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 thirteen.
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, but 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.
Assail, Chapter Thirteen
Orman and the others at the Sayer Greathall prepare to meet an approaching army of foreigners. Orman wonders if he should have left, and thinks what keeps him there is not his faith in Jaochim but the Icebloods’ faith in him, along with realizing that if Jass were there he (Orman) could never have abandoned him. Even thinking of such a thing makes him laugh, which causes Jaochim to say there is “something of Old Bear in you.” He adds that he’s seen Orman struggling with the decision to stay or not. He tells him he and Yrain have no intention of letting the foreigners take them, they support Buri’s plan, and that when the time comes Orman should take everyone and find Buri, giving him the message that “he is to use all that we have given him.” Orman refuses, saying he won’t abandon them, but Jaochim replies that Orman wouldn’t be; he’d be “fulfilling a last obligation.” He continues, saying that they don’t want Orman dying in their defense: “You shall carry our legacy into the future… Yrain and I are glad to send you like a spear thrown onward into the years to come.” He asks once more if Orman will do this to for their sacrifice, and that of Vala and Jass, and Orman agrees. Bernal tells them the army has arrived, and Jaochim says when Orman goes he is to go with him as well. The invaders start to encircle the Greathall. The army commander (Teal I assume) is surprised to face only three defenders (Bernal tells him there’s another “in the back”), and sighing, tells them if they walk away they can go. When they don’t accept it, the commander explains to a fellow soldier that these “Barbarians [are] the same everywhere. All façade of nobility and honor. They yearn to demonstrate how brave they are.” He says if the barbarians want to prove they don’t fear death, then they’ll give them a hand doing so. He orders the Greathall torched. At first it burns and Orman wonders what to do, but then the army starts to back up a bit. Looking behind him, Orman sees a dense fog dampening the fire and then running outward. Annoyed at the fire going out, the commander order his men to “Just kill them.” The soldiers charge, but soon the soldiers are retreating and Orman sees them fall amidst the fog, as “over these humped shapes he glimpsed a fine glittering armour of hoar frost grow and thicken.” Orman tells Bernal and Kasson it’s time, but Bernal says he’ll stay to hold the door and that Leal and Ham (the servants) are already inside with Jaochim and Yrain, who “sat, immobile, streaming with vapours — no doubt the very source of them.” Orman and the Redding brothers head north for Buri.
Jute is woken by the night watch, who shows him a large number of people moving along the shore. Jute thinks they must be from Wrongway, and wonders what would have made them leave at night. Ieleen tells him to sound the alarm and prepare for visitors, which he does, though he doesn’t know what she’s worried about. Cartheron arrives, but also doesn’t know what’s going on. They’re soon joined by Tyvar and Lady Orosenn, who tells apologizes, saying “I thought disguising my presence would buy us more time—but I can seen now that I need not have bothered.” Tyvar says he has to get his men up the stairs, but Cartheron tells him that Malle has warned him that King Ronal will attack him as “just another invader.” The khall-head perks up at the mention of Malle of Grisse and takes off with surprising speed even as Cartheron tells him, “Don’t you dare.” Cartheron tells the others “The shit will well and truly fly now,” adding Malle won’t like it. When Tyvar says he can’t see the khall-head on the stairs, Orosenn tell him he used his Warren. When Tyvar wants to start up, Cartheron tells him to hold off a bit; “If I know my man, this shouldn’t take long” He explains that the khall-head was an Imperial Claw and that “Something happened to him. Something that shattered him… something that hurt all of us.” The people on shore appear to break into a run, and Tyvar tells Lady Orosenn that if she’s right, he has to get his soldiers up there, but she looks at Cartheron then says they’ll wait as he says. Soon they hear a crash on the dock and Cartheron leads them to the noise. There they find the khall-head, alive but fatally wounded by many thrusts. He tells Cartheron he “got him,” then, crying and panicked, tells him, “I’m sorry! I’m so sorry she fell. I failed her. Do you forgive me?” Cartheron emotionally replies, “We all failed her…Only after she was gone did I see how much we needed her.” The man says he’s sorry one more time, then dies. Cartheron, rising, looking to Jute, “Much older, much more beaten down by his years, says “I can forgive you.” When Jute asks who the Claw was, Cartheron explains he was Possum, Laseen’s bodyguard. Jute, recalling how Laseen was killed, thinks, “So, this broken man, one slip, one mistake, and his entire world ended.” He feels bad about how he treated Possum, and tells Cartheron he assumes he was a friend. Cartheron though says, “No. Couldn’t stand him myself.” They receive a signal from above saying they can go up.
Against Ieleen’s wishes, Jute goes with them. At the top, Jute notices how bad Cartheron looks after the climb—“pale, pressing a hand to his chest, apparently in some measure of pain.” Malle of Gris appears with some local soldiers and introduces Voti, nephew of the king who she says was “cut down by an outlander assassin sent by the besiegers.” She glares at Cartheron as she says this. Voti says he’ll accept Cartheron’s advice based on Malle’s recommendation. Turning to Lady Orosenn, Voti says she looks familiar, and Jute notices that she does in fact look quite similar to the locals. She though tells Voti she’s been gone a long time, and he’s just seeing a “family resemblance.” When Voti and the soldiers leave, Malle angrily tells Cartheron she’d thought she’d made it clear to him that “the old ways of doing things are over.” He replies that he’s “all tradition,” and she looks with some “grudging admiration.” She informs them that the Empire “saw its chance for a toehold on this continent” and she was sent to “establish relations,” not to get involved in an invasion. Lady Orosenn interrupts to say there’s more at stake than simply a change of who rules. Malle tells her she knows of Orosenn’s heritage and that “we sit at the feet of a Jaghut Refugium.” Orosenn, though, asks if Malle knows that “your being here is no accident?” adding she realized that “the moment I encountered Cartheron here on his way to these lands. And so I enrolled Tyvar and his Blue Shields.”
Cartheron protests he’s only “making a delivery,” but Orosenn says, “Yes, for this woman to use to back up a Malazan client state here in the north—conveniently near a goldfield.” Malle calls Orosenn “too well informed” and seems about to attack even as Cartheron warns her not to, but they’re interrupted by Tyvar’s arrival and news that the people outside the walls are begging to be let in and that “the enemy” Orosenn mentioned has not been sighted yet. Malle asks what enemy, asking if they mean more Lether soldiers, but Orosenn replies, “the army of the past that comes now to throttle the future.” Jute is lost, but Malle says “it cannot be,” and Cartheron warns Orosenn she’s on “dangerous ground hinting at such things.” But Orosenn replies that it’s the Malazans who have “no idea what you’ve been meddling in. The old war was over until your emperor broke the balance. Now all this blood spilled is your fault and you must make reparation.” Jute asks what the hell they’re all talking about, and she apologizes, saying they “dance around” naming such a terrifying possibility, explaining they’re talking about the T’lan Imass, whose “Summoner nears even as we speak.” Cartheron sticks up for the Empire, saying “You say we’re culpable. But we helped bring them this Summoner,” adding she has nothing against the Jaghut according to all he’s heard. Orosenn though answers that maybe the Summoner “emerged in a desperate effort to right the imbalance” caused by the Emperor, and that whatever Cartheron has heard about her relations with the Jaghut, apparently she “does not speak for all clans.” Malle asks what it all means to them there—the Imass will just ignore them to find the Icebloods/Jaghut, saying “It is sad and regrettable, but we could not interfere even if we wished,” though she adds she understands Orosenn’s “advocacy,” suggesting Orosenn flee to protect herself.
Tyvar tells Orosenn to inform them of what she’d told him earlier, and she says that all the locals share Jaghut blood—the T’lan Imass “are marching north and killing all as they come. They will take this keep by storm and slay every living original inhabitant of these lands.” Jute is horrified by such an evil. And Cartheron, he notes, appears to age decades more as he takes in the news, declaring if that’s true, they can’t do anything to stop it. But Orosenn says they can do something—“Omtose Phellack hampers them. Them must march as any other army… Those that are broken will not rise again. We can defend… Together we may have a chance.” Cartheron notes that Tyvar’s good Togg hasn’t been so nice to the Blue Shields, but Tyvar disagrees, saying they look forward to the greatest challenge ever—“No force has ever repelled the T’lan. The Blue Shields intend to be the first.” Cartheron says he himself “would like to have a word with these Imass.” Orosenn heads off to do her part and Malle asks Cartheron about his cargo, but he says it won’t help unless they want to wreck their own defensive walls. Malle heads off to join her soldiers and Cartheron explains to Jute that she ran the Empire’s Claw training academy. He goes to take command of the foreign part of the defense and invites Jute to join him to see “the coming goddamned end of the world.” Jute knows he should return to his ship, but doesn’t want to miss this once in a lifetime chance to see such a thing.
Jute joins Cartheron and Lt. Jalaz atop the walls overlooking Mantle town. The besieging army now faces away, prepared to take on the T’lan Imass even though, as Cartheron says, Malle has tried to tell them the Imass aren’t concerned with them. They wouldn’t listen though, and he says at least they might reduce the Imass by a few, shocking Jute with his cold calculation. Jute thinks when the Imass arrive he could just drop his weapon and they’d ignore him, but he knows he won’t—“He would do his part.” Tyvar comes by and points out one of the besiegers’ commanders as a Shieldmaiden from Genabackis. Soon, some in the besieging army run away and Jute can see over a hundred T’lan Imass coming from the west. As they two forces engage, Cartheron calls the besiegers “fools” but Jute thinks he hears admiration in his voice. The Imass look like they’re restraining themselves, using their fists and flats of their blades on the defenders. Jute sees the Shieldmaiden felled by a blow to her head and then the army breaks up and flees. The T’lan Imass don’t pursue but instead move toward the keep. Cartheron speaks with Ut’el, introducing himself and saying he greets them as “allies and friends,” but Ut’el says he understands that the alliance is no more, though he says if the Malazans and other foreign “trespassers” stand aside they won’t be harmed. Cartheron asks if this is the doing of Silverfox, and Ut’el replies “It is our way.” Cartheron though responds that apparently it is not her, and suggests since she is coming they should wait to hear what she says about it all. Ut’el says Cartheron can wait, but “Meanwhile, Omtose Phellack is rotting.” He senses Orosenn’s presence inside, but says she’ll tire soon enough and they they’ll be free to move. Jute tells Cartheron they’re right, but Cartheron says the Imass are horrible bluffers and starts to relate his life history. Ut’el warns him not to provoke them; they will not be spared in that case. The attack begins, with the T’lan Imass attacking the walls and four of them destroying the stairs leading to the docks. Even as Jute looks on the ships pulls away and he realizes he will die in this place. The four Imass on the stairs climb up and wreak havoc as three of them are thrown down. Jute is wounded by the fourth but eventually pushes it over. He finds Orosenn wounded, her servant Velmar dead. Scanning the walls it looks like half the defenders were dead or wounded. As he watches, the cadre mages use sorcery to repel some of the Imass until they both are killed. Jute tells Orosenn he’ll be her guard now that Velmar is dead, but she replies that Ieleen wants him back and even now is trying to protect him by calling the wind from the heights and bringing news from the ice-fields to, hopefully, the Bonecaster in the army. She passes out. Later they’re joined by Tyvar and Cartheron, who tell him the T’lan suddenly were led away by Ut’el. Orosenn, barely conscious, tells them they are heading to the heights to try and stop the Raising of Phellack, a Jaghut ritual someone is doing up there, a magic that dwarfs anything she can do herself. She warns them they must flee for what now comes is “the true end of the world.”
Shimmer’s group continues high into the Salt mountains and meet Erta and Baran outside the ruined Greathall, mourning the deaths of their parents Yullveig and Cull. At first the siblings mistake the Guard for an attacking force, but quickly realize they’re not and explain the situation, and how Cull and Yullveig and told them to “find our elders in the heights then lay down together side by side.” They all agree to travel higher together. The meet a young girl—Siguna of the Myrni—who tells them of the T’lan Imass arriving, then joins them.
Shimmer worries there is something wrong with her, a lack of feeling. As she looks at Siguna, she “knew something ought to move within her, yet all she felt was a remote poignancy, as of an old loss now a distant memory. She searched her feelings only to find a landscape as desolate and lifeless as these barren rocks.” They pause when they feel the ground shake beneath them, Blues warning it is not an earthquake. Baran says they need to get to theice-field fast and they speed up as the rocks, trees, and soil begin to move down the slopes. Cowl saves Shimmer from getting buried/broken by rocks, but when she thanks him for saving her life, he tells her, “You will not thank me. You, above all, I want to make it. I want you there to see what he has done to us. I want you to see it… Then I want you to face him!” They reach the ice-fields and looking ahead, Shimmer thinks “it seemed to her that the entire gargantuan frozen river itself, a very mountain of ice, was moving.
We don’t spend a lot of time in this reread on the sentence level (my god, imagine the extra years… ), but I thought Jaochhim’s statement to Orman about not having him die in their defense—“Yrain and I are glad to send you like a spear thrown onward into the years to come”—is a great line. First, just as it’s own simile it’s a strong, unique one. And then of course, given the importance of a spear in this book, it’s particularly apt.
I was enjoying Teal’s parley, the dry wit of it, until he had to go and ruin it with the whole “Barbarians. The same everywhere…”
But then I had to chuckle again at his put-upon sense when the magic comes out: “Oh—just kill them.”
That’s a nice moving moment when Bernal refuses to go with them, and says Leal and Ham as well have made their final choice.
The revelation that the Khal-head was Possum was nicely done I thought. It begins slowly enough, with Cartheron saying he was an imperial Claw, which I think was already pretty strongly hinted at earlier in the book. And then we get that something traumatized him (“shattered him”), something that Cartheron says “hurt all of us.” And here we probably have a few possible options. After all, a lot of bad thing have happened in this series. When Possum—still unnamed—reappears, things get narrowed when he apologizes, saying “she fell. I failed her,” and asks for forgiveness. And when Cartheron adds they all failed her, and “only after she was gone did I see how much we needed her,” I think that aims us pretty directly at Laseen. And so now we can get the direct explanation and his name. It’s a pretty moving scene I think at the end there, and the contrast with the comic relief makes it almost impossible not to laugh out loud at Cartheron’s “Couldn’t stand him myself.”
Hand to the chest by Cartheron can’t be a good sign. In fact, references to Cartheron looking aged or burdened or exhausted etc. are starting to pile up. Just sayin’.
So now we get a bit more on Malle’s role here—to establish a “Malazan client state”, presumably for the gold (and I suppose more land couldn’t hurt). Part of me wonders if with all the hype about Assail as the Continent of Death and all, if the Malazans would make this attempt after all the chaos. But part of me also likes the idea of an Empire needing money (at least, I like the idea of acknowledging economic factors) and at least they didn’t send much force
Jute makes a nice stand in for the reader in this scene with all the euphemisms and tap dancing and eventually begging someone to just speak clearly and directly about what is being referenced
Cartheron, despite all that talk of being aged etc., shows you what the Old Guard must have been like with his “To tell the truth, I would like to have a word with these Imass.” Malazan audacity. Gotta love it. And then a few pages later we get the Malazan cold determination, when he thinks how it might not be bad if the T’lan Imass take out a bunch of the besiegers on the way to the keep: “He was a retired commander of Malazan forces, once a High Fist. And to defend his command he was obviously prepared to sacrifice every one of these poor unfortunates arrayed on the field before him.”
Remember that line about Cartheron’s cargo—something that could help (although not in this situation) but might destroy the walls…
And the revelations keep coming: Malle as Headmistress of the Claw school. Cartheron’s advice to let her be makes a lot of sense now.
Jute—let’s hope this curiosity doesn’t get the better of him by the end…
Being up on the walls and watching as the entire T’lan Imass turn as one skeletal army and look up at you can’t be a great feeling. Though I love the image. Just as I love Cartheron spinning out the story of his life.
When Esslemont writes that “Many defenders soon understood that thrusting weapons were ineffective against this ancient enemy… and so swords and axes [were] readied” I had a bit of a flashback to my old D & D days, and the whole -2 for edged weapons or can only be struck by X kind of weapon.
It’s another good battle scene, something Esslemont has always done quite well throughout this series I think. Clear, tense in spots, loss of some characters we’ve kind of met a bit at least. And I like the Ieleen has her own bit to play in it as well, that it isn’t only Jute that gets a whack in (while his role is good enough in the typical battle sense, Ieleen is really the one who saves the day). But poor Jute: “almost unable to believe that anything worse could possibly happen.” Hasn’t he read the other books?
I don’t have much to say about the section on Shimmer’s group that I haven’t said before. And the reason for that is because there isn’t a lot new here—the Guard are similar to the T’lan Imass, the secret of the Vow will soon be revealed, Shimmer feels like she’s emotionally withdrawing… I do like the setting parallel, the ice and cold and burial metaphors. But otherwise, there’s nothing here we haven’t seen/heard before. Save of course for that giant river/mountain of ice moving. That can’t be good…
What I like about this scene with Jaochim and Orman is that Jaochim is aware that Orman has been struggling with a desire to leave, but duty has made him stay. And, from there, he gives him a reason to leave that satisfies honour, and ensures that the Icebloods will leave a legacy.
I love Bernal’s comment: “There’s one more in the back” when asked if the three of them are the only ones.
The imagery here of the flames being slowly extinguished by a magical creeping fog is done very well, and I agree with Bill that the line, “Oh, just kill them” fits nicely. And the whole “it’s just a fog” doesn’t really work when his men are falling from wounds dealt them by it!
If even Orman is feeling the effects of the ice and cold, with his Iceblood blood (heh, that sounds clunky!), you can see why it would be so disastrous for normal people.
One thing that has gently amused through the whole novel is the fact that Jute excuses Ieleen’s obvious magical talents. Here we have him thinking that her instincts are always right, but she has other talents, right?
It is never a good sign when an old character starts rubbing their chest and wincing—don’t take Cartheron! He’s brilliant!
Yeah, that old wreck of a khall-head was definitely more than what he seemed, huh? With all of the references, surely no one thought he was just a mess? If he was a Claw, then I’m guessing he was involved with how things went down with Laseen at the end? What intrigues at the moment is whether he is going to have a fond reunion with Malle, or whether he is planning to kill her.
Ah, quickly answered—he killed a ‘he’ (suspect King Ronal—and we’ll all be pleased to see the end of him). And from the khall-head’s comment he believed that he failed Laseen. What’s interesting is that Cartheron Crust can’t forgive himself for Laseen’s death. It seems no coincidence that he seems beaten down and older after he whispers that he can forgive the Claw.
Possum! Yes, his final moments and words make sense now.
What I like in this series is there is always a sense of progress. Here Malle’s words suggest that the Malazans want to move away from assassination, and that manner of making conquests. They are trying to make a foothold on this continent by co-operating with the locals. This is a very different way of business than we’re used to seeing from them.
Having said all that, it sounds as though Cartheron is carrying something to Malle that can “encourage” that co-operation. So perhaps this is just a veneer of new attitude.
Cartheron’s age-spotted hand? His grey bristles? This is really emphasising his age. Mind you, I think anyone would age at the idea that they might have to face down an army of the dead who are hell bent on destroying every person on this continent with a smidgen of Jaghut blood. Esslemont’s use of Jute here to receive the information and feel such a dawning horror is excellent, and helps keep the reader focused on what a terrible atrocity could occur.
Malle trained all the Claws?! Heh, I didn’t see that coming. No wonder she is formidable!
Jute’s thought that the T’lan Imass might pass him by if he simply didn’t raise a weapon to them makes me wonder if they are too far gone on their quest for genocide to even realise. This quote reflects that: “The image made him almost faint with dread. T’lan Imass. So terrifyingly ruthless and unrelenting. They won’t let anyone escape them.”
I think one of the things I find most chilling about the T’lan Imass is this description of them as virtually silent in battle, barely making a noise as they kill.
It’s a moment of quiet heartache as Jute sees the ships pulling away and thinks that he won’t see Ieleen again. I’m hoping that it isn’t over until there are dead bodies on the floor (that came out wrong—I don’t want to see dead bodies, I’m just hoping that Jute and Ieleen will both survive to see each other again).
The Raising of Phellack and the end of the world? Just another day in the Malazan world…
So the Crimson Guard are walking without pausing for food and rest? They’re not feeling emotions anymore? They’re getting thinner, their clothes are ragged. With this scene coming immediately after one with the T’lan Imass, the similarities are easy to see—especially with the boy saying that they reminded him of people who planned to kill him and all his kind.
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.