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 Healthy Dead.
A fair warning before we get started: We’ll be discussing both novella 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 Healthy Dead Part Two
Imid now wonders if he and Elas should have asked Bauchelain to overthrow Macrotus, thinking how frightening Bauchelain had seemed, and worse, thinking of the rumors of Bauchelain’s companion, of his “most venal appetites. Thus evil.” He thinks of the simpler days of the past, with systemic corruption, with bribery or, if needed, violence as ready solutions to problems. And maybe, he ponders, a different sort of evil—“in the way of apathy, of indifference, of tacit acceptance of inhumanity.” But he misses those days, because a “King obsessed with goodness delivered to all below him a certain zeal from which all manner of cruelty derived. Born of harsh judgmentalism […] The sheer frenzy of noble ideals put into practice without flexibility or compassion was proving as destructive to the human spirit” as anything done by the former regime. Imid isn’t quite sure which evil is worse—that which is “open and genuine” or that like Bauchelain’s—which “revealed nothing, nothing at all.” He enters Elas’ home and is shocked that he’s interrupted her masturbating, which is now illegal due to it being “emotionally unhealthy” and because “base desires lead to sordid appetites and sordid appetites lead to temptation and temptation leads to the end of civilization.” He admits though he came to her to confess hypocrisy and that he suffers from “impulses.” She suggests they “exercise” together. They do.
As he enters the city, Mancy thinks of his family back in Lamentable Moll. It has been four years since he’s seen them, and he hopes they are doing OK. He assumes his wife has picked up lovers, but doesn’t begrudge her that companionship. He notes the strange quietude of the city, how clean it is, and that it lacks the usual beggars. Watching a group of citizens doing calisthenics (not recognizing that is what they are doing), wonders if they are insane and/or saints. He decides things don’t look so bad in Quaint, but knows it won’t last long with Bauchelain and Broach around. He’s accosted by Storkul Purge, a Well Knight, who accuses him of loitering. He explains he is merely hesitating, and when she picks up his accent, she demands to know everything about him and why he came to Quaint (foreigners “possess unruly ideas”). He feigns amnesia, saying he was struck down while working on a ditch outside the city. He builds on his story so it seems he’s been amnesiac for months if not years, then, unsure how to get out of the situation, he collapses. The growing crowd begins to wonder if he might be the mythical First Saint” foretold by the Royal Prophecies. Invett Loath appears on the scene, demanding to know what is going on, upbraiding Storkal Purge for appearing as if she might consider herself “ singular or, Lady forgive us, unique.” When the crowd tells him Mancy is the First Saint, and he collapsed under Storkal’s questioning, and then Mancy does so again, Loath dismisses her to the temple for Knightly Judgment. Mancy pretends he recognizes Loath, who announces a “little known prophecy that I would be the one to find you.” He offers to lead Mancy to the king, and Mancy fakes a sudden vision he says is only for Loath and the King, and also it turns out for the Grand Nun of the Lady.
Storkal is anxious as she waits at the temple, since such judgments rarely go well for the one being judged, something she knows by her own involvement in prior ones on the other side. She recalls her own “secret visceral pleasure when adding her voice to the chorus of condemnation.” She can’t believe Loath was taken in by an obvious con man, especially since the First Saint was just an “invention.” As she thinks Loath should be the one facing Judgment, she thinks for a moment maybe she should indeed challenge him, but then dismisses the idea, fearing he would destroy her. Her thoughts are interrupted by the appearance of Vice (Ineb Cough), attracted to her by her desire for a drink. It turns out his form is actually quite small, and his “dancer’s” clothes are a puppet’s. He bemoans how far he has fallen, how shrunken he has become, saying he could barely crawl to her, enticed by her desire. He smells a trail of “indulgences” Liquor, rustleaf, durhang” and says they must find the foreigner. She agrees, thinking this is her opportunity to bring down Loath. As the two follow Mancy’s trail, she recalls the good old days when she had indeed been in service to vice. Though she also thinks had it not been for Loath she would have prospered in this new regime of Wellness: “ Respected and feared, representative and exalted far above the miserable mass of wretches […] deserving little more than her sneering contempt.”
She finds it interesting that with all this wellness, people are dying “like mayflies,” with “blocked bowels” as the most common complaint. The two of them come across Bauchelain, who at first thinks she must be a great ventriloquist, and then he has some fun with Storkal and language when she accuses him of breaking the law. When Vice, insulted at being thought a dummy, says how he was “once a giant! The Tyrant of Hedonism! […] They all bowed to me—Corpulence, Sloth, even Lust.” Bauchelain is impressed he the others were manifest and wishes to meet the woman who was responsible. After a bit of sparring over wine and whether or not health and well-being are the same, he presents them with a buffet of prohibited substances from Mancy’s stock.
On the way to the king, in the palace, Mancy and Loath pass two rows of “upright corpses set in coffins” with glass lids. Loath says they are “The Healthy Dead . . . Clean of spirit and hale. Glorious evidence of the rewards the come with living unsullied.” When Mancy asks why they’re all grimacing, Loath says most died of “maladies of the colon” form eating grass, “a find substitute for meat.” He adds a bit later that the relatives of one ate “most of her left leg” when she’d died, “thus [they] will be found on the spikes.” Loath blames the act on “moral weakness,” saying the Knights have had to deal with it more than ever lately, thus all those corpses on the wall. As they continue, Loath tells him Storkal was a prostitute before the Prohibitions, a “singular threat to civilization.” He says unfortunately she won’t get a second chance, but points out perfection is attainable for some, with himself as the prime example. Just before they enter a room, the door flies open and smashes Loath’s nose. Falls occur involving Loath, Mancy, and a servant. Inside the room is Macrotus, ensconced in his giant exercise machine. When Loath rages at the servant, Mancy comes to her defense, then declares her a saint since she was injured in duty (in service to the king even). Loath quickly accedes and Mancy tells her to get out fast. He hands Loath his handkerchief to wipe the blood from his mouth, too late realizing it has D’bayang poppy spores. Loath rushes out to patrol the streets. All of them.
As Ineb Cough imbibes more “condiments”, he expands so that his clothes are now too small. Recognizing both Bauchelain and Broach (despite him being in crow form) as necromancers, he asks what the two are doing in Quaint. He deduces their servant is in the city and is up to something. Bauchelain asks about Vices fellow demons, and he tells him they’re all in an alley somewhere most likely, save for Agin Again (Lust) who disappeared around the time of Necrotus’s death. Bauchelain asks for more background and the demon explains that Macrotus put the Prohibitions in place a week after taking the throne, after he’d raised the Lady to the official goddess/religion and gathered a “recruited army of piety.” He asks Bauchelain again what he’s up to, and Bauchelain replies he wants to take some blood from Storkal, how much dependent upon its purity, though it may, he admits, be fatal. He explains Broach will use the blood in a resurrection ritual, adding they plan to overthrow the king but have no interest in the throne themselves, saying he likes the challenge. He draws a knife.
I wonder how often someone has a conversation with Bauchelain and then shortly thereafter begins to have second thoughts about what happened in that conversation. I’m guessing it is not a rare occurrence.
Imid’s thoughts about the old times under Necrotus seem to show how easy it is for people to just fall into acceptance of things that once might have provoked outrage and action, how they become normalized through inertia and low expectations and long-running abuse and self-interest:
[T]he usual assortment of unsavory indulgences common to those with absolute power. A score of repressive laws intended […] to keep the king rich and free to revel in excess at the expense of the common folk. But if you paid your tithes and killed or robbed nobody important, you could live out life without once crossing the path of trouble […] Bribery solved most problems, and where it couldn’t, swift and brutal violence did […] life was simple, straightforward, and easily understood.
And here we get into one of those moments where you hear an echo of the more consistently serious novels: “And perhaps evil. In the way of apathy, of indifference, of tacit acceptance of inhumanity.” How many times did we point to that word/concept of “indifference” in the novels, of empathy? And of “compassion” which appears just down a few lines.
What I like about this section is how we move from the easy—the idea that inhumanity is bad, corruption poisons society, the fish stinks from the head down—to the on the surface less intuitive, even counter-intuitive idea that “an earnest king, a king obsessed with goodness” can create his/her own hellhole, thanks to “delivering to all below him a certain zeal from which all manner of cruelty derived. Born of harsh judgmentalism […] the sheer frenzy of noble ideals put into practice without flexibility or compassion was proving as destructive to the human spirit.” This would seem to be at the core of a lot of dystopias, but certainly we could come up with some real world examples.
Interestingly, I don’t know if I’ve ever come across this complete lack of privacy before—the “knock three times and I’m coming in” law, based on the idea that privacy both “invites” and perhaps implies “private” and ergo forbidden things/vices. It’s an interestingly topical idea in a non-physical manner nowadays in our surveillance “privacy is dead—get over it” society. I don’t know how many times I’ve head/seen the idea “if you’re worried about someone watching you, you must be doing something bad” offered up as part of the debate.
I like how this conversation is a direct echo of Bauchelain’s slippery slope earlier, with both ending in the “end of civilization.” And I love the ending.
Yeah, I’m with Mancy, I’m not sure “sane lifestyle” is the right description for his past few years on the road. Speaking of past years, note the specific time frame slipped in here—it’s been four years of On the Road To… with these three.
This is an effective passage to humanize Mancy—his thoughts of home, his reflections on the four years, his sweet lack of anger or jealousy over his wife taking lovers. It’s nice to be reminded he’s a person, one with a past, one with a web of connections—we need a few moments of these so he doesn’t become simply a caricature or a vehicle for jokes. Though the memory of his wife also comes with some humor attached as a) that’s a pretty good list—“sailors, fishers, a soldier or two” and b) if you recall, we had some strong hints she wasn’t waiting until her husband wasn’t close by.
I like to imagine the look on Mancy’s face as he catches first sight of the calisthenics group and tries to suss out just what they’re doing.
Love the whole loitering/hesitating moment.
So is the whole Mancy-as-Saint his mission? Or not? It seems that “Inspiration struck the manservant” would argue that this is improv on his part and his mission is something separate, perhaps having to do with the vision? This is another moment I’d like to see—the grilling, the inspiration, then the “amnesia” routine, the snowballing of the routine, and the faint.
Here’s another moment where the satire seems to get a bit muddied, with it being against the law to argue in a public place. Again, I can get from that to a mental or health or social “wellness” but it still clouds the satire a bit for me, broadens it too much.
We’re not being prepped to like our Well Knights—besides the names, Storkal gets introduced looking at Mancy with contempt, and is obviously overbearing, while Loath pulls the snide “even a low-ranking Well Knight such as you…”
“I endeavor to promulgate conformity at every turn.” Love this line. And the follow-up, “The purity of my innate mediocrity is absolute.” How can you not laugh?
I also love how we see the birth/fulfillment of myth here: built on vagueness, people’s desperate desires to believe something, exaggeration, misunderstanding, a bit of the telephone game, and of course, self-interest (ahh, the benefits of “little-known” prophecies to those who recall them).
Another glimpse at the ugly side of human nature—how quick we are to “add [our] voice o the chorus of condemnation” when we’re on the power side, but oh, how quickly it can turn.
She is pretty smart, though, Storkal, seeing right through Mancy’s little act.
I like how we’re kept a bit on our toes by the revelation that Vice is so tiny and his dancer’s clothes are really the costume of a puppet, which makes one want to go back and reread his section to see what, if anything, was missed in terms of hints. I think here as well, a reader might start to wonder, if the manifest demons of “sin” shrink when the city folks stop indulging themselves in vice, sloth, etc. what might happen if they start to re-indulge themselves?
When Storkal, pretending Vice is a child, tells the guard he is “loud, boisterous, aggressive and cares only for itself,” and the guard replies, “A singular child then,” I actually laughed because I thought he was being sarcastic. Which just meant I got to laugh again when she called him a “mule-turd” and explained what I thought the guard had gotten immediately.
This scene is also a lovely glimpse at the world of Quaint, where an official guard apparently has little issue with abandoning the baby to its death or selling it into slavery.
But just as the humor of the scene makes me a bit more tolerant of Storkal, she goes and thinks how she’d be just as happy continuing on in her Well Knight vein of “sneering’ at the wretches in the streets.
Did anyone else think of a pair of mules when Storkal faltered a bit at the odd eyes of Bauchelain’s oxen?
Once again, I love Bauchelain’s wordplay. And shortly thereafter, the image of him placing Vice on a mantelpiece. Next to his Hummel collection I guess.
So, might we meet the woman Bauchelain says made the demons manifest?
And what’s with Bauchelain setting fire to the bush? We’re not used to such lack of control from him (well, barring Mancy picking out the wrong bottle of wine)
Perhaps he’s been hitting that impressive list of Mancy’s staff (not really)—I love his running commentary as he rummages through: “whale sperm—Queen of Dreams, what does he do with that?”
So the Healthy Dead take vegetarianism to the extreme, I’d say. While their relatives went apparently to the other extreme. Normally you’d blame both/either on famine, but I guess if you’ve been forced down the Wellness path so far…
Somehow the zealously faithful doing the judging are always busier than they were. Huh.
“Humble” is apparently Loath’s middle name.
Mancy, on the other hand, comes off pretty well in these last few scenes. First with the bit with the wife, then with the improve. Here his guilt over Storkal Purge maybe getting in trouble because of him, and now the way he protects the servant (and via another bit of improve). And we’re not used to Mancy being so forceful—“Ware your words!” I think the way Mancy is fully portrayed in this one is one of the reasons this is one of the reasons I put this one in the top tier of the novellas.
And this is a classic close to this scene, with the D’bayang poppy handkerchief. One has to imagine this is not going to go well with Loath as he heads off to patrol “all” the streets.
I also like how we’re set up to expect some big meeting with the king, but he is wholly oblivious to what is happening. And then we get this nice structural move where we’re left with the image of the king in his machine and wondering if Mancy is still going to meet with him, then we’re interrupted and next time we see Mancy just wanders off.
So Vice is growing bigger. How big will he (and maybe the others) get? Nice name for Lust by the way.
Another strength of this one is that despite it being of novella length, Erikson doesn’t feel the need to strip it down to just the core. And so we get instances like this little aside with the whale sperm. Or maybe not whale sperm. These moments are handled particularly deftly in this one I think, nice little pop ups in the midst of the main narrative—good for a quick laugh or chuckle, and then we’re back in, with no loss of momentum.
It’s also a nice bit of comic relief in what is a pretty chilling discussion of bleeding Storkal to what may be a “fatal amount.” And a pretty chilling ending line to the scene.
All for Broach to perform a resurrection spell. Can’t they just use a Rod of Resurrection like I used to back in the day?
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.