Malazan Reread of the Fallen

Malazan Reread of the Fallen: The Crippled God, Chapter One

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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 one 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.

Just a couple of notes—we’ll be taking a break on Friday 4th (Independence Day, yo!), back again next Wednesday.

In addition, Bill is on his usual summer holidays and having a well-earned rest. He says he’ll be trying to keep up while he’s away, but might end up skipping a few posts and adding stuff in the comments.

AND over the next couple of months I will be finding a new job, starting said new job, and finding a new place to live, so there might be a couple of breaks from my perspective as well. I shall try to keep you all updated as and when it happens! Phew!

With that done, shall we begin?

CHAPTER SUMMARY

SCENE ONE

Cotillion and Edgewalker discuss whatever plan Cotillion has, with Edgewalker disbelieving Cotillion’s audacity and warning him that even if Cotillion succeeds, “Beyond all expectations, beyond, even, all desire, they will still speak of your failure.” He also warns they will not believe Cotillion and finally that Cotillion cannot win, to which Cotillion replies, “That doesn’t mean I have to lose, does it?”

SCENE TWO

Calm, a Forkrul Assail, walks trailing dozens of chains formed of the bones of her ancestors. She recalls long imprisonment and a sense of “terrible, unbearable pressure.” She thinks of madness, of the first stirrings of consciousness amongst life, and how “the first word of sentience was justice. A word to feed indignation. A word empowering the will to change the world and all its cruel circumstances… to bind families, to build cities… to hammer the unruly mettle of gods into religions. All… twisting and branching out from that single root.” She recalls how justice, once so pure, had been corrupted, and now she thinks, “the end was coming.” She and eleven other Pures remained feeding on the heart of the Chained One, and they would be the final storm, with her at its center.

SCENE THREE

On one side of a barrier called The White Wall (a wall of imprisoned souls), Kadagar Fant, a Tiste Liosan, tells Aparal Forge (another Liosan) that “God failed us.” Aparal feigns accordance but believes all they do—their vengeance, their war, is based on “lies and madness” and will lead only to “lurid fields of red.” He wonders what rule says children needs fight their fathers’ wars, and wonders further if this was indeed Father Light’s intent, since “Did she not abandon her consort and take you for her own.” He can remember Father Light ordering a peace, a unification, but cannot remember what came after to spark the war. He tells Kadagar his general concern that they might be misguided in their goals, might be misreading their god’s absence. Kadagar, dangerously angry, tells him they have chosen their path, but then quickly forgives his friend his “momentary weakness,” saying oh-so-kindly how he’d hate to have to execute his friend as a traitor. Another Liosan, Iparth Erule, arrives to tell them the “last to drink”, Uhandahl, just tore his own throat out. There are now thirteen of them who have drunk the blood of the dragon staked nearby—Kessobahn, watched by four surviving Hounds of Light. Beyond the dragon lies the White Wall of the Liosan city of Saranas, stained by the still-bleeding corpses of the “traitors to the cause.” Kadagar order the others gathered, saying they will veer and kill Kessobahn, saying they must replace the father that abandoned them, adding “Osserc is dead in our eyes and shall remain so. Even Father Light kneels broken, useless, and blind.” Aparal is horrified by all this, and think that the only “gift” he and his people understand is the giving of pain.

SCENE FOUR

The Crippled God speaks to an unknown, saying he has nothing to bargain with. He admits he once looked upon the adherents of his servant with contempt, but now he realizes “the are each and all born with what they have… What do they want? They want my pity.” He criticizes his listener as having a sense of superiority, and says while he does not dispute his listener’s cleverness, he wonders if his listener lacks sufficient compassion. He says those pleading for his pity have it: “I am the god that answers prayers—can you or any other god make that claim? See how I have changed? My pain, which I held on to so selfishly, not reaches out like a broken hand. We touch in understanding… I am one with them all now.” He is surprise that his listener finds a value in compassion, remarking that his servant, with his withered legs, once dreamed of wealth, once begged for coins, but both he and his servant have lost the desire for begging. He agrees to “gather the poison in the thunder of my pain” and in seeming response to a question or statement, says, “Since when is death failure ?” He tells his visitor, “Go then, wring your promises with those upstarts.”

SCENE FIVE

Cotillion looks on three chained dragons and Edgewalker warns him not to be deceived by their appearance of “Bones and not much else.” Cotillion asks Edgewalker what he felt at the moment he lost all, then asks forgiveness for the question. Edgewalker tells Cotillion he is no healer, and Cotillion replies that there “is more than one path to salvation.” An answer that chills Edgewalker. Cotillion calls out to Eloth (the others are Kalse and Amapalas), saying he believes the dragon to be Mockra. He points out that despite being chained, the dragon’s voice can be heard in the mortal realms. Eloth answers, “My dreams rise on wings and I am free,” sarcastically noting its “shock” that such freedom was “More than delusion.” Cotillion asks the other two what they dream of and Kalse answer “Ice” while Ampelas responds, “the rain that burns, Lord of Assassins, deep in shadow.” Cotillion asks if they shall bargain, and when they scoff at the idea he has anything to give them, he offers freedom. A moment of shocked silence, and then, when asked, Eloth agrees to “dream” for Cotillion. He proceeds to instruct the dragon as to “how it must be.”

SCENE SIX

Mael meets with K’rul, dropping off a corpse. He tells K’rul: “Me with mine, you with yours, him with his, and yet still we fail to convince the world of its inherent absurdity.” K’rul calls it “odd” that “of all the gods, he alone discovered this mad, and maddening secret.” He wonder if they should leave the “dawn to come” to this mysterious him, and Mael answers they have to live through the night first. When K’rul asks about Olar Ethil, Mael says she’s trying “again”, but Tool is deeper than she thinks and thus was a poor choice as a, well, tool. They both agree that the man who rides before Tool is heartbreaking. When Mael notes that many died, K’rul says “Errastas had his suspicions,” and that’s all he needs, adding “They [the Bonehunters] were as she said the would be. Unwitnessed.” He asks if Errastas has won, explaining he can’t see that close to Kaminsod’s heart. Mael tells him he watched through Brys’ tears, and then tells K’rul: “In the name of the Abyss, those Bonehunters were something to behold.” K’rul asks him “truly?”, and Mael says “Errastas has made a terrible mistake. Gods, they all have!” K’rul says he won’t stay blind: “Two children. Twins. We shall defy the Adjunct Tavore Paran’s wish to be forever unknown to us, unknown to everyone.” He wonders at this wish to be unwitnessed, and Mael says she is filled with pain, guilt, and shame. K’rul says maybe this corpse will be the answer—“his soul remains strong, trapped in its own nightmare of guilt. I would see it freed of that… Poised to act when the moment comes… A life for a death, and it will have to do.” Mael sighs that it all falls on Tavore, who seems hopelessly outmatched by what she faces. But when K’rul asks if they have any chance at all, Mael answers: “It is as if they were born out of another age, a golden age lost to the past, and the thing of it is, they don’t even know it.” He wonders if that is the key to Tavore’s desire to be unwitnessed: “she doesn’t want the rest of the world to be reminded of what they once were.” When K’rul notes he can’t feel his own tears in this watery place, Mael bitterly answers, “Why do you think I live here?”

SCENE SEVEN

Udinaas is in the Refugium, which is being buried in snow and cold. He reflects on the seeming inevitability of the Refugium’s ending, of their “little child’s” death, the Azath Houses’ “flawed seed.” (Kettle). In the cave, he meets with Kilava and Ulshun Pral and Onrack T’emlava. Onrack tells Udinaas that Kilava cannot sense either Rud Elalle or Silchas Ruin and fears them dead. He answers she’s wrong, saying Rud took more from his mother Menandore than she’d ever imagined. Onrack says they’re thinking of leaving the Refugium, and Udinaas says nothing stands a chance against his human kind. Kilava agrees and suggests that she and Rud defend the gate alone while the others leave. Udinaas refuses, but Onrack says he’ll stand with her. She tells him to take their son and go, that she will summon other allies. And she lays on Udinaas the responsibility for finding them a place in his world. He tells her there is nowhere, “in all the world, nowhere. We leave nothing well enough alone. Not ever…They will begin killing you. Collecting hides and scalps. They will poison your food. Rape your daughters. All in the name of pacification, or resettlement… And the sooner you’re all dead the better, so they can forget you ever existed in the first place… That is what we do, and you cannot stop us—you never could. No one can.” She lays the burden on him anyway, warning him she will not fall in defending the gate and then she will protect her children. He leaves, but Onrack, following, says he thinks Udinaas has an answer. When Udinaas says, “hardly,” Onrack declares Udinaas will lead them anyway and Udinaas agrees.

SCENE EIGHT

Calm finds Icarium where he had “flung himself from the conflagration… cast down, his mind shattered.” She knows he is still dangerous even if he doesn’t recover, and so plans to use him as a weapon against her enemies, or kill him if she doesn’t need to use him. She uses the bones of her ancestors to bind him, keep him unconscious, as well as giving him a deep wound in his side, so that they might feed on his power and use it against him. She looks around the Elan, devoid of people and animals, and takes pleasure in the “admirable perfection in this new state of things. Without criminals there can be no crime. Without crime, no victims… Perfect adjudication… Paradise reborn… From this promise, the future. Soon.” She leaves.

SCENE NINE

Paran’s Host is besieged by an enemy of Watered and Shriven. Noto Boil worries about when the commanders dispense with that and just come themselves. He also doesn’t like all the children that are coming like ants out of the caves (“caves filled with children—what were they doing with them all?”) and suggests giving them back to the enemy. Paran points out today is the first day they’re actually acting like real children. Boil doesn’t get the point. When Boil adds that the enemy commanders see Paran standing on the battlement day after day, taunting them, Paran wonders how Pale’s siege might have been different if Rake had done the same. He tells Boil fear takes a long time to work on the enemy, weaken them, but then adds that was never Rakes style. When he says he misses him, Boil mistakes him and thinks he means Tayschrenn. Paran dismisses him and then scans the enemy.

SCENE TEN

In Darujhistan, Karsa tells Samar Dev of his friend who after a head wound believed himself to be a dog. He says, “These are the world’s fallen. When I dream, I see them in their thousands… So do not speak to me of freedom. He was right all along. We live in chains. Beliefs to shackle, vows to choke our throats, the cage of a mortal life… I blame the gods… When she comes to me, when she says that it is time, I shall take my sword in hand.” She tells him shut up and get into bed and don’t break her.

SCENE ELEVEN

In Black Coral, Apsal’ara watches Nimander, who calls her out from the shadows. She tells him Rake freed her from the sword, unexpectedly. She wonders if the Andii look for Rake in him and he tells her he is not only not Rake’s only son, he’s not even his favorite one. But he still sits in his palace in his chair. She tells him she will stay at his side. She asks who advises him and he names the High Priestess, Skintick, Destra, Korlat, and Spinnock. She wonders about the one imprisoned below, Clip, and he tells her the door isn’t barred from the outside but from the inside. She asks if Clip is insane and he tells her maybe. She notes all his advisors are Tiste Andii and says he needs others, like Rake had, because his “kind are blind to many things.” He asks if she wants to serve because Rake showed her mercy in freeing her, but she tells him it was not mercy, though she doesn’t know what the answer is. He wonders how long she’ll stay while he “slowly rots in the shadow of a father I barely knew and a legacy I cannot hope to fill.” She “advises” him that the Andii prayed so long for Mother Dark’s regard, to be reborn to life and purpose, and that Rake gave that all to them, and so they cannot “hide” in Black Coral but most cast themselves out. He argues they are in this world though, and she says “one world is not enough.” When she adds they need to do what Rake wanted, he asks what that was. She suggests they try to find out.

SCENE TWELVE

Paran and Shadowthrone meet. Shadowthrone asks where Paran’s faith comes from, with his assault (he notes how angry btw Mallick Ral is). Neither will say if they know where Tavore is. When Shadowthrone calls the siege meaningless, Paran asks if it really is. They agree the term Dragon Master is impossible, as dragons are chaos creatures. Paran tells Shadowthrone they both know the end starts here, but Shadowthrone tells him he cannot win this siege and therefore he should open a gate and find someplace else for his army. Paran points out that the two enemy commanders don’t know he can’t beat them. They spar over wagering on the outcome, with Shadowthrone telling him, “Even when I lose, I win.” They agree to wager and when Paran tells Shadowthrone what he’ll want, Shadowthrone warns him Cotillion will have something to say about it. Paran, though, says he thinks Shadowthrone has no idea where his partner has gone and so he’ll just do it and take the heat. Shadowthrone says what he wants is the source of Paran’s faith in Tavore: “That’s she’s out there. That she seeks what you seek. That, upon the Plain of Blood and Chains, you will find her, and stand facing her—as if you two had planned this all along, when I know damned well you haven’t!” Shadowthrone leaves.

 

Amanda’s Reaction

If anyone had told me over two years ago that I would be this long immersed in the Malazan world, I would have laughed at them. What a journey it has been. It’s certainly seen me through a lot of life’s ups and downs (and thank you—again—for your patience, while I dealt with the real world). Here we are, at BOOK TEN. I think this is an opportune moment for me (and Bill, of course! I speak for him here but I’m sure he thinks the same) to say thank you to all of our regular readers and commenters, to those who pop in and out, for those who post just once to let us know they’ve followed this read. We salute all of you, and we’re thankful that you are here for this final run (except for the rest of Ian’s books, the Bouchelain novellas, the new trilogy by Erikson—if we get to all that!) Here we go…

And what a way to start—welcome back Cotillion. Just as Chapter 1 of Gardens of the Moon featured the Master Assassin, so too does Chapter 1 of The Crippled God. That’s a nice little look back at the first book from the last.

And is this Erikson speaking through Cotillion? “I have no intention of explaining a damned thing.”

Who is Cotillion seeing so much jaded scepticism from, for him to be sick of it? From Shadowthrone? We know that the latter is definitely more jaded than Cotillion!

A familiarly obscure little chat here between Cotillion and Edgewalker, talking about things that they know of, and leaving us working to catch up. This is almost certainly related to Cotillion’s master plan—anyone else worried that the usually incredibly stoic and calm Edgewalker thinks that Cotillion is destined to fail?

Calm is just fucking creepy—with her thoughts of justice, and the chains creating furrows behind her as she walks. And it seems she, as well as Cotillion, feels that the end is coming. Except her version of the end doesn’t sound as much fun: “There would be no more children, rising from the bones and rubble, to build anew all that had been lost.”

Twelve Pure Forkrul Assail? That is what we’re facing? And here we see that they’re feeding on the Crippled God’s heart—what is it giving to them? Power?

Alright, struggling a bit here with who Aparal Forge and Kadagar are. One thing I’ve been thinking over the course of these ten books is that I’ve never really got to grips at all with the Tiste Liosan. They only seem to be around because Darkness and Shadow needs its opposite—apart from that they’ve seemed pretty ineffectual and not that fun to read about. Agree? Disagree? Am I forgetting a vital plotline from earlier in the series that I’ll kick myself about once you remind me?

They’re killing dragons? They’ve poisoned their blood? I’m not clear at all, but it doesn’t sound at all like a sensible plan… Although it does seem linked to the fact that they are turning their backs on Osserc and putting another in his place—Kessobahn. But has Osserc turned his back on the Tiste Liosan?

Who is the Crippled God talking to, especially when he says: “I will gather the poison, then.” What poison is this? The same as afflicted Burn and K’rul? Who is this poison intended for? I’m definitely curious about where this is going to go. Also, this really jumped out at me: “They wanted my pity. They have it. I am the god that answers prayers—can you or any other god make that claim? See how I have changed. My pain, which I held on to so selfishly, now reaches out like a broken hand.”

Hell, I want to know Edgewalker’s story! Look at what Cotillion says here and contemplate the immense backstory that has led Edgewalker to this spectral wraith: “Do you remember that moment, when you lost everything? Did the world echo to your howl?”

The scene with the dragons is excellent—obscure, but excellent. So their voices and their influence is being felt now on the world, in the form of Mockra and the ice of Kalse? And Cotillion is prepared to free these three caged behemoths in exchange for…dreams? I’m very unclear. But, of course, I’ve been here before and had all revealed, so I trust my author.

Having said that, it does seem as though Erikson is revelling in the conversations he is writing here—I’d love to know more about what Mael and K’rul are discussing, especially when they get into the whole ‘him with his’ and “odd that of all the gods, he alone discovered this mad, and maddening, secret.” Argh! It feels like I’m clutching at just the edges of what these two clever and compassionate gods are dealing with.

They also talk about Olar Ethil, and her choice of Tool—I guess the fact that he has decided to follow his own path, and she hasn’t the control over him that she thinks she does. The way they refer to her—the Old Witch—suggests a certain wry fondness for her, or am I misreading the tone there?

“Blind Gallan and his damnable poems.” Bill and I only occasionally bring them up these days, but those words at the start of each chapter are rich and stark by turn.

Ouch, their words about the Bonehunters sting: “Errastas had his suspicions, and that is all the Errant needs. Terrible mischance, or deadly nudge. They were as she said they would be. Unwitnessed.” It seems to confirm the Errant was behind the meeting of the Bonehunters and the K’Chain Nah’ruk, and certainly Mael seems to think that they are finished.

Kaminsod—the Crippled God? Why are we finally given his name?

I guess Mael’s reaction about the Bonehunters—“This is not done. Errastas has made a terrible mistake. Gods, they all have!”—might be exactly what Tavore intended by leading the Bonehunters to their death. It might move gods into play who have been willing to stick to the shadows?

Who is this corpse? Clearly male. “No, this one’s flesh is dead, but his soul remains strong, trapped in its own nightmare of guilt. I would see it freed of that.”

I can certainly appreciate this sentiment from Udinaas: “…and snow was something he had grown to despise.”

It seems as though this snow is an indicator of a larger problem within the Refugium: “World of white, what are you telling us? That all is not well. That the fates have set a siege upon us.”

It is painful to watch Udinaas explaining to Kilava that, no matter where he led her people, the Imass would eventually be destroyed; that there is nowhere in the real world where they can live in peace. I look at our world, at the amazon forests being cut away, at the frozen tundras being affected by global warming, at the way that even the most primitive tribes in our world are faced with human interaction—which is just a step away from coveting their land and changing their lives. Erikson writes very eloquently about this in the words of Udinaas.

I don’t think it is good in any way that Calm now has control of Icarium, and plans to feed on his power…

You know, the Prologue of Gardens of the Moon features a youthful Ganoes Paran looking down on a city that has suffered conquest, and talking to Whiskeyjack who warns him away from being a soldier. Here we see Ganoes Paran (yay, he’s back!) watching a child playing with a kite, and eyeing the enemy camp spread out below him. I am loving these echoes.

Since I’m seeing references to Shriven and Watered, it seems as though Paran is facing Forkrul Assail, yes?

Anyone else shiver at this exchange between Ganoes and Noto Boil?

“Noto Boil, as High Fist I answer only to the Empress.”

The mage snorted. “Only she’s dead.”

“Which means I answer to no one, not even you.”

It left me with some sadness as Paran acknowledges that he misses Anomander Rake.

We’re meeting up with an awful lot of characters from the previous books—gathering all the threads together. I’m pleased to see Nimander again—I really came to like and respect him as his character developed and changed. And there is a real Anomander-shaped hole in the series. I think Nimander has a large part to play. I do like the idea of Apsal’ara taking her place as his advisor, someone to provide the perspective lacked by all Tiste Andii, thanks to their long lives and ennui. Will that feeling of abandonment stay now that Mother Dark has returned? So far, they don’t seem to know what to do about her!

Is Shadowthrone just being an annoyance by calling Ganoes Paran Dragon Master? Or will we be seeing that actually come to pass?

And this—is Shadowthrone now following his own path?

“Where is Cotillion, Shadowthrone?”

“You should be tired of that question by now.”

“I am tired of waiting for an answer.”

“Then stop asking it!”

The rest of their conversation and the bargain they talk about is beyond me—I think they’re referring to Tavore, and her being the source of Ganoes’ faith? I could be wrong, though. That has *definitely* been known over the course of ten books!

 

Bill’s Reaction

And thus the start of the end begins…

That’s a stark image that opens the chapter, Cotillion drawing his daggers. One might think an author gives some thought as to how to begin the final book in a ten-book series. Or not…

We’ve had lots of hints throughout that Cotillion and Shadowthrone were working some long-range plan (though not always in lockstep), and this conversation seems to confirm that. And it seems like it’s both fraught with risk and a bit of a doozy, when even someone who once told Cotillion to consider him an “elemental force” wonders at how “audacious” the plan is. We’ll have to see if the plan is revealed, if it is successful, and if Edgewalker’s predictions of either failure or the speaking of failure even in succeeding will be borne out.

And that’s a complex look ahead by Cotillion—a seeming admission that he may not win, but also an argument that it is not necessarily a zero-sum game; he may not lose for all he doesn’t win.

Speaking of stark images, that’s a hell of an introduction to Calm, with her chain of bones (and one that hardly endears a reader toward her). We first met Calm back in House of Chains. Here is a reminder from our post on the subject:

“I am Forkrul Assail… I am named Calm.” When he wonders how she could attack them after they freed her, she says, “Icarium and those damned T’lan Imass will not be pleased that you undid their work… but I do know gratitude and so I give you this. The one named Karsa has been chosen. If I was to tell you even the little that I sense of his ultimate purpose, you would seek to kill him. But I tell you there would be no value in that, for the ones using him will simply select another… Watch this friend of yours. Guard him. There will come a time when he stands poised to change the world. And when that time comes, I shall be there. For I bring peace. When that moment arrives, cease guarding him. Step back, as you have done now.”

I like how “justice,” which often has a positive connotation is shown via the Forkrul Assail to be anything but. I’d say anytime someone starts nattering about “purity” or “corruption,” it’s time to slowly back away, get some help, and then deal with what is about to be a very ugly situation. The problem with a fanatical devotion to the concept is shown much more bluntly later in the chapter when she looks around at a land wiped clean of life and thinks, “Yep, this is how it should be. Justice as far as the eye can see… “

Speaking of blunt, here’s a direct confirmation of all the Bonehunter speculation—the FA do indeed have the Crippled God’s heart and are indeed feeding off of it.

That’s an ominous close to her scene here: the day’s light dying behind her.

Hmm, from one fanatic to apparently another one. We haven’t been conditioned to like the Tiste Liosan very much, and Kadagar so far at least certainly doesn’t seem like he will do much to win over the reader, with his focus on vengeance, long-running war, condemnation of traitors, threats to his friend, leaking corpses on walls as examples, killing of dragons, somewhat megalomaniacal view of replacing a god, etc. On the other hand, Aparal just might be a Tiste Liosan one could root for. He’s opposed to Kadagar, so props for that. Props as well for revulsion at death, disgust with war and vengeance, fear and horror and what Kadagar plans, his shame at what they do.

So who is the Crippled God talking to here? There are some hints here; anyone want to toss out some candidates?

We’ve mentioned periodically how the view toward the Crippled God seems to be changing in this series and this would seem to be a pretty clear-cut reveal of that. What is interesting is that he sort of meta-explains that to the reader, saying he has changed, he has looked into the eyes of those who plead for his pity and whereas he once responded with scorn and contempt, he no longer does. When a character in this series worries someone isn’t compassionate enough, I’d say that tends to make them one of the good guys.

And what is he agreeing to? And with what other allies?

As with Calm, we’ve seen these three dragons before (Bonehunters). Here’s our relevant summary:

They enter a ring of standing stones where three dragons are chained. Edgewalker says his experience is what allowed him to conclude Cotillion would speak to the dragons of freeing them. Cotillion figures out Edgewalker wants to know what Cotillion knows and bargains to speak to them if Edgwalker tells Cotillion some information. Edgewalker gives him only the dragons’ names and says their crime was ambition [They were chained by Rake for seeking the Throne of Shadow. Edgewalker says they sought it to “heal Emurlahn”]. Cotillion tells the dragons a war is coming and wants to know which side they’ll fight on if freed. They give him some information about Shadow, dragons, the Crippled God. Cotillion muses on if the Crippled God can be killed. When Cotillion leaves, Edgewalker admits he underestimated Cotillion and offers possible assistance as an “elemental force.”

(we can also point out we’ve seen some K’Chain Che’Malle keeps named after them.)

These scenes are such classic movie scenes—the audience gets to listen in to conspirators as they prepare to make plans, or after they’ve made plans, but when the actual plans are made we just see them start to whisper and then the camera cuts away. But oh, there are clearly plans afoot here!

I love this scene with Mael and K’rul. Two gods yet so human, so moved. A few mysteries posed here:

Who is the corpse? Guesses from those who don’t know?

Who are all those pronouns in this statement from Mael: “Me with mine, you with yours, him with his”? Unlike the above, I think this one is a bit more open perhaps (though of course I have my candidates), so feel free to offer theories whether a first-timer or re-reader.

Some hints as well, and I don’t think this comes as a huge surprising thought to readers, that Tool might not be quite the malleable tool Olar Ethil seeks.

Well, if K’rul can’t even see to the Bonehunters thanks to the influence of the Crippled God’s heart (and I’d say the use of his name here and elsewhere, Kaminsod, is telling and should be flagged or filed), is he going to be able to help at all? He does mention he’ll be able to see through some twins. There aren’t a lot of those floating about, and fewer with connection to K’rul, so I’d say the clues are there as to who the twins are. (btw, it’s such a tiny, tiny moment, really a throwaway line in some ways, but I love, love the detail and image of Mael watching the battle not through Brys’ eyes, but through his saltwater tears. Love that!)

Also love that Mael outburst about the Bonehunters. And then K’rul’s response to the response. Remember folks these are gods. Gods! And ones that have been around the block once or twice. And just as good, though in different fashion is their speculation about the desire to be unwitnessed. And what a moving close to this scene—two gods crying and thankful the underwater nature of the place means they cannot feel how they weep.

You really do get the sense immediately in this book that we are moving into the end game. Cotillion’s plans being set into motion, Calm’s words and actions, a band of Tiste Liosan feeding off dragon blood and veering at a barrier, K’rul and Mael taking active roles, and here the Refugium apparently on its last legs. And speaking of plans, we end this scene with the sense that Udinaas has one of his own.

Who will Kilava summon as an ally? If you think back to her interactions with non-Imass, you might have some options for guesses.

Boy, is that a bleak view of humanity from Udinaas or what? And not a singular one in this series. And wouldn’t you just love to point out how wrong he is, how over the top? Wouldn’t you, though? Wouldn’t you? Sigh.

We’ve just seen Icarium as an ace-in-the-hole, though an unlooked-for-one, for the Bonehunters. Might he play that role again? It’s hard to imagine him staying confined and unconscious all the way to the end, isn’t it? Chekhov—gun. Gun—Chekhov.

Boy those Forkrul Assail are some scary folk.

Paran’s back! Paran’s back! But, back where? Who is his army fighting? Where? Why? Readers, and Shadowthrone, want to know! The names give you a sense of the who. But we’re not given a lot to go on with the where or the why.

It’s a nice bit of humor, good to be reminded amongst all this hurtling toward the end that there is a lot of fun in these books. I think it was a good idea to give us Noto and Shadowthrone here early on to lighten the intro a bit. I like as well all the mysteries getting thrown at us right in the opening chapter. The ones mentioned above and then all the ones here—where and why is Paran’s Host fighting? What is that Paran wants from Shadowthrone? Why might Cotillion have an issue with it? Are Paran and Tavore in some sort of communication? Is it just faith and if so, based on what? Why doesn’t Shadowthrone know (if he really doesn’t) what Cotillion is up to? All of this mystery makes for a good hook.

Remember what Karsa is waiting for here in Daru? It’s pretty important.

Apsal’ara hooking up with Nimander is an interesting combo, and one that gives us yet another hook set-up: will the Andii leave Black Coral? If so, to go where? Will they return to Kharkanas? Will they seek other worlds? This move I recall was an unexpected pairing when I first read this series.

And don’t forget Clip. He’s a bit similar to Icarium here, introduced as a player, but only a quasi-one here at the start. Icarium is bound, unconscious. Clip is imprisoned (even if not from without) and perhaps mad. Yet both being introduced so early, immediately in fact, make it hard to believe they won’t have parts to play.

I think this is a great opening to the closing—we meet a lot of characters we haven’t seen for a while, get a lot of mysteries thrown at us, get a strong sense of things hurtling toward completion. And that’s an interesting closing image-a throne going down in flames, smoke leaping up skyward like a beast unchained. Is that unchaining good or bad? Is the toppling of a throne good or bad? So many ways to read that ending—a particularly rich and stimulating close to an excellent first step.


Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.

Bill Capossere writes short stories and essays, plays ultimate frisbee, teaches as an adjunct English instructor at several local colleges, and writes SF/F reviews for fantasyliterature.com.

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