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 Twenty 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 wonders if releasing the Deragoth was a mistake as Ganath had told him. Noto Boll tells Paran of how he used to break dogs’ legs for the D’rek festival before the Malazans forbade it, then joined the Malazan army and served in Korel, apprenticing under Ipshank (adding both Ipshank and Manask “stayed loyal to Greymane to the last”), before being sent to Genabackis. Hurlochel interrupts to say that a troop of 500-1000 rides have joined the migration ahead.
Captain Sweetcreek complains about Paran and Rythe Bude warns her not to. They’re conversation is halted when someone points up and they see a “string of suns, a dozen in all, each small but bright enough to burn blinding holes in the blue sky,” with the moon above them.
Boto tells Paran the sky is falling, saying he’s heard the stories in Korel of what happened and seen the effects. Paran orders a halt and hopes Ormulogun has finished the Deck he ordered. He wonders if this is an attack as part of the war among the gods.
Pust, looking up, thinks they’re going to die. As Spite agrees, she suddenly senses something from the southwest. Looking up, Mappo sees “a string of incandescent pearls, their flames wreathed in haloes of jade.” Spite veers into dragon form and begins pulling the ship toward something she sees.
Fiddler and Bottle see the sky falling. As the Nemil stop the resupplying of the fleet and run for home, Fiddler thinks quick Ben should flee and whomever he can.
Hellian, drunk, gets some good liquor from Nok (though she doesn’t know who he is) who sends her belowdecks to get drunk.
Tavore tells Apsalar the falling sky is humbling, and says it isn’t the work of the gods as neither side is that desperate. Apsalar says Tavore lacks confidence in their “resilience” though she herself feels her own confidence failing, and she pins her hope to faith that even this had been anticipated by those with vision (Cotillion, Shadowthrone, Paran spring to mind).
Ormulgun appears with an unfinished Deck. Paran hopes Mael is listening and then Ormulgun thrusts a card at him and Paran ends up before Hood’s gate. Hood appears and tells him he’s sought out the wrong god. Paran admits he was hoping for Mael, which gives a thought to Hood. Hood wants a bargain and when Paran asks what Hood wants more than anything else, Hood tells him (but not us readers) and Paran agrees. Hood tells him to leave, as he’s about to open the gate from his side.
Cutter’s craft is pelted by stones from the sky and they start to sink. Heboric’s body falls into the water. Chaur, grabbing it, falls in too. Barathol dives in after him, then a dragon appears overhead. Cutter hears shouts and then he and Scillara are in the water.
Heboric wakes to the sound of “a million voices screaming.” They are the people inside the Jade giants. Heboric wonders if was ever Treach’s Destriant or something else, wonders if he needed to be killed first as Treach had before ascending. He thinks Hood has “flung [him] back” and realizes that he is Shield Anvil. He tells the people to reach for his hands.
Barathol finds Chaur by following a glowing green light. Scillara points to Otataral Island which seems to be on fire with jade green light, “a glowing dome . . . and rising up through it hands. Of jade . . . Arms—huge—dozens of them—rising . . . green light spiraling out . . . slashing into the heavens . . . as the fires filling the sky seemed to flinch, tremble, then began to converge.” The falling pieces hit the dome one after the other. Scillara and Cutter are grabbed by the dragon.
Heboric calls them to him in the darkness, thinks as Shield Anvil he can take their pain
Spite drops Scillara and Cutter onto the deck of her ship, which has apparently been protected by Pust’s mule. Barathol climbs aboard with Chaur and resuscitates him. Spite lands and veers and when Mappo asks how she can push away the pain he senses from her, she says she will not pay attention to it in the face of such joy. Barathol tells Cutter of how Heboric’s body was glowing green and that Cutter had gotten Heboric close enough for his task, for what saved them all came from Heboric. Cutter asks where Icarium is and Mappo says he lost him. Cutter tells him he is sorry and Mappo weeps, saying it was his fault.
Spite, watching, thinks it is too bad Mappo blames himself, though that had been their, the Nameless Ones, intent. She hopes Icarium runs into her sister Envy.
Paran returns to his group, who ask if he’s just saved the world. He says if so, he’s already regretting it.
Keneb thinks how the inevitable death coming at them had made him surprisingly calm. He thinks of the past history between the Nethil and the Trell. The Nethil gave Tavore the name of the people past the Catal Sea—the Perish—and also news of a damaged Edur fleet limping away. They wouldn’t say anything more about the Perish and Keneb speculates the Nethil were defeated by them.
Quick Ben tells Kalam Paran saved them all by having a conversation with Hood (which he overheard—he was the face in the gate that reacted to the bargain). He also thinks Tavore knows and says while Paran and Hood started the process someone else finished it. He adds the falling jade stones were filled with millions of souls. He also says he’s trying to set a trap for whatever presence is wandering through the fleet tonight.
Tene Baralta feels betrayed by Tavore and thinks he will reveal all will lead people and cults will worship him. Gethol (Herald of House of Chains) arrives and tells him he too was betrayed and broken, that Tavore has discarded him, but he can come through to wholeness. Gethol takes away some pain and promises Tene a new eye as reward for something to be explained later. He tells Tene the Empress awaits him and that Tene should be ready for her, and that he’ll need his Red Blades.
Lostara could hear Tene talking to someone, and thinks how all that is left of him is malice. She thinks Cotillion knew this moment would come and left the choice of what to do to her, a cursed freedom.
The Malazan fleet are meeting the Perish, who have huge ships with wolf-head prows, wolf banners, wolf-pommeled swords. The welcoming contingent consists of Destriant Run’Thurvian, Mortal Sword Krughava, and Shield Anvil Tanakalian. The Perish says they fought with the Edur fleet mentioned earlier by the Nethil, losing four ships to the twenty lost by the Edur. Run’Thurvian says they have been waiting for “the Mezla” and then Krughava draws her sword and pledges the Perish army (13000 soldiers and 31 warships) to Tavore, saying the “end of the world” waits and the Perish will fight in the name of Togg and Fanderay.
Quick seems to make a connection between the Perish and the Grey Swords from earlier in Capustan. He says he needs to talk to Tavore. Run’Thurvian makes eye contact with Quick Ben and bows.
Amanda’s Reaction to Chapter Twenty
It must be something dreadful—to go from being a regular noble’s son who just wants to be a soldier to Master of the Deck, someone who has to make all these decisions and take a part in proceedings. I really don’t begrudge Paran thinking: “Let someone else clean up the mess I made, just for a change.”
A gigglesome exchange between Paran and Noto Boil, although I’m not sure I can stomach the idea of deliberately breaking the legs of dogs just for a festival! I definitely am laughing at the idea of Paran being disappointed by the actual visitation of Soliel after fancying her after seeing her statues as a young lad!
I’m not sure whether I agree with Sweetcreek here, but I actually think I do… I mean, Paran might not be wanting to take command and might be intending to put his own stamp on things, but armies do best with continuity and discipline.
I think this is a crucial point: “This land breeds cults like maggots in a corpse, Captain.”
Now what the hell is happening with the sky?! The moon, again, and things falling from the sky… “The damned moon—I should have paid attention. I should have quested, found out what has happened up there, to that forlorn world […] War among the gods. Is this an attack? A salvo in truth?”
Jade statues falling from the sky! These were the jade statues that Heboric found himself falling alongside when he first touched the jade statue, yes? It really is not too promising that such varied characters as Iskaral, Paran, Spite and Bottle are all indicating that they are now out of time.
Worst of all, hearing the pragmatic Fiddler fall apart with the terror brings it home that this is a Big Thing: “Quick Ben? Best make your escape now, and take whoever you can with you. Against what’s coming…there is no illusion that will dissuade it. As for those Tiste Edur, well, they’re as finished as we are.”
Hmm, I suspect that Cotillion has had his suspicions that this was going to occur. As Apsalar thinks, someone must have expected this catatrosphe.
And now Hood really enters the fray, through Ormulogun passing the “wrong” card to Paran. One wonders whether it was the wrong card for Ormulogun—did he want Hood to be involved? Or was Hood influencing Ormulogun so that he could be in place to meet Paran and make this bargain. WHAT bargain??
Awwww, Chaur. I feel so sad for him. And suspicious that Heboric might now not be as dead as he was before… “I remember…you had to die, Treach, didn’t you? Before ascendancy, before true godhood. You had to die first. […] Not Destriant. Shield Anvil.”
The jade statues are searching for their god—as in, I presume, the Crippled God.
Huh! The mule has managed to shield the ship? MULE!
Well, it turns out that Chaur isn’t as dead as he seemed to be (how often do we end up saying this about characters? Sometimes I wish we could just be certain that people were dead!) And what is the business about burying the horses? It’s certainly a touching moment between Chaur and Barathol in the midst of all this madness.
Another fantastic exchange between Quick and Kalam—I especially like the business where Kalam wonders if they are both insane!
Ouch, Tene Baralta is convinced that the Adjunct deliberately sent the Red Blades and the marines into the slaughter at Y’Ghatan to be rid of them. No real surprise, then, that he becomes a new recruit for the Crippled God. Also, how about this: “Know this, the empress awaits you.” Is this an indication of which side of the conflict Laseen has fallen on?
Oh, this is fantastic—nice to see the Grey Helms, those sworn to Togg and Fanderay. But, on the other hand, the fact that the Gods of War have given their troops to the 14th and the Adjunct, it begs the question what they’re about to face.
Bill’s Reaction to Chapter Twenty
This is another one of those smooth moves we get a lot from Erikson. Fresh off of a discussion of the means to an end via Fiddler rejecting the Edur’s type of sorcery as a weapon to the words of Brukhalian (and no accident we get his voice in this chapter, what with the connections to the Grey Swords, the wolves, and even Hood, who if you recall came for Brukhalian himself) on the idea that without discipline and judgment your weapon “delivers . . . naught but murder” and then on to Paran thinking he might have been out of line in releasing a weapon he couldn’t control.
And here as well we get a nod to the complain some of us have had about how disappointingly unimpressive the T’rolbarahl were (some of us only, I know). Though while I’ll give Paran the “I didn’t have confidence enough in the new ascendants,” I’m not sure Masan qualifies as an ascendant.
That line, however, “sometimes that which was primal found itself assailed by a world that no longer permitted its unmitigated freedom” is a bit interesting in the context of all the focus on the Eres’al, who would seem to be pretty “primal” as well.
And while part of me responds well to Paran’s “let someone else clean up the mess I made,” it was a little jarring. We know that attitude won’t last long though.
Then another tie—the discussion about D’rek. And we see as well what has been a common refrain—the seeming “civilizing” influence of the Malazan Empire. For instance, we know they outlawed slavery in new territories, and here we see they banned what sounds like an utterly horrific festival—children breaking legs of dogs so children could stone them to death. Lovely. (I’m not a big believer in the idea that one cannot judge any aspects of a foreign culture—sorry).
I do like the little humor with Soliel.
Oh, and just you wait for Manask, Amanda!
I like the structural aspect of this section as we skip from place to place under the jade giant storm. It gives us a variety of responses—terrified, drunken, calm resignation, competence, etc. It does a nice job of increasing tension—the jade spears get closer as we move, by taking us away just before they strike we’re always on the edge of our seat. And the sense of being whisked around adds to the sense of chaos in the actual moment.
Note Tavore’s line to Apsalar: “All of our plans . . . our conceits . . . as if the sheer force of our will, each of us can somehow ensure that all else remains unchanged around us.” It doesn’t give us any details, but I think it does clue us in that Tavore is not simply reacting; she does have some information about what is happening, she does have plans, she does have allies.
I also like how it’s Apsalar who has faith, Apsalar whom we’ve seen as struggling so much. This gives us a sense that she can be pulled back from her personal abyss. Especially as I imagine she has certain people in mind when she thinks, “someone saw this coming”—Cotillion, Paran, even Shadowthrone. And if you’re going to place your faith in some folks, those aren’t bad choices.
I wonder what Paran’s original plan had been (“swallow” the falling pieces?). I love the wordplay of “Oh, Hood” when he arrives at the gate. Pronounce it with the stress on the comma it’s simple recognition, pronounce it without the comma and it’s an appropriate curse.
Well, isn’t that the mother of all teases—that bargain with Hood? File away so we can theorize as we get possibilities. I love that dry wit of Hood’s by the way: “Death is always serious.”
So yes, there is a connection between the CG and the statues. But we’re not done with them and it might be best to discuss fully once we get more information, but I’ll follow along with comments. But a few points:
- We know they are filled with souls from Heboric’s earlier trip into them. Here we see it again as he faces the voices (Heboric kicked out of death’s realm by Hood).
- The line, “Oh, they had traveled the dark span for so long . . . seeing before them that vast emptiness. Unmindful of their arguing, their discussions, their fierce debates, it swallowed them. Utterly” is interesting to me as it could be read as the souls having passed from life to death—into the great “dark” or great “emptiness.” And can be read as well with a sense that the great void a) isn’t all that void and b) is beyond their ken with regard to their debates and discussions regarding an “afterlife.” I’m not necessarily saying this is the case (as mentioned, we’re not done with these statues) but I’m trying to work my way cautiously through what could be read into them at this point (if that makes sense)
- We’re told they did in fact strike the moon: “A world beneath—so many lost then—and beyond it, another, this one larger.”
- “beast world” is an interesting appellation for the Malazan world. Especially in a chapter with some focus on Togg and Fanderay, and even the Eres’al.
- “Oh, hear us” seems to speak to a prayer, an intent to someone in particular.
- “have we come home” could be seen as a literal home or the ideal “home” of an edenic afterlife.
- “This is not salvation” could be read as implying these are dead souls.
- “Where is he? Where is our god?” answered by “I tell you, the search ends!” can be read as confirmation that these our adherents of the CG who have sought and now found him (or at least his prison). But one should also ask is it necessarily the CG they sought, since “our god” is pretty vague.
- What could be more a sign of that “empathy” and “compassion” we’ve discussed then “See my hands! See them! They’re reaching—reaching out for you. They are reaching.”
- Or Heboric’s lines” “I cannot be forgiven. But maybe you can, maybe I can do that.”
How can you not like Spite in this moment: “Chaur, his fear is gone. He believes Barathol . . . You are looking upon joy, Mappo Runt. In the face of this, I will not obsess on my own pain, my own suffering. Do you understand? I will not.” And again, the epitome of empathy—putting aside one’s feelings to feel another’s
After the tense back and forth with the jade storm, near end of the world and all that, we can breathe a collective sigh of happiness and relief with the saving of the world, Chaur’s return, the humor of Pust and Paran’s return, etc. But let’s not get too happy, right? We’ve still got Mappo to harsh our buzz….
Love this line from Keneb regarding Tavore: And thus ends her momentary loquaciousness.”
Well, certainly this whole Tene thing doesn’t bode well. And what will Lostara do? A nice set-up for future ongoing tension. As is the question of what will be asked of Tene by the CG. And why he’ll need his Red Blades.
“Cotillion, you never play fair.” How many times have we heard this line about Cotillion and Shadowthrone? Keep it in mind; they really don’t.
Ahh, good old Quick Ben. Quick, indeed.
After all the tension of this chapter, of the book, all the concerns over this army, over what they have faced, over how brittle they were, over what they are returning home to—that is one great moment when the Perish offer their sword to Tavore. And note it is to Tavore’ service, not the Empire’s. I also like the ambiguity of that line, “Before us, Adjunct Tavore, awaits the end of the world.” On the one hand, it can be read as pure prediction. On the other, it could be read as more personal—Tavore awaits the end of the world.
If you had any sense or not as to whether these first books, despite the epic clashes, were setting us up for something bigger, well, there ya go….
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.