Malazan Reread of the Fallen

Malazan Reread of the Fallen: The Healthy Dead, Part Four

Welcome 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. In this article, we’ll continue our coverage of The Healthy Dead.

A fair warning before we get started: We’ll be discussing both novella and whole-series themes, narrative arcs that run across the entire series, and foreshadowing. Note: 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.

Some administrative notes:

  • Amanda hopes (plans) to rejoin us when we return to the novels
  • I’ll be starting the last novella, Crack’d Pot Trail, on the 21st
  • Once we finish Crack’d Pot, we’ll pick up with Blood and Bone after the usual one or two weeks off in between
  • After that we’ll continue on to Assail, then begin the prequels with Forge of Darkness, Fall of Light, and Dancer’s Lament
  • I’m still having bug issues with comments, so responses will be at best intermittent until that gets cleared up, ideally by Blood and Bone
  • Thanks for the patience on Friday’s absence; the antibiotics are starting to kick in and the bacterial infection is under siege (much better than being healed by Broach)
  • I’ll be attending the World Fantasy Conference in Saratoga Springs in a month, so if anyone else plans on being there and wants to get together, drop a line in the comments for Crack’d Pot or Blood and Bone as we get nearer

 

The Healthy Dead, Part Four

SCENE ONE

Ineb Cough slaps awake a now-huge Nauseo (Corpulence), grown to the size of the alley, and tells him they’re going on a journey. Nauseo wonders where all the greed came from that so swells him, and Ineb suggests it’s just been building up inside everyone. He adds the past night has been a “bloodbath” thanks to Bauchelain and Broach, who’d been hired to topple the king. Both demons see it as a good thing, though they have a little concern about Bauchelain’s ability to bind demons, even if they now think they’ve grown too strong for him. Wondering where Sloth is, they hear her groan beneath Nauseo’s bulk.

SCENE TWO

Bauchelain joins Reese at the palace steps, saying Necrotus had been with him but they’d gotten separated in the mob. The two discuss how quickly and totally the city has gone to hell, and Reese explains about the D’bayang kerchief he accidentally gave Invett Loath and how it may have led to “indiscriminate adjudication.” Bauchelain decides Mancy should get paid, as it’s quite possible that what he and Broach did had less effect than the kerchief. Mancy isn’t thrilled with the idea. Bauchelain asks to be taken to Macrotus and when Mancy says he don’t think it will do any good, Bauchelain points out he “rarely speaks in order to do good.”

SCENE THREE

Loath has been “adjudicating” (killing) a good number of people. He runs into (literally) Nauseo Sloven. After bouncing off, he attacks him with his sword, and then gets enveloped by Nauseo’s bulk. Loath falls unconscious.

SCENE FOUR

Imid thinks he sees that the Stentorian nun has pointy teeth, and he yells to the crowd watching them that “She’s got filed teeth. She wants my baby! She’s a cannibal!” The nun gets torn apart by the crowd, which included a lot of mothers who had lost their children to nuns in the temple. Dragging Imid away, Elas Sil tells him the nun’s teeth weren’t pointed, “They were rotten! Just stumps! That woman slurps her meals!” They enter the Grand Temple.

SCENE FIVE

Necrotus wanders the city lost, his body falling apart (he’s carrying his left arm). Suddenly, an arched gate of bone appears before him and out of it steps a scrawny figure with a cane, who introduces himself as one of Death’s minion’s (the one who sweeps the path and polishes the skulls in the gate). As he gets dragged toward the gate, Necrotus protests that he’s been raised. The minion complains about Broach: “One abominable act after another, oh we despise him … I am tasked to pursue him … I must prove my worth. I have gathered a legion—all of Korbal Broach’s victims—and we will find him…” Necrotus yells at the minion to go away, and the minion is hurt that Necrotus hates him for simply doing his job: “It’s nothing personal … you’re all the same! I drag you out of your miserable experience, and are you ever grateful? No, not once! You and your precious beliefs, your host of conceits and pointless faiths! Your elaborate self-delusions seeking to cheat the inevitable.” He cries out he hates them all, then goes through the gate, which disappears. Necrotus continues on, relieved yet also oddly offended by god of Death not wanting him. Unfortunately, before he goes too far, his other arm falls off, then his head.

SCENE FIVE

Crawling into Macrotus’ exercise machine, Bauchelain confirms the kind has been dead at least two weeks, probably from his heart bursting. Bauchelain points out how exercise is an invention of the leisured classes of civilization and that “true labourers care nothing” for it. He explains his theory to Mancy that the human body as a “set number of beats of which a heart is capable,” and to rush one’s body to those limits is foolish. Mancy says he needs to get out of the city, and after Bauchelain makes the point that “would be withdrawal,” he gives Mancy his permission, though first he wants Mancy to direct him to the Grand Temple.

SCENE SIX

Ineb Cough joins the drunken mob in front of the Grand Temple and spots Nauseo and Sloth there as well, and he can’t wait for “their brilliant savior, Bauchelain, on his way to pronounce upon the city its fate.”

SCENE SEVEN

Storkal Purge enters the Orgy Room a the top of the brothel, only to find it taken over by an old man hiding his pigs from the mob. She sighs and offers him an on-the-houser, but he says his pigs would be jealous. She screams.

SCENE EIGHT

Imid and Elas (and the baby) are roaming the rooms beneath the temple and come to a door. They think the room beyond is where the “prepare the babies.” They open the door and find a roomful of children who beg them to jump in and shut the door. The kids tell them they are being “protected. From the outer world, that horrible, dirty, sickly place … [From] foul things out there—things that will make us sick…” After a litany of such things, the children say where they are is “safe and healthy.” Imid and Elas bolt back out and the kids give chase.

SCENE NINE

Bauchelain comes across Necrotus, and rather than reattach the head to the body as the kind wishes, the sorcerer just carries off the head, saying he has a nice glass class for it. Resigned, the king asks if he’ll at least keep it clean, to which Bauchelain replies, “of course.” They near the temple.

SCENE TEN

Imid and Elas stumble across an open door to a secret tunnel and jump in then close it behind them. They enter a circular, low-ceilinged room with a slab of wood at the center. Elas has him put the baby down then pulls him in close, despite his protest about doing it in front of the baby.

SCENE ELEVEN

Ineb watches Bauchelain, still holding Necrotus’ head, prepare to address the crowd from beside the temple’s altar. Suddenly, Ineb feels a wave of power from Bauchelain, and he realizes he and his fellow demons would be as nothing before the sorcerer. Then a scream erupts and the Demoness of Lust (Agin Again) is summoned by Bauchelain, who declares her an “Imposter … Hiding in the guise of the Lady of Beneficence!” He then upbraids the crowd for thinking Lust only “thrives in matters of sex and sordid indulgence,” telling them “Lust is born of obsession! Obsession begets zealotry! Zealotry breeds deadly intolerance! Intolerance leads to oppression, and oppression to tyranny. And tyranny to …”” And here the crowd finishes for him, “The end of civilization!” After telling them their “faith has been subverted, twisted into hateful fanaticism,” he informs them of the death of King Macrotus, suggesting they stop by to see the body and thus be reminded of, “the deadly lure of lustful activity left unrestrained.” Letting the demoness go, he introduces the new king and queen—Imid and Elas, now rising on the wooden slab from the room below and “still locked into a most amorous embrace.”

SCENE TWELVE

Bauchelain, still with the head, returns to the camp outside the city where a well-viced Mancy is waiting. Broach arrives in crow form as Bauchelain puts the head in the promised glass case. Mancy leads a toast to the Healthy Dead, and Bauchelain joins in.

 

Bill’s Reaction

Well, you can’t say we weren’t warned. We’ve had a good number of references to Ineb getting larger, and one or two hints that the same was happening to Nauseo, but I’m pretty sure my first time through this I hadn’t expected him (Corpulence) to be taking up an entire alley via a wall of flesh.

On the other hand, even had I not seen Bauchelain in several stories already and his abilities, reading these two (Ineb and Nauseo) talking so confidently about how their newborn strength meant “There’s not a binder alive who could take us,” could only mean that there would indeed be such a binder (and his name would be Bauchelain).

I have only this to say about the end of this scene, “poor Sloth.”

I know I’ve said it a million times, but oh how I love Bauchelain. This moment with Mancy watching as the sorcerer is “slowly walking with hands clasped behind his back, pausing every now and then for a word or two with various crippled dead and undead citizens” is another one of those great moments that show his casual air of high class confidence. The hands behind the back is the perfect detail. I love picturing this stroll. Though I have a hard time making the distinction between the dead and the undead, since if the dead are able to converse, doesn’t that make them undead? I must be missing something.

It’s a small thing, but I like this consistency of character where Bauchelain is about to explain how he and Necrotus were separated, but then decides “the details aren’t relevant” and then a few lines later as Mancy relates the kerchief story Bauchelain tells him “I do dislike babbling,” and cuts to the chase of what Mancy is trying to tell him. And then, can’t you just hear the tone in his “Go on, Mister Reese,” when his eyes narrow at the mention of the D’bayang field?

If Mancy owned a car, this should be the bumper sticker on it: “Oblivion at every opportunity!”

“Indiscriminate adjudication.” I guess that must be what the kids are calling it nowadays.

The bit with Macrotus being dead was handled quite deftly I thought. If you go back and look, there are a few clues to this, done with great subtlety so as no to make it too obvious but also make perfect sense. The fact that Macrotus, when Mancy and Loath arrived at his exercise room, “pain no visible attention,” and that he “looked frighteningly thin, yet strangely flaccid, as if his skin had lost all elasticity.” His hair being described as “shaggy” and his head as “lolling.” And then the shift from Mancy being left alone with the King and then walking away without any sense of whether or not he interacted with Macrotus at all. And of course, Mancy telling Bauchelain that talking to the kind wouldn’t do “much good” (which also allowed for that great reply, “I rarely speak in order to do good, Mister Reese”)/ All quite well done.

About a page and a half is really all one wants to spend in the mind of the Paladin of Proper/Purity/Perfection/Probity (not to mention Perversion), what with the “plump and yummy” babies, the potentially hot nuns under their veils, the fantasy about a cavern of “fire and torment” and the reveling in the “eternal pain … vile fluids … suppurating pores” etc. And you have to love his ending here, after all that horror that is his self-righteous mind, subsumed in Nauseo’s flesh and yes, with references to his own kind of fire (those inflamed pores like “tiny volcanoes”) and “foul juices.” The joy of Karma.

It’s funny how after all that vivid, vivid, stomach-turning detail from Loath, all we get about the fate of the Stentorian Nun (still my favorite name I think) is a nicely understated, “she didn’t get far” and “A horrifying scene ensued, Imid Factallo’s witnessing thereof cut short … “

So you have to wonder if this scene in front of Death’s gate, with the idea of Broach being hunted by a “legion” of his victims is something we’ll ever see play out in a future novella. Here’s one vote for yes.

Another great image, with Necrotus literally falling apart, his head hitting with a thump on the ground and his eyes flashing wildly around.

Here’s one of those nicely sharp cultural points Bauchelain as so good at and which makes these novellas so much more than just simply fun, that idea of “exercise,” so ingrained in our current lifestyle (whether or not people actually do it) as a class concept, since of course, those who labor hard at work during the day, say, lifting stone, don’t actually need to go for a “jog” to get their muscles/blood moving.

Storkal’s plot line, I confess, doesn’t do much for me.

I’m pretty sure that on my first read, when I got to this chapter with Ineb being so eager for Bauchelain’s arrival, and seeing all these demons so happy in their rebirth, and this sense of hope and joy, I expected things to go a lot more downhill than they did. So that was nice bit of not being predictable.

The same is true with the room of children; I expected much worse than what we saw. Though what is actually happening there is pretty bad. And another nice bit of social commentary on the way we so over-protect our kids nowadays. Everything padded, everything bubble-wrapped, parents going to bat against teachers, not letting kids wander around past their own front yard, etc., everything being Purelled and sanitized (which of course backfires as it turns out kids need to get dirty to build up an immune system). I wouldn’t have minded having a bit more of this, though that would have I suppose spoiled the surprise of opening the door to this room.

“That’s diabolical!”

“Why yes, thank you.”

Have I mentioned I love Bauchelain yet?

I’m impressed by how quickly Necrotus accepts his position and just gets what he can—a clean glass case (I picture Mancy Windexing it a few times a day)

“As Bauchelain, an extra head tucked under one arm, made his way…” How can you not enjoy a story with a line like this in it?

Lust as the imposter was also nicely set up for us. If you recall, none of the Vices knew what had happened to her; she’d seemingly just disappeared. Specifically, just after Necrotus died and just before the rise of the Lady of Beneficence.

I liked this running gag of everything leading to the end of civilization. But funny as it is, Bauchelain’s progression from obsession to intolerance to oppression to tyranny is again, I’d say, nicely insightful

“Missionary zeal” hee hee.

How often do you think Bauchelain pulls something out of that wagon that Mancy has never seen before?

This is a pretty cheery ending for a Bauchelain and Broach tale, and one I like, especially as Mancy comes off pretty well in the whole thing. In fact, I’d say that along with our next one, this is probably my favorite of the novellas. I really enjoyed the way Mancy got to play to some strengths (his improve scene for instance). I thought this was perhaps the most tightly constructed of the novellas we’ve read so far. I enjoyed the satirical elements dealing with our health-obsessed, immortality-obsessed, safe-kids-obsessed culture. I love the idea of the Vices being incarnate (I wouldn’t have minded seeing more of them to be honest). And it’s always good when a host of undead wanders around the plot. My memory is I liked Crack’d Pot a bit better, because it dealt a lot with writers/writing, but it’s possibly I’m misremembering and rather than being my second favorite, The Healthy Dead is my favorite. Guess I’ll know soon …

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.

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