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 Part One of Blood Follows.
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 for going forward:
1) The reading order for the novellas will be as follows:
- Blood Follows
- The Lees of Laughter’s End
- The Wurms of Blearmouth
- The Healthy Dead
- Crack’d Pot Trail
2) Thanks to it being the summer, and Bill being on his usual long trip, the novella re-read will not be in a single continuous run. Instead, we’ll be reading the novellas with some time off in between each, though how long and whether that will be true for each is up in the air.
3) Since these are so much shorter than the novels, we’ll probably be covering each in two or three posts.
Bells peal out over the city of Lamentable Moll marking yet another in a series of murders taking place over 11 consecutive nights. The city is littered with barrows and seems to have restless dead.
Emancipor Reese comes home to his wife and after a brief fantasy of fleeing her, his kids, and the city via ship, tells her the bad news that he has no job, since his employer was the murder victim. She sends him out immediately to get a new job and as he wanders the streets he thinks about the perverse murders—the victims being “horribly mutilated” and all “missing parts.”
Sergeant Guld, in charge of the investigation of the murders, looks over the crime scene with a court mage, Stul Ophan, who tells Guld the murderer is a skilled sorcerer, “powerful in the necromantic arts.” and also that he’s “reasonably” sure it’s a man, though there’s something odd about the “feel.” Guld worries that the city is on the edge of panic. He surveys the crowd, noting two rat-hunters, an old witch carrying a bunch of dolls, an armoured foreigner and wonders if any of them are the murderer, come to gloat quietly.
Emancipor sits in the Savory Bar with his two friends Kreege and Dully. The two discuss how King Seljure’s hold on the throne is a bit “wobbly” since the Jheck took Stygg and are now just across the water (though luckily for Theft the Jheck apparently burned all of Stygg’s ships, ones they could have used to cross). Kreege complains about Seljure’s “sex-starved” daughter as his only heir, and about the nobles and the priests—“a classic case of divided power squabbling and sniping over the spoils of the common folk.” They turn to Emancipor’s bad luck and joke about Hood picking Emancipor as his Herald, based on the fact that his last several employers all met untimely deaths. When Emancipor asks where his friends have gotten their sudden riches, they explain they’ve been hired to take the murder victims out to the strand, though their real money comes from selling the crabs growing fat on the corpses. Dully tells Emancipor about a job posting in the market square and Emancipor heads down to check it out.
Emancipor, more than a little drunk, finds the notice, which has a lethal glyph embedded in it to stop anyone from tearing it down. The job is for a manservant, which he isn’t thrilled with, but the requirement to travel is enticing. He staggers over to Sorrowman’s Hostel and, after vomiting in an offering bowl for D’rek, is taken up to the rooms of his potential employers. There he meets Bauchelain, who is suitably impressed at his litany of dead former employers. Bauchelain asks if Emancipor is OK with working nights and sleeping days, and with travel, and Emancipor says he’s fine with both. He’s hired at an astounding sum, and when Emancipor asks about Bauchelain’s obvious roommate, Bauchelain tells him Korbal Broach is a “very unassuming man” and Emancipor will pretty much be solely attached to Bauchelain.
Guld stands in the abandoned tower of a decade-old mage, still abandoned partially thanks to rumors Guld spread (he likes it as a vantage point). The mage, Sekarand, had appeared when the Malazans had invaded Theft (on the other coast under Greymane) and was paid to defend the city, but was seemingly killed by the liches he himself had raised, one of whom still hangs around in the cellars, having sworn some shades to its service (Guld has the shades moan now and then to keep folks out of the tower). One of the shades tells Guld his master is afraid of the killer as well. Signal lights from his guardsmen tell Guld yet another murder has taken place; he leaves the tower to investigate the crime.
Bauchelain has spent the night writing symbols on some strange slate as Emancipor cleaned up and oiled/repaired Bauchelain’s hauberk. When he opens up a crossbow (with ensorcelled bolts), he remembers his experience as a soldier on the battlefield of Estbanor’s Grief versus an invasion by Korel. Bauchelain admits to being a sorcerer, then divines Emancipor’s death, telling him it isn’t for some time and he dies laughing.
I confess that I rarely, if ever, read any of the side novellas that authors write to accompany their series (like the Dunk and Egg ones for GRRM). I don’t know why, but the novella has never been a format of writing I’ve really got behind, so this is going to be a very new experience for me.
Ah, look at the way that scene is set, with the deliberate choice of words to present where we are—with words like clamouring, grimy, choppy, grey, shrill, hysteria. Just picking those words out of the first paragraph shows us exactly the tone and mood of this setting and it’s so gracefully done.
And then the ominous feeling as we see the shades who have answered the call of the bells sensing something and fleeing back to their barrows. That can’t bode well.
There’s something amusing and wrong about seeing Emancipor Reese referred to as ‘Mancy! Certainly this little picture into the kind of home life he has—his wife insisting on a certain standard of living, constant reference to the ‘squalling, simpering brats’, her particular brand of sympathy when being told he is now unemployed—gives a sense of why Emancipor might at some point want to turn his back on all of this.
Just the use of the phrase “when there were eyes” gives this reader a little shudder as to the nature of the mutilations and deaths that are haunting the city.
I love that the frustration of the never-ending tolling of those bells is put across so well, especially with this: “Go and find the monk on the end of that rope and wring his neck.”
Bless that young lad who is being addressed as well, with details like the short sword at his side still being wax-sealed in the scabbard—clearly not ready for action, and now on a murder investigation.
Ha, I love the idea of this diviner sent out to gather information about the nature of the murderer is usually a petty bureaucrat mage, using his powers for administrative purposes. And then the idea that it’s just fine to use rats to find out information, but pigeons are a step too far.
I like Guld pretty much immediately, from his harried frustration with the bells, and his clear-eyed appraisal of who the murderer might be. I’m impressed, once again, by how easily Erikson can shade in a character with just a few choice paragraphs. One of the few other authors I know who can do this is Stephen King—where you have a real feeling about a character within a page or two. It’s done with sentences like this: “…Guld ordered, and though only a sergeant of the City Watch, the command was answered with a swift nod.”
Oh, that last line—“Oh damn, did that lad take me literally?”—made me chuckle.
Hmm, seeing these wharf rats—Kreege and Dully—talk with such panache about the state of the city and the role of the ruling nobles comes across oddly. On the one hand I can see the humour of these ragged men saying things like: “…a classic case of divided power squabbling and sniping over the spoils of the common folk” but on the other it all feels too intelligent for what they are presented as being. Mind, I guess we can draw a parallel with the man in the pub talking about government immigration policies! (sorry, that was very British of me—you’ll have to translate suitably into an American equivalent!)
This little run through of Emancipor’s previous employers is amusing and done well, especially with our ‘Mancy giving reasons as to why each of the deaths was a) not his fault and b) not bad luck, just circumstance.
With what we’ve seen of Bauchelain and Korbal Broach in the main series, I did have to grin at the words: “Travel involved” on the advertisement of employment. Emancipor certainly ends up seeing more of the world than I think he ever intended.
If Emancipor was not so thoroughly drunk, then perhaps he might have had a sense of foreboding at the fact that the scribe says: “Burn knows, it’s the only way I’d show up to work for them two.” As in, stinking drunk.
This made me laugh out loud: “Emancipor cleared his throat. “Most excellent sir!” he boomed. Too loud, dammit.” It reminded me of times I tried to sneak back into my parents’ house when I was drunk, and would have to try and address them without appearing so.
And this is followed by a snicker as Emancipor gives his references from his previous employers: dead, dead, dead, sixty fathoms down. Man, this is fun reading. It’s a joy.
This interview is the best:
“Why, I can read Mell’zan!”
“No, Mell’zan. The Empire, you know.”
Hahahahaha, Emancipor is really helping himself here:
“Now, as to the pay—”
Emancipor smiled helpfully. “I’m dirt cheap, sir. Dirt cheap.”
Oh, and then Erikson can switch from that humour and brilliant dialogue to prose like this: “It was the call of the season, when the sky seemed to heave itself over, trapping the city in its own breath for days on end. The season of ills, plagues, rats driven into the streets by the dancing moon.”
See, more about Guld that I’m enjoying—his use of the shades in the tower to moan and howl occasionally, to keep away the curious.
So far, this is a blast of a reading experience. Looking forward to more. How many of you readers are coming to these novellas for the first time like me, or did you pick them up ages ago?
That’s a great opening to this story, with the bells pealing and I absolutely love the name of the setting—“Lamentable Moll”—both for its sound quality (really, just say it out loud a few times and listen) and its tonal quality or atmosphere setting. And how can you not look forward to a story set in a city filled with plundered barrows? Beyond the bells, the name, and the barrows, we get a more direct hint of something bad going on by the behavior of the shades, who appear frightened of something, though we don’t know what. But anything that can frighten the dead can’t be good. And then we get the answer—“murder.”
We’ve of course seen Emancipor before, so it’s a bit of a surprise to see not the harried, nervous Reese of the novels but the more active 50/60-ish man with an old broadsword hanging on his wall.
Family life, however, doesn’t seem to be so great for Emancipor, as we’re introduced to him with a near-immediate fantasy of leaving his family behind, and the city, and taking ship anywhere, just to escape. Reading this now, we can only think be careful of what you wish for; it may come true.
Just as we know what’s in store for Emancipor, hearing that someone is killing people and mutilating bodies will automatically raise some suspicions in our head as to just who might be involved.
That’s a nice segue from Emancipor thinking how death would at least bring silence, especially from those damn bells, to Sergeant Guld (jokingly) ordering his corporal to strangle the monk pulling on the bell rope.
More suspicions about our murderer, knowing it’s a necromancer. And a strangely genderless one at that.
So it appears that along with a “How did Emancipor meet with Bauchelain and Broach” story, this might be a murder mystery as well. We get the murder, the news it isn’t an isolated case, a few clues, and then even a line-up of sorts, as Guld presents us with a list of possible suspects (unless these people are a red herring): the beggar, the rat-hunters, the old witch, the armoured foreigner.
So a murder mystery, some obvious horror elements as well, what with the barrows, the ghosts, the mutilated bodies. But also some humor, as with this closing line to this scene, with Guld panicked that maybe the dim corporal really did strangle the bell-pulling monk.
Dark humor to be sure, but still humor (I found it funny at least).
We get a sense of timing for the story from this conversation in the bar—clearly this is taking place before our main series of novels,with the reference to Greymane at the head of the invasion force. And while some of this sounds familiar—Jhek, Korel—we get a lot of new references as well (or at least references to things I’ve wholly forgotten) such as Stygg. Captain Mad Hilt, etc.
The dark humor continues, with Emancipor’s listing of dead employers (you’d think that would give pause to anyone thinking of hiring him) and then his friends’ confession that they’re selling crabs grown fat on the bodies they’re dumping. This humor is my favorite part of these novellas.
In that vein, I love that Bauchelain wards his job notice with a death sigil. Yeah, that’s not a tad extreme.
I love this whole interview scene. Emancipor showing up drunk with a busted nose. His “offering” to D’rek, his confusion about whether he’s interviewing for the job or was already hired and he’s forgotten in a drunken fog, the list of “references” (Dead. Dead. Dead. Sixty fathoms down), Emancipor’s slip that he was “the last one” to see Baltro alive, the way his description of yearning for the sea makes Bauchelain seasick, the “negotiation” over salary, and what may be my favorite exchange in Blood Follows:
“I’ve never had a complaint”
“I gathered that, Mister Reese.”
It’s all so dry and economical. And all so funny.
I love too how Guld has spread rumors about the tower to keep it to himself, and has the shades wander around howling and moaning to deter potential squatters/explorers.
Hmm, do you think the Lich is really “Bursting with Wit?” Even the shades are funny in this story. Though again, that a newly risen Lich, with shades as his servants, is afraid, is not a good sign re this murderer.
Well, we as readers coming at these stories at the point we are, know that Emancipor is destined to have some years of life left, since we see him still in the employ of our two sorcerers, but that nugget of info has to be of some comfort (at this point at least) to Emancipor. Though knowing what we know about his life as their manservant, one has to wonder about that dying laughing. Is it “funny ha-ha” laughter, or the desperate “of course it ends this way” laughter? I know which way I’m currently leaning.
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.