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 part one of chapter twenty-three 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 is sick and will try to add her comments once she recovers.
Toc brings a body to Whiskeyjack and the Bridgeburners. He is disheartened by the numbers of the dead and by Whiskeyjack’s seeming lack of emotion. He tells the Crippled God (referring to him as The Fallen One) that “I understand now. You maimed me outside the city of Pale. You hollowed out one eye… Spirits wandered in for shelter time and again… made use of me. But now they are gone, and only you remain. Whispering promises.” He tells the CG he can feel himself slipping, though he will try to hold on long enough to make good on his last promise. He follows in the wake of the Bridgeburners toward the Spire.
Brother Diligence oversees preparations for the coming battle. Looking over at the Perish, he has some doubts about their eagerness to kneel, and about Setoc—“there had been a feral look in her eyes [he] did not trust.” But still, he thinks the invasion doomed. Tanakalian tells him of the Bolkando, and of the Gilk. Diligence thinks it fitting the Barghast have returned to their ancient home, but then is shocked to learn they have white-painted faces, telling Tanakalian, “Long ago we created a Barghast army to serve us. They sought to emulate the Forkrul Assail in appearance… They betrayed us… Many Pures died at their hand.” When Tanakalian confirms the Gilk wear turtle shell armor, Diligence is enraged, and then tells Tanakalian that the Gilk armor is meant to thwart the FA’s hand and feet attacks, so the Perish must concentrate on them. Tanakalian, though, says he assumes the Evertine Legion will take on the Grey Helms, and so the Kolansii must deal with the Gilk. Diligence dismisses him with a warning to keep an eye on Setoc. A Watered arrives to say the enemy is nearing, and also to convey a sense of nervousness among the High Watered at the surprising “efficacy” of the enemy so far (referring to Paran’s victory over Serenity). They both wonder if the enemy has a secret weapon or knowledge of some sort. Diligence believes Tanakalian may be keeping more back from him.
Sister Reverence stands atop the Spire at the Heart, feeling something “in the depth of the bay. Something building to rage. Strangers have come among us.” She thinks of contacting Diligence, but knows she has nothing concrete to show/tell him. She recalls Serenity’s last thoughts and images—the fire and pain—and thinks, “These humans were an abomination. Their brutal way shook her to the core. There was no end to their capacity for cruel destruction… The world would find a clean breath once they were all gone.” Looking at the Heart, she thinks she will destroy it if it is threatened, though she wonders how it was discovered, since it had been hidden even from the gods by the FA warren. But then she wonders if perhaps the Fallen One, despite his weakness, his being chained, might be behind it. Her thoughts are interrupted by sudden violence in the bay—the ships tossed and splintered on huge waves, despite their being no wind.
Riding a K’Chain Che’Malle alongside Krughava toward the Letherii and Bolkando armies, Grub recalls his father, who, he thinks, “had nothing of the talent of Kalam Mekhar. Or Stormy or Gesler. He was just an average man, forced to be more than he was.” He tries to recall his mother, but cannot, and he thinks how he is now alone, and that when he looks ahead to his future, he sees himself still, “riding, forever alone.” He wonders if he is going toward Brys because he feels he can do more good there, or if he is fleeing Sinn. He remembers using his power to help save the Bonehunters, and how that power had terrified him, while Sinn had reveled in it. They meet with Brys, Abrastal, Spax, the Aranict, the Teblor commander. They tell Krughava of the Perish, and then inform them they face 40,000 Kolansii and they have to hold them for as long as possible so the Pure commander doesn’t withdraw back to the real attack at the Spire. Krughava says she will bring the Perish back into the fold and that will be enough to help slow the Kolansii, which is all that is needed—to keep them from reaching the battle in time. The Teblor—Gillimada—warns them of the Voice and Aranict wonders if Grub can do something about it. He tells her back with the Nahruk it was mostly Sinn doing the work—using him. Brys decides they’ll deal with the Voice if they have to, and they make battle plans.
Stormy and Gesler, leading the K’Chain Che’Malle army, come across Tool’s army and meet with Tool. He tells them Logros’ banishing of him meant nothing, and that he is still serving the Emperor, adding Olar Ethil never understood that. When he warns, though, that he is “broken,” Stormy points to the Spire and tells Tool, “Right up on top of that, there’s something just as broken as you are… We mean to take it from them.” They ask Tool if he will fight with them, telling him Kellanved is dead, they’ve been exiled from the Empire, and the army they lead is K’Chain Che’Malle, not Malazans. He asks why they are there, and Gesler tells him, “to right an old wrong. Because it’s the thing to do, “ explaining they are going to try and free the Crippled God and send him home.
Tool recognizes how the Crippled God, “a being that had been writing in torment for thousands of years,” is just like the T’lan Imass. He wonders then if the Emperor, “truly offers succor? Dare you cast a shadow to shield us? To protect us? To humble us in the name of humanity? I once called you our children…Forgive my irony. For all the venal among your kind, I had thought, I had thought, no matter.” He asks a seer among the Imass what she sees ahead of them, and she tells him, unsurprisingly, “blood and tears.” Tool says he will fight with Stormy and Gesler, because the cause is worthy, an answer that makes them cry. He then tells his followers the choice is theirs; he will not compel, and they reply they will “see who and what we are… will find meaning in our existence… We welcome the opportunity you have given us. Today, we shall be your kin. Today, we shall be your brothers and sisters.” He says, then, he is at last, “home.” He makes eye contact with Sag’Churok, and thinks, “I see you, K’Chain Che’Malle, and I call you brother.”
Battle plans are made.
Kalyth is thankful for the K’Chain Che’Malle flavours that give her the strength for this, but Gunth Mach tells her it is the other way around: “It is your courage that gives us strength, Destriant. It is your humanness that guides us.” Kalyth, though, thinks they should have taken the K’Chain Che’Malle somewhere save, where they could live in peace. But Gunth Mach explains there is not such place, and that she and Stormy and Gesler have “led us back into the living world—we have come from a place of death, but now we shall take our place among the peoples of this world… We must fight to earn our right to all we would claim for ourselves. This is the struggle of all life.” They are interrupted by the arrival of Sinn, who tells them, “The worm is burning!” When Kalyth expresses confusion, Sinn continues: “You can’t leave fire behind. Once you’ve found it, you carry it with you—it’s in the swords in your hands… the warmth of the night… It never sits still… It moved away from the Imass when they turned from it. But now they’ll see that the fire they once knew didn’t leave them—it just spread out…That’s what was wrong with the lizard camps! No fires!” When she tells the Matron, “You need reminding about fire,” Gunth Mach feels fear.
Reverence notes the “paltry” numbers of the enemy, and also how the power in the bay is being held off, not powerful enough to do any more. A messenger arrives to tell her about the K’Chain Che’Malle army, and she is shocked, the Nah’ruk having promised the K’Chain Che’Malle were all destroyed and that there were no more matrons. She sends to Diligence that he is facing a decoy, and he must return to the Spire immediately. But she gets no response.
Tanakalian, seeing Diligence approaching, tells Setoc they will be challenged by him, by the Voice, and admits he didn’t tell the FA about the K’Chain Che’Malle, since “it does us no good if the Assail win on this day.” She asks him whom he fears more, Brother Diligence or Tavore, or, she adds, hearing the sounds of reaction from the Perish around them, Krughava? He asks Setoc whom she will side with, and when she says the Wolves, he thinks he’s good, but Setoc tells him he may not know the Beasts as well as he thinks. She warns Diligence off, and when he tries to use his sorcery, she uses “the howl of ten thousand wolves” to knock him senseless. He’s carried off, and Setoc turns to the Perish and tells them Krughava is coming. When asked whom the Perish should choose to fight—Krughava’s choice or Tanakalian’s, she says it is not up to her, though she does say, that, “Sometimes even wolves know the value of not fighting at all.”
Krughava is led to where Tanakalian is.
Precious Thimble and Faint watch the armies arrange themselves. Precious tells her all the sorcery they’re feeling that’s making them sick is not from the FA, but from Grub, who doesn’t know what to do with it. Faint points out he’s a Malazan, but Precious doesn’t think so, and wonders, “Can an idea find flesh? Bone? Does it have a face—is that even possible? Can people build a savior, with handfuls of clay and withered sticks? If their need for a voice is so terrible, so demanding, can a people build their own god?” As they head toward Aranict, the ghost of Sweetest Sufferance tells Faint she should listen to Precious Thimble. They reach Aranict and she tells Precious to make a sorcerous circle and add her talents to Aranict’s, or else they’ll fall even sooner. She suggests bringing the Bole boy over as well, as he “possesses a natural disinclination to sorcerous attacks.” She points out Brys on the field and warns Precious to defend their position with everything she has, because all of Aranict’s power will be poured into protecting Brys. Faint, impressed by the love Aranict shows, asks to stand with her.
Brys looks over his army and wonders if they give their lives to “a cause already lost.” He wishes Tehol were there to cheer him. He thinks of Aranict, and feels he is going to die today, and hopes that what she has of him—“the best in me” is enough for her.
Krughava and Tanakalian spar. She tells the watching soldiers of the Crippled God’s fall, how he was torn to pieces then chained, “as one would bind a wild beast. As one might chain a wolf.… On this day we shall seek to shatter those chains. We shall seek to free the Fallen God!… to return him to his realm!” She points out that allied with the FA, the Perish stand with the “torturers.” Setoc steps forward (Krughava recognizes her as Destriant) and says, “What do we know of mercy? We who have never felt its gentle touch? We who are hunted and ever hunted down?” She points out the Wolves always take on the weakest among the herd, the wounded, and Krughava asks if she means they plan to feed on the Crippled God. Setoc says the Perish will not fight, and it doesn’t matter who wins, for they will be weak. Tanakalian says and that is when they will strike. Krughava tells him they—the Perish—are not wolves though: “When we act, we are privileged, or cursed, to know the consequences—the Wolves of Winter are not. They have no sense… of the future. There can be no worship of the Wild, Shield Anvil, without the knowledge of right and wrong.” He spurns her words, enjoying that she faces not just him, but the Destriant, and thus their gods. When Krughava calls Setoc “mad,” he replies he does not fear her. Dismissing him, Krughava tells Setoc she wishes to speak to the wolf gods, and she tells them through Setoc: “You wolves thinks yourselves the masters of the hunt… We humans are better at it. We’re so good at it that we have been hunting down and killing you for half a million years… every damned one of you… You’re not good enough at it!… Let me show you another way! Let me be your Mortal Sword again!”
Setoc understands what is happening, but the gods do not, and as they pour out through her, she tries to tell them, “No! Heed her words! Can you not see the truth—you cannot hunt here!” But they kill her as they pour through to kill Krughava.
Krughava sees Setoc transform into a beast just before she is attacked, but then Tanakalian steps in and stabs Setoc. He tells Krughava this was supposed to be his day and stabs her in the throat. He says he killed Setoc to stop the gods from coming through and being killed by the FA, seemingly unaware of what Krughava sensed—that he killed one of the gods. She kills him, then falls to the ground, thinking, “I wanted a better death. But then, don’t we all?” She dies.
As is often the case with Toc’s scenes, it’s a pretty bleak opening to the chapter, what with the mysterious delivery of a body (whose? I’m not telling), Toc’s desiccated hand, Whiskeyjack’s “withered” face and his voice ‘emptied of all emotion.” Toc’s sense he, like Whiskeyjack, like the Bridgeburners, is “slipping away.” The grey ash from the Spire that covers everything. The fields, which should be areas of life, instead are bone fields. Yeah, a little bleak to start.
You know by now in this series that when someone starts thinking they’ve got it made, well, that’s the time they’re about to be apprised differently somehow. So here Diligence is thinking he cannot lose, but then comes the news via Tanakalian that the Gilk are here and they’ve bloodied the Forkrul Assail before, with their white faces and their super-anti-FA-Turtle-Armor (SAFTA). That’s gotta be good for the good guys. And then later Hestand, the Watered, gives him some pause with the whole, “Are these guys really so stupid as to attack us in such puny numbers, or is that they’ve got something we don’t know about?” Not to mention the whole, “Brother Serenity was pretty confident too, we hear,” thing.
I like too in this conversation how the reader gets to feel smart when Diligence asks if there are any other threats out there that Tanakalian is keeping from them and he’s like, “nope, think that’s it,” while we’re all chanting, “Lizard Warriors. Lizard Warriors. Lizard Warriors.”
From one doubting FA to another in Reverence in the tower. But I do so wish these horrid FA would quit being so insightful about how awful we humans are. When she says how the world “would find a clean breath” once we were all gone, you want to say, “Heyyyy!” but then you think about it—the global warming, the choked skies and waters, the mass extinctions we’ve caused, and you sort of go, “Heyyyyyyyy.”
Hmmm, whose that sitting on the dock of the bay, messing up those ships?
That’s a nice moment in Grub’s head, his memory of his father—good to be reminded of the average Joe, “forced to be more than he was,” among all these larger-than-life characters. One sort of sees perhaps that where Blistig went the other way from Keneb—both faced a crucible and one was forged stronger and one was not.
It’s been a little while since we’ve had a Sinn is batshit crazy and might kill us all warning, so it’s good before the big bash that we get Grub’s worry about her. And then of course, in a little while, we get the crazy all on its own, with its talk of fire. Anyone thinking that’s going to end well? Anyone?
Yes, I would imagine an “awkward silence” is exactly what would follow any sort of “You must shit on Fishface” pronouncement.
There’s another reminder of the Jade Strangers. With all that’s happening on the ground, let’s not forget about the sky.
“O Carrier of Flint Fucking Swords.” Love it.
Oh though, I love this scene with Tool and the T’lan Imass. We’ve been shown such a sense of the “appalling” with this group, even if we had hints of something under it all, and here we get a sense that perhaps they might meet redemption of some sort. And we’ve heard echoes of this conversation before—with the stand of the Shake—this idea of a cause, of doing “the right thing.” I like the way the Crippled God is brought out here, and the realization that the Emperor lies still behind things, but where the scene really starts to get me is when Tool nearly drops to his knees at the word “home.” From that point on, the scene starts to tear out my guts—Tool’s recognition of the CG as no different than the T’lan Imass in his millennia of torment and agony, his wonder at Shadowthrone’s actions, the tears in the eyes of Stormy and Gesler, the T’lan Imass standing by Tool to “find meaning in our existence” and standing by him not as subjects to the First Sword but as his kin, as “sisters and brothers” to the one known so long as “clanless,” his announcement that he has come “home” himself, his salute to Sag’Churok. Such a powerful scene.
And though not quite as powerful, but still moving in a different way, in a dignified way, is the scene between Kalyth and the Matron, as the K’Chain Che’Malle “take their place among the peoples of this world.” This is turning into quite the U.N. of forces—humans and Barghast and Teblor and K’Chain Che’Malle and T’lan Imass. Anyone else around to join them?
That isn’t to say this is all filled with a sense of joy and “hoo boy, now the FA are in trouble!” They’re still hugely outnumbered. “Redemption” isn’t quite the same as “victory” or even “surviving.” The Matron does a nice job of being evasive when Kalyth asks her to protect Stormy and Gesler. Sinn pulls her “Fire Walk with Me” routine. And we have a seer telling us she sees “Blood and Tears” ahead (but oddly no sweat)—always good to file away what a seer sees. So we probably should be dancing around quite yet.
That’s two rude shocks to the FA: Diligence learning about the Gilk and Reverence learning about the K’Chain Che’Malle. Don’t you hate when the world isn’t what you thought it was?
“We’re just here to take a long time to die.” That’s a great line.
I like that Brys thinks of Tehol here, wishes he were there to make him laugh. I find his thoughts on Aranict and her declaration to Precious that her power will all be on Brys to be quite moving, and I’m glad we haven’t forgotten about love in all this. I also like how Brys adds a stylistic shift so often, a more lyrical bent when he has these kinds of thoughts. But we’ve certainly been getting some ominous foreshadowing from him for some time about his fate.
I’ll look forward to Amanda’s reaction to the Perish scene. I know when I read this the first time I had no idea what was going to happen in that camp, and I certainly didn’t expect this, at least not all of it and not in the way it happened (I did expect someone was going to buy it—the world was not big enough for them all in it). I thought Krughava’s attempt to make the connection to the Crippled God being chained was smartly done, and a logical approach, but Setoc’s “why should we feel any mercy at all” made just as much sense as a response.
Is it just me, or does anyone when Tanakalian gives his “This was supposed to be my day!” whine picture him in a wedding dress complaining about one of the bridesmaids or maybe a sister upstaging him? Just me? Really?
Once again, we see his lack of insight, not realizing that his “saving” his gods actually meant killing half of them. It’s hard to mourn his death, but I do feel for Krughava. And that last line of hers is just so universally sad.
So now what for the Perish? We’ll see…