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 wrap up our coverage 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.
A note and reminder: Amanda will be adding her wrap up in the commentary. Also, just a reminder that we will not be holding our usual Q and A, but look for an interview with Cam with regard to the release of Dancer’s Lament coming soon (and a review). Finally, we’ll be taking a relatively long hiatus thanks to Bill taking an especially long summer trip. We’ll pick up the reread again with Assail in early September.
Blood and Bone Wrap Up
Bill’s overall response
As is often the case with Cam’s books, I had a mixed reaction to Blood and Bone, though I consider it to be one of the three strongest books in his series. I’ll break down my response to a few plot lines and story elements.
Setting: This may have been my favorite aspect of the book. First, it’s a setting that one doesn’t normally see in fantasy, so right from the start it wins me over for its freshness. Secondly, the details are wonderfully vivid and sensual, conveying the sense of place via sight, sound, scent, and touch. Possibly even taste, as I recall those scenes with Murk trying the native food. It’s all rich and detailed and, as it should, permeates the novel, never letting the reader forget where we are.
Theme: Another strong point. The three I responded most to:
- The clear analogue to imperialism/colonialism, the disdain that European cultures had for the “primitives,” the idea of how the natives are just “wasting” the land. Blood and Bone has a real Heart of Darkness feel to it in some ways, and I thoroughly enjoyed that aspect.
- The environmental themes woven throughout: that idea of “under-utilized” land, the presentation of an interconnected eco-system, the mention of humanity driving other species to extinction or near-extinction.
- Stagnation versus change, the way in which holding on too hard to what was can be harmful.
- Murk-Sour: I loved this duo, not just for their banter and deep camaraderie, but also because we saw their relationship take a journey. We meet them as a close-working partnership, then watch some distance open up a bit between them as they respond differently to the jungle setting (Sour choosing to accept the jungle as it is and learn from the natives, Murk choosing to fight the jungle and stick to his own way), and then see them come back together. As a bonus, I thought the side of Murk we saw in his interaction with Celeste did a great job of deepening his character, as well as obviously making him an easy person for a reader to like.
- Golan and Thorn: Another great duo, though I loved them not so much for depth of characterization, but just for the often brilliantly sharp dialog
- Scarza: I really enjoyed his character for how his tenderness and compassion was, I’d say, a surprising element in how it played against type.
- Shimmer: Another character I really engaged with and who was portrayed with a nice level of depth and complexity.
- Jatal: This was a character I engaged whole-heartedly with early on but who wore on me as he moved from what seemed to be a richly complex character to more of a one-note character—and that note being a love-sick adolescent didn’t help much.
- Saeng/Pon-lor: These two I mostly enjoyed, but neither felt like they fully met their potential in the story. I did like Pon-lor’s ability to offer up a different take on the Thaumaturgs, and also liked Saeng’s loving relationship with Hanu. And I liked that these two ended up together.
Plots: My favorite plot strand followed Murk’s group, probably for several reasons. One is that I engaged with nearly all the characters, even the relatively minor ones such as Yusan. Esslemont handles Malazan “grunts” well I think and this was another example of this. I also liked that, as mentioned, the characters themselves changed in their relationships to one another—Murk and Sour obviously, but the others as well, if in smaller ways. The subplot of Murk’s conversations with Celeste was also a positive element of this storyline.
Golan’s might have been my second favorite. One reason is for the aforementioned sharp humor that runs throughout it. Another is the way in which we see that army get slowly eaten away by the jungle; it’s part comic relief part horror story. And it contains that previously mentioned underlying criticism of imperialism, etc.
Another reason I might have enjoyed these two the most is that they’re the most focused it seems to me. Many of the other storylines have sort of vague goals (find the temple, find the girl), but often felt a bit like random wilderness encounters, some of them a little contrived for my liking. The exception is Kallor’s invasion, which has clear and focused goals, but the love story aspect of it, combined with my own desire to just shake someone and say “The Warleader is Kallor, people!” (not a fair criticism, I know) made that plot less enjoyable. And as I’ve already mentioned in the recap commentary, the Osserc-Gothos conversation, and the deal with the Vow, both struck me as over-extended for their payoffs.
A final notice on plot is that I felt, and I know I’ve had this reaction to some earlier books as well, that at times there’s just too much of a “fuzziness” to what actually happens that is unnecessary, that crossed the line from “leave some mystery to the reader” to “annoyingly confusing.” Sometimes it’s a small thing, as when a name is withheld for no reason I can determine to something pretty large, as in Osserc’s action at the end of the novel. I can piece together some ideas of what I think happened when, but I’m just not sure what benefit there is in having me forced to do that for such a major plot event.
Pace: Despite the fact that the book is more a collection of loosely connected plots rather than a sharply focused narrative, I thought pacing was fine through most of the book, with only a few lagging sections, and these were pretty brief.
As mentioned at the start, while I had some issues with the book, and some plots/characters fared better than others in my mind, overall I’d rank Blood and Bone as one of the top three in the series thanks to its great setting detail, strength of characterization with several characters, a good sense of comic relief (even if it’s sharply edged), nice pacing, and the added depth created by several important themes.
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.