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, and finally comments from Tor.com readers. In this article, we’ll continue our coverage of The Wurms of Blearmouth.
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.
Fangatooth is torturing his brother Warmet as Coingood watches, offers suggestions, and takes dictation as Fangatooth narrates his actions. Another prisoner hangs nearby. Fangatooth exits and Warmet begs Coingood to release him, but Coingood refuses, saying he needs the money, plus his brother would kill him. Warmet and the other prisoner continue their game of twenty questions.
Feloovil Generous, owner of the King’s Heel, introduces herself to Mancy. She likes the idea of a conflict between Fangatooth and Bauchelain/Broach, and says she and Mancy have lots of talking (and maybe more) to do.
Ackle muses on how dying can raise even “a mediocre man” into “greatness,” and he thinks of it as a “way to tell the world to just fuck off.” He wonders why it doesn’t hurt to swallow after his hanging and dying, then wonders if he wants to kill the others (out of the anger the dead have for the living). Broach’s possessiveness over corpses worries him a bit.
Red, the lizard cat, is troubled my strange memories of being bipedal and clothed. He vaguely recalls as well that once there were several of him, and he was more dangerous, a killer who tore out throats and feed so “every one of him [could] grow fat.” Watching Spilgit and Felittle, he thinks he wants to kill the Factor. Felittle and Spilgit are discussing plans for their lives in the city, with some disagreement on how many men Felittle will entertain in her room. The Factor is nervous her lizard cat is going to attack him again, and warns her it can’t come with them when they leave. The cat attacks and Spilgit punches it to the ground.
As Whuffine loots the bodies, a small boat lands with Gust, Heck, and Birds and, injured but healthy enough to keep Whuffine from trying to finish them off. They decide they can use gear back up with his wrecker’s haul, though he warns them robbing from him won’t be looked upon kindly by the villagers or Fangatooth. When he mentions their “companions” that already arrived, and starts to describe Bauchelain, they panic and head back out in the water despite the horrible condition of the boat, their lack of oars, their recent shipwreck, and their concern that the Chanter might still be after them. Whuffine goes back to the bodies.
Hordilo brings Bauchelain and Broach to the keep, and Broach, after stashing his corpses, breaks open the door lock and they enter. When Broach complains about Hordilo’s reactions, Bauchelain says Hordilo is just a “victim of panic” thanks to his fear of his employer (he is reminded of Mancy). Coingood arrives, and then Gorebelly the golem, which Broach quickly “kills” when it raises its weapon. Coingood decides perhaps he should go get Fangatooth and leaves Hordilo with the sorcerers, much to his dismay. When Fangatooth arrives, Bauchelain has Broach apologize for breaking two of his golems. Fangatooth seems to take it in stride and introduces himself with a lengthy title. Bauchelain compliments him on his keep, saying, “As a child I once haunted an edifice quite similar to this one. This has the feel of a homecoming.” Fangatooth tells Coingood to prepare them rooms and then invites Bauchelain and Broach to dinner, adding he’ll send for Mancy. They plan to retire to the sitting room, though Bauchelain asks for a tour of the kitchen later, as he has such fond memories of his childhood when he learned how to bake.
Feloovil tells a very drunk Mancy she’s excited about the idea of Bauchelain and Broach killing Fangatooth. She tells how she named her breasts Stout and Sidelopp, and how Witch Hurl magicked them to look like a statue she (Hurl) used as a magic source. When she reveals their “specialness”—they have mouths instead of nipples, ones with teeth and tongues—Mancy’s response isn’t exactly what she was looking for.
Spilgit and Felittle discuss how Feloovil has locked Mancy in her room, something she’s done to other men. When Spilgit asks if her mom is a murderer, Feloovil says she has seen her bury “a body or two” out back. They spar over Spilgit calling the village a backwater, over Felittle’s desire to have lots of men when they get to the city, and then Spilgit whacks the cat again (no, that’s not a euphemism)
Once again, the dark humor is so delicious—beginning with the idea of Coingood warming himself at the cozy fire being used to heat up the branding iron/torture implements.
Just as funny, with a biting tinge of truth at its core, is that slippery slope of poor familial relations: “argument fell away into deadly silence across the breakfast table, and before too long one of them ended up drugged and waking up in chains in a torture chamber.” Ahh, who hasn’t been there?
It’s just a wonderful stepping-stone of linked humor moments in this scene—from the cozy torture fire to the exaggerated brotherly dispute to the “few” times Coingood’s father chained him up to, following on what might have been a brief shining moment of empathy for Coingood, to his musing on how crazy it is to use a behederin branding iron on one’s own brother—not a branding iron mind you, just that particular one.
And it gets a little harder to feel sympathy for him when he tries to be helpful in coming up with new torture methods, since the thrill just isn’t there for Fangatooth when “it is scar tissue being scarred anew.”
The introduction of a mysterious stranger into the storyline is a classic writerly move. Just who is this other prisoner? Is it someone who will play a pivotal role? Is it someone we know?
I’m still enjoying Fangatooth playing his role to the hilt, the torture, the pronouncements—“Do I not command life and death over thousands” (slight exaggeration there), though he certainly doesn’t recognize a litany of clichés when he hears them:
“The world quakes at your feet. The sky weeps, the wind screams, the seas thrash, the very ground beneath us groans”
“…That’s good, Scribe. That’s very good. Write that down.”
And one can see why he felt the need for a scribe to help with his creative dysfunction:
“I can hurt you bad—no wait… Twist in pain. Yes in agony. Twisting agony. No! Not that one either.”
The writing process at work…
More of that oh-so-self-aware nature in the laundry list:
“Tell me you’ve washed and dried my other black robe?”
“Of course, milord. Along with your other black vest, and your other black shirt and other black leggings.”
I’m not sure which cracks me up more, the boom-boom-boom joke list of the Dark Lord’s costume parts or the idea, which makes perfect sense but which one never thinks of, that any Dark Lord, surrounded as they are by blood spray on a regular basis, will need a good laundry service (I suppose that’s why they wear black and not white or peach
Amidst all this humor though, we also get a somewhat chilling blast of seriousness. The question being raised by Warmet’s pleas for release and Coingood’s reasons for not doing so offer up a very serious question about “complicity.” Where does one fall on the scale of evil—is it only the one actually performing the evil acts? Or do those who don’t stop the evil act also fall under the “Evil” category? Is “I need to make a living” a true rationale for doing nothing? Is “I fear for my own safety?” This is one of the things I like so much about these novellas—the dark humor lies atop some serious questions of ethics, morality, culture, etc.
And while I’m not a fan of the answer, what a great close to the scene with the 20 Questions game.
Just a reminder—Mancy’s “Beats dying laughing” is a reference to an earlier scene from Blood Follows: from our recap — “Bauchelain admits to being a sorcerer, then divines Emancipor’s death, telling him it isn’t for some time and that he dies laughing.”
So while this focus on breasts is a bit much, at least there is a long game playing out here, and I do like the payoff, so I’m not going to call this gratuitous.
I like this indication that Feloovil is not some dimwit, but a devious minded person.
Ackle’s interior monologue has for me a pretty close feel to the Malazan novels in its tone and content. Its focus on dead/near-dead/not-dead. The focus on history. On heroism. The connection between heroism and death (the younger the better). The anger of the dead. It’s also funny (his “anger issues”). And I like how it sets up the reader for a bit of suspense—might Broach take an interest in Ackle?
This scene with Red the lizard cat is one where some knowledge of the Malazan universe is definitely more helpful than usual. It’s hard, if one has read the novels, not to read the segment on Red recalling how “once, long ago, there were more of him” without pretty quickly, if not immediately, thinking “D’ivers” But coming new to these novellas it would just be “Huh, that’s weird.”
I do enjoy this running battle between Red and Spilgit throughout the novella
While the focus on Feloovil’s breasts have a point to them, I’m missing the need to focus on Birds’
I’m pretty sure nobody is thinking Heck is right that there’s no chance the Chanters won’t show up.
And while not all the slapstick works for me, this scene does, with the nonchalance about Wreckers and sorcerers like “Kabber the Slaughterer” etc. being followed by the utmost panic at the mention of Bauchelain and Broach, and the mad scramble to put their boat (which reminder, looks like this: “a battered boat grounding prow-first . . its oar locks empty and the gunnels mostly chewed away) back into the pounding surf.
And tell me you now don’t want to know more about Bauchelain’s past when looking at an old massive fortress wall strung with corpses makes him think of his childhood home.
I’ve always thought the same thing in every fantasy/action movie with a villain as Bauchelain on that relationship between master and minion: “Terror, after all, stultifies the higher processes of the intellect. Independent judgment suffers.” Half the time I’m wondering why the minions, especially the smart ones, are even staying with the crazy ubervillain who periodically shoots them in a fit of pique.
Bauchelain’s words to Broach about Hordilo—“Of course you can kill him, but then, who would make introductions,” reminds me of his oh-so-moral rationale for not letting Broach kill the sailors, “Who would sail the boat?”
One of my favorite lines in this one: “Ah, we are ever eager for assurances, it’s true. Only to invariably discover that the world cares nothing for such things.”
Seriously, if you’re not cracking up at “Last surviving member of the League of Eternal Allies,” read it again. And if you’re still not laughing, I can only shake my head sorrowfully.
Bauchelain’s past rises again in his mention of how he waxes nostalgic over every cold draft in this fortress. And that’s an interesting choice of words: “I once haunted an edifice quite similar to this one.”
Another master of understatement: “Such titles as we may have accrued in our travels are both crass and often the product of misunderstanding.” One could probably come up with a list of name, err, “titles” folks have lobbed at these two. And I always find Bauchelain’s continual sense of being put upon, of being “misunderstood” warmly funny.
Bauchelain the Baker. The mind reels.
OK, when witches are named and all we know about them is they once ruled here and they just “disappeared,” a little red flag should go up in a reader’s head. Just saying.
I’m pretty sure I’m in agreement with Feloovil when she says she thinks it a “good thing” that the mouths on her breasts, Stout and Sidelopp, can’t talk. Of course, being a witch’s gift, and being connected to a goddess (or at least a goddess’ statue), readers probably can’t help but wonder if that will hold true throughout the rest of the novella.
Poor Mancy, a waste of good (OK, probably not that good), rum. It’s a quirky, crazy town, this Blearmouth…
Bill Capossere writes short stories, essays and plays; does reviews for the LA Review of Books and Fantasy Literature, as well as for Tor.com; and works as an adjunct English instructor. In his non-writing and reading time, he plays ultimate Frisbee (though less often and more slowly than he used to) and disc golf.