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.
Feloovil hears Spilgit’s voice in her daughter’s room and as she’s getting ready to go deal with him, there’s a loud thump and the lizard cat’s head comes through the wall. Mancy flees, with Spilgit just behind him, running from Feloovil.
Whuffine digs up an idol he’d buried years ago to age it so he can sell something “ancient” (he last sold one to Witch Hurl). Heck, Birds, and Gust land their boat again and rush past him. Another boat comes in fast behind them.
Spilgit manages to get away from Feloovil with only a stabbed leg. He recalls his early tax collector days in Elin (a city of pirates)—the blood and violence and his own “softness” and idealism, how “he had actually believed that the taxes he collected went to answering worthy needs.” But he will return, he admits, a changed man, one “capable of murder,” and of evil, and who shrugs at the rampant corruption. Ackle arrives and tells him he’s arranged it so Feloovil has forgiven him (“The dead are beyond shame”). He tells him too that the cat attacked Felittle and a number of other people. They argue over taxes, then discuss the possibility of Bauchelain and Broach killing Fangatooth.
Wormlick, Sordid, and Bisk Fatter, former compatriots of Heck’s group, also involved in stealing from the Chanters, land and Whuffine tells them Heck and the others had gone toward the village.
Whuffine pulls their boat in farther, sensing the big storm is coming back in, but missing the other boat nearing the shore.
Bauchelain and Fangatooth discuss governance and the symbolism of corpses. Mancy, still upset over his experience with Feloovil thanks Fangatooth for the wine, food, and fire. Just as Mancy thinks the world is governed by the mad, Bauchelain reveals that he knows their host has poisoned their food, but luckily he and Broach (and Mancy thanks to some stealthily-added supplements to his rustleaf) are immune. Fangatooth blames the cook and apologizes, but Bauchelain tells him it’s all forgotten and says he’s still looking forward to doing some baking in Fangatooth’s kitchen. Broach heads off to check his bodies, Bauchelain and Fangatooth go to the kitchen, and Mancy and Coingood share some wine and commiserate as “minions.”
Spilgit notices Heck’s group coming up from the beach and go into the King’s Heel. Ackle tries to convince Spilgit to get a wagon and leave in the morning, bringing Felittle if he wants, saying they can pay with what’s in his buried chest. Spilgit agrees to go get some shovels from the gravedigger.
Heck and the others learn for Hordilo that Bauchelain’s trio is up at the keep. He tells them how to get there, but orders Birds to stay for questioning. Heck and Gust leave and when Birds sits down and looks at him knowingly, Hordilo tells her he doesn’t like what she’s thinking. After a bit of back and forth they start upstairs.
Feloovil, seeing the two head up, can’t believe how often that happens with Hordilo. She checks to make sure Felittle is still in the cellar, then wonders why Ackle isn’t back yet with Spilgit. Bisk’s group enters and demands to know where the others are. Feloovil tells them up at the keep, and says they should just put up their weapons and stay for some food and girls (save Bisk, who has Wormlick). Bick heads up.
Whuffine has caught the lizard cat in a cage and tells him the old cave “ain’t yours no more… It’s mine… Not even consecrated any more, since I made a point of breaking the idols and scattering the offerings… Now here you are… the ninth. The last of you… Your witching nights are done with.” Just before he tosses the cage over the cliff, he tells the cat/Witch Hurl her brothers and sisters have gone before her, and with her being more cat than person at this point, perhaps this is a mercy. He kicks the cage over but she escapes just before it sinks. Looking up, he sees a large ship crashing onto the shore, and he heads down to greet them.
Nearing the keep, Heck tells Gust he’s having second thoughts, but Gust demands they go on because the necromancers owe him healing. Their conversation is interrupted by the arrival of Bisk, Wormlick, and Sordid. Heck tells them they have nothing to give them a cut of, that Sater’s dead, and explains what they’re doing here at the keep. Sordid can’t believe they “chased these idiots across the damned ocean,” then stops upon seeing the arrival of the Chanters.
Ahh, the old fake-artifact aging trick. Hard to believe an archaeologist turned author would come up with that plot point. Obviously, these scams happen (if you don’t think they do, I’ve got some ancient artifacts to sell you), but might we also be getting a little cautionary tale warning us to beware of pronouncements about ancient cultures made with utter certainty?
Reading about Spilgit’s experiences on the Day of Blood and Taxes and the 60% mortality rate among tax collectors probably makes the whole stashing-taxes-offshore seem not so bad to the IRS
It’s hard not to like Spilgit here. First a bit of sympathy is set up when the life (and death) of a tax collector is described. Then we’re told (by him, true) that he lacks cruelty and has a “soft ear for sob stories,” that he weeps for the poor and lame. Then that he was actually an idealist when it comes to taxes, believing that they were indeed going to worthy things—governing people, providing for them, maintaining law and order. Unfortunately, it seems we’re feeling sympathy for the “old Spilgit.” The new one risks quickly losing us when he thinks of selling “that idiotic lovely cow” without a “single qualm.” And yet we can’t help but mourn that older self when he details all his changes. The question, though, is does he truly know himself? Is he really changed, or trying to talk himself into change?
Speaking of no qualms, enter Ackle trying to lure Spilgit back to face Feloovil’s wrath.
Here is another veer into the darkly serious among all the humor:
‘We sell you that shit so we can get away with whatever we damn well please. ‘Oh, I’ll get mine in the end!’ Utter cat-turd, Ackle. Who do you think invented religion? Tax collectors!’
‘I thought religion was invented by the arbitrary hierarchy obsessed with control and power to justify their elite eminence over their enslaved subjects.’
‘Same people, Ackle.’
Sure, laugh it up people as you tell yourself this is just a fantasy. That’ll cover the tears as you look around the world
And then we get Wormlick and friends. Ahh, the property/moral values keep going up in Blearmouth, don’t they? Something a little funny too about a guy with parasites arriving on a Wrecker’s coast, wouldn’t you say?
Tome of Tyranny. Giggle.
Once again, we see Fangatooth’s lack of critical acuity, as he falls prey to the pitfall of the amateur author—too much alliteration: Tome of Tyranny. Vellum of Virtues. Preserving for Posterity.
Still in that writerly vein, we have Mancy thinking (in regard to Coingood): “A life trapped in letters seemed a frightful thing.”
I love this revelation of Fangatooth’s treachery in poisoning the food. The easy nonchalance with which Bauchelain refers to it, his own revelation that he’s been lacing Mancy’s rustleaf “with various poisons for some months,” (remember we had the conversation in the earlier novella about him confiscating Mancy’s supply and doling it out). “Paralt” should also sound familiar from the novels.
Hordilo’s response to Gust’s attempts to talk to him: “You elected this one your spokesman?” cracks me up every time.
I confess though, that the segment with Birds and Hordilo lags a bit for me, even if I do like the bit about the leg, which I’d say shows a characteristic gulf between men and women:
“What were you thinking, showing me that leg of yours?”
“I wasn’t showing it to you. I was just letting it lie there, resting. It does that when I sit.”
And now the plot thickens. So Whuffine knows Red the Lizard cat is a d’ivers, knows the number—9—(because a cat of course and is Witch Hurl. And turns out he’s killed her other 8 lives. Besides the revelations about Hurl and Red, this also gives us a clue that Whuffine is more than he seems. As does his memory of the temple that once stood there, “a century back, maybe more.” Interesting too he calls her “darling,” before he, well, “hurls” Hurl.
You know you’re in an Erikson work when someone stops and thinks about the absurdity/meaninglessness of human life in an indifferent universe.
Another wonderful round of banter from dumb and dumber, or as Sordid puts it, “It really is a contest in stupidity here.”
And now we have the Chanters’ arrival (which you had to know was coming by all the references to how they could never have survived). Perhaps at this point—right about two-thirds done–all our players are now on the board? We’ll have to wait and see…
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.