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-four 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.
Three Forkrul Assail—Brother Grave, Brother Aloft and Sister Freedom—can feel that the assault against the Spire has begun, but they are concentrating on the task ahead of them. As is usual, the Forkrul Assail think that everything is just fine and dandy and they can defeat anything in their path. They determine to each possess an army. After some discussion about the armies, Aloft states that the forces facing them has the feel of a grand strategy, the product of a single individual’s will. then Grave and Freedom rather poo-poo his thoughts and state that they are facing a tyrant who has over-reached themselves. Freedom tells Aloft to kill all the Bonehunter marines.
Quick Ben and Kalam are riding towards where Tavore is supposed to be, sent by Paran to assist her. Quick Ben stops because he realises that Tavore has given up her sword, and he knows that she intends them to go there instead. Quick Ben tells Kalam that everyone—all of them—have been underestimating her from the very beginning. Kalam asks Quick Ben which of the Parans they should be obeying and Quick asks him in return which he’d rather face on the other side of the Gates to tell that he’d failed. Kalam is suddenly overcome with emotion, and then the two of them head towards the sword.
As the jade slashes move closer, Silchas and Tulas land and semble into their human forms, Silchas almost driven mad by the howling of the Hust sword he carries. Silchas admits he fears death, and Tulas assures him that oblivion doesn’t frighten him and he would try to fall in Silchas’ stead. When Silchas unsheathes the Hust sword, ghostly chains appear from the blade, and three dragons climb from the earth—Eloth, Ampelas and Kalse. Tulas tells Silchas to veer, that Shadowthrone/Cotillion have given them their Storm. Eloth makes a bargain with Silchas—that if they prevail, Silchas will break their chains.
Telorast and Curdle are trying to escape the shadow of dragons that overcomes them, and then both are drawn in chains to join the Ancient Storm.
Korabas is failing against the mass of Eleint arrayed against her. She knows she is going to die, even as she still strives to reach ‘that fated place’, the place that could be a trap or a promise. She worries about the fact that the power of T’iam is building in the presence of so many Storms, that she is likely to manifest. Just as she fights back one last time, she sees seven Ancient Dragons heading towards her, and knows that death has arrived. But then they fight against the Eleint surrounding her! In her mind, she begs them not to, she knows this is a fatal sacrifice. She does not understand why they do this, but she uses the reprieve to head towards where the sword has been placed.
Fiddler and the marines arrive at the Otataral sword, and he fears that this one thing, this one weapon will not be enough to break the chains that have bound the Crippled God. He thinks that he is trusting himself and his soldiers to the word of Tavore. Fiddler watches Hedge’s troops, and thinks how weighed down they are with… kittens. When he and Hedge talk about defending the small hill, Hedge reveals that Bavedict has concocted a lot more kittens, that he is a genius. Then Hedge babbles at Fiddler for a bit, to distract him, and Fiddler acknowledges that if Hedge wasn’t here, then his voice would still be in his head, and thanks him for the distraction. The marines start preparing for battle.
Bottle heads to find Fiddler and Hedge, and is joined by Deadsmell. Bottle tells Fiddler that there is a god there with them, that it isn’t the Crippled God. Fiddler asks who it is, and Deadsmell tells him that it is the Worm of Autumn.
Gilani joins Sinter and Kisswhere, complaining about Dal Honese men and their methods of foreplay. Sinter feels clouds, and scans the heavens for them.
Bottle’s squad prepare for battle by discussing the taste of glory—or possibly Widdershins—in the air. And cats.
Rim and Honey talk about his contribution to the battle.
Fiddler studies the fortifications and troop placements and know they are too few to defend the hill. He studies the sky, in which the Jade Strangers are even more prominent. He goes through the House of Chains deck, and the Leper card is glistening with sweat—he thinks: “Aw, Hedge. I’m so sorry for that.”
Gu’Rull carries the heart of the Crippled God as he flies, thinking about all the fallen dead and the last scene he witnessed on the Spire. He knows he underestimated the Matron’s choices for Shield Anvil and Mortal Sword, and, in this moment, calls them kin and knows their sacrifice means he will see this through. As he flies, he is suddenly surrounded by a swirling darkness and knows he will not make this journey alone.
The Great Ravens arrive at the hill and begin to form a body for the Crippled God out of the bones that remain there in the barrow. Crone hopes that it will be enough to house the blood of their sacrifice.
Gu’Rull watches as the Great Ravens make their sacrifice. He is joined by Crone, who tells him that he has one more task on the morrow, that he should look to the skies. She says that she has promised a most noble lord and her sweetest daughter will be returning. As the Ravens complete their task, Gu’Rull places the heart within the new body of the Crippled God. Finally, Crone—as the spark—strikes home.
Fiddler is thrown down by the detonation of power. When he comes back to himself, he sees the broken and deformed figure of the Crippled God, bound with heavy chains, and thinks that they have made him more vulnerable. The Crippled God talks with Fiddler, admitting that when he first arrived on this world he saw the Malazans as something to be hurt like everything else, but his view gradually changed. That he learnt to believe in the Malazans as something different. He doesn’t understand why the Malazans would die to defend him, and Fiddler suggests that he might watch them in battle to get a better sense of them.
Hedge tells Fiddler that, yes, the gods might have used them, but that it made them better people—and, therefore, they created better gods. He asks whether Fiddler will be saying anything to the troops, and Fiddler says that he will be doing the listening now.
Calm knows that the Forkrul Assail are falling, that they have lost the heart of the Crippled God, but she is watching over one last weapon that can destroy the world, thinks that it is time to wake Lifestealer. Mappo knows he is nearing Icarium, and breaks into a run to get there, even though he sees the Forkrul Assail figure ahead of him.
Mappo faces Sister Calm, who tells him that the Nameless Ones weren’t interested in Icarium, that they used him as an excuse to reduce the danger of each protector they chose. That Icarium is destined to awaken over and over again, that he is uncontrollable. Mappo and Calm fight, and Calm kills Mappo. Just as she crushes Mappo’s throat and glories in the idea of freeing Icarium to kill this world, she is taken down by a rather angry and confused Toblakai.
Brother Grave commands his troops to circle the hill, as he watches the clouds of birds descend. He anticipates the execution to come.
Vastly Blank tells Fiddler that they are surrounded, and gives the numbers and armour of the troops. He then eats his own toenail.
As the Kolansii advance, Urb watches Hellian and shouts to her that he loves her. She asks him what he said as first he watches some of the enemy troops dissolve under the power of one of the kittens, and then sees the Forkrul Assail fail in his attempt to command the Malazans. Hellian comes right up to him and asks again what he said. When he repeats it, she shows her delight and they kiss.
Erikson does his usual ‘flit about the viewpoints’ as battle is commenced:
- Cuttle watches as the Kolansii close and discharges his first crossbow quarrel
- Saltlick is stuck where he is by an arrow in the foot; he takes down a few Kolansii before he is killed in turn
- Koryk battles furiously, and hears Smiles laugh as more Kolansii close
- Corabb fights, revelling in the glory that he is a marine, a heroic soldier
- Deadsmell and Throatslitter fight side by side, protected by the quarrels of Widdershins
- Sinter howls as she watches Badan Gruk die
- Lap Twirl receives a spear thrust, kills the person who did it to him, then snaps off the head of the spear and goes back into the fray, thinking he can take down a few more
- Skulldeath plunges into the enemy and finds himself surrounded, then is killed
- Hedge stands over the corpse of Bavedict and directs his troop to cover Fiddler’s group with arrows.
- Fiddler thinks he is done for as his ankle twists in front of a Kolansii, but then the man is felled by a crossbow bolt and Fidd is dragged back to safety by Hedge, who then goes to work
- Bottle receives a spear to the thigh, as he thinks that these Kolansii are slaves and not asking to do battle. Tarr draws out the spear and, as Bottle stuffs the hole with bandages, he feels heat and hears screams from downslope
The Crippled God realises, in his new body, just what a gift that these soldiers offer up in the moment of their deaths. He witnesses.
The Seven T’lan Imass stand near the Malazan regulars. It was their plan to go and join the Malazan marines, to witness the rising of their god, but they decide instead to stand with Tavore, to witness the actions of the regulars who seek to prevent the Forkrul Assail reaching the Crippled God. Thenik announces, after some discussion, that he will sacrifice himself to take down the Forkrul Assail.
Lostara watches as Tavore prepares for battle. The Adjunct opens a box that bears the family crest of House Paran, and draws out a necklace—a simple leather string and an eagle’s talon of brass or gold. Tavore asks Lostara to tie it for her, and Lostara does so. As she catches the faint scent of perfume from Tavore’s hair, she is overcome with ineffable sorrow.
Banaschar waits, holding the horse that the Adjunct will ride to deliver her speech to the troops, and he remembers the last speech she gave, aboard the ships that took them to the Letherii Empire. As she emerges, he pays tribute to Tavore and tells her how honoured he is to be there.
Tavore speaks to her soldiers, speaks to the regulars. Lets them know that she has seen them, that she knows them. She says they will be unwitnessed by history, but that they will be witnessed by each other.
Blistig is a dick and just doesn’t get it.
Sister Freedom and Brother Aloft watch as Tavore makes her speech to the troops, and they plan their assault. Freedom warns not to use the power of Akhrast Korvalain because there is something affecting it. They see no cheers from the soldiers as Tavore finishes her speech and think that she has lost her troops, that they will rout. They say they will next meet standing on the corpses of these wretched upstarts.
Ah, we’re getting familiar with the rather breathtaking arrogance of the Forkrul Assail by now, but this did jump out: “We shall face humans. Thus far, in all my thousands of years of life, I have yet to be impressed by these creatures.” It just strikes me that Brother Grave is about to have this viewpoint reversed.
I was impressed by Aloft’s attempt to tell the other two that his instincts warned him they were facing someone who has planned this invasion, and there is one powerful strategic mind governing the army placement etc, and then, of course, he is shouted down. But I suspect he might be more cautious engaging with these puny humans.
Love the Quick Ben and Kalam scene, where Quick finally realises what Tavore has done and where she intends them to be. Talk about stuck between a rock and a hard place, with having to decide which Paran sibling to obey—although, with everything that has happened, I entirely agree with their final choice. Sure, Ganoes is pretty hardass and all, but, damn, imagine telling Tavore you had failed her. That is… not a good thing to imagine.
And that last exchange just says it all:
“Quick—how did she manage to cross that desert anyway?”
“Guess we… underestimated her.”
And, since we’re talking about grand strategies and underestimating, it seems fitting to then go to a scene where we see one of the long results of Shadowthrone and Cotillion’s planning, as the three Ancient Dragons are unleashed from the Hust sword and join Tulas and Silchas in a Storm. That was a real moment of clarity, as I remembered all those mysterious scenes where I wasn’t sure what Cotillion was up to, or why Shadowthrone was doing this and that. Honestly, how could they know and prepare for something like this? For Silchas and Tulas being brought together? For the requirement of an Ancient Dragon Storm? It just boggles the mind what those two have planned.
These two—Telorast and Curdle—have been a point of joke for so long (and let’s do think back to the first time we saw them, and how long they have been lurking around in this series—and then congratulate Erikson on his own looooooooong vision) that it comes as almost a surprise to be reminded that they are Ancients, and have this spectacular names: Telorast Anthras and Kerudas Karosias.
Oh, bless Korabas. I know that she is the very death of magic and all that, but she is such a tragic character. I really felt her pain as she watched the new Storm descending and then, realising they were fighting for her, her begging them not to die for her. She has been made beautiful by Erikson’s writing of her viewpoints, where we have discovered that she hates the part of her that destroys everything, and that she wishes she could be the creator of something.
Ah, Fiddler and Hedge—from the fact that Fiddler knew all about the secret kittens, to the moment where Fiddler thanks Hedge for babbling, that “if you wasn’t here, Hedge, I’d have to invent you,” it’s just wonderful to see these two reunited. Although it leaves me with a massive sense of foreboding, that they have been given this time only to have one of them die. I hope I’m wrong.
Okay, that scene where Bottle and Deadsmell go to tell Fiddler and Hedge that there is a foreign god there—I pretty much choked with laughter the whole way through. Just… the whole thing made me giggle helplessly. From the cute backside comment to the Widdershits thing. From Fiddler’s “You idiot. That’s the whole fucking point” to Deadsmell’s “I was working up to that, damn you!” Gods above and below, this was just about the perfect scene to showcase the Malazans. I would point to this scene to new readers, and say, “This makes all the confusion worthwhile.” Of course, those new readers would have to travel through ten books and confusion to get why this is so funny and perfect…
I’m curious as to why the Leper card in the House of Chains deck is sweating, and why Fiddler thinks: “Aw, Hedge. I’m so sorry for that.” Does this mean that Hedge is going to die? Or that he has now taken his place as the Leper?
This chapter is most certainly a point where some of the longest reveals are occurring. Crone and the Great Ravens were first seen in Gardens of the Moon, and here they perform the sacrifice of their bodies so that the Crippled God will have flesh again. Outstanding. Just curious as to the sweetest daughter that Crone refers to, but I’m sure that will be revealed soon.
The quiet scene between Fiddler and the Crippled God is a much-needed one, I think. It gives the sceptical reader a final thought and reasons behind why we should look on him with compassion. That, in his first chaining and hurt, he lashed against all he believed were hurting him. And it was only gradually that he realised the Malazans might be something different.
And here we have the Malazans defined:
“No matter, Malazan. If I am to lie here, bound for the rest of days, still—you will fight to defend me.”
I especially like Hedge’s words about the gods—particularly Shadowthrone and Cotillion. That, yes, they used the mortals, but that they made them better people, they demanded more from them. And, as a consequence, those mortals demanded better gods. We’re seeing that, from gods like Mael, and the Worm of Autumn—gods who have seen what the mortals are capable of achieving and so pledge what support they can.
Poor Mappo. Poor broken Mappo. Did Calm really need to break his spirit before she broke his body? This poor creature. To realise that his whole life and purpose was a sham? To know that he will never again be with Icarium? To know that his failure might mean the end of existence? That is not a peaceful way to die. And it therefore gives me the greatest glee to watch Calm taken down by Ublala in a pretty ignominious way.
And then the relief of a brief comedy moment, as we watch Widdershins say: “Worm says fuck you, Assail!” That is brilliant—and nice to know that the Worm of Autumn is playing a role. See? Gods doing better because mortals are acting better!
It’s definitely an ‘awwwww’ moment with Urb and Hellian.
And then the deaths begin. People we have spent time with, watched grow. Wounds taken in the defence of fellow soldiers. Hedge’s careful watch of Fiddler—that tears at the heart. And over all of it, the Crippled God’s realisation of what a gift these Malazans are giving him. The only gift that they have the power to bestow on him. I love that they are being witnessed, and by a god, no less.
That gentle scene between Lostara and Tavore had so many layers of meaning. And some I’m not clear on—like the talon that she wishes to wear to battle. Is that of the Talon? Is she showing her true colours here? What I am clear on is how much feeling Lostara has here for the woman she has chosen to follow.
I was powerfully affected by Tavore and Banaschar’s encounter, where he tells her how honoured he is and that he is kneeling beside her. How far he has come from that drunken sot. These words affected me: “She rode straight in her saddle, a figure in tattered chain, upon a starved, dying horse. The image seemed to sear itself in Banaschar’s mind.” And so the Consort rides to battle.
So, this speech of Tavore’s. Apart from breaking my heart, it is clever, clever work by our author. Supremely clever. All the way along we have been seeing the squads of the marines, of the heavies. We have found affection for them and grown with them. And their deaths pain us. And here, we are forced to realise that we have not witnessed the whole army. We have not seen the quiet heroics of members of the regulars. In fact, they have been faceless and nameless, and but a footnote in the history of these books. And here, Erikson quietly chides us and shows us that every soldier matters, whether named or not, witnessed or not. Every person matters. It is brilliantly done, as we see Tavore name the regulars and show that they have been on their own journey and fighting their own battles through the desert.
It is so incredibly moving and powerful, what she says, and then Blistig’s reaction just shows how little he has understood… well, anything.
While I chuckled a bit at the Forkrul Assail scene, mostly it just slowed things for me and I could have done without it.
On the other hand, any time I can spend with Kalam and Quick Ben I’m happy with. Especially here when we see the closeness of their relationship, Kalam having his momentary sob at considering telling Tavore he failed and being fine with it because it’s in front of Quick Ben. Quick Ben staying silent (and let’s remember, this is Quick Ben) “because true friends know when to keep silent, to give all the patience needed.
I love too that devil’s choice they face—the sword or the Adjunct, Paran or Tavore. Or how it, as it so often does at this close, come down to faith. In this case, Quick Ben’s faith that they have all along underestimated Tavore and his faith she will not die if they choose the sword.
And from one pair of friends to another. And then what a great scene (both plot-wise and visually)—Shadowthrone’s gift of the Hust sword coming clear—it holding the chains of Eloth, Ampelas, and Kalse. And now all that time Cotillion spent with them, we can at least some some of its purpose. And I don’t know about you all, but I get a lump at the “He is a god with honour.” I love this scene!
And from the second pair of friends to the, well, kind of third pair in Telorast and Curdle. From dragons to dragons. And now a storm of seven. And we all know seven is a good number in any story involving magic and gods and dragons.
From dragon to dragon (craftily smooth transitions here btw). Korabas, whom if you recall had such a moving scene earlier from her POV. And hearing her speak of failure and death now, knowing help is on the way is a great moment for the reader. And as she flies off, saved by the new-born storm, she leaves us with yet another uber-poignant moment—“I was free, even if only for a moment. I was free.” And I’ll just remind you here as well that we’ve had a nice parallel built up between Korabas and the Crippled God. Just saying.
And now from chains to chains, from Korabas to Fiddler’s mission, finally laid bare: to break the chains binding the Crippled God.
And amidst all this heaviness, how good is it to get Hedge’s lines here:
What is this, some bad fairy tale? Why not a demon king? Or a giant three-headed ogre with scorpion tails at the end of every finger and a big one on his cock for added measure? Breathing fire outa his arse too… What else should I know? We got to kiss that fucking heart awake once we get it? Put a hat on it? Dance in fucking circles round it?
Oh, thank you Hedge. As Fiddler says, and what a great line, “If you wasn’t here, I’d have to invent you.”
And thank you Reliko and unnamed woman soldier.
And Bottle and Deadsmell. And Bottle and Fiddler for:
“There a god here with us.”
“You idiot, that’s the whole fucking point.”
I’m still laughing as I’m typing. We needed this relief.
Those references to the Jade Strangers are coming fast and furious now
Speaking of coming fast and furious—the Ravens (and for some reason I want to be Bilbo shouting “The Eagles. The Eagles have come!”) have made their full circle journey here at the very end. Oh, how long, long ago that was that we were getting subtle hints about just what they were, and then figured it out, and now here we are, their sacrifice to embody the Crippled God, and then the heart put in place by, and who would have thought this all those books ago, by a K’Chain Che’Malle. Oh, how I love the turns this series has taken.
And drip by drip, we get educated a bit more. The ravens were formed at the will of the Crippled God. The Crippled God was a bad guy (though out of pain and anguish), thinking the Malazans mere tools of the cruel gods. Dassem rejected Hood at the chaining because it was “unjust”—a word we get a lot of in the book a word the Malazans do what they can to reduce. And Dassem paid for his “temerity”—a word akin to “audacity,” another word we’ve gotten a lot in this series associated with the Malazans. And boy, we are seeing a lot of audacity here at the end.
And what a great quiet moment between the Crippled God and Fiddler—god to man—trying to understand the willingness to sacrifice. That act predicated upon compassion and empathy, but as was just spoken of earlier in the chapter via Tavore—those emotions aren’t enough—action also need be taken.
But Fiddler is feeling more than that. He’s feeling that weight of command, that agony of love for his soldiers, his soldiers who will die because he’s asking them to. There’s a bit of an echo of Hal here, the commander wanting to listen to his army the night before the big battle.
And I like here Hedge’s arguments about the gods, about Shadowthrone and Dancer, about the Empire. The idea that those two “demand [ed] the best in us.” That vision of a god who was made by better people, and because they were better, the god was better: “Not vicious, not vengeful, not arrogant or spiteful. Not selfish, not greedy. Just clear-eyed, with no time for all our rubbish.”
More revelations. And more grief. Oh Mappo. This is, I think, one of the more painful deaths in this series. I think way back to our first meeting with him and subsequent time spent with him. And how it all began to change. And then that moment with the children and Olar Ethil. And now here, not just to die, but to die being told that his whole purpose (though not his existence I’d say) had been a manipulation and a lie, and to die so close to Icarium, and to die thinking he could not protect Icarium, and that Icarium will be woken and used as a weapon. I think Mappo is dying here in the middle of his worst nightmare.
But at least Ublala makes me feel a little better. Not a lot, but it’s something.
Oh, how I love Widdershin’s response to the all-mighty intonation of the Voice: “Worm says fuck you, Assail.” I may have that printed on a tee-shirt.
And I’m not going to say anything here, but I’ll just ask: How many first-time readers are thinking: If Erikson kills either Urb or Hellian now, he’s dead to me. Dead I say. Dead. (hmm, think I’ve said that before…)
And then the carnage begins: Saltlick. Badan Gruk. Lap Twirl. Skulldeath. Bavedict.
“Unwitnessed” Tavore had told them. But we see them fall, don’t we? And so does someone else:
A flitting light, a moment’s breath. I hear you surrendering it. This one gift that is the only gift ever given you—you yield it back into the firmament. And the world passes on barely taking notice. Will no one notice? I will heed your deaths. I will remember.
From witness and sacrifice to witness and sacrifice. Another quiet moment. This one with the Seven, who have been moved as the Crippled God has been moved, and so they will make a sacrifice and “out of defiance” stand with Tavore against the Forkrul Assail. Remember when these were the bad guys?
Oh man, and what is this that Tavore is pulling out of that box? A talon? A talon?! And then “I am a child of the Emperor—what more is there for you to understand?” And let the speculation begin in three, two…
And what a perfect closing line to that scene—“Now, the chain.” “Of course.” Absolutely perfect.
Tavore, you break my heart.
And Blistig, you’ve never understood, have you?
Or you, silly Forkrul Assail. Have you not read the rest of the book? Don’t you know what happens when one of you says something about “making quick work” of somebody? Silly, silly Forkrul Assail.
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.