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 two 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.
Brys horse unexpectedly takes him atop the bank looking down on the Perish. He wheels it away toward where his Letherii soldiers are engaging the enemy. He wonders why his people follow him, why he “presumes to lead.” He heads into battle.
High Cutter Syndecan of the Perish looks down at Krughava’s body, thinking she had indeed been a hero. As the eldest, they all look to him what to do, and he tells them they must fight to cleanse themselves of the murder they have witnessed, been part of. He does not yet know whom to fight, though, and so he tells them they need sign, just as Brys shows up atop his rearing horse.
Abrastal orders Spax to hold the Gilk back even though her soldiers are getting chewed up by artillery. They see the massed perish come pouring out and set themselves to prepare for attack. Abrastal meets Syndecan on the field and he tells her Krughava and Tanakalian are dead and he is placing the Perish under the command of her and Brys. He warns her the Pure with them was wounded by Setoc, but when he awakens they’ll be in trouble as they are no longer linked with the wolf gods. She asks them to place themselves in the way of the Kolansii army that will soon head to reinforce the Spire as soon the FA realize this is but a decoy. She adds she’ll send along the Barghast and Teblor later if possible. She sends the Perish off and heads back. She sends the Saphii spear-soldiers toward the Kolansii.
The Saphii attack the Kolansii trenches.
Brother Diligence recovers and is contacted by Sister Reverence, who tells him that his battle is a decoy and the Spire is being attacked by K’Chain Che’Malle and T’lan Imass. He orders a bare-bones defense to hold this spot and the rest of the army to reinforce the Spire. He’s told the Perish have betrayed them, but he brushed the news aside, saying he’ll use Akhrast Korvalain against them. He sees two K’Chain Che’Malle and heads toward them to deal with the commander. On his way, he kills a bunch of Letherii squad mages.
Brys’ horse is killed underneath him. He is attacked by Brother Diligence using the Voice, but Brys calls forth the names of the gods sweeping into the Diligence’s warren. It is killing both Diligence and Brys. Brys speaks the last name—that of the Forkrul god, which overwhelms Diligence and almost takes Brys with it, until a pair of hands grab him from behind.
Faint watches as Aranict, whose hands have plunged into a watery cloud smelling of the sea, is slowly pulled forward. This after having watched as Brys’ armor and clothes dissolved to reveal a body covered in tattoos and runes, which flew off into Diligence. Faint realizes that Aranict is holding onto Brys and tries to help but is flung back. She calls to Precious, who tells her Aranict is gone too far; it’s a miracle she’s even still alive. Faint bleeds herself and calls to Mael to take her offering, then reaches for Aranict and holds her.
Precious asks Amby Bole to save Faint “for my love.” He tells her he doesn’t want her, so she promises to hunt him down and follow him his whole life—that the only place to escape is in the cloud. He goes in.
Faint hears Sweetest tell her “some laws even an Elder God cannot easily defy. But he’s trying.” Amby grabs her and pulls her out.
Amby pulls the whole line up out of the cloud, which then bursts. Precious heals Faint’s cuts.
Grub’s Ve’Gath kills Brother Diligence, who stands still overwhelmed and insensate. Seeing there is nobody there to command, and how the soldiers all look to him, he orders a withdrawal. Looking at the bodies, he thinks back to Coltaine: “the bloody road where I was born, where I came alive. I remember that world. I remember no other. All of the brave soldiers, I am yours. I was always yours.”
Abrastal orders Spac to take the Gilk and Teblor after the Perish while she holds the Kolansii as long as possible. He tells her she sends them to their deaths and she agrees. Before leaving, he informs her he’s impregnated her daughter. A messenger arrives from Brys to let her know he is on his way with two-thirds of his forces.
Brys watches Grub take things “well in hand” and orders that he be considered Brys’ second in command. He puts Grub in control of the relief force while Brys stays with the defense force.
Faint tells Precious the Kolansii will attack, and Precious tells her it’s the mixed-bloods making the Kolansii fight, using the FA warren. Faint tells Brys.
Syndecan sets the Perish up to defend passage.
High Watered Festian leads the Kolansi toward the Perish, planning to crush them via superior numbers.
Gillimada, leader of the Teblor, acts like a Teblor. Spax acts like an old warrior.
The Kolansii attack.
The Teblor and Gilk join the battle, as Spax thinks they have failed; they can’t hold the Kolnasii back. He sees huge chunks of the Kolanssi simply ignoring the battle and heading toward the Spire.
In Darujihistan, Karsa stands before a temple ready to complete his vow. He thinks how so many people walk in chains, enslaved to “a host of cruel ideas… a deceitful argument… where one wins and the other always loses… [but] not everyone suffered the same emasculation, and this was where all the lies finally gathered. The hungriest maws… hid in… the fountained gardens of the rich.” He thinks how the Crippled God and “flung weapons in his path… whispered all manner of enticements,” and how he, Karsa, now finally understands him: “He cannot know compassion, from whom compassion has been taken. He cannot know love, with love denied him. But he will know pain, when pain is all that is given him.” Munug interrupts Karsa’s thoughts to tell him it is time, and to ask if Karsa will “kill it all [civilization]” When Karsa says yes, if he an, Munug warns him, “It will simply grow up again, like a weed from the ashes.” Karsa gathers the dying Munug in his arms, refusing to let him die alone, uncared for:
I stepped over corpses on the way here. People no one cared about, dying alone. In my barbaric village, this would never happen, but here in this city, this civilized jewel, it happens all the time… This night… I am a village. And you are here, in my arms. You will not die uncared for… In my village, no one is a stranger. And this is what civilization has turned its back on. One day, Munug, I will make a world of villages… And slavery will be dead, and there shall be no chains—tell your god. Tonight, I am his knight.”
Munug replies, “He knows” then dies.
I really love this view of Syndecan as a veteran of many campaigns in which he fought against death as a healer, and now considered himself a failure since Krughava hadn’t made it through. Also, it somehow gives a quiet view of those battles that take place whenever soldiers go to war, those personal battles to try and keep everyone from dying.
I feel sorry for the Perish really. It can’t be easy serving the Wolves, and I think this plaintive cry sums up their entire difficulty: “But who is the damned enemy!”
I really can’t understand the strength and belief necessary in a commander who has to watch her soldiers being scythed down, but won’t yet deploy further forces because they are required elsewhere. I know for sure that I could never be a high ranking soldier, with all of that pressure to make the right decision and the knowledge that every decision is going to bring death of some sort.
I feel such relief that the Grey Helms are planning to fight under Abrastal and Brys, and I particularly like this exchange:
“Syndecan, you’ll need to work hard at inspiring this lot—they’re broken.”
“Yes, Highness, we are. But on this day, I believe that this is no weakness.”
They are fighting for the freedom of a broken god, so it seems very fitting.
It is tiresome that Brother Diligence, on rising from being cast down by a stronger enemy than he imagined, is immediately thinking that he shall easily put the Letherii on their knees. Does he never learn anything?
What a stunning scene as Brys feeds the names of those forgotten gods back to Diligence as they war against each other. I love the idea that this Forkrul Assail—someone who deems justice to be more important than anything—is being involved in the justice of these gods having their names revealed and spoken aloud once more. And the delight that the last name is that of the forgotten and discarded Forkrul Assail god (who must be pretty pissed at his followers)—well, it is just delicious.
And I love, love, love the whole sequence where Aranict, Brys and Faint are saved by an idiot from Blackdog Swamp. Amby Bole is something else—all that insane power housed in the body of someone that most everyone would disregard. I adore the fact that Faint was determined to save Brys and Aranict, so that their love could go on (man, it’s all gone a bit Titanic with that sentence). Just hope that Brys comes back okay.
Bless Grub, and nice to see him step into his true role as a leader of soldiers. It does feel that, despite all his other power, this is where he is destined to go.
Spax is Spax right to the end here, telling Abrastal that he’s knocked up her daughter. And it’s then brilliant to see him struggling to battle with the pain of middle age. That is so realistic.
And then, after all the success and heroics we’ve seen already, and our expectation that the Teblor would be able to combine with the Perish and throw back the enemy, we see Spax barely engaging before realising that all his people would die and that now the K’Chain Che’Malle will have to be the ones to try and hold back the Kolansii. This is incredibly sobering and brings you back to earth with a bump.
What a wonderful moment as Karsa scoops up Munug and tells him he will not die alone. That is special, especially when considering the character who is performing this act of compassion.
I really like the contrast we get in these scenes with regard to the soldiers/leaders of the two opposing sides. On the one hand, we have the Forkrul Assail who use their sorcery/Voice (hmm, propaganda?) to create unwilling soldiers, and who could care less about what happens to those soldiers as it relates to the success or failure of the FA cause. And on the other hand, you have Brys here agonizing over the willingness of his soldiers to fight (despite the fact that “they know—my title means nothing.” And over his willingness to “presume to lead.”
As a quick toss-away line, I like the sly foreshadow here as well of the “Shake yourself awake, Brys. The time has come to find us a name.” Which he does of course, a whole sea-full of them.
I like how, speaking of “thinking” soldiers, we see Syndecan not simply idolize the fallen Krughava, but instead recognize her “powerful flaw”—that pride that was “ever her enemy”—and then see how she, rather than being “perfect,” overcame the real-life flaw that had so threatened to dominate her. And this—not victory in battle—was her true heroism.
And here as well, we have the reference to soldiers who will not “follow blindly” (but a guy on a horse—now that’s something to get behind… ) One wonders where Syndecan was going to take the whole “look for a sign” speech if Brys hadn’t shown up like that.
A little ironic, that image Abrastal has of “sinking her teeth in to the throat of the Grey Helms”, with the Grey Helms being the “wolves” and all.
Note we have Abrastal taking personal note of her soldier messenger:
“tits barely budding and you’re in the middle of a damned war. And I can’t even remember your name. But should we both survived this, I’m sending you to learn embroidery, and a year or two of flirting…”
Again, a leader who cares, who feels guilt over leadership, over what she is leading these people into.
Nice little bit of foreshadowing for the ice in bay later when Abrastal thinks her daughter (who is with Hood remember) should be in the bay by now.
“I shall obliterate the enemies before us!”
“Not one Letherii shall leave this place—not one!”
“None there can hope to stop me.”
“I will take you first.”
Cue this character’s humbling in three, two,…
Here’s another hugely cinematic scene I’d love to see done right on the big screen, the menhirs rising up, the cloud, etc. And I love this battle of words and names, the way the power flays Brys, pulls him into that cloud, and how what comes at the end is that one last name—the Forkrul Assail’s god itself. I like Brys thinks of Tehol and Aranict at the end, and the way that dignified, moving, so-formal speech is interrupted by the curt, “Not so fast.”
And then I like how we shift to the women—Aranict refusing to let Brys go, holding on even into the Abyss, even past the point she should be dead (according to Precious), Faint refusing to let “this love die” and willing to bleed herself out to call Mael to help, Precious pulling out of her hysterics and doom and manipulating Amby into the cloud, who pulls them all out one by one. Great moment.
While we expect these heroics from someone like Brys, and while we’ve seen Grub do his bit before obviously, now we get to see Grub as not the scary boy magic kid with the really, really scarily creepy girl, but as a leader of soldiers. And we get a sense perhaps of the seed that will grow into the First Sword down the road. Which is appropriate, as Grub was born (whether literally or metaphorically—though again—the joy of fantasy is one needn’t choose; they aren’t mutually exclusive in this genre) of soldiers, of that famous last stand, that Chain of Dogs. And so it’s so appropriate we get this memory of Coltaine.
That’s a nice goodbye between Spax and Abrastal—emotional yet understated, and it will serve if it must as a final goodbye (though I’m not telling obviously if it must)
Interesting thought of Brys’, that Mael sees Tehol as “the one you would have wanted as your own son.” I’m not sure I see that relationship, despite the closeness of it. Though it is true Bugg shows some pride in Tehol, so maybe so.
Hmm, can it be as easy as Faint thinks—aim a few onagers at the Watered who control the Kolansii and then “this battle is done”?
“He intended to make quick work of this.” Oh, why do they even say it?
I like the realism of Spax feeling his age here, pains, cramps, stitches in the side, having to order soldiers past him because he can’t keep up.
Rain in Daru over Karsa. A good image.
No surprise those guards decided to “simply move on” rather than deal with Karsa and his big ole sword.
And here we are so many thousands of pages later and that thematic image of chains continues to haunt the narrative (and will continue to do so going forward).
Seems like everyone is now starting to understand the Crippled God (some came to it earlier than others).
Those lines of Karsa’s are certainly integral to this series—this idea that to have compassion, love, one must needs have experienced these things. And let’s face it, who would have thought these words would have come from Karsa? The whole tear-down-civilization-for-its-ugliness-and-cruelty? Absolutely. But this language is a nice surprise from a matured Karsa, one who recalls in this scene his “youthful” nature.
While I love Karsa’s views on civilization, and his description above, and I agree with him quite a bit, my favorite, absolutely favorite part of this scene, and one of my favorite scenes in this series, is his scooping up of Munug. His refusal to let this old crippled man die alone and unnoticed, his lines about he will be a “village”—a place where one does not die unnoticed (unwitnessed), nameless, where there are no strangers, where people do not step over bodies, or past them without seeing—(replace bodies with homeless, the poor, and suddenly we’re far, far away from the great barbarian in the fantastical blue-lit city of this made-up world). I love that it is Karsa doing this, love this sentiment, love this moment, love that promise of a world made solely of villages. And so let’s linger over it a while.
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.