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 epilogue 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.
A few notes: Amanda will add her final reaction in the comments section. Apologies for the mix-up on last post’s summary gap—bit of a miscommunication on our part. We’ll be back in January after the holiday break, perhaps with a Q and A from Cam (still working on that) and then we’ll be taking our usual between books break. And then delving into the penultimate book: Dust of Dreams, beginning sometime between Jan. 22–29. Thanks!
Suth rests aboard a ship returning to Quon Tali. He is questioned by Devaleth, though she assures him it is not an “official inquiry.” She asks to make sure no one touched the chest and they Suth had seen it actually fall into the sea. Turns out she’s a little worried about Manask’s thieving reputation, but Suth reassures her that Ipshank was watching. When she asks about Kyle’s departure, he replies the Adjunct had said something about going back home. She dismisses him after informing him (as she told Peles, who is standing right there) that Greymane had strongly praised Rillish before leaving. Later, Goss tells Suth he’ll be promoted to sergeant.
Fisherfolk, returning to Ring City after the flood, float over the Ring looking for the Stormguard’s keep, hoping to salvage what was left behind. Looking down into the Ring, they see “An armoured giant of a fellow in a full helm and holding, point-downwards on his breast, a great grey blade.” The young start talking about him being a guardian, which quickly morphs into “The Guardian,” there in case the Lady returns. They decide, “No one should come here at all,” so as not to disturb him.
Bakune is bored as he judges a case in the “newly sovereign Kingdom of Rool.”
Troops of Baron/General Karien’el catch up with the ex-Lord Mayor of Banith and ask him about all the treasure. The ex-Mayor tells a tale of being robbed by a “giant of a fellow. A giant!” Refusing to believe such an implausible story, the troops take the ex-Mayor for some stern questioning.
Ivanr, who has been (resignedly) leading a small group of followers and two wagons of the blessed Martyrs (Priestess and Black Queen) tells them here is their stopping point, where they will raise a modest monastery. When one of the followers such he should go back to the capital and rule, he refuses, as he does the idea to build the “mightiest monastery in the world.” He does, however, consider the idea of weapons training/”meditation”
Kiska wakes on a beach of fine black sand on the shore of a “sea of white light. Liquid brilliance shimmering and lapping.” Leoman, also there, calls it “the Shores of Creation.” He points out a giant “the size of a mountain” straddling the shore and moving a fortress-sized boulder. She sits, stunned at the sight. Leoman says he felt the same when he first saw it, then continues to say that for the first time, here he feels he can “sleep utterly at ease. Completely free of fear.” She refuses to just sit around doing nothing and stomps off.
Warran watches the Liosan army, “battered but victorious” return to camp. Cotillion appears beside him and asks if he’s done yet. Shadowthrone answers yes, saying, “The creeping loss of Emurlahn is not to be ignored . . No one steals from me.” When Cotillion argues “this was never a threat,” Shadowthrone replies he is too sure of himself. They fade out, with Cotillion saying they are “too busy for this.”
Kyle is aboard ship, leaving Fist behind and thinking he’ll head for home, “if he can find it. He wasn’t exactly sure where it lay . . . It had been years.” He wonders what he’d gained in his travels—“a weapon that brought him more attention than he wanted, new scars, and painful memories.” He considers looking up Stalker and the others from the Guard, then sadly recalls Greymane, thinking he (Greymane) had been right to leave him behind without saying what he was planning to do. He thinks then of Ereko, touching the tone he’d given him and wondering if that gift had been what protected him against the Lady’s magic. He is sick of “war and death and great powers grinding people underfoot as they groped for advantage,” and thinks again he’ll look up Stalker and his cousins, who were from the lands north of Kyle’s home on Assail.
A fishing boat south of Malaz Island sees a silver flash beneath, then pulls up a body that startles them with suddenly breathing and then asking to be brought to Unta.
Rillish returns home to his wife and children.
Mostly I enjoyed this section. Generally, I thought it concisely, quickly wrapped up some loose ends and gave us some closure on a few characters we’d still be caring about (one hopes) without spending a lot of unnecessary time and space on it.
Suth becoming a sergeant continues the maturation story line we’ve seen all along with him. I enjoyed Devaleth’s concern about Manask, especially considering the scene with the ex-Mayor to come. I love thinking of Manask making off with the treasury of Banith. I’m just very sorry he didn’t leave any parting words.
Greymane under the water (that’s the assumption I’m going with) continues that sense of peacefulness he had at the very end. I like that it is sort of made “official” by his posture here. And how he does in fact become part of myth now as “The Guardian.” And I enjoyed the eye-rolling of Ernen at how one myth immediately replaces the last one and now it’s still forbidden to go near the Ring.
Kiska’s scene, rather than giving a sense of closure, opens things up a bit—where are they? What is this shore? What is that giant? Good to have the book not completely close off at the end.
I don’t know if anyone by now is shocked that this was Shadowthrone, but it was pretty contingent upon Esslemont to give us the reveal, and it’s lightly humorous. One does have to wonder what they are so “busy” with.
As with Shadowthrone, it seemed this was meant to be a bigger reveal—the whole Assail thing—than it feels to be. It’s already been mentioned, so I’m not sure why we get the italicized “Assail,” as if one can hear the accompanying organ chords. Duh Duh Duhhh! I did like the callback to Ereko though.
I’m not quite sure why the ambiguity at the very end with the body, but I’m working on the assumption that the body is Rillish and that the “bright flash” was a Stormrider bringing him here. It’s possible I’m not remembering some reveal in a later book, but this is what I’m going with here. And maybe it’s a bit sappy/sentimental, but I like the ending. So there.
Bill’s Whole Book Response:
I thought when I read this the first time it was the best of Esslemont’s works to this point, and I can’t say I’ve changed my mind in the reread. I still have issues with some things, but I found a lot to like in this. Here are a few thoughts on both.
Manask: Gives a run for funniest single character (others often play as part of a duo, so he might be the funniest solo) and I would happily have spent more time with the big fella. I am, however, glad that Esslemont erred on the side of restraint with him; I’d rather be left wanting more than thinking, all right already, enough with the large guy’s one-liners!
Ussü: This comes as no surprise, but he really was one of my favorite characters in this novel and one of my favorite Esslemont creations overall. Like Manask, albeit for different reasons, I would have happily spent more time with him Amanda is right in that he does some creepy things, but for all the reasons I gave Amanda last time, he really was a fascinating character for me, compelling in his mix of good and bad, for his intelligence and insight and sense of loyalty and curiosity.
Hiam: Like Ussü a compelling character for his shades and layers. A man who does terrible things in the service of what he perceives as a greater good (similar to Ussü somewhat). A man with a code, with a sense of nobility and dedication and loyalty, a commander who cares for his people, a man of faith. Yet also a man who enslaves, who is unthinkingly cruel, who is constantly doubting his own faith. I think for the reader, knowing what we know of the Lady (not the whole CG thing—more on that later) and coming from our perspective, we always feel a bit of trepidation for that moment when Hiam finds out, as we’re almost sure he will. And that moment pays off big time I think at the end, what a soul-crushing epiphany to have, to find out you are the monster, and have been the monster all along, that all you stand on is illusion. Great character put into a great situation (for a reader)
Quint: Not so much in his own right, but as the mirror/contrast to Hiam. The man of perfect faith, the constant reminder to Hiam of his own imperfect one and a reminder too of the burden of thoughtful command.
Suth: more than a little familiar, but I still enjoyed his storyline and gradual maturation into the military life and a leadership position, his growing understanding of what war is and what it requires.
Warran: I had figured him out pretty early my first time through, so for me it was just the enjoyment of his lines coupled with knowing who he really was, and thinking of Shadowthrone always brings a smile to my face.
Devaleth: not a lot to say about her save I enjoyed her scenes and found her likable. I also found it a point in her favor that she was willing to turn against her conditioning, to see
beyond it, unlike say Hiam or Quint.
They Synod: similar to Manask, Esslemont was probably right to err on the side of restraint with this group, but I thoroughly enjoyed their scenes and could have done with a few more. I liked the characters and the situation they found themselves in and the pick-them-off-one-at-a-time plot.
Pacing and structure: For the most part, I found the pacing to be smoother than the earlier books. It lagged here and there, but not much. A lot of people have commented on how Kiska’s plot line sticks out a bit, and I would definitely agree with that. It feels grafted on and not really an organic part of this novel. That said, while I did feel that way, as mentioned I enjoyed hanging out with Warran, so that was OK with me. Otherwise, I thought the shifts in POV and the balance were mostly handled smoothly and effectively.
The imagery: there were some wonderfully vivid scenes in this novel, some huge and cinematically grand, such as the landing and Devaleth’s wave. Others quieter but no less impressive, such as the snowfall and ice glazing on the tower near the end. I think in this aspect especially Stonewielder was a real jump forward.
The Malazan 6th. I loved the idea of a Malazan group actually going rogue (we’ve had a few teases) and really liked how they were presented as being shadows of themselves now that they have been on their own for years—that same sense of loss and decay and concern for the future that we get from the Stormguard (it’s interesting that both are “invaders” gone native). I wouldn’t have minded even more from their perspective and would have liked to have see more direct interaction between them and at least some members of the current Malazan force.
Some storylines/themes: I really liked how sense of doom/decay that held over the Stormguard, the way one always had a sense that we’ve caught them at a really bad moment, always a bit behind. Behind in repairs, behind in numbers. I could have lived without the references to the prophecy; I’m not sure they were necessary or added much. But the whole atmosphere of quiet desperation was very well done I thought. And just the darkness of all that effort put into a lie. Even as a write that I can feel the heaviness of that burden. One of my favorite aspects of the novel.
Greymane’s end: The whole sense the horror that has to be done and again, the burden of that upon someone. I wish it were fleshed out more, but the ending itself I felt played well.
Bakune: I really liked the idea of this character when he was introduced. And I liked his slow awakening to reality. But after the first few instances, it felt as if he were dropped too much and his character, which seemed to me to have great potential, never matched that potential. It didn’t help that his whole “mystery” about the killings seemed a bit self-evident. I so much wanted more done with this character.
Karien’el: Another character I really liked and would have liked to have seen more done with. He too seemed to get dropped a bit too early.
Kyle: He just doesn’t do much for me to this point. Though he is the Adjunct here and takes the point, he still seems flat and at times passive to me, and is more a conduit for action and power than an initiator of such. And his bit at the end about being sick of war is so well worn an idea, and I care so little about him as a person, that it doesn’t have the impact on me it should.
Crimson Guard: Save for Corlo’s inner turmoil, which I really liked, this plotline, while I didn’t dislike it, also didn’t do much for me. I know on my first read I was never in much doubt about its resolution, so it lacked any narrative tension or urgency. And because we didn’t spend much time with them as characters, it didn’t have much emotional impact.
Kiska’s plot: Were it not for Warran’s presence, I might have had more complaints about this story. As it is, I enjoyed it for those moments of Shadowthrone-dom, but otherwise it was a bit of a side-point without not a lot of urgency to it despite protestations by the characters to the contrary. I did like running into L’oric again.
Ivanr’s storyline had its moments, but overall just didn’t wasn’t very compelling for me. He was very passive (and I get why but still), there were some repetitive points to it, and the battles didn’t do much for me.
Sometimes I wonder if all the ambiguity is really necessary. I like having mysteries, I like having aspects not explained, but at times it seems that there’s more of a middle ground than we get and that the ambiguity robs the novel at times of some potential impact.
On a trivial note—the body the fishermen pick up at the end. On a somewhat larger note, concealing the identities of Leoman and Shadowthrone. And on a much bigger note, the whole Lady/Stormrider issue.
I can understand the idea that we’re coming in not even in the middle of a story but at the end, but even at the ends of stories, people still think about or talk about what happened beforehand. I can’t guarantee it, but I have the feeling that much of what happens at the end would have more impact if I knew more about what had happened with Greymane earlier, more about what the Stormriders are, more about their ancient enmity with the Lady, etc. Again, I don’t need an encyclopedic history, don’t want one, but not only would it have (I think) benefitted me as a reader in terms of caring about events more, but it also would have relieved me of that feeling of authorial manipulation by having characters so clearly avoid talking/thinking about things.
As for the Lady, we get this from the Guard:
‘A fragment of the entity charading as the Lady,’ said Shell.
‘A fragment?’ Blues repeated, alarmed. ‘As in the other name for the Crippled God … the Shattered God?’
So this seems to imply the Lady is the CG (a piece of him). I’m going to go with the idea, akin to what we’ve seen in similar cases earlier, that once upon a time there was a little old island deity who got melded with a big piece of the CG. The sea-folk say they “know the Lady by her ancient name. Gozer Shrikasmil—the Destroyer.” Now, it’s possible the CG fragment wholly took over the deity (Shrikasmil) and that is what is meant by masquerading. But I’m not quite sure why the Lady still sees the Stormriders, who had already been attacking the island and who had already been said to have been defied by the Lady, as her “ancient enemy.” So maybe it’s more of a melding, again, as we’ve seen before. Though reading that line about the ancient enemy, it isn’t clear she is referring to the Stormriders. Greymane says the Stormriders argue the Korelri were preventing them “access to their own territory and blocking some kind of ancient obligation,” though again, they were already attacking the island even before the Guard and the Wall and according to the prologue, one character thinks the Lady is seen as protecting the island settlements. Have I mentioned it’s all a bit ambiguous? I think the pieces are definitely CG pieces. I’m just not as definite about the self-aware Lady and the relationship to the CG or the Stormriders. And that’s the area I would have liked, not “certainty” (an evil word in this series) but a bit more to work with as I come up with several possibilities—I like the several, but I want them more solidly speculative than all this feels, if that makes sense.
OK, I’ll stop there and continue in the commentary. We’re also trying to get Cam to join us as usual—more on that when we hear.