Malazan Reread of the Fallen

Malazan Reread of the Fallen: Stonewielder, Chapter Eleven

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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 eleven 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.

CHAPTER SUMMARY

SCENE ONE

The Jourilan prepare for another assault and the Army infantry marches out to meet them. The attack goes poorly for the Army at first—the infantry is less capable without Martal and the Jourilan’s are able to tear down part of the “fortress.” But then someone appears in Martal’s armor, and the pikes slaughter the cavalry. Civilians from the city come out and slaughter the second wave of Jourilans from behind. The Army wins the battle and when Orman hails Ivanr as the new leader (“deliverer”), Ivanr at first refuses, then tells Orman he won’t like his orders, then when Orman says that’s fine, Ivanr tells him to halt the killing. Orman agrees, though he thinks there may be problems.

SCENE TWO

Greymane demands the fleet lands near Kor, despite the objections of Nok and Swirl, and they prepare for a dawn assault. Devaleth opens up her warren slightly and feels “Something is coming. Ruse senses it… It is immense… more [power] that I’d ever dare take, or even suspected flowed there for the taking.” She fears, though, she might have to try tomorrow.

SCENE THREE

The landing begins via small boats and Devaleth watches as the first groups are wiped out by the superior number of defenders, and then as the small boats themselves are taken out by catapults. The Moranth respond with a massive incendiary assault and more invaders land under cover of flame and smoke. Greymane appears and tells her she needs to take him where he’s needed via warren. They leave.

SCENE FOUR

They exit her warren on a flooded plain and find huge numbers of rotting corpses, which Greymane calls a “warning or lesson from Mael.” He tells her:

I’m going to do something Devaleth. Something I’ve been running from for decades. Something that terrifies me… Now I see there’s not choice… I was handed two ghastly choices decades ago, Devaleth. Mass murder on the one hand, and an unending atrocity of blood and death on the other.

When Devaleth responds that she would have tried to find a third way, Greymane says he tried, but it hasn’t stopped and now “It’s the only way to end it. A price must be paid.”

SCENE FIVE

The continue on to a beach—the “locus of power” in the area. Devaleth says she now understands why Greymane pushed everyone away, and he asks that she explains to Kyle and apologizes to Rillish, saying he deserved better treatment. He says goodbye, telling her they have until tomorrow to get everyone into the hills. He leaves and she thinks of how the forest will soon be “swept utterly away should the man succeed.” She heads back via her warren.

SCENE SIX

Passing by the corpses again, Devaleth notes their long limbs and narrow skulls, their very pale skin. Back at the landing, she employs her Ruse to throw ships onto land. When Swirl thanks her, she replies that it wasn’t her but “something abiding within Ruse. Something so immense the mere possibility of it allowed this.” She emphasizes for Shul to head inland for the highlands and the fleet to withdraw to the narrows by tomorrow. She heads back to the flagship, feeling the Lady’s “hate and poison.”

SCENE SEVEN

Ussü tells Yeull Greymane isn’t at the landing and is commanded to find him. He gets a horse and heads out, but senses Devaleth’s stunt before getting too far—so much power he wonders if an Ascendant had taken up a role, and he wonders where she got such power.

SCENE EIGHT

Warran takes Kiska via Shadow just past the “boundary threshold of the Whorl.” He tells her all directions lead to the center, returns her staff to her, then leaves, telling her to “remember the logic.” Eventually she comes across Leoman, who tells her he carries no vendetta, though he agrees she has no reason to trust him. Kiska spots a figure she thinks is Tayschrenn, but is not. Leoman greets him as Yathengar, Faladan, priest of Ehrlitan and acts as if he is loyal to the uprising still. They see some light and Leoman warns the priest of the Liosan’s attempts to destroy the Whorl. Yathengar says he’ll destroy them instead. As Kiska wonders if Leoman has turned yet again, Leoman gets her attention on their bat-guide flying overhead and when it drops into the abyss nearby, Kiska dives in.

SCENES NINE—TEN

Thanks to his imprisonment (a soft one thanks to smuggled gifts), Bakune’s stock is rising greatly among the people of Banith, and he’s been named a patriot of the struggle by the resistance. Karien’el appears in his cell, saying he’s there to break him out because he needs an administrator he can trust, explaining the Malazans don’t have the people to hold the land and so there’s already a power struggle and Karien’el intends to be part of it and also “enforce order.” Karien’el puts Bakune in a carriage and heads elsewhere. Bakune is shocked to learn he’s heading for the capital—Paliss, that Karien’el controls that city.

SCENE ELEVEN

Ivanr has no idea what to do with his new role as ruler of half of Jourilan. A young girl tells him troops are rounding worshippers of the Lady up and killing them. She leads him to where this is happening (people shooting victims like target practice), and Ivanr steps in to stop it, shocked that one of the killers is the young boy he had rescued earlier. The boy shoots an arrow into Ivanr’s chest and is then torn apart by the crowd. A bonecutter removes it, and when Orman and Hegil show up Ivanr tells them to stop the killing. The young girl enters and tells him news of his “death” has enflamed the entire area into more bloodlust. She helps him out to the Cathedral of Our Lady where, she says, the loyalists are fleeing, adding that the Stormguard garrison in Ring has come ashore. Ivanr finds the Cathedral surrounded by Reform people who are threatening to burn it down to kill all inside. He yells at the crowd to stop the killing. From behind, a Stormguard tells him he and his people “remain true in our faith. We are not afraid to die.” When he says they’re afraid of nothing, Ivanr argues they’re afraid of change, so afraid they’ll die rather than deal with it. When the Stormguard says they’re just waiting for the Lady to “collect us,” Ivanr wanders if this might be a deliberate blood sacrifice (“a thousand souls”) and decides he has to stop it. Ivanr slams his staff down to try and yells to the crowd to stop, then collapses, even as he senses a “roaring [and] the earth moved beneath him… rocking, accompanied y a great landslide rumbling.” He passes out.

SCENE TWELVE

Rillish and Kyle lead their group into the nest of tunnels and caves, “attacked” now and then by unarmed priests whom they simply tie up and leave. But at one stop, they are ambushed by Stormguard. Lard is killed along with many others until munitions are used, causing a partial collapse and separating Suth’s small group (Faro, Gheven, Manask, a few others). Suth takes charge, Manask says he’ll lead them out thanks to his “refined senses,” and Gheven uses his warren to leave and try and get help. They move on, hearing shouts and sounds of fighting now and then, coming across corpses (Len is one), fighting a few Stormguard themselves. They hear too many explosions for the munitions they’d brought according to Squeaky, but they don’t know why. Eventually, they stop to rest in a cave and are attacked by more Stormguard. Squeaky, fatally wounded, tells Suth Pyke took the munitions bag and ran off. Suth decides they’re going to find and kill him, though Faro says he’ll have to stick with the original mission.

SCENE THIRTEEN

Faro heads off on his own while the rest track Pyke. They find him held captive by almost a dozen Stormguard. The Stormguard leader kills Pyke, Suth’s group runs and gets chased through the tunnels until Suth and Corbin end up in a chamber, with Manask “guarding” the entrance. Keri shows up with munitions, the Korelri are killed or leave to regroup, and Suth, Keri, and Corbin head out, leaving an unconscious Manask behind for now.

SCENE FOURTEEN

Jemain tells Corlo the others are all dead, but he couldn’t bear to tell Corlo. Corlo says he’ll tell Bars the truth when he sees him on the wall later and that “one way or another” they will leave the wall. Jemain leaves. Tollen, who has overheard, informs Corlo that there are actually several Avowed held in the Tower, along with some Malazans he wants to free, and says they should not tell Bars since they’ll need him. Corlo decides he’ll tell Bars the truth anyway, having grown disgusted with lying.

SCENE FIFTEEN

Hiam tells Quint that the Malazans have pushed back the Roolians and are heading for the highlands. When he wonders if the Malazans might even attack the wall, Quint says the Stormguard will “crush them,” suggesting in fact that this is all intended by the Lady, something Hiam had never considered.

SCENE SIXTEEN

Ussü arrives and informs Hiam that Yeull is preparing to pursue the Malazans (the “other” Malazans that is). He then asks to use Bars in his rites, and Hiam agrees, saying Bars has finally snapped, even to the point of trying to kill his cellmate earlier. He orders a chamber prepared for Ussü to practice his sorcery in.

SCENE SEVENTEEN

The next days, Bars is brought to Ussü and arranged on the table, chained securely. Ussü opens up Bars’ chest, saying he is “motivated purely by curiosity and the pursuit of knowledge.” He is momentarily interrupted by an earth tremor, then he continues, slides his hand into Bars’ chest cavity to reach the heart, where he calls on his warren and feels an incredible rush of power. As he rides the power, he thinks: “There was something here—some mystery behind this Crimson Guard. They’d touched something. Something dormant, or hidden, with this vow of theirs.” Saving such speculation for later, he quests for Stonewielder, feeling him far to the west. He senses for a moment Greymane’s sword like “a molten puissance… a blinding sun-flare. The earth rolled about the man as if it were a cloth, shaken.” Ussü is stunned almost unconscious by the smallest twinge of that power and upon regaining his senses, rushes out to find Hiam.

SCENE EIGHTEEN

Ussü finds Hiam with Engineer Stimins and demands to know who named Greymane “Stonewielder.” Stimins says it was the indigenous people, who said Greymane fit a prophecy of the wall’s destruction: “the stone’s revenge against the wall.” Ussü explains that Greymane’s sword “channels D’riss directly… the might of the earth. And it has just been unsheathed against the wall… You felt the tremor… There is worse to come.” Hiam thinks him crazy at first, though he then wonders a bit about the prophecy. Stimins says he doesn’t like that it’s happening out west (if it is) and suggests requesting a status report from that region. Hiam agrees.

 

Amanda’s Reaction

I do think it is often better for a leader to be humble about the effect they have on their followers, than to assume anything arrogantly. I quite like Ivanr’s continuing pondering about why he is so needed:

“Too many looked to him for reassurance and a kind of guidance that, for the life of him, he felt he could not offer. Yet look they did, and so he must be here, though he felt a fraud and feared that somehow he would fail and betray them all.”

All of history (and most fantasy books) tells us that noble cavalry ignoring their essential foot troops when coming up with battle plans is not a wise idea!

Once again the Army of Reform here performs a maneuver that seems to be leading to disaster, but suddenly they achieve the destruction of the foes they battle! This has now been used multiple times, seeing it from Ivanr’s viewpoint—should we conclude that the man is an idiot, or that he is remarkably forgetful?

I didn’t see the citizens of the city rushing out to support the soldiers of the Reform, for sure. But it certainly creates more to the story of the Deliverer. I can see why Ivanr would have a cynical twist to his lips when he hears Orman say: “Your example turned the tide.”

Why does Greymane want to land particularly south of Kor? Meeting other troops there? Mirroring his previous invasion in a chance to change how things went the last time? Seems odd considering he is being advised against it by seasoned Admirals and his own High Mage.

A few times now this wild rising of power has been mentioned—Ussü experienced it, and now Devaleth when she reaches for Ruse: “Something is coming. Ruse senses it, or carries it like the gravid swelling of power before its release.” What is causing this? Is it because the power of the Lady is diminishing?

I certainly didn’t expect to see the Moranth and Malazans being cut down so thoroughly as they tried to force a landing—makes it clear why many of them figured they wouldn’t be coming back from this mission. Has echoes of the landings onto Normandy beaches during WWII.

Heh, the Moranth are like some ultimately battle deus ex machina, aren’t they? Things going wrong… pull out the Moranth and their munitions! I would like to know much more about this race, truly—why they’ve made certain alliances, where their knowledge of munitions comes from, what their goal is…

Greymane seems pretty sanguine about the death and destruction: “It’s ugly—there’s no way round it. Attacking a hostile shore? You can only push and keep pushing. It’s up to the troops now—they mustn’t flinch.”

Bah, still keeping the mystery of Greymane and his Stonewielder aspect. What was this choice he was handed? Is he something to do with the Stormriders? “I was handed two ghastly choices decades ago, Devaleth. Mass murder on the one hand—and an unending atrocity of blood and death on the other. Which would you choose?” It’s the whole Ozymandias thing all over again—do you kill millions to save billions? It really does look like Greymane will not be gracing our pages for much longer, though—it seems this mission is likely to bring his death, what with him giving instructions for Devaleth as to what she should tell Rillish and Kyle.

I imagine that scene where Devaleth calls the sea would look tremendous on film.

Again I ask, is the Overlord ill? Why is there not more concern being shown for him? “He always was unreliable—now, who knows what whim might take him? Things did not look promising.” Is it a degenerative condition, not magically caused?

Ussü seems to think this power of Devaleth’s is way more than she should have—he refers to it thus: “Ye gods, what was this? Ruse, awakening? Had an Ascendant taken to the field?” What is lending such power to the Ruse warren?

Yathengar—the name is familiar, but I’m damned if I can remember where I’ve seen this character before. Help please! Whoever he is, I’m guessing Leoman is just faking his good cheer at encountering him.

Still loving Bakune—his character and the fact that he is this coddled prisoner. This that Karien’el says tells all about Bakune really: “For example, I know you won’t waste both our time by scheming against me. Or trying to undermine my power to further your own.” This is Bakune exactly—even with having had his eyes opened a little more.

I do feel for Ivanr—but I think he needs to get a backbone and some direction, stat! “He was the inheritor of a polytheistic movement nurtured and prepared by Beneth, inflamed by the Priestess, directed by Martal, and now in control of over half of Jourilan—and it terrified him.”

The scene in Ring with the citizens and Reform soldiers firing arrows into those accused of worshipping the Lady is truly gruesome. And I felt such shock alongside Ivanr when he realises that the boy he saved and has been looking for is one of those firing the arrows and pin-cushioning the poor people.

Uh, what?! The boy then fires at Ivanr? That struck me dumb. Did NOT see that coming at all. Nor the scenes where Ivanr tries so hard, while grievously injured, to prevent the killing of those trapped within the cathedral.

Have to say, I did love the tense and claustrophobic running battle between Suth’s lot and the Korelri Stormguard. Was sad to say goodbye to a few of these characters, but I positively cheered when Pyke’s demise came. I was disappointed by him as a character, truly. Maybe I’ve been trained too well to expect mysteries and secrets from characters, when Pyke was merely a self-serving arsehole!

The torture scene of Iron Bars I could well have done without. Ye gods, I do hate torture scenes. Why do any of you like reading about Ussü? He just gives me the monumental creeps :-/

 

Bill’s Reaction

Ivanr’s place, up on the wall rather than in the ranks, shows his acceptance finally of his role, even if he is not all that comfortable with it. We are starting to see at the end of this novel several characters grow into their roles: Greymane will soon come to his acceptance, Suth continues to mature as a leader.

Shades of Patroclus and Achilles! Will we ever get to know who was wearing Martal’s armor? The way in which her memory serves to inspire certainly would seem to put some pressure on Ivanr.

I appreciate the detail in all these battles we’ve seen, and again, I’m going to bow to what I’ll happily assume is superior knowledge and research and time. But these scenes, unlike, say, the naval battle, just felt a little off to me, a little too carefully controlled/contrived, with a nagging sense that it works out a bit too neatly. Not a big deal as a reader, but noticeably felt.

I do like the civilians rushing out and attacking from the rear—that makes good sense to me. Though I would have liked more of a sense of the carnage I assume would be among them—even attacking a distracted army, fighting amidst horses, unarmored, against professionals. I know we get the word “carnage” and that the little girl who dies is somewhat representative, but I would have liked a bit more visceral of that sense. I did, however, enjoy the detail of the nobles expecting to play by their nice little “rules” of the warfare “game”—being helped off their horse, taken into gentle ransom, etc. Not today folks.

Speaking of that girl and a visceral sense, I don’t know if “enjoyed” is the word, but I thought Esslemont’s choice here was excellently done, with the whole dying moment set-up: field of victory, being held while the hero brushes hair from her face, the dreamy smile—then the viciousness of “Kill them all.” Nice shock moment to reveal the ugliness at the core of all this, “glorious” victory or not.

The moment when Ivanr looks up to see “Martal” gone and wonders “what would the story be?… Succumbed to her wounds this night? A sudden turn for the worse?” seems to me to be part of a running theme in this book, and in fact this series—the way myth arises from reality, and not just literal myth but “history”, allegedly “truthful” but born out of confusion and half-knowledge and bias etc. We see Greymane wonder the same in a little while, we see it in the stories of the Lady, and in other places here and throughout the Malazan world.

I would have liked a bit more on Ivanr’s transformation into losing “all tentativeness in blessing those who asked,” after his fears that began this chapter. Not a lot, but just a moment or two in his head as that shift occurs or he notices that shift once it already has happened. Especially as we seem to whipsaw a bit with those fears, then this, then his immediate and staunch “no” when told by Orman he “carr[ies] our banner.”

You’ll see why Greymane is so adamant on the landing site in the next chapter Amanda (though I still have questions). But a good reader is smart to wonder about it here.

While the land battles bugged me a little, this landing scene I thought was excellent, and I also had thoughts of D-Day, Amanda. I found myself wishing for a grunt’s POV as well as Devaleth’s here.

On their passage through the flooded plain covered in corpses, it appears to me that this is Mael showing Greymane the start results of what he intends to do, though I’m not sure why—is it to try and stop him from doing it? To make sure he fully understands? Or does someone have a different reading?

Speaking of Mael and the sea, what is that “abiding” presence within Ruse Devaleth mentions after her cool trick? Is that Mael helping Devaleth? Is it the Stormriders? Something else? But I’m with you Amanda on that being a great cinematic scene.

Wouldn’t have minded a bit more myself on that “handed two ghastly choices” (and I’m assuming he means literally “handed” here)

Another reason I like Ussü—someone needs to find what the heck Greymane is up to and he calls for a horse and heads out to do it. Say what you will about his methods (and there’s lots to say), he does take initiative.

Bit of ironic foreshadowing here: “Should these Malazans even gain a foothold, like a shallow wave they would break against the wall.” Hmm, yes, perhaps a shallow wave might.

Yathengar was the crazy mage who sparked the rent/void at the end of RotCG. From our reread:

Nil and Nether join them, along with Urko, as both sides have realized they’ll have to work together to deal with Yath and close the rent he opened into Chaos. They agree to try and kill Yath which they think/hope will shut the rent down… Tourmaline and Ho say a large blast might disrupt the growing rent and Tourmaline volunteers to do it. Nait agrees to help… A new mage [Tayschrenn] suddenly appears next to Nait, says he cannot allow this, and attacks Yath with incredible force. . . Tayschrenn tries to send Yath through the rent, but then Heuk realizes Tayschrenn is standing right near Tourmaline and the munitions. . . one of the attackers manages to strike Tayschrenn and then both Tayschrenn and Yath disappear into the rift.

Kiska’s bolt toward Yath seems a bit rash, even for her, in this place. Not to mention actually touching him.

Boy, Leoman does have a habit of ticking folks off, doesn’t he? Love that “bellow of pure outrage: ‘Leoman!’”

This whole scene with Ivanr is another of my favorite, from the ugly reality that a mere proclamation of “forgiveness” isn’t going to cut it with many of an oppressed group, to the details of that scene, to that agonizing moment when Ivanr realizes the one doing the target shooting is that young boy he found, to the jaw-dropping moment when the boy just shoots Ivanr, which I found wholly plausible and simultaneously wholly unexpected (and I confess, there is a large part of me that would have preferred Ivanr not surviving). Then the scene at the cathedral, the Stormguard preferring death over change. And then Ivanr’s moment of revelation that perhaps the deaths of those inside the building were a deliberate blood sacrifice. And then a great ending to the scene with the landslide and earthquake just being mentioned before we pull away. One of the better sections in the novel I think.

And though it’s of a different sort, I also thought the running fight in the tunnels was well done: the confusion and claustrophobia, Suth’s maturation into a real leader, Manask’s keen ability to find his way through the maze, not to mention his unique “disarming” method, Faro’s Indiana Jones moment of just crossbowing the stubborn Stormguard, the deaths that were pretty effective (such as Len and Squeaky’s), Faro’s heading off on his own, Manask getting stuck. Nice mix of fight scene and suspense and humor. Yeah, Pyke was pretty much an on-the-nose asshole, and often I wished he weren’t so obvious a role, but they do exist. Can’t argue that.

A few moments I really liked with Hiam and Quint. The reference to the communication beacon, which is going to be important later. Hiam’s almost elegiac line, “All is grey—iron-grey, both sea and stone.” His envy of Quint’s doubt-free life: “The Spear does not reflect—it strikes!” The idea that Quint is therefore the “pillar “ without whom the Guard will fail—a non-thinking pillar doesn’t seem like a great foundation to me. And that image of “Quint alone in the light of the guttering flame.” A bit end-is-nigh.

Hmm, a pair of traveling sorcerers whom the Lady did not destroy. Hmmm…

Why do I enjoy reading about Ussü, Amanda? He is creepy in many ways. But he also has a professionalism to him, a loyalty, a sense of responsibility, a perceptiveness, a recognition of what has happened to the 6th and himself. There’s a richness and complexity to him that I really respond to. And an intimacy to his POV we don’t get with a lot of the others, even though we’re in their heads at the time. He feels more like a fully realized character to me than many of the others—Kyle or Greymane or (in this book) Rillish, etc.

What is that “something dormant or hidden” that the Guard’s vow touches? Bit of a mystery tease there.

One interrupted by the very important news he has to convey about a weapon that “channels D’riss directly… The might of the earth [being] unleashed against the wall.”

Well, as Ussü says, “the end is coming”…


Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.

Bill Capossere writes short stories and essays, plays ultimate frisbee, teaches as an adjunct English instructor at several local colleges, and writes SF/F reviews for fantasyliterature.com.

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