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 the second half of chapter ten 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.
Shell and her Malazan Sixth partner Tollen are removed to another cell near a more threatened tower (Ice Tower) and area of a wall. There she’s tossed into a cell with Blues and the two exchange some news.
The next dawn Shell is taken out to guard one area next to an old man (she doesn’t recognize Bars). She faces a Stormrider attack that wipes out some work being done on the wall, and after a moment’s one-on-one clash, the Rider fighting her sinks back into the water after looking behind her. Bars picks her up from behind, accusing her of being sent by Skinner and of planning to take him down then hop into her warren. She manages to gasp out that Blues is with her just before Bars kills her. The Guard interrupt, but the two tell them it was just an old grudge and Bars is sent back in while Shell remains for the rest of her shift. As she prepares, she thinks that the first Stormrider had apparently been “more interested in damaging the wall itself than in killing anyone.”
Suth’s group watches the other Malazans leave. Bickering ensues.
On their way back from the wharf, Yana is struck by a crossbow bolt from a single kid who gets away. Goss says insurrection events are starting and speculates they might have to pull back to the garrison, adding it reminds him of “damned Seven Cities.”
Rillish dines with Captains Betteries, Perin, and Peles. Peles recommends withdrawing outside of town and building their own fortress, calling this garrison (which once held the Sixth) a “death trap.” Perin reports on the incidents taking place and Rillish thinks how “Occupations breed mutual disgust, harden divisions, and brutalize all parties.” Betteries says he’s taken the new Mayor (Bakune) prisoner, even though Nok had an agreement with him. Perrin notes his surprise that Peles, from Eligarth and a military order, is out on her own. She tells him they select individuals to travel and learn from others. When Perin notes the possible pitfall of bringing back “dangerous ideas. The contamination of foreign beliefs,” she replies that her people believe “purity versus pollution is a false choice… Nothing is pure. Everything is the produce of something else. To name something ‘pure’ is to pretend it has no history.” After dinner, Rillish gets a note from Ipshank to meet.
Ipshank and Rillish meet secretly. Ipshank tells Rillish he met with Greymane and when Rillish asks why, since “all that” was long ago, Ipshank reminds him that others still remember and also that “the enemy remains.” Rillish disagrees, saying, “It’s over. Finished.” He adds that Ipshank should have gone with Greymane, and Ipshank replies that Greymane said the same, but then he and Greymane agreed that his (Ipshank’s) work is here facing their own enemy. He then reveals he asked Greymane to leave Rillish behind to help “slay the metaphorical dragon.” Rillish thinks that’s impossible, but then, thinking Greymane had agreed and also how Ipshank had stayed loyal to “the bloody end,” agrees to listen. Ipshank gives him all of Bakune’s notes to read. When Rillish, convinced, asks if they should release Bakune, Ipshank says no; that will just make the populace think he cut a deal—leave him in prison and let his stay work to bolster his reputation among the people. Ipshank points out the references to a chest/box that was removed from the Cloister, regaling him with a story of the Holy Trilogy of Lady Relics: one was said to have been lost in the Ring (the great sinkhole we saw earlier), the second is housed in the Sky Tower, and the third—the one in the Cloister—has been moved to a series of caves at Thol, on the coast. He tells Rillish it’s a job for a small group and that have to use a shaman to travel there (the shamans are mostly ignored by the Lady and have used their Tellann-like warren while mages are driven insane). Rillish says he was ordered by Greymane to stay here and can’t betray him again. Ipshank says he has no choice.
After two days in the Tiste Liosan’s camp, Kiska’s group is invited to eat with the commander Jayashul, who announces afterward they are going to “assault the Devourer,” saying they have ascertained it is a “a powerful magus… an Ascendant. No doubt quite mad.” She dismisses the idea of learning even more about it and then introduces her brother—L’oric, who immediately recognizes Leoman, then identifies Kiska as a Claw and Warran as a “priest of that Shadow usurper,” which annoys Warran. L’oric humbly orders them arrested, then humbly upbraids Jayashul for making decisions without him. He “outs” Leoman to Kiska, who is shocked and wonders if he could even have deceived the Queen of Dreams and if not, wonders what the Queen was thinking. Kiska and the other two are taken back to their tents and guarded.
Later, alone in her tent, she thinks she is going to kill Leoman. But then the Liosan stir outside, readying themselves for their assault, and Brother Jorrude and a few others enter and look about without saying why, though Jorrude makes it clear he doesn’t like Malazans. They exit and just before Kiska leaves, Warran somehow appears behind her and tells her there are too many Liosan. He informs her that Leoman has escaped and it’s time for them to go as well, noting how the Liosan “do not understand Shadow. To them it is merely some sort of bastard hybrid. A crippled or inferior, Liosan, but… it is its own Realm. Separate and equally legitimate.”
Suth (named acting corporal since Yana’s injury), Wess, and Lard give Pyke a warning to stop enriching himself at the populace’s expense (he seems to have been collecting “insurance” from shop owners). They’re interrupted by the arrival of Goss, who says they’ve been tapped to head out.
They march out, joined by the 6th squad, and meet up with Kyle, Rillish, Peles, Ipshank, and the shaman Gheven (Manask joins them from the back). They’re informed of their mission—a quick dash by warren then a grab of a small box which they are warned not to touch. They travel through a not-so-pleasant warren with Gheven looking worse and worse as they continue. The shaman tells Rillish “She’s anxious…Control is slipping away. Now is our best chance.” They exit and Rillish wishes he had more soldiers, but thinks “what could possibly be awaiting them out here in the middle of nowhere.”
Corlo is taken out to Ice Tower, realizing as he passes a group of Roolian soldiers that the Stormguard and Rool must have forged some sort of deal. He’s told that Bars needs a talking to again. When they meet, Bars tells him about Shells and Blues being there, and about K’azz’s return and eviction of Skinner from the Guard. Corlo worries he might have slipped over the edge, but Bars tells him it’s real and they need to collect the rest of them.
The Blue Moranth send a parley ship to Borun in Lallit.
Is interesting seeing Iron Bars’ appearance now, after his extended stint on the wall: “He appeared to be an old man, wearing nothing but rags, his long hair and beard grey-shot and matted. Who was this fossil?” I doubt anyone reading didn’t realise immediately that Shell was looking at Bars.
And why is it that the Stormriders are particularly interested in ensuring that the Wall is not being repaired? What is their intention? This Stormrider facing Shell doesn’t seem to be pressing its advantage against her—instead, once the tripod and block have been washed away, the Stormrider vanishes as well.
This is pretty nightmarish for Shell and for the reader: “Skinner! He was renegade now. His attempt to usurp K’azz failed and he was forced out—disavowed. And Bars thinks he’s sent me!” A nice reminder that, while the storyline has moved on for us the reader, the events are not somehow universally known by all the characters involved.
Wow, that was rather a shock, the crossbow bolt hitting Yana. Again, Esslemont is dealing with the themes of occupation, and foreigners, and how people might react to their city being taken over by people not deemed to belong there. “Insurgency. Attacks, killings, fire-bombings an’such. A vicious mess.”
We are also guided by Esslemont to see the difficult decision faced by those leading the occupying troops: do they move outside the city, so that they are not constantly harrassed at the risk of looking like they’ve been chased away? Do they stay within the garrison that could so easily be sieged successfully, if the city rises against them? We already know that Karien’el is also outside the city, which might create problems if they did decide to set up shop outside.
Hmm, I found this heavy-handed within the conversation between Rillish and Ipshank: “I wish I could say that it was because of some innate quality you possess. That you were born to fulfil this role. That there was a prophecy foretelling you would be the one. Or that your father’s father was one of the ousted rightful kings of Rool.” I don’t mind a nod and a wink to the reader regarding overturning tropes, but this is just done clumsily and without the humour that I would have preferred brought to it.
This stuff that Rillish reads through—it’s all the evidence that Bakune has collected while investigating deaths in Rool?
Bah, this quest stuff bores me as well. I was hoping there would be more murder mystery and solving Bakune’s research—but no. A small party is questing out to find “the most precious relics” of the Lady.
With this sudden quest fantasy inserted, and the previous sword and sorcery storyline presented by the Leoman and Kiska double act, we really are going old school now with this novel. And it’s not working for me, having this tropes being inserted in a merry and distinctly clumsy way.
Description of the Liosan: “bland, serious and practical.” Perhaps this is why no plotline featuring them comes to life as those featuring the Edur and Andii do!
More mystery about Warran: “The hound would find in me a rather insubstantial meal.” Hang on, Warran isn’t actually Shadowthrone, is he? That would be rather a hoot—and certainly you can see echoes of his deviousness in Warran’s rather clever and mocking throwaway lines, around all his madness about fish. I think this bit makes me think Shadowthrone: “Stolen? The house was empty, unclaimed.”
Hmm, that big reveal about Leoman is rather anti-climactic considering we’ve been calling him that since the first few pages of encountering Jheval. *grins*
Esslemont does write well the moment where Kiska realises who Jheval actually is—and, I must confess, I hadn’t considered the strength of emotion she might have. This did bring it home: “The man who lured the Malazan Seventh Army to its greatest tragedy in the city of Y’Ghatan, where a firestorm consumed thousands.”
I find it oddly funny that Kiska, Leoman and Warran all decide to effect their escape from the Liosan at the same time.
Bah, Pyke really is just scum, isn’t he?
Nice evidence that the Lady is starting to lose control thanks to all these new events kicking off across her lands.
Yet another reference, here from Blues, about the desperate state of the Stormguard: “Too many Riders, not enough guards.” At the 80% point of the novel, not a lot of time for them to right the ship.
Interesting how the Riders seem to be making a “special effort” here (and also going after workers?) Also interesting is Shell’s realization that the Riders “seemed more interested in damaging the wall itself than in killing anyone.” We’ve had several reasons to question the image of the Riders as evil demons, and this would continue to add doubt to that view.
It’s funny how one can have a sense of dislocation in this kind of reading, as when (for me) when Iron Bars accuses her of being sent by Skinner, and I want to go, “What? Didn’t you read Return of the Crimson Guard?” Oh, wait.
That bolt flying into Yana came almost literally out of nowhere and is an effective shock moment. I like as well what Esslemont does in having the shooter be a kid, driving home the impact of occupation and the untenable situations it places people in. As Rillish thinks later: “Occupation breeds mutual disgust, harden divisions, and brutalize all parties.” Luckly, this is “just” a fantasy novel and thus can’t be making any sort of statement or have any kind of relevance to the world we live in…
The Grey Swords seem a bit less insular than one usually thinks of military orders: “There are those of us who are selected to travel, to learn other ways, other philosophies… We do not follow the philosophy of purity versus pollution… Nothing is ‘pure.’” I also like how they look at that goal so broadly—“other philosophies.” Not just different military strategies and the like.
This conversation between Ipshank and Rillish answers some questions and certainly sets us toward our climax. I also like the way Ipshank dismisses so many of the fantasy tropes: no prophecy about Rillish, no secret link to a throne, no “chosen one” aspect. Which makes it all the more funny when he gives us a trope via introducing a bit of a “quest” mode, what with the three objects and the attempt to gain one (or is it more than one?) of them by a small group heading into enemy territory, accompanied by a mage (shaman) and a magic sword. It’s also nice to see Bakune’s imprisonment might (probably will) do him some political good. I admit, though, to being a little confused over Rillish’s concern about betraying Greymane by doing what Ipshank asks since Ipshank and Greymane had spoken and Ipshank says Greymane “agreed” with him by leaving Rillish behind. And it does seem a little convenient—the Lady simply “ignoring” the Shamans out of contempt.
Jorrude, if you recall, has not fared well in his encounters with non-Liosan: Onrack and Trull, Skinner and Cowl, Stormy and Gessler and some Malazan munitions. He is, therefore, a bit sour with regard to them and their poor “manners.”
That bit about “exposure to otataral” is a little clue with regard to the Whorl’s mage
Warran’s line about the hypothetical Hound finding him an “insubstantial meal” is cutely funny. I’m also a bit unsure about how long this mystery about his actuality is supposed to last in the reader’s mind. Especially when we get his later lines about Shadow being “its own realm,” which Kiska notes is delivered in a defensive tone, “the touchy insecure pride of the outsider or newcomer.” I’ll talk more about Warran’s mystery in our wrap.
Speaking of humor, I find L’oric’s scene to be rife with it, from his opening double-take when he sees Leoman to his complete obliviousness
And Suth’s growth continues—now taking on leadership positions, taking up principled stands, taking initiative.
Well, we can certainly see things are being moved into place as we near the end: we’ve got the questing group near their target, we’ve got the Army of Reform facing a crucial day, a landing on Korel that has always been described as a horrific concept, the Liosan preparing their assault on the Whorl and Kiska’s group escaping, The Guard starting to literally come together, Totsin’s treachery revealed and Gosh heading off to do something, all against the backdrop of the Guard’s desperation and being on the edge.
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.