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 eight 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.
Usso is summoned by Envoy Enesh-jer. A week earlier, there had been an assassination attempt on him and he had been surprised by his easy and full access to his warren, something the Lady had apparently allowed and that he now considers “seductive.” As he heads toward his meeting, he scans the Malazan camp, thinking of the rumors of how the Malazans are starving, freezing, dying of illness. Ussu enters a crowded room to see that Borun has also been summoned, and Ussu worries the Envoy will order another attack. The Envoy says he’s received a message from Overlord Yeull summoning Borun and Ussu. Though no reason is given, the Envoy assumes it is a summons to their execution, due to their incompetence and insubordination. Ussu and Borun head out.
Borun tells Ussu he’s pulling out all of the Moranth and that the Envoy had known that, thinking the Moranth were more of a hindrance of a help. Ussu says the Moranth were the only ones keeping Greymane and the Malazans back. Borun thinks their summons had nothing to do with the Envoy’s complaints, but that something has greatly frightened Yeull.
Kiska’s group continues to follow their “bat-like guide” until their journey is interrupted by their finding a demon similar to Little Branch. Warran greets the demon as an Azalan, but the demon cries out “Murderer!” then runs Warran through with a spear. He then advances on Leoman and Kiska, calling them “Slayers.” He disarms Leoman and breaks his nose, then gets the advantage of Kiska and is about to kill her when a white Hound appears and kill the demon, then drags the body off and disappears. Warran, meanwhile, is miraculously uninjured, though both Kiska and Leoman swear they saw him impaled. When Warran laughs, Kiska is sure she’s heard that laugh before.
AS they continue on, Leoman confirms Kiska’s suspicion that the Hound is trailing them. He also warns her that Warran is dangerous and “playing his own game,” something she had already suspected. They come across strange black shards, which Warran says was “A kind of prison… Perhaps from before the shattering of this Realm. It was forged to contain some thing for all eternity… and the entity contained within has burst free.” He adds that “Shadow is something of the rubbish heap of time. Over the ages, whatever others want hidden or buried away, into Shadow it goes.” Kiska tells Warran that sounds like something Edgewalker would have said. Warran peevishly replies he doubts she met him or spoke to him, as Edgewalker, “doesn’t talk to just anyone.” They walk on but then come across a “midnight black” figure with a “rounded half-formed head,” clutching their bat guide in its hands. Kiska feels terrified and notes that Leoman is also nervous and that the Hound is hanging back. Warran tells them he’ll deal with it, then rushes ahead to tell the figure thanks for finding their lost creature, which he says belongs to their “master” Shadowthrone, “the ruler of Emurlahn.” The figure replies that there has never been a “true ruler” of Emurlahn, which surprises Warran. The figure is intrigued by how the flier is linked to power, and Warran convinces the stranger to let him look at it, then lets it go. The figure is shocked, but then Warran pulls out one of the shards of the prison and uses it (by “balancing the symmetries”) to recapture the stranger within the jewel-like shard. Disturbed by the process (the creature shrinks to fit inside the shard), Kiska is happy to have escaped the strange figure, but wonders if they’re any safer with Warran.
Bakune meets with Nok aboard ship, where the Admiral tells him the invaders don’t want to interfere with the day-to-day routines (they should just be “ignored” by the city’s inhabitants) or the local religious rites. At this latter point, Bakune thinks he’s heard the opposite, that the Malazan goal was the “eradiation of the Lady’s cult.” Nok adds they’ll need supplies, and that while the soldiers will remain on board ship, there will be patrols sent out. Bakune agrees and is escorted out.
After Bakune leaves, Swirl (the Blue Moranth Admiral) and Nok wonder where Greymane is and hope the natives don’t test the very weakened fleet.
Out fishing, Suth’s squad notices the Black Moranth have left. As has the rest of camp by the time they get back. Greymane and Rillish wonder if it might be a ploy, and Greymane orders Kyle out with some scouts. Devaleth notes to herself the awkwardness of how Rillish was pointedly not consulted, though Kyle asks Rillish to suggest some names of scouts. Kyle and Rillish head out, Greymane goes back into the tent, and Devaleth hopes this is finally some good news, as it turns out Fist Shul has become bogged down.
Suth is chosen, along with three others, to join Kyle on the shadow the Moranth and make sure they’re leaving for real. As they follow Kyle, Suth recalls hearing Goss call the Adjunct “Damned Crimson Guard,” and he wonders if that’s true or not. Kyle’s group carries on through the night, spot the Moranth, determine they are leaving for real, and decide to rest then return to camp. Kyle wakes them near dawn, saying it was a mistake for him to come because he has “attracted attention.” They run but are attacked by Hounds, which they fight until the Hounds flee, having killed one of the scouts. A pillar of flame with a woman’s shape inside approaches and greets Kyle, noting the “stink of that sorcerous bitch,” and inquiring where he got his blade from. Moving closer, the Lady asks where he is from, saying she smells a “strangeness” in his blood. Kyle strikes the pillar of flame and there is a huge blast.
Everyone is dazed, some deafened and bloodied by the blast. Kyle is unconscious. Suth finds the Adjuncts blade and resheaths it. They carry Kyle back to the river while Tolat goes for help. Tolat reports to Greymane, who orders a squad out to retrieve the group. Right before passing out, she tells Greymane about Kyle “attracting attention,” and Rillish says he should have thought Kyle’s sword would do that. When Greymane upbraids him for only thinking of it now, Devaleth reminds him they all missed that. Greymane turns on her fiercely at first, “fey” to her sight, and then regains his control and admits he should have thought of it first of them all. He asks if she can heal Kyle and she says to send the Adjunct to her tent when he’s brought in. Greymane then orders an immediate attack, telling Rillish to stay in camp while he, Greymane, leads the assault.
Rillish joins Devaleth in her tent and thanks her for the support. She complains about Greymane’s behavior and when Rillish begins to say “He is a storied commander,” replies “With much to prove?” before reminding Rillish she was part of Greymane’s “storied” past. Rillish leaves, ordering his armor to be brought to him.
Rillish notes the number of heavies on the bridge and asks Lt. Urfa of the saboteurs if the bridge can take that weight. She heads off to deal with it, and Rillish orders the heavies to cross in smaller groups. He gets them sorted, along with Sergeant Tight, then orders Captain Betteries to keep a quarter of the forces held back. But the Captain tells him they don’t have the numbers due to sickness. Rillish realizes it’s today or never just as the attack begins behind Greymane.
Suth, heading back to camp, hears the attack begin. He is bummed.
Kyle is brought into Devaleth, who examines him and is shocked to find his mind hasn’t been destroyed. She feels something else, something deeper, and lifting one of his eyelids is disturbed to see what appeared to be an amber glow.
Suth, heading to the bridge, is ordered to the infirmary for his wounds. He is bummed.
The Envoy, having summoned the commander of the defenders, gives him stupid orders, threatens him if he fails to carry them out, then orders him back out. Alone, the Envoy is faced by an assassin who informs him that it is Greymane leading the attack: “Your old friend Greymane. I hear he carries a grudge for all you betrayers.” The assassin asks, “do I kill you or not? Who’s it going to be? Me or him.” The Envoy chooses the assassin.
Just having decided Kyle’s problem is beyond her skills, Devaleth is interrupted by the arrival of Brother Carfin of the Synod, a group she had thought an urban legend. Carfin tells her some in the Synod “foresee a role for him,” and offers up the disturbing news that to heal Kyle someone will have to access their warren and thus bring down the Lady. Just then, Brother Totsin arrives and agrees now is the time to fully commit against the Lady, surprising Carfin. Carfin explains that while he is a mage of Rashan, due to the Lady, he has never actually entered his warren, nor can he guarantee coming out if he does so. When Devaleth asks about Totsin, the mage replies his talents “run in other directions.” Carfin says no matter, Totsin’s sudden courage has inspired his own, and he tells the other two they should wait outside the tent. Devaleth feels the sudden fury of the Lady and reentering the tent finds Kyle alone but of calm, restful mind. Totsin is surprised Carfin actually pulled it off and is, seemingly, about to attack Devaleth when they are interrupted by Suth, who has just been kicked out of the infirmary and had seen the tent where they’d taken Kyle looking wrecked. Totsin whirls on him and Suth draws his sword, but then Devaleth tells him it’s OK. Totsin is a bit unmanned to hear Devaleth called “High Mage” by Suth. Totsin leaves and when Suth apologizes, Devaleth tells him perhaps she should thank him. Suth heads out to fight.
Greymane enters the Envoy’s chambers to find the assassin, who calls himself a “freelancer,” standing over the Envoy’s dead body. Greymane recognizes Enesh, then tells the assassin, “I used to want that head on a pike. Now, I don’t care. Burn him with the rest.”
Ivanr walks with the army as a sign of reassurance and has begun having informal command meetings with Martal and sometimes Hegil. He wonders about their goal and when Martal tells him it’s to march on Ring and defeat the Imperial Army, he scoffs at their changes against the elite soldiers and heavy cavalry (versus the light lancers they now deal with). Hegil replies Martal and Beneth had cooked up a plan to support the pikes, but Martal only says “we’ll be bringing our own fortress.” After Hegil leaves, Ivanr finally asks Martal where she’s from, and she answers “I am Quon Talian by birth… Malazan.” Ivanr is amazed, and she explains she came with the Sixth in the first invasion and fled when the Sixth turned against Greymane. She eventually met Beneth, whom she credits with saving her life. Ivanr thinks no wonder she’s been able to defeat their enemy; she’s been using the vaunted Malazan ability to “adapt whatever worked,” versus his own land’s hidebound ways. Though he thinks the Malazan flexibility had also failed them here in Korel, “leaving them Malazan in name and no more.” She leaves, and he thinks how that confession just earned her his trust. Later, he receives word of the Malazan’s second invasion a few days later.
Martal and Ivanr listen to the report of the invasion, and then Sister Gosh enters and tells them the reports/rumors are true, and also confirms Greymane is leading them. When Martal wonders, “who would have thought,” Sister Gosh answers, “I believe Beneth did,” noting the odd coincidence of timing between the invasion and Beneth’s sudden activity. When Ivanr mentions the priestess had told him “someone had to act,” they’re shocked he actually met her. He tells them of her words that he was “on the right path,” and that she was too young, had scars of beatings on her, of starvation, and that it was clear in her eyes that she had “done things that tormented her.” The two quietly leave him as he thinks back, and he wonders if he should not have faith in the priestess’ choice of him, in her judgment and faith in him. He knows it will be a hard path forward, but he chooses to accept it.
Quint confronts Hiam about the missing Stormguard and Hiam admits he’d sent 100 to Overlord Yeull in exchange for ten thousand troops. Quint is furious and desperate, telling Hiam Yeull will never send those soldiers while he’s facing invasion. Hiam replies if that’s true, the Stormguard will simply return, as Yeull won’t be able to stop them. Quint agrees, and warns Hiam upon their return they will have an assembly to decide Hiam’s leadership. Hiam accepts that, then changes the subject to ask Quint about Engineer Stimins’ requests for workers and equipment, but Quint says he knows nothing about it nor cares, then leaves. Hiam realizes Stimins had kept quiet about what he’d found and why he’d needed the equipment.
Shell’s group is separated and brought to cells in a huge fortress, Shell taking the time to stomp the hell out of a rude guard before being thrown into a room with lots of other prisoners. When she tries to get some information from them, they revile her as Malazan, and one, Jemain from South Genabackis, tells her it’s no use—they all hate her for being a Malazan and worse, for being a veteran (meaning she’s more likely to survive longer). An old Malazan veteran of the Wall tells her when asked how it works on the Wall (pairs—one shieldman, one spearman, with stone’s throw distance between pairs). She replies it’s a stupid method and he just shrugs. Two days later they’re taken out by the Chosen.
The prisoners are given equipment and Shell tries to plan with her partner, who scoffs at the idea they have a chance. She’s told to shut up by the guards. A Stormguard leads her and her partner out, telling them if they don’t fight he’ll kill them himself. He chains them to a section of wall and leaves. Her partner is killed and Shell fights alone, losing her weapons but unhorsing one of the Riders. She’s eventually taken out and back. She wakes to find Jemain tending her injuries. He warns her not to put on such a good show or they’ll move her to a hotter spot on the Wall, but it’s too late. She gets taken and assigned to the Malazan veteran. When Jemain tries to say she needs more time, one of the Chosen backhands him then strikes Shell. Everyone is shocked that she doesn’t fall and the Malazan, looking at her, says “Togg take me…” Jemain asks quietly if she knows Bars and then tells her she knows where he is. Shell tells Jemain to come to her, and he says he’ll try. The Stormguard take her and the Malazan out.
I wonder if the additional power that has come to Ussu when he accessed the Warren was thanks to the Lady, as he thinks, or is as a result of the Malazans landing, or as a result of a particular person that Ussu has used to find his power. The fact it’s seductive is horribly worrying, since Ussu is already a nasty little character in terms of gaining power and I’d hate to see him pursuing even more.
It is a grim picture when even the enemy looks upon you with pity, as Ussu does here, thinking about Greymane’s troops and the privations they are suffering.
Hmm, the Envoy Enesh-jer is certainly putting his own spin on this recall of Borun and Ussu, isn’t he? I mean, we know that there is now a very definite Malazan presence thanks to them managing to get through the blockade and so the recall could be because Yeull needs them there.
And… Enesh-jar is showing himself to be quite the idiot, by losing the Moranth troops… This is going to be what ensures that history doesn’t repeat itself with Greymane, isn’t it?
Heh, when this daemon attacks Warran and calls him “murderer,” I am wondering if the daemon is actually Chaos-maddened as Leoman says or if it knows something about Warran that Kiska and Leoman don’t.
I didn’t believe for a second that Warran was really killed by the daemon. Who or what is he? When he says that he “edged aside” it makes me wonder if this is Edgewalker… Oh, and nice symmetry with the white Hound rescuing Kiska and Leoman after the Shadow Hounds tried to hard to kill them.
The way that Warran tells it, Shadow is like an oubliette—a place to send people to forget about them and keep them hidden. What has broken out of this black sharded prison? “It was forged to contain some thing for all eternity. But Chaos has eaten at it, weakened it, and the entity contained within has burst free.” Heh, what if that entity is Warran himself?
Then Warran’s reaction to knowing that Kiska has spoken to Edgewalker could be a sort of double bluff by Edgewalker himself. I still think they could be one and the same.
Slightly anti-climactic result there of the entity that broken out of the prison! I find myself both feeling amused and a little cheated. I was thinking that it might be a key point of this storyline in Shadow, but it is solved with nothing more than a black shard.
I like this very much: “…for all anyone knew these could be the Stormriders themselves come to take possession of the surface. They were that shockingly foreign, especially to a historically closed land.” The idea that invaders could be mistaken for other people purely because those who live there have no real knowledge of who they might be is a very interesting one.
Heh. “Ignore the enormous vessels blockading our harbour?” Mind, it’s funny what people can get used to given time. And we have seen other civilisations perfectly used to the Malazans in their midst.
“Everyone agreed their goal was eradication of the Lady’s cult.” Who are these everyone? It is interesting given what we know of the actual goal that Nok and co have.
Oh my! So Nok has the barest number of troops with him… that could become very dangerous, very quickly. Greymane has a lot riding on him.
Esslemont does incredibly well showing how the extended siege of this river bank has begun affecting the troops, such as Pyke, Dim, Yana and Lard. Although I do wonder if Pyke has actually deserted, or if he’s something like a Claw and is now on mission somewhere else.
I can’t even imagine the relief they must be feeling at the Moranth having shipped out. Or perhaps confusion?
Ah! Malazan humour *grins*
“The Moranth look to be gone,” Len told Goss.
Goss nodded at the news. “So I heard.”
“Good report there, Len,” Wess said, lying down.
From here on in the chapter is well done, switching rapidly from view to view and really getting us set up for the move towards the end. Finally Greymane is on the move, we see other armies and people well-placed to complete their respective story arcs.
This is the first of the Malazan novels where I have to confess that none of the storylines truly irk me and yet none of them really set my imagination alight either, to be honest. I quite like the stuff with Suth, although Kyle seems rather a non-entity in this novel, Greymane seems a whiny bastard, and Devaleth is about the only character that I find myself liking whole-heartedly.
Bakune is okay as a character to read about and I like his development, but he’s certainly not at the same level as others that I have enjoyed. And I’m sorry, Bill, but I can’t stand Ussu and find his sections difficult to deal with. At the moment the Kiska/Leoman storyline seems so tacked onto the rest, that it doesn’t really fit with anything else.
Is anyone else feeling this dip in interest? Or is it me, thanks to the slightly disjointed nature of my read of this novel?
Are we moving toward an alliance between Ussu and the Lady? Is that what this bit about his sudden and odd access to his warren means? This is how she is seducing him? I’ve talked about how much I like Ussu as a character—will his being seduced make him out to be unlikable? Will his resistance of the seduction make him more likable? Will his being torn make him more compelling?
Considering how the Envoy has been painted, I think we’re probably on safe ground assuming his reading of the Yeull’s summons is probably not all that insightful. Considering the conversation between Borun and Ussu on how the Envoy considers the Moranth a hindrance, I think that ground just went from “safe” to “eternally stable.”
Despite this being a reread, this scene with the demon and Warran surprised the hell out of me when Warran got impaled, so I’m pretty sure it also shocked the hell out of me when I read it the first time. I’m sure I knew he wasn’t dead (which came to me when he got impaled).
Note this is the second time Kiska has commented on the sense of familiarity she has with regard to Warran.
I like that image of Shadow as the “rubbish heap of time,” and it also, perhaps, gives us a reason why Shadowthrone and Cotillion might have been so interested in it—what sort of things might one find in the rubbish heap of time? Something perhaps to keep in mind.
I also like that tiny detail that maybe Warran is doing the whole nervous walk—flicker of eyes back and forth and behind just to annoy the hell out of Leoman. No, scratch that. I love that detail.
Now how would Warran know to whom Edgewalker does or does not speak? And why would he be jealous of Edgewalker speaking to someone? Who would he be to feel a “rivalry” with Edgewalker?
It’s generally been my experience in fantasy novels/movies that broken ancient prisons and suddenly freed ancient entities are rarely a good thing. In fact, they’re almost a very, very bad thing. An apocalyptic thing, even. So I really enjoyed how Esslemont plays against that here, first by building up the whole “ancient prison… escaped powerful entity… midnight-black… clutching frail little creature in hands” sort of thing. Then the almost slapstick humor of Warran letting the little flyer go. And then the little shrinking powerful entity popping back into the shard and now it’s all over. Clever little turnabout.
One has to wonder how long Rillish and Greymane can dance this dance before something pops.
I confess I’m not a big fan of the Kyle and scouts scene. First, it seems more than a little strange to send Kyle out to scout just on its own merits. Then, it takes a whole lot of smart people being a whole lot of dumb all at the same time to not think of his sword perhaps being an issue (especially when one of them—Devaleth, knows she can’t use her own magic so as to avoid attention; and another—Greymane, has his own damn magic sword). Then I find myself bothered by the group being chased by Hounds (with the Lady?). Then I wonder why the Lady doesn’t just collapse the cliff around them, since we’ve been told many times she causes landslides. Then I think, well, Kyle’s sword prevents it. But then I wonder how she has this great honking pillar of flame right next to him. Then I think she wants to question him, but then it seems she’s trying to kill him. It’s all just a little muddy and a bit contrived for me. Not a huge minus; it just bugs me a bit.
Greymane’s kinda a jerk so far, huh?
Speaking of jerks, how about that Envoy? I always wonder why more of that sort of character don’t just end up knifed/shot or at the least abandoned by his people. That assassin btw? Are those “pointed teeth” a clue?
Don’t you just now grit your teeth at every mention of Totsin, every arrival of his, every time he opens his mouth? He’s a well-done snake by Esslemont. Any guesses on what happened to Carfin? Swallowed by the Lady or escaped into his warren? Anyone? And does anyone doubt Totsin was going to try and kill Devaleth there? So, was it lucky for Devaleth or lucky for Totsin that Suth interrupted do you think? Totsin certainly seems scared of the idea of tangling with her, but we know he’s a coward. While I think Devaleth could have taken him, could she have done so without calling the Lady back? I’m not sure how. So I’m going to go with lucky for her.
So this sneaky plan of Beneth and Martal? We’ve certainly had some hints sent our way as to what it might involved, if not the details.
So, will Martal and Greymane meet? Will they ride off into the sunset together? Will it turn out they were “close”? Will Greymane think she was with him or agin’ him? Does he want her head on a pike too or does he know she thought the charges against him were nonsense? Will they almost meet but then fate whisk them apart? Will Rillish and Martal meet? Will Kyle come out of his coma? Will the twins, having both fallen for the dreamy Dr. Jake Remoray, quit blackmailing their mother, the hospital director, in exchange for… (sorry, got carried away a bit)
Dissension in the ranks of the Stormguard. That can’t be good (though it might help a rescue attempt). Chief Engineer requisitioning lots of workers and equipment for the Wall? That also can’t be good.
Speaking of that possible rescue, so far so good. If you can call being chained, imprisoned, connected to a terribly burdensome “partner” who almost gets you killed, facing off against Stormrider “demons,” and almost freezing to death after almost getting killed by said demons “good.” But Shell is apparently about to make contact with Bars via Jemain, and that has to be good for Bars and Corlo. And we know what the Guard is like when they want something. What about this Malazan though? Just a minor character?
Lots of nice questions to leave us with in this chapter and we can feel things moving more apace now as well. One army has broken through (Greymane’s), another (Nok’s) is setting up in the harbor, Ivanr has accepted his role and that army continues its own march, and now the Guard is beginning to close in on its own goal. Almost three-quarters of the way through…
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.