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 four 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.
Blistig is haunted by the memory of Keneb, from during the battle. He thinks about how they should have routed, and about how now the dead look down at him and think poorly of him. He contemplates the Adjunct and his utter hatred of how she turned him into a capable soldier into something broken, someone who can’t command as Keneb did, someone who is Fist in an army working towards a cause he doesn’t understand or believe in.
Kindly has been made a Fist. He is approached by Faradan Sort and Skanarow, who both look unhappy. Faradan tells him his troops are close to mutiny because he has ordered a kit inspection, and he explains why he has done it.
Faradan Sort and Skanarow believe that maybe Kindly is taking the right approach. Faradan is planning on meeting her new troops—regulars, rather than marines. They broke during combat, although ordered to do so, and dropped their weapons and she is now concerned that it might have been habit forming. Faradan Sort also thinks about the fact that Skanarow is taking the death of Ruthan Gudd hard (although the reader now knows he isn’t dead).
Banaschar can feel the Worm of Autumn stirring, coming up through the earth. He leaves his tent and looks around at the camp and feels that it is too civilised, considering what occurred and how many died only a few days back.
Five Khundryl warriors (Berrach and his four sons) stand before Dead Hedge and ask to join the Bridgeburners. He asks why they haven’t joined the Bonehunters and is told that Fist Kindly refused them on the basis that they were savages and cowards. Hedge is rather incredulous at this, considering they were part of the Khundryl Burned Tears’ final charge. He allows them into the Bridgeburners. When they do the Khundryl salute Hedge tells them not to, that the Bridgeburners do not salute. As the five Khundryl depart, Bavedict remarks on the fact that they seem to have given the Bridgeburners—Hedge, Sweetlard and Rumjugs—a new focus.
Two newcomers—Gaunt-Eye and Rib—come into what is left of the marines and ask for the Tenth. Badan Gruk castigates them, but his words have no effect. He gestures to the remaining survivors of the squad requested and listens as Gaunt-Eye and Rib recruit what is left of the Tenth into the Eighteenth. Sinter returns and Badan Gruk feels grateful to leave the situation to her. She talks quietly with Gaunt-Eye, then comes over and tells him that Kisswhere is still mending with the Burned Tears. Badan asks what the Adjunct is going to do and Sinter says that at the moment, while she heals, the Fists seem to be in charge. Badan wants to go back for any remaining survivors, but Sinter says that they can’t. And then explains that they actually did pretty well, thanks to Ruthan Gudd, Quick Ben, Fiddler telling them to dig trenches, the assistance of the Khundryl and the Letherii. It could have been much worse. Badan Gruk finds it very hard to believe her. He wants to be able to fix it and she tells him to stop even trying, that they are marines and need to look to their leaders.
Ruffle reveals the secret to their achievements against the Short-Tails—they started fighting low and the lizards’ armour wouldn’t give at the waist.
Sinter tells Honey that Rim’s weapon arm had to be taken. Honey asks if they will be folded into another squad as well, and Sinter rues the fact that Gaunt-Eye has no tact. Honey begins laying blame for deaths at his feet as well, and Sinter tells her to quit, that they can’t be picking scabs about the battle.
Sergeant Urb collects the heavy Saltlick and then walks into the marine and heavy infantry encampment. He finds the remnants of the twenty-second squad and asks them to introduce themselves. He tells them they are now part of the thirteenth.
Hellian is… well, Hellian.
Widdershins, Throatslitter, Deadsmell and Balm—the survivors of the 9th squad—discuss the fact that Fiddler has now been set in charge of them. They remember the acts of Lostara Yil, as she saved the life of the Adjunct. Deadsmell tells them that when the magic now comes to him it is flavoured by ice. They think it might well be Omtose Phellack and that the best way to test it is to try and heal the Adjunct, since it is Elder magic.
Shortnose is alone and realises he doesn’t like it, so heads on over to Fiddler’s old squad’s camp and joins them.
Fiddler’s old squad, after some chatter, elect Corabb as their new corporal.
Cuttle thinks about the 4th squad and how the loss of Bottle has hurt them. He watches the rest of the squad and judges how each of them are doing now after the battle. He is not fooled at all by Shortnose, knows that this heavy is pleased to be with the company. Fiddler comes back to them and tells them that there are riders approaching for a parley.
Lostara Yil reveals to Henar Vygulf that her Shadow Dance was every Shadow Dance, that she was taken over by Cotillion and felt his rage, that she has been scoured clean and reborn.
Banaschar approaches Blistig at the command tent, and sees a man who has been forced out of the shadow of Keneb, someone who now must act on his own. He sees a lot of similarities between them—the only difference is that he doesn’t care what others think of him, while Blistig cares desperately.
The 9th Squad ask Lostara Yil to bring Deadsmell before the Adjunct, that he might be able to heal her with Omtose Phellack.
Deadsmell weeps because while he healed Tavore he saw inside her, saw the damage within.
Tavore is healed, and asks the thoughts of Banaschar, who comments that no one should really be surprised that Hood had a way out. The Fists arrive and are shocked by the Adjunct restored to herself.
Those who have come to parley—Brys and Aranict, Abrastal and Spax, Krughava and Tanakalian, and Hanavat and Shelemasa—converge as they approach the Malazan encampment, and pause for introductions before continuing.
Ahh, Blistig. Someone I really can’t make up my mind about. Someone in this first section who I feel sorry for and then feel angry about. His bitterness and anger about the Adjunct are positively choking him and I think that this might well become something very important as the novel goes on. I can’t stand that he blames so many others for his current problems, but I do empathise with the fact the he is very much a fish out of water right now. It must be hard for a soldier to have a legacy of soldiers like Duiker, Coltaine, Whiskeyjack forcing Blistig to think that he is not achieving anything. After all, those people were something very special—we can’t all be legends, and every army needs its foot soldier.
So, here we are starting to see the members of the Bonehunters who have survived, and we can start our grieving process for those who didn’t make it. Obviously Keneb is a massive blow. Nice to see Kindly and Pores are still on the scene, and Kindly is clearly stepping up into his new role (unlike Blistig) as he tries to get the troops to focus back on being soldiers, and drawing them together into a proper legion again.
What has brought the Worm of Autumn back into play? With events currently as they are, she will find much to enjoy: “She was the cruel measurer of time. She was the face of inevitable decay.”
It is good to see very different views on whether it is good for things to continue as normal. Kindly obviously believes that it is better for the soldiers to focus on their future, to pull themselves together and move on as quickly as possible, while Banaschar is appalled to see that people are moving on, and not taking the opportunity to think about what has happened.
I confess that I am confused at the fact Kindly would not admit these five Khundryl into the Bonehunters. They’ve proved themselves in battle, and, more importantly, they’ve got the spirit to go again—which, considering what they’ve been through, is demonstrating vast amounts of courage (or, I guess stupidity). I would have thought bolstering the troops’ numbers with ex-Khundryl would be a really good idea. Still, the Bonehunters’ loss is the Bridgeburners’ gain.
Love the “salute” that Hedge says is that of the Bridgeburners. And also love that these new recruits helps to bring Hedge and his cohorts back to themselves a little.
The section with Badan Gruk and the remaining marines is just all the feels. Barely three pages and that is some impact. I hardly know where to start, but I imagine his thoughts would be best when he thinks: “Hood knows, I’m sick of these faces here, sick of not seeing the ones missing, the ones I’ll never see again.”
I also felt myself tearing up at the reaction when the two newcomers approach: “…faces lifted, eyes went flat. No one wanted any damned interruptions to all this private misery.”
But then Sinter does provide us with a more hopeful outlook. She gives the impression that Badan Gruk should really buck his ideas up, that it could have been far worse. I am finding it very interesting, that way that Erikson has presented so many different reactions and outlooks from the battle. Seeing all these different approaches by soldiers who survived the battle is showing the spectrum of human emotions. Some of them want to curl up and hide away. Some of them start thinking more about religion. Some of them seem to be shrugging it all off and are in major denial about what has happened. Some of them are realistic and just trying to cope with the fallout. It’s a great way of showing us, as well, who has made it through the battle.
So we saw Badan Gruk watch as the remains of heavy squads were put together—now we see it from the inside. Sergeant Urb’s dread at having to approach these soldiers, their resentment, and final acceptance. That last point where he stands and just looks at nothing is very powerful.
In the midst of all this heartbreak and sobering scenes and very quiet aftermath of the battle, there is something almost soothing about seeing Hellian acting in exactly the same way.
The 9th Squad are awesome to see—they seem so calm and, well, normal. Even in the face of two soldiers bringing them food and drink like an offering. It will be interesting to see Fiddler in charge of this lot. Comments from Widdershins about the warrens are illuminating—the normal warrens are sick (those that K’rul provides), so something is going on there; and the new warrens “ain’t nice at all.”
Poor Shortnose. I choked a little at the way he heals his bleeding stubs of fingers, but then I wanted to cry for him as he sat alone with the trophy bone of a Nah’ruk he killed.
I was delighted to hear about Lostara Yil being taken over by Cotillion—reading about his fury and rage shows his compassion and his desire to assist the Adjunct and the Bonehunters. This wasn’t THE fight they were meant for, so he helped to save Tavore.
I like seeing Tavore here again, although she is in a desperate state. There are a couple of things in her meeting with Deadsmell that I found very intriguing. The first is that she sympathizes with him over the loss of Hood’s warren. But then when Widdershins says: “It may be that Hood himself ain’t quite as dead as we all thought he was” she says “We thought that, did we?” And that suggests that Adjunct knows a lot more about this than everyone else.
In that meeting before the parley, I was so moved by Brys’ words about Gall and the Khundryl Burned Tears, that what the Letherii achieved could only be done thanks to their sacrifice and example. I just wish that Gall had heard it—it might not change anything, but then again it might give him back a little pride.
All the players are now in place; let the parley begin.
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.