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 Eight 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.
Paran rides through plague-ridden Seven Cities and thinks back to when Kruppe visited him in the Darujhistan Azath House and suggested he come here and do so quickly to deal with problems, some of which have already “hatched.” As he passes a barrow, a Jaghut female—Ganath—frees herself. She tells him one of her bindings has been broken and she needs to repair it, but then senses a nearby sea and decides to take a bath first. Paran is heading there and so the two go together.
Apsalar rides through yet another village wiped out by plague. She sense great death from Y’Ghatan and decides to travel there via Shadow warren.
In the Imperial Warren, Kalam, Stormy, and Quick Ben climb out of the pit to find Cotillion has left them a feast. Quick Ben and Kalam worry over things until Stormy tells them they think too much, if they face something too big to fight they should find something bigger than them to do the fighting, and they should know that Shadowthrone and Cotillion always win because they never fight fair.
SCENES FOUR through NINE
We pass through several vignettes involving various soldiers as they deal with their near-death experience. None of them can sleep and one thinks it is because they all want to wait to see the sun which they never thought they’d see again.
At the Raraku Sea, Paran tells Ganath he is the Master of the Deck and she compares him to the old Master of the Tiles—the Errant. She adds his worshipers kept him drinking blood and so to try and deny them the Errant became the god of change whose enemy was stagnation. She warns Paran he too will be worshiped and will lose his innocence. Paran calls forth an army of the dead then calls out the Bridgeburners amongst them, including Hedge. He tells them he wants them to summon from their side the Deragoth so they can deal with Dejim.
Amanda’s Reaction to Chapter Eight
Usually after events as explosive as that in the Malazan novels, I’m preparing to read a short but sweet epilogue and then have a week or so break to digest what I’ve experienced. As in, usually that would have been the end of the book. Makes me wonder what Erikson can possibly do to top it in this book…
Anyway, Chapter Eight, and a rather ominous inclusion at the start of the chapter: “Darker plains lie beyond.” Really?
The observation from Paran about the fact that the future is likely to happen without any efforts from him to shape it is immediately followed by a concrete example of this as he then observes the track of the plague sent by Poliel.
If Poliel is gaining power from all that poisoned blood and death, it begs the question why she hasn’t done this before? Because she didn’t have a suitable ally?
A little deliberate misdirection by Erikson? “Assuming, of course, that such a greater scheme existed.” We have a few more books yet—I’m thinking there probably is a greater scheme!
Hmm, having picked out the order/chaos quote from the previous chapter, we now see this: “This war among the gods would implode into a maelstrom of chaos.” So who do we know who would welcome chaos, who would foster it? Because I’m thinking they’ve got a lot to answer for in the current situation.
So lovely to see Kruppe again, it has been a while since we’ve encountered his particular brand of humour. Here we see him chirpily entering an Azath House to have breakfast alongside the current Master of the Deck of Dragons and an Undead Jaghut Tyrant.
I am having to get used to Kruppe again though—the fact that you almost gloss over his words because of the tone and miss items that are crucial. I can try and pick things out of what he’s saying, but I’m sure I’m being offered red herrings and misdirections all the way through. Like this: “Hood, at the very centre of things, oh yes, and that is why you must hasten, forthwith, to Seven Cities.” I mean, how about Hood as a bad guy? Someone who is generating conflict in order to present himself with more power through death?
And is Y’Ghatan the shell that Kruppe refers to when he says: “One particularly large shell is about to be broken, and will have broken by the time you arrive, which means it is as good as broken right now…” Or is this to do with Icarium, or some other thing we’ve seen hints of so far?
Finally this: “Even the gods cast shadows, Master of the Deck. But what do shadows cast?” Is Kruppe worried about what Cotillion and Ammanas are up to? Or maybe Edgewalker?
It is very sweet that Paran was so pleased to see Apsalar on his travels.
Oh, hang on. The breaking of the shell must be Dejim Nebrahl, surely?
Heh, this meeting between Paran and Ganath comes closest to traditional travelogue fantasy—a chance encounter and then a reason for traveling on today. (Although this reason—having a bath—must be one of the most prosaic!)
I know plague is never fun, never attractive, but Erikson’s seems to be plague on speed—brains cooking in the skull and flesh growing gelatinous at the joints. Just. Not. Nice.
Some nice little reminders here that Apsalar is not as she once was—even without the possession. Obviously she has the use of the Shadow warren, but she also senses the great tragedy at Y’Ghatan and Curdle and Telorast remark on the fact that she has not contracted the plague at all. Apsalar is definitely robust!
Oh, now that he’s suddenly centre stage I am realising what amuses you all about Stormy. Those little speeches of his, where he explains all to Quick Ben and Kalam—breaks everything down to its simplest form—are absolutely great! I especially love this: “Second, the adjunct wanted to know all ’bout them and where they’re going and all that. Well, the sky keeps ain’t going nowhere, and we already know what’s inside ’em, so we done our job.” Awesome.
Also, Stormy very effectively reminds Quick Ben and Kalam that Shadowthrone and Cotillion are likely to come out on top, because they “never fight fair.” Interesting stuff.
And finally we come to the survivors of the crawl below Y’Ghatan. I love how Erikson settles us into good humour—the bit with Bottle and the rat biting him—and then suddenly throws in something like this that makes you go absolutely still: “No one had lit a fire. Funny, that, in a sick way.”
It is interesting to wonder whether Koryk is right and some god pulled them all out of almost-certain death. Which god? There are a large number of people there, representing a few different gods. Who is watching over them? And maybe not so much watching over them but ensuring another god doesn’t get them instead. I guess if the war between the gods is starting, then each god will be trying to find as many allies/supporters as possible.
Ha! What a great line: “He’s a Bridgeburner. And gods run when they see a Bridgeburner.”
And another here: “If soldiers thought too much about what they’re doin’, they wouldn’t fight no more.”
In these little snippets, going from soldier to soldier amongst those rescued by Sort and Sinn, there is a rising feeling that these soldiers are not going to break down and give in. They’re talking about walking to join the army, about saving the world, about feeling invincible, about knowing the Adjunct had been forced to leave them. This reflects an army that is more tempered steel than base metal, or certainly is developing that way.
Nice to hear sort of confirmation that Paran fits the same role as the Errant—but at the same time a little terrifying, having seen what he did and how he behaved in the last book. Paran still has so much humanity and we’re essentially told here by the Jaghut that he is going to lose this innocence. He is an ascendant and will become a god as he continues in this role. How very awful to hear something so stark and realise what your future will hold.
So Paran has contracted the Bridgeburners to bring the Deragoth back in order to bring down Dejim Nebrahl. Ooh! Just noticed the fact that Paran says: “Dejim Nebrahl is now free of its geas”—as in, it’s completed the task it was freed to do; kill Mappo Runt. But we didn’t see his body?
Remind me, the Deragoth are the Hounds of Darkness? So two of them won’t be around to come back and hunt, because Karsa killed them. I wonder if that will drag Karsa into this fight?
Anyhow, I really appreciated the structure and pacing of this chapter. It felt like the first scenes after an intermission in the theatre—a quick recap of where everyone was and getting ready to push the story forward again.
Bill’s Reaction to Chapter Eight
That is an ominous close to that opening to the chapter. Note as well we get introduced to some Jaghut before we meet a Jaghut, and actually, we meet that Jaghut herself here in the opening.
Also note the idea of “sorrow untold, unless witnessed,” a word we haven’t heard for a while.
I too miss Kruppe—his humor, his style of language. Always a pleasure when he appears. And the image of him walking by Raest for breakfast is a great intro to his arrival.
Not a bad guess about Hood, Amanda. At his point I’ll just say you did pick out a key line and that Hood is in fact a central player in all this.
Dejim would be my guess as well for the already-broken shell, though it isn’t tough to see that the breaking open of plague might also qualify here.
The encounter between Ganath and Paran is a pretty humorous one. I like her quick-witted response “Freedom needs an excuse?” and his as-quick-witted response “Something, or someone, was imprisoned and, like you just now, it seeks freedom?”
Yeah, Stormy does cut right to it, doesn’t he? And I love that little rant on Shadowthrone and Cotillion, the way he tears through all the hints and obscurities and teasings, shadows, and just says it all clear, succinct, and so matter-of-factly. He’s funny throughout this entire scene, but his humor couldn’t help but be colored a bit darker for me as I think of his return and learning about Truth.
And as we often get, a little reminder of other characters and events—Karsa, the Tiste Edur, Rhulad’s fleets going out in search of a champion. Quick Ben should have a bad feeling about them.
The rat ritual is a wonderful bit—you’re all set to go “awww” as they reverently and respectfully touch the rat, than you’re cracking up a the biting (which has a Malazan army edge to it), then you’re all set to go “awww” again when Bottle says she wouldn’t bite him, then you’re cracking up when she does.
This is a third of these vignette scenes and it makes for a nice triptych. We get the nerves and anxiety before the battle, then we get the little insights into homelands and backstories in the honey dreams, and now we get the post-survival and it’s filled with banter and relationships and most importantly life. The Fourteenth has gone through the classic hero journey—through the underworld and back out—they’ve faced death and faced it down. They’ve also gone through the classic birthing journey—before the battle much was made of nobody knowing what they had in the 14th—they were untested, untried. They were embryonic. Then they travel through dark tunnel into light and in these vignettes we get a sense of maturity, of fullness.
“What do you think we’re all gonna do now?”
“The Fourteenth? Don’t know, save the world, maybe.”
After Ganath’s words, you can see why some Ascendants actively avoid becoming gods or gaining worshipers. It’s also an interesting perspective on what happened with the Errant, now that we’ve seen him in action. And also a good reminder there of the Forkrul Assail—never want to forget about them.
Another very visual, cinematic scene—the drawing forth of the dead from Raraku Sea. I’d love to see this on the big screen. Though what is problematic is the interior revelation we get so much of in this series. Paran’s musing on the just what these dead reveal, the way they are evidence of “our true roll, our progression of hatred and annihilation.” Man, we just got some “ain’t people great” scenes from the 14th and now Paran has to go bring us down. Man’s a buzz kill.
And here we get one of our themes laid out explicitly again “certitude is the enemy.”
You can almost here the organ music at the end of the chapter “…the Deragoth.” Da Da Duh! Cut to woman screaming silently with back of her hand over her mouth, eyes wide in horror. Yes, Amanda, you’re right on what the Deragoth are. And I am pretty sure we’ll have a lot more discussion on Paran’s plan here to sic the Deragoth on the Dejim when we go forward.
After the emotional depth and length of the prior chapter, we definitely needed this sort of chapter to ease us out.
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.