Malazan Reread of the Fallen

Malazan Re-read of the Fallen: The Bonehunters, Chapter Seven (Part One)


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 readers. In this article, we’ll cover the first half of Chapter Seven 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.

Chapter Seven (Part One)

Scene One

Leoman exits the temple chamber and rushes them back to the palace, making it clear he expects an attack tonight. Leoman says they have to look like they’re trying to defend and when Dunsparrow tells Corabb they can’t hold the walls, he doesn’t understand why they are in the city. Corabb asks to defend the gates, but Leoman says his task is to guard Leoman’s back, which Corabb takes to mean they’ll be leading the fight. He says the Malazans will never forget tonight and Leoman agrees.

Scene Two

Pearl tells Lostara he could slip in and kill Leoman but Tavore won’t let him, and Lostara says Tavore doesn’t trust him and doesn’t blame her. When he says he’s thought of telling revealing the truth about Felisin, she says she’ll kill him. The two spar and she eventually gets him to admit she is detached from him and she leaves.

Scene Three

Keneb joins Baralta, wondering why there is so little activity on the walls. Baralta tells Keneb the mages are finding no counter-sorcery. The two discuss rumors of plague, then are interrupted by a lone rider (L’oric) who enters the city.

Scene Four

Lt. Pores, Captains Kindly and Sort are waiting. Pores kind of misses some of his former squad (Sinn scared him). Pores has been enjoying Kindly’s attempts to figure out Sort, and thinks she’s cold iron thanks to her history on the Wall.

Scene Five

Hellian bemoans to Urb her trading her sword for liquor as the two prepare for the assault. Urb tells her the squad is down to him and the twins Brethless and Touchy.

Scene Six

Sergeant Balm, in the middle of losing a game to Moak, starts to act weird as if he doesn’t know where he is. Deadsmell tries to calm him down, showing him Throatslitter, Widdershins, and the rest of the squad. Stacker tells them it’s the Confusion, similar to Gamet earlier, and as they march, Deadsmell congratulates Balm on his ploy, but Balm doesn’t know who he is.

Scene Seven

Lutes feels sick and Maybe complains about what he and the other sappers will have to do.

Scene Eight

Gesler, Fiddler, Cuttle, Truth, and Pella talk about the assault. Cuttle worries about the greenness of the soldiers, Gesler has a gloomy “the end’s always the same” attitude.

Scene Nine

Bottle listens to the byplay among the soldiers. He’s nervous about tonight. Looking at the city, he notes how darks it is.

Scene Ten

Corabb watches as Leoman speaks to eleven fanatics of the Apocalypse sworn to die tonight, telling them they have their instructions and dismissing them. L’oric arrives having been summoned by the Queen of Dreams as part of Leoman’s deal with her. Corabb has his hope back thanks to L’oric’s arrival.

Scene Eleven

Bottle is with his group of sappers. Ebron (from the old Ashok Regiment) warns him Crump is dangerous. Bottle uses Maenas to cover the sappers and is surprised by its strength.

Scene Twelve

Lostara joins Baralta, who tells her it was decided that Pearl was “better off staying in his tent indefinitely.” Lostara says she’s fine with that.

Scene Thirteen

Hellian, drunk, runs into Fiddler, having seemingly lost her squad.

Scene Fourteen

Pella waits, thinking how Gesler, Stormy, and Truth had become strange since Silanda. He regrets enlisting.

Scene Fifteen

Leoman, Corabb, Dunsparrow, and L’oric watch from the tower as lanterns flash on and off, leading Leoman to exclaim “Fanatics! Damn Fools! this is going to work!”

Scene Sixteen

As Cuttle is preparing the munitions to blow the wall, Crump puts his own inventive explosives there and starts the fuse. Everyone runs, with Bottle helping Cuttle who is limping due to stepping on a wasp nest on the way in. The explosives go off.

Scene Seventeen

Lostara is rocked by the concussion as the wall and buildings behind it start to come down, along with body parts.

Scene Eighteen

Leoman and the others flee the now-compromised tower and head for the Temple.

Scene Nineteen

Bottle and Cuttle come to and are stunned by the devastation.

Scene Twenty

Keneb sends his men in after the marines.

Scene Twenty-one

Fiddler orders his group in, telling Bottle to ride the animals and keep an eye out as they try to catch up with Borduke’s squad. Both groups runs into an ambush, with Borduke’s getting the worst. Fiddler uses his crossbow to blow up the upper floor of the ambusher’s building. They regroup and are joined by Cord’s group. Fiddler suggests the sappers go first and take down buildings. Cord orders Sinn (who is collecting body part trophies) back to spread the word.

Scene Twenty-two

Gesler, having heard Fiddlers cusser, thinks that may be the best way to proceed.

Scene Twenty-three

Pella watches inexperienced sappers get killed, then is killed himself.

Scene Twenty-four

Gesler sees Pella die, then has to kill a sapper rushing out of the building on fire before his men (not seeing his munitions pack) try to beat out the flames. A lot still die when the munitions go off. He gathers his men and heads off, wondering why the building they’re leaving behind is burning so fiercely.

Scene Twenty-five

Hellian collects strays and offers up a surprisingly good plan to fight.

Scene Twenty-six

Balm’s group investigates the top of a building they’ve cleared and discover the hollow walls of the building have been filled with olive oil. They deduce other buildings are like that and the whole city is a big firetrap, for both the Malazan’s and Leoman’s own people. They head out to warn people.

Scene Twenty-seven

Keneb is pushing forward, thinking the cost will be high but they’ll take the city. Suddenly flames go up from the trench and then the buildings as the entire city goes up in flames. He calls the retreat.

Scene Twenty-eight

Temul, on the other side of the city to cut off Leoman’s retreat watches the city go up and thinks they just lost a third of the Fourteenth Army.

Scene Twenty-nine

Blistig, watching, flashes back to watching Coltaine’s army get slaughtered. Tavore orders him to fill in the trench to try and douse it and the orders Nil and Nether to get the mages to put the fires out in the breach, but they say they cannot. Nether adds the spirits are dying or fleeing and something is about to be born.

Scene Thirty

Keneb, cooking in his armor, orders his people to drop their armor and weapons.

Scene Forty

Lostara, about to be caught in a fireball, is suddenly pulled out by a hand.

Scene Forty-one

Balm orders his people to strip down. Widdershins says he has no magic against this and adds a fire elemental is being born and maybe then he can use illusions to scare it though he’s unsure what he’ll do or if it would work.

Scene Forty-two

As Faradan’s group prepares to die, Sinn suddenly comes through a forced breach in the flames. They call her over.

Scene Forty-three

Hellian keeps her group moving.

Scene Forty-four

Fiddler plans to use munitions to blow a hole in the fire encircling them and try to cut through to the palace. He and Cuttle run to place them while the other get as far as they can. Gesler’s group arrives and Truth takes their munitions and then grabs Cuttle and Fiddler’s and runs toward the palace gates, Gesler trying to chase him down. Cuttle and Fiddler grab Gesler and drag him back and Truth runs into the fire. There’s a huge explosion and the flames draw back and they all run into the palace.

Scene Forty-five

Corabb is horrified by what Leoman has done. Leoman tells L’oric to open a gate so they can escape, horrifying Corabb even more. Leoman is upset he’s been dragged into a deal with the Queen of Dreams. Leoman tells Corabb he refuses to live always looking over his shoulder for the claw and speak with contempt of his soldiers. L’oric opens a portal and they see the Queen of Dreams, who tells L’oric she does not seek power over him. She tells them Sha’ik is dead, the Whirlwind Goddess is no longer and tells L’oric the role of Seer of Dryjhna is empty and needs to be filled so nothing worse takes that role, which is about to happen. L’oric realizes she’s asking if he will protect whom she has already chosen and he accepts. They enter the portal save for Corabb who refuses. He hears a noise and discovers a group of children left behind.

Scenes Forty-six and Forty-Seven

Balm’s group and Hellian’s join up and head for the temple.

Scene Forty-eight

Fiddler’s group heads for the temple and Bottle senses life in it. On the way they’re attacked and Fiddler is wounded. They’re starting to lose air in the firestorm.

Scene Forty-nine

Keneb, dying, is suddenly saved by Faradan Sort and Sinn, who tell him there are hundreds still alive and they’re going to try to push through.

Scene Fifty

A huge fireball blows, knocking Blistig to the ground. Tavore calls everyone back then sees Faradan group just past the breach. The mages try magic to help Sinn, whose power awes Nil. Several of the mages burst into flames then suddenly the flames are opened and Tavore orders everyone to help get them out before the flames close again. Blistig sees Tavore with the firestorm behind her and is terrified of the vision and takes it as an omen. Grub takes over and goes to get help.

Scene Fifty-one

Corabb runs into the Malazans and tells them he was betrayed by Leoman, who fled through a portal.

Scene Fifty-two

The rest of the Malazans have gathered in the temple. Gesler asks if anybody worships the queen of Dreams but Hellian says Corabb, now a prisoner, told them Leoman already exited that way. Crump urinates on her altar and they figure that blows their chance. Crump identifies himself as a Bole (Jamber). Fiddler realizes there is hollow space below them and Bottle senses rats fleeing beneath the floor. He tells them they need to break through to the ruins underneath and he can follow the rats. They have one munition left and Cuttle uses it to open a hole. Bottle seeks a rat to ride.


Amanda’s Reaction to Chapter Seven Part One:

Well, this one is a big bastard, isn’t it? And apparently epic according to all of you veterans, so let’s get going….

I read everything that Bill writes on this re-read (of course, why wouldn’t I? So many times he’s brought absolute clarity to the scenes where I’m struggling) and I noticed his rather pointed comments referring to fire, and olive oil, and conflagrations. It looks as though chapter seven is continuing in much the same vein, what with sentences like: “twin fires of vast oblivion burning his soul” and “a sheen of sweat on his face.”

I am guessing then that Leoman intends to set afire the city of Y’Ghatan once the Malazans are inside, using the great vats of olive oil to fuel the flames. Is Dunsparrow in on this? Or is she completely unaware of his plans? I can’t imagine she would want something like that to happen to her countrymen, even if she is having issues with them.

This is telling: “Even so, we need to make it look as if we’re trying.” So they’re not actually intending to come to battle, just do enough to pull the Malazans into contact.

Poor Corabb. I do feel less respect for Leoman for not at least telling Corabb his plans and giving Corabb the option of leaving Y’Ghatan. I mean, he might still have decided to make his stand next to Leoman, but at least then the decision is his and not taken out of his hands.

It is interesting that the Adjunct has turned down the assistance of two assassins—two who would almost certainly have been able to take down Leoman before this came to siege or battle or whatever it is that he has planned. Why does she then proceed? What is in it for her? Is this forging a blade in heat? As in, putting the Fourteenth Army through incredible stresses and strains to forge something hard and unmalleable? An army that the Malazan Empire now needs because of the fact that Dujek’s force is spent and hollow?

Ha! I do like the words that Erikson now and again throws in to test my vocabulary: “crepuscular.” (That isn’t your cue to tell me what it means, I’ve looked it up!)

Another little mention of plague here, and the fact that the army would succumb if they were drawn into a prolonged siege.

The rider—not sure who this is: “Light grey cloak, white horse and white-banded sword.” Part of Leoman’s plan? Someone heading into Y’Ghatan to kill Leoman? Someone who has genuinely been double crossing the Malazans—a spy?

Here is another reminder about Fener and the fact that he has been reduced: “Treach, is it? Fener…gone so quickly from men’s minds. A message no god would dare to heed, I think.”

Hee, we’re meeting old friends here in the form of Sinn—well, possibly not an old friend. I still find her pretty odd from the last time we encountered her. Once again, it shows Erikson’s masterful method of weaving in people and patterns into this massive tapestry.

Hellian’s little list of places worse than Y’Ghatan might be worth me remembering—of course, if it isn’t, please do let me know since my brain is becoming full with all these details! “Korel. Theftian Penins’la. Black Coral, under the empty eyes of the Tiste Andii. The Wreckers’ Coast on North Assail.”

I do like the fact that Hellian has twins under her command—seeing double, drunk—can you see what Erikson did there?

I’m guessing that the Confusion that comes upon Sergeant Balm is going to be relevant in the forthcoming pages because otherwise it seems a little pointless? I mean, it adds a little flavour but…I don’t know, it just doesn’t come across as comically as I think it was intended. Maybe that’s just me!

Having said that, this again is a nice way of nipping around the various parties involved in the forthcoming battle and showing their reactions to what is ahead—using the latrines, being boastful, falling into Confusion, turning to drink. Hell, I get nervous before a game of field hockey and make ample use of the facilities (trying not to be gross here and provide too much information!) so I’m guessing that feeling would be magnified by thousands were it a battle instead!

Okay, so Erikson prompted a real belly laugh out of me with this one: “Send word to my family, will you? Maybe was blown to bits at Y’Ghatan, that’s all. No point in going into the gory details”

I also like Bottle’s observation: “So that’s how the veterans get ready for a fight. Same as everyone else. That did indeed comfort him. Mostly. Well, maybe not. Better had they been confident, brash and swaggering.” However they act, these vets are going to be going in first and will hopefully show those who have never seen battle how it is done.

I wonder—is Leoman using the Queen of Dreams to create this sense of quiescence that Bottle can feel? Is that why he wanted to meet with her?

So Bottle has to make a choice between his new magic and his old magic—Meanas and the spirit magic, warren and Hold. Is that right?

Ah, here is the figure that rode through the Malazans to reach Leoman’s side—and I am glad to see that it wasn’t anyone I should have expected to see. Here is L’oric back. Why has the Queen of Dreams asked for L’oric as part of the bargain? It does, of course, mean that Leoman suddenly has a great deal of magely firepower that the Malazans won’t be aware of—and with their own High Mage off doing something else…

Bit of a challenge: “…the last series Malazan-built in the classic sloping style, twenty paces thick at its base. As far as anyone knew, this would be the first time the sappers would challenge the engineering of imperial fortifications—he could see the gleam in their eyes.”

Oh joy and little smiles! A brief mention of the Mott Irregulars and their craziness.

This is the first time, I think, that we’ve seen a mage wield their power and equate it to piercing a wound in the warren, a gate, in order to access the power. This certainly fits with other little hints we’ve been getting. And this quote too:

“Simple, really. Just incredibly dangerous. We damned mages must be mad, to play with this, to persist in the conceit that it can be managed, shaped, twisted by will alone. Power is blood. Blood is power. And this blood, it belongs to an Elder God…”

And one who might be a little pissed at this flagrant disregard of his blood and veins!

Erikson uses a method of writing to really ratchet up the tension levels, where he will give us a mere couple of paragraphs with a particular viewpoint before dashing to the next. Up til now this has only happened towards the end of the book. In fact, I’ve known we’ve been starting to reach the endgame when Erikson’s sections started to get shorter. It is a good way to realise that something massive is about to happen!

Isn’t it strange that Y’Ghatan would be entirely without lights on a night when they are expecting a battle? I think me that is going to change shortly.

OH! The sappers are about to explode the whole city, aren’t they?! Jesus!

This is so amazingly tense—and absolutely a scene from a film, with the wasps’ nest and the soldier who creates a massive home-made bomb, and the running in panic, counting down until the massive explosion and fireball. I can see it exactly. In fact, Michael Bay probably got all his inspiration from here.

Dear god: “Among the slowing rain, now, body-parts.”

And even now shreds of humour to enjoy:

“You counted down to eight!”


“You said eight! Then—boom!”

“Had to keep your hopes up, didn’t I?”

Hmm…. I suspect outside interference… “Bottle began clawing his way free, amazed that he seemed uninjured—not even a scratch.” Or is this his godhood manifesting?

Bottle’s power is definitely growing stronger, isn’t it? “Bottle recoiled at the madness in the man’s eyes, then reached in with his mind, into the warrior’s fierce maelstrom of thoughts—little more than fractured images and black rage—and found the most primitive part of his brain; a burst of power and the man’s coordination vanished. He crumpled, limbs twitching.”

Now this is why Tavore needed her troops to go into battle and to have the example of veterans to follow, where Tavos Pond thinks they should be drawing back because some of the soldiers in the squad are injured and Fiddler snaps: “To Hood you are.”

Yeah, Sinn isn’t exactly a person you want on your side—not if she garners comparison with Sorry!

“She looked up, even as her blade cut through the base of the dead warrior’s right index finger. She held it up for display, then stuffed it into a belt pouch.

“Nice girl you got there,” Strings said. “Had us one of those, once.”

Pella’s final thoughts are heart-breaking, aren’t they? Lonely and heart-breaking.

I think maybe this is a concrete example of how Gesler is maybe a little more hardy than he used to be! “Flung back, punched in the chest, Gesler sprawled, rolled, then came to his feet. Moak, Stacker, Rove, Burnt, Guano and Mud. All gone, all pieces of meat and shattered bone.”

Also, my god, the body count is starting to feel like Hot Shots Part Deux!

I feel like cheering as Hellian grows a backbone! “Weapons out, soldiers, it’s time to kill people.” That line could have come from Zoe in Firefly! [Bill: Yea! Firefly reference!]

I got there before this point (thanks, I feel, to some prompting by Bill) but this is still an amazing part of the chapter: “He thought back—the faces of the enemy, the fanaticism, the gleam of drugged madness. ‘Abyss take us!'”

And then this as well: “A last stand, a heroic, martyred defence. For that was what Y’Ghatan had been, what it was, and what it would always be.” More than they know.

Wow… “A third of the Fourteenth Army was in that city by now. A third. And they were already as good as dead.” This is just so visceral.

Okay, I have few words about these brief scenes we see with desperate soldiers, tearing at their armour to remove it, Lostara hopefully being saved by someone, Hellian continuing to lead her soldiers. Few words because the writing is so tough to read and so damn brilliant. I can feel this hellstorm of fire.

There are some heartbreaking scenes as well—Gesler screaming for Truth as the youngster steps into the flames, being dragged away. And, ye gods, Corabb. Oh, how my heart hurts for him, for this level of betrayal and realisation. How I hate Leoman for what he is doing to Corabb, for this trusting man who believed Leoman to be above reproach and about to unleash the true Apocalypse and die with his men.

And it looks like we might be seeing another Sha’ik before long as well. Sometimes it would be good if storylines and people remained dead, rather than being resurrected AGAIN.

Wow again: “It’s Sinn. Adjunct, that child’s a High Mage. And she doesn’t even know it.”

Am I allowed to say wow again? Although it might not be the right word to express grave horror: “Seven hundred and ninety-one. Out of three thousand.”

And that’s just half of chapter seven—and I’ve been left not knowing what will happen to all of these wonderful characters until next week (maybe I’ll do some sneaky weekend reading just this once—although I do suspect that, if I start reading ahead, I won’t stop until I get to The Crippled God!) This has been epic so far, y’all were right. Join me on tenterhooks until Wednesday!


Bill’s Commentary to Chapter Seven Part One:

Lostara and Pearl’s conversation struck me as surprisingly harsh from Lostara. Anyone else? I confess that I wanted a bit more about not sending in Pearl than “she doesn’t trust me.” Not that I think there has to be a lot beyond that, but balanced against what happens (and to a lesser extent what Tavore knows could happen even if not what does), as a reader I felt that was a bit too much of an authorial hand wave.

I know I didn’t recognize that as L’oric when the rider shows up and nearly tramples Keneb and Baralta, though we’re given a few clues with all the white. I do like how Keneb admires both the attempt and the success.

Amanda does well to point out the reminder of Fener’s fall from Keneb when Baralta prays to Treach. In a war of gods, it’s always good to recall that the mortals may not be as outgunned as it seems or that gods can lose. Besides, we also as readers don’t want to completely forget about Fener. Ahem. Clear throat.

I’m happy at any Captain Kindly and Lieutenant Pores sighting, especially here, when I know what is coming. As always I love their dialogue here and like Faradan Sort’s “You two are idiots.” The scene, along with comic relief however, does prepare us for Faradan’s steely response in the crisis of the firestorm later, just as it also prepares us for Sinn’s power.

I like that we get to see how so many of these soldiers face the fear/horror of what is coming (not that they know the true horror about to happen). It brings them so much more alive as characters. It also serves the purpose of reminding us of who is who and who is with whom and once we’re into the quick pace of the battle we’re going to get so many names thrown at us. So it’s smart to give us an almost cheat-sheet right beforehand. And since many of them are going to die, letting us spend this time with them right beforehand also increases the emotional impact of their deaths, so unlike the usual battle scenes in fantasy where we rarely see actual characters (as opposed to types or redshirts) get killed off. Finally, as they are often humorous. (I also Amanda chuckled at the twins and Hellian, though I found Balm’s confusion to be more funny than you did.)

I confess, Ebron’s warning to Bottle about Crump felt a bit forced/artificial here. I would rather he’d told him this a day earlier or even in the morning. Coming just before the scene made the author feel too present for me. I’m sure I didn’t feel that way on the first read prior to the scene, but I’m assuming I’d feel that way on my first read once Crump pulled his screwball bit.

It’s interesting how Bottle, knowing about the warrens being formed of blood, visualizes his use of Meanas as a “wound formed, lurid red.” Bit by bit, we’re starting to realize how much there is to this character.

Another little reminder tossed away in the preparation scenes—this one of how Truth, Stormy, and Gesler are “odd . . . that strangely gold skin,” which will play a key plot role in this chapter when Truth uses their “oddness” to last long enough in the flames to open a way into the palace. And Pella’s description of poor Truth as “too wide-eyed for all this” will haunt the reader later. Nicely done.

Cuttle. Puts his foot in a wasp nest. As they prepare to start the attack. Reader—Metaphor. Metaphor—Reader.

It’s a bit of irony that with all the prior foreshadowing (You know, as opposed to the foreshadowing that happens afterward. Sheesh!) and with what is about to happen, the first fires and sheets of flames are caused by the Malazans as they (Well, really Crump.) breach the wall.

That rain of body parts Lostara witnesses is our first gory concrete introduction to this night of horrors.

As a rereader, oh how plaintively futile is Keneb’s pray as he begins to move in: “Hood look away from us this night. Just look away.”

And once more, we see the greatness that is Fiddler. Love how he just takes complete control here (and from now on)—the speed with which he makes decisions, regroups the soldiers, tell Tavore (as Amanda points out) he ain’t going nowhere, the way he decides what the tactics will need to be and sends back that message to the Fists. It’s also a nice touch later when we see yet another vet—Gesler—come to the same conclusions.

And Pella. Yes, heartbreaking indeed. It is a cliché—the boys cry out for their mothers when they die in battle. And done poorly, it is cliché and nothing but. But Erikson makes it so much more here with the sharply individualized details, the way the deathblow drives Pella to his knees and how that drives him into his childhood past and another time he’d skinned his knees and that brings his mother into it and we’re right there the whole time rather than thinking “yeah, yeah—seen it . . .“

And then, we’ve seen the vets doing what we expect the vets to do. But now we get to see one of our new characters come into her own. Turns out young, drunk, seemingly incompetent Hellian become, well, a hellion when the proverbial sh-t hits the fan: “something cold and hard straightening within her, as if her spine had turned into a sword, or a spear, or whatever else won’t bend, no, it’ll bend, maybe, but not break.” You go girl!

And look at how her speech changes. Compare the sentence structure of the prior scene (I’m cutting out everything save Hellian’s speech):

“Ready for what?”

“If that bastard hadn’t disappeared the way he did, I wouldn’t be trading my sword for a jug of that local rot, would I?”

“Why didn’t you stop me, Urb? I mean, it was my sword, after all. What am I s’posed to use?”

“And that’ll get back to the captain and we’ll get shipped off somewhere even worse.”

“Korel. Theftian Penins’la. Black Coral, under the empty eyes of the Tiste Andii. The Wreckers’ Coast on North Assail -”

“No, but it’s worse than this.”

“He’s stridin’ our shallows – shadows, I mean.”

“Right, where’s that jug? . . . Hey, who in my squad ain’t packed up their kit?”

“Well, where are they?”

“Well, where are the rest? Didn’t we have more?”

“So my squad is a corporal and two soljers?”

“They look the same to me, Urb. All right, has the word come yet? We s’posed to be mustering somewhere right now?”

Note all the questions in there, the slurred words, the clauses, the way the paragraphs are made of very few (often just one) sentences. Compare that to her speech in this scene:

“Don’t matter then, you’re with us, Hanno. Ambush? Fine, let’s go get the bastards. Touch, Brethless, pull out those grenados you stole . . .”

Smokers? Perfect. Hanno, you’re going to lead us into the building the bastards attacked from. Torchy, you throw yours ahead of her. Brethless, pick the open flanks and do the same. We ain’t gonna stand around—we ain’t even going in slow and cautious. I want fast, you got all that? Fast?

Note how almost all the statements are declarative, very few questions and the questions we get are sharp one-worded ones. Subject-verb, subject-verb command structure sentences: You do this, you do that. She strings a good number of complete sentences together in a row. This is not the Hellian we’ve become accustomed to and we’re shown that now just in the content of her what she says but also in how she says it—the language mirrors the action. I’m a sucker for that stuff.

Ahh, the two sides of humanity: bolts of beautiful, soft, cultured, civilized silk “soaked with blood and bits of human meat.” We are quite the contradiction, aren’t we?

Moving from our moment of realization (if one missed all the foreshadowing) about the fire to the immediate in-the-flames scene with Keneb then to the outside-the-city scene with Temul was a great structural move I thought as it gave us the personal and then the big picture view so rather than simply get caught up with our relatively small number of characters we know we get a sense of just how much of the army is caught in this nightmare.

Notice that word to describe Tavore’s voice: “Nil, Nether,” the Adjunct said in a brittle voice‘” (italics mine). This is a make or break event.

This is all so relentless, so I like the little bit of relief we get when Widdershins starts holding us all captivated with the hope of survival via the fire elemental only to tell us some folks think they’re imaginary and this is all just a theory.

And how is that for an entrance from Sinn?

A strange black stain spreading out within the flames, the tongues of fire flickering back, dying, the stain deepening, circular, and out from its heart staggered a figure shedding, charred leathers, clasps and buckles falling away to bounce on the street.

Stumbling toward them, flames dancing in the full head of hair—dancing, yet not burning.

If the wasp’s nest and Crump’s screw up told us this would be a night of death and horror, then Bottle going back and risking his life to save Cuttle told us it would also be a night of sacrifice and heroism, as we see with the scouts seeking out paths in the flames, Bell taking out the fanatic, and Truth, poor “wide-eyed Truth.” Such a powerful, powerful scene.

We’ll have to see about an other Sha’ik, but we might make an educated guess as to whom the Queen of Dreams is speaking of. It is someone who is in very immediate danger for one—think of when recently we have had reference outside of Y’Ghatan to a sense of imminent danger. And, more easily, who might be connected to a Sha’ik legend? What is more mysterious perhaps is why the Queen of Dreams feels the need to fill the position (picture lots of wanna-be Sha’iks in a waiting room clutching their resumes) and who seems about to fill it in “less desirable” fashion?

Forgotten children. Welcome to humanity.

More gallows humor to “relieve” the tension.

  • “More for the clambake.”
  • Balm saying “Maybe they ain’t as lost as us” when they spot Hellian followed quickly by Hellian saying “they got to know where they’re going” when they spot Balm.
  • “You was nicer drunk” . . . “Yeah, everyone’s nicer drunk.”
  • Limp.
  • I don’t know if it qualifies as “humor” really, but I like the playing with us that a character called “Mayfly” actually survives.

Blistig’s journey as a character from when we first met him is a tough one for a reader I think, but this vision he has of Tavore goes some way at least to explaining some of it. Because it’s Blistig’s “vision” as a reader I don’t take it as an omen/foreshadowing, but I can see where it would have an effect on someone who has been witness to both Coltaine’s Fall and the Y’Ghatan Firestorm.

And now we see Corabb, betrayed, his world upended, start to open his eyes to a wider, more complex world: “The Pardu had been right. The only enemy now was fire.”

Crump. Damn that Crump. But still, it is funny.

Fiddler. God I love that man.

And I so love that it is Corabb’s sword that gets used to save them.

“Rats will flee. Even when there’s nowhere to go.” Seriously, imagine if the book had ended there.

Luckily, it does not. And Amanda is right, wow.

As a bit of an addendum:

I’ve covered the foreshadowing of the fire and the attempt to go beneath it in our earlier discussions, and there is more in this chapter before we get to the fire itself, but I just wanted to put it all (or most of it at least—I know I didn’t highlight every reference) together in one spot so we can see the true extent of this brick-building here—taken on its whole (near-whole), it is extremely impressive I think.

Before this chapter:

  • Leoman asking Corabb to follow despite the seeming “madness” of his commands.
  • Leoman asking Corabb if the olive oil has been collected by this time.
  • Leoman saying the Malazans will curse Y’Ghatan “for all time.”
  • Leoman “the gaze seemingly fixed on the licking flames.”
  • Leoman “slowly nodded, eyes once more on the flames.”
  • “The trail of fire.”
  • “Our trail of fire.”
  • “The east horizon was in flames with the rising of the sun.”
  • Koryk blowing on a fire, “inhaling a cloud of ashes.”
  • “Our new city,” Corabb said grinning. “We shall defend it with our lives.“
  • Leoman shot him an odd look . . .
  • being thrust into the soul of a raging forge.
  • “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.”
  • “the cylindrical, flat-topped storage buildings called maethgara that housed in vast containers the olive oil for which the city . . . was renowned.”
  • “the statues . . . destroyed in the last conflagration.”
  • “Leoman had sealed Y’Ghatan, imprisoning within its new walls an emperor’s ransom in olive oil. The maethgara were filled to bursting . . .”
  • sending the civilians out with their livestock.
  • The odd trench
  • “the wind remained hot as the breath of a furnace.”

In this chapter:

  • “engineers found the ruins beneath the streets to be a maze of pockets . . .”
  • Leoman: “We need to make it look as if we’re trying.”
  • Dunsparrow: “We can’t hold the walls.”
  • Corabb: “We shall deliver unto the Malazan dogs a judgment they shall never forget.”
  • Leoman: “Aye . . . that we shall.”
  • “Heaps of rocky earth rose like modest barrows where the soldiers had dug their trenches.”
  • Baralta: “They [mages] say there’s no one there, no one waiting to counter them . . . could Leoman have lost all his mages, do you think?”
  • Keneb: “Unlikely.”
  • “This night was headed straight into the Abyss as far as Pores was concerned . . . Sinn—now there was a scary creature.”
  • “He [Bottle” admitted to a bad run of nerves . . . with Leoman’s ambush in the sandstorm . . . he didn’t like this feeling.”
  • “Bottle studied the distant city. Dark—there seemed not a single lantern glowing.”
  • Leoman: “I tell you this—I have had my fill of fanatics, through this lifetime and a dozen others. I have had my fill.”
  • “And a rain filled with flames”
  • “Webs of flame clung stubbornly to the still-upright buildings to either side [of the breach]”
  • “Temul was likely out with his horse-warriors, ranging round the city on the other sides. There was always a chance Leoman would leave his followers to their gristly fate and attempt to escape on his own. Such things were not unknown.”
  • “‘Expecting a trap?’ Bottle asked.”
  • “Bottle saw that the wall they climbed was tiered with once-buried city ruins . . . into the pit itself.”
  • ”Painted images of yellow birds in flight, all seeming to be heading deep underground . . .“
  • “The building . . . was a mass of flames, the heat pouring out like a scalding liquid. Gods, what did they set off in there?”
  • “on the roof, some guy with a hooded lantern”

And then finally, the revelation from Throatslitter and Balm:

“Filled? With . . . with oil?”

Throatslitter nodded . . . “I think, Sergeant, that Leoman’s turned Y’Ghatan into one big trap . . .”

“Let’s get out of here before that bastard with the lantern throws it!”

Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.

Bill Capossere writes short stories and essays, plays ultimate frisbee, teaches as an adjunct English instructor at several local colleges, and writes SF/F reviews for


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