The Bonehunters is the sixth book of ten in Malazan Book of the Fallen, and it is the third and last book in the Seven Cities arc, picking up where House of Chains left off. It was released in 2006, and is preceded by Midnight Tides.
Now that Sha'ik's rebellion has been crushed, Adjunct Tavore's Fourteenth Army is in pursuit of the increasingly desperate Leoman of the Flails and the last rebel army under his command. He fortifies himself in Y'Ghatan, a city already infamous for the Malazan blood spilled there, and the Fourteenth prepares itself for a brutal siege. Fiddler, Kalam and Quick Ben, reunited under Tavore's banner, attempt to discover just where the Adjunct's loyalties lie, while Fiddler's squad mage Bottle finds himself the target of an unexpected force reaching forward from the very beginning of history.
Meanwhile, an aimless Apsalar is given a list of assassination targets by Cotillion, and picks up a couple of mysterious but obnoxious ghosts along the way.
Karsa Orlong continues to wander the wastes of Seven Cities, saving the life of a witch, Samar Dev, in the process. Fascinated by the huge Toblakai, Samar Dev becomes his travelling companion, to Karsa's grudging acceptance.
Heboric Ghost Hands, brimming with newfound power as the Destriant of Treach, sets off with his companions to Otataral Island in answer to the cries of the souls trapped in the mysterious jade colossus buried in the sand.
And in Malaz City, Banaschar, a drunken former priest of D'rek, desperately attempts to keep his head above water in the mass of conspiracies and ulterior motives that is threatening to boil over and take the very heart of the Malazan Empire with it.
Followed by Reaper's Gale.
The Bonehunters provides examples of the following tropes:
- Ax-Crazy: Sapper Crump is a firm believer in more is more when it comes to explosives, as Y'Ghatan's ex-city wall can attest. Unfortunately, the other Malazan soldiers rather adhere to the 'don't endanger your own troops unnecessarily' philosophy, which means that Crump is not one of the popular guys.
- Born Lucky: Sergeant Hellian, the constantly drunk watchwoman-turned-soldier, is quite formidable a Drunken Master without any help, but at the climax of this book, she receives the Lady's Pull when she drunkenly decides to swim through the harbor of Malaz City (which is known to be full of sharks) to hunt for more liquor. Whether this is a permanent investment or not is left unclear.
- Call on Me: Since his magical communication acorns work over continent-wide distances, Quick Ben is prepared to be called on by Kalam should the assassin be in trouble no matter how far they are apart. It doesn't work out, because Shadowthrone intervenes.
- Child by Rape: Scillara gives birth to a child which was conceived by Korbolo Dom raping her during the Whirldwind Rebellion. She used to be a prostitute in the Whirlwind Army camp, but Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil, and she cannot abide to keep the child and leaves it to some villagers to care for.
- Diabolus ex Machina: Dejim Nebrahl attacking Icarium and Mappo, causing Mappo to almost die and Icarium to lose his memories of Mappo, comes out of nowhere and starts off a new subplot of the Nameless Ones assigning a new guardian to Icarium, even though their story seemed to have been resolved in Deadhouse Gates.
- Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: Paran kills Poliel, the Mistress of Pestilence, by stabbing her with a shard of Otataral and letting the Deragoth tear her to pieces.
- Drill Sergeant Nasty: Captain Kindly has such a strict reputation that soldiers in other armies jump at the mention of his name.
- Gambit Pileup: The finale of The Bonehunters is nothing less than an eight-lane Gambit Pileup doused in oil and lit with a dozen torches. The Fourteenth Army docks at Malaz City and Tavore Paran goes to the Imperial Palace with Kalam and her lover T'Amber to receive her congratulations from the Empress. Every major player in the Empire that still lives is in the palace, all pursuing their own goals, and all see Tavore as either their savior or a rival that needs to be destroyed immediately for their own gambits to succeed.
- Laseen's manipulation of the Whirlwind has backfired, bringing famine to the Empire and inviting open revolt to her rule. With no loyal armies left, no nobles to throw to the peasants to distract them, no influential supplicants willing to trust her, and the Crimson Guard returning from exile for vengeance against the Empire, she is out of options to save her rule. She now has to rely on Tavore to abandon her secretive personal mission and save her from the political traps sprung by-
- Korbolo Dom, who gambled on being the last somewhat competent commander Laseen had to restore order in the Empire. His plan to use the remaining Malazan Armies to attack the Wickan tribes and pin the Whirlwind Famine on them is tentatively supported by Laseen, and she even makes him High Fist to placate his bloody pride and prevent an immediate coup by Korbolo and his army, but he owes his life and allegiance to-
- Mallick Rel, who delivered Korbolo Dom to the court of the Empress and prevented his execution for treason. The Priest seeks to bend Mael, Elder God of the Sea, to his will and usurp Laseen, becoming the Emperor but knows that he's outmatched by Laseen's politicking. Thankfully, with Korbolo in his pocket he only needs to worry about Tavore intervening or the Imperial Claw assassins-
- Which might be a problem, since Pearl has been given command of the Imperial Claw by Laseen and is ruthless in his pursuit of being the best killer out there. But his loyalty to Laseen plays second fiddle to his desire to kill the only person better at his job- Kalam Mekhar. And his willingness to use poison as a weapon (something that is taboo among the Claw) leaves him without the support of his underlings.
- Finally, Tavore looks on this burning wreck of intrigue and decides to say Screw the Rules, It's the Apocalypse! She turns down Laseen's request to put down Korbolo Dom and Mallick Rel, makes herself a target of Pearl and Laseen, and leaves the Malazan courtiers to fight for the ashes without her. Kalam and T'amber follow her to nearly certain death at the hands of Claw Assassins just on the faith that she is acting in pursuit of something bigger than Imperial politics and their own lives.
- Fearless Fool: Crump's incredibly high tolerance for dangerous conduct and general disregard for his own life is not only a family trait, but undoubtedly stems from his Ax Craziness and love of grenades.
- The Fundamentalist: Corabb Bhilan Thenu'alas is prepared to die for the Whirlwind Goddess — at least until he witnesses Leoman's betrayal of the cause, prompting his...
- HeelFace Turn: Corabb Bhilan Thenu'alas, after witnessing Leoman's betrayal, is forced to cooperate with the surviving Malazans as they attempt to escape the firestorm engulfing Y'Ghatan. Witnessing how... normal the Malazan soldiers are, his opinion of them undergoes a gradual 180, and by the time they emerge aboveground, Corrab joins the Bonehunters, fully committed.
- Heroic Sacrifice: Truth runs into the burning palace in Y'Ghatan with a bag of explosives to clear a path through the flames for the other Malazans.
- Kill It with Fire: Leoman's plan to defeat the Malazans amounts to trapping as many of them as possible inside Y'Ghatan and burning the entire city to the ground.
- Knife Nut: Smiles will fling her knives at anyone who makes her angry, including her fellow soldiers. She prefers fighting with a pair of long-knives.
- Let No Crisis Go to Waste: When Paran finds that Dujek Onearm and his entire command cadre are dying of the plague, he seizes the opportunity to pretend to be Captain Kindly, take command of the 2nd Army and dispose of the Mistress of Pestilence.
- Mad Bomber: The Malazan sappers are all very fond of their Moranth munitions, but nobody is as crazy as Crump, whose three wall-breakers nearly get every sapper killed in the attack on Y'Ghatan as it levels a vast portion of the city wall.
- Mood Whiplash: When incoming jade meteorites threaten the entire Malazan world, various characters who witness the impending doom undergo different emotions... except for Sergeant Hellian, who was too drunk to notice the entire thing (except for a question on why everything looks green now). She even ended up unwittingly trading a bottle of alcohol with Admiral Nok, as everybody stared dumbfoundedly at her oblivious brazenness.[Nok] guided her, with one firm hand on her shoulder, in the right direction. Clutching the beautiful and beautifully swishing flask against her chest, Hellian made her way along, through the green murk, and all the staring faces. She stuck out her tongue.They can get their own.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: Mistress of Pestilence Poliel is revealed to have begun the plague to purge the cancer of the Crippled God from Burn's flesh, killing off half the continent of Seven Cities in the process.
- Even a small quantity of otataral is enough to negate any magical energy in the area, up to and including that of a god — which Poliel, goddess of disease, learns too late.
- In the last sequence of the book, during T'avore's race back to the ships, T'amber suffers an ungodly amount of wounds fighting off the Claws that are after them. Kalam at one point remarks that she shouldn't be able to stand at all. She still succumbs, in the end.
- Not So Stoic: In the final chapters of the novel, POV characters are able to briefly read Tavore's facial expression for the first time in the series as the Xanatos Gambit she's been trapped in gradually becomes evident. The effect of her understated Oh, Crap! is subdued yet effective, because readers by this point are aware of the amount of extreme fear it would take to break the Adjunct's poker face.
- Ominous Floating Castle: Quick Ben, Kalam and Stormy find several floating fortresses akin to Moon's Spawn hanging in the sky of the Imperial Warren. They try to investigate but get stuck, and after Cotillion informs them the fortresses are full of K'Chain Nah'ruk, they decide they've got more immediate problems.
- Only Mostly Dead: The assassin Kalam is grievously wounded and fatally poisoned, but inside the stasis of the Deadhouse, making it potentially possible for someone to heal him.
- The Prophecy: While the Bonehunters sail back to Malaz Island they're confronted with an armada of war catamarans belonging to the Perish Grey Helms. An army devoted to Togg and Fanderay — the Wolves of War. The armada isn't looking for a battle, but to join the Adjunct. Their holy books predicted that an Armada was to be raised and delivered to a certain foreign leader, at a certain point on the ocean, at a certain time, multiple centuries ago.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Shadowthrone starts ranting at Paran after he releases the Deragoth.Shadowthrone: Pure genius. Why didn't I think of that? Why? Because I'm not an idiot!
- Shoot the Shaggy Dog:After chasing Leoman of the Flails halfway across the continent to Y'Ghatan in order to retaliate for the happenings at Aren, the newly stocked-up with recruits Malazan army gets their asses handed to them as Leoman walks away with a goddess at the last moment before turning Y'Ghatan into a death trap by turning it into an inferno.
- Surprisingly Sudden Death: Heboric Ghost Hands is killed in a sudden, brutal way by the rogue T'lan Imass, rather abruptly bringing his character arc to an end.
- Title Drop:Fiddler: We went hunting... through the bones of the damned city. And then, with the captain's help, we crawled outa that grave.Tavore: Bonehunters in truth, then. Welcome back, soldiers.
- Those Two Guys: The ghosts Telorast and Curdle constantly bicker with each other about the events of the story near them. Apsalar's patience with them does not last long.
- Tunnel King: Beak, thanks to his affinity for Mockra. While Beak doesn't know anything about tunnels, the rat he's able to control and see through has all the necessary skills to guide the Bonehunters through the labyrinth of ruins beneath Y'Ghatan with no light to show them the way.
- Wham Episode: Leoman summons a firestorm during the siege of Y'Ghatan, trapping or killing nearly all Malazan forces inside the city, sacrificing his entire army, and razing the city to the ground.
- Midway through the novel, Cutter, Scillara, Felisin, Heboric and Greyfrog are abruptly ambushed and cut to pieces by a group of T'lan Imass.
- Over the course of one chapter, Ganoes Paran singlehandedly murders goddess Poliel (thus bringing the continent-wide plague to an end) and inherits Onearm's Host as new High Fist in the stead of the suddenly deceased Dujek Onearm.
- In the penultimate chapter, a barely described Gambit Pileup has Mallick Rel and Korbolo Dom placed in positions of power at Laseen's court. The Adjunct therefore elects to take her army and leave the Malazan Empire forever.
- Wham Line:Queen of Dreams: Dunsparrow, did you know you were marked? No, I gather you did not - you were but newborn when sanctified, after all. And then stolen away, from the temple, by [Whiskeyjack]. Hood never forgave him for that, and took in the end a most satisfying vengeance, ever turning away a healer's touch when nothing else was needed, when that touch could have changed the world, could have shattered an age old curse.Tavore: We are leaving the Malazan Empire. And in all likelihood, we will never return.