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 Nine 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.
Icarium wakes to find himself tended by Taralack Veed, who tells him they fought a D’ivers and Icarium had been knocked out after driving it off. Taking advantage of Icarium’s loss of memory, Veed tells him they have been companions for many years and that Veed’s task is to make sure Icarium, “the world’s greatest warrior,” is ready for some “great task.” Veed advises they trust Icarium’s “instinct” and continue heading toward the cost opposite Sepik Island. When Icarium expresses doubt in Veed’s faith in him, Veed horrifies him by describing how four thousand years ago Icarium killed every inhabitant in the city of E’napatha N’apur so the city’s evil would not spread. He calls Icarium “The Slayer” and says his battle is against evil and the world and he brings justice.
Heboric feels he’s drowning in burdens and voices (Treach, the Jade statue people, his young companions). He informs the others they are approaching the ruins of E’napatha N’apur, which had been buried after Icarium wiped out its people. He explains Icarium destroyed everyone in it when a soldier accidentally killed Icarium’s companion. He says he knows all this because he sees the ghosts and the area as it once was. He fears the ghosts’ needs, not knowing what they want of him. He dismisses Cutter’s idea that it involves him being the Destriant of Treach, but Scillara says all the gods of war are probably one god and wonders if all the gods are aspects of a single insane one.
Greyfrog thinks how the group is troubled.
Samar Dev and Karsa travel north toward forest, passing tribes and groups of bhederin hunters, as well as their kill sites, burial grounds, and worship areas. Karsa decides he wants to kill a bhederin and when Samar mocks him for it he tells her “witness” and then kills a bull and a cow. Samar worries this might upset the area tribes.
Dejim Nebrahl looks down on a slave-trader caravan as it digests three of the caravan’s war-dogs. It was stunned Mappo had been able to kill two its bodies and plans to replace its losses by feeding on the caravan. It looks forward to killing the traders who enslave children and then in the future killing all such “despoilers” and bringing the protective justice he was created for. He moves to attack.
Iskaral Pust unloads a bucket of fish into the new Raraku Sea. He tells his recalcitrant mule they must ride in haste lest they arrive too late. He enters his warren.
Mogora appears where Pust just left and empties a bucket of sharks into the sea, then leaves.
Pust sees Dejim attacking the caravan and “charges,” scattering the shocked D’ivers with sorcery. Dejim flees and rather than pursue, Pust decides he can’t be distracted and so will let someone else deal with them.
Pust arrives where Mappo fell and finds him alive but badly injured.
Mogora interrupts Pust before he can try and heal Mappo, saying she’ll take over as Pust will just kill him sooner. She tells him to make camp instead and is surprised to find that Pust’s mule has seemingly done so. She guesses Shadowthrone sent Pust to save Mappo.
Mogora uses her magic which involves a healing web of spider silk falls over Mappo’s body and making the moon appear to come incredibly close. Pust can’t identify the magic.
Lostara Yil wakes to find Cotillion standing in odd-acting moonlight. He tells her some sorcery is stealing the moon’s light. He says he pulled her out of Y’Ghatan and brought her to this abandoned Rashan temple nearby. When she asks why, he tells her she’ll have to make a “dire choice.” When he asks about her relationship with Pearl, she calls it a passed infatuation. He says then she’ll have to choose between loyalty to Tavore and what Pearl represents. She says choosing between the Adjunct and Empress doesn’t make sense, but he tells her not to worry about it yet, just keep it in mind. Questioned further, he says he isn’t directly involved himself and it doesn’t involve vengeance against Laseen, but he is just “anticipating” some things. He gives her food and a cover story when she meets up with “friends” and adds she owes him nothing; instead he was repaying a debt for having watched her dance.
Cotillion goes to where Mogora is healing Mappo and admits to her that Shadowthrone did send Pust and that Pust is the Magi of High House Shadow. He guesses she is one of Ardata’s and she veers into spiders and exits. Cotillion looks at the mule, then leaves.
Amanda’s Reaction to Chapter Nine:
The whole of the first section in Chapter Nine saddens me immeasurably. The fact that Icarium doesn’t remember Mappo, only a “companion,” that all those years of service and trust and friendship can be swept away by some sly comments from Taralack Veed.
And I, as well as Bill, tremble at the idea of Icarium being told how he decimated an entire city. His face… That horror… Icarium is a very tragic figure in this series, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen him so vulnerable and alone, so heartbroken at his actions, and so resigned to this fate/task that Veed ascribes to him.
And I HATE Veed when he says this in response to Icarium’s thanks for loyalty: “It is no great burden, Icarium. True, I miss my wife, my children. My tribe. But there can be no stepping aside from this responsibility. I do what I must.” It makes me SO angry!
Heboric seems to be simmering with low-grade anger and sorrow right now — and he doesn’t seem entirely sane: “They were so young, his companions. There was no way they could understand the filth they walked on, walked in, walked through. And took into themselves, only to fling some of it back out again, now flavoured by their own sordid additions.”
These jade statues — what lies within them? What has been trapped within the jade?
Erikson writes beautifully this conflict within Heboric — old vs. new, Treach’s seduction of gifts “back into this momentary world” vs. the ghosts that crowd him and overwhelm him “with their silent, accusatory regard.”
It is particularly poignant, after just seeing Icarium gain a new companion and discover that he killed an entire city, to hear from Heboric why he destroyed the city — when a stray arrow killed the companion he walked with then. I mean, his temper and unpredictability and power is still terrifying, but at least heartbreak stirred him to his fury, rather than there be no cause for it at all. Still, having seen him accept Veed so easily and have no memory of Mappo, this intransience makes you wonder just who that companion so long ago was and whether Icarium really did care for them.
I do love the way that Scillara cuts through Heboric’s outburst: “Heboric, how many faces do you think the god of war has? Thousands. And in ages long past? Tens of thousands.” Her point is extremely valid and I hope Heboric pays it some mind next time he feels all this self-pity for being Treach’s representative.
*grins* Greyfrog does make me laugh here: “perhaps I could regurgitate the goat, and we could share said fine repast.” In some ways he has no idea at all about humans, and yet he sees right to the heart of the issues surrounding the humans he is with.
I love this glimpse into the life of the bhederin-hunters, the “fringe tribes living out here in the wastes.” Erikson very skilfully evokes a people and culture in just a few paragraphs, showcasing the difference in progress to people in other lands e.g. dogs instead of horses.
It feels so unusual to have Karsa provide almost comic relief in this novel after seeing him in action previously — although I suspect that has much to do with Samar Dev and her attitude to him. I liked this scene with the bhederin, and proof again just how astonishingly fast and powerful Karsa is.
I like the way Samar Dev says this: “Fine, you have shown me that I am, in fact, unnecessary. As far as you’re concerned. Now what? You expect me to set up camp, and then, I presume, help you butcher that thing. Shall I lie beneath you tonight just to round things out?” She is so snarky towards him and holds her own entirely, despite his apparent contempt of her.
This is the first time, I think, that we’ve had a sense of how d’ivers work — the fact that the death of parts of them will weaken them (although this seems reasonable and could have been worked out) and the fact that blood will help to spawn replacements. What interests me the most is that further d’ivers can be fashioned, taking them above their original number, by the sounds of it.
Dejim Nebrahl is a strange one — a creature who cannot conceive of the idea of being ruled by anyone else, but is willing to rid the world of slavery and the despoilers of flesh. A dictatorship with benefits, I guess. I can’t bring myself to like Dejim Nebrahl or his methods.
What a beautiful line this is: “he waddled with his burden to the simpering waves of Raraku Sea, then walked out amidst the softly swirling sands and eagerly trembling reeds.”
Oh, Iskaral Pust, how I love thee! First, the gift of the first fish into the Raraku Sea and his childlike delight in watching them swim away into freedom, and then his confrontation with the mule. So perfect. So delightful.
And, even better, Mogora bringing the sharks! Gigglesome stuff.
But then, as ever, the immediate shift to remind us exactly what this strange old man, this High Priest of Shadow, is actually capable of. Bill sees this scene as possibly showing us that Dejim Nebrahl is not as powerful as he imagines himself to be, following grievous injuries from Mappo and then fleeing from Iskaral Pust, but I see the reverse — the idea of just how powerful Mappo and then Pust actually are.
What IS that mule?! How is it possible that it can set up camp in the way it does?
I don’t think I need to tell you just how awesome the dialogue between Iskaral Pust and Mogora is, do I? It’s also providing little tidbits of information, such as the fact that Pust has so little respect for Shadowthrone and is plotting against him as well as serving him.
The urine part of the ritual isn’t that amusing to me, to be honest. I’m sort of relieved that sometimes Erikson fails slightly to hit the right note. He’s too good at most things that it is good to see he’s not completely infallable!
Mogora’s ritual is unlike anything we have seen so far — I’m incredibly intrigued. Do all those spiders belong to her? Are they part of her?
All of Cotillion’s appearances in this novel so far have been to present mysteries and showcase the fact that he is working to some long-term plan that only he is aware of (and perhaps Shadowthrone as well — although they don’t seem on quite the same wavelength). What is going to happen between the Adjunct and the Empress?
Ten paragraphs, is that last tiny section. Just ten. And yet we gain confirmation that Pust is actually Magi of High House Shadow, rather than just some High Priest; we learn that Mappo might regret his healing here, if it might be a curse rather than a blessing; we see that Shadowthrone is acting independently of Cotillion where some plans are concerned; we hear the name Ardata and wonder what it might mean; and Cotillion seems to acknowledge this mule more than any ordinary mule would be acknowledged. Just…awesome.
Bill’s Reaction to Chapter Nine:
Having already met Icarium and Mappo, and then seen how Dejim was intentionally set on the two to allow Veed to infiltrate, we’re already obviously primed to dislike Veed. But oh how it hurts to witness his revelation about E’napatha N’apur to Icarium. One can only imagine the horror writ large on Icarium’s face as he struggles to comprehend his killing of children. Or that the entire world is his enemy. And to be named “The Slayer” (into every generation a Slayer…)
Wow, talk about bleak. Heboric’s view of the world drowning in death, of his group walking through and breathing in “filth” is hard to argue with on a factual basis—we do after all breathe in the dying breaths of others, not to mention take into ourselves in various ways traces of their dead bodies, as well as walk every upon the dead, but one could perhaps take some issue with how he chooses to view those hard-to-argue facts. Maybe a little Lion King “Circle of Life” on his iPod might help.
Then again, it’s a bit easy for those of us who move through aeons of death in more abstract form than for Heboric, who moves through those layers much more literally.
In this vein, is it just me or does death (or perhaps Death) seems to be raising its head more frequently or perhaps in more pronounced fashion than in earlier books (not in terms of body count but in terms of a matter of focus)? I’m trying to think if this is actually true or if this is being colored by my prior reading.
On a little side stylistic note, I like how Erikson moves us from Heboric’s thoughts on Treach and his “damn feline gifts” to the sun “clawing” its way back into the sky. I also like the ominous sense of that full image: “The sun was clawing its way back into the sky, the edge of some vast iron blade, just pulled from the forge.” It’s also an interesting image coming so immediately after we see Icarium being coopted by Veed, as Icarium is apparently just such a “blade, just pulled from the forge”—a weapon forged by the Nameless Ones and via Mappo’s departure/Veed’s arrival, newly pulled.
And now we get the true story (we assume, which I know isn’t always safe) of Icarium and the “evil” city—how it was mere accident that led to the city’s utter and complete destruction at the hands of a raging Icarium. We’ve obviously had many references to Icarium’s power in earlier works. I have to admit I can’t recall if we’ve had anything this specific. If that is true, it’s probably a good question as to why we might get such concrete, specific early reference to what Icarium is capable of.
“Only fools think the past is invisible.” One to add I’d say to tag lines for this series.
Dark as it is, I like the image Scillara comes up with of some poor singular god driven insane by the contrasting beliefs/demands of its worshipers. I think it also nicely conjures up some sympathy for such a god. Or perhaps, some compassion.
“Regretting the horns.” A great bumper sticker candidate—says so much in so little.
I do so enjoy these moments where the anthropology/archaeology comes explicitly onto the page, as with the description of the bhederin kill site at the bottom of a cliff—Erikson gives us a nice museum diorama but so much more livelier.
Clearly, as we’ve learned, one mocks Karsa to their own dismay.
The “savage hiding in the shadows” watching Karsa’s display is probably not simply a throw-away observation.
So in Dejim’s mind we find his shock that two of him had been taken down by Mappo. This is perhaps one of our first clues that the fearsome bogey from the past may have been passed by a bit over all those years. It’s a different game nowadays Dejim, and maybe all your expectations of domination are a little premature. After all, if Mappo could do what he did, how might Dejim fare against some others? We see very soon not so well against Pust. Coming after our scene with Karsa, it’s easy to imagine Dejim not doing so great against him either (especially considering those two large heads he was dragging behind his horse). Which should maybe have us questioning Paran’s seemingly desperate move to counter Dejim—maybe that was also a little premature?
I do, however, so like how yet again Erikson keeps us on our toes. I mean, here we have a Big Bad stalking its prey and of course we’re feeling bad for the prey and hoping Dejim somehow gets interrupted in its plans. But then we learn the prey is a slaver caravan. And not just slaves, but child slaves. Now we’re a bit more torn. Sure, we don’t want to see Dejim multiply. But c’mon, we think is it really so bad if he wipes out these folks? Isn’t it what they deserve? And wait a minute, now this evil, evil thing is talking about wiping out “all other criminals, the murderers, the beaters of the helpless, the stone-throwers, the torturers of spirit.” What happened to it being pure evil incarnate? What happened to the purity of my hatred of it and desire to see it killed? Sure, “justice” is in the eye of the beholder at times, and sure, degree of punishment as justice is as well, but if Dejim had ever met up with Bidithal, was I really going to root for the latter? And oh, how sharp are those vows of Dejim to not hold us to “his” view of morality, but to our own? “If the mortal fools suffered beneath the weight of his justice, then so be it. They deserved the truth of their own beliefs. Deserved the talon-sharp edges of their own vaunted virtues.” Dark lords who are dark cuz they’re dark are so much easier…
There is an especially nice balance in this chapter between grim and funny, I think. I love this little momentary interlude between Pust and Mogora and the Raraku Sea. Plus, it fits so nicely in the prey-predator mode we’re in (Icarium beings set on the hunt, Karsa hunting, Dejim hunting). Big things eat little things in this world. But sometimes big things aren’t as big as they think. And even if they are, some of those little things just might choke anyway.
Mule. Can’t have enough mule.
Now tell the truth, how many people really thought Mappo was dead? It’s a well-documented literary fact: Bodies that fall to their “death” over cliffs but that aren’t shown immediately as corpses have a 96.8% chance of survival.
I said once before that whenever Pust and Mogora are together I can’t help but hear them as Miracle Max and his wife from The Princess Bride and this is especially true in this scene as they hover over a body and fight over fixing it.
I like the imagery of Mogora’s magic, however. Another scene that would look great on the big (or even the small) screen. (I’ll just point out to those in charge of such things that at least this series is actually done).
A line like “Granted, it’s very rare for a god to intervene . . .” seems a little off given all we’ve seen from the gods in this series, who seems to spend a lot of time “intervening”.
“How deep are your feelings for Pearl?” isn’t the kind of line that breeds a lot of optimism for our friend Pearl.
That whole scene with Cotillion is just one big tease, isn’t it? Hints that Pearl might not be around for long. Hints that Tavore and the Empress might soon be at odds. Hints of other players, of larger issues. As we’ve seen in some earlier books, we have a lot of storylines set in motion early: Veed taking over from Mappo and he and Icarium moving out, Karsa and Samar nearing the coast, Shadowthrone saving Mappo, the 14th forged into an experienced army, Pearl at risk, tension between the Adjunct and the Empress, and a few others. And it wouldn’t hurt to try and recall some earlier plot lines—Rhulad seeking a champion for instance. And a few others….
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.