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 Six (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 Six (Part One)
Old Man Moon gets things ready for his tattoo session, which must to Saeng’s dismay will involve her inking his buttocks. He lies down ready, but when Ripan notes it’s not yet time he agrees and apologizes, saying he hasn’t quite been himself since his “accident.” Saeng thinks of how the moon had seemingly been struck by the Jade intruder recently. She asks if he is indeed the moon, and he tells her, “Not itself of course. But I live its life and it mine. Long ago I chose to tie myself to it as intimately as if it were my twin. I can still remember when the vision of it first revealed itself to me . .. At that time I moved through darkness with being aware of what darkness was… I took the moon as my patron. My inspiration. My source.” Saeng recalls elders telling her of the ancient powers, each with an Aspect: Earth, Dark, Water, Light. Old Man Moon goes on, telling how after his first sight of the moon, it had faded as the sun rose—another first sighting for him—and he had found himself in the Tiste realm, where he paid his respects to Mother Dark but kept mostly to himself. Now he says he lives here and pays his respected to Lady Ardata. When Saeng calls her the Demon-Queen, he says sure, there are a few demons, but “there are one or two of everything here. Long ago Ardata offered sanctuary to all the creatures and spirits you humans cared to name monsters. Which, it seems, conveniently includes everything other than you. Here you will find many things that have elsewhere disappeared from the fact of the earth.” He goes back to his early view of the moon, telling her how it was much larger then, and “it had brothers and sisters. Other moons… Some lost their way and wandered off. Others fell to break up in great fiery cascades.” Saeng tells him she would have guessed him to be female, and he replies that humans and the Tiste portray the moon as female, but in the oldest cults the moon is male and the sun female, since the sun is the life-giver and the moon merely steals the sun’s light. He calls it a “pale modest attendant… As part of me is to Light.” The moon rises, and he tells her it’s time. She begins drawing the symbols he makes for her.
She continues to work, “disconcerted to see some of her handiwork join the orderly march of signs spinning across the man’s back.” When she becomes annoyed by Ripan’s constant playing, Moon tells her to ignore him, saying the boy and his other “offspring” have no sympathy for him: “So long as I remain strong and whole they will remain in my shadow—so to speak. They are merely waiting… for my destruction or dissolution. Then all my power will devolve upon them… [and] they will rule all that is in the province of the sublunary.” Saeng is horrified by this, but Moon points out even in her world the old must make way for the young, which she calls true, but says only in the “harshest possible light.” Moon says that “light is the cold radiance of the moon . . I call to that most basic of drives. The unsaid half of procreation. A drive that supersedes even the urge to survival.” He makes an animal analogy and when she says it’s different for people, he replies that people like to pretend so. She asks how much more she has left, pointing out the moon will set eventually, but he just says not to worry, they’ll have as long as they need. As she continues, she asks why her, and he tells her she’s perfect because “Thyrllan moves through your heart and your hands.” She asks what Thryllan is and he startles her by answering “Light.” She asks if he knows where the Great Temple of Light is, and he says no, but she only need look for it, adding that some of Ardata’s creatures will help and others won’t. She tells him she’s been warned something terrible is coming, and he points to the Jade Visitor, saying it might have to do with that. Surprised, she wonders why he doesn’t know, being associated with the moon and divination. He just laughs and says the moon rises and sets, meaning every day is the same to him; “I only see what I am looking down upon… People will always believe what they want to believe. Grant things as much power as they choose to give them.” She presses him again on if he knows what she’s talking about, and he answers yes but it’s of little account to him; the moon cares little for who or what walks the earth. She’s shocked by his indifference, but he points out he is helping her—one service for another. She wraps up, exhausted and almost in a trance, until he tells her she’s done enough and can sleep.
She wakes to find the hut gone and Hanu lying next to her, healed. She fills him in on what had happened to him, then as they prepare to go they find a “tiny house no taller than her knees… a spirit house.” Shocked, they move on, but then she almost collapses in exhaustion. Hanu picks her up and carries her as she sleeps.
Golan is bored by the endless jungle the army treks through and annoyed by how their pace is slowing. U-Pre shows up to inform him the baggage train is bogged down again and they’ll have to stop. U-Pre leaves and Principal Scribe Thorn arrives to say they’ve lost twelve wagons to broken axles, rotted beds, etc. and they had to abandon the stores of firewood they’d carried. Golan asks why in the world they’re carting wood through a jungle full of trees, but Thorn says the jungle’s trees won’t burn—too green—and even the dead ones rot too fast to dry out suitably enough, adding that even when there are forest fires only the leaves and underbrush burn. He then reports they’re losing more soldiers, some to desertion and others to “unfortunate attacks” by “jungle denizens.” Golan congratulates him on “delicate euphemisms,” and when Thorn says, “So it is entered in the official campaign history,” Golan thinks to himself that history might be all that’s left of this army by the end.
That night Golan’s report to his masters is interrupted by an attack by clouds of insects swarming the air and grounds. He orders fires built and goes to look for the Avowed. He finds Black the Lesser, who is pretty unconcerned, and demands something be done. Black leads him to a mage who wonders why Golan doesn’t deal with it himself, and Golan replies that he doesn’t want to announce to Ardata the presence of a master of the Inner Circle. The mage laughs and asks if Golan really thinks that makes a difference. Grudgingly acceding to Golan’s demand he do something, the mage blows a feather up into the air (“a far different flavor from the foreign ‘warrens’. More chthonic, seething wild and feral”) and says that’s it. He complains about the damp to Black who says he hadn’t really notice being “still a young shoot.” A sudden hurricane-level storm front sweeps through, clearing the area of insects but also of tents and wagons. A downpour begins and Golan thinks the Isture mage is probably cracking up.
Warleader’s army sets up headquarters just before they reach Isana Pura, the southern capital of the Thaumaturgs, and Jatal joins the council gathering in the midst of an argument. Warleader proposes his soldiers storm the precincts while the tribes patrol the streets of the city. Jatal says that sounds fine, but Ganell argues that the treasure will be with the Thaumaturgs. Jatal says they’d agreed to share the spoils, then suggest a force of Atwami from a mix of families join Warleader’s soldiers. When Warleader agrees, Jatal says he’ll be happy to lead it. Andanii says a joint command (with her) might be best, and after hours of debate they agree that Jatal and Andanii will jointly command the force that with Warleader’s soldiers strikes the main ritual center. As the meeting breaks up, Jatal asks Warleader about intel, and Kallor says he’s had many reports from agents in the city. When Jatal says he’d thought about entering in disguise, Kallor tells him he would have had Scarza knock him unconscious if he’d thought Jatal was going to do such a thing, which he says is better left to “expendable personnel.” Jatal marvels at Kallor’s ability to “cut through all the mush and romanticism that surrounded raiding and warfare.” Jatal points out he and Andanii would be leading the strike force with Warleader, but Kallor says he knew he’d get stuck with some noble and he’d rather Jatal than the others. Jatal asks about the agent reports and when Kallor says he expects no more than fifty yakshaka in the city, Jatal wonders how they can be expected to deal with so many. Kallor though says the yakshaka won’t fight in the battle—instead focusing on protecting the Thaumaturgs—and the army’s job isn’t really to kill them, just stop them from interfering with the army’s sack of the city. Plus, he adds, while difficult, the yakshaka are not indestructible. He and Jatal part.
Ha, it’s fun that we believed ‘payment’ would entail something very crude, and it sort of is, but it’s tattooing rather than providing him ‘relief’. I can see why buttocks would be preferable, but only just!
So, is Moon just a complete loony, or is he the genuine article? He’s definitely giving me something to think about, since that swirling pattern of stars on his skin seems to show he has genuine power. Plus, he was permitted to pay his respects to Mother Dark, which suggests that she recognises him as ‘something’.
So Ardata is like some jungle version of Noah with all her animals coming to the jungle two by two. I like that Ardata is providing this refuge—especially when we saw just in the last chapter that the Thaumaturgs (among many humans) are willing to persecute animals to extinction.
I also like the recognition of humans’ fear of the ‘other’: “Long ago Ardata offered sanctuary to all the creatures and spirits you humans cared to name monsters. Which, it seems, conveniently includes everything other than you.”
You can sort of see that Moon might have been drawn to Saeng because of her association with the powers of Light—possibly a priestess of Light—if he declares himself an attendant to Light.
What would replace the moon in the event of its destruction? I’m not sure what is being implied about Ripan’s nature. But maybe that mystery is the point.
Saeng seems almost betrayed by the fact that Old Man Moon doesn’t care about what might happen—but I think this representation is perfect: a remote figure looking down on events and not being able to influence them, just witnessing. Surely exactly like the moon?
That tiny spirit house seems so creepy in the broad light of day, and increases the feel of mystery, for me. Was what happened real?
Oh god, I laughed at the idea of them taking firewood into a forest. It’s as though they have a prescribed method of invasion, and they are going to follow it, no matter what the environment is like.
There is just some lovely humour in Esslemont’s writing through the Thaumaturgs section: “That night there came an attack that Golan knew even the most creative record-keeping could not cover up as unfortunate.”
I love how the solution to the insects is like applying a nuclear bomb to a plague of locusts, and Golan’s appalled realisation that this is all becoming like some sort of universal joke.
Ah, Kallor, always so compassionate: “Expendable personnel.”
I love the humor that starts the scene with Old Man Moon’s tattooing—with Saeng’s realization that she’s going to tattoo his ass and then his option to do the “other side”—to which she quickly (and understandably) says no thanks to.
This guy though is pretty much a mystery, isn’t he? As would seem appropriate for the moon. Assuming we can take his words at face value (always a question), he’s pretty old. Maybe even an Elder? Or older? Note how Saeng (who is only guessing) places him in that very elemental order of powers—Earth, Dark, Water, Light. Might he and Osserc be good buddies? There’s an odd little hint of some connection when he says at least part of him is a “pale modest attendant” to Light. At the least he’s a contemporary of Mother Dark (and one would assume Rake and others?) I can see how some might get frustrated at the very tenuous nature of all this, but especially as it’s linked to the moon, I kind of like the mystery here. We’ll have to see if we come across Moon again, here or another book.
I love this idea of Himatan as a refuge for all those driven to near extinction by humanity. And how Esslemont ties it so bluntly to humanity’s unwillingness to tolerate anything not human (and while it doesn’t get mentioned, certainly there are lots of instances of humans declaring other “humans” not human, i.e. “barbaric”), calling them “monsters” so as to more easily justify the killing of them. And it ties in to the earlier vantage point we had of how the Thaumaturgs view Ardata’s land—as a “waste” of space, “unproductive,” “wild and thus useless as it is. There’s always been a strong environmental theme running throughout this series, and this is a clear continuation of that. On a side note, this also works as a nice tease for the reader—what great creatures might be see in the latter stages of this book?
Moon is not the only mystery here. What is Ripan? And who are his other offspring? Might we see them too, or is this destined to remain a tantalizing mystery for the entire book?
Another nice little bit of commentary on us humans when he wryly acknowledges Saeng’s statement that people are different from more animals. And then again with his line that “People will always believe what they want to believe.” I’ll just note that it is political campaign season here in the US and let you draw your own connections…
“We will have as long as necessary” is a bit of an odd phrasing. And pretty self assured.
I like the choice of language when he tells Saeng her connection to light pulled to him like “a surge, a tidal pull.”
I thought this was a deft character move in Esslemont’s part. We’ve had Moon portrayed as a huge mystery, ancient, and with a sense of some power yes, but also as a likable quirky old guy. So the sheer breadth of his indifference to what may come, his statement that it doesn’t matter at all to him who walks land, or even if anyone does, is pretty stunning. I like this shift.
I’m still trying to figure out how I feel about the spirit house deal. Part of me thinks it is pretty cool and part of me thinks it’s a little twee. At least when I visualize it. Still not sure.
As much as I really really dislike the Thaumaturgs, I can’t help be won over by the voicing of their scenes. Golan’s response to learning they have been carting firewood though the jungle is wonderful as is his very dry “Thank you for that lesson in natural philosophy. I am most illuminated,” when the scribe tells him about the forest fires. As is the scribes how-do-we-read-this reply of “ever glad to be of service Master”. And the way Golan “eyed the fellow closely for a time” tells us he as well is not sure just how sincere that reply is. I love picturing the two of them staring silently at each other.
And the subsequent insect attack is priceless as much for what is understated as what is stated. The way Golan removes the fatal centipede from U-Pre without saying anything, Black the Lesser’s sullen indifference (and it is perfect that this comes from the Lesser), the mage’s wonderful “what is it?” while they’re surrounded by insects and screams and running figures, the anticlimactic “big magic spell” that involves pulling a feather out of a pocket and blowing it skyward, the cleansing wind that just happens to remove the tents and wagons with the bugs, and then that great image of Golan standing sodden in the pouring rain thinking how the old Mage must be laughing. Just a great scene all around. And I doubly like how it is so funny, but if you stop and think of it for a moment, what a nightmare of an attack this is for them all—taken down, swarmed over, poisoned, eaten. And then think of them walking through the jungle after this and their anxiety and jumpiness. Great job.
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.