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 end of chapter twenty-four, plus epilogues I and II 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.
The Crippled God’s chains shatter. He hears his “worshippers. My children,” calling him from above. Looking up, he sees hundreds of dragons forming “a more solid mass,” as T’iam manifests to kill Korabas. Fiddler comes to him but the Crippled God cannot hear him at first. He still hears his children, but thinks:
They are trapped in the heavens. If I call them down, all will be destroyed here. There were others once—they fell as I did, and so much was damaged, so much was lost. I see them still, trapped in jade, shaped to make a message to these mortal creatures—but that message was never understood, and the voices stayed trapped within.
Fiddler finally breaks through and tells him he has to chain Korabas, that “she will accept your chains.” The Crippled God wonders how he could do such a thing to another, having “known an eternity in chains,” saying her death would be a “release.” But Fiddler tells him again Korabas will accept it. The Crippled God agrees and releases his mind to find someone waiting for him.
Mael and K’rul take him by the hands and lead him to Heboric’s soul, temporarily in the body it had abandoned a ways back. Heboric asks, “Who is this nailed so cruelly to this tree… Is it him? He tried to save me. It cannot have come to this.” Mael tells Heboric he is trapped in a dream, but Heboric answers that, “All I have touched I have destroyed. Friends. Gods. Even the child… I lost them all.” K’rul tells him he must free his hands: “They have touched and taken the Jade and now within you reside a million lost souls—souls belonging to this foreign god.” Heboric moans he killed his own god, but Mael tells him, “Even gods of war will tire of war . . He [Fener] has absolved you of all blame. His blood has brought life to dead lands. He deems it a worthy sacrifice.” K’rul warns him that sacrifice will be for naught unless he wakes from his dream, and adds that he [K’rul] has “awakened all the warrens, and all now lead to one place. A cavern far beneath a barrow, made by the jaws of D’rek.” The Crippled God is stunned to see the two Elder gods weeping, even as Heboric pulls his hands free and asks if he will be alone in that cavern. They tell him “never again,” and that they go now to the one on the tree. In the cavern, K’rul tells the Crippled God it is time he returns home. When the CG says his human flesh cannot go to is children, nor can he call them down, K’rul says a way has been found, one that begins with Heboric but ends with another. They wait as Heboric reaches high with his otataral hand.
The hand closes over Korabas and pulls her down while the manifestation of T’iam begins to pull apart and it starts “fucking raining dragons.”
Quick Ben thinks he did it, then that he had some help, but then he did it. Kalam knows exactly what Quick Ben, “the scrawny bastard,” is thinking. Apsal’ara plops down next to him and introduce herself. He flirts in his inimitable way, much to Quick Ben’s amusement.
Heboric tells the CG he has to leave before Korabas arrives and so takes his hand (the two other gods have already left).
Koryk stares at the Crippled God, feeling a “need inside him, unbearable, savage… It wanted to annihilate the world, the one he lived in, the one that had nothing but the thinnest skin between what hid inside and what lay outside. There was no answer. None but the obvious one—the one he dared not look at… He would see all the scars, the ones he bore, the others he had made on those closest to him.” He and the CG match gazes, and Koryk feels a “promise,” and then senses his own soul reaching out to touch the Crippled God, who “smiled at him, with such love, such knowing.” But then Cotillion appears behind the Crippled God and stabs him in the back: “Shock took that otherworldly face—as if the smile had never been—and the head rocked back…Green fire ignited, shot spiraling into the sky.” Fiddler, who had knocked Koryk down, tells him, “It was the only way Koryk. It’s for the best.” Koryk pushes him away and sobs, “like a child who lived in a world of broken promises.”
Hedge, Fiddler, Quick Ben, and Kalam gather. Fiddler asks Quick if what he saw was real, and Quick Ben points to Cotillion standing a ways away, alone, and asks Fiddler if he wants to check. Fiddler decides no, and Quick tells him he was right in what he’d said to Koryk. Hedge says they have to send the soldiers off the barrow because “what’s coming—it’s just for us.” Fiddler looks at his people, naming them all in his mind, then he asks where Nefarias Bredd is. Tarr tells him they soldiers just made him up. Fiddler sends them away, and then Whiskeyjack, Trotts, and Mallet appear. Whiskeyjack tells Hedge he’s done well and asks if he’s ready for them yet. Hedge says it depends on Fiddler, who tells him he’d rather Hedge sticks around until it’s Fiddler’s time. Hedge tells Whiskeyjack not yet, adding he’s thinking of buying Kellanved’s old bar (Smiley’s) back in Malaz city. Whiskeyjack says when the sun rises, he and the dead will have left this world for good. He gives Fiddler a fiddle which all of them helped make. Whiskeyjack adds that Fiddler was, “the best of us all. You still are.” Whiskeyjack stares off to the west and Hedge tells a confused Fiddler he’s looking where Korlat is, the woman he loves, and one for whom Whiskeyjack will have to wait a very long time. Fiddler tells Mallet and Trotts to take care of Whiskeyjack, and then the three ghosts depart.
Shadowthrone tells Cotillion he did well, to which Cotillion says “I don’t like failure.” Shadowthrone points out they’re not quite done then, and when Cotillion replies, “You knew then,” Shadowthrone answers, “Of course [and]… I approve.” Surprised, Cotillion accuses him of having a heart, but Shadowthrone scoffs, saying he just likes symmetry. Shadowthrone wonders which of the gods (those left) hate the two of them the most, and Cotillion responds, “The ones still alive.” Shadowthrone says they’re not done with the gods either. Looking at the four atop the barrow, they comment on how impressive the Malazans were and how they’d won an empire with them. But when Cotillion says he sometimes wonders if they should have stayed, Shadowthrone calls him an idealist, saying they needed to walk away. They leave.
Toc is a Bridgeburner.
Gu’Rull flies above the plain, still “tast [ing] the echoes of [Korabas’] pain. What is it in a life that can prove so defiant, so resilient in the face of such willful rage? Korabas, do you crouch now in your cave… . closing about your wounds, your sorrow, as if in the folding of wings you could make the world beyond vanish? And with it all the hate and venom… Are you alone once more… If I could… I would join you now. To bring to an end your loneliness.” He thinks he does not understand these humans , but they have much to teach the K’Chain Che’Malle, and he is humbled by it all.
After burying Mappo, Icarium notes that Mappo had died defending him, even though Icarium doesn’t know who he was. Icarium tells Ublala “I feel close this time,” which means nothing to Ublala. As they leave with Ralata, Icarium pauses, looking at the pottery fragment Ublala is carrying. He tells Ublala he has remembered something.
Nimander, Korlat, Ruin (still grieving over the loss of Tulas Shorn in the battle of dragons), Skintick, and Desra are with Fiddler and his soldiers at Stormy and Gesler’s barrow. Nimander, knowing Korlat’s interest, asks if she could represent the Andii at the ceremony. She goes happily, and Nimander tells Ruin she had fallen in love with a Malazan who had died. Ruin says the human must have been “formidable,” adding his own experience with Malazans has left him holding them in deep respect and feeling that he “would not willingly cross them again.” A statement that stuns Nimander.
Seeing the Malazans up close, Korlat feels her grief wash over her again. She recalls how distant they’d been back at the hilltop, and she wonders if they blame her for Whiskeyjack’s death. She has with her a stone from her collection—an Andii custom, “a stone to mark each gift of the owner’s heart.” She has one each for Rake, Orfantal, Spinnock Durav, and Whiskeyjack. Whiskeyjack makes her think:
These stones were not to be surrendered. To give one up was to set down a love, to walk away from it evermore. But it had been foolish, finding a stone for a man whose love she had known for so brief a time. He had never felt the way she had—he could not have—she had tone too far, had given up too much. They’d not possessed the time to forge something eternal. Then he had died, and it was as if he had been the one doing the walking away, leaving his own stone behind—the dull, lifeless thing that was her heart.
She thought she’d felt his presence on the hilltop, but thinks even if he’d been there, it was for his soldiers, not her. Kalyth arrives, and Korlat tells her she’s too nervous/afraid to go in. Kalyth takes her in, telling her of Stormy and Gesler, their wild stories (which she now knows to be true), the way they “did all that needed to be done. Each and every time.” Kalyth almost collapses in grief, but Korlat holds her up. At the barrow entrance, Kalyth says she will take Korlat’s gift in, but when Korlat holds up the stone it provokes a strong reaction from Whiskeyjack’s squad, even to the point of half drawing their swords. Tavore stops them and demands to know what they are doing. Fiddler asks if Korlat means to give that stone up, then asks if is Whiskeyjacks’s. She tells them “They were marines… I thought, a measure of respect.” Fiddler tells her, “If you give that up, you will destroy him.” She replies she thought that Whiskeyjack had left her, but Fiddler says no, and Hedge adds, “He only found love once, Korlat… If you give up that stone, we’ll cut you to pieces and leave your bones scattered across half this world.” Korlat asks how Fiddler knows this about him, and he tells her how Whiskeyjack couldn’t take his eyes off her back on the plain, how if she thought that because he’d died he’d forgotten her, she was wrong, that Whiskeyjack is waiting for her, and will do so for ever if need be. Korlat thinks she should leave now, since she has no gift for the fallen, but Tavore points out the chest of “gifts” is actually empty: “They were marines. Everything of value they’ve already left behind… in fact, Stormy and Gesler would be the first one to loot their own grave goods.
Nearby, the Jaghut face the barrow holding the dead Imass and offer a moment of silent respect “riotous with irony.” Roach urinates on Hood’s leg, much to the others’ enjoyment. Hood thinks, “This is why Jaghut chose to live alone.” Bill thinks, “This is why I love Jaghut scenes.”
Hearing the laughter, Brys thinks it a bit inappropriate, but Aranict tells him the Jaghut have an “odd humour” and are not meaning to be disrespectful. Brys asks if Bent was a problem, but Tavore tells him the dog joined itself to Kalyth once Stormy and Gesler’s barrow was sealed. Aranict informs Brys that Tehol is on the Letherii fleet only a few days away. Brys tries to apologize to Tavore for doubting her at times, but she waves it off, saying she had her own, and that “A sword’s tip is nothing without the length of solid steel backing it.” When he points out her declaration that they would be “unwitnessed” proved to not be true, she reminds him that “We shall be forgotten. All of this, it will fade into the darkness, as all things will. I do not regret that.” Brys, though, tells her a statue of her will be raised in Letheras. She asks if she will be beautiful, then takes her leave, not hearing Brys say, “Of course you will.”
Deadsmell and Throatslitter discuss Gesler dying for a dog and how he wouldn’t have wanted to stick around without Stormy anyway. Bottle thinks of their losses, and of Corabb, whom Limp has seen with “his face all lit with the glory of his last stand.” Sinter says rumor is Tavore is retiring them and Banaschar is paying them each a fortune. They join the regulars amidst a lot of heckling.
Fiddler sends Korlat to meet with Whiskeyjack on a nearby hill. He plays his new fiddle—“My Love Waits” by Fisher—as she runs.
Onos, Hetan, Udinaas, the twins, Absi, Ryadd are in a new home, happy.
Crokus rides down the road toward Apsalar. After he passes, Cotillion and Shadowthrone manifest, with Shadowthrone asking Cotillion if he’s satisfied. Cotillion says yes, and when asked says yes again, he imagines only the best and yes, he still believes in both hope and faith. Shadowthrone toys with the idea of sending the Hounds out to “remind that fop on the throne who’s really running this game,” but Cotillion says not yet, let them alone. They leave.
Crokus and Apsalar are happy.
A boy, who dreams of far off places and heroes and villains and who can’t wait to leave Malaz City, talks to the old man who fishes every day from the pier. The boy tells the old man, Fiddler, he sleeps in too late to catch anything, and Fiddler tells him he’s up late playing fiddle at Smiley’s. The boy replies Smiley’s is just a story, and a “haunting. People hearing things—voices in the air, tankards clunking, Laughing… fiddling. Music. Sad, awful sad.” Fiddler objects is isn’t all sad, “though maybe that’s what leaks out.” The boy complains Fiddler is like all the rest, “Making up stories and stuff. Lying . . wasting their lives. Just like you. You won’t catch any fish ever.” But Fiddler asks who said he was here for the fish, maybe he’s here for the Emperor’s demon down deep in the water. The boy says he’s going to be a soldier when he grows up and leave this place forever “and getting rich and fighting and saving people and all that.” Fiddler is about to reply, then changes his mind, telling him, “the world always needs more soldiers.”
The old weathervane atop Mock Hold spins, then jams, “like a thing in chains.”
I want to just take a moment as I open the last book of the Malazan Book of the Fallen. I want to remember the time four years ago now when I opened the first—with absolutely no knowledge or realisation of what my life would become or how far these books would accompany me on my journey.
And I know that this kind of thing should probably wait until next week… but I want to pay tribute to Bill. This is a guy whose sense of humour, whose compassion and whose patience has helped me along during the four years. Whose email messages make me smile. And who, with everything else going on in his life (and, man, that guy is busy!) has written up the bulk of these summaries that help us all along. Couldn’t have done a single part of this without you, Bill!
Right, let’s get going…
I think the last of our big screen moments happens almost immediately. I think I would give anything to see T’iam manifesting in a film, formed from the helpless bodies of hundreds of dragons. That is a real moment of menace and power.
I love how far the Crippled God has come. Thanks to the sacrifices he has witnessed from the Bonehunters, he is now unwilling to end this world in fire by joining with his own worshippers. Even just a few books ago, I don’t think he would have had that element of humanity to him; he wouldn’t have cared about this world, but only about his freedom. The actions of the marines protecting him has opened his eyes to what would be lost if this world ended, I think.
It is a horrible decision he must make, though—about whether to chain Korabas, after what he has experienced himself.
Once again I am left breathless at how deep these books go in the layers of storytelling. I remember back when I was confused about Heboric’s trippy visitation to the sky and how he fell amongst jade statues, and how his hands were of jade. And you re-readers all wisely said, ‘Ah, RAFO, all will become clear.’ I didn’t realise it would take another seven or so books to get to that point where all became clear, but here is happens as we see the Crippled God led to where Heboric and his jade hands are.
Heboric is such a tragic figure, he makes my heart ache. He has taken on the burdens of so much guilt and pain.
“Will I be alone there? In that cavern?”
“No,” replied Mael of the Seas. “Never again.”
Another epic moment as the ghostly Otataral hand of Heboric closes on Korabas and pulls her to the ground—suitably broken by first Fiddler: “It’s fucking raining dragons” and then Quick Ben. His arrogance knows no bounds, does it?
So I think Kalam’s thoughts then echo ours:
“Kalam saw the infernal pride burgeoning in the wizard’s face and knew precisely what the scrawny bastard was thinking. The assassin wanted to hit the man. At least ten times.”
Wow. There was some light foreshadowing, but, damn, I was not expecting to see the Crippled God stabbed in the back like that. Gosh, stabbing in the back makes it so not like sacrifice, but something deeply cold-blooded and premeditated. I know the Crippled God had to go, and quickly, but releasing him from his body like this seemed a very dark way of doing it. I wonder if there was some residual bad feeling towards what he had done on this world in that action?
It gives me sheer delight that Fiddler, in naming all his soldiers, cannot find Nefarias Bredd.
What a perfect last moment with the Bridgeburners all together. I love that Hedge and Fiddler rather awkwardly decide to stay together a few more years. And then the gifting of the fiddle: “Fiddler, you were the best of us all. You still are.”
Here Erikson took eight short paragraphs to convey a world of heartbreak and, somehow, hope, as Hedge talks to Fiddler about Korlat, and Fiddler realises how long Whiskeyjack has to wait to see his love again. That is a level of storytelling that other authors fail, time and time again, to achieve.
Ah, great. We couldn’t have left this book without one last incomprehensible conversation between Cotillion and Shadowthrone: ‘we’re not quite finished’, ‘I don’t like failure’. I’m not quite sure what they’re saying, but their moments together have always been golden.
I don’t know whether we should be reading menace or hope into Icarium thinking that he has remembered something? I mean, him remembering himself in the past has led to utter destruction, so menace. But the fact that he is turning to face Mappo’s grave sort of suggests here that he is remembering his companion. I do hope it’s the latter.
There is something very poignant in the fact that the barrows of the dead hold Imass, Jaghut, K’Chain Che’Malle and Forkrul Assail. Finally linked together by death.
This time between Korlat and Kalyth is beautifully done, especially Kalyth’s tribute to the two irascible and argumentative Malazans who had forced her to realise respect for them. And I love Korlat’s little interlude here—especially how she thinks her gift of the stone is heartfelt, and the Malazans show her that they think she is letting go of their commander, that it will destroy Whiskeyjack if she gives up the stone. “Korlat, he’s waiting for you. And if he has to, he’ll wait for ever.”
Thank God for the Jaghut, is all I say. And for that bloody ‘ratty dog’!
And another perfect moment:
“Beloved,” she now said, “your brother is with that fleet.”
“Tehol hates the sea—are you certain of that?”
But Felash was coughing, her eyes wide on the prince. “Excuse me, King Tehol hates the sea? But—rather, I mean, forgive me. Bugg—his—Oh, never mind.”
I think this is Erikson’s message to his readers: “There’s a point when there’s nothing left to say. When every word does nothing more than stir the ashes.”
I love how Fiddler requests the stump that Silchas Ruin is sat on, and this powerful dragon lord just rises and gestures for him to sit. All the respect that Silchas feels for the Malazans is evoked in that one moment.
And then the second epilogue, where everything comes full circle—Shadowthrone and Cotillion talking and this time not unleashing the Hounds, Apsalar and Crokus coming together, and that boy who wants to be a soldier. Another Ganoes Paran in the making? I love that Fiddler said that the world can always do with another soldier—even with everything he’s been through, he knows that it was the right choice. And, lastly, that weathervane in chains. Pitch perfect.
“We were never what people could be.
We were only what we were.
What an agonizing decision for the Crippled God, he who had been bound in chains for so long and in such agony, to bind another, acceptance or not acceptance. A cruel moment upon his freedom.
And as he looks at Fiddler, a succinctly key line to the series: “There is no such thing as foreign love.” Talk about encapsulation.
We’ve talked obviously multiple times about compassion and empathy as themes throughout. But what has been a third leg on that thematic stool all the way through, and coming more explicitly clear at the end here (if that’s possible, I mean, Coltaine, for one example only, was pretty explicity) is the necessity of sacrifice as well. If we don’t get it from the actions (almost too many to name, but Mael, for instance, points specifically to Fener as one example), we get it from the iconic “figure on a tree” referenced by Heboric.
It’s a nice bit of foreshadowing of Cotillion’s act with the discussion of how the Crippled God’s flesh and blood is a barrier to his returning to his world/followers, and K’rul saying there will be a way that involves someone besides Heboric.
As for Cotillion’s act, I’m curious if there are differing views on it. I read it as Cotillion freeing the CG from his fleshly body so he can return. So this being a good thing both for this world and for the CG. That said, it still has to feel for Cotillion like, well, what it is, a “stab in the back” and having seen this god’s sensitivity, I imagine that took a lot from him. But that’s my take—others? I do like that even at this moment, which I take as a “good” moment, we get it in a tragic fashion thanks to the POV being from poor Koryk, who was just reaching out for some god love and faith and hope when Cotillion takes it all away. So even at a moment that in my mind is triumphant, we have a character wracked by grief and hollowness (if I read Koryk right there). Typical.
Love there’s no Nefarias Bred in this group.
Thank you for keeping Hedge around for a while with Fiddler—that would have been a painful, painful farewell.
Fiddler’s fiddle. Lovely moment. And Mallet and Trotts—so good to see them again.
Toc a Bridgeburner. About time that guy got something.
A humbled Shi’gal assassin. Who could have foreseen that?
And Icarium has a new companion. But, is something slightly different now, has he truly remembered something?
I love the entire Korlat storyline at the end here. Her wishing to show respect to Stormy and Gesler, her pain at the coolness of the Malazans earlier, her fear at getting closer and then being “rescued” by Kalyth, then the steely (literally) resolve of Whiskeyjack’s soldiers when they think she is “dumping” him, their realization that she had thought WJ had forgotten her on the other side, her learning he will wait for her forever, that oh-so-typical Bridgeburner “the hell with orders” set-up on the hill, Fiddler playing, and that image of her running. Love all of this.
Jaghut. Think of the journey we have made with Jaghut from the beginning of this series. God, how I love all their scenes. And Roach urinating on Hood. Priceless. Absolutely priceless.
Tavore tugging one last time at the heart—“will I be beautiful.” Oh, Tavore.
Then a pair of happy ever after endings—the Imass and Apsalar and Crokus (not Cutter). And a full circle with the two gods and their hounds on the road to Itko Kan and almost an exact replay, but no, things are different—the hounds are not released, and Apsalar is. And Cotillion can rest easier, assuage his guilt somewhat. And how much of a miracle is that—this god who still can feel like that?
Then talk about full circle. Fiddler. A boy talking of being a soldier. But again, a slight change—no attempt to talk him out of it (though I think that was his first thought). And yes, the world will always need soldiers, will always need someone willing to sacrifice.
And the circle continues with the weathervane. And what closing line, “like a thing in chains.” Speculation on that?
Looking forward to the series discussion next week!
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.