Malazan Reread of the Fallen

Malazan Reread of the Fallen: The Crippled God, Chapter Twenty-One

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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 the second part of chapter twenty 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.

CHAPTER SUMMARY

SCENE ONE

Standing in Shadow where the Whorl had formed, Cotillion recalls Edgewalker’s words to him: “Even should you succeed, Cotillion, beyond all expectation, beyond, even, all desire. They will still speak of your failure.” He senses Chaos even closer, despite no sign of the Whorl, and knows that their long plan is near its end point: we have finally arrived—it’s all cut loose, and so much… is out of our hands.” He reaches for a knife, then thinks, “Here goes…

SCENE TWO

The Crippled God and Shadowthrone speak. The CG tells him, “What you ask of me, it is too much… I see the necessity. I may have sickened, even threatened, but magic is not my enemy.” He says that there are those among the ones he left behind who “imagine themselves gods… [and who] would maintain a tyranny such as no true god could ever imagine. They would enslave generation upon generation… so most of my world… live a life of despair and suffering and ever growing rage.” He admits he dreams sometimes of returning and killing them all, of being an “implacable weapon of justice.” Shadowthrone thinks that would be nice. But the CG goes on, saying even if Shadowthrone and his “handful of mortals” does the impossible and frees him, “the moment I take my first step upon the soil of my home, they will emasculate me. Bleed me. Gut me.” Despite that, he says he’ll try to do what Shadowthrone asks, though he is missing pieces of himself. He adds that Skinner (who took a piece) has become his enemy, and asks Shadowthrone, “You will not betray me, will you?”

SCENE THREE

Picker tells Karsa she calls on the vow he made long ago. He tells her there are “too many gods of war… and not one of them understands the truth… when it comes to war, who needs gods?” He leaves.

SCENE FOUR

Ormulogun is drawing Paran. Paran orders the troops assembled, telling Noto Boll, “The gods have been kicking us around for a long time. When do we say enough?” When Boll asks if the mortals will do any better with the gods gone, Paran answers no, but mortals will have only themselves to blame at least.

SCENE FIVE

Sister Belie notes that Paran’s soldiers have seemingly disappeared, and while they could have left the mysterious way they arrived, she feels they are coming to break the siege. Watered Exigent worries the Forkrul won’t be strong enough (reinforcements aren’t due for another week), and she replies they will fight even if they all die. She’s shocked by the sudden appearance of Paran’s troops before them and then of assassins among them. She spots one and attacks, sure of her power, but it’s a trap and she’s killed by the assassin behind her (the two are Quick Ben and Kalam). As they walk away and she fades, Sister Belie thinks, “You unsheathed Otataral? Oh, you fool.”

SCENE SIX

Having routed Belie’s army, Paran orders the army to prepare for a hard march south. He and Quick Ben tell each other they felt something off to the southwest, both being cagey about just what they know, though Paran finally decides to just be honest. Quick Ben asks what they all are now, and when Paran tells him, “soldiers of the Emperor. It’s all we’ve ever been,” Quick reminds Paran he [Paran] was just a kid when Shadowthrone was Emperor. They both agree, “nonetheless.” Quick points out that Empire no longer exists, and might never have, an observation Paran finds insightful. Moving on to what’s coming next, Paran lists the “worst” that could happen:

Kurald Galain falls to vengeful Tiste Liosan and they walk that path right into the heart of Shadow, ousting Shadowthrone, and from there… to this world, joining with the Forkrul Assail in a tide of slaughter… until not one human child [is] born into the world… The Elder Gods, having at last freed the Otataral Dragon, succeed in the annihilation of magic… unless of course Korabas is killed, but if that happens it will mean that the Eleint, who are now or will soon be loose…will have killed it—and they will in turn seek domination, not just of this realms, but of all realms.

When Quick Ben adds that parts of Burn are dying, Paran says yes, that’s Korabas. Quick Ben asks what they can do about that, which is too bad, since Paran had been planning on asking Quick the same thing. Quick Ben says Tavore plans to free the Crippled God, but she is too closed-mouthed for him to know her plans beyond that. He had thought she and Paran had planned things together. Quick Ben wonders if a reading might help, but Paran dispels that idea by naming all the powers converging:

Draconus. The First Sword of the T’lan Imass. Olar Ethil. Silchas Ruin, Tulas Shorn, Kilava—even Gruntle, the Mortal Sword of Treach. And now the Eleint… the Elder Gods: Errastas, the past Master of the Tiles, and Kilmandaros, and her son.

Quick Ben says don’t forget about: “the K’Chain Che’Malle and the Jaghut… Hood himself. And who knows how many slavering fanatics of the Wolves of Winter. And what about the Crippled God himself—will he go quietly? Why should he?” Paran, in a fit of understatement, agrees it’s all a bit “complicated.” When Quick says they need a secret weapon, Paran answers they might actually have two: Fiddler (“the toughest Bridgeburner”) and Tavore, whom Paran says he would pit against any of the “great military leaders—Dassem, Coltaine, K’azz, Dujek, Greymane.” Quick tells Paran the Bridgeburners hold the gates of death now save for Hedge, whom Whiskeyjack sent back to Fiddler. He recalls Pale and says he has a sense that they’re all going to meet again, to “bring it all to an end.”

SCENE SEVEN

Minala tells Kalam that Quick Ben is going to get him killed, but Kalam says she has no idea what the two of them have survived together, giving her a huge list. She calls both of them “insufferable… Arrogant, self-important, narcissistic,” and asks if the other Bridgeburners were like that? He says yes, and they had earned it, and that was probably why they were seen as such a threat, a company “run by sergeants”, an army that voted on whether or not to pay attention to officers, and he sees how Laseen might have had little choice in wiping them out. He asks why she’s with them here, with the Host, and she answers, “Shadowthrone’s children… Those that survived. I couldn’t look them in the eye.”

SCENE EIGHT

Sergeant Erekala of the Grey Helms meets with Brother Serenity, who informs him he’s felt the death of Sister Belie and all her officers, meaning the siege of Paran has failed. Erekala, wondering at Serenity’s doubt, asks if the cause is not just, and Serenity replies that it is, “there will be justice… but… also crime. We do not spare the children. We do not ask them to remake the world, to fashion a new place of humility, respect, and compassion. We give them no chance to do better.” Erekala, though, argues in the experience of the Wolves, each generation has had that chance and failed, choosing instead to “Perpetuate the crimes of their fathers and mothers.” Serenity wonders if judgment is “presumptive,” and Erekala says yes, but “If we refuse or are unable to comprehend the suffering of the innocent… what do our words replaces, if not all that at we would not hear… lest it force us to change our ways . . When conscience is not heeded… what choice remains?” Serenity agrees to consider a world where conscience is given not just voice but power and action, but points out that Erekala’s fellow humans would label the Perish as “evil.” Erekala responds that they merely “balance the evil that opposes us,” adding that the Perish were well aware that the Forkrul were planning on using them up. Serenity says he’ll feel bad about sending the Perish to their deaths, admitting as well that the Wild, if “truly unleashed,” would be a threat even to the Forkrul. Erekala, though, answers that he thinks, “In the war now begun, we will all lose. And in our losing, the Wild shall win.” It takes a moment, then Serenity realizes that the Perish crossed over to “even the sides.” He calls them pompous, telling Erekala that tomorrow they will hunt down Paran’s army and the Perish will, um, “perish” to the utter last if necessary, so that the “enemy shall be destroyed.” Erekala simply replies, “Precisely.”

SCENE NINE

Sister Reverence walks among the chosen battlefield to meet with the army’s commander, Brother Diligence. She tells him there is no word from Calm or Equity. She asks about the reserves, and he tells her of their positions, though he doesn’t anticipate needing them. A messenger arrives with news of a 7, 000-strong army approaching six days to the south, the land-based Perish. He sends an escort to meet them. Reverence emphasizes having to protect the Heart above all else, especially from the gods, and he tells her they can’t get near it thanks to the Forkrul sorcery; “their only path to the Hearth is through their mortal servants.” Still, she thinks she is missing something important and so says she plans on staying with the Heart at all times, and if she thinks the FA might fail, she’ll destroy it. When she complains about all this pesky opposition, Diligence blames the Crippled God, and she supposes that makes sense: “is not his creed the very antithesis of our own? The flawed, the helpless and the hopeless daring to stand before holy perfection. The weak of spirit against the indomitable… What astonishes me is their audacity.” She points out their opponents’ “doubts and mutual mistrust” mean they’ve already lost, to which Diligence quotes some old Gothos texts found in the palace: “In a war between fanatics and skeptics, the fanatics win every time.” She objects that the Forkrul are not fanatics, since “our cause is a justice beyond our own selves… Justice stands outside and its state of perfection cannot be questioned.” When he quotes Gothos again, she orders him to burn those damn Jaghut texts.

SCENE TEN

Stormy and Gesler spy on the Perish camp, observing some executions, clearly not the first based on the graves. Stormy thinks they should attack, but Gesler says it wouldn’t be tactical, saying Krughava thinks she can turn them again. They’re interrupted by Setoc appearing and yelling at Tanakalian about the executions. They discuss their surprise that the Perish are unaware of the army tailing them, then head back.

SCENE ELEVEN

Setoc feels the anger of the Wolves inside her, and tells them “Blind rage is pointless—for that your cause is just, it must be a human mind that guides us into the war,” something she think Tanakalian also does not understand. She’s upset at the executions of those Perish who argued against such a hard pace, who argued the army was getting more and more unfit to fight, and she thinks if the K’Chain Che’Malle attack (she is aware of them), she’ll have to wake the Wolves, something she doesn’t want to do as it will draw other powers. When Tanakalian approaches, she thinks, “he has treachery in his heart.” They argue over the state of the army, and she points out all his errors and flaws, calling him “drunk on justice… deluded in your righteousness.” He, though, argues the delusions are not his, telling her the Perish will be “brought to heel” by the will of the Forkrul, but he intends to use them instead. The humans will do with needs to be done, and “when all the players are weakened, then shall come the time for our gods to attack.” Setoc agrees, but warns she has not control over their power, their rage. He says rage is no way to fight a war and she agrees again. He answer then he and she need to work together, or the Wolves will be killed or enslaved. But she tells him he has to become a true Shield Anvil then, has to stop judging and denying his fellow Perish, and stop executing them (especially out of pettiness). She warns him the soldiers have no confidence in him as leader, that they only stay on this path because of her; otherwise they’d return to Krughava. He suggests then sending the Wolves against the K’Chain Che’Malle, but she tells him the Wolves refuse because the K’Chain Che’Malle “were never the enemy of the beasts. They were never so insecure as to feel the need to slaughter everything in sight. Never so frightened, so ignorant, so pathetic.” He wonders how the Wolves will respond when the K’Chain Che’Malle start killing the Perish, and she reminds him that would simply mean more humans dying, as far as the Wolves are concerned. He says now she must see what he means: “We must stand in the shadow of the Forkrul Assail. We must be free to choose where and when to fight and indeed whom we shall face.” He adds they should just lead the K’Chain Che’Malle army into meeting the Forkrul Assail and then just “step aside” and let them kill each other. She wonders if this is the treachery she feels in him, but feels there aren’t any other real options.

SCENE TWELVE

Brys wanders through the underwater realm, wondering if this be dream or haunting or return. He feels a great loneliness: “Into death we step alone. Our last journey is made in solitude. Our eyes straining, our hands groping… It was all anyone needed. A hand to take ours… To welcome us, to assure us that our loneliness—that which we knew all our lives and so fought against with each breath we took—that loneliness has at last come to an end. Making death the most precious gift of all.” He thinks of the “secret terror behind all faiths” of the “horror of the meaningless, all these lives empty of purpose.” He recalls a man who studied fossils for decades until he finally killed himself, having realized he said in his suicide note, that his studies had only shown him that there were many life forms that have come and gone, leaving almost nothing behind—“It’s all for nothing. Nothing but fragments of bone. All of it, for nothing.” Brys understands this thought, but then before him rises the face of Tehol, and he hears his voice: “Damn them all, Brys. No one really needs an excuse to give up on life… Surrender is easy. Fighting is hard. Brother, I remember once reading about deadly swords that in the moment of war would howl with laughter. What better symbol of human defiance than that?… That bone collector… got it all wrong… He had a choice. Despair or wonder. Between the two, which would you choose?… Faith is more than turning our backs on the abyss and pretending it’s not there, Brys. It’s how we climb up above the cockroaches… Up here, the gods can finally see us, right?” Brys sees a Tiste Edur holding a lantern. The two grasp hands, and the Edur asks, “Do you know me? Will you bless me?”

SCENE THIRTEEN

Brys wakes and Aranict takes him into her arms, feeling she is losing him. He goes to sleep and she stays awake, worrying that they and the Bolkando won’t be able to do what Tavore needs them to, that this whole thing will end in failure and death. Brys wakes and the two discuss the horrible state of the army and their potential failure in battle. When he says it depends on if the Bonehunters crossed the Glass Desert, she tells him even Tavore cannot “will her Malazans to achieve the impossible.” He tells her of his father’s lesson in pragmatism, of his brothers, especially pointing out how Tehol couldn’t not have become wealthy without also being pragmatic, despite appearances to the contrary. He asks how far they are from the coast, and when Aranict says three days, he orders a day’s rest to eat and drink the last of their stores. They head to the Bolkando camp.

SCENE FOURTEEN

Spax informs Abrastal they’ve spotted Letherii ships on the coast and that Brys and Aranict are nearing camp. He adds the ships are unloading troops (including Teblor) and lots of supplies.

SCENE FIFTEEN

Brys tells Spax and Abrastal the landing wasn’t planned, but Tehol had known of their route and the king’s Ceda has some abilities. They are met by the Letherii battalion commander, Idist Tennedict (part of his family’s “community service”). Idist says he bears a message from Tehol, and Brys tells him to read it aloud (though Aranict warns him it’s Tehol after all). Tehol-speak ensues. As they exit, Brys tells Aranict that is the first time he’s ever heard Tehol say he loved him, and “that alone is the measure of his concern, and it’s shaken me to the core.” He believes Tehol doesn’t think the two of them will see each other again, and his letter was a goodbye. Aranict realizes Brys thinks he’s going to die.

SCENE SIXTEEN

The Forkrul Assail bring relief supplies to the Perish. Tanakalian sees Setoc standing aside and thinks, “She is a liability,” but also believes Setoc will not survive when the Wolves manifest through her, and also that if he must seal that “portal” to stop the Wolves, to save them, he will. He thinks back to Setoc telling him the Wolves paid no attention to mortal prayers, and considers all those generations of Perish, “who gave their lives to the Wolves. A waste. All that blood spilled… those precious titles of Mortal Sword, Shield Anvil, Destriant, they all meant nothing… In the end, we are no different from every other cult… Convincing ourselves of the righteousness of our path… What’s left to believe in?” He wonders if Krughava saw all that and decided the only worthy goal was personal glory and a great last stand. He understands her, he thinks, though he will not follow her. Nor will he follow Setoc. He speaks with the Watered commander, and tells him of the Bonehunters trying to cross the desert, of the likelihood they are all dead, and of the fact that Tavore carries an otataral sword. That last tidbit, however, sends the Watered into a tizzy and then sudden action, much to Tanakalian’s confusion.

 

Amanda’s Reaction

I think that Cotillion’s thoughts here are the very definition of the idea that battle plans last only until the battle starts—all his and Shadowthrone’s plans are now dependent on mortals who have a tendency to act according to their own minds. “This gamble… gods, this gamble.”

I believe that the speaker here to Shadowthrone is the Crippled God—and, if so, his thought on what will happen in the moment that he is freed and returns to his own world is not a fun one. And yet he is still willing to follow the plan, even though he knows he is likely to be emasculated by those tyrants on his own world. That allows some sympathy and compassion to be extended to him, I think, if you have failed up to now.

And here is Cotillion’s worry realised almost at once in this chapter when Paran says: “The gods have been kicking us around for a long time. When do we say enough?”

Ah, such wonderful arrogance that we suspect is about to be tested: “Do you imagine that this Master of the Deck can manage anything more than fending me off?”

And then it turns out Belie is taken down by Kalam and Quick Ben, even with all the power she is able to bring to bear—these Forkrul Assail are pretty hard ass, with the way that they use only the power of words to do their will.

Otataral is turning out to have ever more mysterious properties—here Belie thinks: “Otataral? You unsheathed Otataral? Oh, you fool.” What is it about this mysterious material that causes such fear in Belie?

Heh. It amuses me to see Paran and Quick Ben commiserating with each other a little about sisters—neither of them have had much luck in their siblings, have they? Is it just my reading, but do I sense that Paran and Quick Ben really aren’t that fond of each other—their sniping at each other seems to have a particularly barbed quality.

This is an interesting thought that Paran has: “Quick Ben rubbed vigorously at his face, as if trying to rearrange his own features. And, maybe, become someone else.” Argh, Quick Ben is just too mysterious—awesome, but mysterious.

In fact, the whole scene with Paran and Quick Ben is filled with entertaining little snippets that say so much, and so bloody little, at the same time. Like Quick Ben’s words about the souls he carries: “I have twelve souls in me. Think about that. All those lives, all those desires, regrets, hurts. Whatever you feel about your life, I have that a dozen times over. And some of those souls in me… are old.” It begs the question: how much impact do those individual souls have on the overall character of Quick Ben, and his aims?

Are the warrens created by Icarium paid for in blood? If so, does that mean that they will still be available and vital when the other warrens go to hell because of the release of the Otataral Dragon who is going to consume magic?

Hahaha! I confess to a giggle when Quick Ben says to Paran: “Was your whole family like her? Nobody saying a damned thing to each other? Dead silence at the dinner table?” Of course, it is a matter of the pot calling the kettle black there!

Their mutual analysis of the situation and the major players is nice and timely, and I appreciate that as a way of Erikson rounding everything up. He gets our two knowledgeable characters to finally share information, which means that the reader is able to get a quick round up as well—remembering that most readers don’t have the opportunity of a read such as ours at Tor.com and are trying to hold all this in their head, rather than being able to beg pitiably for information from wise re-readers.

I love these tributes to Fiddler and Tavore by Quick Ben and Paran—they both seem to have the same respect for them that us readers do. And then Kalam’s tribute to Quick Ben is pretty damn cool: “Icarium, the Pannion Domin, K’Chain Nah’ruk and Soletaken dragons—Quick’s faced down them all.” Of course, this could be reminding of us just what we still have to lose in the remainder of the novel…

I admit that the conversation between Serenity and Erekala did little for me—there were too many high concepts to take on and philosophical musings on the nature of justice and presumptions. The idea, though, that the Grey Helms would be happy enough in everyone losing, since that way the Wild will be the overall winner, is pretty scary.

The Perish and the beheading of their own comrades just makes me even more uneasy about these fanatics. They just don’t seem to care about their own futures in comparison to bringing back the Wild—that is going to make them so incredibly dangerous when it comes to a battle.

And then, through Setoc, we discover that the beheadings occurred because those soldiers spoke out against the cruel pace of the march—it’s just daft.

Hands up those who really enjoyed seeing Setoc tear into Tanakalian?

I enjoy the talk of religion when we encounter Brys Beddict thinking about the loneliness of death. It absolutely resonates with me that, for many people (however it isn’t articulated) worship comes from a fear of death, a fear of what is to come next. It seems that those who face death without fear would have no need of a benevolent hand to take theirs in the event of death.

“I knew a man who studied fossils”—Erikson!

Wow, this acknowledgement as well that the vastness of nothingness and meaningless can cause depression is well said—to live without purpose and to think that there is nothing truly worth aiming for or living for is definitely something that depressive people will be familiar with: “Easy enough to understand how this could have unleashed the black dogs, when comprehension yielded only a vast abyss.”

My personal life this year has been hard on many, many occasions, and Tehol’s words to Brys are those that I am finding I have to live by at the moment: “Surrender is easy. Fighting is hard.”

Oh, the relief at knowing that Tehol and Bugg have sent through more Letherii, with food and water. I almost get more relief from this than from the use of the dagger at the end of the last chapter—maybe because I don’t really see any supernatural assistance coming to this group, since they are no longer under the direct protection of Tavore. I love Brys’ rather dry: “My brother’s Ceda is able to sense, even at a great distance, sorcerous efforts seeking groundwater.”

Ha, that letter from Tehol is just a breath of fresh air and laughter.

And from that to the moment where Brys realises something about that letter: “Tehol fears we will not see each other again. For all its mundane silliness, he came as close to saying goodbye as anyone could without using the word itself.” That sent the laughter away, and made my heart hurt.

And then, finally, a last whisper of mystery about what effect Otataral has on the Forkrul Assail as the Watered, once told, sends messengers galloping with the news. What is that all about?

 

Bill’s Response

Well, I suppose if we had any doubt that things were soon coming to a head, this scene with Cotillion dispels that doubt. I do like how we see his own doubts, his sense that this plan, whatever it is, is not so much a sharply-plotted out, all things accounted for, kind of plan but a hell of a “gamble.” I’ll also point out that this is twice he’s thought of the plan and focused on his knives.

Continuing the cycle back to the book’s beginning, we have the Crippled God in conversation with at first an unrevealed person, who turns out to be Shadowthrone. And we get more new perspective (or, depending on one’s view, rejiggering) of the Crippled God’s past actions when he says magic was never his enemy, though he might have once, maybe, when a little annoyed, and perhaps after inhaled too much incense, “sickened, even threatened.”

The conversation seems to muddy things a bit. We knew the aim, or one aim, was to free the Crippled God. But to what end, this conversation seems to ask—with the CG telling Shadowthrone if he is freed, and if Shadowthrone “finds the path”, the minute the CG ends up on his home soil he will be bled and gutted. Is this what he tells Shadowthrone at the start is “too much”? To be sent home to that end? Or is it something else? What is the “path”? The path home for the CG? The path to victory? Some other path? Even if freed, can the CG do what is asked, being in pieces as he is? Can some of his missing pieces and/or power be restored to him? Where does his power reside nowadays? We’ve had a hint to at least some of this earlier in the book.

Well, we knew Karsa was going to kill a god. Now it’s narrowed down to a god of War, apparently. That’s a pretty big hint, once one starts crossing names off that relatively short list, based on what we already know about said gods.

Oh, I so enjoy the duo shows in this series. In this case, Quick and Kalam, back on the road again. Love Quick’s “got you” as Belie prepares to kill him before dealing with Paran’s army. Though her response to Kalam unsheathing Otataral is a bit ominous… And of course, we don’t want to forget that he is not the only one with an otataral weapon in the area. Something that the chapter ends on as well.

I like that little detail of how Paran doesn’t want Kalam to feel too good about his skill at killing people. This is something we’ve seen from Paran before, and I think will see again if I’m recalling correctly.

Then we get this great conversation between Quick and Paran, the litany of players and powers, which can’t help but impress on the reader how epic an ending we’re apparently marching toward, how high the stakes are (not just this world but others), and also how much of an underdog the “good guys” are. Talk about a grand set-up. It’s also logistically also probably not a bad idea to remind the reader in this little pause of all that’s going on—there are a lot of plots in action after all. And I like the two of them planning on asking the other what to do about it and realizing neither of them knows. And then I love how it comes down to faith in Tavore and Fiddler. Especially Fiddler, because as a reader, I think it’s easier to feel an intimate connection with him than with Tavore, who remains aloof and inscrutable, even if we’ve seen many more moments of vulnerability from her in this book than in prior ones. As a reader, you want Fiddler at the center because like Quick and Paran, you trust him to do what is right and what is needed. I also like that call back to the very start of it all, that hill outside Pale so long, long ago.

After that list of powers that makes the Malazans seem such the underdog, you can’t help but feel a bit better after Kalam, in his “insufferable” manner, reminds us of just how many other powers he and Quick, together or alone, have taken down. Is it boasting if it’s true?

Interesting how just as views shift toward the CG, Kalam offers up a changing view toward Laseen, especially if you remember back to his thoughts when he was first awakened by Quick and Minala.

Once again, the use of point of view is used to keep the readers’ responses complex. The Forkrul Assail are the bad guys, yes. But it’s hard to not respond positively to Serenity, with his “misgivings,” his recognition that the killing of children rather than allowing them a chance at “doing better” than their parents/ancestors is a “crime,” that their acts of judgment could be labeled a “presumption.” And then again, to feel for the victims of humanity’s seemingly endless hunger, greed, knack for destruction (for instance, this being around the 100-yr-anniversary of the last passenger pigeon), to wish for what Erekala and Serenity all the voice of Conscience and then the hands of Conscience, even if those hands are used to strangle.

The complexity is also furthered by Erekala’s dismissal of the Forkrul making the Perish kneel, of his revelation to Serenity that the Perish changed sides to “Even the odds,” that they see the Wild winning this war because everyone else will lose it. And I love his single word, “Precisely” to Serenity’s, “the enemy will be destroyed.” So sharp, that reply.

Lots of confidence in this passage with Diligence and Reverence:

  • “What foe would dare this?”
  • “I am not unduly concerned.”
  • “We can manage quite well without them.”
  • “should we perceive the need for them [the reserves], which I do not.”
  • “None can hope to come close.”
  • “You will… have a fine view of the battle… and realize our victory before we do.”
  • “What astonishes me is their audacity in thinking they could defeat us.”

Yep, lots of confidence. We know what that usually means in this series. ‘Course, there is that nagging “thing” of “vital” importance Reverence feels she’s missing. And those references to Gothos. And that “sting in her eyes and the bitter taste in her mouth.” Hmmm.

That’s a great move, from Stormy and Gesler wondering how their K’Chain Che’Malle army has managed to go unnoticed by the Perish army of the Wolves, to having Setoc stare at where they just were and think, hmm, “if that lizard army came at us now…”

“Treachery in his heart” Remember back to how “betrayal” had been seen. And certainly the Perish have in some sense betrayed. But is the betrayal over? Is that the betrayal that was seen? If they return to Krughava is that another betrayal? If they are “using” the Forkrul Assail, is that another? If Tanakalian kills Setoc, the “portal” so the Wolves can’t come through so as to save them, is that a/the betrayal? So many shades of “treachery.”

“Drunk with justice” is a great line, both for Tanakalian and just in general.

Two references now to the Perish returning to Krughava—one from Stormy and Gesler and now from Setoc. Is this being set up? Or set up for failure?

Does anyone else hear Tanakalian’s dialogue in the whiny voice of a four-year-old? “It’s Krughava’s vault!” “We’re the swords of vengeance!” “I don’t wanna go to bed!”

Brys. We’ve had several hints now that Brys may not make it through. Him wandering through those depths amidst an existential cloud of loneliness while ruminating on death isn’t going to do much to alleviate those concerns. These are the, ahem, “deep” moments I so enjoy in this series, these philosophical, high level thought sorts of musings. Here is the nice metaphor of that idea of life being “meaningless” and filled with aching loneliness, this watery vastness. Great treasure just lying around—where its value now? The detritus of war—bronze shields, where now their shining glory, their bright results? The bleached bones and never-ending rain of bodies. The darkness, the pressure of mere existence, the buffeting currents. The perhaps unexpected turn from the loneliness of death to instead the loneliness, the constant shadowing loneliness in life—“that which we knew all our lives and so fought against with every breath we took”—and so death being a gift. That desperate desire for oblivion having a face, for a hand in the darkness, a light in the gloom. I love that it is Tehol who rises before Brys to give him strength and answer: the choice of “despair or wonder.” We’ve seen (I’m pretty sure) this Edur before—one wandering the depths, one who is connected to Brys.

There is a lot of faith in these last few chapters, faith in others that is borne out. Faith in Mael that brings up the water for the Bridgehunters, faith in Fiddler and Tavore from Quick and Paran (we don’t know yet how that will turn out), and here Brys’ faith in his brother, who comes through with the supplies in his typical Tehol fashion. Some nice beacons of hope amidst all this death and horror and despair. Here, I love how Erikson doesn’t have Brys surprised by the arrival of the Letherii, which would have been easy enough to do as the writer; instead, we’re given Brys’ faith in his brother. Which not only makes this I think more effective emotionally, but also makes that note and Brys’ understanding of what it means for Tehol to say he loves Brys—it makes that note all the more poignant. And of course, it’s always good to get some Tehol, no matter the circumstances, but we really need some comic relief by now as readers, so it is even better.

And then a strong close, with a real sense of urgency and speed in a chapter that has been more pause and setting the stage, with the Watered rushing off at mention of the otataral sword, building upon Sister Belie’s reaction to Kalam’s otataral dagger. Don’t forget who has been freed…


Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.

Bill Capossere writes short stories and essays, plays ultimate frisbee, teaches as an adjunct English instructor at several local colleges, and writes SF/F reviews for fantasyliterature.com.

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