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 Twelve 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 joining us in the comments section again this post.)
Shimmer’s ship comes to a stop in shallow water at a stone wharf and Rutana tells them they’ve arrived. They disembark and then rid themselves of much of their armor thanks to it having rotted away to uselessness. K’azz reminds them they’re here to try and bring back the separated Avowed, though he’s silent on that topic with regard to Skinner. They reach a field filled with ruins and remnants of civilization, along with still-smoking incense sticks as offerings. As they begin to rebuild one of a group of huts they come across, they’re met by a woman whose body is deformed on one half. She tells them though they don’t see her, Ardata is there, then leaves. K’azz tells them she was not diseased, but instead “caught halfway into a transformation from human into something else.” Shimmer feels pity for the woman. Wandering the trees, Shimmer runs into Rutana, who tells her that Ardata won’t appear to them, just as she has not appeared to those who come and leave offerings and pray: “They pray. But she does not come. She cares nothing for their desires. Their demands… [she cares for] Strength. Power!” When Shimmer asks if that’s why Ardata was drawn to Skinner, Rutana laughs and says it was the Vow, adding that Shimmer and the rest are all “doomed.” Shimmer asks how so, and Rutana merely answers that she should ask K’azz. Continuing on, Shimmer has a moment of utter peace at the edge of a reservoir, a sense of just how trivial her concerns were “in the face of such an immensity of time and space.”
Pon-lor, having lost Hanu, prepares for a night alone in Himatan. He finds a cave next to an old village dump and lights a fire. Later he’s challenged by a huge creature who introduces himself as Anmathana, Earthsahaker and tries to climb but is driven back by Pon-lor’s magic. Varakapi congratulates him then asks him “What is Himatan,” telling him it the “question is nothing yet everything… fertile ground for speculation.” Varakapi disappears and Pon-lor considers the question.
Murk thinks how things had all changed since they’d met Oroth-en’s people, with Sour going “native,” and he’s concerned it won’t end well. Sour explains how covering himself in mud and paint etc. keeps the bugs, heat, sun, and animals from harming him and tries to get Murk to at least try it to no avail. Murk tells him his Shadow warren has been useless, its “attention’s elsewhere… like the shadows are all standing still, afraid to move.” Sour gets it, and points to the Jade Visitor, saying how close it feels, then he staggers as if from a physical blow, telling Murk “It could happen… It could fall right here on us. I saw it.” Murk says they have to tell the captain. Burustan finds them and brings Sour to a soldier who is suffering from a poisonous plant. Sour gives him a blue flower as protection against attack, then heads off to find a plant to deal with the soldier’s foot. Burustan and Murk follows and when they’re alone, she tells Sour she’s not a fan of him lying to the troops even for good reasons. Sour is lost, but Murk explains she’s talking about the flower, saying things haven’t gotten bad enough yet for them to resort to such tactics. Sour tells them he’s not lying: “This place. It’s got its own rules.” He explains he’s figured out (he thinks) that in the jungle it doesn’t matter what you look or sound like; it’s all about how you smell. Burustan says she needs to talk to the Captain Yusen about it, and Sour tells her he needs to talk to him too, saying he’s just realized which way they need to go.
Burustan explains the situation to Yusen, and when Sour says he believes in the flower’s protection, Yusen accepts it, asking Burustan if anything had disproved Sour’s theory. She says no, but doesn’t think they should trust the mages, who aren’t even cadre she argues. Sour starts to contradict her but Murk cuts him off, and then refuses to say anything when Yusen asks if he has something to add. Yusen lets it drop, and Murk realizes he has as little interest in exploring the past (his own) as Murk and Sour do. When Burustan still complains, Yusen points out the two mages have kept them alive through half of Himatan despite fighting Disavowed and carrying a piece of the Crippled God. He thinks that’s good enough, adding he believes they served with either the 5th or 6th Army in Genabackis. Burustan realizes what he’s saying, and when she asks Murk if he and Sour really served with Dujek One-Arm, Murk says yes, which is good enough for her. Sour offers up his recommendation for travel and Yusen orders it followed. Burustan and the mages head off to arrange it.
Yusen pulls out a blue flower and thinks, “Wondered why he gave me the silly thing.”
Ina and T’riss come to a river and just before Ina jumps in, T’riss takes her elbow from behind, causing the Seguleh to instinctively strike out, knocking T’riss unconscious. Ina brings her to again and ask for her punishment, but T’riss says it’s simply to stay with her (causing Ina to wonder if T’riss has foreseen her death). When Ina wonders how she could possibly have hurt her, T’riss explains she “came to Ardata completely unguarded and open,” speaking of what Ina would label her powers or aspect—“my territory. An area of concern that through general neglect and laziness has become my responsibility.” Ina confesses she’s confused, but T’riss says she’s merely thinking aloud “to the jungle.” She uses her powers to construct a raft and they board it, T’riss seemingly now in a hurry.
Their raft speeds down the river for several days and nights, when one day they’re suddenly attacked by Spite in dragon form. Their craft is wrecked and when Ina struggles ashore Spite (in her human form) is standing over T’riss, who asks to be let alone, saying she is a sorceress out of Quon Tali seeking the wisdom of the Queen of Witches. Spite laughs, and T’riss asks why she attacked them, naming her and her family: “daughter of Draconus, sister to—“ Spite tells her not to finish that sentence if she wants to live, then confesses she’s seeking something stolen from her and she’d thought for a moment she’d found it due to the sorceress’ “presence.” She warns them to turn around, that “only death resides in Jakal Viharn.” T’riss says she’s heard Ardata doesn’t kill anyone, and Spite says true, she has Himatan to do it for her. She flies off in dragon form. Ina is surprised Spite didn’t recognize her mistress, but T’riss explains that because she has “lowered my manifestation, it would appear… I am nothing more than an aged sorceress.” Ina points out her uselessness as a guard, but T’riss corrects her, saying the mask alone gives most people pause, and as for Spite, she never would have believed a sorceress traveling alone. She asks T’riss if “she is your enemy,” and T’riss thinks for a moment then replies, “let us just say she has grounds for resentment,” adding she feels they’re very close now.
Jatal and Scarza have chased Kallor for four days, and Jatal is exhausted. He points out the Gangrek Mountains and says Kallor appears to be fleeing there, and Scarza guesses he’s in a hurry to get somewhere or meet someone, further guessing Kallor is pursuing the Thaumaturg army. The stop and speak to a villager who tells them “Death” had passed by in the night, and so they head off again, with Scarza worries that Jatal is killing himself due to his pain.
The villagers ask the one who spoke to Jatal and Scarza what they wanted, and she tells them “They pursue death… and will meet him soon.”
Golan surveys the wreckage of his army encampment, full of slaughtered and wounded soldiers. Waris reports they are reorganizing and soon will be able to march again, then asks that they dump the bodies in the river, saying they are too many to bury and that the survivors don’t want to touch them. Golan agrees and dismisses him. Scribe Thorn appears, marveling at the luck that Golan survived while so many under his command died, and reports that they lost half, writing of yet another “victory” in the official record. Golan orders the march continues.
I love still the imagery we get of the jungle in Shimmer’s storyline, the sense of rot and decay and stagnation, the heaviness and the heat, the idea of time held still or at least greatly slowed, the whole dream-like nature of it all.
Interesting connection between this scene where the Guard are forced to divest themselves of their armor due to it having rotted away and later when T’riss speaks of coming to Ardata “unguarded.”
More winks and nods about the Vow here—first in another passage highlighting K’azz’s “emaciated form, all bones and ligaments” and then in Rutana’s veiled hints that it was the Vow that Ardata was interested in and moreover that K’azz knows that and is keeping something from his compatriots. Something more than a little ominous since Rutana calls them all “doomed.”
Interesting as well that shapeshifter’s intense eyeing of Shimmer—what does she see in her to warrant such close attention?
Just as she comes under the attention of this figure, it’s equally interesting the way Shimmer seems to be coming closer to Himatan—the way she thinks now of how the river had been a bit of a sanctuary, the way she feels this woman “projected a quiet dignity”, her sense of sympathy for her, the way she relatively meekly accedes to removing her armor (as opposed to cursing and throwing it in the water), her lack of fear wandering among the trees, and then that very lovely moment where she almost senses “an answer” (maybe Ardata’s presence), almost has a moment of zen-like recognition of the beauty of the place, its “treasure”—as when she sees the water glinting in the sun so it looked like the fabled street paved with gold in a wonderful little descriptive passage:
The sun’s slanting amber rays lit upon the perfectly still surface of the artificial lake and the sheet seemed to erupt into molten gold that rippled and blazed with its own internal fires [like] an immense causeway paved in sheets of gold. And sparks flashed here and there as tiny waves from insects alighting, or fish feeding, gently rippled the surface. The gems, perhaps, glimmering and beckoning.
It’s a nice narrative shift from Shimmer’s sense of massive time and space to Pon-lor discovering the pottery midden, a realization of “generation after generation squatting in the same spot, dropping their litter and tamping it into the ground… the slow work of the ages conspired to wipe from the surface even these last vestiges of humanity’s presence.”
I liked the primal nature of this scene—the foraging, the caves, the jungle cries, the night, the fire (“Humanity’s best defense against the chills and horrors of the night”).
Another little hint that Pon-lor is moving a bit away from the orthodoxy of his Masters, his growing thought that Himatan’s creatures were not “the degenerate offspring of centuries of indiscriminate miscegenation” but “the product of a lineage of survivors adapted and attuned to this region’s peculiar demands.” And a nice echo of Shimmer’s sense of a small glimmer of understanding and closeness to the jungle, a willingness to cede it and its denizens some dignity. And you have to like he doesn’t kill the giant but merely drives him off. Maybe he and Shimmer are edging closer in their own ways to answering Varakapi’s question of “What is Himatan”?
As is Sour, who shows his willingness to learn from the natives and to “go native”, accruing the obvious benefits—freedom from being bothered by the bugs and weather etc., being able to sustain himself, knowing what plants to avoid and what plants heal. He seems to be a bit further along, saying he thinks he has “a handle on this place”—he’s not just nosing out the rules but accepting them. In opposition of course is Murk, who refuses so far to play by Himatan’s rules, to grant it anything but his annoyance and contempt and anger (and so, not coincidentally, is bothered by the bugs etc).
I really like Yusen in this scene, who is so highly pragmatic. He doesn’t care how things look or sound. He just gets down to the nuts and bolts. They’ve been listening to Sour (and Murk). They’ve managed to stay alive in Himatan, not be killed by the Guard, and not lose or be harmed by the Crippled God fragment. If it’s not broken, don’t fix it. Sour says something crazy about a flower? Any evidence he’s wrong? No? Then do it. I also enjoy the little bit of mystery about him, a tiny sideplot in all this but a nice bit of intrigue. And I like how this scene closes with the camera on him holding that flower and looking at Sour heading off.
It’s interesting that we’re so used to massive build-ups of convergences and here we have one of the most powerful moving toward a convergence “unguarded” with her “aspect” so lowered that even powerful Spite doesn’t note it, though even in its lowered stance she does sense it from afar (perhaps telling us the extent of T’riss’ power).
I do like this relationship between her and Ina, though one worries about Ina’s sense of futility as a guardian and hopes she doesn’t leap into a fray just to prove herself. A concern that in somewhat similar fashion one has to have about Jatal, who feels dead inside and as Scarza notes, might just easily have no concern about being literally as well as metaphorically dead.
Speaking of Spite, she isn’t big on the subtlety thing, is she?
Well, we’ve had several characters come to some sort of better understanding of the jungle, but perhaps none at so great a cost as Golan, who surrounded by the devastation of his army form the night’s attack realizes, “It was a trap. The entire jungle, all Himatan, was a trap for those who would seek to invade. The jungle naturally defends itself.” Though it’s only a glimmer of an answer, one, similar to Shimmer earlier, that he feels for a moment but then loses a bit, “There was more to this as well—he was certain of it. A deeper truth. Yet he could not quite reach it.”
As funny as Scribe Thorn has been, he really lives up to his name in this scene because this is some sharp-pointed repartee.
- “I rejoice. Here so many you lead have passed on and yet still you remain! Thank the fates.”
- “It will take a long time to count all those fallen… Yet you have emerged unhurt. That alone makes a victory of the night.”
- “Yet encouraging news… There are now more than enough stores for those surviving.”
- “Once again the Army of Righteous Chastisement emerges victorious.”
Four-fifths of the way through and the players are nearing one another, and perhaps nearing as well some answers…
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.