set up as a bit of a mystery—somehow who can cow even a killer like Faro. What’s his story, one has to wonder.
Yea, naval battle!
I think, and I might be way off here, but my guess is that when Len talks about how the Malazans would win against the Seguleh because the Seguleh are not soldiers he is thinking that disciplined and organized troops will defeat individual swordsmen, no matter how great they are. He also might be considering that “soldiers” and armies have a “win at all cost” attitude while the Seguleh are warriors, not soldiers, and thus have a “code.” The Malazans will toss a whole bunch of shit at you, everything they have—arrows, crossbow bolts, munitions, rocks, imprisoned demons, etc. The Seguleh will meet you hand-to-hand. Whether he’s right or not, we don’t know. Or at least, we don’t know yet.
That is a pretty good question, Amanda—what do the Malazans want here? Is it mere expansionism? Is it taking care of the Sixth? Is it knocking down the Lady, a possible power they don’t want to have to worry about? Is there something there (whatever was in the chest, for instance?) Do they just like the beaches?
Nice bit of suspense with Stimins—what does he suspect? What is he researching? What does he fear so much he is so shaken? And why does the “low point” matter?
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.