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 Eight (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.
(Amanda will be adding in her commentary in the comments section)
Blood and Bone, Chapter Eight (Part One)
With Jatal’s guidance, along with Andanii, the tribes decide to agree to press on into Thaumaturg territory. Watching the families divide up the loot, Jatal considers it all ridiculous and wonders what has changed in him that he now thinks absurd what he once would have done himself. He wonders if it might be that his desire has switched to Andanii, recognizing that he and she have tied their fates together.
Jatal joins the vanguard, coming alongside the newly formed “Adwami Elite,” a name Andanii had come up with and one which he can’t believe flies, with its patent shallowness. He recalls how Warleader had seen right through it. He decides he’ll continue to press for more knowledge of Warleader, something both he and Andanii want. As he moves through the camp he notes how much brighter the Jade Visitor seems and wonders if it will indeed land on them as so many feared. In Warleader’s tent, he thinks he sees the canvas move and also feels he recognizes a scent mingled amongst the “spicy smoke” but can’t quite pin it down. Warleader says Jatal has changed from an innocent to a “political soul.” Jatal admits he’s different, finding himself “swept up in a gamble more insane and foolhardy than any I could have ever imagined.” Warleader, who seems incredibly bored/weary, tells him “every battle is a risk,” adding he’s spent an entire lifetime (cough couch, well, his entire life, ahem) doing this and he thinks this one is “sound.” He then asks what Jatal is really the ask him. Feeling toyed with, Jatal decides to go for it, and asks what the relationship is between the shaduwam and Warleader. Kallor answers he could care less about the shaduwam, though he admits he does have an alliance with them thanks to them approaching him first—an alliance of “convenience” he calls it, making an analogy that “When the lion strikes, the jackals and vultures also get their share.” Jatal accepts the explanation, though he’s pretty sure there’s more to the story. He tells Warleader to in the future inform the council of all pertinent information, and when Warleader asks whom he should inform, Jatal, much to Warleader’s amusement, proffers himself as the council’s representative. On his way out, he notes there was an extra glass on the table. That night, Andanii did not come to his tent.
The native chief Oroth-en leads Murk’s group to a clearing to let the group stay there while just a few go on to the village. Burustan wonders what they’re so worried about—who would want to take over a “wasteland.” But Yusen points out the natives live here, so it isn’t “a wasteland.” On the way to the village, Sour decides to name a particular plant, but Murk mocks the idea that he “discovered” it or that his naming should take precedence over the names of those who’ve lived their for generations. They reach the village and Sour tries to access his warren to allow them to understand the natives, but though he is successful he is stunned by some sort of response which he attributes to Ardata. Warriors gather round, mistaking them for Isture. Orothen-corrects them and they discuss killing Murk’s group but Oroth-en says there are too many. Murk reveals they can understand them and introduces him and Sour as mages, which the natives take as Shaduwam. Murk thinks they mean shaman, and says kind of, noting their discomfort. He asks for food and help, which Oroth-en seems happy to provide, though at least some of the others are more grudging and mistrusting. Murk passes on the food (lots of insects and worms), but Sour chows down. Ursa, a female warrior decides to check for herself on all those rumors regarding mage’s members. Murk has no objection.
Later, they hear their group’s rally horn signaling they’re under attack. They and the natives rush to their aid to find the wreckage of a battle and killed and wounded. Burustan tells them they were attacked by “half-human, half-monster” creatures. One of the soldiers tells Murk the creatures seemed to want Celeste. Mur calls on her and she appears to him in his warren. He asks if she noted the attack but she didn’t, telling him there’s a “different sort of entity” [Ardata] here she’s been trying to understand, but, she tells him, “its awareness exists on a level incalculably far beyond your or me.” That knowledge stuns Murk. She wonders how trying to understand Ardata might change her, unsure if she even wants to be changed. She asks what’ he’d do and he panics about what would be the right thing to say and worries that he is even considering “using” Celeste as a counter to Ardata. He rejects doing so and finally tells her he’d wait and watch some more, advice she happily accepts. She leaves and he goes back to Yusen and Oroth-en.
Murk asks Oroth-en why the creatures attacked, and the native admits he doesn’t know, though he speculates perhaps they were just defending their territory. Murk asks if they ever attack the village, and when Oroth-en says no, Murk says he wants to try and contact one. Oroth-en advises against it, saying the creatures are upset about something, but Murk, thinking he knows what it is, says he’ll be OK. Oroth-en, however, warns him that Himatan consumes all, including Shaduwam, or mages, no matter how “powerful” they think themselves. Ursa tries to stop him too, but he uses his warren and goes after the creatures. When he nears them he sends out a “Shadow-weaving” to talk to one of the creatures, who tells him “You invade our lands. You trespass… you have the nerve to think yourselves the victims?… And you bring this thing with you?… Go away. Leave us in peace.” Murk apologizes, saying they hadn’t thought of the jungle as “peaceful.” It tells him: “We all live the same lives. We are born, we strive, we die. The difference is we do not make war upon our land. We accept it. We are at peace with it.” And then it notes a predator about to kill it and says, “And here comes peace for me now.” A larger creature eats the first, says it can smell Murk, and he decides it’s a good time to return to camp. Back at camp, Sour tells him the natives have been helping with local plant meds—impressive stuff he says. Murk reports to Yusen that the attack was a warning and defensive against perceived invasion. Yusen asks how they can be “trespassers” in a jungle, but Oroth-en tells them nobody is allowed in Himatan save given leave by Ardata. Yusen makes it clear that the natives can’t really support them for the time needed to build boats—it would cause them great hardship—and Murk suggests going to the coast and building their own. Yusen agrees and says they’ll head southwest in the morning. Sour is off with the scouts, so Murk goes to sleep.
Sour returns in the morning looking like a native and tells Murk he thinks they should emulate the natives if they want to survive. Murk begins to tell him how the other soldiers will laugh at him, but then Sweetly appears looking like a native too.
I like how before we get Kallor telling Jatal (and us) that he has grown more political, we’re offered up evidence via events, as the chapter begins with Jatal and Andanii nudging their council and fellow tribes people down the path they want. The question however might be is this a good thing? Just as perhaps we might wonder if his looking at his prior analytical, second-guessing self as “weak” is a sign of positive growth or a set-up for a fall thanks to his lack of looking deeply into things.
Even amongst the tribes, it’s all about branding: everyone wants to be part of the “Elite”, no matter how empty of meaning the descriptor truly is.
We seem to be getting a few more references to the Visitor, which is no surprise given what we know from earlier books. The question is are these references preparing us for something specific regarding it in this novel, or mere reminders?
So, tent wall moving, a familiar scent in the air, an extra wine glass—I’m not sure we need Hercule Poirot here.
Nice little distinction Kallor makes there between “an entire lifetime” and well, “my entire life” [italics mine]. It’s especially funny coming after Jatal thinks how Kallor must have heard the same sort of worries Jatal sounds out “a thousand times” before. Oh, if you only knew…
I will say I think the descriptions of Kallor might be a bit much in this section, with the dead eyes and the wine like blood and the “something inhuman—a creature of legend or myth” and the death’s grin and the inhumanly cold eyes and the fish-like dead eyes, etc. I’d have rather a more selective buffet of descriptors.
I did like though how Kallor reacted when Jatal suggested, innocently, that they meet more often, perhaps to discuss philosophy or history, that latter one perhaps making Kallor wonder if Jatal is more political than he’d thought, is playing a deeper game than Kallor had expected or planned on, that he perhaps knows more of “Warleader” than he lets on.
Burustan shows us that it isn’t just the Thaumaturgs who look at the jungle and see nothing but nothing. Though I admit that “wasteland” seems an odd choice of words for a jungle even if one thinks there’s nothing of “value” there.
Love the little discussion on the arrogance of colonialism/imperialism, with its use of language like “discovery” (for places, people, and things that have been long known of course to those who actually live there) and its tendency to rename things.
Well, Sour’s bloody nose and being stunned to the ground just trying to get a language spell doesn’t bode well for him being a particularly strong magical asset if they need some offensive weaponry from him. And this also shows what has been a continuing theme—Ardata’s strength, especially in her area of influence.
“So might the snake beg entry to the hut”. Given what transpires, is this a euphemism from Ursa?
I like how Murk, and then later Yusen does the same, realizes that their presence for any amount of time with the natives would probably lead to starvation amongst them, and like their discomfort with that idea.
Yet another hint at just how uber-powerful Ardata is, with even Celeste—part of the CG after all and someone whom Murk thinks could flick him from existence—finds her “incalculably far beyond” her.
And this scene is another reason to like Murk, who wrestles with his conscience over using Celeste’s innocence and trust to turn her to a weapon against Ardata, and also accrue power to himself: ”gods, the temptation!” But instead he rejects both ideas—the selfish power for himself and the calculatingly cold manipulation of Celeste. Good for him.
I’m really enjoying Sweetly as a character despite, or perhaps because of, the few words.
Another lesson in perspective and tunnel vision, this one from the half-bird half-human creature who tells Murk the jungle is in fact a place of peace—even if it appears just the opposite to Murk’s group of trespassers. And I get what the creature is saying, but looking at one’s own fanged death coming at it and saying, “Ahh, here’s that peace I’ve been talking about” is a bit too Zen for me, I confess. I’m a bit more rage rage against the coming of the teeth kind of guy.
Did I misread? Wasn’t Yusen the one upbraiding Burustan for calling the jungle a wasteland and now here he’s calling it empty?
I don’t know why, but Murk’s contempt for Sour’s “going native” didn’t feel quite right to me. It might be just because I like Murk and so don’t want him to be so closed-minded. Or so hidebound, as Sour makes what seems an obvious point—if the natives can survive by their methods, it might behoove them to try some of them. I got the food, but this scene seemed a bit too much of a response from him. On the other hand, it was worth it for the appearance of Sweetly and his single, grunted, “What?” as he walks by.
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.