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 (with Amanda, new to the series, going first), and finally comments from Tor.com readers. In this article, we’ll cover chapter six of The Crippled God.
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. 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.
The T’lan Imass led by Tool stand among the dead bodies of children that they killed, until eventually the First Sword leads them away southeast. All but two of the T’lan Imass follow him. Kalt Urmanal and Nom Kala remain behind, the first stricken and seeking penance for what has been done, the latter feeling absolutely numb. Despite the call of the First Sword, neither feels that they can follow him any longer. They head out together to find one precious moment of peace.
We see Tool’s point of view as he remembers the first instance that humans met the Imass, and how the Imass killed them, and then were persecuted into extinction by the humans, so now the T’lan Imass kill the children of the humans. And then he realises that these are all Olar Ethil’s memories—that she is inserting her hatred and lack of compassion into him. Now Tool thinks that Toc was compelled by Olar Ethil to send him away, and he forgives him for his actions. Tool can feel the rising of the Elder Warrens and the convergence in the east, and he takes his T’lan Imass towards it, so that they will not be forgotten.
The three thousand T’lan Imass follow Tool, drowning in his thoughts since he has opened his mind to them and shared the battle going on in his soul. Rystalle Ev thinks that they travel to their own end, and that this is an acceptable fate.
Ulag Togtil is swept along in Tool’s emotions, knowing what his fate will be, and he wants to weep.
Gesler punches Stormy in the face to get his attention and then tells him that he has to leave, to return to the Bonehunters and find out who survived and how badly their allies were hurt. Stormy, as Shield Anvil, is also supposed to ease the ghosts of those still lingering. Kalyth provides him with an escort as he leaves immediately.
Grub watches Stormy leaving and tells Sinn that something is up. She doesn’t really care, and reiterates that they’re mostly dead. She taunts Grub about Keneb. Grub then thinks about Keneb and the fact that he is truly gone, and he mourns (although he doesn’t even know the name for what he is feeling). Sinn’s reaction to her brother’s dead—cold indifference—concerns Grub, and he knows she feels nothing and wants him to join her in that. He thinks that, if it means an end to pain, he will.
We see the scene from Sinn’s youth where she is raped and the magic first materialises, to kill the boy that raped her. At that moment she took on the mantle of the Virgin of Death. She wants the fire to cleanse her, but so far she still feels him inside her. Sinn is given to realise that she has nothing to lose. She sees Grub as her precious possession, something to keep pure and safe, and she is willing to burn others to protect him—or get close to him. Which is why she rode the lightning of the K’Chain Nah’ruk to kill Keneb, so that she and Grub would have no one but each other.
Rud Elalle huddles by the fire and watches as Silchas Ruin stands, unmoving, lost to his own thoughts. He knows he would be warmer if he spent time in his Eleint form, that the raging chaos would keep him inured to the elements, but he is concerned about the siren song of being Eleint, the fact that he loses his rational thought and clear purpose. Silchas Ruin tells Rud Elalle that he plans to find him a sword, and it sounds as though it’s going to be a rather special sword. He departs and Rud Elalle is left to think about how lonely he is for his father and his people. As he surveys the land around the peak where he sits, he remembers an encamped army laying siege to a fortress carved from mountains, and wonders about what and who was involved.
Umm, some help with this scene—a group of warriors, including a Thel Akai, ready themselves to march. They are the remains of invaders who once numbered in their tens of thousands. This Thel Akai is accompanied by tusked warriors.
Ublala Pung wakes from another dream (ah, was that the scene we just saw?), one of many visions since carrying the strange mace with the four blue-iron heads. He watches Ralata sleep, and remembers fondly the last time she tried to kill him and Draconus stopped her. He and Draconus argued about keeping Ralata alive, and Draconus agrees to give her one more try.
Setoc holds an ancient wolf skull and is shown a vision of how they died, to the sticks of the K’Chain Che’Malle (or Nah’ruk—we’re not given the length of their tails to judge). She thinks on her companions and their desire to return to the city, and she realises that it is time to leave them and follow her own destiny. She thinks that it is time to let the Wolves cleanse the world of humans, that she wants to kill them all. She wonders about returning to those she left and starting with them, but leaves them be. She knows now that the Wolves seek a war of retribution on those who have stolen their land and killed them.
The remains of the Trygalle mission start waking up, and Faint asks Precious Thimble to try and conjure some water. The young witch warns that the ground flinches, that it hurts to use magic, but Faint insists. So Precious Thimble tries and summons forth a jade statue from the ground that tears Sweetest Sufferance to pieces in the most gruesome manner. Amby punches Precious Thimble in the face to stop her and then runs away with her, screaming. Faint watches as a vast statue begins to rise.
Draconus feels the earth shuddering and tells Ublala and Ralata to wait while he investigates. He draws his sword, which pours darkness into the shape of wings that he flies away on.
Faint watches as the jade statue continues to emerge, then sees an enormous shadow descend and plunge a sword into the forehead of the statue. It becomes motionless. Draconus materialises and walks towards Faint. He tells her that where the statue came from every god is a Shield Anvil, then continues south. Faint drops to her knees.
Falata looks to use Draconus’ absence as an opportunity to escape, as Ublala tries to persuade her to stay. He tries to convince her he isn’t a coward by telling her of the time he fought five Teblor gods, and then tells her about the time he killed Dalk and a dragon, but those are actually from his visions.
Olar Ethil warns Torrent that the Wastelands are crowded and that everything is too close to the surface. She tells him to summon no gods. Torrent takes Absi from her to let him ride his horse for a while, and the twins ask Torrent about their father—whether he is still alive. Torrent warns them he might have changed from what they know.
Gruntle uses the shredded warrens to travel and, as he plunges through different places, ends up losing himself to the killing. The woman who is the black panther (Kilava) brings him back to himself. As he returns to his human body, he resigns himself to fighting Treach’s war.
Mappo forces himself onward, torn between his desire to find Icarium and his desire to flee his shame. He tries to convince himself that allowing three children to be taken was balanced against being there to prevent Icarium destroying the world, and those children within it. But he still knows that it was wrong. He now admits to himself that he is trying to find Icarium to be released.
As Stormy rides to find the Bonehunters he encounters the fourteen undead Jaghut and has a brief and amusing conversation with them.
I do not approve of Tool right now. I know—gosh, how I know—that his life has been painful, that he wasn’t allowed a peaceful death and was sent back out. But, hell, murdering children? And leading others to do it? This is a Tool I no longer want to spend time with. I’m glad that two of the T’lan Imass have decided to no longer follow him, but their decision comes somewhat too late for them to be able to find the peace of mind they now so desperately seek. “But he knew with desolation as abject as anything he had felt before that there would be no gift of peace, not for him nor for any of the others, and that even dissolution might prove unequal to the task of cleansing his soul.
Ah, and then Erikson turns me upside down by allowing me to see Tool’s thoughts—I’m delighted to see that, although we don’t get all of Tool back, he is at least realising Olar Ethil’s extreme manipulation of both he and Toc. It is a lovely moment when Tool recognises that he forgives Toc:
“Toc Younger, what is this winter tide that so carries us forward? Ride to me, let us speak again, as we did once. Toc Younger, I forgive you. For the wounds you delivered, for all that you denied me, I cannot but forgive you.”
But even despite this section where we see Tool waking up to what has occurred, he has still killed Barghast children, and I think that is pretty unforgiveable? What do you guys reckon? Tool is definitely one of the more complicated characters of these later books—he requires much thought.
It’s sad to see the three thousand T’lan Imass suffering along with Tool and sharing the war in his soul. I do appreciate that Rystalle Ev recognises what they have done:
“It was, in fact, just. Slayers of children deserve no glory. The caves are emptied now, but we cannot dwell there. The air is thick with the blood we spilled. Even the flames from the hearth cannot warm us.”
Have to say, it is a rather gloomy and desperate start to this chapter!
Thank God, then, for Gesler and Stormy, and the comedy they bring, because I was feeling a tad bleak! I love this:
“I needed to get your attention,” the Mortal Sword replied. “With you, subtle don’t work.”
“How would you know? You ain’t tried it yet. Not once, in all the years I’ve been cursed by your company.”
And then this as well: “Classic Malazan military structure at work here, woman. Short, violent discussions and that’s it.” It certainly gets the job done!
I’m so concerned for Grub here. This is where he needs the company of someone other than Sinn to help lead him through his grief about Keneb, and to let him know that time will heal and the pain will pass. Her attitude and coldness is not one that I want Grub to develop. Sinn just sounds more and more psychopathic, quite frankly:
“Your brother has died, Sinn. And you just sleep. The magic’s carved everything out of you, hasn’t it? You’re just wearing that girl’s face, her skin, and whatever you are, there inside, is isn’t human at all any more, is it?”
Begs the question why neither Stormy nor Gesler have spoken to Grub and Sinn properly. Maybe they just don’t deal well with children? Or perhaps Sinn just scares the bejeezus out of them, and they think that Grub is lost to them as well?
This little glimpse into Sinn’s mind and memory of what made her is truly terrifying. And her vision of what Grub means to her and what she is willing to do to protect him—including making sure that Grub has no one to love but her—just makes me utterly uneasy for what Sinn is going to do in the future. As she thinks: “she had nothing to lose” and that makes her able to do truly anything.
And I grieve for the Sinn that was, before the rape that took her innocence and awoke her magic.
Rud Elalle is definitely a character to watch, particularly when we see that he would rather shiver on the side of a mountain than spend time in his Eleint form, because he knows that the chaos in his blood affects him profoundly and he loses his sense of self. I wonder what sword it is that Silchas Ruin intends to get for him—it sounds like he has a specific one in mind. I hope it’s nothing so dire as Dragnipur!
Also, I feel so sorry for Silchas Ruin here—alone in the world, both his brothers dead.
“He was utterly alone, bereft [...] But Silchas Ruin had finally straightened, biting on that wound in the manner of a speared wolf, and he’d been limping ever since.”
I love the fact that Ublala Pung is willing to argue with Draconus, and wheedle concessions from him—it is very like a parent/child relationship! And is this mace of his giving Ublala visions of the past? Who carried the mace before him?
So the Wolves are now properly entering the arena of killing, retribution and death, are they? This is certainly a book where we’re seeing ancient grievances brought back into play, as mortal enemies come face to face once again. “This is the war the Wolves have sought. The Hold shall be reborn. Am I to be their leader? Am I to stand alone at the head of some vast army of retribution?” I wonder how this will affect the Grey Wolves led by Krughava?
It strikes me that if a mage tells you the magic hurts and the ground is flinching and there is the feel of a spirit around, you perhaps shouldn’t poke too hard at it. But no, Sweetest Sufferance is torn to pieces in a really nasty little scene (NOT one I want to see on the big screen…) and a vast jade statue emerges from the ground. Hopefully from here we’ll be given a bit more knowledge as to what these jade statues are, because I’m assuming that the sky is full of more arriving. This also means that jade statues have fallen to this world before—does that mean they are connected to the Crippled God?
And then a scene I would REALLY want to see, as Draconus unsheathes his sword and this smoky, inky wings unfold and lift him into the air. Winged darkness, indeed.
This scene where Faint becomes immersed in the voices from within the jade statue—is she trying to embrace their pain and absorb them as a Shield Anvil would? I’m unsure what Draconus means when he says: “Where he came from, every god is a Shield Anvil. Woman, have you lost your mind?”
I really am liking Torrent as a character—his protectiveness of the children against fearsome odds, his failure to feel scared of Olar Ethil, his attempt to warn the twins that Tool might not be the man he once was to them. He is the very definition of compassion.
I’m intrigued by when Torrent thinks this:
“Summon not Toc Anaster, my one-eyed guardian who can ride through the veil, who can speak with the voice of death itself. Why do you so fear him, Olar Ethil? What can he do to you? But I know the answer to that, don’t I?”
Do we know the answer, us readers?
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.