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 two 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 Two
Golan’s army suffers its first attack, something from a “fanged monstrosity… an opening move from Ardata.” Golan asks Skinner where he and this people were, and skinner nonchalantly replies “elsewhere.” Golan orders them to track down the servant of Ardata and kill it, but Skinner says it was just upset they’d entered its hunting grounds. Golan insists and Skinner agrees, thinking it silly. As Skinner heads off, Golan thinks he wouldn’t be crushed if Skinner and the beast kill each other.
Skinner tells Mara, Shijel, and Black the Lesser (Black the Greater, his older brother, is still with the Avowed) their task, and all equally disgusted by the uselessness of it, they follow the trail. At its end, the opening to a series of caves, Skinner bemoans the loss of Cowl, whom he says could have been sent in by himself to deal with it. Mara thinks how the two of them—Skinner and Cowl, used to strategize together and how now Skinner “was well and truly utterly alone. And… even less human because of it.” They enter and Mara is just able to sense a hidden seething mass of insects that would have stripped the flesh off their bones in seconds, not divers but “enchanted.” Skinner sighs at the evidence they’ve entered Ardata’s famed magic forest of Himatan. Their prey suddenly attacks, wounding Black and being wounded in turn by Shijel. They corner it and when Mara asks why it attacked, it tells her that’s a stupid question, then referring to Skinner as “Betrayer,” tells him he was foolish to return. In reply to Mara’s repeated question, he answers he honors his mistress, adding to Skinner “Himatan will swallow you.” Intrigued and disturbed by the seemingly prophetic nature of the statement, Mara starts to ask more, but Skinner kills it, before it can say more, much to her dismay. On the way out, he tosses the body into the insects. Mara is nauseated by the act and/or its result
Saeng wakes and she and Hanu eat then head out, with her learning that he needs almost no sleep and no food. On their way they flush a large white rhino that knocks Hanu down and then continues on in fear. At the first village they come to, Hanu hides at the outskirts, and Saeng enters only to find it being swept clean by bounty men—those who impress solders for the Thaumaturg army. She meets their leader, Kenjak Ashevajak the Bounty Lord, whom she’s heard stories of.
As the bounty men eat, Kenjak mockingly asks Saeng to tell him the stories she’s heard, and she replies she can tell his future instead, admitting to some “small talents” as a witch. She mind-contacts Hanu telling him to stay hidden and let her deal with this, then tells Kenjak she sees his death. To her surprise, she actually does, and she adds he will die underground. Screams break out at the outskirts of the group and sensing the Nak-ta (the ghosts) Saeng orders them away, but they tell her the “violence of her thoughts” summoned them. Blue flame appears on her body and Kenjak tries to stab her but when she just touches him, he flies across the room, as does everyone else. The Nak-ta claim them but Saeng orders the ghosts to leave them alone and they obey, “for now.” Hanu arrives and picks her up to carry her away while the people are restrained by the ghost fire. He simply walks through the ghosts, seemingly unaffected and also unable to see them.
Aboard ship, Shimmer asks K’azz about the Dolmens, and he will only says “A wild power that mustn’t be disturbed” lies there, emphasizing there’s no way Ardata would lie about it. After K’azz leaves, Rutana joins Shimmer and asks if she and K’azz are lovers, explaining after Shimmer says no that Ardata is interested in him. When Shimmer asks if it’s the same as Ardata was interested in Skinner, Rutana angrily replies that “Her offer was genuine! He betrayed her,” though she refuses to say what the offer was. A dhenrabi is spotted and before Cole can shoot it, Nagal stops him, calling them idiots for risking the anger of their guardians. Rutana explains they obey Ardata whether out of service or worship.
They reach land a few days later and anchor at the mouth of a large river they’ll have to travel up. In the water are carved totems with human heads hanging from them, warnings, Rutana says, against bandits and pirates drawn by legends of the City of Gold: “paved in jewels, immortality, and inestimable magical powers.” Shimmer calls them just stories, but Rutana says there’s a kernel of truth, that Jakal Viharn is “a very magical place” but also very hard to find, though perhaps the Avowed could reach it on their own.
Jatal notes how poor a showing the Adwami and other tribes are making in their raids, admitting to himself that only the Warleader (and his officers) have been able to keep them organized and disciplined, though the Warleader is clearly becoming impatient, especially with the petty scheming and squabbles among the tribes. Impatient himself at the slow pace, Jatal scouts out ahead and then camps by himself, though he wakes to find Scarza next to him. The lieutenant tells him the Warleader was worried about the prince’s safety. Jatal informs him princes are common as sand grains among the Adwami. He asks Scarza if he is indeed of the legendary Trell/Thelomen, and Scarza replies only legendary in Jacuruku, where Jatal’s ancestors killed them all. Jatal blames the Demon king, pointing out he was punished by the gods. Scarza says being cursed to wander eternally doesn’t sound like much of a punishment. When Jatal asks how Scarza will keep up with him without a horse, Scarza answers he can keep up with any horse, adding that Jatal is quite easy to spot on his horse. Jatal replies he could jus tell his horse Ash to go back to his friends among the Hafinaj if he needed to be more discreet. Scarza’s impressed.
The next day he’s joined by Princess Andanii, who says she’s also scouting. He tells her this isn’t some recreational outing, and then apologizes for the slight, recognizing she has raided before. They have a nice moment (she tells him she’s glad he was the prince the tribe sent), and Jatal is a bit flustered. Andanii tells him she came out to speak alone because in front of others they are bound by “tradition and history and the confines of our roles.” She hopes when all is done they can put aside “even more of the traditions that have hobbled our two families.” She leaves and Jatal is stunned at thinking she is proposing unifying their families. He thinks she had made the same proposal to his brothers and they’d turned her down, though he’s unsure if they were right to spurn her as an enemy or if they were wrong and just stubbornly hidebound.
When a passing mercenary gives him a mug of hot tea in the cold, Murk is sure he was right thinking they were all former imperial soldiers, who had always taken care of the mages (“always an even trade”). He thinks they might be Fourth or Eighth (Fifth he’d know or vice versa). Spite calls him and Sour over to meet with her and Yusen, telling them they’re going “down.” When Murk objects that they hadn’t signed up for tomb stealing, she slaps him down and then leads them in amongst the pillars. She starts the soldiers to digging at the base then tells Murk and Spite to find her a way into the sandy plaza. Using their warrens to look, they see it as “a pit—a hole that opened on to the bottomless Abyss itself… agitated by something contained within… [and a] storm of Warren-energies that lanced and flickered about… and converged on whatever lay ensnared, imprisoned, at the very centre.” They realize this is a “Chaining. A prison constructed by an assemblage of the world’s most powerful practitioners of any one age… to contain the various scattered fragments of the Shattered God.” Their patrons—Queen of Dreams and Shadowthrone—don’t like them being there much but that’s about it. Murk scouts it out while Sour keeps a sharp eye and then they go find Spite. They say she can get in but not sure about getting out, but she says she can take care of that. Murk also tells her to sop digging—break the bonds and the whole thing goes into the Abyss. They agree to just break two bindings. Spite leaves and they inform Yusen, who isn’t so pleased about the whole thing.
Inside the Malaz Dead House, Osserc is pleased to have finally gotten into an Azath House, though he doesn’t look forward to dealing with the inhabitant, that “mountain of smugness… Gothos himself, hoary old teller of tales and self-appointed judge of all. Once known, appropriately enough, as the Lord of Hate.” They spar a bit, banter, and then Osserc says he understands: “I may go, but without any answers… We must face one another until you relinquish what you know.” He tells him Gothos has erred; “The will of any other you would crush. But not mine.” They sit and stare at each other.
The Thaumaturgs’ army continues on in a massive line. Pon-lor is thrilled to be in charge, out from under his superiors with a chance to prove himself, but at the same time feeling the fear of failure. Overseer Tun brings forward a civilian named “Jak,” (really Kenjak) who says he wants to talk to Pon-Lor. He explains who he is then tells Pon-Lor he and his men were attacked by a witch who had enslaved a yakshaka. Pon-Lor is skeptical, but is willing to let the man show him where it happened, with the promise of execution should Jak fail to satisfy him. As they head off, Pon-Lor thinks this might be the greatest threat the Circle had faced in ages.
Kenjak smirks as he leads Pon-Lor off, thinking he will have his vengeance on both Saeng and on “these self-appointed nobles and rulers.”
“The more superstitious the person, the more tattoos they are apt to have.” Well, I must be getting more and more superstitious every year! I like this chapter heading look at tattoos—it so reflects the ugly ways that people have looked at tattoos in real life before they became more widely accepted.
Night attacks must be the most terrifying. My dad (a soldier in the British Army) told me that the exercises they did at night were always the strangest—lack of sleep brings hallucinations, fear spikes at strange sounds, and they found themselves in a state of high tension at all times. The imagination presents all sorts of nightmares—and here, in this night attack on the Thaumaturg army, a creature from nightmare actually attacks them. You can see why an atmosphere of panic would start infecting the troops.
Ah Skinner, so sympathetic and warm… “He clasped his gauntleted hands behind his back to study the field of dead. Golan strove to shrug off a feeling of unease at such a blase attitude to this bloody business.”
The forest of Himatan is presented in such a characterful manner. I love it when forests or other landscape features almost become characters in their own right, because of their role in the story. Of course, Robert Holdstock was a wizard at that!
Here we have the start of it:
“Not as such. No. They are… enchanted, I suppose one might call it.”
A disgusted sigh escaped Skinner. “Himatan already…”
Mara nodded. “Under here, yes.”
Skinner is referred to here as Betrayer by Ardata’s creature—this is because he now has his patron as the Crippled God, yes? When was Ardata patient the first time? Although you can imagine Ardata being patient, sitting in the centre of her web and waiting for vibrations! Skinner is still wearing Ardata’s armour, which seems a slap in the face rather if he now belongs to another.
Skinner doesn’t want anyone hearing what else Ardata’s creature might say, does he? He rather hurriedly despatches it once it starts talking!
I’m not sure I’m clear—first Skinner wants them to take the body back as proof, and then instead he throws it to the enchanted maggots and insects? And is it dead or is it alive? We could have had clearer writing at this point.
What is most interesting in this encounter between Saeng and the Bandit King, is that her power seems to be growing. She’s able to command the ghosts, and actually does catch a glimpse of the future ahead for Kenjak.
This is a fabulous description as a way of increasing tension: “What she took to be dead stumps resolved into carved wooden signs, or totems. They stood at odd angles, rotting and grey with age. All were carved in fantastic shapes, half animal, half human. A snake-human, a half-leopard. Staring closer now, she noted tufted round objects hanging from them, and it took her a time to recognize them as human heads in various stages of decay.”
It just has so many shades of Mayans and Spanish conquistadores and all that history. It’s very cool to see such a non-traditional setting.
The Warleader must feel as though he is babysitting infants with this assembled group of tribes! Of course, they ARE a nightmare: “…the Saar would not ride alongside the Awamir; the Salil refused its posting and instead filed up next to the Vehajarwi…”
Yes, they are exactly what you’d want as a united force *rolls eyes*
Ha! I’m enjoying Jatal and Scarza together a great deal—some lovely exchanges.
Bless, Jatal doesn’t know what to do with Andanii, does he? On one hand, he is this blushing boy who can’t see why she would like him. And on the other hand, he is this young prince wondering why she would ally herself with him and whether he can trust her. Either way, he has no clue how to act and it’s rather sweet.
Murk is quite a sharp character: “The experienced troopers always took care of the mage cadre. That, he realized, was his and Sour’s position once again.”
Having said that, it really does seem to be the worst kept secret that this mercenary band is a Malazan troop.
Oh damn! Spite is there to release part of the Chained God? Or to ensure that no one else releases it?
What *is* it that Osserc is searching for? It must be something deeply essential for one so arrogant to have to put himself at the mercy of Gothos’ sharp tongue!
This Thaumaturgs army is a joke, isn’t it? I get the smithies and infirmaries, but: “…their soothsayers, petty traders and merchants, unsanctioned private healers, minor apothecaries, arrack and palm-wine tappers, professional gamblers, singers, dancers and thieves”?
Anyone else feel as though Kenjak’s plan might not go entirely as anticipated?
This is a nice opening passage of description after telling us the army has suffered its first attack, with the way it conveys the sense of an edgy army in a wholly foreign and hostile lands: the “jagged limestone mounts sheer cliffs, and sudden precipitous sinkholes,” “the candles burned out one by one,” “screams and shouts,” “the candles had all guttered out,” “gathering panic,” fed by the darkness and their destination,” “a smothering animal coiling itself about everyone.” The description of the attack scene is terrible, sure, graphic and disturbing with the limbs and intestines, etc., but I find this opening to be more effective in terms of effective atmosphere/mood.
Much as that effective image of Skinner’s arrival, his mail of “scales,” dragging “across staring faces and slashed wet torsos.” I would have liked it left there, to the reader, without the additional “spattered gore painted it a deep crimson,” but that’s OK.
Not only do we have this tension between the rogue Avowed and the Thaumaturgs, but also the tension between Shimmer and Skinner. One has to wonder at her belief that Skinner is becoming “even less human.”
The suspense is nicely done with the stalking here, but my favorite part of this is the underlying tension yet again, first with the ominous “prophetic” “Himatan shall swallow you” and then with Skinner suddenly killing it—was it just impatience or was he worried something would be revealed? Curiouser and curiouser…
I’m a bit confused at the end here though, the body is referred to as a “corpse” and then it “shrieks”—I guess it wasn’t quite dead yet (“I feel better…”), but then “corpse” seems an odd word choice in that case.
The bit by bit reveal of the yakshaka is nice—his tongue being cut out, the scars, his size, then the fact he doesn’t sleep much, then that he doesn’t eat much (then at the end of the chapter the fear that their secrets might be revealed)—also a nice bit of semi-parallel to the mystery of the Avowed.
So when Saeng says she isn’t bluffing, I’m a bit confused there as well, since she’s “surprised” to actually get an image. Did she mean she wasn’t bluffing about bluffing?
And is Kenjek just upset at the prophecy, or does it dovetail with something he’s already been told? That line of his—who told you this—could be read either way.
In any case, this is a good scene to show Saeng starting to really come into her own. Before this she’s been pretty passive, pretty reactive, but now we see her taking initiative, being proactive, and ordering the ghosts.
The first ship scene seems a bit unnecessary to me, to be honest, as it mostly just restates what we already knew—Shimmer and K’azz have some tension, something powerful is under the Dolments, K’azz isn’t a very open person, Ardata is kinda crazy and has lots of power.
The second ship scene though continues to add to the eerie mood of Jacuruku, with the totems, the severed heads, the legends of the city of gold and magic—all very reminiscent of course of European myths of South America/Southwestern US. Certainly this conversation sets the reader up with some high expectations of what’s to come.
From tension amongst the Thaumaturges’ army/allies to tension amongst Skinner’s group to tension amongst the Avowed and/between Ardata’s group to tension amongst the tribes and between Warleader. And then to tension amongst Spite and her folks. Not a sense that any of these “alliances” are held all that tightly…
I do like the presentation of all these folks though—Jatal and Scarza and the Princess and Shimmer and Hanu. All quite likable and engaging. I especially am enjoying the byplay between Jatal and Scarza and their growing bromance and the way Andanni flusters Jatal.
So, Kallor’s curse doesn’t sound so bad to Scarza, eh?
Murk and Sour are another fun duo in this one so far (though yes, Sour is hardly “Fun”). In some ways this scene, similar to the first ship scene noted above doesn’t really advance plot at all, just goes over a lot of what we already knew/have seen. But the humor just makes it so enjoyable. I love the “Miss Spite” bit. And their banter about their respective devious, nosey patrons. The “Mister prescient.” Though yes, “conun-drum” was pretty bad.
I like what is being done with Osserc here—the mystery about his goals, his connection to the story (though we do know Saeng is linked to Light somehow). And let’s face it, any chapter that gives me a Jaghut is a winner in my book. I can’t recall, had we seen Gothos’ “Lord of Hate” moniker before? I know we get it in the prequel book, but has it appeared prior to now in the main series? Anyone remember?
Another nice long opening segment, this one detailing the army, which all too often in fantasy books gets referred to simply as “the army” with no sense of its complexities, its size, its difficulties. I continue to enjoy the portrayal of the hierarchy/bureaucracy in the book to this point. And once more, a nice job of ramping up some suspense—where is Kenjak going with this?
So many secrets, so many plots, so much mistrust, so many allies not really thinking as allies—it’s a great set up to keep a reader on their toes…
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.