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.
After having the cook killed, Fangatooth tells Coingood to switch all his transcription around so he, not Bauchelain, said the clever things. They leave Bauchelain to his baking so Fangatooth can try to come up with a way to kill him, with Coingood’s help.
Bauchelain complains about Fangatooth’s lack of nuance and intellect to Mancy. They discuss women, Mancy muses on the idea of Broach as a child, baking occurs.
Getting two shovels is harder than expected, but Spilgit eventually gets them from the Gravedigger’s place.
Red/Hurl is in a cave with bones of other lizard cats. Sensing power and pressure she sembles into Witch Hurl form and with her full mind. She eats a corpse (one that talks to her) on the beach.
Tiny Chanter tells his siblings the plan is to kill everyone, beginning with Whuffine in his shack.
Looking at the Chanters heading his way, Whuffine thinks they might have some Tarthenal blood back in their bloodline, and he gets “all nostalgic.” Gil and Stint hold back to kill him, and he tries to convince them to just say they did. When they refuse, his walking stick transforms into a flaming sword and he kills them. He heads back into his shack filled with junk and a half-dozen Seguleh masks and thinks it’s so much better than a drafty temple where faith allegedly sat, though he’d never seen it, believing, “Faith was a claw hammer to pry loose the boards beneath the commonry’s feet, an executioner’s axe to lop off the heads of unbelievers, a flaring torch to set light to the kindling crowding a thrashing fool bound to a stake.” He thinks, “If it wasn’t too much work, he would have ended this world long ago, and without much regret.” He decides he’ll just settle for “what washes up every morning. The bodies and dead dreams, the brave and the insipid… the wise ones—but oh how rare…”
Hurl takes the freshly cooked meat outside Whuffine’s shack, feeding as she plans “a night of vengeful mayhem that, by dawn, would see not a single villager left alive.” Especially Feloovil, whom she believes betrayed her. The storm roars in.
On their way to dig, Spilgit and Ackle are attacked by Hurl. Spilgit whacks her with the shovel and she flies into the brush and out of sight. They leave, thinking she’s dead.
Hordilo and Birds engage in post-coital conversation, whereby he tells her he’s not going to marry her. She leaves and then, learning about Sordid’s group from Felittle, tells Hordilo he was right—she does want to marry him and get taken far away to some isolated shack.
The Chanters enter the King’s Heel and eventually get served despite Tiny not being the best customer.
Spilgit and Ackle dig up his chest and Ackle admits it came from a tax collector he beat. Spilgit strangles Ackle. Looking at the coins he realizes the tax collector must have been stealing the city’s collections. Ackle whacks him in the head with the shovel, puts the chest back in the hole and covers it up, then tosses Spilgit’s body in the sea.
Witch Hurl crawls out of the bushes and sembles into nine lizard cats and heads for the King’s Heel, but can’t get by the door.
Feloovil and Tiny spar some more and Tiny plans to go kill everyone in the keep with his brothers. Puny opens the door.
Heck’s group and Bisk’s group are together at the keep readying an attack when they notice the guard is one of their Suncurl mates, dead and reanimated (one of the Brivs). They attack, but then realize it’s actually both Brivs sewn together so they can see behind them. They kill the guard with Gust doing his Gust thing. Bauchelain opens the door and tells them he just made cookies.
Bauchelain leads Heck and the others in and offers them cookies, which they don’t eat. Broach starts to try and heal Gust as they hear screams from Fangatooth torturing his prisoners. Bauchelain waxes philosophical (hard to believe I know) and tells them the treasure they’re looking for is in the Suncurl’s wreck. Bauchelain and Sordid don’t hit it off. Broach goes to lick the bowl of icing after healing Gust in his own particular idiom. Fangatooth enters and Bauchelain eats a cookie in front of him. Both acknowledge this keep isn’t big enough for both of them. Fangatooth tells Bauchelain he’s sealed the room in “the deadliest of wards,” and the kitchen as well. Fangatooth mocks Bauchelain’s “boring” and “not-so-clever attempt at misdirection” with the cookies, eating one and laughingly informing Bauchelain he’s immune to all poisons. Bauchelain tells him the cookie wasn’t poisoned, but he’s killed Fangatooth anyway, asking him if he’s ever scene the movie Alien. A moment later, a four-armed demon bursts from Fangatooth’s torso, complaining, and then is sent back to Aral Gamelain by Bauchelain, who then stops Mancy just before he eats a cookie (what’s in his pipe isn’t helping Mancy much here). One of Fangatooth’s golems enters, its head rolling off. Broach yells, “It was an accident!”
Hurl, crazed, um, “hurls” herself at Puny as he opens the door. Mayhem, blood, death ensues. Then Hurl spots Feloovil and all nine cats rush her, raking her bloody until mouths start appearing all over Feloovil and begin biting back. Feloovil tells Hurl to get back—“I am your goddess, you stupid fool,” and Hurl retreats (minus one dead Hurl-cat) and yowl that Feloovil’s daughter had been promised to her. Feloovil cries, “Never!” and kills another Hurl-cat, adding she got rid of Hurl once and will do so again. Whuffine arrives, saying, “I am your father Hurl.” He’s the one who had to rein her in before, and he’s very disappointed so many are dead here. She tries to blame the Chanters, but Tiny declares self-defense and Whuffine tells them to get out, warning he’s already killed three of them. The chanters leave. Whuffine says there will be no sacrifices (apparently Felittle was supposed to be a virgin one for Hurl) and moans he’ll have to clean up the mess. Feloovil says he should kill Fangatooth then, and when he tells her the sorcerer is already dead, she says kill the one who killed him then. Whuffine says he’ll talk to Bauchelain instead, sighing that all this violence makes him nostalgic (not a good thing) for the days of “burning continents, burning skies, burning seas, mountains of dead, and all that.” Whuffine forces Hurl to semble, Feloovil banishes her, and Whuffine warns she should listen because if she comes back he’ll make sure to kill her for real. She starts to stomp out, telling them she hates them all and it’s not over and one day they’ll regret… and then Tiny decapitates her, then heads off to storm the keep.
Felittle tells the cat with her it won’t be long, “she won’t last much longer,” thinking “and then it’s my turn!
Coingood frees Warmet, who says leave the other prisoner because he cheats. Bauchelain informs Mancy they leave tonight. Warmet does his evil villain laugh then apologizes.
The Chanters enter the keep (they find Relish out front) and find Fangatooth’s body, scared servants, and cookies.
Birds tells Hordilo she’s going back to town, adding she never wants to see him again. She rejoins her comrades and they start off for the Suncurl’s wreck.
Ackle has a drink with Feloovil. She tells him everyone’s pretty much dead, he says that includes Spilgit, and they toast to that.
Bauchelain, Mancy, and Broach exit via carriage with the stolen treasure. Bauchelain tells Mancy he’s the longest surviving manservant he’s ever had, explaining he’d had to kill the others, often in self-defense. No wonder, he says, he “envisages a brighter future, one where I sit secure upon a throne, ruling over millions of wretched subjects and immune to all concerns over my own safety… The tyrant’s dream.” They both look ahead to a “new day.”
So I guess Bauchelain will be the ghostwriter for Fangatooth’s Tome of Tyranny. Albeit all unknowingly.
So if Fangatooth is correct and this is indeed “a game of murder,” does any reader really have any doubt as to who will win and who will lose?
You’d think after the mishap with the bloodwine aboard the ship, Mancy might be a bit more hesitant about drinking strange drafts that only smell “vaguely alcoholic.”
You know your protagonist is a bit of an anti-hero when he mourns the “degrading of tyranny.”
Poor Mancy. It’s hard to fault him though as his observation seems pretty spot on: “Everywhere I look, or even think of looking, I see doom and disaster, hoary and leering. Shades in every corner and heavy clouds overhead.” But at least he has that dying laughing to look forward to, right?
It’s a little bit much perhaps for Bauchelain telling Mancy to “constrain your blends to simple rustleaf,” since it turns out he hasn’t been smoking “simple” rustleaf but poisoned rustleaf, thanks to Bauchelain.
If you didn’t stop and just visualize this scene, its setting and their actions, you should do so. Really stop and picture this taking place in a kitchen, with Bauchelain baking, covered in flour maybe, and Mancy stirring up some icing. The imagery of it all cracks me up.
That’s a chilling image of a Broach as a child, especially the other children slowly disappearing. At the end of that scene is one of those moments that sounds to me very much like the novel series, with that so so dark point made by Mancy that “Children like Korbal never die. Only the nice ones die, and for that alone the world deserves every damned curse a decent soul could utter.” I’m glad we don’t lose those moments. Even with that, though, I do enjoy that comedic shift to “You done with that vanilla?”
Just as I enjoy the comedic interlude with the gravedigger. Pacing I think is one of the strong points of this novella, and the ability to slide in a scene like this without bringing the narrative to a halt is a perfect example of Erikson’s control over pace here.
And the comedy keeps coming with the cheery corpse—the leg isn’t half eaten; it’s half free. That’s the way to go through life (or, you know, death). And of course the Chanters and the brilliant repartee.
Well, we did have a hint or two that Whuffine might be a bit more than he was letting on. And now, three quarters of the way in, we get more than a hint. And if taking out the Chanter trio wasn’t enough (and don’t forget they appeared to have some Tarthenal to them), we get this at the end of his litany of memorabilia in his home: “the half-dozen Seguleh masks.” True, it’s possible they just washed ashore after a shipwreck killed them all, but coming at this moment, after what we’ve just seen, and knowing what we know about the Seguleh, it’d be impossible not to at least wonder if he gained them all by killing them.
And his shift to comparing his home to a temple, and his thought of how “he would have ended this world long ago, and without much regret” makes a reader really begin to ponder the history of this character. And yet again, as we so often get in these books, there’s the untold story behind the story. We get the barest peek behind a curtain and that’s it, and we’re so often left wanting more. Which is a good place for an author to leave us.
There are a lot of promises of death stacking up here at the end of this novella. And I love this big moment where Hurl does the usual villain proclamation “Soon, everyone dies!” and then the usual villain cackle, though the impact is just a little marred by her cackle devolving into her choking on a thighbone.
There’s a lot of that spoiled effect going on, such as Tiny making his grand entrance by banging his head on the door.
Speaking of the story behind the story, how about Ackle’s story about the old woman? (Tell me you didn’t laugh at visualizing the old woman gumming his throat.)
And another spoiled climactic moment with Spilgit imagining what he’s going to do with all that gold just before his skull gets flattened by Ackle (and really, when you “kill” someone who has already died, you’d think you’d be a bit more careful). And then the chest gets buried again, talk about a Mcguffin. And then yet another “big” moment foiled, this time by a simple door, as Hurl can’t open it in cat form.
Does anyone else often wish for the death of a character who refers to himself in third person? I know when I read this the first time I was begging for Tiny to be killed and quickly.
On the other hand, I cheered the return of the Brivs, even in their altered condition. They were one of my favorite parts of the Suncurl, and they didn’t disappoint here (well, they may have disappointed as a guard, but not as comic relief). Unfortunately, the flip side of the Brivs was the running gag with Gust Hubb and his injuries; that aspect I could have been fine with leaving on the Suncurl.
“I have just made cookies.” How often do you think that line has appeared in a fantasy story filled with witches and killers and wizards and shape-changers and death and mayhem?
I have to say, I was surprised not that Broach healed Gust, or that the healing had some issues, but at how moderate those issues were—a pair of mismatched eyes, a feminine nose, ears that don’t match either—but really, when you think of Broach, you (or at least I) thought it was going to be a whole lot worse.
I so wanted the battle of metaphors between Bauchelain and Fangatooth to continue a little longer, just to see how badly Fangatooth would get routed. Done in by cookies (and he was so sure he had it pegged). What a way to go.
Bad timing for Mancy to get the munchies though. Good thing Bauchelain likes him so much.
One would think death by cookies might have been the weirdest way to kill of someone in a story (if not a whole bunch of them), but death by biting breasts gives it a run for its money I’d say.
It’s hard recalling the first time reading this, but I’m pretty positive I knew Whuffine was more than he appeared. I’m also pretty positive though that I in no way saw him as father to Hurl. But really, “Burning continents, burning skies, burning seas, mountains of the dead,” who is this guy? Not to mention he can apparently sculpt goddesses into being sort of?
And another climactic villain monologue cut short: ‘Hate hate hate hate! This isn’t over, oh no it isn’t —“ Thwack. All these scenes are funny in their own right but also in how they poke fun at the clichés. But did anyone count the cats?
And then it’s all well that ends well, with the prisoners released (well, save for the guy who won 20 questions) and the tortured brother released (though he was apparently pretty bad himself and has his own “low, evil laugh” (though sometimes a laugh is just a laugh) and the Chanters eating cookies and Hordilo and Birds breaking up OK, maybe all isn’t well.
This is a great revelation here from Bauchelain, that he’s killed all his prior manservants (I just assumed they’d died in service). Once again though, I love how put upon he always sounds—“Imagine, one’s own seemingly loyal manservant attempting to kill his master.” He’s also a master of justification. One who apparently dreams big.
As mentioned, Wurms is one of my favorites, perhaps the favorite (though I’ll withhold final judgment until we’re done) of the novellas. I found the pacing consistently excellent. The build-up of one character (or group of characters) arriving one after the other well done. The humor perhaps more consistently hitting than in the others. And it smoothly worked in those more serious, more dark moments. It’s a tightly constructed, laugh-out-loud, at times thought-provoking bit of dark goodness. A tasty little morsel of fiction. Like a cookie.
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.