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 twelve 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.
Greymane scares a work group at the wall by having a magic sword appear in his hands and causing an earthquake. He tells them to flee and warn others to do the same. They do.
Watching the Korelri run, Greymane wonders how he’ll be remembered: “The greatest mass-murderer of the region? Or a semi-mythical deliverer?” He decides both, recognizing the necessity, but also the reality that many will die. He thinks given free reign, the Stormriders will go for the Lady, and he regrets he hadn’t done the same his first time here. He hopes the troops are safe, prays to Burn to “Right this ancient wrong. Heal this wound upon the Earth,” then stabs his sword into the ground, creating a warning tremor. Then he strikes harder, causing a massive crack to run out from the strike point. Water begins to rise and he realizes he is under the wall, though he accepts what seems inevitable: “You didn’t really think you’d survive this, did you?” The wall begins to collapse, and he strikes again, and water gushes out from the wall. Greymane, his hands “sunk in past his wrists . . . in the exposed granite bedrock,” cannot free himself and curses the gods. He sees the wall falling to pieces, then he is caught by the flood. Just before he blacks out underwater, he thinks he feels hands grasping him, but it goes unconscious, “allow[ing] himself release without regret, without anger, without expectation of anything.”
The flood from the Ocean of Storms, “driven by the sorceries of the Stormriders,” wipes out almost everything in its path—villages, fields, farmhouses, etc.
Atop the Tower of Ice in the communication room, Hiam sends out requests but many towers are not responding. One tower merely sends “pray,” and then Hiam sees a beacon in the distance suddenly snuffed out and something large and vague heading toward Ice Tower. Suddenly the tower is buffeted. Regaining his feet, Hiam looks out and sees lots of destruction, but is glad to note the wall itself, though damaged, still stands. He runs down but the stairs are blocked by huge pieces of rubble.
From her cell, Shell sees a group of prisoners heading her way, Blues among them. Suddenly, Blues knocks out their guard and he and Shell yell to each other about what they’re sensing. Blues tells her he hasn’t felt anything like it since “Genaback is when we faced the Warlord,” then suddenly yells for everyone to take cover. They’re thrown to their feet as the tower shakes and parts collapse, then Blues pulls her out of her cell and they dig out everyone they can, including Tollen and a group of Malazan veterans, who scavenge weapons and head on up. Blues and Shell head for the infirmary, finding the Malazans held back by a Stormguard with the “Lady’s Grace.” Blues heads up to find Quint fighting and glowing with an aura of power. Blues and Quint fight for a while, Quint then hits him with the “Lady’s Wrath,” then Blues hits him with D’riss Ray of Puissant Power. Blues wins. They pass to the outside, but then Quint reappears. Before Blues can do anything, he and Shell are struck by a wave of power and she passes out.
Ussü rides out the flood in the chamber with Bars. Using his warren, he sees Yeull too close to the coast and grabs for Bars’ heart again to send a warning to flee to higher ground. Then, sensing Blues, he whacks him with a blast of magery.
Fingers crawls out from the destruction with two broken legs but still wearing the otataral torc which prevents him from reaching his power and healing himself. Hagen the Toblakai (the pre-Bars champion whom Corlo met earlier) finds him and breaks the torc off, then leaves. Fingers heals himself.
Corlo finds himself in the infirmary with Jemain sawing off his leg at the knee. He passes out.
Shell comes to amidst lots of fighting. She sees Blues being hammered toward the wall’s edge by Ussü’s power, but she’s too wounded to help. Then Fingers appears, heals her, and the two join in.
Ussü, using the powers from both the Lady and Bars, fights on and is stunned Blues isn’t dead. Bars comes to, frees himself somewhat, and manages to get a hand around Ussü’s throat even as Ussü squeezes his heart to kill him. Ussü “suddenly saw far into the wellspring of the inexhaustible might sustaining this Avowed and he understood its source . . . appalled by the magnitude of his discovery, he opened his mouth, meaning to tell him: Do you have any idea—“ Ussü dies.
Bars removes Ussü’s dead hand from his heart. Blues arrives and the two leave. Jemain calls out from the infirmary (blocked by rubble) and tells them Corlo is hurt.
A wave crashes over where Fingers and Shell are, bringing a Stormrider who seems to salute Shell, then leaves. Shells and Fingers help Lazar, then are shocked by the size of the wave heading down the bay toward the tower. They head out and find Blues, Bars, Jemain, and Corlo—unconscious and missing half a leg. Blues says the Malazans ran for the hills, and as Quint and some other Stormguard approach, the Crimson Guard gather around Blues to leave via warren.
Quint spots the wave and realizes it is the prophecy come true. He curses the wave and is washed away. That night it snows and then the snow turns to ice and frost on the tower.
Hmm. Usually by this point in a Malazan novel the convergence is happening, the book is building to its massive climax. Here I feel that we have a handful of disjointed storylines and way too many loose ends that can’t possibly be cleared up before we hit the end of the novel. Colour me disappointed. Although Esslemont’s writing style has improved massively, I still find his books very frustrating.
Stonewielder—because he can move stones?
I am just overwhelmingly confused by the whole Stonewielder thing. We’ve been given so very little to work with. This just adds to it: “Yet was he not just one link in an unbroken chain of causality stretching back who knew how far? Albeit the final one.”
So his aim is to break the Stormwall and release the Stormriders to go against the Lady and destroy her? That is what he is talking about? And I guess there will always be collateral damage from a choice like that, especially since it sounds as though the sea is about to rise. No wonder Greymane spoke to Devaleth and urged her to get the Malazans away from the coast as soon as possible.
I would have liked to feel more for Greymane’s trauma here, and his pain about making the decision and what it means for the world. It could have had so much impact, but instead I’m left feeling quite remote. I should have been in a wash of tears at things like: “Well, he chided himself, you didn’t really think you’d survive this, did you?”
The scenes where Greymane is trapped by the stone and watching the slow demise of the wall into the floods is excellently done. I felt his terror and his detachment. I also loved Esslemont’s writing as he describes the way the waters race across the land to destroy and cover and sweep away.
Hiam’s signalling to each of the Towers, and the desperate replies: “Wind Tower not responding” etc builds tension in a fantastic way, especially that final “Pray!”
I love how casually Blues takes out the guardsman who is poking him to move with a sword. Makes you think that these Avowed really have just been biding their time until it was appropriate to make their move.
So the feel of Stonewielder is similar to Caladan Brood? Makes sense since they both seem to be associated with Burn.
I cannot even imagine the terror at being held underground and feeling the whole place start shaking and coming down around your ears. The claustrophobia and panic must be beyond endurance. “She was going to die crushed like a beetle!”
This version of Quint—held in thrall by the Lady, with that faint blue aura playing over him—is distinctly otherworldly, and a reminder that the Lady does still have power and is desperately trying to keep her position. Just one Stormguard. Just one old Stormguard. And no one has managed to get past Quint yet. Pretty damn impressive display from the Lady.
Blues’ “I don’t have time for this” is very cool. And I agree with Tollen and Shell—that it is easy to forget that that Blues is a very strong mage.
Ha, this amused me a lot:
“Won’t this guy stay down?” Blues grumbled.
“Now you know how it feels,” Tollen complained.
Alright, I do feel a reluctant admiration for Ussü that he still feels the need to do his duty and warn Yeull about the danger he is in from still being at the coast—shame the Overlord is such a douche really! Also, still cannot bear the way in which Ussü is gaining his power. Iron Bars has already suffered so much—this just seems like too much more to take.
Umm, why is Jemain cutting off Corlo’s leg? I do find Corlo one of the most depressing characters to read in this book. I mean, sure, he has good reason to feel down, but it sucks a lot of the joy out of reading when you have things like:
“Why by all the gods above and below am I still alive? What have I done that was so terrible to deserve such punishment? Why have I been singled out like this? Aren’t you done with me? What more could you possibly squeeze from me?”
Ah, now this is a HUGE tease, and something that I am most eager to know:
“As Ussü’s life slipped away from him he suddenly saw far into the wellspring of the inexhaustible might sustaining this Avowed and he understood its source. He gazed at the man’s flushed twisted face, not a hand’s breadth from his own, appalled by the magnitude of the discovery.”
Where on earth does this power come from? Who provides it? Damn, now I only want to know this!
Jemain must be a traitor, surely—what with telling Bars and Blues that Corlo is hurt, when he is the one who was sawing off his leg at the knee!
This scene where Hiam finally realises the true reason for the Stormwall and why people die continually up there is both shocking and poignant. “All this time… then all this time… No. It was too terrible to contemplate. Too horrific. A monstrous crime.” The Stormwall merely protected the Lady, not the lands from the Stormriders. So many people died for the Lady.
This description of the tsunami destroying the land is bitter indeed, since we’ve seen real life examples of this.
Huh. Was Yeull’s freezing condition down to Ussü’s presence in his life? Was Ussü sucking power from Yeull, and that is why, with his death, the Overlord is now feeling warm? Mind, it didn’t last for long, considering this idiot decided not to take Ussü’s advice and now sees his life sucked away by this terrible flood. Although he does have the sense to realise this: “Malazans won’t be able to enter this region for generations—you’ve lost all these lands for ever…”
Fantastic work from Devaleth’s viewpoint—as per usual, in this novel. I think she is easily my favourite character.
Heh. “I thought you said we wouldn’t meet again…”
She waved her hands. “Never mind about that. I was wrong.”
And then we see the relics of the Lady being destroyed. Since it took most of the book before they were introduced, this all seems nice and quick and easy, and not really relevant considering we’ve spent time with other characters and plotlines that I would see resolved before this.
So I’m guessing Rillish’s fall from the edge is much like Aragorn’s in The Two Towers movie? No actual tension because we all know this can’t really be when he dies and, besides, doesn’t everyone survive a fall like this in books and films?
Aww, nice that the Seafolk baby is called Shell as well.
Eep, so the Crippled God now has some of the power of the Lady, thanks to Skinner stealing the chest. That doesn’t seem like a good thing at all.
And so, with just the Epilogue to read, it doesn’t feel so much as if I have almost completed a read of a novel, but more a few short stories vaguely connected. I feel… dissatisfied.
I confess to being a little surprised at Stall and Evessa’s response to Greymane’s action at first. I mean, part of me gets the “don’t mess with a guy who can create earthquakes.” On the other hand, part of me thinks that’s exactly the guy you want to mess with. Or at least try to. I would have liked at least a little more sense of “err, maybe we should try and stop this guy...”
This is obviously a horrible position Greymane has been thrust into here—mass murder/mass deliverer. But I can’t help think it would all have more impact if it weren’t so abstract and removed from us as readers, if we knew just a little more about what’s going on and why for so long. I don’t need everything laid out for me (if I did, I wouldn’t be reading this series, and certainly not more than once, believe me). But I do think the ambiguity here does rob this scene of some impact.
The visuals, however, are spectacular. Who wouldn’t want to see this on the big screen (I’m thinking now of the flood of Orthanc).
Again here, while I can intellectually feel for Greymane’s plight, he’s been so distant in this novel, so removed, and such an ass when he wasn’t distant (I get why, but still), that this moment doesn’t resonate as emotionally as it should, his realization that he is stuck with the flood coming. The very close though, his “allo [ing] himself release without regret, without anger without expectation”—that does resonate, I think less for the character than because we can all relate to such an idea, such a moment.
Love that description of the floodwaters.
And I really found the way Esslemont drags this out to be hugely effective: the switch to Hiam after that flood description, the slow walk up the stairs, then the roll call of beacons—Wind tower, Ruel’s Tears, Tower of Stars, and then that billowing shape, “something like a blizzard cascading down the pass.” Really, really well done, the way he draws out that moment and makes us wait for what we know is coming.
Blues’ reference to feeling nothing like this since facing “The Warlord” is a reference to Caladan Brood, whose hammer, if you recall, was linked to Burn and also caused tremors.
This scene with Quint sort of called for one of those Indiana Jones shoots the guy moments. I mean, they’re concerned the tower isn’t going to last, need to find their other men, who might be buried or hurt, and it takes a while of them all standing around watching for Blues to finally say “I don’t have time for this” and knocking Quint on his butt (for a little while). I think Shell’s line about “decided to test the waters” is supposed to explain why he didn’t use his warren before, but it seems the urgency was there anyway.
The shift from Fingers to Corlo is another effective one, with us watching one near-amputation but thanks for the warrens being available healing about to take place, then we get to poor Corlo, already wracked by guilt, having his leg sawed off.
Well, that is a hell of a cliffhanger with Ussü’s revelation into what lies at the, um, “heart” of the Avowed’s power. Will we find out by the book’s end, when we’re now 93% through?
Even for an Avowed though, man is Bars one tough dude.
I like that the last one left is Quint, swearing at the wave and everything else—seems very fitting. And the closing description once they’re all wiped out is a great paragraph:
“On into the evening a fresh layer of snow began to fall over all: the grey undisturbed waters of the inlet, and the bare stones of the wall where no footfalls marred it. Through the night it froze into a fresh clean layer of frost and ice.”
A lovely poetic sense of rhythm to it, nice imagery of a brand new world—the old one wiped away and the new one, it is hinted, with perhaps a promise of peacefulness. And the allusion to the victory of the Stormriders, closing with “frost and ice.” Nicely done. Really.
Appropriate as well that Quint dies without his certainty assailed, while Hiam, who never had the intensity of certitude and faith (not that he was severely lacking in either) gets that horrifying revelation that his life, and the generations and generations of the Stormguards’ existence, had all been a sham. No protecting of the lands. No blessing or guidance. No purpose to courage or a code. None of that. Instead, all to protect the Lady alone. And all done via blood and death, not courage or nobility or strength of arms. It was indeed “too terrible to contemplate. Too horrific. A monstrous crime.” What a nightmarish realization. And while it edges to being a little too obvious, I still kinda like the reference to the “true foundation of his faith,” and the clear link to the foundations of the wall being washed away, just like his has.
A bit of a full circle with the sea-folk being buffeted by another tsunami/flood.
It does seem odd to me that Yeull so casually dismisses Ussü’s warning. The guy has given good advice prior after all. Take that combined with the prophecy and the talk of Greymane, and I’m not sure what it would have cost him to seek higher ground.
I do find it interesting though that he thinks like a Malazan at the end: “Gods damn you Greymane... your name will go down as the greatest villain this region has ever known. Malazans won’t be able to enter this region for generations—you’ve lost all these lands forever.” You can take the boy out of the Empire, I guess, but not the Empire out of the boy...
Now Fullen? He knows what to do when a mage gives a warning.
I like that little throwaway line about Devaleth warning the Mare.
And the reference to Tattersail. Sigh.
I do enjoy the Synod scenes. I don’t know if I needed more of them in this book; they seemed to be on-page just the right amount, but I wouldn’t have minded seeing more of them elsewhere.
So what are the Riders killing down in the Ring? Something, apparently, that they’ve been wanting to do for some time but have been prevented from doing so by the Wall. We know they are the Lady’s “ancient enemy.” Are they killing the Lady down there? But Gosh mentions other targets. Recall though the story Ipshank told Rillish of the three “relics” of the Lady—one of which was supposedly in the Ring. One can assume that this is the center of the action here. But it is being “killed”—meaning it had life, so “relic” is apparently not the right word, at least not wholly so. But then recall the prologue and the chest and the “flesh of my flesh.” Just hold onto all that for a little while.
Rillish’s question and reluctance seems a bit strange and out of character to me at this point. Seems he accepted the necessity of this when he agreed to go. Hard to see how he thinks they should abandon it now.
The fight scene with Suth’s group is OK, but the Stormguard being built up as great fighters and with the Lady’s blessing as well makes me wonder a bit why they don’t mostly just carve up the Malazan force, but I can live with it.
The scene with Rillish going over was effective, shocking, and sad all at once, especially as one thinks of his departure—his wife and children back home. Peles’ reaction deepened the impact of the scene. Of course, we all do know the rule about bodies that fall from cliffs to splash below.
“I could use my preternatural skills to sneak away—but I will stand by your side.”
“Our obligations to the Overlord ended . . . dissatisfactorily.”
Nothing to say about these lines; I just really enjoyed them.
An interesting aside in Shell noticing that the Stormriders remind her of Tiste Andii.
So, the chest (and one can assume the other two relics) contains “A fragment of the entity charading as the Lady... a fragment... As in the Crippled God... the Shattered God.” Soooo, if we can take Shell’s supposition as true (always a question) what does that mean with regard to the Lady? Who is she? What is she? Did she ever exist or was she just a sham created by a fragment of the Crippled God? We do have an epilogue/whole book wrap left, so I’m going to hold my thoughts until then, as we may learn more and also it has a good amount to do with a whole-book reaction. I’ll leave it to others if they want to speculate now or on Wednesday.
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.