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 Fourteen (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 Fourteen (Part Two)
Saeng and Hanu find a wide plateau, an old concourse lined with statues of kneeling/bowed monsters. At a gate in the wall, they note evidence that the Thaumaturgs have already found it. Hanu tells her he feels they aren’t alone, but Saeng, despairing, says it doesn’t matter at this point. Hanu though tells her not to give up, and they find and enter through another gate.
The pass through a series of courts, moving by carvings of “a series of battles against inhuman forces, giants and half-humans,” and Saeng thinks, “what she was looking at here was a record of human ascension.” She feels something, a power being summoned, ahead of them and they move on. Descending stairs, she realizes they’re moving through an older structure: “one pre-dating the temple above… A sacred site retains its power. Newer faiths or creeds merely build atop the ruined old, each appropriating the older authority and presence” and that realization gives her an idea that raises her hopes. They enter a chamber and see an altar with a glowing sun symbol—“The Locus. The focal point of immense energies tapping the entire land.” On the dais is a pillar of power rising through a tiny hole in the ceiling to where Saeng assumes the Thaumaturgs are, attempting to control and direct it to their purpose (she realizes the attention needed to do so is what has kept her from being sensed). Looking at the symbol, she knows this power was originally sanctified to Light, and that as High Priestess she can try to re-claim it in Light’s name. Hanu doesn’t like the idea—too dangerous—but before they can discuss it they’re interrupted by the sudden violent arrival of Jak’s group as Myint appears and impales Hanu with her spear.
As Hanu lies bleeding profusely, she tries to convince Jak that he shouldn’t stop her, that she’s more valuable alive, but he tells her he means to kill her. But before he can do so Pon-Lor arrives and kills Myint. Thet drops to his knees and begs mercy of Pon-Lor, saying he’ll serve him again. But Pon-Lor tells him he’d warned him earlier to go home and now it is too late. He kills him and turns to Jak, who threatens to kill Saeng. Pon-lor though says Saeng could have killed Jak anytime she wanted to (thanks to the power in the room), but unlike Jak or Pon-lor she’s no murderer. He pulls Jak from Saeng, and Jak, weeping, tells Pon-lor to go ahead and kill him, “You rich bastards always win in the end, don’t you?… It isn’t fair. You’ve had all the advantages all your life.”
Pon-lor though says Jak has no idea, saying that while he’d grown up in a village with a family and food, Pon-lor had never known his parents and had been forced to fend for himself on the streets before being taken as a child by the Thaumaturgs. As he recalls it all, he too starts to cry, telling Jak, “Your only defense is that you are utterly ignorant… however your crime is that you chose to remain ignorant. Therefore I condemn you for willful ignorance and blind self-centered self-pity.” He kills Jak, then tells Saeng he’ll try to heal Hanu and hold of the Thaumaturgs while she does what must be done, saying she was right along. They mutually apologize. She wonders how he’ll deal with the Circle since he isn’t a master, but he tells her “my mind is now working in a strange new way. I see things differently. In a way none of them can. They will find it very difficult to penetrate my thoughts.” She thinks he is about to bend his face to hers—perhaps for a kiss—but then he turns to Hanu and she to the pillar of power. She thinks she’ll need to let it channel through her without her trying to interfere: “That was the hard part—resisting the urge to manipulate.” She steps into it.
Murk decides he’d figured out finally how to deal with the jungle: “Instead of hacking and slashing one’s way through the dense brush all one had to do was let go the idea of beating it down.” He’s also relented and followed Sour’s advice re the mud/dirt to keep the bugs off and has even taken to eating “what was literally growin’ on the trees around you and crawlin’ all over everything in limitless numbers.” Ina, after almost killing Sour when he successfully amputated her arm, is up and walking but hasn’t spoken since. He worries if he did the right thing with Celeste, but decides, “It was a question not of right or wrong but of respect. He had to respect this thing as a separate entity fully capable of making up its own mind.” Burustan arrives to say T’riss (Rissan as she’s known to them) has said they’re in Jakal Viharn, even if, as Murk says, “There’s nothing here.” He joins Yusan, Burustan, Ina, and Rissan at a stone marker that Rissan says marks the boundary of Jakal Viharn. Murk says there’s supposed to be a huge city with streets of gold, but Rissan says there was a “ceremonial center” but to call it a “city” is to “only interpret it through [one’s] own experience.” Sour arrives and Yusan says he wants the mages to look around. Murk says at dusk.
At dusk, Murk enters the area via his semi-raised warren based on Rissan’s warning not to go in “blazing.” She also gave him advice on what to do if he sees Ardata, who according to Rissan has “been treated like a goddess for ages here and [has] become… accustomed to it.” She says she doubts in any case he’ll see anything. Now, as Murk scouts, he wonders how she knows so much about Ardata. Sensing movement, he follows, and then backs off as he realizes it’s an ambush. He sneaks up and sees it’s the Crimson Guard, a trio led by Jacinth, Skinner’s lieutenant.
Shimmer can’t sleep thanks to the “ghosts of all the dead Avowed, the Brethren, calling to her with an insistence that simply could not be ignored.” She finds everyone up and she and K’azz discuss the Brethren’s unease. Shimmer notes how Nagal blamed K’azz for Rutana’s death and now is not speaking to them, and asks if he and Rutana were lovers or related. K’azz merely says they were “two of a kind.” She then asks about Skinner, and K’azz replies that he and “another” are close, then Cowl makes an appearance. Shimmer says nobody escapes from an Azath, but K’azz says Cowl “alone possessed one pre-existing means of escape.” Cowl says yes, “a prior commitment.” As Shimmer wonders if Cowl is even sane anymore, he tells K’azz that Skinner is close and outnumbers K’azz’s group ten to one. K’azz says he has no interest in fighting Skinner, then asks if Cowl has a message from him. Cowl though says he is done with Skinner, “now that I have glimpsed the truth,” adding that it’s clear that K’azz has known it for some time now and has kept it secret, adding, “You think that a mercy? Time will tell.” Cowl bows to K’azz a second time (Shimmer thinks she’d never known him to bow to anyone ever) and then disappears. When K’azz tells Shimmer now they’ll just wait for whoever chooses to visit next, she replies she dislikes such passivity, but he answers that “This is Himatan… one cannot demand inspiration.”
Osserc thinks how “all his life he had steadfastly pursued what he saw as his duties and obligations—yet these he suddenly saw as nothing more than rag-thin substitutions, delusions, and diversions.” His obsession with doing so had gotten him nowhere, and he realizes he’s been blaming everyone else for it—Rake, T’riss, Envy, etc. Everyone but himself. He realizes what he’s lacked all this time is courage “to face the hard interior truths and make the hard choices.” He expresses his appreciation to Gothos (“Thank you, prick”) as well as his hope he never sees him again, and Gothos says who knows what will come, addressing him as “Tiste Liosan.” Osserc heads to the door, thinking, “Farewell Azath. Perhaps I shall never encounter you again either. And I hope not. Your lessons are far too demanding.” He steps out and looks up to see the Visitor, though he knows “Others address that. There is something else going on. Power is being gathered. All to a purpose. And that purpose somehow it touches upon Thyrllan.” Then he staggers and groans, “No!” thinking, “They must not!”
First we had Shimmer wondering about what excavations might look like from above, and now we have Saeng wondering about the canopy from above. Not sure if this is a deliberate echo, but it certainly leads us to think that things can seem very different when you see them from a different perspective.
This ritual that Saeng is trying to prevent—is it linked at all to the ritual that Golan was thinking about in the first part of this chapter?
It sort of makes me dizzy, as well as Saeng, thinking about how long ago Kallor was a part of this land—the ancient legend. How must he feel, walking around in a place where he is both revered and reviled as a walking god-king, as someone from long ago? That must do funny things to a person’s head.
This part of the story suffers from convenient realizations, as well as random encounters. Saeng suddenly knows that she just has to claim this power that she has managed to walk straight to, without any issues or challenges. It feels too easy.
And here we have both a random encounter and a sudden realisation, all in one! Jak’s arrival and her realisation that these were the wild men that the village spoke about. Which sort of doesn’t make sense, if they are following her, since those wild men seemed to be ‘terrorising’ that tribe for a little while.
Pon-lor does have some real power, doesn’t he? Really quite gross power when you consider what he does!
It’s interesting to see that both Pon-lor and Jak thinks that the other had a way better childhood and upbringing than himself. It’s that whole perspective thing, I guess.
So even Murk has adapted to jungle living, with the mud and the insect eating and the sliding through the jungle rather than fighting it all the time. This is part of the reason I like this crew and this part of the story—they’ve realised (thanks mostly to Sour) that they will never conquer this land, they just need to learn to live in it for the time they’re there.
Poor Ina. It must be something awful for someone so dependent on her arms to have one removed. The strength of mind that the Seguleh have shown in the past suggests she’ll get through it, but how can she ever be a true part of her society again, with all of the rules and challenges and martial approaches to life?
Although it is quite amusing to see Murk so oblivious of who Rissan is, especially with thoughts like ‘must be some high muckety-muck back home’, it also feels as though her immense power should be recognisable to him as more than just normal. Is she shielding herself to him? If so, how does Sour know who she is?
I like the atmosphere that Esslemont builds, first with Murk’s sliding through the shadows of night and coming upon the Disavowed setting up a trap, and then with the Crimson Guard sensing the approach of Cowl through the Brethren being unsettled. It’s all ghostly and pale and enjoyable writing.
So Cowl has realised some truth, but it turns out K’azz already knows it—something to do with the Vow? And why is Cowl showing such respect to K’azz (who, let’s remember, was able to stand in the cold and ice without feeling it at all)?
So all the time that Osserc spent in the Azath and we had to follow along his storyline was for him to realise that he lacks emotional courage. We basically had to read an extended therapy session. I’m still not enamoured of this plotline, no matter that it meant we saw Gothos again.
Yes, it’s the same ritual
I’ve always liked that sense of deep time this series has, how often people are walking on shards or ruins or layers upon layers, and then all of that with characters that have lived those ages as well. It must, as you say Amanda, do funny things to their heads. Whether it be despair, as we’ve seen, or arrogance, or world-weariness. How odd for Kallor to walk by statues of himself, crumbling ones or overgrown ones or forgotten ones.
And there is a nod to that way time reclaims all, with how everything is overlaid with vines and foliage, or how the masonry is crumbling to dust.
I kind of get what you mean Amanda about the sense of ease, but part of that too may be exacerbated our reading format. After all, she has been trekking through the jungle for weeks, has been kidnapped, wounded, fallen ill, nearly died, etc. So she’s had her fair bit of “challenges” to say the least. At the same time, it feels a little rushed and contrived here with the random jungle encounter with the sham-an (see what I did there?) who happened to have the means to get there and boom, here she is three days and a few pages later. And I confess, I didn’t get the “wild men” bit either; unless they’ve all been moving in a much more circumscribed geographic area than I’d been thinking.
I do find her swings from despair to hope and back to be a little too whipsawing for me—I would have liked to have spent a little more time with her in each emotional state, adding to the sense of a rush here—though I guess we’re at that “convergence” moment… Or “Locus” as it appears the kids are calling it nowadays.
I like how, at least it appears to me, that Esslemont goes against expectations here in the confrontation scene. I kind of thought people would expect Pon-Lor to not kill Thet and/or Jak to allow the reader to engage a bit more with him, but Esslemont dismisses that kind of “wouldn’t it be nice if…” and has him off both. Feelings?
It’s an interesting (and nicely done) transition from Saeng thinking how she has to just sort of submit to the power of Light, to “yield” her old ways of thinking and let it flow through her rather than seek to dominate or manipulate it, to Murk’s quite similar realization about Himatan. His epiphany that rather than approach the jungle from his view, he should approach it from its perspective. It isn’t full of horrid crawly things and disgustingly fertile plant life—it’s full of food. And so on. I also like how we see it beyond his own sense of self-preservation, when he notes the line of ants carrying leaves and realizes how this is all a big living ecosystem. I’m glad he finally came to this—there’s so much to like about Murk that his never reaching this point would have nagged at me as someone invested in his character.
This sense of stepping outside of one’s provincial (imperialistic/colonial) view is nicely emphasized with the discussion on how one sees Jakal Viharn as a “city” if one is predisposed to think in terms solely of “cities.”
I am a little surprised Sour hasn’t told Murk who “Rissan” is, but I guess his view is if his patron wants to keep herself a secret he should too.
I agree with you Amanda on the nice job of atmospheric setting. This sort of ghostly, quasi-horror-ish thing is something I think Esslemont has often done well.
On the other hand, the Vow thing is feeling a bit drawn out for me. I didn’t really need Cowl to show up and portentously announce, yet again, that there’s something funky about the Vow and K’azz knows more than he’s letting on about it.
And I’d agree with you in similar fashion with the Osserc plot line, which as I think I mentioned earlier is a bit too long and on-the-nose self-helpy for me. I get it, and I don’t have a problem with the idea that self-examination is good and difficult; it just seems too long in terms of both direct page count (though granted the pages are actually quite few so that’s not much of a complaint) and the way it is stretched throughout the whole novel (which probably makes those few pages feel longer than they actually are).
We’ll we’re past the 90% point and just about all the characters are in place near each other, wielding power, about to wield power, or noting the wielding of power, and the epiphanies/realizations are starting to come fast and furious.
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.