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 Fifteen (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 Fifteen (Part Two)
Saeng wakes to a world covered in ash and dirt. She finds Hanu, dead, next to her, and weeps for a while until she falls asleep. She wakes again and looking at the collapsed temple assume Pon-lor must have died in there, but as she wanders the grounds she finds him, albeit in bad shape: “The entire left side of his head was a misshapen mess of weeping fluids… His eyes were open but no recognition inhabited them. They stared sightlessly, inanimate.” She recalls similar effects from bad fevers amongst her fellow villagers, and how the only “cure” had been to give them a quick and merciful death. She doesn’t feel up to that with Pon-lor though, and so just sits and takes his hand and looks to the west where she sees the Visitor now diminishing in size as it moved away. She sees the moon as well, which gives her an idea. Using her power, which “came smoothly now, naturally, as if somehow melded with her as it had never been before,” she makes a summoning.
Murk wakes with an awful headache to an ashen world. He joins Yusen, Burastan, K’azz, and Shimmer for a meeting. Looking at the two men, he thinks, “How similar yet utterly dissimilar… Both pretending to be mercenaries, yet remaining far from it. Allies, they remained a mere sword’s edge from sworn blood enemies: Malazans versus Crimson Guard.” Yusen orders him and Sour to scout around, and after finding his partner, Murk and he head out. Sour complains that it’s them and not the “fancy-pants Crimson Guard mages” doing the work, then mocks they’re self-importance: “Oh, we’re the famous Crimson Guard. We’re too fancy to do any work.” Murk laughs, happy that things are back to normal, at least to some extent. Murk confronts him about knowing who T’riss was the whole time, but Sour says if she wanted to remain anonymous it wasn’t up to him to break her cover. Plus he was afraid “she’d turn me into something.” Murk raises his warren and takes a look around, finding the place “empty, abandoned. The blast had driven off all the wildlife… As for those half-creatures… none remained that he could find.” He comes across T’riss, though in different form (“She wore long loose white robes, her limbs were long and slim, and her black hair was cut short.”), down near the river with a large man (Nagal). He politely and carefully asks who she is, and Sour (in his head) whispers it’s T’riss. Murk asks about Ardata, and T’riss replies, “She has withdrawn. Released all that she ought to have released ages ago… Perhaps she will learn to accept all she ought to have accepted all these ages. She no longer manifests a presence directly here in the mundane.” Though she makes no promises for the future. Murk notes Ardata is now a “goddess in truth” then, and T’riss agrees: “Precisely. Together with all that comes with it—desired or not.” Murk asks then about her, and T’riss smiles and declares herself, “merely an Enchantress. Nothing more.” She tells him to gather his superiors so she can talk to them.
The meeting includes K’azz, Shimmer, Gwynn, Lor, Yusen, Burastan, Murk, Sour, Ardata’s daughter Lek, and Ina. K’azz tells Nagal he’s sorry about Rutana’s death, and Nagal walks off after saying how “Even after what he did she still would not allow me…I was so angered, I ran.” T’riss tells Ina and Lek they’ll talk after the meeting, and when they move off a little, Murk watches them, thinking, “Both wounded. Doesn’t it make sense they should seek each other out?” And looking at Lek’s “vulnerability,” he thinks of Celeste and hopes she’s happy with the choice she made. Yusen asks T’riss for transport out of Jacuruku, and T’riss tells him she’ll send him wherever he and his people would like. She adds, though, that she has heard that after the Fist of Aren in Seven Cities was killed, an investigation had uncovered his plans to usurp the Empire’s authority and also found that he had killed several officers who refused to go along. She adds that his death most likely saved thousands of lives by avoiding civil unrest. She finishes by saying the price on the head of his killer (and his followers) has been removed. Yusen and Burastan, greatly affected by the news, tell her they’ll need time to talk about things and walk off a ways. Murk is pleased at his perspicacity in earlier “sniffing something out” about Yusen’s group. T’riss turns to K’azz and tells him “Do not ask that of me.” When he begs where then he’ll find his answer, she replies the only place is Assail, though there is great danger. He nods, “as if he’d been half expecting it,” and thanks her, to which she answers she hopes he doesn’t end up cursing her instead. She adds she’ll be happy to transport them back to Stratem, and K’azz gratefully accepts.
T’riss then asks Murk and Sour what she can do for them, and when Murk says he asks for not gifts (knowing the danger of such from the Azathanai), she offers him a kiss on his cheek “for how you handled a very delicate relationship. I offer it in her place. Well done Murken Warrow.” Murk, staggered, walks off barely aware of what’s around him, thinking perhaps he’ll just take up worshipping the Queen of Dreams. Burastan interrupts his reverie and tells him they’re debating going straight back to Aren, and that Yusen wants to go to a frontier town first just to make sure T’riss was correct about the news regarding the Fist and the bounty on their heads. She admits that Yusen stabbed the Fist “right over his briefing table [and] I did for his aides,” explaining that “What he intended would have reopened old wounds. Terrible old wounds. It would have been a bloodbath. Yusen cut it off at the root. We wouldn’t abandon him so he chose to run.” She asks him to talk some sense into Yusen about going right back, and Murk wonders since when he was the guy good at doing that.
Ina thinks how she had wanted to die after waking to find her arm gone, though she knows they did what they felt they had to in order to save her life (she’s not sure she would have made that choice herself). She muses on how back home the wounded did have “honoured roles”: teachers, guards, etc. But those were for those wounded honorably and so not for her: “Illness, sickness, had no place in her society. The weak were cast out, allowed to perish as they would. She had never given the practice a second thought. It was tradition.” Now though, she isn’t so sure it’s all that fair—“Were the sick or malformed or maimed to be blamed for their affliction? Was it less ‘purification’ than plain intolerance?” Looking down at the crippled Lek, she thinks how the girl “was brave, devoted, good hearted, and innocent. All the human values one would wish… Who was anyone to judge her?… The very thought affronted her to the core… She realized she would kill anyone who dared.” This returning her to “Proper Seguleh thinking” is how Lek saved Ina’s life.
When T’riss comes to them, the Enchantress can tell Ina is planning on staying. Nagal nears and Lek, runs to him in joy. T’riss tells Ina she won’t be alone here, but Ina replies, “Alone or not, there is no other place for us.” T’riss calls her lucky in what she’s found. Ina asks about Ardata and T’riss can only respond that she doesn’t’ know: “Some are incapable of change or learning and because of this the lessons come all the harsher and perhaps too late… It took a millennium of imprisonment in his own creation for Draconus to admit that perhaps he’d been wrong, so there is hope.” When Ina asks if that means she is gone, T’riss answers no, “just because you cannot see her doesn’t mean she isn’t here.” Ina wryly notes the offerings around them and notes that, “the devout then will continue their entreaties and the godhead will remain enigmatic, as is its definition.” T’riss jokingly calls her an example of how the Seguleh are “a far too skeptical people,” suggesting that perhaps they need more philosophy. She leaves and Ina, watching Lek and Nagal and noting Nagal’s shyness around the strangers thinks how, “new faces were probably a shock. Many more will be coming now. Once word spreads. And of course they will look for the physical embodiment of what they are searching for. For Lek, daughter of their goddess.” She thinks she’ll have to teach Lek how to deal.
Old Man Moon and Ripan come to Saeng’s summoning. He greets her as High Priestess, and when she asks “of what?” he replies that’s for her to decide and shape. She asks him to heal Pon-lor and he agrees for the price of her tattooing him on the rest of his buttocks. They gather the materials and she resignedly begins.
That night Murk rests in the treetops. He recalls how the meeting ended with the decision to go along with Yusen’s reference to approach Aren cautiously. Though he and Sour have served their time, he thinks how the civilian life hasn’t been so great and how it seemed Yusen’s group needed somebody around. Plus, it wouldn’t hurt if T’riss is right about the news, meaning Yusen might get a promotion—“Cadre mage to a sub-Fist in Aren would be a pretty soft posting.” He also wouldn’t mind sticking close to Burastan either, thinking there just might be something there. His thoughts are interrupted by the appearance of Celeste. Surprised, Murk says he’d thought she was gone, having melded with Ardata. Celeste says she really is, but this is just a “last fading remnant left behind to say goodbye.” Murk’s glad that she sounds satisfied. She says she is: “We are all gone now. All my brothers and sisters. Far to the west the Shattered God as been sent onward—allowed to translate into another existence—… as have I.”
He wishes her luck with Ardata, but she laughs, saying that’s not who/what she melded with: “She is as nothing next to that… a trickling stream compared to the ocean I have found here… I speak not of any one individual being… [but of] all of this. Everything around us. I speak of what you name Himatan itself.” He tells her that’s amazing and she agrees: “Fascinating. Infinitely absorbing. The complexity. The interrelationships… in its own way it is aware, Murken, It responds. It takes steps to assured its continued existence. It is an entity in those regards—no different from any lower-order being such as yourself.” Murk, mostly ignoring the “lower-order” crack, is happy she’s not gone, and she thanks him for being worried about her, adding that “it was your advice that saved me. Your encouragement gave me the strength to take that irreversible step before the greater part of myself was sent onward—towards dissipation, or who knows what.” She thanks him again and hopes he too finds “acceptance and belonging.”
She fades away and he thinks how some “would sneer at such sentiment. Yet humans were social beings. Perhaps it was these simple qualities that everyone sought, though they masked them with other, loftier sounding names: ambition, domination, or glory.” He decides then he will tag along with Yusen’s group, and so Sour probably would as well. He’s proud of how Sour has “come along… [though] he just better not start getting any ideas about who’s in charge.”
The Guard is all camped together, no more “Disavowed,” and Shimmer thinks how the changes will be harder on some than others, such as Mara, who had “given much to Skinner.” She silently directs Petal over to Mara to engage her. She’s angered then to realize K’azz isn’t with them (on this night of all nights he should be she thinks) and tracks him down a little ways away. When she upbraids him for not “reassuring everyone” with his presence, he tells her his presence hardly has that effect, and he understands. Distraught, she tells him he is still their leader, that they still need him. She adds she knows he’s tormented by some secret and asks him to tell her, all of them, and they will carry it together. But he shies away from the idea, and says as of yet it’s merely a suspicion. They discuss how the Enchantress said the answer may lie in Assail, and Shimmer says Cowl seems to know something too. But K’azz says he’s not even sure Cowl is sane anymore after his experience. She convinces him to return, and talks of Petal and Mara and Skinner. When K’azz says he got why Mara joined Skinner but never why Petal did, Shimmer just sighs at his obliviousness, telling him he needs to “mix more.”
Considering how little we’ve really seen of Hanu, he has been a lovely element of the story and his death here makes me sad. Although, where can he really go in life, with the fact he ran away from the Thaumaturgs and would probably have very little peace. Perhaps this was the best way out for him?
If the Visitor is diminishing in the sky, does that mean this book has caught up with events in The Crippled God, or does it mean that what happened here with Saeng has had an effect?
Considering the Vow of the Crimson Guard against the Malazans, it seems crazy that they could spend any time together at all. It feels as though there should be massive cataclysms when they’re in the same place.
I enjoyed this scene of Murk and Sour back together again, without any pretense or any more hiding from each other. Plus Sour seems to have embraced his Malazan side and left the jungle behind a little bit.
So T’riss has changed her appearance again? Why move from the image of an old woman to this younger woman?
And it sounds as though Ardata has left the jungle now—what will that mean for all the people she has left behind there? Or will they still feel her presence as a goddess?
I love this bit where T’riss tells Yusen and Burastan that they’re essentially free to go back to Seven Cities. It has a lot of resonance to it.
And again I love where T’riss offers Murk a kiss on the cheek for the conversation he had with Celeste and the way he guided her.
So, the Vow stuff is all waiting until Assail, is it? Way to draw out a storyline there…
There is no real surprise as to how the Seguleh deal with their injured and sick, but to have it actually verbalised here gives it more gravity. We know it’s a martial existence, but this is pretty stark. It makes her decision all the more understandable, even though this was the jungle that actually caused her to lose her arm.
So Lek is Ardata’s daughter in truth? I never really understood any of that part.
I still enjoy Moon very much, as a character—the idea of those constellations swirling on his back is just brilliant.
I love the thought of Murk and Sour joining Yusen and Burastan on a more permanent basis. One of the enjoyments of this novel has been seeing how their relationship has changed and strengthened since the first few pages.
Ah, okay, Celeste confirms here that we have caught up with the events in the main series regarding the Crippled God.
Interesting—Celeste sees Himatan as a living organism. To be honest, the character of the jungle is the one that has been put across most strongly in this novel, so that is very fitting.
And a really warming last scene there, where Shimmer goes to fetch K’azz back, to remind him that he is a commander of a living troop still, and that he has things to learn about the people within it.
That’s too bad about Hanu—I loved his strong, silent (relatively) presence, his gentle strength, and tenderness with Saeng. And it’s a nice emotional moment.
Considering the Thaumaturgs’ emphasis on mental discipline, on rational thought, on powers of the mind, this has to be just about the worst nightmare scenario for Pon-Lor—dead not physically but mentally.
I like Murk’s insight into how Yusen and K’azz are so similar, both “pretending to be mercenaries” but really, neither seeing money as their reason d’etre.
I loved Sour’s mockery of the Guard as well. Everything’s so serious, and so many people are so self-important or everything’s so portentous, it’s nice to get this sort of comic relief.
In a similar vein, I couldn’t help but chuckle at T’riss’ comment on the likeliness of Murk’s manners rubbing off on Shadowthrone.
So now we see what Ardata’s problem was (or at least part of it)—she’s a hoarder. I confess I wouldn’t have minded a little more on this issue of hers though. Maybe even a little more examination. Sure, one needs to know when to “let go,” when to move on, or let others move on. And stagnation is often the equivalent of death. On the other hand, is that inability of her to “let things go” connected to all those creatures that would have been completely extinct were it not for Himatan as a last refuge? That said, I do like how this bit with Ardata is a bit of a central metaphor for the series as a whole, which has dealt so much for so long with the theme of change as essential. A few pages later we get more mention of this with regard to Ardata when T’riss tells Ina that some people are “incapable of change or learning.” She, of course, references Draconus, but in this book it’s pretty impossible not to hear those lines and not think of Kallor.
We get a quick nod to another theme in this scene with the notice that Ardata becoming a goddess isn’t all light and worship: “A goddess in truth… Together with all that comes with it—desired or not.”
And I like this info about Yusen and his group—you always knew (as Murk did) that there was something more there—we certainly had hints—and that it wasn’t going to be something bad. Well, OK, in some ways I suppose killing a Fist and his aides is some kind of “bad,” but in relation to what would have happened… I’ll confess here that I have no memory of this being mentioned anywhere else. Does anyone, or do we think this is the first mention of it?
As for the bit about K’azz and the Vow and Assail, well, I think I made my views on this clear a little bit ago. It just feels a bit too dragged out to me, and this feels too clearly like a bold all-caps announcement of the next book in the series. I either wanted this “mystery” wrapped up sooner or have far fewer portentous hints about it, and too many winks/nods about K’azz knowing more than he’s letting on. Plus, we’ve tiptoed around the edges of one pretty big hint for so long that one feels like enough is enough.
I’m glad that Esslemont didn’t just give us Ina moving on with her life by choosing to stay but put us into her head. The loss of an arm is such a huge deal to a Seguleh that I would have felt let down to not be getting some of her thoughts about it. And the view we get of Seguleh society is a pretty damning one. It shouldn’t be surprising, given what we know about them, but I really like that Esslemont doesn’t shy away from the ugliness of what such a society would most likely really be like, as opposed to just giving us the usual highly-martial-society without a glimpse at what lies underneath it all. I do wish we’d have had a little more introspection/self-awareness from Ina though here. It’s nice that she’s now thinking maybe the way they do things isn’t so great or fair, what with casting out the “weak” and letting them “perish as they would.” But it would also have been nice to have her thump herself a bit for not thinking of this until it personally affected her. Maybe a little slower move to all this as well; the speed here seems a little too glib maybe, or too neatly wrapped up because it’s the end of the book.
Nice of Saeng to be willing to get mooned by Moon to save Pon-lor.
So if Murk ends up with Burastan, is Sour going to be hanging out at their house for dinner every night?
I like this scene with Celeste as a whole—like that she left behind a part to say goodbye, like the tenderness in it, the arch calling out of how humans are so, well, human-centric (not even considering Himatan as an entity), etc. But my favorite line in it has to be when Murk learns that the Shattered God had been “sent onward—allowed to translate into another existence” (which sheds a positive light on the ending of The Crippled God for those who wondered a bit): “Really? Something happening in the West?” I love that line because it seems so representative of this series—this idea that everyone has their story and there isn’t just “one” or “the” story. Everyone somewhere is having a story happening to them; they’re in it. And these grand, epic tales we get are just a small example of just a few of the stories in the great tapestry of narrative that is life. All that we went through in those two books at the end of the main series—think for a moment of the urgency and the tragedy and the heights and depths of emotion—all that gets summed up in a few words—“something happening in the west?” It’s kind of like someone in some corner of Middle-Earth saying, “Something happened in Mordor?” (Tolkien in fact does make much the same point—the idea of stories are just smaller bits of larger stories)
Even though, as mentioned, I didn’t need another conversation about the Vow’s “secret”, I do like the warmth and humor of how this scene ends with Shimmer and K’azz. It’s also a nicely direct example of Celeste’s point about “belonging”.
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.