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 Four 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.
Amanda will be adding her responses into the comments this evening.
Blood and Bone Chapter Four
Jatal is on his fifth raid, and they’d seen little sign of resistance to this point, which has been typical of past year’s raids, though he wonders how Warleader, a foreigner, could have known this. He thinks he should talk to him more, though it’s hard with Warleader retiring early and supposedly inhaling strange substances each night. He’s worried about continued peace among his own tribe and between it and Prince Andanii’s, though so far it’s held. Which makes him wonder what to do about her himself, unsure what is sincere or just an act in her behavior. Scarza joins him and says the Warleader would like Jatal to join him at a village to see something of potential interest.
The sight of interest is a grain mill powered by “the massive legs, broad back, and trunk-like arms of a man… a human dray animal… his long hair filthy and crawling with vermin—just like any neglected mule or ox.” Warleader show Jatal how the man has had his eyes and tongue removed and has been lobotomized (though he doesn’t use that term). Jatal and Scarza see him as a victim, as does Warleader, but the other two hesitate at killing him, so Warleader does it himself, calling it a mercy. As Scarza carries the body away, Warleader tells Jatal the Thaumaturgs “and their horrors ought to be wiped from the earth.” Jatal agrees, “If it could be done.” Warleader repeats the phrase and watches as Jatal leaves.
Later, Princess Andanii comes to his tent disguised as a servant to ask if he’s given further thought to her proposal. He says he thinks they should publicly continue to seem to have agreed to an uneasy truce, while privately he says they will have a “temporary formal cessation of hostilities.” She wonders about something more “intimate,” and tells him how in some countries a woman who seeks power is called a “shameless seductress. A slut and a whore” while a man who takes what he wants is “lauded as justly virile, a daring hero.” He tells her those who would criticize a woman for acting as they would are petty and frightened. As she undresses him, he thinks he is not frightened of her, but her ambition, and is uncertainty over whether she chose him for strength or weakness. There is sex. And poetry. But mostly sex.
As the mercenaries move into the forest, Sour lays down magical distractions to cover their trail while Murk calls up his Meanas warren. Realizing he can’t do much, he’s about to exit when he notices a light and investigating comes to a greenly glowing image of a six year old girl. He asks who she is, and she says she doesn’t know even as his inner alarms start to go off loudly. He asks for a name, and she replies that for most of her time she didn’t feel the need for one—“why distinguish one’s self from the other when there is no other. Then someone spoke to me and I knew the need. I asked for a name and he gave me one…Celeste.” He asks why she’s there and her answer is he brought her there. Next he knows he’s sitting and she tells him he’s been “dreaming for a time.” And that she likes him. Just as he tells her they have to leave because it isn’t safe, an Artorallah demon appears and says they’ll be imprisoned there a long time. Murk warns him against messing with the girl, but the demon says it won’t be him but the woods, which “are here to keep you trespasser out.” Celeste says she doesn’t think she likes the demon, and Murk starts to interrupt but roots starts growing over his legs. Trying not to panic, he tells the demon Edgewalker wouldn’t be happy and when the demon asks what he knows of “He Who Guards the Realm,” Murk says he knows Edgewalker banishes rather than imprisons. Celeste tells the demon to stop, and when he tells her, seemingly truly sorry about it, that there’s nothing he can do; this is what happens when you enter the “forest of the Azathanai,” she stomps her cute little foot and causes an earthquake that stuns the demon. Murk begs her to just leave and she says fine. They do.
Murk comes to with Sour above him, telling him he’s been out a while. He tells Sour and Captain Yusen “it” (the artifact from the pit—the part of the Crippled God) is aware and might be able to hear them, adding it’s probably a good idea to tell the soldiers to “act respectfully.” Sour compares the mess to Black Dog, then wonders at the difference between a forest and a jungle. Murk says the boy “mean places people feel threatened, where they don’t feel in charge or in control. Makes ‘em want to hack it all down, that fear.” When Sour asks about the natives, Murk says they probably just think of it as home. Sour wonders if they should fear Celeste, but Murk says no, not yet, she’s just “curious” right now. He thinks how she’d spoken as if he was the first person she’d ever met, and he wonders what he is supposed to do about a god “innocent of everything. Naïve. An ignorant god… Teach the thing the ways of the world?” He thinks that’s too much responsibility for him, but then thinks how there are lots of folks he wouldn’t trust to do so, like the Thaumaturgs or Ardata, for instance. He decides it looks like it might have to be him after all.
Shimmer passes through as if in a dream, while something keeps nagging at her, telling her something was wrong. Waking, she sees the Avowed standing around as if asleep or ensorcelled, and she forces herself to go seek K’azz. She slaps Cole awake and tells him to find K’azz. She finds him herself and rouses him to inform him they need to stop and get food. He agrees, and when Rutana says good luck with that, K’azz says he demands its. He directs the ship (either forcing it or the will driving it allowing it) toward a clearing and then they wake everyone. While Turgal, Cole, and Amatt hunt, Shimmer walks amidst the ruins of an old village. She is surrounded by half-men/half-dogs and when she asks what they want, they are indignant, this from someone invading their land. She objects but they call her and the Avowed “brothers and sisters of betrayers and turncoats… unworthy.” They move in and she wounds one, telling them she doesn’t want to hurt them. But she’s knocked to the ground and just as one is about to bite her, they’re killed by a blast of mage flame. Looking up, she’s shocked to see it came from Smoky, who appears just as shocked as she is, saying when she asks how he did that, “Got no damned idea.” He disappears, and Rutana shows up. One of the dying half-dogs tells Shimmer to leave because, “You do not deserve her. You will never… love her.” The creature dies, and when Shimmer asks Rutana if it meant, “love Ardata?” Rutana tells he, “We do not want you here. Nor do we need you.” Shimmer says she feels the same way.
She confronts K’azz, demanding to know what they’re doing here. He tells he they have to deal with Skinner, that simply disavowing him wasn’t enough; “he is still bound.” She tells them all she was rescued by Smoky, and K’azz says it is said that Himatan is half real world and half spirit world, so maybe the Brethren are closer. But Shimmer can tell he’s lying. They go back aboard the ship.
Saeng enters the Fangs, mountains (really just big hills she thinks) marking the border between Ardata’s land and that belonging to the Thaumaturgs. The hills are scattered with sudden drops and sinkholes, making travel difficult. Hanu falls into one, and Saeng climbs down and frantically searches for him even as water begins to rise in it. Using her magic, she finds him but cannot rouse him. The rising water becomes a rushing river and they’re pulled along with the current in the darkness until they go over a waterfall, where she uses her magic again to try and save them, blacking out as she does so.
Saeng awakes in a pool outside to find a young flute-playing boy watching over her. He points out where Hanu is and as Saeng futilely tries to wake Hanu tells her he’s called “Old Man Moon.” An old man covered in tattoos appears. She asks Moon if her brother is alive, and he, surprised, tells her she should calm herself and use her own abilities. Doing so, she’s relieved that Hanu is alive, though Moon says he’ll have to take him to his house to examine him before knowing more. To her great surprise, the old man lifts Hanu to his back and then leads her and the young boy—Ripan—through the jungle. They reach a hut on stilts and climb up. Inside it’s completely empty save for some blankets, which unnerves Saeng, though not as much as the fact that Moon’s tattoos are moving across his body “like the arch of the night sky turning.” The old man tells her Hanu’s mind is wandering and may not return, but luckily “such matters are my particular area of specialty.” When he adds though that they’ll have to bargain, she quickly says she’ll give anything, prompting him to warn her that others in the jungle would take advantage of her if she makes those sorts of offers. After Ripan grudgingly goes to get food (especially not liking the whole cooking the bird part), Moon says he always asks for the same service in all his bargains, running his hand over his tattooed body.
Osserc and Gothos continue to face each other, with Osserc thinking how he’d “never been satisfied with his understanding” of the Jaghut. Osserc breaks the silence and asks why Gothos is there, what he think he’ll get. Gothos replies nothing, “I am the mere messenger. The disinterested observer.” Osserc says he isn’t particularly reassured, so Gothos explains how he’s been accrues of ages of “scheming, conniving… and look where I am.” Osserc starts to say Gothos is where he’s chosen to be, and Gothos agrees that’s true of everybody, When Osserc starts to talk of how things and other people intervene, Gothos says of course “things will always happen… the test is the choices one makes in return.” Osserc begs him to quit with the philosophy and asks again why Gothos is there. Gothos tells him he doesn’t know; he “merely found himself here… I wondered why me? Why of all those the Azath have at their disposal should I find myself here?… it is something of me, a quality or character that is desired. Therefore I am merely being me… I am here to be your goad… a spur. . . I am to act as a prick.” Osserc laughs, then tells him “you were born to the role.” Osserc returns to staring and thinking about the Jaghut: “So many lies had they woven over the millennia. Yet false claims had been made on all sides. No one was innocent—they were always the first to di, to be trampled in others’ ruthless scramble for power and Ascension. Yet Anomandaris.” His thoughts are interrupted by a monkey-like creature appearing and Osserc wonders why the Azath had “chosen to torture him.”
Ok, we’ve made clear who Warleader is, even if in our summaries we tried not to state it directly early on. But I think any reader who was unclear up to his point has to recognize the inhaling of fumes on a nightly basis to be a pretty blunt arrow pointing to this character’s identity.
Love those titles Jatal references. And then I just like the fact in general that he is such a bookish character. He pulls out a book of poetry. Then later when they come across the Thaumaturgs’ creation at the mill thinks of all the narratives he’d read of such things.
Poor Jatal. Here’s a line that could apply to just about any male character in any book, or you know, in real life: “there was a summation of the male quandary: so much suppressed by the terror of being humiliated.” Not to mention the whole “Does she really want what it seems she wants and what is it that she really wants?” question.
Warleader/Kallor is such a difficult (purposely so I’m guessing) character to pin down. So many reasons have been given for readers to dislike or even hate him. And at other times we’ve been given reasons to feel a bit for him. And here, at this point, we compare him to the Thaumaturgs, those who would perform these horrific “experiments” on people and turn them to their own purposes—this mill worker, Hanu (who at least wasn’t lobotomized)—and it’s difficult not to root for him in his war against the Thaumaturgs. On the other hand, while one can get a sense of what Kallor/Warleader means by his death being a “mercy,” but one wishes he did better than looking at the guy “as if he were examining some curious insect or piece of artwork and not a man at all.” Or talked of him somewhat differently than as if “what they discussed was no more than the fate of a sack of grain or a hog.” Or used somewhat more humanizing language rather than talking of “disposing” of him or calling him “a thing” or referring to him as “it.” Yes, it would be so much easier for us as readers…
Hmm, wiping the earth of these pesky Thaumaturgs is, as Jatal tells Kallor, not their goal. But one has to wonder if Jatal is starting to suspect that his people’s goals and Kallor’s might not be exactly the same. Might that be his “foreboding”?
You have to both feel for and laugh at Jatal at Andanii’s appearance and then his hyper-literal/technical discussion of their “union,”—a “cessation of hostilities” rather than a more, as Andanii puts it, a more “intimate partnership. A union of our resources.” Resources. Right.
I do like Andanii’s double standard speech, but the start of it feels a bit muddy and a bit out of the blue, with the “woman who is not afraid of power denounced as a shameless seductress.” That would seem to be the case only if the power comes via a male, wouldn’t it?
Keep looking for those answers in your poetry Jatal. It’ll be interesting to see how that works for him.
I’d say it’s probably a good thing Celeste likes Murk.
The Forest of the Azathanai is an interesting new spot—one seemingly off limits to those who travel in Shadow (including Shadowthrone or Dancer? Perhaps we’ll see). This appears to be the first time, at least the first time Murk knows of, that someone has been able to figure out why that might be—that the forest one have returned from in Shadow is “a Shadow of Ardata’s realm.” Is he right? Is Ardata truly in control of the forest? If so, does that make her an enemy of Shadowthrone and Cotillion? Or just someone who likes her privacy? As for the general Azathanai, we’ll learn more about them as we continue in this book. And then. Well, there’s the whole prequel trilogy, which is where we’ll really learn more about them.
The demon is a bit all over the map in this scene—remorseful and yet sneering. Is it the image of a child that brings out the remorse? Recognition that this is a fragment of the CG and thus deserving of pity? Or just that the “demon” is a good person? And you get a sense of just how dangerous this fragment is with the release of power that stuns the demon, affects the seemingly unaffect-able forest, and whisks them away from a place nobody had ever returned from so far as Murk knows.
I like how Sour’s musing on the difference between a jungle and a forest, which could have simply been played for a chuckle, turns into a sharp insight into human psychology—the way people attack that which makes them feel like they’re not “in charge or in control,” the jungle’s unchecked growth and lushness and dangers all a nice mirror of such a feeling. And then the ways in which people have a hard time seeing the world in ways beyond or outside their own experience. Murk’s ability to see how people who live here would just see it as “home”, shows he gets that and can, at least sometimes, step out of his own view of things. And later it’s hard not to respond positively at his self-deprecating sense that he isn’t the right person to “teach the thing the ways of the world,” but then accepts that if he’s not the “right” one, he may be the best one. This whole scene makes it easy to like Murk.
Despite its slow pace, I’m still really enjoying this river journey of Shimmer’s—the whole Heart of Darkness/Island of Dr. Moreau/Rime of the Ancient Mariner vibe that pervades it.
I’d think the first reaction to mentioning Skinner’s name—“Many around her hunched, hissing and growing at the name”—would have me thinking twice about tossing it out again so casually. Though to be fair, Shimmer is just coming out of a magical trance-state, so perhaps she can be forgiven.
“Eat the bitch.” Now there’s a line you don’t get in a lot of books…
I liked Smoky’s befuddlement at his ability to do magic, and it seems pretty clear that K’azz might have some suspicions about how that was possible and isn’t sharing for some reason. Lots of secrets in this story, appropriate for a jungle setting that hides so much.
This scene is yet another layering of the whole “how much are these alliances really alliances” theme running throughout the early part of this novel. It’s a great job of keeping the reader off-balance I think and leads to some nice anticipation of who will turn on whom by the end.
Speaking of anticipation, these early references to the Vow are really piling up. Setting us up for…?
It was a good bit of craft to have earlier mentioned how much of this land was hollow below so when Hanu falls into a cavern we’re set to accept that. On the other hand, I think he went to the Saeng forgetting to use her powers maybe once too many
This is an intriguing pair of characters—Moon and the boy. In some ways Moon seems to have stepped out of a whole different story. Clearly more to him than appears.
Gothos phrasing about what he’s doing in the House is interesting: “Why of all those the Azath have at their disposal should I find myself here?” That idea of the Houses choosing.
OK, who else did as Osserc did and laughed out loud at Gothos’ “In short, I am to act as a prick”? Anyone?
A great close to this chapter.
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.