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 two 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.
We learn about Suth (not his full name—that would be Suthahl ‘Ani) who has been recruited into the Malazan army, along with others who have nicknames such as Dim and Lard. They are commissioned into the 17th Squad, who are camped around the city of Unta. Goss is the sergeant.
Suth is woken in the morning by a kick from an older chap, called Len. Once he is woken, Suth drinks tea and meets Urfa, “singularly the most unfavoured female he had ever set eyes on,” who is lieutenant of the sappers in the company. Goss is also called Hunter. As Suth leaves the tent and looks out at the bay of Unta, where lots of ships are anchored, he is approached by a strapping Kan woman called Yana. She brings armour for Suth, Lard and Dim, who receive it with various degrees of gratitude. We learn that the company is shipping out, and that Yana is not a corporal, but only acts like it.
As they wait to be told where they’re going, Suth and Lard talk to Yana about Faro—a killer—and the fact Goss is also called Hunter. Yana tells them that name is not for them.
Suth, Lard, and Dim are waiting for Yana to return with some food when a group of eight comes to take the gear around them away, including what is theirs. Lard, in particular, tells the group to leave the stuff and backs it up by getting into a fight with a chap called Keth. Lard takes quite a few hits, but suffers through them until he can get hold of Keth and throw him down on a crate—which smashes to reveal munitions. This sends everyone away, barring Len and a woman called Keri, who share out the munitions between them.
The heavies of the 4th Company embark aboard ship. While Suth and Dim sit with Len, cleaning their armour, they listen to all the rumours about where they might be heading (and where it’s clear the Malazans are expecting a dirty fight). Len adds in the name of Korel to the mix, and Suth suspects he might be right.
Ella watches street urchins play and then feeds them, contemplating her own time as a street urchin and how the priest she helps had saved her from a dark fate. She watches a Malazan patrol come and threaten the priest—he is sanguine about the fact that they want to remove him, and plan to do so with rumours.
Twelve armed men are sent to arrest Ivanr, under the charge of aiding and abetting the heretic cultists. Ivanr says he will go peacefully with them when he is told that he will be put under trial. Once his wrists are tied, the captain of the cavalry gestures at a nearby tree and says it will do, and that the trial has already occurred. Ivanr decides he’s had enough and rather casually takes down all twelve men, without intentionally killing any one of them.
Ivanr heads south, and the country around him is showing signs of neglect, with the harvest still not collected in and a stray horse that hasn’t been claimed and looks ill from lack of care. He hears a scream, which startles his horse into rearing and bolting. It seems the sound was made by pigs and he relaxes, until he realises these pigs have consumed several people.
Ivanr arrives in the town local to the homestead where he found the pigs. In the market square, he is greeted by a priest of the Lady and a mob of villagers. The priest demands he prove his devotion to the Lady through a trial involving holding a red-hot iron bar and trusting that the Lady will protect him. The priest shows Ivanr the people—in a choked, stinking pit—who have failed the trial. Ivanr realises that the villagers are not the zealots that the priest is, and manages to turn them on the priest by revealing that he is actually of the cult of Dassembrae. In the midst of death and confusion, Ivanr makes his escape.
As Ivanr finds his horses and then leaves the town, he rescues a young boy from the carnage and bloodshed, and decides he is done “with these Jourilan peoples and lands, and all their gods, new and old, with them.”
Hiam has been called to view an incident at the wall by Wall Marshal Quint, who seems both indifferent and callous to the broken bodies and equipment. Thanks to the arrival of the frost, there is no time to make repairs to the wall, so there will now be a gap that the Stormriders can exploit. Hiam states that the Champion shall take this section of the wall. Quint is reluctant and says that “they’ll read something into the change. You mustn’t underestimate them.” (I’m not sure whether he means the other people guarding the Wall, or the Stormriders!)
We learn from Quint’s perspective that this isn’t the first time Hiam has disregarded tradition and the “hard-won wisdom of their predecessors”. Quint has wondered why he was not named the Lord Protector, and thinks that perhaps this willingness to go against tradition is partly why Hiam was named instead.
Hiam and Quint continue their inspection. When they reach the dormitories of the Chosen, Hiam again demonstrates good leadership by recognising one of the Chosen and referring to him by name and a battle he was involved in. At the top of the tower, Hiam looks at the gear that makes up their communication system and asks Quint if it was tested over the summer. Quint confirms it was. Hiam then reveals that the Jourilan and Dourkan are sending half of the troops they usually would, so the Wall will be below half-strength for the coming season. They remark on the fact that the tower they’re stood on was named for a previous Lord Protector who supposedly had a vision of the ultimate defeat of the Stormguard.
Quint thinks that “perhaps there was more than met the eye to the indefinable quality that made Hiam the Lord Protector.”
We meet Rillish and Talia from Return of the Crimson Guard, as Rillish plays with his toddler and then walks out to meet a column of Malazan cavalry. Rillish believed himself to be retired, but apparently the Empire still has need of him. The leader of the cavalry—Peles—wants to talk to him, and Rillish agrees, although thinks that nothing could make him return.
Rillish is handed a note, apparently written by Emperor Mallick, that he reads. He changes his mind about not coming back into service.
Talia is not happy with Rillish’s decision. She asks what has been offered, and Rillish says that the Emperor is prepared to give back everything.
Rillish says farewell to his toddler, but Talia does not come to bid him goodbye. She does watch him leave, though, and raises a hand to him in farewell. We learn that Rillish is going to join active service again because the Emperor has promised to restore his Malazan estates, and he wants to secure a future for Halgin.
Kiska agrees to walk with Agayla up the island. Part of this is to get away from the Deadhouse—she recalls that Tayschrenn once said of the Azath: “They are waning [...] we should let them go in peace.” She remembers the night she saw the Emperor enter the Deadhouse, and decides that she should seek Tayschrenn elsewhere.
Agayla takes Kiska to sit in a circle of standing stones, and soon enough they are engulfed in light that indicates they are being taken to speak with the Queen of Dreams.
Kiska meets the Queen of Dreams, who has a strong presence. The Enchantress thinks it a good thing that Kiska is going to find Tayschrenn (especially because it isn’t through any romantic feelings), and assigns her a travelling companion called Jheval, who is from Seven Cities. This Jheval doesn’t seem too impressed at having to assist in finding Tayschrenn. They are told to begin their journey in Chaos.
After Kiska and Jheval have left, the Queen of Dreams tells Agayla, the Weaver, not to cry. Both see an ominous future, and a new order arriving.
Bakune has been searching for two months for hints about Sister Charity’s family. Eventually he heads out to a shanty town in search of the Harldeth family. He meets with an old man, who agrees to take him to the family, and who questions the usual method of the Watch. The old man seems to have power over the other people who live around him, and Bakune asks if they’ve met before. The old man says “No, Assessor. You most certainly do not know me.”
Bakune meets with Lithel Harldeth, an old crone in a smoky tent, who talks to him of strange gods and the nature of evil. She advises him to look to the children.
When he leaves the tent, the old man—who says he is of the Drenn and who follows the old faith—tells Bakune not to try to find the dwelling again, that he can never return there.
The reader learns that the old man is Gheven, who has met the Assessor before, and is pleased that he is holding to his principles, but saddened because the path will cause Bakune pain.
Back in his office Bakune pulls out a map that shows red dots for every murdered person he has assessed. They show a bloody and disturbing pattern connected to the holy Cloister of Our Blessed Lady.
Kyle chats to both the captain and the bone-mender on the ship that he and Greymane are travelling on. I’m sure the details are pertinent, but I’m not sure what to pull out!
Kyle is woken three days later with the news that some Malazan men-of-war are on their trail. Greymane suggests that the Captain doesn’t try to outrun them.
Turns out there is a whole fleet of ships, with thousands of Malazan soldiers being transported. To Kyle it looks like an invasion assembled to take a continent. Three people come aboard the ship where Kyle and Greymane are—Fist Khemet Shul, Claw Reshal and Moranth Blue Halat. They carry a missive to Greymane from Emperor Mallick Rel, requesting he take command of an invasion fleet that plans to break the Mare blockade and go against the Riders.
Kyle asks whether Greymane is insane for accepting the command, after the way the Malazans treated him. Greymane understands the question, but feels he is doing the right thing, through guilt for leaving his people in Korel and because he knows he’ll be unable to hide. Greymane has been assigned command of the land forces, and the fleet is under command of Admiral Nok.
So, more hints that the Malazan army based just north of Dal Hon are not the cold conquerors that we’ve seen in the past. Here, again, we’re given a look at a rather more indolent army—the soldiers boast and tell stories and claim to have been part of great battles. But, as Suth observes: “The cheap puffery of those who were cowards on the field, for only those who ran or hid from the fighting could have survived the slaughters they described.”
Goss is much more in the mould of Malazans we’ve seen before, with his quiet demeanour and well-worn longsword. Much more the veteran soldier. And it seems that, since we’re told a few times in a few different ways, that there is more to Goss than meets the eye—all this Hunter business.
Ah, Goss and Yana and Len are making me feel right at home, particularly Yana’s exchange with Pyke:
“You’re not the, ah, corporal?”
“No. Pyke is.”
Dim hitched up his bundled armour and a roll of gear. “But you’re actin’ like it, ‘n’ all.”
“That’s because Pyke’s a worthless lazy bastard, that’s why.”
Suth is quite mysterious so far, especially when things are slipped in like where Yana says “Suth? That doesn’t sound Dal Honese” and Suth replies “It’s not.” Strikes me that Suth is perhaps hiding his true identity. Also, he seems very aware of how to put on a cuirass and a hauberk, which seems to indicate prior experience, and he recognises the wealth of the armour he has been given, which shows at least exposure to those with higher status than him. Will continue to watch for clues about Suth!
So Esslemont is really using Yana here now as a way of giving information—slightly heavy handed in the way we’re told that Faro is someone to watch and Goss doesn’t go by Hunter all the time.
Lard is definitely the sort of Malazan character that I like to see—someone who is prepared to take damage and then come back swinging. Either very effective, or very dim! Strikes me that this scene is just to introduce the munitions into the fray. This, for me, is where Esslemont sometimes gets the writing a little wrong, in that over two scenes he’s been much less subtle in the way that he moves the plot on. He places Chekhov’s gun with a very visible wink to the reader, it feels to me!
A neat transition from Len spreading rumours, to this Malazan patrol threatening the priest with rumours that would ruin him and cause the locals to drive him away. Also, the rumours that this priest eats babies. Clearly, rumours and half-truths and misdirection is something we are supposed to be identifying up to this point!
Nice little battle scene here, although I reserve scepticism that one unarmed man can actually take down twelve armed cavalry, even taking them by surprise. Although I do reluctantly enjoy the scene as well. I’m conflicted! (which, in all honesty, is the way I approach all the Esslemont books!)
Ah, a nice little reminder here that Esslemont could probably write a horror novel with a modicum of success, as we see the family of pigs that has gnawed and consumed the family of farmers. The eerie scream, the empty homestead and corral, the use of the word ‘gnawed’—all distinctly chilling.
I also like Ivanr arriving in the village and his discussion with the priest about heresy and why only one god must be worshipped. I particularly liked the reference to gods we’ve seen in action:
“And where were these so-called gods when our ancestors were being wiped from the land by the predations of the demon Riders? Where was this ancient sea god some go on about now? This god of healing? Or this earth goddess?”
It’s a little odd to see that ‘our’ gods—the ones we’ve been reading about through the Malazan books—seem to have so small a sphere of influence that they aren’t even really known in other places.
This thought here from Ivanr seems to echo that:
“Complete and utter collapse. The natural consequences of religious war? Or something more? Who was to say? It was all new to these lands where the Lady had ruled unquestioned for so many generations.”
So clearly other gods hadn’t yet managed to edge out the Lady, although it seems as though we’re seeing the start of that here.
I actually like that Quint contemplates the reasons why Hiam was named Lord Protector over him, and sees that Hiam has something—some quality—that Quint lacks. It is so much more nuanced than just hating Hiam for having the job he felt he deserved.
Rillish stating that nothing can possibly induce him to return to service just makes me think that the one thing that could is about to be said to him!
Aww, it’s sweet that Rillish and Talia are planning to name their next child either Nil or Nether—nice little tribute to the Wickans.
The Azath are waning? Well, now, that sounds as though it might have repercussions in the future… Lines like that, where Kiska just happens to remember something throwaway that she overheard—well, they just seem as obvious as a plant in an audience set to make the audience act in a specific way!
Who amongst us agrees with Agayla’s assessment that the Queen of Dreams is “one of the greatest powers presently at play here in this world”? We’ve not really seen much of her before now, so it’ll be interesting to see how she matches up the the powers we’ve already encountered.
So, Jheval… Seven Cities. A spare, slightly forbidding man. Someone who has previously made a deal with the Queen of Dreams. I think we can only go in one direction here, and say that we’re seeing Leoman back on the stage. It will be interesting to read about this character again, after the way we left him before, and what we saw happen to the Malazans outside of Y’Ghatan.
Bakune is developing into a very likeable character here, with his dedication to the task at hand and his somewhat naive view of how the Watch operates (which I suspect is going to be mightily disabused in the book). He seems incredibly honourable.
Who is this old man, and why the emphatic “No, Assessor. You most certainly do not know me”? (Ah, rather rapidly answered—how is it that Bakune doesn’t recognise Gheven? Because they only met very briefly two months ago?)
Another look at the nature of gods and religion, including “And here, the newcomer, the Broken God, watching and scheming from afar.” You know something? I wonder whether I would have put so much attention on noting the Crippled God and his many faces and representations if I had read these books without knowing that the final volume was to be called The Crippled God? Did y’all who read these as they were being published pay so much attention to him?
That map of Bakune’s does seem to point a very dark finger at Our Lady, doesn’t it?
So, what exactly is this massive Malazan invasion fleet, with Moranth allies, determined to achieve? And why do they want/need Greymane in command?
I’ve always liked the naming tradition of the Malazan Army, and by now it feels like slipping back into the rituals of old friends when we’re introduced to Suth and Lard and the Dim etc. in this scene.
It’s a good technique to give us this build-up of forces, in this case for this group heavies and saboteurs, and make us wait to see where they’re heading. It also gives a chance for some reminding of how large this world is and some humor when the speculation begins, especially in the responses to ideas that they might be attacking Elingarth (“no one’s that stupid”) and even more laughably, the Island of the Seguleh (“Sure, all fifteen thousand of us might manage to take one fishing village.” And note he says “take,” not “hold”). Of course, as readers, we’re guessing at least some of these storylines might eventually match up (though in this series that’s hardly a given), so we’re probably not too surprised it turns out to be Korel.
Hmm, “hunter”—a predatory sort of nickname...
And then we get this about Faro: “Faro’s a killer. The kind who’d be executed in peacetime.” Some dangerous folks our heavies are getting mixed in with, it seems.
Ella’s memories of her time as a street urchin, her recollection of what has happened in the years since to most of her mates, and then her surprise at the new priest not being like the rest (“not once had the priest indulged in similar practices—the strong exacting what they wished from the weaker, including sexual gratification.”)
This is our second reference to a religion eating babies—a connection between this priest and the priestess? Or just the usual tact taken by the Lady’s adherents to quickly quell any competition? In any case, it appears religion might be playing a big role in this book, what with these two in addition to Bakune and the priests of the Cloister.
Anyone else have a giggle at the idea of “squeezing” Manask?
I mentioned earlier that the idea of this priest as a Crippled God priest was a bit muddy and here we see his philosophy clouding things a bit more:
“It matters not what image or idol is bowed to... the sensation, the feeling, is the same as it comes from within all of us. From inside. Not without.”
Is he therefore not a priest of the CG?
Similarly, is this move to Ivanr a smooth transition from one religion to another, or is it a smooth transition from the same religion to it again elsewhere?
I have to say, while I like Ivanr here in this scene, I’m rarely a fan of the “tied too loosely” method of allowing one’s hero to do heroic things. Especially when he gets tied so loosely moments after the captain says “I’d seen you fight, after all... You were untouchable.” I know the captain is supposed to be disappointed in Ivanr, but it still seems with that memory in his mind (it is why he brought a dozen men with him after all) he’d be a bit more cautious.
On the other hand, I like how we’re set up for the horrors we’re about to encounter by a few details such as the unharvested fields, the runaway horse, the state of the horse, the lack of smoke from a chimney, etc. We were also well set up for the Lady’s fierce jealousy, so as horrific as this priest and his actions are, it comes as little surprise.
I like Ivanr’s quick thinking here, employing the symbol of Dessembrae to frame the priest.
If this is, as Ivanr muses, the “natural consequence of religious war... the eruption was natural given how hard the Lady and her priests had clamped down and how long,” it can’t bode well based on what we’ve seen of the Priestess and of Ipshank.
Speaking of a plot build, we’re getting lots of references to the Shield-Wall having lots of issues. Just saying.
And is Quint being built up to possibly be a more conservative thorn in Hiam’s side? Or worse, potentially a coup waiting to happen if Hiam throws too much of tradition by the wayside?
You can see Hiam’s leadership qualities clearly here though. His reaction to events, his apology for the poor materials, the way he recalled the one guard (Allan) from a battle three seasons ago.
Sure, this tower, with its fancy alchemicals and beacon light might just have been a convenient place for Hiam and Quint to talk. But a reader always has to wonder in these kinds of scenes, am I being shown fancy alchemicals and beacon lights for a reason? Because maybe these things will be important later? One might also wonder about that suicide leap by another Lord Protector—will Hiam face that terrible vision, that “ultimate defeat of the Stormguard”? Things certainly aren’t trending well.
Ahh, Rillish. And Talia. Good to see some returnees. And I like how our first view of Rillish is of him “playing with his toddler.” It sets up the type of person he is, and also sets up why he does what he does; he sees it as something he needs to do for his children (Talia being pregnant). Nicely done in a writerly sense. In a character sense, however, I’ve got to say, I’m with Talia on this. Life doesn’t seem so bad at Chez Keth. Not a grand estate, no, but still.
This scene also does a nice job of setting us up for Greymane’s scene later (one almost feels like it’s the gathering of the Seven Samurai/Magnificent Seven (and tell me honestly, can you now not get that theme song out of your head?)
Speaking of things being name-dropped for later, this quote from Kiska would seem to be a pretty big deal, re the Azath:
“They are waning,” she heard him [Tayschrenn] say once. “We should let them go in peace.”
To be honest, this one sticks out like a bit of a sore thumb to me, so much so that when I come across these kinds of lines, I kind of hope they turn out to not be as portentous as they sound.
Temper as the old man Kiska sees outside the Deadhouse?
OK, we’ll find out who Jheval is soon, but here are a few clues (I haven’t seen Amanda’s post yet so don’t know if she’s naming names):
- Associated with the Queen of Dreams
- Desert robes
- Seven Cities
- Long mustache
- Two morningstars as weapons
- Not a fan of Tayschrenn, as it is made clear that it is quite ironic that he would help find the mage
Along with all the ominous bits with regard to the Shieldwall, we’re getting more here via T’riss and Agayla in the sense of an impending convergence (“The knots ahead come so thick they may choke the shuttle.”), and a possible upheaval of the status quo (“It will be a new order.”) And I like T’riss’ hard view: “Let us hope it will be a better one.” Reminds me of Shadowthrone’s “Acceptable levels of misery and suffering... Acceptable? Who the fuck says any level is acceptable?”
Two months of hard detective work. I continue to like this Bakune.
And religion continues to play a great role in the plotlines of several characters. Who is the Great Deceiver? What indeed will be the “final shape” of the Beast of War? Is Lithel pitying Hood, when she says “Here, the Dark Hoarder of Souls. He has my friend now—may both of them come to know peace”? And here the Broken God—an interesting change of name from the Crippled God. Important?
I love that slow reveal of Bakune’s map, the visual sense of this scene and all it carries. As a reader, you’re dying to know how he’ll answer that question of what will he do.
And then the big surprise—Greymane legitimized and put into command. But of what specifically? Curiouser and curiouser...
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.