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 Three (Part 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 Three (Part One)
Shimmer’s group heads up river through days of rain, everyone falling into a near spell of quietude and listlessness. Shimmer notes the ship itself “appeared terrifyingly derelict… Its shrouds hung in loose tatters” and that she can’t recall the last time she saw a crew member working the sails. One morning she finds the entire crew asleep, and Cole in a trance-like state staring at the water. He wakes to tell her there are “things in the water,” and she rouses the rest of crew, telling K’azz they’d seemingly lost their pilot. Rutana scornfully informs them Ardata has been controlling the ship for some time, and when the captain tells them the pilot seemingly fell overboard and K’azz orders a turnaround to go look for him, Rutana points out they have no control of the ship, telling him, “there is no turning back.” Just then they pass a village and the crew start yelling for help, screaming they’ve been cursed and enchanted. They jump off, and when Rutana says they’ll just be eaten, K’azz tells her to ensure they’re not. She does, but not happily. Shimmer asks K’azz what’s wrong (she thinks he looks “terrified” though unsure of what—“Our situation? Of what he may reveal?”), but he just tells her their situation is a reminder that they can’t fight against their fate. Shimmer rejects the whole “self-serving predestiny justification that religions flog,” and he acknowledges her argument, saying we’ll just call it “natural proclivity” then. He orders buddy duty for all and any mages always on watch.
The listlessness continues. Shimmer watches the banks pass by, weird creatures in sight among the trees or on the shore. She asks Gwynn, who’d been the mage of Skinner’s First Company, if things were the same when he was in Jacuruku, and he says they were on the south coast and never traveled in the country or to Jakal Viharn, which surprises and disturbs her. He tells her Skinner was gone a lot, and they had just assumed he was with Ardata in the city, though they never asked, saying, “One does not ask personal questions of Skinner.” She wonders why they didn’t just travel by warren, but he tells her the city is hidden from warrens; Ardata “allows you to enter.” Eventually she has the insight that the sense of “timelessness” they’d been experiencing was a sort of intensifying or exacerbating of the Vow, “not entirely imposed from without.” Their trip is interrupted by a sudden cloud of rainbow-colored hummingbirds that engulf the ship to even Rutana’s surprise. They flutter around then begin stabbing with their “long needle-like beaks.” Shimmer is surrounded so she can’t see, but can hear Nagal yelling and then she hears K’azz yell for Gwynn. There’s a blast of power and the birds all die and drop to the deck or into the water. Rutana, wholly unmarked, shrugs and says it’s just another day in Himatan. Shimmer asks if they were d’ivers, and Rutana answers kind of, adding the forest is full “of the old things that once walked the earth before you humans [Shimmer notes the telling phrase] came.” Shimmer finds the captain dead and K’azz helping Cole get back aboard the ship from the water he’d jumped into. Channeling Sour, Shimmer has a bad feeling about this trip…
At the Dolmens, a storm approaches just as Murk and Sour have unraveled all but four of the chains. They do the last two, then join to help Spite, following her as she approaches “a small object at the centre.” She grabs it, causing an explosion of power and soil, then tosses the object, a black stone casket, up. Though Murk warns everyone not to touch, one mercenary does, screaming immediately and briefly upon doing so before he’s turned into a charred corpse. Spite is just hanging onto the lip of the pit, and when Murk looks at her he sees her glowing with power and for a moment, he thinks he sees a glimpse of “rough dark-scaled features, and hands misshapen taloned claws.” Suddenly she’s dragged back by the chains, which were looking for something of power to grab onto, and due to her exhaustion she’s quickly overcome. The others decide to get going because something big is coming, and then come back once things have settled a bit. They put the casket on a stretcher, and with Murk and Sour carrying it (the soldiers refused), they all head for the ship.
The ship, however, has left them and is heading out to sea. Yusen notices the mages carrying the stretcher and angrily tells the soldiers to take it over. The Seven Cities woman, Burastan, steps in, apologizing and almost, Murk notes, saying “Captain.” They head south toward the jungle.
During a meeting of Skinner’s people, Mara wonders about his armor, what he called the “Gift of Ardata.” Though everyone else had abandoned their rusting metal armor, his scaled mail shows no signs of effect from the conditions, and it also appears nothing can penetrate it. They discuss how this is about a third of the Thaumaturg military, and their other garrisons are scattered and wide-spread, mockingly toasting to it advancing “as far as it is able.” The Crippled God’s rep shows up angry, telling them while they’ve sat around others have moved against them, and ordering them to follow him “to where you should have been and gone had you any shred of initiative.” He takes them abruptly to the Dolmens through a warren, much to their physical and mental delay, and tells them what was there inside should have already been in their hands. Skinner advances toward the wall of Kurald Galain/Starvald Demelain warren magic and when Mara warns him, he surprises her by saying he can see it. Petal clears a path and they enter, noting boot prints and diggings. Suddenly, Spite’s arm and then her head break through the surface (Mara also sees her hand as bird-like and taloned). She demands Skinner help her and, when he asks what happened, tells him she’ll explain once he gets her out. He rejects the idea and kicks her back down, with her yelling, “Jacuruku will consume you, Skinner!” He simply replies, “As had been prophesised,” then gathers his people to follow the trail to the jungle’s edge. The Crippled God’s priest orders them to follow but Skinner says the jungle will deal with them. The priest then demands they go with him to another and he takes them the same way there.
Saeng suggests going back, saying the army has probably passed and Hanu reluctantly agrees. Realizing he can’t go back, she asks what he’ll do, and he says leave, find a job as a guard to a merchant or noble, adding she has to stay because she belongs in this land. A roar comes from outside their cave, but Saeng uses her power to convinces the beast whose lair they’ve borrowed for the night to find elsewhere to sleep.
That night she dreams of wandering the jungle amidst ruins—tall structures on top of a stone plaza. A nearly naked half-man half-leopard appears and tells her she knows his brothers and sisters, the beast gods, including Togg, Fener, Ryllandaras, Fanderay, and others. She points out there was no leopard god and he agrees, saying he was the one “none dared worship… I am not a scavenger. I never skulked about your villages. To me you are the beasts… a kind of pig. I am the reason your kind fear the night.” She asks what he wants, saying she’s no priestess, but he tells her she is that “and more. Priestess, witch, mage. All we possess, all we know, has been poured within you” in order to “ensure or avert” the catastrophe some of them see coming. He shows her the ruins are the temple of the old Sun god, then disappears while a new figure appears, a Thaumaturg who casts a spell drawing down the “Jade Banner,” which threatened to “swallow the sky, the world, entire.” Then all is flame, obliterating everything.
Heaven forbid a dignitary is protected by three parasols with silver handles, when it should be two parasols with gold handles!
This is some stunning imagery, building the picture of the ship sailing through the jungle—the silence, the water, the sense of moving but not moving, the desolate deck, the lack of a navigator. It creates a breathless picture of something about to happen. If this was a movie, there would be a sinister part of the soundtrack starting, especially when Rutana tells them there is no turning back now. You know, I don’t feel as though the crew is going to be safe, even though they’ve been permitted to leave the river without being eaten. Them running into the jungle is like something from Jurassic Park—they almost have “walking corpse” written on them.
K’azz is terrified? That doesn’t seem like a particularly promising way to start their mission. And then we hear that none of this crew have been through the jungle before, even when Skinner led them onto this continent. It’s all very dreamlike and vague. It is a very deliberate type of descriptive work, and is at risk of making it read slowly, but the air of menace means you’re impelled to keep on reading.
It is an interesting look at how Shimmer notices the feeling of the Vow, the stretching timelessness, while they are in Ardata’s realm.
The hummingbirds are an inspired choice for this attack. They are usually presented as such beautiful jewelled tiny things, with not a hint of evil, and here that is turned on its head. Were they focusing their attacks on Shimmer, or did everyone receive the same attention? Gwynn has some explosive power here, but why didn’t he attack the hummingbirds straight away? And what is Rutana, if she refers to Shimmer and the others as “you humans”?
Do Murk and Sour have any idea what Spite is? Murk doesn’t seem to bat an eye at the raindrops hissing as they hit her, and at the appearance of her eyes as she stares into space. And then Sour’s remark that her power is like that of an Ascendant.
I love the fact that Sour, this small and most certainly not intimidating fellow, has an instinctive touch with magic. No intelligence, but formidable magical ability.
“Spite, it seemed, possessed no subtlety whatsoever.”
Yep, that sounds about right.
They just abandon Spite? Considering she was the one who was insisting they follow this plan? I mean, I know that she is in the process of being chained and that it would be difficult to rescue her, but it still seems a little heartless. Given that, I do love Yusen’s comment, “What goes around comes around, hey?” Still loving this little hints of Yusen being a captain, and this band of mercenaries obviously being connected to something Malazan.
Interesting hint that Skinner has been changed, with his ability to suddenly see the shimmering wall of Warren magic. Something to do with Ardata’s influence on him?
And then this brutal response to seeing Spite trying to escape. So deliberate: “I think it best you remain out of contention for a while.”
What are the terms that the Crippled God insists that the Disavowed have the fulfil? What deal was made?
I would NOT like to live in this jungle. Just saying. *shudders* Saeng seems perfectly at home though, with her control of the creature whose cave she has borrowed. That was rather a casual demonstration of just how far her powers have grown.
“I am the one none dared worship.” Which god is that? One tied to leopards? A beast god we haven’t encountered, or linked to Light, since that is what Saeng appears to represent?
I like the epigraph here from Customs of Ancient Jakal-Uku, which reminds me of ancient Asian custom and hierarchy. Beyond the historical echo, this book has some interesting echoes of other works—“Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” as mentioned. But also Heart of Darkness. It’ll be interesting to see how close those parallel going forward.
One of the things I like early here about Blood and Bone is the way its relatively unique setting—Jacuruku—is revealed bit by bit and from different vantage points. This sense of the lotus-eater aspect of the jungle, Ardata’s power, mixed in somehow with the vow, the slow travel, pouring rain, and figures exiting the mist “like ghosts,” the strange creatures are all wonderfully evocative. As is the Ancient Mariner feel of the ship description. Really good writing I thought. And quite different from much of what we’ve seen before. And we see this world through multiple characters—a more intimate view for instance via Saeng, a native hyper-attuned to her surroundings. And since Murk and Sour are about to head into the jungle, one presumes we’ll see it there as well. One question will be how much time can the author afford to spend in such lavishly rich evocation of place? I’m curious Amanda if you’re liking this so far, or our readers.
We’ve had several teases about the Crimson Guard’s Vow, little bits and pieces that haven’t yet coalesced. With Ardata’s offer via Rutana, and Shimmer’s sense of the magic she’s feeling being somehow connected, it would seem like we’re getting closer to a reveal. How long can Esslemont keep the tease going?
Who would have thought shimmering hummingbirds could be so nasty? And really, that was some Hitchcockian nasty there. Though one has to wonder why Gwynn had to wait for K’azz’s order to do something. You’d think he’d show a bit more initiative (not to mention a sense of self-preservation). A nice parallel (antithesis kind of parallel) to the d’ivers-like bugs in the cave Skinner’s group ran into.
I like the idea of Sour as a magical idiot savant.
Two glimpses of Spite in this chapter with taloned claws and reptilian features. But I like the move to show us that first glimpse of her that way, and then immediately humanize her and make us feel a bit bad for her when she gets dragged back and down, “those formidable eyes, so superior, so scornful, widened in unguarded panic.”
So, when Sour asks, “Do you have any idea what’s on its way right now?”, is he referring to Skinner’s group that shows up shortly? Or the Ascendants who did the chaining and would probably have a sense of what just happened? Or Ardata, being her land? Or something else?
Love Yusen’s dry response about the boat abandoning them while they were abandoning Spite: “What goes around comes around, hey?” Kind of a funny echo of the “always a fair exchange.”
Magic impenetrable armor. Will that come in handy down the road do you think? Or, considering Skinner is the bad guy (one assumes), will it be a real pain?
Well, this conversation by Skinner’s people about the Thaumaturgs’ army and their toast doesn’t sound particularly sincere, does it? Plans within plans… One such apparently including a pivot point that they’re hoping is further down the road, one involving perhaps a confrontation with Ardata, or maybe not.
Another funny moment here, with neither Skinner nor Shimmer moving when Petal tells them it’s safe to enter. Big tough Skinner. And then their reactions to Spite’s appearance. It’s a great image if you just visualize it for a moment: the hand coming through, and the three of them just watching it curiously, studiously.
Well, do we start a lottery on when Jacuruku swallows Skinner, this being the second time we’ve heard this (and possibly the third, if Skinner’s reference to a prophecy is not to the beast they tracked). And another time when Mara is “shocked” by an act of Skinner’s. You had to wonder just how much of the priest Skinner would put up with. But where is the priest taking them now?
Himatan seems a lovely place, no? What with the bulbous red poisonous spiders and the deadly snakes and the “bats, rats, tigers, ghosts” and whatever it is whose cave they’ve borrowed. Not to mention now with all these folks of power aiming at confrontation.
At this point, hearing the names of the beast gods—Togg , Ryllandaras, Fener, Fanderay—is like coming back home to old friends. I admit I didn’t recall Tennerock, who turns out to be another name for Fener according to GoTM (yes, I looked it up). The others seem to be new to us: Argen, Great-Wing, Earth-Shaker.
We knew Saeng was being groomed, but now it also appears she has been empowered. So we’ve been introduced to a lot of balls in the air in these early chapters. And it appears Light will indeed play a major role (whatever that might mean for Osserc’s stare-down with Gothos).
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.