Welcome to the Malazan Re-read 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 The Bonehunters by Steven Erikson (TB).
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.
(Just a note that Amanda is ill and so will get to commentary when she is feeling better)
Samar Dev and Karsa discuss several of her inventions (a spyglass being one) and her idea that ethics should be of primary concern for any inventor. She leaves to examine the Short-tail Karsa killed in the Keep after informing him it seemingly killed all the Malazan that had been inside.
Samar Dev dissects the Short-tail, discovering strange small mechanisms inside its stomach. The mechanism work for only a moment after exiting the dissected stomach. Dev and the Torturer standing guard over the short-tail corpse discuss torture and the quest for Truth.
Samar tells Karsa of a mysterious island called Sepik with two populations, “one the subject of the other.” Karsa decides to travel there and agrees to wait until Samar can get a map copied. She notices spirits have been drawn toward Karsa and are also frightened. She imprisons them using her knife.
Quick Ben’s squad has exited the warren and is waiting. They discuss Coral, Tavore and Paran, the ghosts at Raraku. They’re interrupted by the arrival of Khundryl Burned Tears.
The Tears bring the squad to Tavore (along the way Kalam notices the moon looking strange) and she asks why they aren’t in the Imperial Warren. He tells her there were 10-12 K’Chain Che’Malle Sky Keeps and speculates the Imperial Warren was once the K’Chain warren. She orders them to find out what they’re doing and why they’re trying to stay hidden. He thinks she’s sending him away before the siege of Y’Ghatan because she doesn’t trust them after they met with Dujek and Tayschrenn. Pearl shows up, Tavore’s group leaves, Quick Ben tells Kalam to leave Pearl for now and that he didn’t hear anything of import.
Captain Faradan Sort kills Joyful Union in front of Bottle, who performs an inappropriate “salute” in response. When asked, he gives his name as Smiles.
Faradan meets Fiddler and acts the strict captain. She orders Smiles to carry a double-load today. Smiles wonders what she did to deserve that and Fiddler says captains are just crazy. Bottle tells them Sort killed Joyful Union and Cuttle says, “She’s [Sort] dead.”
Keneb finds Grub in his tent. Grub mouths some weird things and leaves. Keneb worries about the siege with the lack of men and equipment as well as missing Quick Ben. Blistig enters and says he fears disaster, that there is a growing dread amongst the men, adding the Fists want to confront Tavore and make her open up. Keneb says no; they should wait. Blistig leaves and Keneb continues to worry what awaits them.
Hellian wakes, now in her eight day of being reassigned to the 14th, along with Urb. She thinks how unfair it is and needs more to drink.
Bottle tells Maybe and Lutes Sort killed Joyful Union and there’ll be no more fights, which angers them. He also warns them to put down their new scorpion, as it’s a female and the males will be attracted to her distress call by the hundreds if not the thousands. That gives Maybe an idea. Back in camp, Smiles tells Bottle she and Cuttle are going to kill Sort tonight. Koryk tells him they won’t; he’s noticed that Sort is from the Stormwall at Korelri. He can tell by her scabbard, which marks her as a section commander. Bottle doesn’t buy it, but Fiddler says he noticed too. Koryk explains to Smiles about the Stormwall, Korelri, and the Stormriders. Bottle offers to share Smiles’ pack burden and she agrees though is suspicious over his kindly offer.
Quick Ben’s squad scouts 11 Sky Keeps from a distance. They decide to have only Quick, Kalam, and Stormy attempt to board one.
Apsalar, Telorast, and Curdle are at the coast near Ehrlitan. The two spirits speak of the time of the great Forests that covered the land before the First Empire or Imass. A partially destroyed forest appears when Apsalar calls up the warren to cross the strait. The spirits say the destruction was from dragons fighting in the Shadow Realm, the same ones imprisoned in the stone circle. They identify the forest as Tiste Edur. Apsalar spots a sailing ship crossing as part of the other realm and sense someone important on it.
Dejim Nebrahl has closed with its prey and now lies in ambush anticipating the targets’ approach.
Crossing the Edur shadow forest, Apsalar comes across a rope hanging down, an invitation from whomever is in the carrack. She climbs it and meets Paran aboard. She has a strange reaction of guilt and shame but doesn’t know why. He realizes she doesn’t remember him and introduces himself, both my name and position as Master of the Deck. He asks if Cotillion still haunts her and she says sort of, adding he should ask Cotillion if he wants to know more. The two discuss the war and gods and future plans.
Dejim Nebrahl recalls the First Empire, the T’rolbarahl (whom he thought should have ruled), the betrayal of Dessimbelackis. He foresees a new empire with him at its head, feeding on humans and making gods kneel. His targets get nearer.
Samar and Karsa leave the city, with Samar still thinking on the ethics of inventions, the value of convenience, the power of ritual. He tells her a little of his past actions and when she asks if he’s reconsidered wiping out humanity he replies he didn’t say that, adding he has an army waiting for him at home. She thinks even the Empress would fear such an army.
Cutter’s group arrives at a range of cliffs and caves. Heboric’s madness appears to be getting worse. Heboric mutters about the Chained One, a war of gods, “all to bury the Elder Gods once and for all.”
Scillara thinks she could care less about the gods. She thinks Heboric hasn’t learned the “Truth of futility” and it has made him mad, though he also travels with the “gift of salvation.” Cutter asks if she’s pregnant and she confirms it.
Bill’s Reaction to Chapter Five
Okay, I’ve said that Y’Ghatan seems to be where this final battle with Leoman is heading and I’ve tried to highlight some of the lines that are foreshadowing just what is going to happen there without directly telling our new readers. It doesn’t take much close reading to see that the opening passage here makes pretty explicit that what does happen at Y’Ghatan can’t be so great for the 14th, given that it “could have been a fatal wound” to the Empire and that it took Tavore’s “cold iron” nature to make it something less than fatal. And I’ll also say her “being thrust into the soul of a raging forge” is another of those aforementioned lines.
While I’m generally laughing or at least chuckling at Erikson’s humor, every now and then it drops like a rock for me. Such is the case with the hemorrhoid joke.
It’s rare enough in fantasy that we see actual scientific/industrial/mechanical progress (too rare I’d argue) and it’s even rarer that we see it presented in a critical (as in analytical, not negative) fashion. Thus I’m a fan of Samar Dev’s inventiveness in general and of her ethical concerns in particular: “I must ask myself with each invention, what possible abuses await such an object? More often than not, I conclude that those abuses outweigh the value of the invention. I call this Dev’s First Law of Invention . . . ethics are the first consideration of an inventor following a particular invention.” One has to wonder how far along the industrial path we’d have gotten had this been the case. While we’re on the idea of science, Karsa’s question: How can you call yourself an inventor if you dislike breaking things?” is another nice nod to how scientific discovery works so often, just like we saw with Urko getting the skeletons wrong the first time.
I also like how Karsa’s insights (the above line and his earlier points about her laws/principles) continue to break the “obvious” image of his as a dimwitted “barbarian.” In that same vein, I appreciate Samar Dev’s dismissal of the “noble savage” wisdom that is as much a trope as the big, dumb barbarian. How many times does the sole Native American in a book or film play the mystic role (a role also often played by the single middle-aged or older black male/female). The Other seemingly has to be either way dumber than us or way more attuned into the supernatural than us—so long as they remain “Other” are never as “intelligent” as us.
And again, yet another example of the “escapism” of fantasy:
In a culture that admits the need for torture, there must perforce be a torturer . . . the justifications are always the same. To save many more lives, this one must be surrendered. Sacrificed. Even the words used disguise the brutality [“enhanced interrogation”?]. Why are torture chambers in the crypt? . . . This is the nether realm of humanity, the rotted heart of unpleasantness.
Both the ethical question of the torture itself (which is hardly a no-brainer type of question) and the metaphor that closes the passage raise the intellectual stakes, something I always appreciate as a reader. Well, not always—sometimes I like a good fast unthinking read, but mostly . . .
And then we get one of those concrete plot reminders of how the Malazan Empire is often an ethical improvement on what came before—we’ve seen them banning slavery before and now it appears they also banned torture.
The “mechanisms” inside the K’Chain are further evidence that the species was/is? highly technologically advanced.
The short scene with Quick Ben’s squad is a nice way to remind the reader of a few key plot events from hundreds and thousands of pages ago. The series, due to its complexity, number of characters, and shifting settings, almost requires these sort of periodical recaps and I think they’re almost always (possibly always though I wouldn’t swear to it at this point) handled in smooth fashion, meaning that don’t feel artificial or shoe-horned in, as so often can happen with exposition.
It probably goes without saying—the fact that a major character spends a paragraph on the details of the moon is probably enough of a red flag—but just in case, file away that passage: “The misshapen moon . . . was looking rougher round the edges, Kalam realized, as if the surrounding darkness was gnawing at it . . . Had it always been like that?”
Well, now we know why Quick was so, well, quick, to exit the warren. And how funny is it that he leaves so fast and almost as quickly gets ordered back in?
Just how much does Tavore mistrust that squad that she relinquishes the benefits of having a High Mage and one of the best, perhaps the best, assassin of the Empire for the upcoming siege? And will she come to regret that decision? Don’t forget that opening passage . . .
C’mon on now, hands up—how many of you were devastated by the death of Joyful Union? Honestly? C’mon . . . It’s a scorpion. A fictional scorpion. And I cared.
But really, a great intro to Faradan Sort.
Again, goes without saying, but file away those words of Grub’s: “Sleeping. She is not stupid, no. They are coming, to await the resurrection . . . They will try to kill her. But that is wrong. She is our last hope.”
“Fitting that the final spark should be snuffed out at Y’Ghatan.”
“Malazans die at Y’Ghatan. That city burned to the ground that last siege.”
Blistig. Wonder if his name is a play on “blister”—that annoying little thing you want to just get rid of
So Faradan Sort just became a bit more mysterious. Korelri has barely been mentioned to this point (we’ve had mention of Greymane being associated with the campaign there), but it will play a large role eventually. Here we get a good amount of info:
- It is an island continent
- It faces a threat from “demonic warriors of the seas” called Stormriders
- They have a huge wall built and manned to repel the Stormriders
- Only “chosen warriors” fight on the wall
“…we’d best put our plans on a pyre and strike a spark.”
I love that image of Paran’s ship sailing across the treetops of Shadow, the way the worlds overlap, the way the ship “anchors” in the forest.
I also like what Erikson does here with Dejim, the way he splits up the little scenes as the attack approaches, ratcheting up the tension and suspense for the reader—a good structural choice I’d say. The creature(s) is/are certainly not humble, huh? The question of course becomes, is Dejim as Supreme as it thinks it is?
That’s a sad reminder, when Paran says to Apsalar “You were little more than a child . . . ” Intellectually I know she’s young, but seeing/hearing that word “child” come from him, it just highlights it all the more. As does his later sorrow over her loss of innocence (this sorrow from the man she killed after all).
As much of a cipher that Tavore is, I’ve got to say that Paran’s discussion of her early military prodigy is a bit encouraging. Though still that passage that opens the chapter haunts the reader.
That’s an intriguing conversation the two have about war. It’s interesting that Paran’s first guess as to why gods might ally with the Crippled God is not ambition, vengeance, etc. but “compassion.” It’s also telling that he doesn’t immediately reject the idea that the CG might deserve compassion. Important lines for the rest of the series I’d say.
Also a good reminder that Shadowthrone, for all his seeming quasi-madness, is playing a long, deep game. As is Cotillion.
Also a little bit of a teaser—what threat is Paran in Seven Cities to neutralize? Why does he fear he’ll be too late? What plans are made in that conversation we’re no longer privy to?
Get the feeling Karsa wouldn’t be too happy in our modern, car-filled, noise-saturated world?
One doesn’t expect a philosophical/ethical debate on the plusses and minuses of technological convenience in a fantasy novel. Nor does one expect it to be couched in the language of ritual. Poor Samar would be perhaps a bit disappointed that we have yet to settle the question ourselves. I think of this sort of “ritual” whenever I go to the bank, which is such an anachronistic act nowadays. But I haven’t used an ATM in years because I enjoy the “ritual” of walking the few hundred yards to our bank and seeing the same people and having them ask about my son and wife and welcome me like an old friend. I purposely skip direct deposit and ATM usage because I’d miss the “ritual” of banking. Then again, I love that “convenience” of online banking to pay my bills and the like. I’m betwixt and between Karsa and Samar I guess.
So, will Karsa keep his goal of teaching civilization a pretty nasty lesson? Will he return home? Will his people follow him?
Hmm, methinks a war between gods is coming. Anyone else picking up that subtle concept? Is it, as Heboric says, going to be a war between the Elder Gods and the Younger Gods? If it is, and the CG is with the younger gods, (or newer at least), what about those who seemingly oppose him? Or is it not that simple a formulation? What side has Treach chosen?
Such a high concept—a War of the Gods—and yet, we’re brought back earthward by Scillara, who believes the Gods simply don’t matter for all their nattering and gameplaying, “as if the outcome mattered . . . ” But clearly, some who like humans, or were recently human, or somewhat still are, think it does matter a great deal. So who is right?
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.