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 the epilogue.
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.
Shimmer talks with Smoky and finds out that while he and the Brethren didn’t really “know,” they “suspected,” choosing not to say anything so as not to “burden the living.” When Shimmer notes that description no longer suits her, she’s surprised when Smoky says he can actually choose to return to the land of the living, adding K’azz discovered this when he was buried by Skinner and Cowl and he “died, yet he did not die.” K’azz “discovered the truth of the Vow then” and clawed himself out of the ground. Smoky further explains that the Brethren are “coming back. Slowly. Eventually, we will return… Somehow our Vow echoed theirs [the T’lan Imass].” He says it could have been where they performed it, or the words, or the “spirit of our intent and conviction.” She asks if all o the fallen are there, and if they can never leave and he says yes, they’re all staying out of sight so as not to overwhelm her and also give her the chance to decide if she wants to return or not. He tells her some choose not to, others do. She says she does want to return, and he says they all thought that would be her choice. He tells her farewell, “for now.” The world dims and she returns to the land of the living with K’azz holding her hand. She asks if the others knew. Blues answers he just knew something odd was going on, but Cal-Brinn said he suspected. K’azz says they’ll be returning to Stratem. She asks what about Cowl, and K’azz admits that an issue, that Cowl blames him and “would destroy me if you could, I think.” Shimmer tells him Cowl had thought she’d have the same reaction, but she says she doesn’t; “It was not deliberate. We all chose to swear,” a response that eases K’azz’s “dread and hurt.”
Orman, Silverfox, Pran Chole, and Kilava come down from the meeting above. Silverfox starts to say she’s sorry to K’azz, but he tells her there’s no need. She tells them of the new pact, adding that Kyle was key, and that he and Fisher are still waiting for Jethiss, who made his own bargain with the Forkrul. K’azz congratulates her, saying, “all those who had a hand in your raising would feel vindicated and immensely proud.” She tearfully thanks him even as she sorrows that the “curse of the T’lan Imass has fallen upon” them. K’azz though says it was their own doing. She tells him she is not their Summoner, and he replies he knows that they’ll have to await their own. She leaves, and Kilava comes over and notes that they’ve come “full circle,” saying though, “This was never our intent. The opposite in fact.” He says she knows and asks what she’ll do now. She answers she’s not sure beyond stick with Silverfox until they tire of each other. They make their farewells, with Kilava pulling Silverfox into a hug and telling her she is glad at her choice, shocking Shimmer. Orman comes up and thanks them, asking if they’ll wait for Jethiss and the others, but K’azz says no, they’re heading off to Stratem. As they head out, Call-Brinn tells Orman that the Losts—Stalker and Badlands—may still be alive, just “lost again.” The Guard head down to the rest of their party, with Shimmer wondering what she’ll say to Bars, thinking, “do not let it be me who finally breaks your heart!” She believes though it’s already too late for her—“she had waited too long, delayed and put off reaching out until there could be no hope of it now.” Though thinking a bit more, she wonders if the “untold stretch of time ahead together” may be “time enough, perhaps, for them to finally come to understand one another.”
Orman watches them leaves, thinking how strange it is that “he should pit them, his former enemy, laboring as they did beneath an endless curse.” Though he thinks since their Summoner has come, maybe it was no longer endless and they would find “deliverance.” They might, he thinks, no longer be his enemy, though he still hopes to never run into them again. He tells Keth, Kasson, Baran, Erta, and Siguna the mountains are theirs again, and asks if they should rebuild a Greathall together. They discuss possible places, and Orman says they have to still guard the heights and the “hidden places that mustn’t be opened,” even if it means he thinks that “he would come to be feared or cursed by the lowland newcomers as a hoarder of mysteries.” Erta asks about the Matriarch, and he answers she will stay and call them if she has need. They head out, with Baran going to look for Badlands and Stalker.
Jute has been walking along the cliffs over Mantle Keep, sometimes with Orosenn, Cartheron, or Jalaz, with Orosenn thinking about going up north to see the Matriarch and Cartheron tiring easily. Jalaz is looking forward to getting back home with her generous reward from King Voti. Jute also has a big chest of gold, but he’s more concerned about his wife. He and Cartheron are atop the cliffs discussing how far the ships would have gone with the refugees. Cartheron finds Jute’s impatience humorous, noting how it’s usually the “womenfolk home fretting for years.” He asks how it feels, but Jute points out he and Ieleen have always traveled together. They’re interrupted by the arrival of the Silver Dawn, with Ieleen, “his beloved Falaran sea-witch” waving from the stern.
Fisher and Kyle wait in the Matriarch’s home for Jethiss. On the fourth day, Jethiss comes down, appearing “wounded or exhausted. He would stagger, then pause, righting himself, only to lurch forward once more.” When he nears them, they see his left arm is missing and he carries a new weapon, “pale, like ivory.” They realize, much to their dismay, that it is forged of his bone. He tells them he has his memories back, and when Fisher asks for his name, Jethiss tells him, “Mother Dark offered a title.” Fisher whispers, “Son of Darkness,” and Jethiss replies, “Now more of an honorific, in truth.” He recalls:
A terrible battle… At the feet of a gate. I wandered lost for an unknown time. A woman’s voice spoke to me from the Eternal Night. She told me I was needed to stand as I had before. But that the cost would be great. That I would have to lose myself to find myself anew . .. And so I have. My old name no longer fits. I am Jethiss. As for the title, we shall see if I prove worthy.
Kyle asks where he’ll go now, and Jethiss answers: “I would travel to Coral… There is a modest barrow there I would pay my respects to. A good friend. Many evenings we spent together playing Kef Tanar,” adding he hopes they’ll join him. They both say they’d be honored, and Kyle thinks it proper that “the White Blade would be found walking alongside what he imagined, one day, might come to be known as the Blade of Bone.”
So I won’t go wholly in the Vow thing, saving that for our wrap on Friday in terms of the reveal, and how it works, and who knew, and why they didn’t say anything, etc. I will say that this scene with Shimmer was nice enough, and I’m glad at her choice. But, and maybe it’s just because it’s late, or I’m flustered by being back to school this week, or by world events, etc. but it all seemed more than a little unnecessarily muddy to me. Their “return” for instance.
He says they are “coming back. Slowly. Eventually we will return.” Now, one, it seems “return” is being used in two different ways here since there is no eventually or slowly for her “return”—she decides and she returns. Boom. So using the same word is one of the things that muddies it for me. I’m also unclear as to what he means by “We’re coming back… Like the T’lan Imass.” Where are they coming back from? And to where? It seems like it wouldn’t be the world, since again, there’s no “slowly or eventually—they just go back apparently.” But then he also says they “can never leave.” So this doesn’t refer to the world, since they seemingly can leave it when they die/undie to enter this spirit world. But it also seemingly can’t mean the spirit world, since they can leave it to return to the world. I feel like I’m missing something obvious here, so apologies. I’m also lost on the “like the Imass” part of this, since I’m not sure what the Imass return from or can never leave. I get they’re like the Imass in that they are undead etc., but the return/coming back/can’t leave connection leaves me a bit at sea. They swear the Vow/Ritual and become immortal. Eventually they’ll be “killed”—but then they are undead and enter the spirit realm as Brethren. But only if they accept their death? K’azz “was the first to discover this”—that he could “return.” Meaning he was the first to realize he didn’t have to just be a spirit but he could “return” to the real world as an undead? But where’s the “can’t leave” and why would he have been the first and did he never turn Brethren at all?
Smoky also say they are all slowly “coming back” and returning, but he also says they’re all there—“everyone.” Which seems to either belie the “slowly” and “eventual” returning part if the return means the spirit world, since they’re all already there, but then I’m lost as to where they’re returning again because if it’s returning to the world like K’azz did and Shimmer does, why is it slowly and eventually and how could nobody know? I feel I’m making this more complicated than it should be, but the language is throwing me.
Then when he first tells her she can choose to return, she asks “why just me?” And he answers it isn’t just her, implying they all have the option. A page later he asks her again and she seems surprised, “Return? You mean, I may? I can?” Which seems odd. But then she asks again, “Why me? Why not the others?” and I’m wondering didn’t we just cover this? And then he says some don’t and some do (so then, does that mean it really isn’t “everyone” there, just the ones who chose not to return?). And then the addition of “In time, they will” felt odd because it comes not after the ones who chose not to return (in which case it would obviously mean they choose not to but eventually will), but after the one who do chose, in which case I’m wondering “in time they will what?”
OK, there is my humbling, embarrassing admission of feeling a bit at sea with the language here. Now I get why Shimmer is not upset the Vow happened; it wasn’t deliberate as she says. But I don’t get, and would have liked a bit more, about why she’s not upset about any of those in the know not telling her, let alone dragging her all over the world for “answers” that it seemed could have been given a long time ago at home. But more on that in the wrap.
OK, Kyle being “instrumental” in the pact between the four great groups seems a bit much to put on the fact that he managed to not lose Ereko’s stone…
Like Shimmer, I’m a bit surprised at Kilava’s emotional response to Shimmer’s return.
Hmm, yes, eternity might be just enough time to get to know another person. Or be driven crazy by them… But in the short term I predict happiness for Bars and Shimmer.
I find it funny that just a page or two after Silverfox informs K’azz she is not their Summoner and he says he knows they still have to wait for one, Orman thinks how nice it is that the Guard have a summoner and they can find “deliverance.” And this is how stories/legends start diverging from reality. And I like how in a similar vein, he thinks how his guarding of the heights and its secrets will, he thinks, lead to the growth of legends about all the “mysteries” he is hoarding.
Nice to see Cartheron made it, even if it seems he’s not too much longer for this world with his chest pain and tiredness and poor circulation in his feet. And it’s a nice scene with Jute and Ieleen waving to each other, though I admit I would have liked a few more words from her in an actual meeting.
And Jethiss returning armless but with a Bone Sword is a very cool closing to that character and an opening up of possibilities. As for the mystery of who he is: It seems to me that we’ve been pointed to Rake quite a bit, but often from Fisher’s point of view as more of a wish fulfillment. If you’re going to give a more definite clue (and perhaps the author has chosen not to), more than just a red herring or a teaser hint of a maybe possibility, it seems the ending is where you’d make your reveal. And it seems to me that the mention of playing Kef Tanar is a pretty solidly strong clue as to who Jethiss is, since as far as I can recall, we’ve only seen one Andii actually playing it, especially in Coral with a “good friend,” and that would be Spinnock playing with Seerdomin. If you go back to TtH, you’ll see this line: “made it easy for Spinnock Durav to call the man friend. Seerdomin.” So he played the game with him, and called him friend. And also at the end of TtH, we have this: “At the Great Barrow there were other workers… raising a lesser burial mound to hold the bones of someone named Seerdomin.” Which would apply to the “modest barrow” Jethiss mentions. We also know Spinnock has been to Assail before, since he tells Rake of his trying time here, where his sword turned the bay red with blood as he fought to survive, so there is that connection. And Spinnock we know was good with a sword. And died at the First Shore battle before Lightfall (the gate I assume he references). So I’ll talk more about the character in general in the wrap, but I think we’re pushed down a pretty clear path here. Others may differ…
So this realm that Shimmer goes to when she dies is where the Avowed all hang out? Except that some of them don’t, they return to the real world as the walking dead (essentially)? And some of them choose to just stay as the Brethren and hang out in their secret death realm? I confess, I’m fairly confused by how it all works, like Bill.
The thing that gets me is that none of them told Shimmer. K’azz found out when he died and returned. The others knew on that occasion when they told Shimmer she could either stay or return. But no one told their valued companion that this was something happening to her as well. No one tried to hint at her that she’d actually died. I hate that they did that to her.
Also, why does she choose to return? I’m not sure about you, but if it were a choice between a sunlit realm where I could rest easy, or a dead animated body and more fighting, I think I would be inclined to pick the former. What makes her want to go back?
And, why was it Assail they needed to go to, to discover what the Vow actually meant? Why was there that link?
I think I would have had some rage towards K’azz at leading me into a Vow that made me into a sort of zombie. Shimmer seems quite placid about the whole thing, to be honest.
As I said in my comments for chapter fifteen, I just can’t see how Kyle was “instrumental”. Sure, he got given a special rock. And he carried the rock for a few years. But how exactly was that instrumental? He didn’t exactly know what he was doing, or what he was being directed towards. This all suggests that his whole story arc was to get drawn into the Guard, be given the rock, and eventually have it present so that the Forkrul Assail would agree to the pact. But did anyone really get that?
So if Silverfox isn’t their Summoner, who is? Someone yet to come? Are there lots of Summoners all running around for different Clans?
Why is Kilava so happy that Shimmer decided to remain? I didn’t think they were that close. It feels as though this Epilogue is raising more questions than it answers.
I read Orman’s thoughts about the Summoner as about Silverfox. He thinks: “…the Imass, the Army of Dust and Bone, had already disappeared. How odd it seemed to him now that he should pity them, his former enemy, labouring as they did beneath an endless curse. Yet endless no longer. Their Summoner had come. Perhaps, then, they would find deliverance.” This isn’t about the Guard at all.
I’m glad that Jute and Ieleen both made it through, and can now enjoy the rest of their lives together. In my head Reuth travels with them and learns more about navigating, and comes to realise that his preconceived notions about Falaran sea witches are completely wrong.
Wow, you can see why people don’t want to involve the Forkrul Assail in decision making and justice, given what they have done to Jethiss. They made a bloody sword out of his bloody arm bones. God. Plus, the guy is going to be less of a swordsman for a while, until he is able to rediscover his balance with just one arm.
So this Son of Darkness thing. Obviously that is how Anomander Rake was referred to, so we’re still invited to think Jethiss is him reborn. Or do these words: “Now more of an honorific, in truth” mean that the phrase is used now as a title that is handed to different people?
I have read Bill’s analysis about Jethiss possible being Spinnock Durav. I guess I can sort of see it, but I never thought of him as someone who needed to come back. We never even truly saw his death, did we? It was an odd reveal for me, and one that I didn’t even get when I first read that part about the modest barrow etc. None of what we’d seen before really pointed in his direction, so I didn’t get any ‘aha!’ moment and appreciate anew all the little clues. I’m glad it wasn’t Anomander Rake reborn, truly, but I don’t feel any particular emotion regarding Spinnock returning to the story, so this ending lacks for me.
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.