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 seven 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.
Brys and Aranict are sitting by a fire after the parley. Brys thinks he understands why the Adjunct has decided to send them all separate ways. He heads to bed and Aranict is left thinking about the parley. It started normally enough—they arrived at the Malazan command tent, and there was some discussion about what order in which they should enter the tent. Aranict goes to stand next to the Khundryl women and shares rustleaf with them while the others enter. Havanat doesn’t want to enter, thinks she doesn’t belong there. After some gentle discussion, where Aranict reiterates Brys’ words about the fact that the Khundryl should hold their heads with pride, they, too, enter the tent. Straight into a war of tension, where Krughava’s face is dark with anger or shame. Tavore pauses to greet Hanavat and Shelemasa, offering them great honour and appreciation for the role they played, which surprises Aranict. Krughava is trying hard to get Tavore to accept them into the army, but the Adjunct says a flat no, then asks Abrastal about the state of the situation in Kolanse. Abrastal tells them of the invaders from the sea, and how they culled the people of Kolanse. How trade began to stop. How ships were destroyed because the invaders didn’t welcome strangers. When she sent her Eleventh Daughter to investigate, she discovered the invaders were not human. Tavore then thanks Brys and tells him that the Bonehunters will march alone. Abrastal wonders aloud what it is the Adjunct knows and Banaschar interjects in a drunken manner that just about everyone wonders the same—who is whispering in Tavore’s ear and giving her direction. Banaschar’s words about Tavore wanting to march alone being part of tactics awakens something in Brys. Tavore announces that the Bonehunters will cross the Glass Desert and do battle with the enemy at the earliest opportunity. Just one battle.
Tavore then explains that essentially the Bonehunters are the bait for the Forkrul Assail. While they draw them out the Perish are to approach the temple at the top of the Spire and release the heart of the Crippled God. They will use the south route.
The Fists of the Bonehunters, particularly Blistig, are stunned and shocked that the Bonehunters will be merely used as a feint, a rusty dagger against the enemy.
Tanakalian asks why they have to release the heart of the Crippled God, and Tavore explains that the Forkrul Assail are using it to try and open the Gates of Justice on this world, and the time when they will do this is when the Spears of Jade arrive, less than three months from now. Brys asks what the Jade Spears are, and Tavore says they are the souls of the Crippled God’s worshippers.
Abrastal offers her Fourteenth Daughter as a sorceress of talent, and, since she is using Omtose Phellack she will be able to get around the Otataral to speak to Tavore.
Brys offers the Letherii to march with the Perish. Then Tavore asks for the Khundryl to stand with the Bonehunters, and Hanavat agrees.
Blistig tries to resign, Tavore forbids it, and then tells her Fists to ready the troop for marching.
Aranict remembered her trip today back through the Bonehunters, knowing their fate, and feeling such pain for every single one of them, thinking that they don’t know what is coming.
Fiddler brings the remaining Bonehunters together for a meeting, though it is hard work to get them all in the same place. He gives a ‘motivational’ speech about how they are now the walking dead, the same way that the Bridgeburners ended up. That they earned the right to decide whether to follow orders or not, but that they need to form up into their army and get some discipline back.
Masan Gilani is much happier now that she’s fed and watered—she has realised that the T’lan Imass probably used a warren to get the provisions, but doesn’t much care. She enounter Ruthan Gudd and Bottle on the way back to the Bonehunters and they swap stories. Bottle realises that she has brought back some people with her, and the T’lan Imass circle them, calling Ruthan Gudd ‘Elder’.
Bottle has now realised that Ruthan Gudd is probably an Elder God and is therefore pretty pissed. He is especially pissed to still not know what it is about the Adjunct that has people so loyal to her, considering most people say she doesn’t inspire a damn thing in them. Yet here he is, and Masan Gilani and Ruthan Gudd walking right back to her. Bottle tries to get Ruthan Gudd to open up a bit about who he is, and Gudd says he prefers not being noticed. He suspects Bottle will run about spouting his secret, but Bottle says he won’t. Ruthan Gudd tells him that he borrowed the Stormrider magic.
Cotillion visits Lostara Yil, telling her that she took his anger, and gave him love in return. Cotillion is lonely and he weeps. He wants to feel that love again, but doesn’t think he is worthy or that he has anything in return to offer. Cotillion is not one hundred percent sure that he should have helped save the Bonehunters considering what is to come. Cotillion is considering offering amends.
Bottle, Masan Gilani and Ruthan Gudd are escorted to the Malazan encampment by two Perish soldiers. Bottle realises that Fiddler is now captain.
Masan Gilani and Ruthan Gudd enter the command tent and see Skanarow dozing. Ruthan Gudd wants to get past without waking her—Masan Gilani calls him a coward and sneakily wakes her up. She jumps on him in an embrace. Tavore tells Skanarow to go wait in her tent, then talks to Ruthan Gudd, telling him he displayed extraordinary valour but also dereliction of duty, so she doesn’t know what to do. Gudd says she should punish him for disobedience so she relieves him of command and joins him to her staff, then sends him to see Skanarow. Once alone, Masan Gilani thinks that the Adjunct is looking at her and thinking about sexy times. Masan Gilani summons the five Unbound, who bring Tavore greeting from the Crippled God. Tavore crumples in relief.
Bottle watches as Fiddler seems to sleep, but then Fiddler peers at something from his kitbag and tells Cuttle to ‘find him’. Fiddler tells Bottle to show himself. Cuttle goes to Bottle and, after telling him that all his kit has been sold and that no one knew his fate, gives him a massive hug.
Stormy finds the Bonehunters and talks to the Adjunct about what role she wants the K’Chain Che’Malle to perform. She has them accompany the three human armies that will try to destroy the heart of the Crippled God. Stormy asks her why she took this on, but she refuses to answer. When he then asks what the first step on the path was for her, she said it was when the Paran family lost its only son.
Well now… This chapter… Have we ever had such open dialogue and communication about what is to happen before? Seriously, I think this is the first time in the entire series where a plan has been described without recourse to mysterious asides or Deck of Dragons readings or any one of a number of things that Erikson has used before.
Here the Adjunct comes out with it simply: the allies of the Bonehunters will go to try and release the heart of the Crippled God, while the Bonehunters will be used as a feint to draw the Forkrul Assail out and keep them busy—to death—while that is being achieved. And this is all in order to prevent the Forkrul Assail from opening the Gates of Justice on this world—all must be achieved before the Jade Spears land, and it turns out these contain the souls of the Crippled God’s worshippers. Nice and simple. Of course, it doesn’t last, and the Adjunct turns all mysterious again when she farewells Stormy, and tells him that she put her feet on this path when the Paran family lost its only son. Does she mean Ganoes Paran? Does she know her brother is still alive? Or does she think he is dead? That is going to be one hell of a meeting if she thinks he is dead…
And that simplistic meeting, where the Adjunct reveals what it is that she wants, is wrapped up in so many bits and pieces that either made me smile or made me sad or made me wonder. There really are so many levels to this novel.
The first thing was the treatment of Hanavat and Shelemasa by Tavore—the honour she gives them, the fact that out of all the allies she has requested that the Khundryl Burned Tears march with the Bonehunters. Although, really, how much of a kindness of that, considering what the Bonehunters march to?
It’s noticeable the way that Tavore reacts when told about what the Forkrul Assail did to the population of Kolanse: “A cull,” said the Adjunct, and that word seemed to take the life from Tavore’s eyes. Oh yes, she is familiar with culls.
I think everyone—absolutely everyone—wants to know where the Adjunct got her information from, and why she now takes the Bonehunters to their unwitnessed death:
“Fists, captains and cooks all ask the same thing: what does she know? How does she know it? Who speaks to this hard woman with the flat eyes, this Otataral sword from the Empress’s scabbard?”
I sincerely hope this is something that we get to know at a later stage, because I desperately need this curiosity assuaged.
And when Banaschar mentions tactics, why does this happen?
“Aranict looked to Brys in the odd silence that followed, and she saw the glint of something awaken in his eyes, as if an unknown language had suddenly become comprehensible.”
We know that Brys is now much more than what we see on the surface, so I am wondering what it is that has been awakened now.
So the Bridgeburners gained their name when they crossed the Holy Desert Raraku. And now the Bonehunters are going to cross the Glass Desert. Echoes, my friends.
You can really feel Blistig’s pain and horror when he says:
“A feint? A fucking feint? […] Is that all we’re worth, woman? A rusty dagger for one last thrust and if the blade snaps, what of it?”
Ah, Tavore. Never lacking in ambition:
“From beneath the hands of the Forkrul Assail, and those of the gods themselves, she means to steal the Crippled God’s heart.”
As Fiddler talks to the squads, you can actually see some of their spirit returning. And it strikes me that it is the perfect time for them to be able to welcome one of their own back into the fold, someone believed to be dead and who has power that they can use. Having Bottle return as the squads keep vigil into the night to gain back their discipline—well, the army is forming again in front of our eyes.
I love when Masan Gilani meets up with Ruthan Gudd and Bottle, and sees the sullen behaviour displayed by Bottle because he doesn’t know who or what the captain really is: “Has plenty of talents does our captain here,” Bottle muttered.
And then this—that both gave me chills (the T’lan Imass don’t exactly bow to just anyone) and made me laugh (as Ruthan Gudd’s cover is completely shed):
Moments later five T’lan Imass encircled them.
“Gods below,” Ruthan Gudd muttered.
As one, the undead warriors bowed to the captain. One spoke. “We greet you, Elder.”
Gudd’s second curse was in a language Masan Gilani had never heard before.
Although, of course, we’re still not given to understand exactly everything about Ruthan Gudd—after all, he corrects Bottle to just Elder rather than Elder God, and states that he borrowed the Stormrider power he displayed in the battle. Not sure what that actually reveals about him. Or why he has joined the Bonehunters, even with Tavore knowing nothing about him or his abilities. What is his interest there?
Oh, that scene with Lostara Yil and Cotillion. He steals every page, but this time my heart stung at his words and the fact that he is weeping here, that he has felt love again. Lostara Yil is dismayed that gods forget what love feels like, and says to Cotillion: “But then, what keeps you going? Cotillion, why do you fight on?” We know that Cotillion feels compassion, but the searing heat of love is something that he has now felt again through possessing Lostara.
And it chills me that Cotillion hesitates when asked whether he regrets sparing the Bonehunters from what they faced with the Nah’ruk—the implication that it might have been better for them all to die there against the lizards in an ignominious encounter than to go onto what they face. That is some scary stuff.
I giggled a bit when Masan Gilani kicked awake Scanarow as Ruthan Gudd tried to edge round the sleeping woman and avoid any confrontation.
And then the hairs rose on my arm again when this happened:
“Adjunct Tavore Paran, we are the Unbound. We bring you greeting, Adjunct, from the Crippled God.”
And at that something seemed to crumple inside Tavore, for she leaned forward, set her hands to her face, and said, “Thank you. I thought… out of time… too late. Oh gods, thank you.” Now what does all that mean?
I did wholeheartedly love this chapter. Some absolutely fantastic moments!
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.