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 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 Three (Part Two)
Saeng wakes from her nightmare of the calling down of the Crippled God. Believing the army has moved on, she and Hanu head back toward home, with her moving along a giant cave bear they encounter. She finds her home trashed by looters and/or soldiers. A neighbor tells her the Thaumaturgs came and took everything—the animals, the foot, any health men or women, leaving only old people and babies. Saeng grows impatient with the old woman’s meandering, but then takes pity on her. She heads to her Aunt Chana’s house, where she was told she could find her mother. Her mom seems oddly unconcerned about things, and warns Saeng that the soldiers had asked about her specifically, saying she was an agent of Ardata. Saeng is shocked none of the villagers said anything, and her mom tells her of course not; “You’re related to half the people here. And everyone’s proud. You’ve kept the Nak-ta quiet for more than ten years now. No one’s been taken in that time.” Seeing how surprised Saeng is, her mom says, “Poor Saeng. You always held yourself apart. You spent more time with those awful spirits than the living.” Saeng answers that her mother was right and she now knows what she needs to do, where she needs to go. Her mother says of course you do honey, and Saeng says good bye and returns to Hanu, telling him their mother is safe.
Hannal Leath, “abbess of Tali’s monastery of Our Lady of the Visions,” is rudely interrupted post-coitus by the news that the Queen of Dreams is on her way, as evidenced by the glowing contemplation pool. Frantically getting dressed, she wonders what she’s done.
In the inner sanctuary, Hannal watches as a hand exits the pool of “quicksilver liquid.” She reaches out for it despite the painful cold and slowly yanks the Queen of Dreams up and out, even as her hands begin to bleed and smoke. The Queen of Dreams flops out less than gracefully and as Hannal prostrates herself, the Queen tells her to stop and just help her up, adding, “if there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s people groveling… Every time I try to talk to someone it’s ‘sorry this’ and ‘forgive me that’ and ‘I’m not worthy’” She also tells her not to avert her eyes.
Hannal tells the Queen they’re honored by their goddess’ appearance, and when the Queen objects she’s no goddess, Hannal says they choose to call her that and the Queen answers that’s their choice. Hannal wonders if she’s there to punish them, referencing what had happened in the grand temple on Kartool when all the priests had been killed. The Queen reassures her and then, reading Hannal’s thoughts about how the Queen is middle-aged and not so good looking, tells her abbess “the actual truth is always far from pretty.” When Hannal asks why the Queen is there then, she says simply because it’s the closest doorway she could use to where she wants to be. As the Queen continues, Hannal does a “la la la la I shouldn’t hear this la la la,” but the Queen tells her knowledge is never the issue; it’s what one does with it. Adding that “an opportunity is approaching… to pose challenges… and to demand answers.” She then asks if her bodyguard/champion has arrived yet, someone wearing a cloak and hiding her face. Hannal first says no, but then recalls an “odd itinerant” that’s been hanging out and talking to nobody. The “beggar” is brought to the chamber and reveals herself to the Queen, shocking Hannal with the nearly plain white mask she (Ina) wears (high ranking Seguleh). They make plans to head for the harbor.
They head for the harbor.
The Queen calls up a strange looking ship and as the Queen boards, she tells Hannal she’s going to have “a long-delayed chat with an old acquaintance.” Wondering who that might be, Hannal thinks her temple has lots of good archivists and researchers to try and find out. The ship moves off, “driven by no means discernible to her.”
Golan reads old reports of the area that are neither encouraging nor helpful, discussing “man-leopards” and “carnivorous bird-women.” The report says they saw structures, but then were defeated badly by an attack of four thousand natives, numbers Golan dismisses, as he does the alleged “monsters.” He asks if Skinner’s group has returned yet (the answer is no) and then thinks how “it suffices only that Skinner deal with them [whatever monsters/natives truly exist]”
Golan is called upon by his Masters, who tell him there are “troubling disturbances among the lines of power.” They are happy to hear the army should arrive in one moon’s time and tell him they’re already moving along its path. The communication ends and he’s called out by his aide U-Pre and told that a soldier out on guard returned and then attacked his fellow soldiers, leading to unsettling rumors of possession and ghosts. Examining the bodies, Golan notes that the attacker’s wounds are severe and yet he somehow ignored them to wreak devastating and “frenzied” blows of his own. He then points out a bit mark of “the yellow recluse” and tells U-Pre to warn the men of the poisonous spiders. And the other poisonous spiders. And the poisonous scorpions. And the poisonous centipedes.
In the forest, Kenjak meets with one of his men—Thet-mun—and is told the other in his band are hungry and unhappy, while Myint isn’t thrilled with the idea of taking the Thaumaturg. Frustrated, Kenjak says that’s not the plan. He asks if Saeng (“the bitch”) is still heading toward the fangs and when told yes, he wonders if maybe she really is Ardata’s agent. He tells Thun-mun he’s taking the army to Chanar Keep, which terrifies the young man. When Kenjak says he told the Thaumaturgs he’d introduce him to Khun-Sen, Thun-Mun says there’s no way then he’s going. Kenjak replies that’s OK, he and Loor (his right hand man) will go, but Thun-mun needs to tll Loor to get it cleaned up. Then he says they’ll get Saeng and Hanu, though Thun-mun has his concerns about that as well. They make their farewells.
Upon returning to camp, Kenjak is taken (roughly) to overseer Tun where he tells him he’s found the trail and they’re about three days behind. He suggests a short cut via Chanar Keep, explaining Saeng hasn’t taken it for fear of Khun-Sen (though he screws up and uses the past tense). Tun, though, thinks he’s lying to pretend he isn’t a raider himself, and agrees to go to Chanar Keep.
Saeng is shown as being very compassionate here—as well as her concern about her mother, as Bill mentions below, she shows a lot of concern for the elder, Mae. It does help us start to feel sympathy for this character. Saeng and Hanu are a nice duo to read.
I’m not so amused by the way Saeng’s mother is then presented as acting without too much concern. It seems as though that is played too much for laughs, considering Saeng is shown to have been so very concerned. It’s followed by a nice moment where Saeng is given to realise that the village are willing to protect her, and won’t give her up.
Hannal’s introduction in this novel is brilliant, especially the point where she tries to talk to the acolyte in a majestic way, but her voice comes out all high-pitched since she has been somewhat caught in the act.
This is great as well: “An arm emerged—and not a shapely dancer’s arm: a thick, muscled limb, and quite hairy. My goddess has the arms of a washerwoman!” Esslemont’s talent at comic writing has improved immeasurably over the last few books.
The laughs keep coming, with the Queen of Dreams impatiently telling her prostrate priestess to help her up.
Why does the Queen of Dreams deny the fact that she is a goddess? Although the dark dustings of a moustache certainly don’t help her image!
Who does this mysterious ship belong to? Are we supposed to guess from the description?
Hmm, Hannal seems overly curious about the Queen of Dream’s acquaintance—it suggests that she might set her researchers to try to find out who it is. Curiosity can be very dangerous.
Considering we’ve heard that the Thaumaturgs have been taking people and setting villages on fire, and all manner of other hateful things, it is no real surprise that Bakar should write this: “…and farther along the river we did come upon numerous populated urban centres whose inhabitants were unrelenting in their hostility and antagonism to our advance…”
We’ve seen the man-leopard, so I wonder if we will also see the bird-women and snake-women?
It strikes me that at some point Golan is going to find himself surprised by a great city in the jungle, and many thousands of natives, simply because of how quickly he denies the idea that is might be true.
With Ardata being so associated with spiders, is it possible that she could be sending these yellow recluses to sow fear into the ranks of the Thaumaturgs? Himatan is being beautifully developed, and I love Golan’s description of all the common bugs that are able to kill the soldiers in a range of horrible ways.
Given what’s been done to him, it makes sense that Hanu would understand having nightmares, and I like the very subtle, underplayed way that’s played here with just his “mental shrug of understanding.” I’d also guess that in a forest filled with ghosts and spirits, her people that having been turned into giant monster soldiers probably have their share of nightmares as well
Saeng’s concern for her mother, especially given her difficulties with her, does a nice job of endearing her to us. And I love how that concern is repaid by first finding out she’s OK, and then that relief coming immediately with the mom pressure/guilt trip of learning her mother’s been telling everyone Saeng went off to the temple (though turns out moms are always right…) Even her fellow villagers, whom we were primed to dislike earlier thanks to the Saeng-centric POV about how they treated her don’t come off so bad.
I love this whole scene with Hannal Leath, beginning with the great opening of her being interrupted post-coitus, her wish that she could reprimand in true aggrieved-superior fashion, the “impressive tenting” that compels the gaze of the poor acolyte, her curse “great impotent gods!,” the way she thinks of using tongs or a fork to pull the goddess out (now that’s a great image, all she needs is one of those funny barbecue aprons—Grill of the Gods or something). But then even with all the humor, you have to be impressed with her dedication over the next few minutes as she does stick her hands in there even knowing what will happen and then keeping them there. And then back to the humor with the far from graceful entrance, her “quit averting your eyes” annoyance, and her much-to-the-dismay-of-her-abbess-moustache. And the whoops—“that odd itinerant is really an agent of our goddess?” panic (good thing they’d been feeding her at least).
That’s an interesting ship QoD calls up. Will we learn how it moves?
And who is the old acquaintance she’s heading off to see? Ardata? Kallor? Spite in the Dolmens? K’azz? Someone else we’ve yet to meet?
That’s a nice writing move from watching the weird ship sail away to Golan reading about a river journey. So what do you think the odds are of Golan’s views that this is all pretend and/or exaggeration—the city, the numbers of natives, etc.? Generally underestimating the numbers of natives doesn’t go well in my reading experience. Nor does calling them “ragged-arse people” as you think of how you’ll utterly destroy them.
So we know the Thaumaturgs transform people, since we’ve seen Hanu. We get a little more detail here with references to escaped “experiments” that apparently could have led to stories of “bird-headed men and snake women.” A little Island of Dr. Moreau going on with the Thaumaturgs?
And more potential players into the mix, as his masters are coming along behind them.
Love the warning by Golan about the yellow recluse (sorry U-Pre, not at all rare, quite common actually), the “other poisonous spiders. And the scorpions of course [of course]. And the stinging red centipedes.” Lovely place. And his aide’s oh so dry (I hear Jarvis’ voice) “I am ever so reassured, sir” to the news that the centipedes won’t actually kill you necessarily. So far I’d argue Esslemont is showing quite the deft touch in the book with the humor.
Despite the humor, it’s getting really hard to like the Thaumaturgs so far
I like the connection with the anteater and the ants, though one has to wonder with Kenjak pointing out the lesson of the ants and the wasp so bluntly if this is true foreshadowing or some misdirection.
There are so many plans within plans, so many secrets, so many alliances that aren’t really alliances due to planned betrayals or alliances that we don’t know if they’ll be alliances for real or not. Even with Kenjak there are hints of dissension amongst his people, begging the question will they be reliable or not? All this who knows what underneath is mirrored nicely by the setting—a jungle whose vegetation hides so much (especially so much of danger) and that is pitted with hidden sinkholes and caverns, where so much is said to be “underground”. Plot meet setting. Setting meet plot.
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.