Welcome to the Malazan Reread 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 seven of Stonewielder.
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.
Quick note: Amanda hasn’t quite finished her comments; she’ll add the last bits in the comments section!
As Shell’s group of Guard approach the Korel coast, they discuss how the Lady’s strength, greater than they’d expected, means a change in plans since they probably can’t just grab Bars et. al. and escape via warren. They decide to have Orzu of the Sea-Folk pretend to sell them to the Korelri for the Wall and then keep a boat in wait for their eventual escape.
Shell tries to convince Ena not to stay behind with the boat, saying she shouldn’t with being due to give birth. Ena’s response makes Shell wonder why she herself has not thought before of having a child and if it is indeed too late. Ena agrees not to stay, saying the Elders wouldn’t allow it anyway
The Guard are sold. Shell and Fingers manage to avoid assignment to the brothels.
Greymane’s army has been held at the bridge for four days and provisions are becoming an issue. Greymane is in a funk and only grudgingly accepts the advice of Rillish, Kyle, and Devaleth to “hunker down” and defend until Fist Kehmet’s army arrives. Afterward, Devaleth tells Kyle she thinks Greymane is afraid that things (especially the delays) are beginning to happen just like his last invasion. Kyle argues the Roolian army is fragile and she replies so are the Malazans, then makes the point re Greymane that one shouldn’t “fall apart at the first sign of resilience in the enemy.”
The Army of Reform continues to march. Ivanr now had self-appointed bodyguards who have, they say, killed two would-be assassins. Reports come in that the Jourilan cavalry was drawing together ahead and when the Reform army makes camp, Ivanr worries this will be the same old failed uprising tactics. He goes to complain to Beneth and becomes indignant when Martal tells him she can’t “reassure every jumpy trooper.” She tells him if everyone does their job tomorrow they’ll have a decent shot at winning. She adds that he is no longer a champion, but a soldier who has to follow orders and that she’s keeping those orders secret due to spies in camp. He accepts and leaves.
Beneth tells Martal she was too harsh with Ivanr and she tells him “There was only ever one champion worthy of the name.” Beneth says she has to let that go, adding Ivanr will not be required to be a champion. He adds he is tired (the clear implication is he is dying), that the Lady is bring a lot of pressure, saying “She knows what might be coming and she is desperate.” Martal refuses to hear him, telling him “You are why we are here,” and leaving.
Alone, Ivanr upbraids himself for his behavior. He is interrupted by Sister Gosh, who has put his guards to sleep so she can get his help in a magic ritual (pre-house “old magic”) to call down the rain Martal needs. She takes him through to land’s memories to meet Sister Esa and Brother Jool. Behind them is a wall of ice—The Great Ice Barrier as it once was. Before the ritual can start, Brother Totsin shows up, saying the Synod hadn’t agreed to this and warning them it will draw the Lady’s attention. Sister Gosh replies that the Synod had voted to do something and reminds him they hadn’t invited him. Totsin leaves. Gosh tells Ivanr this was a place of his Toblakai kind and asks to draw blood from him. He agrees and puts his blood on the ice as Carfin tells them the Lady is coming. Surprised that the Lady found them so soon, Carfin and Esa go to deal with what is coming while Gosh tells Ivanr to call his gods. He replies that his gods are gone and she asks him to call on his ancestors as far back as he can. Jool reports that Carfin and Esa have fled. A horrible humanoid shape arrives with the head of a baby, and Gosh asks Ivanr to hold it while she and Jool finish the ritual. Ivanr has a choke hold on the creature when it turns to him and says in a child’s voice, “help me.” Shocked, Ivanr lets go and then there is a huge thunder blast overhead and rain strikes down. Ivanr feels himself sinking into the mud and cries out for help, then feels himself drowning in the mud. Ivanr awakes in his tent, screaming with rain pouring down.
The next day the rain is still falling, and the ground is sticky mud. Ivanr thinks Martal has placed her soldiers too narrowly. He joins Carr in the front lines, telling him his vow against killing didn’t apply to horses. The cavalry, a lot, forms up before them, then charges. They’re held off, but Ivanr worries the enemy can do this all day until they break through. He wonders where Martal’s archers and skirmishers are.
From a nearby hill, Sister Nebras is doing what she can to keep the dying Beneth—“the heart of the movement against the Lady, its voice and rallying point for nearly half a century—alive. She wonders how he has managed to defy the Lady so long without use of magic: “He merely set his will against the Lady.” Totsin arrives and kills her, raging at how none of the Synod gave him due deference and saying he will create a new one. The Lady arrives and tells him the Synod is his to mold as he desires, then heads off to a “much overdue visit.”
Martal’s archers devastate the cavalry who foundered n a newly created marsh. When Ivanr calls it’s a slaughter without mercy and asks Martal if she’s proud of it, she tells him “This is no duel… This is war.” She reveals that Beneth died during the battle and that his last command was that Ivanr take his place. Wondering if he has any “faith in anything? Anyone?” Ivanr agrees to leave the lines, an odd place he points out for someone sworn against killing. Martal informs him Beneth had sworn the same 50 years earlier, adding they have “The Black Queen [to] be the murderess, the scourge.” She leaves, and Ivanr realizes she’s as unhappy in her role as he is in his.
Warran leads Kiska and Leoman to near the whorl, then informs them he’s curious and will stick with them. The two ravens that have been following find a white hound seemingly barely alive, perhaps having come through the storm. Kiska and Leoman tie themselves together and the three head into the storm.
In the storm, Kiska thinks she hears voices and sees large shapes. They exit the storm front and Warran tells them they are near the Abyss, still in Emurlahn, at a “border region of Chaos. Half unformed, sloughing back into the inchoate.’ The priest’s eyes tightened in anger… ‘Lost now to Shadow.’” Kiska thinks he looks familiar for a moment, then the thing inside her bag moves again and she lets it free. It comes out bat-shaped and winged, but when it launches, the ravens swoop down. The thing grabs Warran’s head and he runs off with the ravens after him. Kiska says she thinks there’s something more to him than it seems, but Leoman believes he’s just a crazy old mage. They head after and find Warran on a rock, the winged creature flitting about, and no sign of the ravens. The creature flies toward a smear on the horizon, and they decide to rest a while. Later, they look upon the Whorl, which Warran says “does not end in Chaos. It looks as if it touches upon the Abyss. Upon nonexistence itself… that hole is eating everything. Chaos included.”
As he waits for the Festival of Renewal, Bakune learns about the black market and realizes Karien’el had only fed him whatever information the captain had wanted Bakune to have, though Bakune accepts he is also to blame. A ship’s captain tells him the town’s entire economy depends upon the pilgrims, not simply for their gold, but for the more important concept of relevance and attention—“Attention and relevance. That is what really matters in the end. The lack of gold… can be remedied. But the lack of attention? Irrelevance? These are much harder to overcome.” Later, Bakune realizes he had spent too much of his life not paying attention.
Two days later, he watches the rites of the Festival, wondering how he had been blind before to how the parade, etc. mirrored the ancient rituals, “a more sophisticated playing out of what in earlier times had been done in truth.” Ipshank says he and Manask are going to come along with Bakune on what he has planned for the night.
At dusk, Bakune tells Hyuke and Puller the plan is surveillance and capture.
Bakune and Ipshank come across Two Guardians holding Ella, the Malazan half-breed girl from Ipshank ‘s temple, in front before a fire and a mob chanting “Burn her!” As they throw her down and light the fire, Ipshank slaps his hands together and the fire is smothered. The Guardians call out for him to be held, but sneaky Manask uses the diversion to grab the girl and “make my furtive escape! Where has that phantom gone, the crowd gasps!” Somehow, the two Guardians manage to spot him and follow. Ipshank and Bakune find the guards knocked unconscious moments later. Ella tells Ipshank she tried to preach his message after he’d gone, but the Guardians took her. When she tells him he must flee, he replies that he is done with hiding: “I go now to confront the demon in her den.” He sends her to a settlement to hide and continue her mission. They are interrupted by screams of a mob, one of whom tells them the Stormriders are coming in the harbor. The crowd rushes by as they go to investigate. In the harbor they see Moranth Blue vessels, and Ipshank tells Bakune the Malazans must have broken Mare.
Bakune leads them nearer the Cloister’s exterior wall via the gardens. There an old woman warns them to go no farther, pointing to ladders leaning against the wall and telling them others have gone up and over the wall and no one came back, adding she heard terrible screams from within. Manask deftly clambers over the wall, the rest following. They find a body with no wounds and Ipshank says “his life was taken from him.” They pass more bodies as they head for the Cloister. There, Ipshank order Hyuke and Puller to guard the doors and tells Bakune he shouldn’t come, but Bakune says he has to, “the answer to a mystery is here… I have to know.” Ipshank replies he already knows the answer, but he refuses to see it. Priest’s corpses are mangled and heaped into piles as they move closer to the inner chapel, where they find an altar with a young girl sitting atop it. She greets Ipshank by name, and Bakune recalls where he’s heard it before: “Renegade. One of the highest of the Lady’s hierarchy to throw off her worship… during the first invasion.” The Lady, makes it clear she killed everyone because they were going to flee. She asks if Ipshank has reconsidered her offer and when he says no, she wonders what is next for him, since he rejected not only her offers, but Fener’s when the boar god offered him Destriant. Ipshank says she’s made up his own religion and “sent it out into the world to make its own way.” She mocks the idea and offers him Destriant again, saying she has already found her High Mage and Mortal Sword (Spear) who awaits on the Wall. When Ipshank tells her the invaders have come and she must withdraw, she indignantly yells “This is mine!” and causes the building to shudder, revealing to Bakune the corpse of Abbot Starvann. Ipshank says he can’t imagine what the Moranth will do to her and leaves, carrying the dazed Bakune (struck by the Lady) out. A scream cries out behind them and Ipshank returns to the inner chamber and comes back carrying the young girl’s unconscious body, telling Bakune the Lady is “elsewhere.” They rejoin the others, put the girl into a room to sleep, then Ipshank tells Bakune as highest civil authority he has to negotiate with the Moranth (warning him if he doesn’t, Manask—whom Bakune now realizes is “Boneyman”—might).
Heh, who else can see Shell putting that rendered fat on her before the end of this book—and liking it?
I loved this:
“After all, when four armed and dangerous passengers ask you to sell them into slavery it would be prudent to show some reluctance.”
It’s interesting seeing one of the Crimson Guard look at the Stormguard with admiration and wonder what they’re capable of! After all, we know some of what the Crimson Guard can do.
I have ended up feeling a great deal of pity for the Sea Folk—imagine having to live a constant lie like they do, constantly being worried about having their schemes seen through by those more powerful than them.
It seems so distinctly unfair that Greymane is blaming Rillish for the lack of a break through here, especially since his forced march has left them with little food and tired troops. Especially when he then says: “The more time passes, the weaker they are!”
And then Greymane has a proper sulk when everyone sides with Rillish! If they’re to make a proper go of this, he has to sort out his reactions to Rillish.
Ah, although it is good to see Devaleth shed some light on why he is acting in this manner:
“I’ve read histories of the campaign. Kyle, I think he sees it all happening to him again. That first time they were held up in Rool. Delay followed delay. Eventually, they never made it out. I think he fears it will be the same this time, like some sort of awful recurring nightmare.”
I am more than frustrated by Ivanr’s reactions here, actually. His lack of faith is pretty disturbing, considering that he has been a Champion and done his share of fighting in the past. Surely he must know the effect his reactions are having on those who look to him as a Champion now?
Maybe he can be cut a little slack, by what Martal says—that he has been a champion, but not a soldier and so possibly doesn’t actually know better?
Mystified by the conversation between Martal and Beneth—who is the person she refers to as being the only champion worthy of the name?
Neat little sequence with Ivanr going into the dreamtime and seeing the great Ice Barrier as it was before, when it covered the land. Nice to see the Synod of Stygg again, I do enjoy their sections! I just don’t know if they are always so uncooperative in terms of deciding when and how to take action, or whether there are genuine concerns from some of them about what is taking place here.
I confess I didn’t like the odd baby creature that Ivanr fought against. There are so many creatures that we’ve already seen in these Malazan books, it seems daft to create another new one here. I’m prepared to eat my words when I see the no-doubt-inevitable-importance of it later in the book.
This. This is what I think about people facing down a cavalry charge:
“That these men and women, ex-villagers, farmers, burgher craftsmen and women, should somehow find the determination and courage to stand firm shamed and awed him. All gods, true and false, where do people find such resolve? Where does it come from?”
OH! This betrayal by Totsin is nasty and actually relatively unexpected. I wonder what implications it has for the Synod.
Ivanr is never happy, is he? First he thought he was going to be cut down, along with the rest of the force, and now he’s unhappy at the manner in which their victory came about.
More to follow—check the comments section!
I like the little bit of more intimate insight we get into Shell in her discussion with Ena—the way she wonders about why she’d never considered a child, her curiosity about whether she truly is too old at this point. Two small interesting points as well—one is that she took her Vow in her twenties, which seems to imply the Vow either stops or greatly slows the aging process rather than just extend life (as she thinks she might not in fact be past the biological age for children); and two is that it’s the “change in company” that has made her think of children. Is that a reference to the pregnant Ena? Or to one of the Guard?
These few scenes certainly don’t show the Stormguard in a good light—buying slaves for the wall, happy as well to buy female slaves for the brothels (what, to keep the fighters’ spirits, among other things, up? I guess that’s the justification), their treatment of Orzu. Not covering themselves in glory here.
Well, Greymane is in a bit of a funk, eh? Not quite what I would have expected from him. I’m wondering how others react to this scene. Certainly he can’t be inspiring his troops with this.
Speaking of not inspiring the troops, this is a nice, smooth move by the author I thought, going from frustrated Greymane to frustrated Ivanr. And it’s also a nice flip, from the frustration of a commander to the frustration of a soldier (who has yet to learn what being a soldier means).
Beneth’s ability to hold off the Lady, as he seems to be doing: “I am tiring, Martal. The pressure she is bringing to bear upon us is almost unsupportable,” is interesting in its own right. How is he able to do this? Even one of the Synod, later on, wonders at this ability, noting he is doing it seemingly without recourse to magery. We’ve mentioned before how “will” and its power seems to be a recurrent theme in this series, and this may be relevant to Beneth’s defiance, as Sister Nebras thinks, “He merely set his will against the Lady.”
A bit of foreshadowing, however, in this scene that Beneth’s will may not be enough much longer. Not just his remark about “tiring,” but the way Martal reacts (as if she knows what’s coming and is in major denial), and his “I’m sorry child. It has all comes so late,” after she leaves.
I do like this Synod group (a moment of silence for poor Sister Nebras)—they’ve got spunk. Well, save for the ones who fled. And the traitor of course. But still, I like these folk.
What a horrific creation or mutation the Lady sends to try and stop them—that alone might be enough to make one think her overthrow is worth whatever cost.
Back to Nebras for a moment, that’s an interesting characterization she has of the Lady, who is after all more than a little bit of a mystery at this point: “Nebras regarded [the Lady] not as the goddess she claimed to be but as a force of nature, if not a natural one.” Something perhaps to file away for later discussion.
And while we’re on Nebras, I love her last words—“You couldn’t be in charge of a privy”—followed by a laugh; it was absolutely the right response to his petty betrayal. Spunk.
Any guesses on Totsin’s fate?
While I think the battle scene is mostly well done, I confess that it seems to me that any halfway-competent cavalry leader would have known with a downpour like they had that there might be an issue with mud, etc.
Ivanr’s reaction seems a bit harsh to poor Martal, though I get he is a pacifist and is also feeling guilt for his part in the “murder.” That said, he’s also the guy so ticked off that Martal was going to lead this army into their own slaughter. And I’m not sure the lancers stuck in the mud were really “trapped” or “helpless” so much as slowed and delayed, though maybe he’s referring to events after that first bow strike. I do like Martal’s dignified reproach in her response to his judgment from the luxury of his pacifism: “You have me to spill the blood. The Black Queen will be the murderess, the scourge.”
Warran seems pretty sharp and knowledgeable for a crazy old mage who lost his mind, doesn’t he? He certainly seems to know the geography of this place pretty well.
And is that “anger” in his eyes as he contemplates the Whorl eating Shadow a clue? Along with Kiska’s “instant” of recognition? Or his “personal affront” at the Whorl?
Hmm, “eating everything” can’t be good.
While I do like Bakune’s growth in this novel (his whole storyline really), I have to say I also wonder just how willfully blind, or dumb, he had to be to not have seen the clues/signs in the rituals he’s now witnessing at the festival: “The children, the red petals symbolizing blood, the woundings… All handed down as ancient ritual.”
In that same scene, I think Esslemont takes one of the few authorial missteps in this book with the moment when “Bakune flinched as cold drops [of penitent blood] struck his cheek. He raised a hand and examined the traces on his fingers.” This “blood on my hands” was already a bit too on the nose for me. I could have lived with it, save for the next lines: “I am implicated. Marked as accomplice and abettor. Sentenced. My hands are just as red.” I just wanted him—Bakune, Esslemont—to stop at each one (actually, I wanted him to stop, then go back and delete back to when the blood hits his cheek).
Anyone else have a Monty Python flashback to the “Burn her! Burn her!” cries of the mob?
Have I mentioned I love me some Manask? “And now I make my furtive escape!” Yes indeed, oh where oh where could that “phantom” have gone?
Another interesting possible parallel here: Beneth fighting Lady and anointing Ivanr as his heir. And here Ipshank fighting Lady and anointing Ella as his heir. A nice touch. Also a nice parallel with people coming out of their isolation: Ivanr taking on more of a role, Ipshank saying he will no longer hide, Bakune opening his eyes.
Once there, while they are busy prodding you with red-hot pokers and eviscerating your bowels, I clean out the treasury. Is this the plan?
Something like that…
Well, I like my half of it.
I’ve got nothing to say about this. Though I will giggle again.
Killing her own priests and acolytes is obviously enough to point out the Lady’s bad side. But her use of children—the baby-headed monstrosity Ivanr fought and now the little girl’s body used as a vessel—certainly drives home her evil all the more.
And now a big reveal with Ipshank—he was a high-ranking priest of the Lady who refused her offer to be Destriant (as he did with Fener). Both seem good choices considering, but one wonders why. What was it that led him to turn on the Lady? Had he been blind like Bakune and something opened his eyes? Was it cumulative?
And who is Lady’s High Mage? Or Mortal Sword (Spear)?
Apparently the Lady has fled the vessel here. But where is she really? Where is Ipshank’s “elsewhere”?
So Bakune’s eyes have not only been opened to his own blindness and culpability, and to what the priests have been doing, but he’s also just realized Manask is “Boneyman.” A little reminder of an earlier conversation he had with this two guards:
Bakune struggled to keep his face flat. ‘Please inform me. If you would be so kind.’
‘Boneyman runs the smuggling and the night market here in town, now that-’ Puller loudly cleared his throat, glaring, and Hyuke frowned…
And wouldn’t you pay to see Manask negotiate with the Moranth?
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.