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 thirteen 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.
Due to general busyness, Bill will be catching up in the comments for this post.
The Letherii are marching and finding themselves in a bad way, the horses suffering and the soldiers suffering even more. They are trying to keep up with the Bolkando, who are, in turn, trying to stay in touch with the Perish. Aranict thinks that Tanakalian is driving the Perish even harder than Krughava did, and she is starting to wonder why.
Aranict and Brys head to the rear of the army, and find three strangers have caught up to them, strangers who are sunburned and dehydrated. They try to communicate with a few language issues, but establish that one of the people is called Faint. Aranict warns Brys that one of these characters is a mage, and that the male has iron in his bones. The three are welcomed into the army.
Faint talks to the ghost of Sweetest Sufferance about the people they’ve just joined. Faint points out that Brys’ tack is done up in the Malazan way, and wonders if these Letherii have encountered Malazans. They are hoping that Precious will be able to communicate with the Letherii, and Sweetest points out that, if the Letherii can help them get home, the Trygalle will honour a free delivery of anything, anywhere.
Aranict uses the magic of the Empty Hold to push words into Precious Thimble’s mind, so that they are able to communicate. They talk of the nature of the Empty Hold, and then move onto magic in the Wastelands, and the fact that it is starting to grow thanks to the powerful characters wandering across it. Aranict also talks of how the Letherii continent has not changed too much, and maybe that is because of the races who have dwelt there and perhaps kept it from changing. When Precious hears that there is a Malazan army nearby, she warns Aranict that the Malazans will betray them.
Aranict tells Brys that she managed to communicate with Precious Thimble and reveals the latter’s views on the Malazans, and the fact that she doesn’t trust them. They discuss as well the way that Aranict’s power with the Empty Hold is growing.
Spax and Spultatha have some sexy times before Spax heads for his meeting with Abrastal, who seems in a particularly bad mood. Abrastal and Felash summon a link between them using Omtose Phellack and talk about the fact that the ancient king of the Hold has returned and will stand with them against the Forkrul Assail. Felash warns that the Forkrul Assail know they are coming, and asks her mother is she is sure she wishes to continue down this path. Once the apparitions fade, Spax advises caution, and suggests that sometimes a course decided upon can gather a power of its own.
Abrastal thinks that Felash was rather forced into the alliance with Hood. She tells Spax to go and tell the Letherii about this turn of events. Spax asks her whether they will tell the Perish, but Abrastal doesn’t think it is worth killing a horse to catch up with them and tell them what is going on. Spax says that he no longer trusts Tanakalian’s motives, that he believes the Grey Helms are turning to a war of nature against humans.
They talk a little about the likelihood of nature winning, and Spax says that nature is not interested in revenge, that it just goes on.
They then confess to each other that they both see Tavore’s face, that they see her as noble and are haunted by her presence. And both find that they have faith in her.
Krughava is left to dwell on her betrayal by both Tavore (in not allowing the Perish to fight alongside the Bonehunters) and Tanakalian (in seeking to lead the Grey Helms down a righteous path). She wonders about murdering Tanakalian, but decides against that and instead decides to follow after the Bonehunters and warn Tavore about the Grey Helms.
Gesler wakes from a nightmare and heads out of his tent into the encampment, which is unlike any he has experienced before. Bent, the Wickan cattledog, finds him them and brings on memories in Gesler about Aren Way and what they lost on that day. He finds himself making a promise to the dog that Gesler will die for him. The Destriant Kalyth then approaches on Bent’s other side, and soothes the dog’s arthritic pains.
They discuss the armies they are now allied with, and give their views. Both are worried about the Grey Helms, but Gesler is pretty reconciled to letting Tanakalian take the Perish where he will. Both like Brys and Aranict, and Gesler gives a fine summary of Brys’s character. They have slight concerns about the Bolkando, but Gesler believes Abrastal will defer to Brys. At that point a Hunter finds Kalyth within her mind and shows her a picture of Krughava heading into the desert. Gesler also sees it and goes to wake Stormy.
Now we’re seeing that some of the other characters are feeling rather suspicious of Tanakalian and his motives, especially here, as he tries to clear the Perish from the other two armies who are all supposed to be providing allied support for the Bonehunters. “Was this nothing more than the lust for glory, the fierce zeal of fanatics? Or was something more unpleasant at work here?”
And here Faint, Amby and Precious Thimble reach the Letherii. I liked the fact that they had language issues—it is a reminder of the scope of the various continents and countries that fill the Malazan series. Obviously not everyone would be able to communicate effectively.
This is an interesting view of Amby, and a reminder of how he was able to beat away the K’Chain Che’Malle assassin. He is definitely something other than just plain human, hmm?
“The man—there’s something odd about him, as if he’s only in the guise of a human, but it’s a guise that is partly torn away. Behind it… […] Like a wolf pretending to sleep. He has iron in his hands.”
Some cool points in this odd little chat between Faint and the ghost of Sweetest Sufferance. The first is this delightful look at worshippers:
“Worshippers?” Faint snorted. “Addicts, you mean.”
“Variations on a theme, darling.”
For some reason, that just made me snort.
Another point is where they discuss Aranict, and the fact that she is tapping Elder magic, as well as something newborn. Is that newborn magic the warrens created by Icarium, or something else?
Hmm, I wonder if the whole thing about the Trygalle offering the Letherii a free delivery of anything to anywhere if they get these Guild members home is something that will become important at a later stage?
I’m particularly interested in Aranict’s view that the Wastelands will “grow” the magic back, and that the beginning of this might be due to those currently wandering through the Wastelands: “Much wandering in these Wastelands of late, yes? Powerful forces, so much violence, so much will.”
Also, the idea that the Letherii continent has been held fast without changing possibly being due to the long-lived races who also inhabit it is an intriguing idea. So the fact that the K’Chain Che’Malle and the Forkrul Assail have prevented, through their very presence, change and progress, and this is why they are still using Holds and not Warrens.
You can see why Precious Thimble’s view on the Malazans might not be rosy, but I think it must be unlikely that Aranict and Brys would pay it too much credence—they can’t think that Tavore would betray them? Although this question asked is one that I would like the answer to! “…the Malazans never do something at which they’re likely to fail. So if Tavore’s chances look as bad as we all seem to think, what are we missing?”
This is a long scene with Abrastal and Spax, and I found it quite dense to read. We had a fair amount of information imparted to us, and a lot of discussion between the Queen and the Warchief. I think the part I found most dense and intriguing was where they talked about how haunted they were by Tavore, and how they find faith in her. It makes me wonder whether there is any sort of Ascending going on here, and that is how Tavore is able to bring her followers with her—that they are becoming more worshippers than followers.
I love the way that Gesler talks to Bent, and gives him the same attention and rights as he would a human. Bent certainly deserves it. That gentle moment of compassion from Kalyth as she eased Bent’s pain really touched me, and certainly made me even more inclined to like her.
Their conversation about the various armies allied with them pretty much matches with my views, and I particularly liked Gesler’s assessment of Brys: “Anyone who has mastered a weapon—truly mastered it—is a humble man or woman […] And it seems that making him a prince hasn’t changed him any.”
It’s good to see that Aranict has her suspicions about the Perish—I like how it continues to characterize her as both smart and highly observant.
The image she has of the Bonehunters as ghosts, and the vision of them with “hallowed eye sockets, withered skin splitting over bones” plays nicely off the “Walking dead” speech idea.
A small but telling detail about how immediately Brys offers Faint’s group water, and then quickly and firmly overrides his soldier’s understandable concern about their own dwindling supplies.
The language barrier—truth be told, we don’t get enough of this sort of thing probably in fantasy in terms of realistic portrayals. But I can’t get too bent out of shape over that issue as who wants to slog through all that would have to happen if it were portrayed realistically? I think of the “universal translator” on Star Trek for instance. One of my absolutely favorite shows was a Next Generation one where Picard met an alien whose language was all metaphor. The show I thought was brilliant as the two tried to find common linguistic ground, but doing that week after week? Or page after page in a book? Exhausting. No thanks. So good for the Empty Hold and Aranict’s ability to push language into Precious’ mind.
That is an interesting little insight into the Boles—the “iron in his hands” comment. Even if she is wrong, as Aranict says she might be, one has the sense what she means by that is more she could be literally wrong about the iron, but not about the idea/metaphor of the iron. One would think this little added detail might be setting us up for something.
Love the close to this scene—“You speak like whore… This should be fun.”
That bit of Brys and his horse tack is a nice subtle way of showing what we’ve been told—the way the Letherii are learning from the Malazans.
OK, I could go for a story or two, or a novella, about the old days of the Guild when ”every now and then one of the carriages would plunge into some world nobody even knew existed… one realm where there was virtually no magic at all.” That’s the thing about this series (well, one of them), there’s such a rich background that is only hinted at so often—stories we get the merest glimpse of.
As Amanda says, we’ve seen the Guild’s ability to just drop in and drop off play an important role before—so this discussion about it being a point of bargaining might indeed be a big event.
The magical discussion is interesting in both its sense awakening and also the way it lends a bit of suspense to future events—if, as Aranict says, warrens might be the next growth stage, what if “they are ill”? Hard to read that and not think of all the references we’ve had to something horrible happening here in this setting, and then from there it’s a small step to wondering what might grow out of that. It’s a nice way of adding yet one more thing to worry about into the mix. Something that builds even more with Aranict’s fear of war of the gods that “will prove more terrible than any of us can imagine.” Considering too what they’ve seen already, what couldn’t they imagine? Staggers the mind a bit.
Speaking of rich backstory, we’ve had several references now to One-Eye Cat. It’s almost maddeningly on the edge of being its own story. Again, one I wouldn’t mind seeing, though I acknowledge there is something to be said as well for leaving things only partially revealed.
Precious’ lines about the Malazans—“Their first emperor was where it all started. The sleight of hand, the deadly misdirection” etc. doesn’t so much I think make the reader worry about the Malazans betraying Brys and company (after all, we know those Malazans pretty well, and it’s also made clear within those lines she doesn’t know all, as she calls Kellanved “dead and god”). But they do I think remind us of all of that technique—the misdirection etc. and so make us wonder if we do know all that is going on, and also make us wonder how long ago did Shadowthrone (and perhaps Cotillion) start these particular moves in motion.
Love that line about “the Malazans never do something at which they’re like to fail”—both the line itself, what it says about these Malazans I’ve so grown to love over this series, and also what it does to raise questions in the readers’ minds—“what are we missing?”
Another nice close to a scene.
And more insight and observation aptitude from Spax re the Perish—both the view toward Tanakalian and the concern over the war of nature vs. humanity. And I like too his insight into that war: “This is a war we cannot win. All of our victories are temporary—no, illusory. In the end we lose, because even in winning we still lose.” Words to consider in the real world as well, obviously. And then again his insight in his question (one not considered by the perhaps-less-than-insight Tanakalian), “Since when is nature interested in revenge?” His whole conversation on this topic is the sort of thing that as I’ve mentioned before makes this series stick out for me—the way it elevates the level of reader response and thought. We move from being concerned about these characters and this impending battle to deeper thoughts and concerns about how we (we personally, we humanity) live our lives in the real world—the things we do, the way we think of the world.
I also loved the ensuing conversation about Tavore—the language of faith it employs, the slow coming to shared terms and realization between these two (though I wish it hadn’t ended with a kiss), the reminder of “in the Adjunct’s small hand, like a wispy seed, there is compassion.” Do the gods indeed “look down in perilous wonder, at that frail magic in the palm of her hand”? Are they afraid? Certainly some might be, should be, for think of how the world would be so wholly changed if that seed grows—sure, this Malazan world, but how can one imagine that—the effect in this fantasy world—and not consider as well the effect in our own?
I like being in Krughava’s mind as she slowly works her way through past, present, and future. That acknowledgement of “contradiction” as not so much of a curse as it is often supposed to be, her goal of “reconciliation” between the human and the wild—the recognition of being one and the same, the humanizing aspect of her talking to her old dead friend, her realization of her own error in taking Tavore’s action as a “crime,” the logical examination of the results of the obvious solution—just killing Tanakalian, and that metaphor of the ice, so appropriate of course coming after meeting Hood.
Here at the end, I like this direct and lengthy call back to the Chain of Dogs and Deadhouse Gates, which clearly has some direct analogues here, and then of course too that direct reference to saving the dogs—an expression of that compassion held in Tavore’s hand.
And is that promise a foreshadow?
This scene with Gesler is also good as well in that we’ve seen so much of his fighting with Stormy lately, so much goofiness and comic relief and frustration and cursing etc. that it’s good to be reminded here as we move toward the latter half of the book (currently at 41% on my Kindle) that he is a man of insight, of thoughtfulness, keenly observant, a man of emotions.
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.