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 Ten (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 Ten (Part Two)
They tell Yusen they think the shard will be harder to track and inform him it’s Skinner who is after them, an ex-Guard disavowed by K’azz. Murk suggests since Aradata and Skinner are adversaries, perhaps they should head east toward her area, deeper into Himatan, much to Burastan and Sweetly’s dismay.
Ina, who has been below decks due to seasickness for most of the trip, senses T’riss is not alone and goes up to find her conversing with a strange man (Bugg/Mael). T’riss tells him “You know my answer,” and he says, “It’s not for everyone, especially coming from you.” She answers, “It’s time” and when he wonders if she’ll be able to convince Ardata of that T’riss says she’s never been able to convince her of anything. He warns that once she enters the jungle she’ll be beyond all their help and she replies she knows, and that fact might be “rather convincing.” He’s not happy, but says he won’t try to stop her: “We’re cowards, all of us. In the end we’re just damned cowards.” She disagrees though, hugging him and saying, “You have changed though change is terrifying.” Tears in his eyes, he asks her to come to him when she’s done and she says she will, though both know she may be unable to. He drops into the sea and when Ina worries about him drowning, T’riss tells her he’s the god of the seas. At first she is surprised at how he chose to appear, then realizes that such a guise would allow “one to come to know humanity far more richly. The life experience of a poor crippled child would after all be far different from that of a pampered merchant prince.” She realizes Bugg “has empathy for us… For what it means to be human.” T’riss agrees, distracted, and Ina thinks that while Bugg has empathy, T’riss has plans.
The next day they land on Jacuruku and head into the jungle. Ina thinks of the “legendary city of Jakal Viharn… stories of a lost city. Of riches, magic, and the perilous Queen of all Witches… One with the power, so the stories went, to grant any wish to whoever should succeed in reaching her.” She asks if that is T’riss’ intent, noting that it’s said all who reach her die and that her blessing is a curse. Triss implies “confront” isn’t exactly the right word, but they’re interrupted by some of Himatan’s creatures, who say they’d thought they had sensed their Queen. Confused, they say there is “much of her in” Triss. The creatures say they are Aradata’s guardians, but Triss tells them if they would not bar their queen’s path through the jungle, they must not impede her either, and the creatures bow to whatever they sense of her power. Ina asks Triss if the creatures were shapechangers, but Triss says no, really only the Eleint are true shapechangers (“there blood partakes of chaos, you know”). She does say though that there had been a long-ago species who could change from beast to human or maybe just lived in the in-between spot (naturally, not via magic) and that over millennia they had spread out and some had lost the ability wholly, others had the ability diluted, and still others kept it “true.” When Ina asks about the creatures’ idea that Triss was very like their own queen, Triss says one could say she and Ardata were sisters.
Golan’s army begins to raft across the river, the moment being thoroughly memorialized by Scribe Thorn. As about 40 Avowed cross, one of the giant worms strikes, destroying the raft leaving next to nothing, though Waris later reports the Avowed survived (which Golan thinks a pity) and marched into the jungle. A new raft is being built, though the army will be delayed a day.
With most of the army now across, Golan is summoned by the chief surgeon, who reports a new parasitical infestation (one of a myriad, which Golan happily reels off) from the water: worms that enter the body and consume it from within. As they stand over the body of the patient, the worms suddenly burst free. Golan fires the body and hears the screams of the infected raging out across the camp.
Osserc wakes and muses on the lesson he thinks Gothos is teaching him—“that holding on to the past—being guided by the past—was wrong. A self-limiting trap… The lesson is to be guided by the past without being trapped by it.” He thinks how one should be guided to achieve wisdom, ruefully acknowledging that’s not a trait usually associated with him, unlike Anomander: “wise beyond his years.” Osserc, though, thinks he has gained knowledge, “A great deal of knowledge. He had wandered the very shores of creation. Tasted the blood of the Eleint. Plumbed the depts. Of the Abyss itself. Studied the verges of the realms. He had questioned the Azathanai repeatedly… even investigated the Azath. Few could boast of as thorough an interrogation of the underlying truths of existence.” It has though, he now acknowledges, taught him “only his appalling ignorance… [a lack of] self-knowledge. The sort of exploration that inflicted true pain.” He wonders at his confusion over not understanding others when he didn’t even know himself. He remembers rescuing L’oric, how he’d been furious at the boy’s stupidity and embarrassed that his own child could have been so dumb and reckless, but now he realizes L’oric had simply been imitating him; that Osserc himself was to blame for “his utter neglect and lack of guidance.” The thought that he had only done as his own father, or maybe even worse, pains him greatly. His thoughts are interrupted by a noise from the front door. Osserc asks Gothos if he should open it, and when Gothos doesn’t object, he opens it to find a human body that had seemingly crawled out of an Azath barrow. As they watch the man crawl, a figure in heavy armor (Temper) comes running down the street and takes up a post near outside the low wall where the escapee seems to be heading. The man pulls himself up and is stabbed by Temper to no effect (well, the escapee does chuckle). Gothos tells Temper to let him go; “The House has no hold over him!” Looking down to where the figure has fallen after crawling over the wall, Temper recognizes him as Cowl. He tells Gothos there’s no way he’s letting him roam in his town, but Cowl says he has no interest in this “pathetic shithole” but has business elsewhere with his commander. Osserc can’t figure how Cowl could have escaped since he knows there are several more powerful creatures still trapped by the House, even some Azathanai (or those possessing their blood). Even one of his own daughters, he thinks, was once taken by a House, though he’d warned her. Gothos tells Temper the House chooses to hold or not, that he should just let Cowl go. Cowl takes off and Osserc tells Temper he risked much in his confrontation. Temper tells Osserc step down and he’ll happily take him on too—“’Bout time someone took you down to size.” Osserc almost does, but recognizing that Temper is touched by D’rek, decides not to and simply shuts the door. He asks Gothos why the House has no hold on Cowl, and Gothos replies it’s because the assassin has “already been claimed,” which annoys Osserc as it tells him nothing.
There is something incredibly vulnerable about a Seguleh pushing her mask high on her head so that she is able to vomit.
Ina’s casual thoughts about who has come by to visit the Queen of Dreams suggests that this goddess is central to many plans, and conspiracies—no doubt only a fraction of which we are currently aware of.
This image of the Enchantress and Bugg together just goes to show us that power doesn’t necessarily mean beauty: “Had she not known otherwise she might have mistaken the two for an impoverished old married couple.” Just dwell on that marriage for a moment…
It is a lovely scene, seeing Bugg shedding tears for the Enchantress because he knows that she will be out of reach and beyond their help. It does beg the question what the Queen of Dreams is heading towards, and what she aims to do when she gets there—bring Ardata into the fold?
Hmm, who does not have empathy for humans (if the Empress believes that Bugg is one who does)?
It feels as though the Queen of Dreams and Ardata are already going toe to toe with this description of their arrival:
“At the last moment the Enchantress raised an arm and edged it across her front as if brushing something away […] It was as if the entire stretch of coast bled. The long thin vessel slid into the cut like a dagger entering the flesh of the land.”
I like the little hints Esslemont is putting in about how appearance and tales are not everything. First of all, we have had Bugg and the QoD looking more like a pair of elderly washerpeople, and now we have the QoD mildly chiding Ina over the “stories” she has heard about Ardata by saying that people call her a witch.
Also, a little touch of the Seguleh ritual, with Ina bowing her head in distress at having not noticed the people surrounding them and the Enchantress snapping, “Later.”
What is the QoD annoyed about, when the reptilian creature says that there is much of Ardata in her? The implication that she resembles Ardata, rather than Ardata resembling her?
The Queen of Dreams and the Queen of Witches are siblings? That can lend itself to the fiercest rivalry, and will certainly lead to the feel in similarity between them.
Once again Golan and the Principal Scribe provide pure joy:
Golan discovered his jaws clenched tight once more. “I believe the shovels require re-counting,” he grated.
The Principal Scribe murmured as he wrote: “No detail is too small to escape Master Golan’s eagle eye.”
Poor Golan though. Partly thanks to Thorn’s mutterings, and partly because he isn’t at all sure of his “allies”, he ends up second guessing every single decision he makes. Turns out, though, that sending the disavowed ahead means that the people most likely to survive a raft explosion and a giant water creature are the ones on the river when it happens.
Hmm, Golan’s thought about whether it was mere chance the disavowed were the only ones to be attacked by the jungle beast does make you wonder whether Ardata was behind that in an effort to get rid of Skinner.
Man, all of these horrible diseases don’t exactly make this sound like a hospitable place. And then we finally have the sight of this poor boy, who is being eaten from the inside out. Again, Esslemont excels in his writing of horrific events.
And Golan’s reaction to learning about this parasite has a lot of impact: “All the labourers. And the soldiers. Had they not all taken it in turns to wade in to help?”
There is a real dichotomy between the scenes in the jungle that positively fizz with life, and these moments we spend with Osserc and Gothos, where time seems to inch past with no visible signs of movement from either of these virtually timeless individuals.
Also an interesting parallel between Osserc and his clinical questing for knowledge, and the Thaumaturgs. “Yet what had all this study and probing and ruthless examination taught him?”
Yay, Cowl and Temper! Looks like K’azz is about to get a timely reinforcement in the form of Cowl…
I love the response to Murk’s use of the “enemy of my enemy” advice to head deeper into the jungle—Sweetly’s twig has to rank as one my favorite character devices
Always a pleasure to see Bugg. Hard not to chuckle at Triss’ bit of exasperation at the pesky humans never doing what the Azathanai want them to, especially when one considers the human most linked to Bugg—Tehol—plus of course Shadowthrone always in the background. And a nice tease with making the reader wonder just what Triss is going to ask Ardata—“it’s time” to do what exactly?
Been a while (I think) since we’ve heard that word—empathy—so central to this series. And a curious emphasis by Triss in her agreement—“Yes, he does”—implying of course that some do not—herself? Ardata? Others? Also a nice bit of ambiguity with that last line about T’riss having “plans” for people while Mael has empathy for them. One can read that in both a positive and negative light: the negative being one cares for people while another manipulates them, sees them as pawns and the positive being one cares for people but doesn’t do anything about that feeling (we know differently with Bugg but Ina does not) while another actively does something for them.
Again, I just want to point to all the setting detail, the way we’re never left to forget we’re in a jungle, with the bird noise, the monkeys, the vines, etc. While we note the action and big themes, I don’t want to skate over the brick by brick construction of this world.
Was anyone else waiting for the description of El Jakarado, I mean, Jakal Viharn, to include streets paved in gold?
I like T’riss’s dry “I have been damned as a witch” response to Ina accusing Ardata of the same. “Stricken” indeed, one would think for Ina as she realizes what she’d just said.
On the other hand, it’s interesting, T’riss’s reaction to the creature saying there was much of Ardata in her—“The Enchantress’ eyes narrowed, no longer amused.” Is it she doesn’t like the idea that she is so like Ardata, or that she doesn’t like being able to be sensed by these creatures so fully? Or something else? And are the creatures bowing to just superior power or is it that kinship to their Queen that forestalls any further hindering of Triss?
I’ll just say that this whole discussion of the Eleint as the only true shape-changers and the one species who could change between beast to human (or inhabit the space between) is particularly interesting while reading Fall of Light, which shows us both in good quantity.
Well, we’ve known for some time that the Four Founding Races was a bit of twaddle, but as with the empathy reference, it’s nice to get a call-back to one of the recurring major themes of this universe—the idea of history being as much imagination (or more) as actuality.
Really, it’s hard not to see how more characters in this series don’t have Ina’s view about how “One cannot turn over a rock” without finding a god or goddess under it, or somebody of roughly equivalent power. They do seem to be all over the place, don’t they? Of course, we are getting a warped viewpoint.
I’m not a religious person, but I’ve always said if I had to pick one, I’d go with this animistic one that Ina thinks exists in Himatan—that “every tree, every stream and stone possessed a spirit.”
Oh, I do love me some Scribe Thorn moments.
Nice bit of foreshadowing the parasite issue with the warning about drinking the water (if only simply not drinking it would have been enough)
That’s a great visual of the Avoweds’ raft being destroyed, and a nice little moment of “holy shit!” before sense (or memory) kicks in and you realize “Oh yeah, Avowed. They’ll be fine.” Also interesting that the giant worm is not the most horrible worm in the river.
As Golan runs through not one but two litanies of infectious/parasitic woe (which is both funny in this context and then not so funny when you think of how these things truly strike people), you have to wonder—what the hell are you people even doing here? What with the “foot rot, crotch rot…suppurating sores, debilitating heatstroke, poisoning… dehydration, tremors, loss of teeth… the runs, vomiting… that awful fly that lays its eggs in everyone’s eyes… the chigger whose larvae are gnawing everyone’s flesh… the hookworm…the ringworm… the tapeworms… [or] the worms that you have to pull out of the flesh of the leg?” That moment may just be the most horrific visual in this series.
Less horribly visually, or physically, but still pretty horrible, especially from Osserc’s point of view, is the idea of realizing all those years of thinking how sucky a parent your father/mother/both was or were, and all those years of swearing you’d never be like them or do what they do, and then looking at your life and your kid (s) and thinking, “crap—I’m just like him/her/them” On the other hand, between these memories here and his references to creatures caught by Azath houses (“some he had battled was quite glad were now writhing constrained beneath his feet.… Even one of his own daughters…”), it appears that a book about Osserc’s life would be pretty interesting. And that’s even without getting to his scenes in Fall of Light.
It’s amazing how seriously fun it is to see old friends in this series, even if just for a moment or two. Didn’t you just smile at Temper’s appearance here? And then crack up when he tells Osserc “Take a step outside and I’ll run you through. ‘Bout time someone took you down to size.” Ahh, those Malazans…
And one of the reasons I love this series are how often we get lines like this: “Well, seems I can’t kill you, seeing as you’re already dead.”
Well, it’s tough not to assume we know where Cowl is heading…
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.