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 two 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.
Tulas Shorn can no longer trust the sky and so walks the earth. He is drawn to a particular place and can smell something odd from within a crevasse. He jumps down from a great height, snapping bones, and finds the remains of a T’lan Imass, forced to face in one direction. Skan Ahl tells Tulas Shorn that he can still hear the breathing of the one who was his quarry from behind him, but cannot see her. She was a Jaghut woman. Tulas Shorn goes past him and sees the skeleton of a newborn. Skan Ahl requests that he be turned to see what he thinks is the Jaghut woman that slayed him. Tulas Shorn knows that there is cruelty in both sides of his decision—either he leaves Skan Ahl unknowing, or turns him so that he can see the truth. He turns Skan Ahl and listens to his howls as he leaves.
Ralata contemplates vengeance while Draconus and Ublala Pung talk behind her about their journey in a language she can’t understand. Ralata covets Draconus’ sword and thinks that she is meant to have it—she plans how best to take it, but knows she needs Draconus for now to survive in this wasteland. Ublala is still trying to court Ralata. Draconus asks her to tell him about Onos Toolan and she explains how he led them here, to the east, because the Barghast gods demanded they fight an ancient enemy. Draconus comes to realise that Tool is part of the Tellann ritual, and is angry. Relata tells him as well that she suspects Onos Toolan has not found peace in death and will be hunting revenge.
Mappo thinks about his vows and how he is desperate to fulfil them, to be back at Icarium’s side. Gruntle interrupts his musings and they talk about war, about the nature of tigers and wolves, and how the current gods of war are in conflict. Gruntle tells Mappo about his visions of his mistress of the hunt lying gored by a boar’s tusk—that of Fener, who was unchallenged as god of war. They discuss where they are going next. Mappo seeks the battlefield to once again take up the trail of Icarium, while Gruntle needs to find his mistress, to take his place at her side.
Faint is trying desperately hard to find a comfortable position to lie in with her injuries and is struggling to succumb to sleep. Setoc has told her that Mappo is leaving in the morning, and that Gruntle won’t be long behind him. Faint worries about who is available then to do the fighting, and thinks that Torrent looks too young. She thinks about how life was so much better on the carriage.
Torrent wakes from a bad dream. He goes to his horse and longs for a homely scene around him, of his own people starting their day. The fact that he is the last of his people weighs heavily upon him. Setoc also wakes and approaches him. She tells him that her wolves sense something out there, and Torrent tells her it is Olar Ethil. Setoc knows that she has drawn close for three mornings in a row, but then vanished with the rise of the sun. This morning she grows bold.
Olar Ethil approaches the camp and tells them that she wishes to bargain for the boy—the son of Onos Toolan. To begin with they all argue against her. As they argue Baaljagg fights her and gets his spinal column torn out for his trouble, so Gruntle smashes her face to a pulp. With her words and her offers, she manages to take the boy and the twins.
Mappo leaves the company, his conscience stained by his desertion of the three children.
Setoc talks to Torrent as he prepares to leave, to protect the children from Olar Ethil. The company is breaking up around them.
Cartographer asks Setoc why the least of their company would be the one prepared to defend the children and give his life for theirs. He has decided to remain here—he can feel that the world of the dead has arrived here—and has no further purpose.
Masan Gilani chases on the Bonehunter’s trail, accompanied by the T’lan Imass. She comes upon the field of battle and realises that it is the Bonehunters who have been involved. The T’lan Imass tell her that the K’Chain Nah’ruk were the foes, and that this was a battle and a harvest—that they fed upon their fallen enemy. They say that an Azath as born and conclude that the Nah’ruk were defeated. They mention something about winning their Master’s release.
Bottle thinks on his Grandma, on his Father, on his family as he starts to pull himself back together and wake after the battle. He can remember vague parts of how he was rescued from beneath the noses of the Nah’ruk. It sounds as though Quick Ben was responsible for tying strings to Bottle to keep him where he should be. Bottle wakes up properly to realise that Ruthan Gudd has been dragging him on a travois since the battle. Ruthan is very evasive about both a) the fact it looked like he died beneath a pile of Nah’ruk in the battle and b) how he found Bottle. He refuses to answer any of Bottle’s leading questions regarding who/what he is.
Near the Spar of Andii, Ben Adaephon Delat retrieves two items (one tucked into his belt, the other a sceptre of plain black wood that he uses to inscribe a circle). A presence arrives that is palpable and vast—Quick Ben refers to it as Mother and also refers to a Father. He tells his Mother to beware her child, that he has been among humans for too long, that “when our backs are against the wall […] you have no idea what we can do.” As he leaves, there is the tapping of a cane on rock.
The image of that fossilized newborn skeleton is a grim one to open with, and I do like the desperate cruelty of choice offered Tulas Shorn here. I also approve his decision of showing Skan Ahl exactly what the situation is, to take away some of his arrogance and certainty about the Jaghut woman. This is a little reminder, a little echo, of how we first viewed the Jaghut in Gardens of the Moon—that fearsome Tyrant that needed to be defeated at all costs. Since then I have certainly felt my sympathy swinging to the Jaghut people—enjoying their dusty humour, seeing their grace and dignity, knowing characters like Hood and Icarium who have at least a little Jaghut in them.
Some lovely moments in the scene featuring Ralata and Draconus. In this scene I feel that Ublala Pung is actually a nuisance, that he doesn’t add anything to what is occurring. I much preferred the talk between Ralata and this warrior that she simply can’t comprehend.
“She remembered this warrior killing Sekara the Vile, snapping the old woman’s neck. The ease of the gesture, the way he seemed to embrace her to keep her from falling, as if her lifeless body still clung to something like dignity. He was not a man easily understood.”
I was also amused by Draconus’ view of courtship: “Courting is the art of growing like mould on the one you want.”
It seems that Draconus believes himself to be without certain virtues—that he left them behind in the chains of Dragnipur—but his compassion still seems present. Certainly the way that he talks to Ralata about how things pall the more you obsess about them shows that he can empathise with her.
I am not entirely clear who Draconus refers to when he says ‘That bitch […] You selfish, spiteful hag!’ Does he mean Silverfox, who is mentioned a little later? Or is it someone else? Is it Olar Ethil, considering she fashioned the ritual of Tellann?
There has been a very definite theme of vengeance in this book (and, indeed, in Dust of Dreams)—after hearing Ralata, we now see Mappo thinking: “You feel outraged. Violated. This is pride and indignation, isn’t it? These are the sigils on your banner of war, your lust for vengeance.” Makes you wonder how much of his desire to find Icarium is because of him and how he feels, rather than because of trying to protect Icarium.
I love the fact that Trake’s Mortal Sword has such a downer on war—Gruntle really was far from the best choice, if Trake wanted someone hot-headed and willing to charge into the fray. Words like this show that Gruntle recognises the absolute futility of war:
“Soldiers are herded into the iron maw and the ground turns to red mud, and someone on a nearby hill raises a fist in triumph, while another flees the field on a white horse.”
If Gruntle’s mistress of the hunt (who is this, by the way? Someone we know?) has been gored in his dream, does that mean that Fener now walks back into the field of play again?
How does Setoc know about Mappo and Gruntle’s plans, especially when she tells Faint that “Gruntle thinks he’s going someplace to die. He doesn’t want us to die with him.” Is this as a result of the wolves connecting with Setoc?
I like the simplicity of a horse’s life represented here: “I feel you, friend. You do not question your life. You are in its midst and know no other place, nothing outside it. How I envy you.” We’d probably all be better off if we could live in the moment more and enjoy our time for what it is, rather than striving and wishing for more and better.
Ha, I do love Gruntle:
“I told Gruntle of my visions, the Wolves and the throne they guard. Do you know what he asked me?”
Torrent shook his head.
“He asked me if I’ve seen the Wolves lift a leg against that throne.”
Precious is currently a broken soul, isn’t she? Willing to do pretty much anything to gain the power to return home, including abandoning three children. I dislike the way she thinks that Faint and Sweetest will not want to surrender the children, because they are women. I’m pretty sure that Torrent doesn’t want to, and he’s a man. If Mappo were thinking more clearly, then he would be against surrendering them as well.
And what’s this business about being a mahybe? Did this mean vessel?
Gruntle is so bad ass, taking on Olar Ethil like this:
“I will leave you in pieces, do you understand me? Pieces. How’s it done again? Head in a niche? On a pole? The crook of a tree?”
So it seems that Olar Ethil plans to use Onos Toolan’s son to keep his anger in check and focused on the right thing?
Faint’s view of Torrent being too young to protect any of them seems so wrong when you look at him here, facing Olar Ethil: “He’d drawn his sabre, but the look in his eyes was bleak. Yet he did not waver. Among them all, this young warrior was the only one not to turn away.” I love that he is prepared to follow Olar Ethil and use himself to protect Tool’s son, that his decision has been made by asking what Toc would do. As Cartographer asks: “How is it that the weakest among us is the only one so willing to give up his life protecting those children?”
Is there anything more heartbreaking than Mappo’s thoughts when he sends out this plea:
“Memories. The past. All so precious—I want it back, I want it all back. Icarium, I will find you. Icarium, please, save me.”
Even though Cartographer has decided he has no further purpose and that he plans to remain here, the fact that it’s being pointed out makes me wonder if there is a part for him to play in the future.
Masan Gilani’s reaction to realising that her erstwhile comrades have been cut down and involved in a rather nasty battle is a little phlegmatic for my tastes. She doesn’t seem to care one jot about what she’s found, seems more concerned with making sure she is fed.
Very curious as to who the Master might be of these T’lan Imass accompanying her. It sounds rather foreboding.
Love the way that Erikson wrote in the introduction to Bottle as he came around—the fact that we didn’t know immediately who this was, that we knew it was likely one of those we saw fall, and were now desperately waiting the reveal (if we didn’t pick up little clues about who it was). Yay, Bottle!
I’m intrigued by what it was that Quick Ben did to ensure that Bottle wasn’t lost. I guess that he could have spread himself so thinly across all the beasts that he wouldn’t have been able to bring himself back together, but Quick tied strings to enable him to do so. “Grandma, someone tied strings to me. With everything coming down all around us, he’d knotted strings. To my Hood-damned rats. Oh, clever bastard, Quick. Clever, clever bastard. All there, all here, I’m all here.”
Is it that Ruthan Gudd made himself invisible while retrieving Bottle? Or that the Nah’ruk recognised him as someone to leave well alone after the battle?
Wow, Quick Ben. Always creating more questions than answers. Since the only Mother we’ve seen real reference to is Mother Dark, I’m guessing that this is who he talks to. Does that mean that one of Quick’s souls is Tiste Andii? We never knew all of them, did we? Who is the Father referred to, then—Father Light?
All I can say is that when Quick Ben says that things are about to be set ablaze—well, that makes the hairs on my arms stand up.
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.