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 fifteen.
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 in a bit later.
Assail, Chapter Fifteen
Kyle stops shortly after he and Fisher had left the others to fight the T’lan, saying he can’t just walk away. Fisher tells them they’re safer down there, but Kyle insists they should go back. Cal-Brinn agrees, saying he and the other Guard can’t go on anyway, as “there is something pushing against us.” He says he’ll stay and send the others back, pointing out as well that it is Fisher and Kyle the T’lan want, not the Guard. Fisher adds that the two of them will also need to speak for the Lost clan, saying any survivors of the invasion will also be heading up and thus he anticipates a “meeting of the families such as has never taken place.” They continue on.
They climb through the night, reaching the ice plateau where Orman, Keth, and Kasson still remain after Buri’s death. Orman confesses he killed Buri as part of the Omtose invocation, and Fisher gently tells him that must have been difficult. Fisher tells them they are pursued by the Army of Dust and Bone and they all must flee upward. Orman is upset that it seems Buri’s sacrifice was for naught, and Fisher tells him it did work; it just hasn’t stopped al their enemies. They’re joined then by Shimmer, Blues, K’azz, etc. and there is joyful reunion. Fisher, looking at the four Guard is overcome, telling Kyle, “Only now do I see it. Only now… It was before me all this time, yet I failed to see… There are no words. No words for this song.” He heads off to be by himself and when Kyle would follow, Jethiss tells him not to, that Fisher needs some time, adding though he doesn’t know quite what upset him, he is “beginning to see more and more the higher we venture.” They’re interrupted by the arrival of an old Jaghut woman (Elder) whom the natives all kneel too, even as Kyle realizes he should as well, since her blood flowed through him also. She is angry they are so few, and then crosses to Buri and pulls out the spear, saying, “it has been a long time.” She says she “did not see” Jethiss or K’azz, but agrees with Jethiss’ suggestion that then need to keep moving. They climb to where Fisher is and when he tells them to go no higher, the Elder replies that the Imass aren’t stopping. He begs her to hide anywhere else, putting his hand to his sword and saying he will draw if need be to stop them from disturbing “what lies above.” Others clutch their weapons, but when the Elder tells Fisher what lies above is their only hope of escape and moves closer to him he breaks. As they move onward, Fisher tells Kyle “She is a fool if she thinks she can control them. Or dictate terms. No one can.” Jethiss says they’ll see, and when Fisher says the same holds for him, the Andii responds he has only “one simple wish.” They climb.
Shimmer feels she is climbing in a fog. Twenty T’lan Imass, led by Ut’el, appear and K’azz tells them they will not be allowed to pass. When Lanas says the Guard will be “brushed aside,” K’azz answers “You may try.” One Imass attacks, but K’azz snaps its arms and takes its weapons, shocking everyone—Imass and Guard. Ut’el asks, “Who are you?” Before K’azz can answer, Fisher, Jethiss, and the Jaghut Elder appear with the others. Ut’el tells her he hadn’t expected to see her again, then tells Orman he’s holding Ut’el’s spear. Orman is about to launch it at Ut’el, but the Jaghut tells him no violence; “We are in the shadow of the Forkrul.” Ut’el says they’re asleep, and he and the Jaghut double dog dare each other to wake them. The Jaghut calls it a stalemate, but Ut’el points out she has everything to lose “while we possess nothing.” K’azz begs to disagree, and points to another group of Imass nearing. The Imass all bow to Shimmer’s surprise, and then Ut’el tells Silverfox she honors them. Shimmer notes how when Silverfox looks upon K’azz, she is “almost stunned, it seemed by what she saw. An entire gamut of emotions crossed her wrinkled, sun-burnished features in surprise, disbelief and amazement, followed by near horror and stricken grief.” K’azz, seeing this reaction as well, “simply lowered his head as if in shame.” Turning back to Ut’el, Silverfox asks what he hopes to accomplish, and when he says he simply “serves the demand of the ritual,” she sternly tells him she decides what serves the ritual. Ut’el asks for forgiveness, saying, “It was all set out ages ago. It is our legacy. It is all we Imass have left to us.”
Silverfox is shocked to hear this, then realizes what has happened. She apologizes for thinking the Kerluhm “deliberately blind. But I see now that I was mistaken.” She upbraids Lanas for withholding from Ut’el’s people the Redeemer’s Gift. Ut’el asks what that might be, and when Lanas refuses to show him Pran Chole steps forward and asks permission to share with Ut’el “a gift that was given us, unbidden and unlooked for, in lands beyond these.” Ut’el receives it and awed, asks who gave “this gift of hope of a realm for our spirits.” Pran Chole answers, “We call him the Redeemer,” causing Ut’el to cringe. He then demands of Lanas why she withheld such news, and she says she was serving the ritual. Ut’el declares that he had thought “such hope long gone from us… Yet it lives again and I repent of my despair,” then scatters her into dust, an “ages-long dismissal.” He kneels to Silverfox and offers himself and his people up to her judgment, but she answers that there is no punishment worse than what the T’lan Imass have already suffered. She welcomes them.
Shimmer looks at Kilava crying and thinks she’s seen this woman somewhere before. As she thinks this, Kilava suddenly moves toward them, and Shimmer thinks “something awful is coming.” Kilava tells Silverfox there is one more job for her to do, one Kilava does not envy Silverfox. When Silverfox says it isn’t her burden to carry, Kilava sorrowfully replies it is. Shimmer asks K’azz what’s going on, and he apologizes to her, saying it wasn’t what he wanted. Silverfox, looking “anguished,” studies the Guard and says “If only we had met earlier in Genabackis. I would have recognize it immediately.” K’azz points out she is the Summoner, and Silverfox agrees as such “the task must fall to me though I wish it otherwise.” Shimmer tells Kilava she’s seen her before, and Kilava says it was the day “your Vow touched upon Tellann and so I came to witness.” Shimmer starts to put things together, and Kilava asks K’azz what else he thought has “lent power to you Avowed? Sustained you all this time.” K’azz admits he has known for some time. Silverfox touches his forehead and tells him “Though it brings me terrible pain to do so, I welcome you, K’azz of D’Avore, Commander of the Crimson Guard.” And Tolb Bell’all adds, also sadly, “Long has it been since we have welcomes a new clan. We offer our greetings to the D’Avore T’lan Imass. The Red Clan.”
Blues moans “Gods above and below,” and as K’azz apologizes to Shimmer, it all comes clear to her:
The truth she did not want. It all made sense now. Now she knew why she’d run from this knowledge. Avoided it all costs. Why she’d refused to see it. She understood… Her hand rose to press against her chest where, weeks ago, a blade from the Sharr attack had struck, and she knew. She finally accepted that for some time now—she’d been dead.
Shimmer collapses and as the Guard surround her and Kyle wonders at the injustice of it all, the Jaghut Elder cries out they’ve waited too long. They all form a defensive circle as a group of Forkrul Assail appear around them. Kyle notes how their eyes turn to him when he draws his blade. The Forkrul point upward to two more on the ridge, and the Elder says one of each of their group must go with her to them. Silverfox, Kilava, Pran Chole, Orman, Jethiss, Fisher, and Kyle go up. Kyle at first refuses, but Fisher says, “No. The white blade must come. I understand this now. This is no accident. This is why we are here…Four. We are four again.” The two Forkrul, Arbiter and Penance, complain the Elder troubles them once more, and when she says it wasn’t her choice, they say not true, she did choose. Again, Arbiter says, “You trouble us though you know we could cleanse this landmass as we have others. Do you dispute this?” The elder does not. When Penance says such cleansing would prevent further annoyance, Silverfox declares their conceit “is matched only by your arrogance.” Arbiter answers that of everyone there, the Imass bear the greatest guilt, and when Penance asks if Silverfox disputes is, Silverfox says no, if they mean the Vow. Penance though says they’re referring to the war with the Jaghut, and Silverfox points to the Jaghut saying, “They started the war!” Arbiter though says “Provocation matters not. What matters is you Imass broke the ancient founding of the peace.”
Fisher interrupts here, pointing out they are four again, and Arbiter looks at Jethiss, and then notes that the “K’Chain Che’Malle are for the most part gone from the lands. Yet a new race now stands among us. Dare you pledge to a new founding of the peace?” Jethiss points out there are other races, but Arbiter notes they “have not moved together in all-out hostilities against other kind, as all of use gathered here have (a point the Jaghut disputes). Arbiter says although others “may not be here, they may have cast a vote,” then points to Kyle—“child of the Imass and Jaghut both—and asks him to take out his “potent token.” Kyle stars for his blade, but Arbiter scorns “that thinks of chaos,” saying they’re talking about his amber pendant. Kyle says he won’t give it up, but Arbiter says they just want to examine it. Upon doing so, Arbiter tells Kyle, “We were almost as brothers, you know. . We regard ourselves s children of the earth. It is surprising that you should carry such a gift from the Thel Akai.” Silverfox pledges peace from the T’lan, startling the Forkrul. Orman, speaking for the Jaghut, does the same, and Jethiss for the Tiste Andii (mentioning he wants a boon as well, which they say they’ll deal with later). Arbiter pledges for the Forkrul.
Kyle, looking at the amber returned to him, wonders, “Did you know Ereko? Was this why you left this behind?… Perhaps it was a hope only. A seed cast into the future with the hope that it would find the right conditions, the right soil, to germinate.” Jethiss now is about to ask for his gift, and when Fisher tries to dissuade him, jethiss says his memories are slowly coming back and he thinks this will complete them, “Finding out who you are in truth is always a perilous undertaking.” He asks the Forkrul for a “weapon worthy of us Andii.” They say they will “fashion for you a blade worthy of you,” wording that Fisher fears covers some hidden danger. Jethiss though says it’s too late and he follows the Forkrul out of sight. Fisher and Kyle sit down to wait, Fisher fearing they’ll never see him again. The Elder tells them it was silly to ask the Forkrul for anything, as they “are vicious, cruel, and amoral.” She says she’ll bring them some food and blankets and leaves. Orman says he’ll return home after the ice melts and with his people build a new Greathall for all the Icebloods—no more feuds or vendettas he hopes. He adds both would be welcome, then leaves. Fisher tells Kyle that spear makes him nervous like Kyle’s sword does. Silverfox tells Kyle she appreciates how his talisman seemingly tipped the scales in their favor. Kyle says he thinks of the talisman as “friendship.” She tells them she’s gathering as many T’lan as she can then search for more so they “will know the gift of the Redeemer” and be released. She will leave none behind. They make their farewells, with Kilava saying it was nice to see Fisher again, giving him a kiss on the cheek. Kyle, shocked, starts to ask but Fisher just says “another time.” Kyle asks what sort of tale Fisher will tell, and he bard says, “Poetic truth is a higher truth you know. Names and events must be changed to disguise the mundane—and invariably disappointing—truth behind.” Kyle translates that as “you’ll make up what you want and claim that’s what happened,” which Fisher agrees is an apt translation. Kyle starts to tell him the story of how he got his amber stone.
Just how many names do the T’lan Imass have? The Undying Army. The T’lan. Army of Dust and Bone. I like all these names though because when one is around for millennia and stories are passed down amongst different regions/cultures, of course they won’t call them the same thing—that would be silly.
I’ll just note reference 236 to K’azz’s emaciated, skin and bone appearance and move on.
And now Fisher gets the Vow too, but he won’t say anything yet save that’s it’s too tragic to sing about. As tired as I am of the Vow storyline, I do like this emotional response to it.
So I think we’ve known for some time Svalthrbrul was that Imass spear from earlier. And so when we get the elder appearing and looking at it saying “it’s been a long time,” we can look back to the prologue scene when Ut’el impaled a female Jaghut through the thigh with his spear and then later, after the Forkrul appeared (which is why later they say she is troubling them “again”), she “took hold of the spear haft… And she heaved herself backwards in one motion, yanking the spearhead from the ground to tumble off the ledge, spear in hand… “I leave you to…’ she yelled as she plummeted from sight down the sheer thousand-foot drop.”
My guess is nobody thinks Fisher will actually draw on her when he tries to prevent them from disturbing the Forkrul Assail, but I think even knowing that a nice sense of tension is created, less by Fisher than by everyone else putting their hands to their weapons, as one can more easily see violence breaking out amongst a group like this rather than from Fisher attacking the Jaghut elder one-on-one.
And reference 237 to K’azz’s appearance.
Again, despite my weariness with the overall arc, I like Shimmer’s lines about “perhaps that was how lives went by. Long or short, they ran out like sand through your fingers before you could even think of closing your fist. And by then it was too late, and the sands were gone.”
Ok, it’s another connection between the Guard and the T’lan Imass (unneeded I’d say), but does it really make sense for Ut’el to be surprised that K’azz asks who he is, allegedly proving K’azz knows the “old formulas”? I mean, are the Imass really the only ones who prefer to know to whom they are speaking, particularly when violence is threatened?
I guess it’s the ease with which K’azz defeats the T’lan Imass that shocks everyone, and while I can buy that, it is I think muddied a bit. After all, Jute, about as average a guy as we’ve ever met in this series, split an Imass’s skull. And K’azz is an Avowed, whom everyone has raved about book after book in terms of their abilities. Plus, he doesn’t destroy the T’lan or anything—he makes a regular martial move, twists an arm to break it, and kicks the T’lan to the ground. There’s no sense the T’lan can’t get up and continue the fight (plus, shouldn’t that have been the “flat” of the blade given how they’ve acted prior to this moment when facing non-Jaghut?) So this shock seems a little forced.
I chuckled at Ut’el’s, “hey, that’s my spear!” when Orman appears.
I’m not sure though why he thinks the Jaghut elder won’t wake the Forkrul—didn’t she do that last time they met?
I can’t recall from earlier books—do we get any sense of why Lanas was so focused on this genocide? And since Silverfox knew Lanas had lied to her about the war on Assail, why would she not have thought that perhaps she was also lying to the Kerluhm?
While I like this emotional response of Ut’el to the truth, this scene does smack a bit I think of glossing over the genocide just performed and I wouldn’t have minded seeing a bit more agonizing over it. Sure, he ”flinches” when mention of the Redeemer reminds him the T’lan need redeeming, but then he gets to grasp forearms with some more Bonecasters and hang out with Silverfox and go to the great land of the spirits eventually. It just washes things a bit too easily away. Especially since we know from the prologue that a good number of T’lan Imass were more ethical/moral about the whole thing.
I’ll have more to say about the Vow (I’m sure you can imagine) in our wrap-up, but at least it’s mostly resolved here (“mostly” because we have another chapter after this one) and the big reveal which isn’t is that the Guard have been sustained by Tellann just like the Imass and they are so much the Imass that they are now the Red Clan.
My complaints about this that I’ll lodge later aside, I do, again, like how despite my weariness with it all, Esslemont manages to still make this an emotionally wrought scene with Shimmer’s (finally!) understanding. Though I’m not a fan of her fainting.
Since they’re more interested in the amber and not the sword, wouldn’t these first Forkrul have been looking at Kyle prior to him drawing his sword instead of when he draws it, as if the sword is what they’re responding to?
OK, I’m sorry to say it, but I so, so hated Silverfox pointing to the Jaghut and saying, “she started it!” Anything, anything at all save this response of a six-year-old. And even if it’s meant to drive home the “childishness” of the war, still no.
I’m also a little confused by Arbiter’s response. “Provocation matters not. What matters is you Imass broke the ancient founding of peace.” Isn’t the provocation a breaking of the peace? I mean, unless they think the provocation was a too-hard back-rub or something. I’m not arguing for or against who started it or who was worse (I think that’s been made clear anyway), but just that this response doesn’t seem to make sense.
And the reverence for Ereko’s amber, the “potent token,” seemed to come a bit out of left field and its impact a little convenient.
The whole pact felt a bit abrupt (Silverfox’s interruption especially) and underwhelming. It made sense, but I wanted a bit more from it.
You’d think when Jethiss tells Fisher his memories are returning, he might ask about them before he leaves.
Orman’s desire to build a common Greathall, to see an end to the feuding etc. is one of the better conclusions here as it feels like the inevitable sweep of his arc all the way through the novel. In other words, it flows very organically from his characterization throughout.
And I love, love, Kilava’s goodbye to Fisher, Kyle’s response, and Fisher’s “Another time.”
And Fisher’s discussion of how reality gets turned into a tale, and then Kyle beginning one, is a nice near-close to the book: a bit meta, a small intimate moment, a sense of peace and comfort. We’re not quite done, but this closes the major portion of the book nicely.
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.