Welcome back 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 one of Ian Cameron Esslemont’s Blood and Bone.
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.
Blood and Bone Chapter One
Saeng is on her way to what her mom calls “an early spinsterhood,” with her mother’s denigration of the villagers’ worship and Saeng’s own issues which have garnered her the name of “witch.” Her mom appears and tells her refugees are coming, fleeing from the west, adding that the Thaumaturgs are marching and impressing everyone they come across. She tells Saeng that according to their faith, the priestess must be in the temple, and she tries to persuade Saeng to find the Great Temple. Saeng though says the old faith is dead, nobody even knows where the temples are, and that her mom is being silly.
That night the Nak-ta called her more powerfully than ever, and then she hears an even louder voice she’s never heard before. She heads out into the forest and finds one of the Thaumaturgs’s giant soldiers—a yakshaka. She realizes the Thaumaturgs are indeed marching to the eastern highlands, “an advance on… the Demon-Queen’s demesnes.” The solider removes his huge helmet and reveals a scarred face, which she eventually recognizes as belonging to her brother Hanu. She asks what’s happened to him, and he shows her how his tongue has been removed. Saeng faints.
She wakes to find Hanu standing above her. They communicate via their childhood sign language and he tells her they are coming bringing danger. She realizes the Thaumaturgs will kill all servants of Ardata, including her. Then she understands Hanu has deserted to come warn her, making them both fugitives. She quickly gets some supplies and they head out. She senses the army of the Thaumaturgs far to the west and so she decides they’ll head north.
Murk and Sour, two former mage cadres who became Untan black marketeers and were recently arrested, were “rescued” by Spite in exchange for a contract with her. They’ve arrived offshore at the Dolmens with a group of mercenaries led by a solder named Yusen, whom Murk is sure was an officer in the imperial army at one point. Spite tells them to go ashore and reconnoiter the area, ordering them not to go inside the dolmen area. They land with about 50 mercenaries and discuss the possibility of treasure in nearby ruins. Neither has a good feeling about this job.
Spite eventually joins them and walks around the dolmens with a warren so open and powerful it hurts the mages to look at. They follow, and see an open plaza in the middle of the dolmens. It seems empty, but Murk’s mage sight reveals something “writing and coursing” under the surface of it. As Spite continues to ward the area, Sour suggests just running off, but Murk says he’s curious. Sour says really it’s Murk’s “wretched Shadow patron” who is curious, and Murk counters that so is Sour’s “little Miss Enchantress.” Yusen asks them to report and when they tell him Spite is interested in the dolmens, Yusen says he wishes that hadn’t been it, then tell them to stay on her good side.
K’azz, who had wanted to go alone, finally agrees to take a few Guard with him: Shimmer, Lor-sinn, Gwynn, Cole, Turgal, and Amatt. As the surviving Avowed gather, around 70 of them, she is saddened by the few left, and thinks as well of others not there—the Fourth gone missing in Assail, the forty with Skinner, and others imprisoned or stranded elsewhere.
As they journey toward Jacuruku, Shimmer wonders what is so important about the Dolmens of Tien, where K’azz had been held, and thinks it appears something inhabits the Dolmens that K’azz and Ardata think shouldn’t be disturbed.
The ship is struck by an iceberg amidst the “haunted… floating ice field.” K’azz suggests they put the ship on the ice to effect repairs, and when Rutana says they don’t have enough people, he points out they do have enough mages. She agrees.
As the near the “land,” Rutana tells Shimmer some call it the “Curse of the Demons of Cold. The Jaghut. Somewhere within, a shard of the frozen realm, Omtose Phellack, endures… And it hates us.—all who are not of their kind.” K’azz though says perhaps it’s the other way around, and Rutana agrees he has a point. That night, as they camp on the ice, Shimmer finds Turgal and K’azz looking outward, and they tell her they can sense the shard. They’re surprised she can’t even though she isn’t a mage (nor is Turgal), and she does wonder about how sometimes she does sense people before seeing them, and she does feel a bit of the Jacuruku’s power. She asks if it’s dangerous, but K’azz answers it is fading and might even be gone in another century. She wonders why now if it has already lasted so long and he wonders “perhaps we live now in an age where the old is passing away… Or does every age feel the same to those who live through it? Every age, after all, is an age of transition.” Shimmer just wants to get back to the tents because she is cold, a fact that surprises K’azz.
The repairs are finished in three days, and on the last night Shimmer wakens to the sense that something powerful was nearing. She finds the other Avowed also up and armed. An Imass appears, saying their presence drew it from its journey toward the east where the Imass have been summoned. He introduces himself as Tolb Bell’al, bonecaster to the Ifayle T’lan Imass. He says goodbye “until we meet again,” and disappears, leaving them to wonder what he meant by that.
In the capital of the Thaumaturgs, Golan Amaway is named general of the Army of Righteous Chastisement by the ruling Circle of Nine Masters. As he prepares to move toward Ardata’s territory—called by the ignorant peasants “the spirit realm of Himatan”—he tries to figure out a way to make the Isture (the Guard) take the worst of all the battles to come.
As they journey, the leader of the Isture, rumored to be once an “aristocrat in Ardata’s demesne… and so much more,” complains about their slow pace and asks to let his people scout ahead. Golan rejects the idea, thinking how he doesn’t trust this foreigner. After the Guard leader leaves, one of Golan’s scribes reports they are missing one yakshaka. Golan orders Cohort Leader Pon-lor to take some soldiers and look for it.
Skinner’s high mage, Mara, meditates and draws Obelisk, which makes her think, “All that is past. Yet here it stands before me.” She’s interrupted by news that they’ve captured a monk who says he has a message for her from his god. The man tells her his master (the Shattered God) is growing impatient and wants to know when their bargain will be fulfilled. Mara says soon, but the monk says that’s not good enough: “We demand action… The need grows ever more dire.” She answers she’ll push for action, and he warns her to do so, as “My master does not take betrayal lightly.” He exits, and Mara wonders why they even need “that stupid Kingship of Chains,” and if Skinner knows some “hidden way it could aid our final goal.” As she tries to calm herself, the Brethren appear before her, whispering “You swore… Always remember… Remember your vow.” Included in them is one named Lacy, who asks why Mara is so stubborn. Mara dispels the visions and burns up the image she’d drawn of Obelisk.
Jatal, prince of the Hafinaj, largest and most powerful tribe of the Adwami, rides into the war camp of Warleader, noting how many tribes the foreigner had interested in a council to discuss a united campaign against the Thaumaturgs. He meets Warleader briefly, whom he considers arrogant, and is shown where to keep his camp.
Jalal joins the others at dinner, meeting Ganell of the Awamir tribe, long allied to the Hafinaj, and Sher’ Tal, Horsemaster of the Saar, the Hafinaj’s traditional foes. Warleader speaks to them of how he’s heard of past failed attempts at unification, most likely due to an inability to agree on a single leader. He puts himself forward as an obvious solution—one who wouldn’t favor any tribe, and he asks ten percent of the haul for his soldiers. After an outcry of rejection, one from Princess Andanii of the Veharjarwi, Jatal suggests that at least here what might be the spoils before rejecting it outright. Warleader tells them he’s aiming to sack the southern capital of Isana Pura. The others are shocked at the scope of the idea. As they start to wonder about the feasibility, a shaduwam (a holy man) appears and warns them they’ll face a lot of Thaumaturgs in the ritual center of the capital. He carries a skull, making him an “agon,” one who according to Ganell “has enslaved his spirit to dark powers: the Fallen One, and the Demon King, the infernal Kell-Vor.” The Warleader finds the name “Kell-Vor” amusing for some reason, and then says he’s fine with the agon, since sorcery would come in handy fighting sorcery. Princess Andanii asks the agon what his price is for helping and he tells her a quarter of all the captives. The others coil in disgust at the idea of blood sacrifices and refuse. Since Warleader doesn’t intervene, the agon exits. Jatal bargains Warleader down to one-twentieth share and they all agree, though Warleader is angry over getting an equal share. Jatal, despite Warleader’s fury, thinks the mercenary gave in surprisingly easy. Jatal exits after a while and notes a glow out in the hills, which the guard dismissed as nothing. Jatal calls for whomever is in charge and the Warleader’s lieutenant Scarza joins him with some others to investigate. They find the campsite of the Agon, where he seemingly performed some sort of ritual magic and then left.
In an empty throne room, Osserc speaks to someone he calls “Usurper” (Shadowthrone). Shadowthrone tells him he’s quite busy, and Osserc tells him it doesn’t matter as he is off to talk to someone else. Shadowthrone asks who, but Osserc ignored him and leaves, frustrating Shadowthrone.
A deliberate mention of Osserc in the chapter heading to start us off, keeping his name at the forefront of our minds?
It’s quite nice to know that fantasy mothers also want to know why their daughter has not married yet *dry* I wouldn’t want to be alone in that!
Ah, isn’t human nature wonderful: “Burn her, for she is a witch… but if she could just ensure a good harvest before we get rid of her…”
I suppose if they knew that she was actually trying to protect the village as much as possible from the shades that they would find some way to blame her for it as well.
Quite heartbreaking, seeing where Hanu has ended up, and his reveal that he can no longer speak. Sign language? A private language between these two? I don’t remember that from before, so it seems ever so convenient!
A lot of inconsistencies here—his promise to protect her, but then coming to her and making them both fugitives; the sign language thing; the fact she thinks earlier about being taken as a witch but somehow forgot it here and needing Hanu to protect her. A little bit careless, this writing.
So Murk has unusually thin eyes—it seems that this description must be included to have the reader wonder what race he belongs to.
Spite is here? Daughter of Draconus? I don’t feel that this bodes well for the imminent future of Murk and Sour. As Sour remarks, “Something tells me we’re gonna earn our pay on this one.” Huh! Murk and Sour used to be part of the imperial mage cadre? That came as a surprise.
So are Skinner and Spite in league with each other, if they are both concerned with these dolmens?
A nice oblique reference to Ardata: “Gods, spiders. Did you hafta mention spiders? I got feeling all shivery when you said that. Don’t like it at all.”
And more hints about Murk and Sour, with their mention of the wretched Shadow patron and Miss Enchantress.
It feels as though we’re seeing the end of the Avowed—this group of those remaining feel like WWII veterans, reuniting periodically and seeing face after face disappear.
“From Rutana’s words, and her commander’s reaction, she gathered that something inhabited the Dolmens. Something that he agreed mustn’t be disturbed.” Anyone get the feeling we’ll be seeing said disturbance?
“The floating ice field … Haunted. No one goes near it.” Ooh, what’s the betting they’re about to go near it?
Based on the above, Esslemont can sometimes be a little heavy-handed with his foreshadowing.
That familiar green glow in the sky—interesting to step back in time to before we knew what it might be.
Why is K’azz not cold in the middle of a field of ice? That feels a little bit ominous.
Hmm, so Skinner has aligned himself and the Disavowed with the Thaumaturgs to some purpose? I’m not sure they’re going to be the best allies, especially with sarcasm like: “How could I possibly argue with such sound reasoning?” from Skinner.
Gosh, these Thaumaturgs are bureaucratic! I love this: “He would not even be surprised if there lay within the clerks’ long train of paperwork a sheet reading ‘General of the Army: one’.”
This encounter between Mara and the old man seems to suggest that she might be operating on her own, outside of what Skinner is expecting. That could prove interesting for the future, especially with the fact that she is in touch with the Crippled God’s representative.
Kell-Vor? Well, they might as well have just spelled out K-A-L-L-O-R with a honking great clue like that…
OK, now I’m hungry for that salad.
I like how Esslemont shows us very economically the typical hypocrisy/cognitive dissonance of people. We’ll shun you as a witch, call you names, and blame you for “every stillborn calf, every sick child, and every poor harvest.” Oh, and by the way, I hate Marcie—could you give her a wart on her nose please? Classic.
Apparently the ghosts of the jungle haven’t given up on “disappearing” unwary villagers.
I love the mix of suspense and humor with Saeng thinking as the yakshaka removes his mask, “They’ll blame me for breaking it!”
This act of Hanu’s was nicely prepared for, with his watching over in her childhood in the forest, his swooping down when she was almost dragged off to the High King, and his promise as he was taken away in the Choosing.
On the other hand, it seems a little weird that it takes Hanu to have her (or her mother) think of the idea that the Thaumaturgs might kill her as a witch, particularly since her thoughts earlier were centered on the problem her witchy reputation creates. I also can’t recall if we were told of their youthful sign language in the prologue—if not, we should have been. If yes, good. (I can’t check because I’m on the Kindle and it isn’t conducive to flipping back and browsing for something).
Nice name for a mage associated with Shadow: “Murk”. I also like their stage name, “Murk and Sour,” and the humor of how after becoming “unhealthily” notorious as black marketers, that began to be pointed out on the streets “as…well, as Murk and Sour.” And the wryness of how it being “long past time to leave the city” being proven by their arrest. And the humor continues with Sour’s predictions about the job they took on with Spite (making it clear as to how he got his nickname).
And might we see what is “writhing and coursing under the surface” of that seemingly empty plaza at the center of the Dolmens?
So Murk has Shadowthrone as a patron, while Sour has the Enchantress (T’riss) as one. Probably good to know.
I like the page or two of description we get of the journey, just because it’s nice to get a concrete sense of the world, the names of the oceans and land etc. And also because it was so sad when that girl and that poor starving artist fell in love and then danced so nicely at that belowdecks party, and then how the boy died when they hit an iceberg and the ship sank and… oh wait.
I do like the image here, of the ship cast up onto the ice field, the camping amidst the icy wasteland, and of course the eeriness and suspense about it being “haunted” and a final shard of Omtose Phellack.
Kazz’s lines about the fading power of the shard certainly speak to the larger themes/events of the series as a whole: “It seems that perhaps we live now in an age when the old is passing away.” Though he’s also probably right that it would seem like that to any age, and ever will it be so.
Another nice reminder of other things going on, with the meeting with Tolb Bell’al mentioning the Summoning. And a bit of some foreshadowing with the “until we meet again” line.
It’s hard to imagine this “alliance” between Skinner and the Thaumaturgs ending well, what with all the love and trust being shared between them.
Another nice bit of wry humor with the report of the missing Hanu.
More nice bit of setting up with the appearance of the Crippled God’s representative, the push for more speed, Mara’s skepticism about the relationship, the mention of a “final goal,” her difficult rejection of the Brethren. So many paths any of these could go, making it a wonderfully effective early segment.
We get a bit more about the Warleader. He’s an effective leader of soldiers apparently, as his army “crushed” several of the tribes. He’s arrogant. We know he has a past with Jacuruku and the Thaumaturgs. He doesn’t like being argued with. He’s amused by the name “Kell-Vor.” And as Jatal notes, he seems to have a larger agenda than gold.
The shaduwam’s appearance is an intriguing bit of culture on this part of the continent. It’s also interesting that he too seemed to find amusement by “Kell-Vor.”
Hard to imagine we’ve seen the last of the shaduwam.
And really, any chapter that ends with Shadowthrone comes to a great close.
After training and working as an accountant for over a decade, Amanda Rutter became an editor with Angry Robot, helping to sign books and authors for the Strange Chemistry imprint. Since leaving Angry Robot, she has been a freelance editor—through her own company AR Editorial Solutions, BubbleCow and Wise Ink—and a literary agent for Red Sofa Literary Agency. In her free time, she is a yarn fiend, knitting and crocheting a storm.
Bill Capossere writes short stories, essays and plays; does reviews for the LA Review of Books and Fantasy Literature, as well as for Tor.com; and works as an adjunct English instructor. In his non-writing and reading time, he plays ultimate Frisbee (though less often and more slowly than he used to) and disc golf.