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 (with Amanda, new to the series, going first), and finally comments from Tor.com readers. In this article, we’ll cover chapter six of Dust of Dreams.
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.
The Bolkando, who have been overcharging the Khundryl Burned Tears, encircling them with soldiers, and treating them with contempt, enact one more usurious hike in fees. Young Khundryl take offense, say “we’ve got your 100% price hike right here,” and kill lots of Bolkando. They then ride off to give Warleader Gall the good news.
Warleader Gall hears the bad news, realizes the Khundryl can’t just flee onto the plains if they’re to help Tavore and the Malazan army (and the Grey Helms), and orders that the Burned Tears march on the capital.
While the Grey Helms make landing, Tanakalian and Run’Thurvian discuss choosing another Destriant, but Run’Thurvian decides to wait. They move on to discussing the likelihood that the Bolkando will try and ambush them as they march through the upcoming pass, catching the Grey Helms between the Bolkando “escort” and a waiting army. Tanakalian internally muses on how they will change the world with war and bring justice via the sword, and decides the old Destriant was just a crazy old man and thus no need to tell Run’Thurvian of what he had told Tanakalian.
Chancellor Rava and Conquestor Avalt (leading the Bolkando escort of the Helms) receive news of the Khundryl turning against the Bolkando. They assume the Khundryl will flee to the Wastelands where they can easily be dealt with, and plan to use the Perish’s “absurdly elevated notion of honour” to keep the Perish from helping the Khundryl, by speaking of the Khundryl atrocities. After which they will ambush the Helms as planned, then turn on the Malazans, who most likely will not be supported by the Letherii, who are led by a “useless, bumbling idiot.” Having so astutely taken the measure of the three disconnected armies marching through their territory, they turn to discussing their fear that their own queen has agents in Lether hunting down their spies, their dread that the Queen’s Evertine Legion might take the field if the Queen finds a reason to “shove her useless husband aside,” and the unnerving news that the King’s 14th daughter and her handmaiden have disappeared from the palace.
Tanakalian and Run’Thurvian meet with Chancellor Rava and Conquestor Avalt, who apprise them of the Khundryl’s activities. Run’Thurvian assumes the Burned Tears had cause, calls the Bolkando on their duplicitous nature, reaffirms the Helm’s alliance with the Khundryl, and tells them if the Bolkando want the Perish as enemies, they should prepare to be “obliterated.” As the Bolkando leaders try to stumble their way out of this mess, Tanakalian thinks if they’re “shaking with terror” at the idea of the Khundryl and Perish, “Wait until you meet the Bonehunters.” After Rava and Avalt leave, Run’Thurvian orders an immediate march, correctly assuming Gall is leading his army toward the capital.
Yan Tovis (Twilight) head back toward her people, sadly meditating on how King Tehol, who has been challenging much of the entrenched Letherii system, will soon “swept aside,” as “The beast that was civilization ever faced outward . . . [and] devours the world to come” Her brother Yedan Derryg (the Watch) appears and tries to convince her not to take their people on the journey she is planning, but to take “the mortal road” instead. She tells him she has no choice.
Pithy and Brevity, assuming Yan Tovis will lead the people to resettle in Lether, discuss ways to use the current crisis with the Shake to their mutual benefit. [Pithy and Brevity were ex-cons who were part of the inmate take-over of Second Maiden Fort]
Yan Tovis shocks Skwish and Pully by telling them that “By my Royal Blood I will open the Road to Gallan . . . To the Dark Shore. I am taking us home.”
The “group” including Taxilian, Breath, etc. heads toward a massive structure carved in the shape of a dragon, which turns out to be a city. They bicker. The ghost that flits amongst them wonders how they keep suddenly having stuff he’s never seen before, like torches and waterskins, and daggers and Tiles, and SPF 50 sunscreen that isn’t too oily at all but rubs on real nice and . . . Nappet finally says out loud what they have all been thinking: “Someone was hunting them.” A spear is mentioned and the ghost recalls someone using one against him once, “lunging at his face, his chest, slicing the muscles of his arms, rocking him back, one step, then another.” He decides he does not like Spears at all, he does not like them in a hall. The group finds a covered entrance and begin to dig through. They bicker. The ghost muses on self-delusion and wonders why the concept makes him so anxious, the idea of knowing oneself too well. The group breaks through, bickers, Breath says she wants nothing to do with flooded tunnels, they light mysteriously appearing lanterns and enter. The ghost realizes he is bound to these people that don’t even know he’s there and feels a moment of torment which quickly moves onto rage and indignation and promises that any god/goddess who so judges him and remains hidden will be hunted down. Inside the city, the group finds two-dozen or so throat-cut K’Chain Che’Malle. They move inward. One assumes they bicker as they do so.
Vedith is a bit badass, non? What with these splinters driven into his forearm so far they seem like bones, and biting the ear of his horse in order to bring it to a screaming halt. I like the realism of that—most horses can’t stand their ears being interfered with and it can bring them back to themselves if they’re ever bolting or not happy.
This is a sharp look at how most people perceive those they deem to be savages and not worthy of attention: “These Bolkando had thought the Khundryl knives were dull. Dull knives, dull minds. They had thought they could chear the savages, mock them, ply them with foul liquor and steal their wealth.”
And these Khundryl do bring bloody vengeance, don’t they? “It had taken most of the morning to hunt down and butcher the last garrison soldier. And barely a bell to murder the townsfolk who had not fled—who had, presumably, imagined that seventy-five soldiers would prevail against a mere thirty savages—and then set fire to the town, roasting alive the few who had successfully hidden themselves.”
It is easy to see why the Khundryl might be considered barbaric, when we observe their funeral ceremony—merely spitting to create a circle round the corpse.
This chapter is a whole sequence of people not reacting the way they are expected to, or underestimating each other, starting here with Vedith thinking that the story of the slaughter will make Warleader Gall’s eyes shine, and then seeing him sagging back in his seat and squeezing those same eyes shut.
I would not want to be the person to face the Adjunct and try to explain why the Bonehunters are now facing a march through a warzone, so I can completely see why Gall would decide to head straight for the Bolkando capital in an effort to keep them all cooped up.
It seems a little short-sighted that only elders would be considered for the position of Destriant. We’ve seen youngsters across the series conduct amazing feats and take on leadership roles effectively. We’ve also seen that age doesn’t necessarily bring wisdom!
Another mention of the war that awaits these troops as they head across the Wasteland: “In Krughava’s mind, Tanakalian well knew, a holy war awaited them, the singular purpose of their existence, and upon that foreign soil the Grey Helms would find their glory, their heroic triumph in service to the Wolves of Winter.”
This is a chilling quote, considering what we’ve recently mentioned of justice connected to the Forkrul Assail: “Justice arrived with the taste of blood, both sweet and bitter and that too was as it should be.”
I love this whole scene with Avalt and Rava—seeing just how much they get wrong is so much fun! Especially considering Tehol a useless, bumbling idiot. The bit about their Queen Abrastal and the Evertine Legion is intriguing. Makes me wonder if the Queen is a god in disguise or some ascendant who shouldn’t be brought into play. “Surely,” he said, voice breaking, “this present game is too small to concern Queen Abrastal.” Whoever or whatever she is, strikes me that this key mention of her means she should be borne in mind.
The scene where Rava and Avalt are undone by Krughava and her perspective on events, and the fact that she is willing to go to war for the Khundryl is magnificently played, and once again shows an example of a person being completely under-estimated. Speaking of, this quote from Tanakalian is just brilliant: “After all, you may at this moment face two bridling, angry armies, my friends, and find yourself shaking with terror. Wait until you meet the Bonehunters.” It is a bit of a fistpump moment for me, I confess.
Oh wait, the Shake are going to take the Road to Gallan? Gallan was Tiste Andii, right? And they are going home to the Dark Shore? So they are related to Tiste Andii and Kharkanas? Or am I reading that wrong?
Okay, so I read back to the part of the prologue concerning Taxilian and Breath and Shake and all the rest… And they are INSIDE THIS JAGHUT PERSON, aren’t they? And, since they were there and involved when Icarium did his whole new Warrens things, well, that makes this Icarium! Surely I’m right? Did I just work something out? Was it too easy? *does a little dance in case*
But how did all those people—dead people?—get inside Icarium? It must be driving him pretty mad, to have those voices in his head. Would explain why things don’t seem to be quite right in his head, with him remembering different events and occurrences to those that the rest mention.
“There had been a spear in his past—yes? Perhaps? A dreadful thing, lunging at his face, his chest, slicing the muscles of his arms.” An interesting quote—yes? Perhaps?
What door is Icarium trying to find?
And what a horribly sinister little sentence concerning Breath: “The ghost watched as Breath paused to bend down and run a finger through decaying blood. She slipped that finger into her mouth, and smiled.”
I find Vedith’s response to the slaughter interesting. He’s a young hothead, but still feels “sick,” after the killing, and finds “the taste of that slaughter left a bitter, toxic stain, inside and out.” And rather than dehumanize the slain, he recalls how earlier the town “had been a peaceful place, life awakening and crawling on to the old familiar trails.” And he uses the word “murder,” rather than “kill” to refer to the killing of the townsfolk. Then later Gall calls the non-soldier victims “innocent farmers and villagers.” Despite the litany of provocations, it’s hard to get behind the Khundryl here, despite what we’ve been shown about the military/political wing of the Bolkando. Though you have to love Gall’s decision. And the wry humor of the shift from Vedith thinking about Gall’s reaction to Gall’s actual reaction.
“Mortal Sword, do we march into betrayal?” File.
Based on what we’ve seen of Setoc’s view of people, probably a good idea to think hard on this: “In Krguhava’s mind, Tanakalian well knew, a holy war awaited them, the singular purpose of their existence, and upon that foreign soil the Grey Helms would find their glory, their heroic service to the Wolves of Winter.”
As for Tanakalian, hard to root for someone who scorns “foolish” dreams of “peace and harmony between strangers,” (especially in a series predicated upon empathy and compassion) and prefers the “sweet and bitter” and tasting of blood justice of the sword and war. Which sound a little like some other folks we may know.
One has to hope the physical description of the landing isn’t an omen for the Grey Helms, with the “confused” water, the slogging through mud, the running aground, the stumbling “shin-deep in fly-swarmed mud,” and the difficulty in “retracing their root back to the anchored Thrones.”
It’s a telling contrast, between Gall’s response the thousands of “innocent farmers and villagers” killed by his own people, and Rava’s response, which is a big smile and then a thought of how to turn that to his advantage.
I do so love how wrong these guys are in their reading of the situation, of all the situation—the way they think the Burned Tears are going to flee into the Wastelands, how the Helms will turn against the Khundryl and maybe even pay reparations, and how they dismiss the Bonehunters as much of a concern. Then how they view Tehol as a “bumbling idiot.” You just know these guys are going down.
Lots of foreshadowing re the Bolkando Queen however, as a formidable force. But the question gets raised, will the enemy of my enemy be my friend? If she is a force opposed to these two schemers, might she then be an ally?
Just as much as I enjoyed Rava and Avalt getting so much wrong, I equally enjoyed Run’Thurvian getting so much right—calling how the Khundryl were provoked and then how Gall would aim right for the capital.
And no matter what I think of Tanakalian, I couldn’t help but get a fond chill when he thinks, “you may at this moment face two bridling, angry armies my friends, and find yourselves shaking with terror. Wait until you meet the Bonehunters.”
Interesting how Yan Tovis’ views on civilization so mirror out good friend Karsa’s, with her view of civilization as a “beast” that “devoured the world to come.” Understandable as she rides through the wreckage of a landscape ruined by over-logging (props to Tehol for trying for “sustainable” use). One has to hope her cynicism (or is it realism) isn’t right, that “King Tehol would be swept aside, drowned in the inexorable tide of unmitigated growth” as he tries to “stand between the glutton and the feast.”
Easy to root for her success for her people when she considers not only their plight, but the plight of others (that darn empathy again), as she tells her brother “I will not descend upon King Tehol’s most fragile subjects with fifteen thousand desperate trespassers.
And if you’re rooting for her, you have to concerned about the scene with Pithy and Brevity, who seem focused on how all this can help them. Bad enough she’s got a brother she can’t fully trust and who wants to marry her off and a pair of witches she also cannot trust. Not surrounded by a great supporting cast it seems at this early stage.
Then we learn her plans—using some sort of warren/magical path called the Road to Gallan to take the Shake home to the Dark Shore. You get a sense we must be near the end of the series if the Shake are returning to the Shore. And “Dark” is a bit of a clue. And we’ve had reference to the poet Blind Gallan before.
OK, so remember that this poor guy wandering around the K’Chain Che’Malle dragon city is muttering to himself, via the prologue: “a single “gaunt figure, skin of dusty green, tusks… Carrying a sword… A lone wanderer who spoke in seven voices.” It seems our half-crazy guy is starting to realize he doesn’t have a firm grip on reality. Now, what that means going forward, we’ll have to wait and see. But a few more hints arise as to his identity: his memory of having fought a super-skilled spearwielder, his musing that “When the self was a monster—who wouldn’t want to hide from such a thing? . . . Yes, even the lowest beast knew the value of not knowing itself too well,” and his rage and indignation at a higher power meddling with him and his willingness to hunt down and confront even a god.
And that’s a creepy little ending there, with Breath (note by the way her dislike of flooded tunnels and focus on drowning) smiling at the taste of old blood.
Well, a bunch more players have now been moved onto the board and are about to aim toward their respective spots as the Khundryl, Grey Helms, and Shake prepare to journey. Must be close to time for the Bonehunters to get a move on….
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.