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 Eleven 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.
(Note: Amanda will be adding her response in the comments later.)
Blood and Bone Chapter Eleven
The tribes met to discuss the impending attack on Anditi Pura and Warleader assures them of an easy victory, with the shaduwam dealing with the Thaumaturgs. Each time Jatal tries to bring up a concern, Warleader dismisses it, and Jatal decides to just give up. It’s agreed that the Elites and the mercenaries will take the inner sanctuaries and the meeting breaks up. In his tent, Jatal is tormented by thoughts of his own cowardice, of the potential of fleeing the battle, of a sense of impending doom, though he resigns himself that he has but one choice—to go on. Well, that and wax poetic.
In the morning he tells Pinal, hos Horse-Master, to ride with the regulars and command and care for them in his name. He joins Andanii at the head of the troops and they head out. Jatal notes how it’s a nearly entirely agrarian society, no merchants, no manufacturing, not even any domesticated animals or basic mechanical assistance, and he thinks it’s purposeful by the Thaumaturgs to “keep their populace chained to the countryside.” They reach the city and then the Inner City with yakshaka defending the walls and Andanii tells him they’re to wait for the mercenaries, further evidence that she and Warleader have been talking without him. Jatal wonders if they have plotted to have him “die in battle,” an obstacle removed. He’s especially disappointed in Scarza, who had seemed sincerely friendly. The attack begins and though greatly outnumbered, the yakshaka are holding their own. Scarza climbs up and manages to take down several as he charges the gatehouse. As Andanii orders the Elite in, Jatal hears what sounds like some reluctance or perhaps fear in her voice, a realization of just how much this was costing them and he marvels at how their positions have changed—he ready for anything and she worried. Scarza opens the gate and they rush in. They reach a central building and pass Thaumaturgs and shaduwam corpses, all killed horribly. Andanii tells Jatal they need to talk, that she has suspicions. Jatal notes that all the troops around them are hers chosen ones, further evidence he thinks that she will turn on him. Warleader leads them farther into the building and at one point a bell rings, causing Warleader to pause, looking “puzzled.” Zombie-like Thaumaturgs attack them, vomiting up a kind of digestive acid then eating the dead. Jatal makes his way free by hacking off their hands, struggling to get through as Warleader made his way to the stairs and just abandoned them, Andanii close behind, though in her look back Jatal thinks he sees “a desperate agony mixed with a ferocious ruthless resolve.” He thinks she’s happy to have him die. Angered, he makes his own way out.
They pass through experimentation/operating rooms and other rooms of horror before coming across Andanii badly wounded atop a table. She’s able to warn them of a trap before they’re set upon by Thaumaturg-engineered monsters. Jatal scoops up Andanii and manages to escape with her. She tells him to flee back to his home to write his poems and read his books, and begs him to try to forgive her. She dies and he wanders out through a maelstrom of horrors. He comes across a shaduwam who kills a Thaumaturg and eats his victim’s heart. Jatal passes out.
He wakes outside in one of the courtyards, surrounded by a mixed crowd, guarded by shaduwam who now and then take away some of the captives. He is depressed by the waste of all this and cannot fathom what Warleader gains from it. Eventually he’s pulled away to witness the priests burning the skin off a Thaumaturg, and he and a shaduwam priest (the one who originally came to their meeting at the start of the campaign) tells him the shaduwam believe that “there is only the flesh. No good or bad. Only the flesh and its demands… there are no opposites. Nothing can be said to be negative or positive… That is all illusion.” He says morality is merely, in Jatal’s words, “an arbitrary construct.” He leads Jatal on to meet Warleader, who wonders why they brought Jatal to him, saying he’s “done with” him. Jatal tells him Andanii died, and though a look of pain crosses Warleader’s face (perhaps from the news, perhaps from his wound), he tells Jatal not to despair since Jatal will soon join her in death. Jatal is angry at his lack of response, and Warleader tells him that Andanii came to him and had him tell her stories, and he did, “more than I ought to have,” and because of that she “came closest of anyone to grasping a certain secret,” one she herself scarcely believed and that she refused to pass on to anyone. After some ministration from the priests, he pulls out a broken arrow from his side, and looking at it Jatal realizes it had come from Andanii’s bow. Warleader tells him, “She gave me that. Because, you see, she had given everything else to you… And now I give it to you. The gift of pain. True soul-destroying anguish. It is yours now.” And he tells the priests to let Jatal live. Jatal, dazed, makes his way out of the Inner City, thinking, “Oh Andanii, I betrayed you even while you held true. I am not worthy of your sacrifice.” He set on by a mob, but before he’s killed Scarza rescues him, telling him “the bastard betrayed all of us but we can still get away.” Jatal says no, and Scarza, recognizing the arrow he holds, realized Andanii is dead. He apologizes then and knocks Jatal out.
He wakes outside the city and when asked why, Scarza tells him “Those were my men… Can’t let some jumped up Warleader sell them out.” He tells Jatal he plans on capturing him, saying Warleader “rode off alone like the very fiends of the Abyss were after his spirit.” They set out after Warleader.
While I like the idea of the poet-prince, and that Jatal composes a poem on the eve of what he senses will be his death, I do wish his poem were a bit better.
More than the poem, I like how he sends Pinal to ride with the regulars, emphasizing that he is to take care of them—a true prince here, looking out for his people rather than himself.
Jatal’s thought that the people move away or bow to them passing “under the logic that anyone not busy working the land must be an official,” reminds me of the old Monty Python line: “How do you know he’s the king?” “He hasn’t got shit all over him.”
I do enjoy though how his scholar mind keeps analyzing and theorizing as he sees what he sees, figuring out for instance how the Thaumaturgs are advantaged by not easing their populace’s labour by machine or magic, keeping them tied to their long days of hard toil in farming so they have no time or thought for anything else, such as resentment or rebellion. You can almost see him formulating his book on the topic: “The Subjugation of the Many by the Few. A treatise of various effective methods by Jatal…”
As usual, Esslemont shows a nice touch of horror as we advance into the inner sanctums, with the gore and the undead and the talons and fangs and hand-severing and acid-vomiting and eating of hearts and poison-gas-spouting statues (c’mon though, did these soldiers never play D&D? Everyone knows you don’t trust statues!) Etc. The creepiest though just might have been the children with the sewed up mouths.
So I wonder how first time readers feel about the whole switcheroo with regard to Andanii. I confess that I’m not a huge fan of this plot line mostly because I’m generally not a fan of this generic device whereby one character doesn’t divulge information until way too late (or in this case, never). I’m just not clear on why she doesn’t say anything earlier. It isn’t like she’d have thought Jatal was pro-Warleader. I know we get the whole “I had no time” line, and the “you’d think me mad” line but both seems really weak to me. Kallor seems to imply it was to protect Jatal: ‘One she dared not pass on to anyone—not even to you. Especially not to you.” But that doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. I suppose the thinking was she and her handpicked guards would kill Kallor without Jatal being involved, but given what she guessed about him, it seems like it would be more protective to have told Jatal. But maybe not. Thoughts?
I do like the way Jatal finds out though, via the arrow Kallor pulls out of his own body. And then Kallor reverts back to Kallor-ways with his cruelty in telling poor Jatal that he’d betrayed Andanii in his thoughts, thinking she’d aligned with Kallor against Jatal. Nice.
Hard not to like Scarza though. For his humor, his seeming sincerity in caring about Jatal and his sincere mourning of Andanii, his rescue of Jatal (both from the mob and his desire for death), and his desire to ride out after Kallor with little concern, even with “a spark of humor.” His line is also a nice tease—just what is it that made Kallor ride out of the city “like the very fiends of the Abyss were after his spirit”? But knowing what we know of Kallor, it’s hard not to worry about these two, good intentions or not.
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.