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.
Note: Amanda will be adding comments later tonight/tomorrow
Assail, Chapter Fourteen (Part One)
Kyle’s group flees upward through the forest of the Salt range and then camp for a rest. Kyle notes the oddness of the weather to Fisher, who tells him it is a gathering of Omtose, and though he doesn’t know its purpose or form, he fears the worst. Stalker and Badlands announce they’re still being pursued, which doesn’t surprise Kyle as he thinks, “What else would they do? To ensure their grip on the land these new rulers had to eliminate all last vestiges of any prior claim… Usurpers—claim-jumpers—had to be thorough.” Fisher says keeping straight on is good, and Kyle muses on how Fisher seems no longer a bard: “He was something else now and Kyle wasn’t certain just what that might be.” Kyle wonders (I think) if Fisher is mourning the losses at the Greathall, including the stringed instrument he’d played as if it were a “treasure,” and he tells Fisher it wasn’t the bard’s fault, nobody could have done anything. Fisher, smiling, shows Kyle he actually saved the instrument from the destruction, and when Kyle replies, “So, there is hope yet,” a startled Fisher agrees. They continue on and upward. Stalker notices Kyle’s amber pendant and says Ereko was a good friend whom he misses. Fisher, hearing the name, says Ereko was “said to have been one of the oldest of those raised up by the earth,” and tells Kyle he wants the tale of his travels with him. Stalker notes that finally Fisher is sounding like a bard again. They pause at the noise of a “distant cracking and booming,” and Stalker points out they shouldn’t be able to hear the glacier noise above the stream in the area. When Kyle points out he doesn’t hear any stream, Stalker responds that’s what worries him, and he and Badlands go off to check things out.
They return to announce the streambed is strangely dry, and Fisher informs them it’s because the “ice has awakened.” Badlands scoffs that Fisher has “sung too many old sagas… Such things no longer happen.” They continue on and then T’lan Imass start rising out of the ground. Stalker and Badlands take them on and warn the others to go. Kyle doesn’t want to leave, but Fisher tells him Stalker and Badlands will lead the Imass away and outrun them, maybe even luring them into a fight with their pursuers. They begin to move upslope again, but more Imass are coming from that direction. Kyle’s group circle up and engage with the first group of Imass that had appeared. Kyle realizes the T’lan are not trying to kill the humans but only want him and Fisher (those of the blood). He’s startled by how effective Jethiss is against the T’lan Imass and then shocked even more when the upslope T’lan reach them and instead of attacking his group take on the other Imass, winning quickly. Their leader, Issen Li’gar, tells Kyle’s group to run while they guard their retreat. As they leave, Kyle tells Leena he was surprised the Imass wouldn’t kill the Guard, and she says they never have, adding she thinks it’s because the Imass “respect us… we do not fight for money. We have honor, and this is their way of respecting that.” Kyle, though, doesn’t buy it, thinking there must be some other reason. They reach the first ice and continue on.
Orman, Keth, and Kasson find themselves in a heavy snowstorm on the ice field, which Orman feels is moving beneath him, heading downward. They meet Buri, who is happy to see that Orman has Svalthbrul with him, saying it will be a big help. When Orman asks if the spear belongs to him, Buri informs him it was taken from the T’lan Imass long ago. Orman is confused how the weapon of their enemy can help, but Buri responds, “You have heard of those who drink the blood of their enemies… to claim their strength? There is magic there. Power the one who first laid this ice barrier used. A kind of magic I too shall exploit.” He tells Orman sacrifice must be made to forestall the enemy, but Orman, understanding that means he must kill Buri, says he will not do it. Buri says he has to in order to finish the invocation, but Orman again refuses, saying he won’t kill him like Lotji killed Jass. Buri, though, says that had nothing to do with what he’s asking here, noting that if Orman won’t do it, he only puts the burden on Keth or Kasson to do it. Orman accepts his responsibility, and tells Buri he’s sorry. Buri answers he should be glad instead, for “I have prepared for this for a long time. You will complete it and for that I am thankful.” Orman kills him when asked to, impaling him with the spear so that it passes through Buri and into the ice. Orman weeps, thinking he was in truth a kinslayer now. Keth and Kasson kneel to him “just as a hearthguard may to his lord.”
Silverfox and Pran Chole look over a host of human bodies on the shore of the Sea of Gold. Pran Chole says the invaders “do not appear to be handling themselves well.” She decides to move on to find those who fled. Pran says it is time for a confrontation, but Silverfox says she will do so alone; she doesn’t want to risk losing the others. When Kilava asks her if she’s ever seen a Jaghut Refugium, Silverfox sees flashes from those within her, including Bellurdan “sharing a fire with a Jaghut elder within one of these remaining enclaves.” Kilava says Silverfox hurts Pran Chole’s feelings, and when Silverfox says “they have no feelings,” Kilava replies she knows that isn’t true. Silverfox agrees, saying “They feel twice with their spirits what they can no longer feel with their flesh.” Kilava warns her it is “too easy to forget” that. Pran joins them, but they are interrupted by a “kind of wave descending the upper slopes. Invisible, yet visible by the disturbance it evoked as it came.” Silverfox is struck mentally as if by a hammer, and before passing out feels Nightchill snarl, “Not in ten thousand years have they dared!” while Belluradan gives a shout of joy.
Silverfox wakes to find herself being carried by the Imass. Kilava tells her they had witnessed the rebirth of a Jaghut ice barrier and that the T’lan “are understandably rather angered.” She adds that the the Kerluhm are traveling north too and their disagreement has been put aside to deal with the new threat. She worries that the ice barrier will kill the remaining survivors if they don’t flee. Silverfox whispers that they travel toward it, and Kilava dryly notes “Well, the truth is, it is coming to us.” Seeing what’s coming toward them, Silverfox thinks, “They really went and did it. And we drove them to it. I hope the damned Kerluhm are happy now! And perhaps they were. Perhaps this was what they wanted all along: proof of the Jaghut’s threat. And now it is a threat that would swallow us all.”
Shimmer’s group continues upward, fighting some kind of resistance. Siguna interrupts Shimmer’s thoughts, telling her she’d been calling for some time, explaining that the others have fallen behind, one won’t get up, and one is missing. Shimmer tells her to get Blues, then goes down to find the others (save Keel, who is missing) around Lean, who won’t get up, saying she’s too tired and just wants to sleep. K’azz sends most of them back to find Keel and to wait while he Shimmer, and Blues, who he says are fighting the effects better, continue on. He tells Blues the answers are above, adding that Cal-Brin is nearby, affected by the same resistance, and if they don’t find him above they’ll look for him. Shimmer notes how exhausted K’azz looks, but also as if “he was sad. So very regretful… [something] seemed to be breaking his heart.” She looks at Bars, waiting, and it takes some time before something in her tells her to go to him. She does, noticing “a strange relief” cross his face. He tells her she’s been “distant of late,” and says they’ll have to “get to the bottom of that.” She agrees they’ll do just that when she returns. He kisses her, shocked at how cold she is, and when he offers his cloak, she tells him she doesn’t feel the cold. They part, one group heading up and the other down.
I like Kyle’s statement about how Fisher’s laconic nature is not exactly what one expects from a bard and how this has been a bit of running joke throughout. He’s certainly not the Fflewdder Fflam of the Malazan universe.
The problem with reading these books over such a long period, and intertwining them with Steven’s, is that you forget so much obviously. My gut thought when Kyle muses on how his younger self might have been confused about why Teal and the others are still pursuing them is that that I didn’t really feel this had been earned, that it didn’t really feel like I’d been shown Kyle’s growth and maturation so much as I’d been told it. But it’s possible I’m doing a disservice to our author here and am just not remembering fully. Anyone?
The conversation between Fisher and Kyle involving the instrument and hope, etc., seemed a bit overly important to me.
More positively, as has been the case throughout this novel, I think Esslemont’s setting/nature descriptions are wonderfully vivid and evocative—the light (pewter), the details “stunted long-needle pine and juniper”, the flora the flora one would expect to find in a mountain, the climate the climate one would expect to find, etc. It’s nicely done.
I think this came up once before, but it just feels a bit off to me the way Badlands scoffs at the idea of the ice reawakening etc., mocking them as just old songs and legends. One would think with all he’s seen, and all he’s heard of, he’d be a bit less dismissive.
OK yes, there probably is some other reason the Imass never attack to kill the Crimson Guard, something deeply secret, maybe something to do with the Vow, maybe…
And here is one mystery (if only a kinda sorta one at this point) revealed: Svalthbrul is the T’lan Imass spear taken long ago
I wouldn’t have minded a bit more time for Orman to think about killing Buri. He just seemed to zip from I can’t no way not gonna to well OK if you say so. I completely get why he came to the decision—I just would have liked more time between those two poles to see him struggle a bit more with it.
I do like the details in this moment with the spear impaling both body and ice, and the way Orman’s hands were frozen to the shaft so his release from the weapon meant the tearing of skin and loss of blood. I would have liked to have stayed with just the image of the blood on the hands rather than have him expound on it. I tend to prefer as a reader to let me make those connections rather than have them pointed out to me, though again, it makes sense that he does think these thoughts.
Interesting how at the end here of both book and series we’re getting so many references to fragility and age: Cartheron with his heart issues and his worn face, Silverfox with “her aged and crooked hands [that] still shook,” Pran Chole with “patches of [his face] fallen or worn away.” There’s a real sense of transition here, of a shift from a past world and its players to a new one. A concept that has been a major theme throughout.
It does strike me as a little odd/implausible that Silverfox would have “no interest in the Jaghut themselves or their sorcery.” I get she’s focused on the T’lan Imass and Tellann, but the two are so intertwined it’s hard to imagine believing you can simply ignore the one in favor of the other.
I’m feeling a little lost on the reaction to Buri’s invocation from this group. So Kilava says the “disagreement” amongst the T’lan has been set aside “until we have dealt with this new threat.” And Silverfox thinks of that as “good,” and I can see why the groups working together on the surface is a “good” thing, but since the only way the T’lan Imass have ever dealt with Omtose is through killing everything (as far as I can tell), I’m not sure what the “good” is there from Silverfox’s viewpoint. And I’m lost as to why Kilava thinks Silverfox apparently believes that the T’lan Imass dealing with the threat would make the survivors—those with Jaghut blood in them—safe. Anyone know what I’m missing here?
I do like Kilava’s very dry response when Silverfox says they’ll travel to the ice barrier though—“Well, the truth is, it is coming to us.”
The scene with the Guard is another one I’m a bit confused on (I seem to really be missing things here at the end. I did just get a wisdom tooth out, so maybe I should blame the pain meds). I don’t quite get why Blues and Shimmer suddenly confront K’azz who after all is just having them go in the exact same direction they were happily going just two seconds ago. That seems to come out of nowhere to me.
Well, clearly we’re getting to the crux of things here. We’ve got many a party heading up and converging (there’s a Malazan word for you) in this area. And we’ve got a massive bit of Omtose building with some hints here about what that entails. And we’ve got the T’lan Imass coming together. We’re into the last ten percent and everyone is just about in their places…
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.