Tavore Paran leads her Bonehunters further into the Glass Desert, on their way to reach the Kingdom of Kolanse on the far eastern shore of the continent, where the Forkrul Assail have captured the heart of the Crippled God and are about to conclude their nefarious plans. Yet still the Adjunct seems determined to march her army to certain death without giving them so much as a reason for it. Mutiny seems inevitable as soldiers die by the dozen from thirst and heatstroke. Rumors of imminent betrayal only serve to worsen the mood, and unrest is stirring among the Perish Grey Helms, the Adjunct's longest standing allies.
The Forkrul Assail, meanwhile, find themselves facing another foe — one of whom they can make neither rhyme nor reason. Only able to guess the plans of his sister, but trusting in her nonetheless, Ganoes Paran is tenaciously chipping away at the Forkrul Assail's patience.
In far-away Kurald Galain, the Shake have rediscovered the lost city of Kharkanas, the ancient home of the Tiste Andii. They find themselves facing the Tiste Liosan, who have set their eyes on conquering the shore of Lightfall, which divides the realms of Light and Dark, and reinstating themselves into power.
Even the Gods must choose sides in the climactic battle to come, though even among allies there is mistrust and hidden agendas. And it seems the dragons are intent on roaming the world once more.
The Crippled God provides examples of the following tropes:
- Anguished Declaration of Love: Urb professes his love for Sergeant Hellian right before the ultimate end battle, shouting over the battlefield clamour. Hellian's reaction is to kiss him right then and there.
- Atop a Mountain of Corpses: What the battle for the First Shore devolves into. The Liosan and Shake/Letherii forces eventually are forced to battle on a pile of corpses a thousand feet long and three bodies deep.
- Back for the Finale:
- Hood arrives at the scene and starts kicking ass and taking names, starting by biting off the face of a Forkrul Assail — and then commenting on the bad taste.
- Kalam Mekhar also returns after disappearing for a while. Quick Ben and Minala break him out of the Deadhouse on Malaz Island.
- Big Damn Heroes: Fiddler leads the last of the Malazan Marines, Heavies, and even Hedge's Bridgeburners to the side of the Crippled God on the eve of battle while Tavore and the rest of the Bonehunters try to delay the Assail from reaching the Broken One. Less than a hundred of them against at least half an army. Most of them die through repeated assaults, but they accomplish their mission and free the Crippled God to return to his world.
- Another moment comes from Silchas Ruin and Tulas Shorn and Teloras and Curdle in dragon form. As the Eleint spill into reality and overwhelm Korabas, these Elder dragons are the only ones who fly to her defense against every dragon in the world.
- Book-Ends: Gardens of the Moon started off with a view over Malaz City and a description of the weather vane atop Mock's Hold; The Crippled God ends in exactly the same place and with another description of the vane. Additionally, Fiddler — as an old retired soldier — tells a boy how the world always needs more soldiers, echoing and revising Whiskeyjack's advice to young Ganoes Paran in Gardens of the Moon to only ever become a soldier if he fails at everything else.
- Breaking the Fourth Wall: In the last two books there is this storyline which many first-time readers tend to skip/skim, as it is a meandering, long-winded narration about a group of starving children fleeing through a desert, told by Badalle, a girl obsessed with poetry. However, if one reads closely, one finds Badalle acknowledging the presence of readers and even actively calling them cowards in The Crippled God for wanting to skip her harrowing tale:'Do not flee us. Do not flee this moment, this scene. Do not confuse dislike and abhorrence with angry denial of truths you do not wish to see. I accept your horror and expect no forgiveness. But if you deny, I name you coward.
'And I have had my fill of cowards.'
- Breaking Speech: The ultimate power of Badalle's poetry. She uses her poetry to summon the god of the Forkrul Assail, the god they themselves killed, to tear apart the pureblooded Assail that might compel the Malazan army to commit mass suicide.
- Cavalry of the Dead: At the climactic Battle of the Spire for the heart of the Crippled God, the tide turns when the Bridgeburners- now essentially the Gods of Death- ride into the battle.
- Central Theme: Compassion. Every story thread in the book reaches a conclusion tied to this theme.
- The Adjunct's compassion for the Crippled God- someone responsible for a good chunk of the terrible things that happen in the other 9 books. Despite his endless plagues and evils unleashed on the world, the Adjunct recognizes that the Crippled God is wounded and suffering, lashing out because he perceives that no one in this world cares for his plight.
- The Bonehunters' Compassion for the entire world, one another, and a God none of them worships. Ever since the 14th Army was raised the Adjunct spoke of doing something "unwitnessed" but the army was unsure what to make of this declaration. They desert their homeland, invade a foreign empire, cross a continent, and finally nearly destroy themselves crossing the Glass Desert, all to fight and die at the side of the Crippled God. None but the survivors will know what they did to save all of creation — they will have no riches, no titles, no grand celebrations. And they accept this.
- Hanavat and Gall's Compassion and search for forgiveness toward one another after losing everything in the climax of Dust of Dreams. All of Gall's sons are dead, his tribe will never be able to repay their blood debt to the Wickans and Tavore, the Khundryl were annihilated in a futile cavalry charge against the Nah'ruk, and both seemed lost from their grief — Hanavat seeking comfort from her husband's ex-mistress and Gall from his dead son's widow. They reconcile in the Glass Desert and find a way to live again- Hanavat finds new purpose in caring for the Children of the Snake, and Gall is granted his warrior's death in the final battle for the Crippled God.
- Silchas Ruin's compassion for Rud Ellale and the last living T'lann Imass of the Refugium. He abandons young and powerful Rud in a hidden wasteland specifically so that Rud will not be called to the battle of all the Eleint and will survive.
- Queen Yan Tovis' compassion for her people, the Shake after leading them back to their true home of Kharkanas from Lether. After exploring how far her people fell in Lether and restoring their self-worth and pride, she is confronted by an impossible choice. If she kneels at Lightfall at the proper time, she blesses the carnage inflicted on her people and seals the Breach to Kharkanas, ending the battle between the Liosan and the Shake. But her conscience cannot allow her to kneel at something so horrifying being done to her people, and so the battle continues with no end in sight, escalating until she loses her brother, most of her people, and her friends.
- Sandalath Drukorlat's exploration of the lack of Compassion in old Kharkanas through her haunted memories and whether her people deserve a chance to live in their ancient home again after they did such horrifying things to one another. She goes mad from reliving her memories and nearly destroys Kharkanas, the Shake, and the Tiste Andii.
- The teenage Torrent, last of the Awl, and his Compassion for Tool's children. Torrent is the only person in the lost Trygalle caravan- between Gruntle, Mappo, and the Daru Mages — that refuses to compromise his conscience and accept Olar Ethil's devil's bargain to abandon the children into her cruel care. All of the older, more powerful adults accept her gifts and abandon them for some "greater cause" — Mappo to save Icarium, Gruntle to stop the opening of Starvald Demelein's gate, the Mages to find water and safe passage home. The one person who has no magical or mystical powers, who cannot ever hope stop the schemes of an Elder Goddess, ultimately does so without blinking an eye.
- Mappo Runt's Compassion for Icarium over multiple books finally leads him to contemplate what would be the more compassionate thing to do when he finds his lost friend- to kill him and end Icarium's endless quest for memory that has laid waste to whole cities and peoples, or to return to their old ways of wandering the world together, deliberately steering Icarium away from those memories and limiting the damage he causes. The debate is ultimately moot. Sister Calm kills Mappo before he must make the final decision, but Icarium is saved from her machinations by Ublala Pung of all people- a man so simple-minded that his Compassion can't be compromised by anyone or anything.
- The Errant's plot to free Korabas comes not from compassion for her endless suffering, but from his **lack of compassion** for anyone and anything but himself. He desires the power and worship of a God, but he does not want to give anything back to his worshipers like all gods must. He frees Korabas from her prison in a deliberate attempt to unbalance the scales of the universe and leave his Hold dominant and isolated, so mortals cannot compel him for anything from their worship.
- Badalle and the Snake's search for any sort of Compassion from anyone, anywhere. An entire generation of children wandering the desert, looking for someone who will care for them after the Forkrul Assail decimated their homeland and sent this caravan of children fleeing into the wastelands to die. Her point of view is especially unique, holding up a mirror to the reader and speaking directly to them through her internal monologues and poetry.
- Sinn's insanity and lack of compassion for anyone leads her to be abandoned and betrayed by everyone around her. Like Badalle, she suffered endless cruelty at the hands of adults- including rape- and was driven from her home with nothing and no one to aid her. Unlike Badalle she pursues more and more power, betraying the K'Chain Che'Malle and killing Gesler before she herself is killed in pursuit of the Heart of the Crippled God.
- Stormy and Geslers' compassion for the newly reborn and completely alien K'Chain Che'Malle, in contrast to their fear of the child Sinn. The two of them spend multiple books and stories acting like bumbling idiots and arguing Like an Old Married Couple before they are made Mortal Sword and Shield Anvil for the Che'Malle. They go from friendly to deadly serious after this, and go to the ends of the world to preserve the race of lizards, even using their immunity from fire to stand up to the insanity of Sinn.
- Characters Dropping Like Flies: It is easier to count the characters that make it to the end alive. The Crippled God also gives the explanation on why the series is called Malazan Book of the Fallen.
- Child by Rape: Korlat makes a vague statement about not being a pure-blooded Tiste Andii, and her mother's, Sandalath's, point of view heavily implies that Korlat was conceived by rape. The Kharkanas Trilogy confirms that Korlat is the product of mystical rape resulting in That Thing Is Not My Child! from her mother's point of view. Korlat is influenced by this even millennia later and is not able to face her mother again despite being a respected figure among the Tiste Andii because she was unable to prevent her brother's death, whom Sandalath had charged her to protect no matter what as punishment for being a child by rape.
- Climactic Battle Resurrection: When Karsa kills Fener, the god of war, he inadvertently drenches the killing field in blood and several undead allies suddenly find themselves alive again. Some of them just in time to be killed for real. The irony is not lost on them.
- Crossing the Desert: After travelling the aptly named Wastelands in Dust of Dreams, the Bonehunters must continue on to a worse place — the Glass Desert. The army mages are cut off from their warrens, and there's no food and no water to be found. Additionally, the maddened remnants of the Forkrul Assail god roam around as a D'ivers of locusts set to consume everything in sight.
- Curb-Stomp Battle: Several of the Forkrul Assail elite receive this from different people. For example, Kalam and Quick Ben take on a Forkrul Assail head-on and trap it, mostly because the Forkrul Assail have been ruling Kolanse unopposed for so long they've grown overconfident.
- Death World: We get a glimpse of what the hold of Omtose Phellack, the Jaghut Warren, looks like from the inside. What follows is a hilarious sequence of stuff trying to kill the handmaiden every step of her way through.
- Depopulation Bomb: The opening of Arkhast Korvalain, the Forkrul Assail Hold, is supposed to work like this, ridding the whole planet of humanity.
- FaceHeel Turn: The Perish Grey Helms have been loyal to the Adjunct's cause since they were first encountered halfway through the series. When their wolf gods discover that the Adjunct's enemies desire the destruction of all humanity and the return of the world to its primal state, they make their will plain and the Grey Helms switch sides ASAP.
- Fertile Blood: When War God Fener's blood rains down on the battlefield towards the end of the book , it resurrects the T'lan Imass and the undead Jaghut army just in time for the final battle. Which is rather inconvenient for either group, as now they're mortal again and can actually die.
- Gambit Pileup: As it is, the following plans crash headlong into each other at the series' final':
- The Forkrul Assail, allied with the Tiste Liosan and K'Chain Nah'ruk, who are obsessed with their own brand f justice, are planning The End of the World as We Know It by opening their Warren of Ahkrast Korvalain and wiping humanity from existence.
- The gang of Elder Gods centered on the Errant plan their own version of The End of the World as We Know It by ridding the world of magic and creating a planet on which only they have power in order to restore the old pecking order among the gods.
- The Tiste Liosan on their own plan to use the hubbub to conquer the realm of Kurald Galain.
- Olar Ethil, the First Bonecaster, intends to spite the Elder Gods' plans in order for her own to prevail, which is to win the heart of Onos T'oolan, finally, after all those millennia.
- On the "good" side, Adjunct Tavore Paran has assembled an army and gained allies to march on the Forkrul Assail in Kolanse, fully knowing that failure may well be the only option.
- Her brother Ganoes Paran also marches on Kolanse with his own army, not knowing if or what his sister is doing.
- Shadowthrone and Cotillion also have their own plans to send the Crippled God back to his home realm, spite the Elder Gods and gain a dominant position in the pantheon.
- Grand Finale: The last two chapters consist mostly of climactic battle sequences, and both chapters are well above 100 pages long each. Then there are not one, but two epilogues detailing the immediate aftermath.
- Green Aesop: Human vs. Nature is one of the big themes of the book.
- Heroic BSoD: Warleader Gall of the Khundryl Burned Tears suffers this, as the majority of his cavalry has been killed during the battle with the K'Chain Nah'ruk in the previous book.
- Honor Before Reason: Discussed by Yedan Derryg and Pithy, a Letherii ex-thief-turned-soldier, on why the Letherii would fight on the First Shore. Yedan says that it's to save the world, while Pithy muses that the Letherii refugees would fight better if they were motivated by monetary rewards. Finally, Pithy confesses that neither cause suits her:Pithy: 'I was a thief once. Plenty of hatred then, both ways. But then I walked a step behind your sister and watched her bleed for us all. And then there was you, too, for that matter. That rearguard action that saved all our skins. So now, [...] well, I'll stand here, and I'll fight until the fight's left them or it's left me.'
Yedan: 'And why would you do that, Pithy Islander?'
Pithy: 'Because it's the right thing to do, Yedan Derryg.'
- Horse of a Different Color: The Ve'Gath serve as mounts for Gesler, Stormy and Kalyth, and are even capable of changing their physique to better suit that purpose.
- Irony: In Dust of Dreams, the dying Destriant of the Perish Grey Helms warns Shield Anvil Tanakalian that a betrayal will occur. Tanakalian is confident that no such betrayal will occur on his watch, but does not tell anybody of it, in case it causes panic among the ranks. He ends up ousting Krughava as leader of the Grey Helms and abandoning Tavore's cause.
- Last Fertile Region: Estobanse province is the last fertile spot in all of Kolanse. The Forkrul Assail specifically spared the province to be able to feed their watered down brethren. The rest of Kolanse fell victim to a decades long draught and is almost completely uninhabitable — not that the Forkrul Assail left enough people alive to populate the region.
- Last Stand: The climactic battle of the First Shore, the Shake against the army of the Tiste Liosan. The Shake know they're unlikely to prevail, but become determined to take as many Tiste Liosan with them as possible.
- Living Memory: Silchas Ruin stubles into a corner of the chaos between realms in which realms fold one upon another to such a degree that it leaves a stain on time itself. There he finds the reflections of gods whose mortal bodies are walking various realms. These reflections retain their originals' memories and personalities, but have taken on lives of their own, including planning to murder the Crippled God to siphon his power.
- Love Confession: After many unsuccessful tries to make her realise his worth and feelings for her in the last couple of books, Urb confesses his love for Hellian right at the climax of the series' final battle. Hellian approves.
- The Magic Goes Away: This is the way Errastas, Kilmandaros and Sechul Lath plan to bring back the time of the Elder Gods. They free Korabas, the Otataral Dragon, and since all life is magic, every place she crosses becomes devoid of both. Errastas reasons that even if Korabas is stopped on time, the world will be too damaged to function as it does.
- Maybe Ever After: One of the Epilogues has Cutter finally tracking down Apsalar, at the ruins of the fishing village she originally came from.
- Meta Guy: Meta girl in this case. Badalle, the child poet of the Snake comments on the attitudes of some readers Erikson has observed.Do not flee us. Do not flee this moment, this scene. Do not confuse dislike and abhorrence with angry denial of truths you do not wish to see. I accept your horror and expect no forgiveness. But if you deny, I name you coward.
- Metronomic Man Mashing: Hood takes out a high ranking Forkrul Assail this way — at least until its arm falls off and he has to beat him to death with said arm while delivering a "The Reason You Suck" Speech.
- More Dakka: Paran's sappers are crying of joy when they are given munitions, but soon discover that the devastating Cussers are still kept from them. They realise their Fist's plan as ordered, but when they find a loophole to get their hands on said Cussers, the result is a lot more explosive than intended. They practically nuke the enemy into submission.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: Onos T'oolan remembers calling Logros out on transferring the title of First Sword from him to Dassem Ultor, effectively causing the clusterfuck that Dassem's quest of revenge against Hood eventually becomes. With the T'lan Imass escaping death through the Ritual of Tellann, Hood wanted to get them for it, and giving Dassem the title of First Sword, intended as an honour, gave Hood a handle on reaching through him and making him pay in their stead, thus making of Dassem the God of Tragedy.
- Pillar of Light When the Crippled God is freed from his captivity towards the end of the book, his soul rides up to the jade statues of his followers in a bright ray of light.
- Plunder: A character alarmingly notices that the common soldiers in the Bonehunters army stopped caring about plunder. This signifies that the Badass Army is turning fanatical in their purpose.
- Rain of Blood: War God Fener takes the form of a humongous cloud in the shape of a boar at the end of the book, and rains down his blood on the battlefield by the Spire when Karsa Orlong kills him.
- Restart the World: The ultimate goal of the Forkrul Assail is to rid the world of all humans, to start anew. The Elder Gods Kilmandaros, Knuckles and Errastas have similar plans that might even result in the ruination of the entire planet. They don't really care what exactly happens, as long as they get to rule the ashes.
- Rousing Speech: Tavore Paran, to the Bonehunter regulars, right before one of the climactic battles of the series.
- "Save the World" Climax: The Crippled God is healed and freed and no longer poisons the flesh of the sleeping goddess whose dreams shape reality. The complete extinction of humanity is also averted, because the Forkrul Assail's plan doesn't come to fruition.
- Secondary Character Title: For most of the series it actually looks like it's going to be a case of Antagonist Title as the Crippled God is the instigator and Man Behind the Man of most of the conflicts within the series, but then he turns out to be a little fish in the pond of the Big-Bad Ensemble and himself in need of rescue.
- Smug Snake: The Forkrul Assail Pures, the Big Bad of the book. Their overconfidence mostly stemmed from the fact that their own warren gives them voice-initiated Mind Control powers. That, and they haven't come across the Malazans before.
- Son of a Whore: Koryk, who is revealed to having grown up in a whore house. What he took away from it was that innocence is sacred, as the whores used to try to protect the children growing up among them, and a deep dislike for priests and religion, as the local priests used to make a show of stoning any sex worker they came upon on holy days.
- Sour Supporter: Fist Blistig, beginning with the events of The Bonehunters. Initially one of the longest-serving Fists in the Adjunct's army, he begins to lose trust in what she is doing after they leave the Empire, becoming more and more disillusioned and even a liability through his constant negative rhetorics. Until it peaks in contemplating murder in this volume. He is brought back to the fold by Tavore Paran during the crucial events in the Glass Desert.
- Urine Trouble: In a lighthearted moment right after the mourning ceremony for the fallen, Bent sees fit to empty his bladder on Hood's boot. The Jaghut army of fourteen promptly ridicule him for it.Hood: This is why Jaghut choose to live alone.
- Walking Wasteland: Rather, a flying wasteland. Korabas, the Otataral Dragon, is the antidote to magic, and since all life is magic, any area Korabas crosses becomes devoid of it and thus a wasteland. Korabas herself never asked to be what she is.
- We Have Reserves: The Tiste Liosan rely on this tactic in the battle for Kharkanas- for a number of reasons. Kadagar Fant sends common conscripts through the breach first, killing most of the common folk who might object to his plans in repeated waves. Then he sends those nominally loyal to him but still dangerous- soletaken dragons, the Hounds of Light, and the regular Liosan Legions. Then he sends his most reliable lieutenant- Aparal Forge- and his best Legions through. If he'd just sent the Legions first, the Shake would've broken and ran. Instead his plan gradually restored their confidence in themselves to fight for their birthright and left Kurald Emurlahn open to a retaliatory invasion by the Tiste Andii.