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The Claw was a covert organization of the Malazan Empire's best assassins.[1] Some veterans of the Malazan military referred to them as "hunters" while young Ganoes Paran called them a "cult".[2][3] Temper called them a pale imitation of the Talon.[4]

Inspiration and Creation[]

The Claw, created by Surly,[5] were modeled on Dancer's own assassin network, known as the Talon.

Whereas the Talon was an organization whose focus was external and was used as a covert arm for military campaigns, the Claw were originally focused internally, rather like an organization of secret police, and were a network of spies and assassins.[6]


When Surly took the name Laseen and forcibly took the throne from Emperor Kellanved, the Claw were used to eliminate the Talon, thus ensuring no threats to Laseen's rule from within the Empire itself. With the Talon no longer in operation, the Claw took responsibility for external assassinations in addition to its previous internal killings.[4] The betrayal began subtly as a string of disastrous botched missions, but broke into open war when the Claw's objective was revealed by its own carelessness.[7]


The Claw were commanded by the Clawmaster, who was under direct command of the Emperor/Empress.[8] The Claws were divided in groups of five, called Hands,[9] each one under command of a Hand Leader who could contact the Clawmaster when needed. In the field, the leader of a hand was only outranked by the Clawmaster, the Imperial Adjunct and the Empress herself.[10] Hands were trained to work as a unit, which Kalam Mekhar called both a strength and a flaw.[11]

Early on in the Malazan series, the term Clawmaster was also applied to individual Claws (possibly those in charge of a Hand). Kalam Mekhar bore a pendant with a symbol etched into its flat surface with which he identified himself as a Clawmaster to a sergeant at Ladro Keep.[12] According to Fiddler, Dancer and Kellanved had been murdered by Laseen's chosen Clawmasters.[13] After Deadhouse Gates, the term was only used for the leader of the organisation.

The Claw abided by rules of conduct acknowledged in the wider world of assassins, including payment upon completion of contract.[14]

The organization was accused several times of being corrupt, with several of its members putting personal wealth and power as a priority over the Malazan interests they represented.[15]

Operating Procedures[]

The Claw differed from the Talon in that when they moved as a hand, they moved at five paces apart, two less than the Talon.[16] The Hand's leader generally travelled in the center, flanked on each corner by the other members. When applicable, the leader swathed themselves in magical darkness ensuring their presence would be a surprise.[17]

The Claws were responsible for infiltrating anti-Malazan movements and organizations that could harm Malazan interests, whether in the Malazan Empire, or outside it. In the Seven Cities, for instance, they infiltrated a grassroots movement in Aren, and marked its members for assassination, successfully wiping them out.[18]

Claw training stressed inner discipline of mind and body. All Claw were taught to mentally staunch bleeding by drawing blood down from their wounds into their muscles. This would prevent them from bleeding out as well as hide evidence of their passing. Those with a higher level of discipline could decrease their body temperatures to a level indiscernible from cobble or stone. This would hide them from anyone, like the Claw themselves, who had sorcery-enhanced vision capable of observing temperature changes in the dark.[19]

A favourite tactic of the Claw was to shroud themselves in darkness in an already darkened room or street.[20] They excelled in contests of patience, and as hunters were able to outwait their quarry.[21] The Claw could communicate with each other using prearranged signals such as three fast clicks.[22]

They were known to enhance their own stealth by investing objects on their person with sorcery that encouraged a lack of attention from those around them.[23] They were also known to thread small slivers of metal under the skin that were ensorcelled to alert them whenever they were being followed by someone with murderous intent.[24]

The Claw were known to invest sorcery in precious metals which could be placed upon a person for tracking purposes. The Claw could even see through the object as a means of gathering intelligence in a covert fashion.[25]

Their hand-to-hand combat style was based on Laseen's own formidable martial art techniques.[26] The 'Web' was a form that was taught to the Claws, which involved a dancing flurry of parries.[27]

A Clawmaster could magically converse using the corpse of a dead Claw as the medium.[28]

An old Claw tenet stated, "When the time for action comes, all doubts must be discarded."[29]

It was common for the Empire to send the Claw ahead into besieged territory to eliminate powerful threats or to make deals with local assassins to carry out those eliminations for them.[30]

Most Malazan armies seemed to have Claw operatives amongst their numbers. However, during the Genabackis Campaign, it is thought that no Claw were left amongst the 5th and 6th armies as Caladan Brood's Tiste Andii were able to pick out a Claw from a thousand paces and Toc the Younger was the only one remaining active in the Malaz 2nd Army.[31]

One assassination tactic was known as "pointing the skull". A Claw member would surveil a target until it was time for the strike. Then when the assassination team arrived, the first Claw would point out the target in person.[32]


A Claw was usually recruited very young, at the age of five or six and trained for a minimum of fifteen years.[33] Kalam Mekhar and Kiska were exceptions. For thirty years, Malle of Gris ran the academy where future Claws were trained.[34] It was thought that no one left the Claw alive although if so, Kalam was an exception.[35]


When allowing themselves to be seen, the Claw were often described as swathed in loose black cloaks, hands hidden in sleeves with hoods shadowing their faces.[36][37] The projecting portion of their cowl was specially designed with gauze to allow its owner use of their peripheral vision. Gauze vents were also positioned over the ears to avoid obstructing their hearing.[38] They wore moccasins.[39]

When dressed instead for combat, they wore an unofficial uniform of dark dyed cloth, tall leather boots, trousers, loose jerkins, vests, and gloves.[40]

A Claw also sported a small understated claw sigil that glittered on their left breasts, when in their informal attire.[41]


The signature weapons of a Claw were throwing stars, throwing knives, wide-bladed stickers, and garrotes. The knives and stickers might be coated with poison, but a Claw's throwing stars never were as doing so would pose a danger to the wielder. Most prized of all was the compact and deadly Claw crossbow. It was ribless and screw-loaded with a complement of eight iron headed quarrels that glistened with White Paralt.[42][43][44] These were only effective at short range, but could be held in a single hand and could even be affixed to the wrists to be concealed by sleeves, where the trigger could be released by a certain motion of the hand and wrist.[45][46][47]

In Gardens of the Moon[]

The Claw was tasked with removing the mage cabal in Pale but they were intercepted and killed by Anomander Rake in the very first moments of their entrance into the city. The mages had actually fled on hearing that Claws were in the city and were later killed by Rake for that desertion however, rumors making the rounds in Darujhistan still told of the mages having been killed by the Claw.[48]

Topper, the Clawmaster, escorted Ganoes Paran from the road where he was journeying after his investigations in Gerrom, to Unta after the Itko Kan Massacre.[49] He next met the Captain two years later on board a ship heading for Genabaris.[50] On both occasions the two left each other's company on bad terms, Paran refusing to be either intimidated or befriend the Clawmaster.

Paran thought that the agent who met him in Genabaris was a Claw, one of the few who did not seem to dislike him.[51]

As the last Claw operative left in the Malaz 2nd Army, Toc the Younger was called in after the Siege of Pale, to accompany Captain Paran to the city.[52] His Clawmaster had been garroted two days previously,[52] likely to have been the low-ranked officer who, on behalf of Tayschrenn, addressed the Bridgeburners after the battle.[53]

Toc also went out to escort the Imperial Adjunct Lorn to Pale. When he located her, she and her Jakatakan Élites guard were under attack by Ilgres Barghast. Toc, aided by the T'lan Imass Onos T'oolan, was able to save the Adjunct.[54] Lorn pondered why Toc had veered so much from his father's path.

"There was nothing pleasant, or proud, in being a Claw. Only efficiency and fear."

In Deadhouse Gates[]

Several Hands of the Claw awaited ex-Claw Kalam Mekhar in Malaz City as part of a trap laid by Pearl, Topper, and Laseen. A wounded Kalam killed three full Hands of the assassins on his own before reaching the Empress in Mock's Hold.[55] Kalam and Laseen reached an accord, but Topper admitted to the Empress that he was helpless to call off the Claw. Ultimately, Kalam escaped, but not before more Claw fell. Topper rationalised the night's defeat as "a long-overdue winnowing of the brotherhood's weaker elements" and promised to channel his frustration on his lieutenant Pearl.[56]

In The Bonehunters[]

Six hundred of the Claw were deployed by the Empress Laseen, under the command of Pearl the night the Adjunct Tavore returned from the Seven Cities Campaigns, although Pearl seemed to wonder why six hundred assassin mages had been brought in by the Empress.[57]

Spoiler warning: The following section contains significant plot details about Claw.

Pearl, the interim Clawmaster, was first ordered by Mallick Rel to kill Banaschar. Saygen Maral was dispatched to kill him. It was then that the Claw was revealed to have been severely infiltrated by the Jhistal Mallick Rel. The Black Glove, as it was called, was formed by Claws loyal to Mallick, who only knew three of their cell mates, forming a discrete structure, and there was no way of knowing how many of the Claw had been compromised. Saygen failed and was killed himself by Hellian who then arrested Banaschar.[58]

Most of the Claw were seeded around the city, and there was a heavy concentration of the Hands around Mock's Hold where the Empress had settled to meet with the Adjunct and her retinue, which included Kalam and T'amber.

At the end of the meeting, as Kalam offered to walk the Adjunct out, the Empress offered the Claw to Kalam, asking him to become the Clawmaster, since Topper had been lost to the Imperial Warren. Meeting with the Adjunct and T'amber privately, Kalam estimated that there were eighty hands or six hundred Claws, who he could use to wipe out Mallick Rel and Korbolo Dom. However, T'amber revealed that the Claw had been severely infiltrated by Mallick's agents. This swung Kalam's loyalties to the Adjunct and he agreed to try and escort her to the safety of the 14th's ships.

Pearl entered in the room Laseen was in, and was given the command to kill the Adjunct with all the Claws at his disposal, after it had become clear Tavore intended to disobey. He was also made Clawmaster, since it was clear that Kalam had sided with the Adjunct and implicitly refused her offer.

The Claw were severely limited in their operations due to the presence of Tavore's Otataral sword, which negated their magery. The three carved their way through Malaz City, encountering several times, two or more Hands at once, T'amber taking a lot of damage. They forced their way westwards into the city, planning to swing south to the Mouse District then head to the shoreline and on to the ships off the coast. The three entered Mock's estate killing Claws, and went down the Well of Plenty. After clearing the Lightings, the three then headed southwards to Mouse district, killing several hands of the Claw on their way. They were then ambushed by two Hands at Admiral Bridge that led to the Mouse. Killing them, the three then heard screams behind them, indicating the thirty or so Claws who had been shadowing them had been killed by someone else. Here, Kalam decided to split up, hoping to lead the Claws further into the Mouse, while the Adjunct and T'amber headed to the coast via the river.

Kalam took to the rooftops of the Mouse, where he encountered ten elite Claws who had been groomed by Pearl to be similar to Kalam himself. Kalam killed all ten of them, taking grievous wounds all along. He was then shot by Pearl with a Crossbow bolt that was tipped with Kartoolian Paralt.

The Claws then started emerging from their warrens massing by the scores, in preparation to assault three of the 14th's squads holding the harbor. Using High Ruse, Mockra and Rashan, Apsalar Shadow Danced, killing Claws in their hundreds, and proceeded to eliminate Pearl with ruthless efficiency, incapacitating him with several knife blows and slices, then pushing the same Bolt of Kartoolian Paralt that he had killed Kalam with, in him.

Meanwhile Tavore and T'amber reached the docks without being harassed by the Claw. The City Guard, however, discovered the two of them, and aided by the Claws, attacked, but were repelled by Fiddler, Gesler, Stormy and Legana Breed.

Shadowthrone later stated that Apsalar had killed 307 Claws and the Clawmaster Pearl.[59]

Significant plot details end here.

In Night of Knives[]

Through flashbacks, Temper recalled the Claw's involvement in Dassem's attempted assassination at the Siege of Y'Ghatan. In the tent where Dassem was recovering from the first attempt on his life, Ferrule and Temper managed to rebuff the assassins designated by Surly to kill Dassem and them. In the fight that followed, Dassem killed Jade, while Possum was ostensibly mortally wounded by Dassem.[60]

During the events of the Shadow Moon, Kiska noticed the arrival of an Imperial Ship and was caught snooping around by a Claw, implying the personage who had just arrived was very important. They also took over Mock's Hold in the name of an unnamed official, where Temper was a Guard.[61]

With the events of the Shadow Moon in full swing, Temper was forced to ally himself with the Shadow Cultists, who were enemies of the Claws.[62]

As Kiska entered Mock's Hold, she saw that there had been heavy fighting between the Cultists and the Claws, and the cultists had come out the poorer with several more casualties on the Cultists' side.[63] As Temper went into the Hold, searching for Corinn, he killed a Claw, also sending Possum into a retreat up the stairs. He then negotiated with Dancer, retrieving Corinn in exchange for 'one last service', as Dancer called it.[64]

Kellanved and Dancer had returned to Malaz City not to re-take the Malazan Throne as Surly had suspected, but to utilize the Shadow Moon to ascend. Not knowing this, Surly had assembled the best Claws, and they were all called into action as Ash and his squad of ex-Bridgeburners attacked the Claws in the Hold. Kellanved and Dancer then appeared, and in the fight that followed, due to Kellanved's inability to use his magery due to the presence of Otataral, Dancer fought a desperate fighting retreat against a multitude of Claws, the two disappearing from a window. Kiska counted at least twelve dead Claws. Topper as present and rather heavily injured, while Possum too had taken injuries.[65]

The Claws also fought with the Cultists around the Deadhouse, Possum doing his best to eliminate Temper on the grounds of the Deadhouse.[65]

In Return of the Crimson Guard[]

The state of the organization had become lopsided after the loss of so many veterans and experienced assassins on the night of the Shadow Moon when hundreds of the Claw had been killed in Malaz City. The debacle was called Kellanved's Revenge by some and coupled with the rumour that Kellanved was behind the new ascendant, Shadowthrone, gave rise to the tale that the former Emperor had sent the curse of his own Shadow Queen against the Claw to revenge past slights and his assassination.[66]

At the same time Mallick Rell's parallel Claw organisation of Claw under his sole command continued to grow and was led by Coil.[67][68] Some of the Claws were sympathetic to the cause of the Talian League, and one of the Claw was actively providing inside information to Urko Crust, one of the leaders of the League.[69] This Claw was likely Coil sowing dissent for her master.

Meanwhile, the Imperial Warren, so often used by the Imperial messengers and other officials, had become a deadly fatal Warren to enter, any and all Claws entering there being killed.[70][66]

In a Command meeting presided by Laseen, where she heard reports from the High command including Possum, the Clawmaster, Possum reported that most of the Old Guard had assembled to oppose her in the form of the Talian League.[71]

When the Crimson Guard invaded Unta, the Claw lead by Possum responded with fierce resistance, ordering the crowds to be seeded with Claws, and offering a reward of ten thousand Imperial gold discs for an Avowed's head. At an engagement in a tenement, where some of the Avowed had become pinned down, Possum and the Claws under his direct command attacked with the help of the citizen militia, but were ambushed and beaten back, seven Claws losing their lives. Possum was once again injured and when he came to, he witnessed a lone Claw take on a heavily injured Avowed, and kill him using her bare hands, disappearing before Possum could accost her. She was later identified by Kiska as Laseen herself.[66]

Most of the Claws accompanied the Empress as she left with the army to attack Li Heng, a fight that culminated in the Battle of the Plains. Here, the Empress held back the Claws against the renegade Talian League, sparing them for the upcoming fight against the Crimson Guard. Two hands of the Claw attacked Shimmer and her command, almost managing to kill her.[72] Shimmer was again attacked by two Hands of the Claws, these loyal to Mallick Rel, and most of them were dispatched by Shimmer, the last few by Laseen herself, who agreed to let the Crimson Guard retreat from the field since their position had become untenable.[73]

The Claws went after the Crimson Guard assassins called Veils, hunting them and counter-attacking wherever they could.[73]

Spoiler warning: The following section contains significant plot details about Claw.

Henceforth, most of the action surrounded the Empress' tent where several attempts made on her life were beaten back by her using Otataral powder. Finally, Cowl attacked the Empress, but was beaten back with the help of Possum, and Topper, who had been haunting the Imperial Warren, killing all Claws loyal to Mallick Rel. In this moment of ostentatious victory, Taya Radok, an assassin in the employ of Mallick Rel, assassinated Laseen.[74]

Significant plot details end here.

Notable Claws[]

Notes and References[]

  1. Gardens of the Moon, Glossary, UK MMPB p.704
  2. Stonewielder, Chapter 3, US HC p.174
  3. Gardens of the Moon, Prologue, US HC p.27
  4. 4.0 4.1 Night of Knives, Chapter 4
  5. Gardens of the Moon, Prologue, UK MMPB p.7
  6. Deadhouse Gates, Chapter 11, US HC p.287
  7. Deadhouse Gates, Chapter 11, US HC p.287
  8. The Bonehunters, Chapter 22, UK MMPB p.1038
  9. Deadhouse Gates, Chapter 23, UK MMPB p.910
  10. House of Chains, Chapter 12, UK MMPB p.536
  11. The Bonehunters, Chapter 23, US SFBC p.903
  12. Deadhouse Gates, Chapter 4, UK MMPB p.166
  13. Deadhouse Gates, Chapter 5, UK MMPB p.196
  14. Gardens of the Moon, Chapter 22, UK MMPB p.647
  15. Orb Sceptre Throne, Chapter 4
  16. House of Chains, Chapter 25, UK MMPB p.929
  17. Deadhouse Gates, Chapter 23, US HC p.569
  18. Orb Sceptre Throne, Chapter 4
  19. Deadhouse Gates, Chapter 22, US HC p.551
  20. Deadhouse Gates, Chapter 22, US HC p.553
  21. Deadhouse Gates, Chapter 23, US HC p.571
  22. The Bonehunters, Chapter 23, US SFBC p.919
  23. The Bonehunters, Chapter 22, US SFBC p.863
  24. The Bonehunters, Chapter 22, US SFBC p.863-864
  25. Deadhouse Gates, Chapter 11, UK MMPB p.471
  26. Spoiler Talk: Return of the Crimson Guard by Ian C. Esslemont - A Critical Dragon - See 15:40-18:00
  27. The Bonehunters, Chapter 23, US SFBC p.916
  28. Deadhouse Gates, Chapter 22, US HC p.554
  29. Gardens of the Moon, Chapter 19, US HC p.395
  30. Gardens of the Moon, Chapter 2, UK MMPB page.65, Chapter 6, UK MMPB p.214, Chapter 7, UK MMPB p.249
  31. Gardens of the Moon, Chapter 3, UK MMPB p.115
  32. The Bonehunters, Chapter 22, US SFBC p.862
  33. Gardens of the Moon, Chapter 3, UK MMPB p.104/105
  34. Assail (novel), Chapter 8, UK HB p.455/456
  35. Gardens of the Moon, Chapter 4, UK HB p.129
  36. Night of Knives, Chapter 4
  37. Gardens of the Moon, Prologue, UK MMPB p.7
  38. Deadhouse Gates, Chapter 22, US HC p.553
  39. The Bonehunters, Chapter 23, US SFBC p.919
  40. Night of Knives, Chapter 4
  41. Night of Knives, Chapter 4
  42. Deadhouse Gates, Chapter 12, US HC p.318-319/339
  43. Deadhouse Gates, Chapter 22, US HC p.553
  44. Deadhouse Gates, Chapter 23, US HC p.570
  45. Deadhouse Gates, Chapter 22
  46. Deadhouse Gates, Chapter 23
  47. House of Chains, Chapter 25
  48. Gardens of the Moon, Gardens of the Moon, Chapter 6, UK MMPB p.214
  49. Gardens of the Moon, Chapter 1, UK MMPB p.37-41
  50. Gardens of the Moon, Chapter 3, UK MMPB p.94/95
  51. Gardens of the Moon, Chapter 3, UK MMPB p.113
  52. 52.0 52.1 Gardens of the Moon, Chapter 3, UK MMPB p.115
  53. Gardens of the Moon, Chapter 3, UK MMPB p.104
  54. Gardens of the Moon, Chapter 9, UK MMPB p.267-274
  55. Deadhouse Gates, Chapter 22
  56. Deadhouse Gates, Chapter 23
  57. The Bonehunters, Chapter 22
  58. The Bonehunters, Chapter 22
  59. The Bonehunters, Chapter 23
  60. Night of Knives, Chapter 4, UK HB p.155/165-174
  61. Night of Knives, Chapter 1
  62. Night of Knives, Chapter 4, UK HB p.158-163/190-192
  63. Night of Knives, Chapter 4, UK HB p.180-184
  64. Night of Knives, Chapter 4, UK HB p.187-192
  65. 65.0 65.1 Night of Knives, Chapter 5
  66. 66.0 66.1 66.2 Return of the Crimson Guard, Book 2, Chapter 2, UK PB p.296
  67. Return of the Crimson Guard, Book 1 Chapter 4, US HC p.152-153
  68. Return of the Crimson Guard, Book 2 Chapter 6, US HC p.514
  69. Return of the Crimson Guard, Book 1, Chapter 2
  70. Return of the Crimson Guard, Book 1, Chapter 3
  71. Return of the Crimson Guard, Book 1, Chapter 4
  72. Return of the Crimson Guard, Book 3, Chapter 1
  73. 73.0 73.1 Return of the Crimson Guard, Book 3, Chapter 2
  74. Return of the Crimson Guard, Book 3, Chapter 4
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