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, and finally comments from Tor.com readers. Today we’re continuing Ian Cameron Esslemont’s Assail, covering chapter seven, part two.
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: Bill is out of town and so will add his comments below at a later point.
Assail: Chapter Seven, Part Two
Jute’s group continues to head east toward rumors of a great fortress “named for its ruler, Mist.” Cartheron continues to recover, and when news comes he staying on the sorceress’ ship, Ieleen laughs knowingly, implying something a bit more than healing going on, much to Jute’s confusion. As they pass more chunks of floating ice, Jute realizes it’s the spring breakup of a huge mass somewhere. As a tall stone keep appears, and then a huge mountain of ice comes into view, Jute tells Ieleen he wishes she could see it, and she answers she sees “something,” not sounding too happy with whatever it is.
The ships come in at the keep’s bay, and Ieleen warns Jute that “our friend isn’t the only power here.” Jute is already disturbed to note that the nearby ships have no crew on them apparently. Jute is joined by Tyvar and then by Lady Orosenn. When Tyvar mentions her changed outfit, she says she’s dressed for “home,” explaining that while she isn’t from Assail, it is “home all the same.” She leads them on to meet “Lady Mist,” warning the Lady probably won’t be happy to see them. As they pass people, Jute realizes that none were local, but were a mix of all sorts, most of them wearing sailer’s clothing. When he and Tyvar note the fear emanating from them. Oroseen says they’re trapped, and she will do her best to make sure their group is not as well. The enter the keep and find a woman in huge glowing white robes sitting on a throne at the end of a long hall. Jute notices that the ends of her robes, which stretch all the way out to the sides of the all, “twist and writhe as if possessing a life of their own.” They introduce themselves and ask for help in repairing their ships. In reply, Mist says she offers the “security of residency,” a term none of them like. She continues, saying they are now her subjects, and they will surrender their weapons and the like and work on farming. Tyvar asks what happens if they don’t, and then he is attacked by tendrils of mist that knock him to the ground. Orosenn cries out and the mists disperse. Mist summons two giants, her sons Anger and Wrath. Lady Orosenn is appalled, saying “You have not been kind to your sons.” Mist says she’ll let Orosenn go north to “Pay tribute to our great ancestors,” but not the others. Orosenn replies—with “ferocity”—that they aren’t her ancestors but “more my great-nephews and nieces.” Mist is shocked, but then calls it a silly claim and dismisses them, saying if they resist they’ll be destroyed. As they leave, Jute hears Orosenn say, “It seems that we never learn, Mist.”
As they head back to the ships, they notice that the village is deserted and that strands of fog are following them. Tyvar says that he can do nothing, that Togg is no longer with them, so Orosenn tells him that she will try to protect them. He doesn’t like the idea about hiding behind someone, and she suggests they think of her as a priestess. Jute tells his crew to push off, but Buen says it is too foggy to do so. His crew continue to complain, when a man comes running down the slope towards the ship, begging them to take him with them. As they watch in horror, the man is torn apart by tendrils of mist. Jute’s crew pay a bit more attention. Lady Orosenn is the only one left ashore, and seems to be pushing back the mist a little. Jute wonders what will happen to her when she is thrown backwards into the boat. The two brothers—Anger and Wrath—emerge from the mist and stand on the shore, bellowing rage, while the mist continues to advance over the sea. The two brothers begin hurling huge boulders at the ships. Jute and Ieleen talk—she thinks they have reached as far as they should go, while Jute thinks that a sorcerer and mercenary army are enough to help them through. Ieleen warns that she feels this might result in the end of them, but agrees to go a little further.
Reuth is the one who manages to navigate them through the Wreckers’ Coast, but receives little acknowledgement from the rest of the crew. Storval has gathered the fighters around himself, and aligns himself against Reuth’s uncle. Reuth is worried and wishes Whiteblade was still there.
The Lady’s Luck rounds the Bone Peninsula and joins a flotilla of ships waiting for someone to dare the rocks. They spend a day or so watching other ships attempting the passage, but all fail, although one nimble vessel comes close. The wreckage is washed back out to them. The handful of survivors from the wrecks are left to float by because none can afford to take on the extra mouths to feed.
Storval asks Tulan when they’re going to make the move, and Tulan replies ‘soon’, then asks Reuth if he can get them through. Reuth says he thinks he can, although knows that the crew won’t obey his commands, and that they’ll have to be fed through Tulan.
As Reuth watches the channel, three Letherii ships arrive, and a pirate ship bristling with troops. He tells Tulan to ready the ship for a dawn attempt at the channel.
At dawn Reuth makes his way to the stern deck and they begin the attempt, the people manning the oars shooting them forwards faster than Reuth anticipated. Gren grins at him and tells him to tie himself to the rail. Gren points out that Reuth has Ruse-sense and this is probably why the Korelri don’t like him—because he isn’t afraid of the sea in the same way they are.
Ten ships follow them into the channel, and echo their moves as Reuth first brings them up to chase speed and then ramming speed.
After they manage to get through the first tumbling section of rocks, Reuth guides them mostly by instinct, just the fat curl of a swell or the deeper blue of a channel leading him.
They have many close shaves, including where a sideswipe knocks the entire starboard side into disorder, breaking oars and injuring Stormguard. They persist despite their injuries and Reuth realises that they are used to fighting the sea, that they left Korel because they could no longer find a battle there.
They are still being followed by various vessels, including the pirate ship—Reuth believes the oarsmen in that ship are spelled to allow them to continue their effort.
The ship slows a little through a more peaceful channel—Reuth is getting exhausted and struggling to maintain his level of concentration.
Then Reuth smells smoke and an enormous galley engulfed in flames comes into view. Reuth wonders about how this occurred and contemplates how a ship battle can have taken place in this channel. Gren tells him to choose his course of action, and Reuth decides to try to get past it. As they try to pass, smoke conceals everything and the sail has to be ditched, thanks to floating embers setting it alight.
Finally they get through the channel and decide to head for the settlement of Ruse. Just as they begin to relax, they see a mass of mismatched ships ahead, most showing signs of heavy fighting and gathered around a slim side channel. Archers crowded almost every deck. They get up to ramming speed, and are scoured with arrows. The pirate ship that followed them through the channel rams them from behind to help get them clear and the pirates jump aboard. Those on board Lady’s Luck are asked who is command and Storval says he is. Reuth wonders why he would say that when he suddenly spots his uncle lying dead. The newcomer stands at his side and asks if he is alright, and he says his uncle is dead. The fellow asks him if he is the pilot. When Reuth nods, the man says that they are in his debt, and that the Crimson Guard always pay their debts.
What occurs most of all with this part of the chapter is how we are experiencing a real convergence at this point, seeing everyone being put into place ready for the big finish. Also, we are shown how Assail protects its own, how powers have been drawn to this place.
I also feel as though this has much more of a RPG feel to these initial points—the Bonew(r)ight and Lady Mist both seem very much like those random encounters that you will get within games. This character captures you and sets you a riddle about your name. That character has a particular mist-embued power that tears unwary travellers to shreds. Although they are useful as a way of seeing how ‘our’ characters interact with them, it does give a more bumpy element to the plot.
As we’re now roughly halfway through this novel, I confess that I think the book is almost trying to do too much—show the mystery of Assail, reveal the Jaghut/T’lan Imass continuing war/possible resolution, bring the Forkrul Assail back into the story, rescue Cal, show the Crimson Guard Vow, expand on the Jaghut descendants, bring us the mystery of the amnesiac Tiste Andii. There are so many characters, including some new ones we are being forced to get on board with pretty quickly. It isn’t as long a novel as those in the main Malazan series, and it seems as though it will be hard for Esslemont to really complete this novel effectively with true resolution for most of those storylines.
In this section, I am most intrigued by Lady Orosenn. She is clearly a powerful sorceress and she has returned to Assail, plus, she considers the Jaghut descendants to be her ‘nieces and nephews’, which conveys great age. Who is she?
I did enjoy Reuth stepping up to the plate, and first Gren’s observations that he is Ruse touched, and his enjoyment of the sea is why the Korelri are against him, and then Reuth’s own assessment that the Korelri need to fight the sea, and are looking for a battle.
They found one, huh?
The whole section as they fight their way through the passage is exciting and well-written—Esslemont has done an extremely good job on all of the ship-based sections, even though at the moment these feel like the most segregated of the parts of the book.
Although it’s good to see that Reuth has now joined up with the Crimson Guard—I hope they take him under their wing (hmm, in rather the same way they took Kyle/Whiteblade under their wing—isn’t that a nice little circular moment?)
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.