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 nineteen 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.
Note: Amanda will be adding her commentary later.
Withal prepares to head out to join the fight at the Shore, since “we’re all going to die anyway.” Putting on his “arcane” non-Andii armor, he tries to get Sand to join him. She says she couldn’t bear to see them all die, and he criticizes her for not even deigning to see their sacrifice. He leaves. She has a vision of one of the first meetings between Rake and Spinnock Durav, with Spinnock reporting a disturbance at the gate of Starvald Demelain, one which his superior went to investigate. She remembers Spinnock asking Rake what is it he needs him to do, and how Rake’s “answer stole all humour from the soldier’s face. And, she recalled, it was never to return.”
Withal crosses through the forest to see the horror of the Shore: “The last stand… An entire people, face to face with annihilation.” Recognizing that neither side will give in, or even “accept surrender,” he thinks he understands Sand a bit better. He sees Yedan still fighting at the breach, but can’t spot Yan Tovis. Feeling no longer in control of his own body, he heads into the battle, near where a badly wounded Brevity continues to command.
Yan Tovis thinks Yedan is not refusing to allow even a hint of an entrance by the Liosan through the breach, and wonders what he saw on the other side. She realizes “this time there would be no respite, not until one side or the other fell, to the very last soldier.” Seeing how he stands there, fighting past the point of human endurance, dragged to it by the Hust sword, with his people dying there beside him in droves, and she upbraids herself for not kneeling to the Shore: “Why did I believe my freedom was worth anything? Why did I imagine that I had the right to choose my destiny? Or choose to deny it. Only the defeated kneel. Only slaves… But now, I would do it.” She makes eye contact with Yedan, they not, and he orders everyone back.
Sand starts to wholly lose a sense of reality as past and present blur. She sees a surprisingly old Spinnock report seemingly to Rake in her mind (but in actuality to her) that “certain leaders among us… are in their souls unleashed.,” and then asking “What pact have you made with Silanah? Why does she lay waste to all the land… drive ever closer to proud Kharkanas?” “Rake” (Sandalath) scoffs at that description of the city, saying, “It is only ghosts who belong here. If we are to be forgotten, the city must fall. If we are to be forgiven, the city must swallow our crimes. If we are to be dust, the city must be ash.” Spinnock says what took their leaders was “The blood of Eleint,” to which Rake/Sandalath replies, “Cursed blood!… It poisoned me once.” Spinnock says he saw what head been done, what Rake/Sandalath had “sought to hide away.” When Spinnock references “Blind Gallan’s Road,” she knows something is not right in this “vision,” as the Road did not exist in the time she thinks she is recalling. Spinnock, realizing finally what that noise is he’s been hearing—the Shake fighting at Lightfall—exits, calling for the Andii.
Nimander struggles against the call of the Eleint. Korlat tells him he and she are the only two left, the only ones resisting, explaining that Sand has “commanded Silanah. She has summoned the Warren of Fire, and set upon the dragon the madness of her desire… She would urn this realm to the ground!” Silanah now commands a Storm, and if she and Nimander give in to veering, they will be forced to fight those veered Andii who have not resisted. Nimander says he will convince the Queen to order Silanah to stop. Korlat leaves for the battle site.
Apsal’ara seeks her armor and mace (the same Withal now is wearing) in the palace, finds it missing, and heads off to find whoever took it. She remembers how she originally got it—she and her brother were hunting and came across another Imass dying of his wounds. They are surprised that he is a stranger and also by his “stone” clothing, actually metal armor he’d been given by Tel Akai. He tells them he joined an army of Jaghut, Tel Akai, Jheck, and others in a fight against death itself: “Bless the Jaghut… Why defy death, when you cannot help but fail? They would tell you why. No. They would show you why.”
Aparal Forge is stunned by the carnage at the breach, which has so far denied the Liosan the foothold they need to send the dragons through. He wonders if his Soletaken kin are “ask [ing] themselves whom will you lord it over now? Who will serve you in your estates?” He knows no matter the outcome, Saranas was done for, the city as “empty, as filled with ghosts, as Kharkanas. Light finds the face of Darkness, and lo, it is its own.” He asks a wounded soldier how many of the enemy are left and is frustrated at the maddeningly vague “few” that is the answer. He presses the soldier, who spits at him and refuses to answer. Aparal threatens to kill other wounded until the soldier offers up what he knows, but the soldier tells him, “Do you not see why we refuse you? You have already killed us. All of us. Surviving these wounds will not change that.” Aparal kills him, to his own horror. Another soldier, under a pile of corpses, tells him there are only a thousand Shake left: “We don’t tell you because we honour our enemy—they’re not Tiste Andii. They’re humans, who fight like demons.” When Aparal asks about the “Hust Legions,” the soldier tells him there is just one, one man alone, and the soldier hopes that when Aparal finally goes hover himself with the Soletaken, that one man kills them all. Aparal leaves thinking he will face this one warrior and kill him so it will all end. He sends a soldier to tell Fant it is time to order the final attack.
Partway into the city, Nimander hears/sees the result of the Eleint, “doing what they did best. Destroying everything in their path.” He wonders at Rake’s will that had “denied such a gift. He thinks of what Korlat and the other Andii mages had told him of Pale, of how “had Anomander Rake veered into a dragon, Tayschrenn would have had not choice but to turn his fullest power upon him… all of Pale would have been ashes.” Instead, Rake killed the turncoat mages of Pale and saved the city, though he hadn’t expected the Moranth’s vengeance. He meets Apsal’ara, who tells him the Queen on the throne is Korlat’s mother, and that she has gone insane, adding that to stop her Nimander might need to kill her. Spinnock, she says, has gone to bring the legions into battle beside the Shake, and she plans to join the battle as well. He continues on to face down the Queen.
Leading the Andii to the Shore, Spinnock tells them of Rake leading them away from Kharkanas into nothing, of how he had “fought to give you purpose—a reason to live. And for many, in that he failed. But those of you here—for you, he did not fail.” He reminds them of how Rake had them fight “wars that were not yours to fight… bow to causes not your own… And your kin died, oh, how they died—they gave up their lives in causes not their own… But the cause—the true cause he offered you—did not change… Your lord was thinking—each and every time—he was thinking, of this moment… Today this is not foreign soil! Today, this cause is your own!… Today, the Tiste Andii fight for themselves!… Strangers fight in your name! Strangers die for you! Your cause—not theirs!… Children of Dark, humans are dying in your name!” They reach the Shore just as a dragon roars.
Still lost in her mind, Sand sees Rake (really Nimander) enter the room and tell her to release Silanah. She demands to see the sword with which he cut down Draconus, then, seeing how young “Rake” appears, thinks this is before that time. She asks then for Orfantal, whom Rake had taken “to stand at [his] side.” She orders, “Rake” to kneel, and then declares her son Orfantal Knight of Darkness. Nimander tells her she has to release Silanah or Kharkanas will be destroyed and there will be no Knight. She tells him he (“Rake”) had done the same when he “made Mother Dark turn away. But… I can save you from all that. I can do it first!… Now, who is the hostage?” She asks again where her son is, and she sees “Rake” “stagger to one side, like a broken man.” She thinks then she has won.
Sharl, whose brothers are dead, stands by Brevity as they’ve backed off as Yedan had ordered. Yan Tovis steps forward and kneels, not to the Shore, but to her people. Behind her, the Liosan advance, and then three of them veer.
Yedan kills a dragon, but is horribly wounded.
Korlat and the last two mages head through the forest, Silanah’s will tearing at them. Korlat can sense the Soletaken Liosan. They reach the battle site and veer, as do more Liosan.
Yan Tovis tries to make it to Yedan’s body as the witches feeding off of her buffet the dragons with sorcery. She feels Skwish die, along with others fighting to protect her, until she is down to just Brevity and Sharl. Pully dies. She reaches Yedan, who tells her he finally sees “home,” then dies.
One of the Andii mages dies in the skies above. The Liosan push on, but the Andii can be heard nearing.
Nimander struggles to resist veering and also to avoid kills Sand. He wishes for Apsal’ara, but instead Phaed shows up.
Phaed tells Sand if she doesn’t release Silanah, Orfantal will die. She explains this is not Rake before her but Nimander, and repeats her statement about Orfantal. Not trusting Phaed, Sand asks Nimander if Orfantal will come to her if she lets Silanah free, but Phaed interrupts, saying this the “negotiation” (implying Orfantal is a hostage as Sand once was) is between just the two of them. She convinces Sand to go back to her old room, lock it, and wait for Orfantal there. Happy at the thought, Sand releases Silanah and leaves. Phaed tells Nimander, “I vowed to haunt you… To torment you… Instead, you deliver me home.” She tells him to join the other Andii while she goes to keep Sand company.
Apsal’ara saves Withal, tells him he stole her armor, but he can keep it for now.
Sharl falls with a bad wound and thinks she’s done for. Brevity forces her up, telling her “Girl without a friend, nothing worse.” Sharl agrees to be her friend “until the end.”
Zevgan Drouls, confesses to those around him that he had killed “his debt-holder, and then the bastard’s whole family,” then done some arson on the records of all the other debtors, and had then been sent to prison, looks over the First Shore with the others too old, too young, too disabled to fight. Though now they wait their chance “to give their lives defending the children of the Shake and the Letherii islanders… Those are children behind us, looking up to us with those scared eyes. What else counts?” One of the others tells him he should have been executed for killing innocents, and he agrees, saying, “Messing with how things are made up for the people in power—there’s no more heinous crime.” As they discuss how it’s almost their turn to fight and die, Spinnock’s legions fly by.
Fant thinks the two Andii dragons left are almost done, and leaves them behind. He can’t wait to kill Yan Tovis, though he admits she was brave. He mourns Aparal’s death (the dragon Yedan killed), and then is shocked by the arrival of the Andii forces. As he prepares to attack, he is surprised again, this time by Silanah, trailed by black dragons. He sees several of his kin die, then he himself is wounded and knocked out of the sky by Korlat. He sembles and sues for peace, declaring himself a hostage. She kills him.
Korlat watches the Andii slaughtering the Liosan and pursuing the retreating ones through the breach, and thinks, “There would be an end to this. An end.” She looks to the three or four hundred surviving Shake and is shocked by the deaths among them.
Apsal’ara asks for her armor back and Withal, grieving, bitter, starts to give it to her. She convinces him to look up, and he sees thousands of Andii kneeling to the Shake. He sees Yan Tovis and Sergeant Cellows and others blind to the sight, and wants to show them, but Apsal’ara says not yet. Nimander, Skintick, Desra, and Nenanda approach, Nimander weeping. Korlat joins them and Nimander tells her Sand “saw reason.” He asks if Korlat will go to her, but Korlat refuses, saying, “Her son was the only child that ever mattered to my mother, Nimander. And I failed to protect him. She set that one charge upon me. To protect her son.” Korlat speaks to Yan Tovis, asking, “In ancient times, Highness, there stood at your side a Sister of Night. Will you take me… ?” When Yan Tovis objects that the Sister of Night is “not for one of pure blood,” Korlat tells her, “My blood is not pure” Tovis accepts her, as Withal “Suddenly comprehended Korlat’s meaning… No, Korlat will have no place in the palace of Queen Sandalath Drukorlat,” and his heart breaks yet again: “Oh, Sand.”
Sharl is on the ground, dying, with Brevity desperately trying to keep her alive, to not be left alone. Sharl thinks how her brother, her real ones, died long ago, and she’d just renamed the other two boys she’d met. She hears Brevity weeping, but “she herself was done with that. Let the chains fall away. And for my eyes, a cloth. It’s what they do.”
A keening rises for Yedan, and Yan Tovis welcomes him home.
Sand’s story is one of the sadder ones in this series I think. She’s such a strong character early on, but she is almost the epitome of the theme of how the past is never past, how it haunts the present always. It’s not even a matter of her past “catching up to her,” since it never needed to move; she was brought to it—here in Kharkanas, where she was a hostage—bad enough, but also where clearly something traumatic (and let the speculation begin again) happened. Throw on top of that the thousands dead, the ghosts of the past meeting the newly-minted ghosts of the present, the sense of responsibility, the feeling of being “chained” to the throne, and it’s no surprise the past begins to overpower her present and she sinks lower and lower into her own mind, lost to the realities around her. With almost two-thirds of the book done, and all those other plot lines to visit, a reader can’t help but wonder if there is time enough for her to heal, off in her locked room with only another ghost—Phaed—to keep her company. On a bit of a colder note, I think the way Erikson handles the dislocation in her scenes is nicely controlled—that confusion of past and present that spills over from her mind into the readers, though never too much so, leaving us on less than solid ground, unsure, a little lost—a little taste of Sand’s own predicament.
Withal’s entry into the battle (and btw, a nod to him for not “fashioning his lover for Sand into a weapon”) is a wonderfully crafted scene—the horror of the battle obviously, but then also the way he disassociates himself from it, because that’s the only way one would willingly march into such horror. The way the helm mutes the sound, the bars of the visor change the vision. The detached way he notices the detail of his feet leaving “dents” in the corpses and near-corpses he climbs over. And then his realization that all this sound is the voice of a god—one god’s scream or roar that would “stop us in our endless madness.” Save of course for the tiny detail that we just refuse to listen. Great scene.
More reference to something bad happening to Sand during her time as a hostage, with Spinnock recalling: “I saw what was done, yes. I saw what you sought to hide away.” If I’m reading this right.
The whole Sand commanding Silanah to burn the city to ashes and Korlat calling her “a queen in despair” reminded me a bit of Donaldson’s Covenant series. I also liked this plot move for another reason.
Not much to say about the scene with Apsal’ara getting her armor save I really really really want to see this war. Really. No, really.
Aparal Forge is such a complex character to me. On the one hand, I find myself responding positively to his insight into Fant, into the terrible waste of this war, the unjust nature of it on the Liosan side—tossing in the “cannon fodder” folks before the “elite soldiers” enter the fray, his bitter wondering about the “poor” elite who have just watched all their servants get slaughtered. His recognition, and not in a grudging fashion, that the survivors will not be “obedient” any more. On the other hand, he doesn’t push enough (in my mind, though it’s understandable), he doesn’t simply participate in this but takes a huge role, he threatens (sincerely I believe) to kill his own wounded, he does kill the wounded defiant soldier (though at least he reacts with horror to his act). I get a sense he goes not only to kill Yedan but to be killed by him. Which is on level brave and all, but I’d rather he risked his life in defying Fant and trying to end this madness for all, not risk his life fighting the Hust sword to end his own personal madness.
Have to say, I love a series that is willing to revisit an event from what, 9000 or so pages ago? I’m talking the siege of Pale here. Cracks me up that this makes an appearance here, talk about full circle…
Spinnock’s speech. Wow. Just wow. Love that beat of the sword on shield. Love how this speech is broken up by action, by internal monologue. Love that call back to the idea of Rake involving his people in causes just to keep them alive, even if it meant them dying alive (as opposed to dying “dead” if you know what I mean). Again, think of how long, long ago we saw that conversation. Loved a second soldier taking the place of the shield bearer. Love the “Crack!” Love the call back to “witness.” Love the sight and sound of a dragon. Loved this whole bit.
I love as well the built in suspense here. The Shake down to so few. Yedan and Twilight sharing that look. The dragons coming through. And the reader has to hope desperately for Spinnock to arrive in time. Great construction.
I like how the Andii mages, with the “Better to die in Kharkanas than anywhere else” is a sort of slant echo of the Shake’s just created, “We all end somewhere.”
Then there’s Yedan. I can’t say I had a big emotional response to his death. I liked his character and loved many of his action scenes. And of course, I find his death sad. But he was a bit cool as a character, aloof, built for war and focused on that, making it hard to really empathize with him. Not a criticism at all, merely a personal reader response observation. But oh how I’d enjoy seeing many of his scenes on the big screen. Including his final dragon kill. I do find it interesting how this character built so much for battle, focused so much on this final battle, is himself taken over in some way by his own weapon—the Hust sword. So many times the language surrounding the sword has it acting on Yedan, using Yedan as much as he uses it. Another example of fantasy making metaphor real.
In the same light, I don’t feel for the deaths of the two witches, who were hardly likable characters, but I like how their deaths build even more suspense—the way they are separated, come so bluntly, and so their deaths, on top of Yedan’s, make the reader wonder if this battle is going to be Shakespearean in nature—will we end up a la Hamlet with nothing but bodies littering the stage—all of our main characters—Yedan, the witches, Sharl, Brevity, Twilight, Withal even—all of them dead? I mean, I’m pretty sure when Yan Tovis starts thinking how she has finally known all kinds of love, I thought on my first read, “well, she must be a goner.”
Phaed’s reappearance I know surprised me on a first read. I like how she continues the theme of penance, of learning. And of empathy/compassion, as she knows of Sand’s loneliness. Assuming of course she’s not going to join Sand to drive her to suicide…
Raise your hand if you were happy to see Fant get his. Yeah, thought so. You just knew he was done for via the arrogant tone he takes in the beginning of this scene. No way he’s not going to get humbled after all that, planning his various killings and raisings of monuments. Talk about measuring the White House drapes…
This is a nice little pre-echo. We know we’ve got true Eleint coming into the world, and we’ve got the Otataral dragon free (and talk if you recall of other dragons as well, some already free and others having talked of freedom). So this battle amongst dragons, the reference to a storm, to the avoidance/temptation of veering, to a true Eleint among Soletaken, is a well-crafted potential precursor to what might be coming down the pike.
Another nice echo—Yan Tovis refusing to kneel to the Shore, then kneeling to her people, then being knelt to by the Andii.
Then a bit more mystery (because we need more of those in this series). Korlat and her “My blood is not pure” line. Hmm. Is this because of Eleint taint? (I would argue not, because it seems to me Yan Tovis is about to reject the idea of Eleint counting as impure when Korlat repeats the phrase with added emphasis, as if to say, that’s not what I meant. Also, because I’m not sure why Eleint blood would break Withal’s heart or connect in that fashion to Sand)
Is it because she just killed Fant, wounded and suing for peace?
Is it because of what happened to Sand back in the say, a trauma that is inherited by the daughter? Is this why Sand, in Korlat’s mind at least, cared only for Orfantal?
Withal seems to get Korlat’s point pretty quickly. Jerk.
And then there’s the title—the “Sister of Night”/”Sister of Cold Nights” Everyone remember our old friend “Nightchill”?
And then poor Brevity, who has lost Pithy and who now at the end has lost Sharl as well. Brevity herself told us to fear this moment: “Girl without a friend, nothing worse.” You can hear the desperation in Brevity’s voice as she exhorts Pithy first to get up and then later not to die. And as with Sand, we’re left wondering what solace she will find, if any.
For Sharl, the solace is in the release, haunted for so long by her own ghosts—those of her long-dead brothers, ghosts in her head, but ghosts as well she had made solid by renaming the two other boys after them—giving her brothers life of a sort, but then more pain and guilt when she couldn’t save them either. No wonder she finds death a relief. Sad, sad scene all around.
This whole chapter, while filled with major action, has to make one worry about some of our good friends. Lots of deaths in here—that beyond their own impact on the reader also shows the reader that Erikson is not going to be afraid to knock off a few folks in this final book. And make them not just “dead,” but “dead dead.” As in, not walking around still hanging with your old friends dead a la Hedge-dead, or careening around the oceans of the world dead a la Shurq-dead, or chilling with your fellow soldiers while guarding death’s gate dead a la Whiskey-jack dead. Not even Tufty-dead. But dead-dead. As in really dead. Finally dead.