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 fifteen 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.
Editor’s note: As most of you are probably aware, this novel and the resulting chapter discussions contain descriptions of violence and sexual violence that some readers may find upsetting; while the Reread will be devoting a separate discussion thread to the most extensive and conspicuous instance of these elements in an upcoming post, readers who may wish to avoid these topics should be aware that there is some limited discussion of these elements in the summary section of today’s post.
Authors’ Note: We have two posts today. In the first (this one), we will summarize and respond to Chapter 15 as usual. In the other (and only in that one please), we will deal specifically with the much-dreaded event that we all find so disturbing. We’d like to have that second discussion within a larger context as well—moving beyond the specific scene and particular character and into the use/portrayal of violence in this series and in the fantasy genre.
Tool muses on the way his people have been warped by the Ritual of Tellann: “The sealing of living souls inside lifeless bone and flesh, the trappings of sparks inside withered eyes.” He recalls the way the new species killed (and ate) the Imass: “the children of the Imass, who were not children at all, but inheritors nonetheless, had flooded the world with the taste of Imass blood on their tongues.” Anger threatens to overwhelm him, to obliterate any sense of empathy, but he resolves to push past this vision/world and on to his own people’s paradise. Ahead of him though, waits Toc, who does not move when Tool tells him to let him pass so he might see what he has “earned… “the great ay and the ranga… my kin…” Toc tells him he cannot pass, provokes Tool to anger and hurt, does not yield when Tool reminds him of how he had given Toc an Imass name or how he had wept at Toc’s death. They tell each other of missed opportunities when each “saw” the other but did not recognize him. Toc reminds him of why he (Toc) had died—for “the lives of children”—and asks Tool if he can do the same. Tool says he cannot, but Toc says rather he “will not” and when Tool yells that “They are not my children!” Toc tells him he has found “the rage of the Imass—the rage they escaped with the Ritual… The world you so seek, you will infect with the lies you tell yourself.” Tool asks what Toc wants, and Toc says nothing, “We are guilty of so many pasts. Will we ever be made to answer for any of them?” When Tool wonders if Toc wants forgiveness for humans, Toc says, “do not forgive us. Never forgive us, “ adding that the Imass chose the wrong foe for their vengeance; they should have declared their war against humans. He wonders if Silverfox will see that. He tells Tool that only Tool, is “in the position to take on the necessary act of retribution… for all the so-called lesser creatures that have fallen and ever fall to our slick desires.” Tool asks of Hood’s Gate and Toc replies it is locked and he (Toc) is the lock. Tool is near overcome with sadness and pain, “the murder of a friendship, the death of love… The one thing left in me—it is slain. You have murdered it.” As he turns to go, Toc tells him to find his children, “not of the blood. Of the spirit.” Tool thinks, “There are none you bastard… You and your kind killed them all.” Toc tells him, “And we’re far from finished,” to which Tool thinks, “I know cast away love. I embrace hate.”
After Tool is out of sight, Toc weeps, and Olar Ethil steps out to say “compelling” him to such things gives her “no pleasure.” He calls her evil, and she shrugs, saying what she wanted is done: “Onos Toolan is severed from you. And more importantly, from your kind.” Though she is upset with Toc resisting her influence enough to say that line to Tool about the children, even if she thinks it won’t matter since Tool, “Failed to understand.” She dismisses him.
Torrent wakes after having dreamed of Toc, and when Olar Ethil says she’ll keep Toc from him he wonders why she thinks he wants that. She asked if she heard the wolves howling from Toc’s lost eye and asks what he thinks “the beasts want with him,” before warning him that Toc is “filled with lies [and] would use you, as the dead are wont to do with mortals.” She directs him south toward some water, saying she’ll rejoin him later. She tells him of how humans killed the Imass who did not partake of the Ritual, mostly killing them (a few rare matings), but he just shrugs, saying “Peoples die. They vanish from the world. It is as it was and ever will be.” She gives a long speech about what she has done/been (we’ll cover that in comments). Torrent listens to her rant, then guesses that while she might once have been all those things, they’ve all been lost, “when you gave up life, chose to become this thing of bone.” She throws him down, telling him, “I am promised! The Stone Bitch shall awaken once more… And you will fall upon each other… You will choose evil in fullest knowledge of what you do—I am coming, mortal, the earth awakened to judgment… And I will give you… not a single instant of mercy.” She asks if Toc spoke to him in his dreams and when he says no, she warns him again Toc is “filled with lies.” Torrent thinks, “I will do as you ask. When the time comes, I will do as you ask.”
Setoc wakes to find Cafal dreaming restlessly. She thinks of his repeating how, “Something terrible is about to happen,” as they ran on. She has a sudden vision, as of the area in ancient times, when it was an oasis. As she watches, a grey cloud comes near, dusting the oasis so that everything died—animals and plants. She wondered at first at the cause, then realized it had been weapon, and she cannot imagine who would “wage war upon all living things. Upon the very earth itself. What could possibly be won? Was it just stupidity?” She realizes the anger she feels does not belong only to the wolves, to Togg and Fanderay, but “it is the rage of every unintended victim. It is the fury of the innocents. The god whose face is not human, but life itself. She is coming.” Wolves circle her and Cafal, and she senses her old mother, the one who raised her when she was little. She warns them to flee, to hide, saying if they follow they will be killed. Cafal wakes and tells her the wolves bring magic, a warren they can use, maybe to arrive in time. She tells him their gift is not for him, but when he asks where they’ll lead her, she says of course they’re going back to his people’s amp; “No other path is possible, not anymore.”
Sag’Churok tells Kalyth they are running out of time, that the enemy is hunting the Rooted refuge, and she replies that they are all the last of their kind; there “is no such thing as refuge.” As they move on, Kalyth thinks how while the Matron wants the K’Chain Che’Malle to learn the human secret of success, they don’t get that it is pretty simple: “We annihilate everyone else until none are left, and then we annihilate each other. Until we too are gone.” She thinks she will find her hands of fire, and “we will use you Sag’Churok. You and Gunth Mach and all your kind. We will show you the horrors of the modern world you so want to be part of.” She pities them, for their naiveté she will destroy.
Gunth Mach considers the racial memories she holds, and how they show that every Matron eventually goes insane, though the males never know this. She has tried to break the pattern, which hadn’t been working, with Sag’Churok. She recalls the height of K’Chain Che’Malle civilization, then the civil wars, the founding of new colonies, the betrayal of the Nah’ruk, a dying Matron “loos [ing] her eggs into the surf in the mad hope that something new would be made—a hybrid of virtues with all the flaws discarded,” fleeing, death, wastelands. She knows that Gu’Rull is the one who will decide if she is a worthy successor to Acyl, and thinks how this quest is doomed to failure, that she, even if deemed worthy, will be the last Matron. And that was “just as well.”
Sceptre Irkullas looks at the devastation on the Barghast/Akrynnai battlefield, knowing his daughter lies there somewhere. He thinks it is as if the very spirits of “earth and rock were convulsing in rage and perhaps disgust, demanding peace.” He thinks how he has won four major battles, scattering all the Barghast save the Senan, which even now has three armies marching on it, and yet he will now ask for peace. A warrior passes on his guess that this disaster looks like the work of Malazan munitions, but Irkullas dismisses it and says it was sorcery. He orders a pyre for the night and plans to stand vigil. He considers dying in an attack on the Senan camp and finding his peace that way
Maral Eb’s army grows as survivors find his camp. He knows the Senan have been untouched and plans to claim them for his own and to lead them against Irkullas. Bakal doesn’t buy it; he thinks this is “the wrong war,” the one Tool did not want. As Bakal tries to figure out a way to save his people, he starts to realize Tool’s burdens. He thinks Tool should have killed them all for their stupidity and considers doing nothing, letting Maral Eb do just that, and thus letting Tool have his revenge in the end.
Sekara the Vile walks at the head of the Gadra, her husband Stolmen walking behind her, confused, and she realizes his usefulness is near an end. She had thought a good candidate was Maral Eb, but hadn’t considered his brothers, whom she now realizes she’ll have to kill to ensure her power. As they march toward the Senan, they’ve heard reports of the battles lost, of Tool’s death, and she looks forward to her vengeance.
Stavi and Storii (Hetan’s twins via Kruppe) are with Tool’s son, who sits scribbling in the dirt, a pattern making his name, Absi Kire (Autumn Promise). The twins hear some noise from the camp—excited voices, but not in a good way. Hetan hears the news of Tool’s death brought to camp.
Cafal and Setoc run through the warren with the wolves, “a ghostly tide.” Cafal wonders why she leads the wolves to the Barghast, and would tell them to flee if he could. He knows he will not arrive in time.
Sathand Gril, who has been spying on the children for weeks, now, at the news of Tool’s death, prepares to kill them. He hears shrieks from the camp.
Hetan is bound, beaten, and hobbled by having her the front half of her feet cut off. She then has the wounds cauterized, is told her children have been killed, and is raped multiple times. She thinks she should have protected the children and so sees the rape as her just punishment.
Gril pursues the children.
Cafal, via his gods, sees what happens to his sister, sees Bakal come and witness it then flee in horror, sees Gril give chase. Setoc tries to get him to keep going, but he hits her to get her to leave him alone and accidentally knocks her out. The wolves close in and he runs.
The children flee, then realizing it is futile, make a stand. Gril tells them he is proud of them, but “this must be.” As he’s about to kill them, Toc kills him with a pair of arrows. The twins recognize the arrows as Tool’s, and when Toc says they were a gift, they name him Toc the Younger. They rush to hug him as they weep.
Setoc wakes to find herself with the wolves in a ring of stones of power. She wonders if Cafal has lost himself in the Beast Hold and thinks he would be happy at his own death.
Cafal reaches the Barghast camp and tries to figure out how to rescue his sister.
Maral Eb has Sekara’s female allies killed.
Bakal sits in his tent, thinking on his wife’s desire for another married man is leading her and her lover to kill the wife. He ponders doing nothing and is disgusted at how they are all killing each other even as an enemy marches toward them. He decides he will not let his wife and her lover commit their murder, and if he’s too late, he’ll kill them both.
Sekara tries to convince her husband, Stolmen, to go kill Maral Eb, saying he’s already killed several of her allies. Stolmen tells her Eb’s men will come for them next, and he will stand there to protect her and try and ensure they survive the night, after which things may change. When she tells him she doesn’t want to simply survive, he appears to see her in a new light. She convinces him to at least see if Eb is protected or not and he is killed immediately upon exiting the tent. Maral Eb’s brothers enter the tent. She says she can be useful, offering to lead them to kill Bakal for instance, and they say they’ll see, then exit, after telling her Bakal was one of many who were killed tonight.
Bakal is attacked. He kills one and then the other is killed by Cafal, arriving in the nick of time. Bakal says he’ll help rescue Hetan, but it can’t be tonight; they’ll have to wait until her flesh at least has healed. Cafal agrees to wait three days and before leaving Bakal to gather his allies, tells him that “our gods are howling in terror… Did they think they could get away with that? Did they forget what he was? Where he came from? He will take them in to his hands and he will crush them… And I will stand back and do nothing.”
Toc leads the children to Setoc and tells her to take them and stay camped inside the circle of stones until he returns, to wait “for his war to end,” adding they will leave when he (Toc) returns.
On the battlefield where the Akrynnai and Barghast were devastated, Tool reforms as a T’lan Imass again. He picks up a flint sword and heads out: “He had a people to kill.”
After the pain of Tool’s death, and what he did it for, and how we felt anger at the manner of his passing, this is just heartbreaking:
“Toc, my friend, do not take this from me. Do not take this, too, when you and your kind have taken everything else.”
Especially to then watch as Toc drives him to hate and Tool feels all the pain of a friendship shattering. After we saw the friendship develop between these two characters, to then watch this seems more than I can bear (which is terrible considering that this chapter just piles on the pain from here on in…)
I’m curious as to why Olar Ethil requires Tool to be severed from humans—and just how Toc’s words about the children are going to affect that. I mean, Olar Ethil clearly has plans for Tool and that last bit about finding the children might dilute it. And children of the spirit? Who might those be?
I love the bit where Olar Ethil is trying to make clear just how big and important she is to Torrent and he has no clue:
“Tell me, do you know what a Soletaken is? A D’ivers?”
“What do you know of Elder Gods?”
Wow, Olar Ethil gives us a hell of a lot in her speech to Torrent, but it is hard to know which bits are true—for instance, she is Burn? The part of her that sleeps, tormented by sickness? And she is associated strongly with the Jaghut—is that why she is happy to see Tool consumed by hate again? Because of the history between their two races? I wonder why she is so concerned about whether Toc spoke to Torrent (if I am reading that correctly)?
And another little reminder—seems like those jade marks in the sky are becoming more prevalent: “False dawn was ebbing, almost drowned out by the glare of the jade slashes.”
Setoc watches the past, as the land dies from some poison—but is she watching something that could come again. Is this what the jade statues are bringing? Poison down upon this land? And what is meant by this? “The god whose face is not human, but life itself. She is coming…” Olar Ethil? And the ‘she’—is that this god referred to, or is it the wolf mother that comes to the camp the one?
I wonder if Kalyth’s urge to see her own kind has been exacerbated by the meeting with Whiskeyjack and his companions? And I think this is perhaps the first time Kalyth has been called ‘Destriant Kalyth’, as though she has finally accepted her position and stepped into the responsibility.
I have to say, Erikson does write well about the K’Chain Che’Malle—they are alien enough that we can see them as being utterly different. And yet show enough emotion that we can also relate to them as characters and as a species.
This is a simply wonderful sentence: “We are a travelling museum of a people about to become extinct.” It says so much, tells us so much in so few words that you have to admire the wordsmithing here.
I am beginning to thoroughly enjoy Bakal’s adjustment, and his change in thinking thanks to having seen Tool’s sacrifice. It seemed that Tool, in his last actions, might have given the Barghast someone who could benefit them—if he is able to convince any of his fellows. “The real war is against stupidity. How could I not have understood that?” Except it seems that Bakal plans to do nothing and enjoy the fact that the Barghast now have the leader they deserve in Marab El. Hmm, I would rather that Bakal actually tried to make things better for his people.
I think that this quote does sum up the Barghast incredibly well:
“An enemy marches to find us, and we are locked in a frenzy of senseless slaughter, killing our own.”
That scene with Toc the Younger saving Tool’s children, and putting his hands on the girls’ heads as they clutch his undead legs—that was a scene to treasure.
As we near the end, it’s amazing how many first impressions have been turned around by now. We’ve talked several times about how our first view of the Imass—noble, determined victims hunting down those who tyrannized them—has completely shifted as we learned more about that war, about the Jaghut, about the Imass, their Ritual. Now we get the “children of Imass” turned around as well (though perhaps I’m forgetting if we’ve gotten this before?), what with it turning out to be less of a positive relationship than “children” would seem to imply (I’m going with the whole killing of and eating as being not positive). We’ve also discussed how the Imass/Human relationship seems to parallel early human evolution, with the Imass akin to the Neanderthals and Humans being, well, human (Homo sapiens). This description seems to fit into that parallel as well. We know the two species overlapped for some time, we know there was some mating, albeit probably relatively rare. And there certainly have been findings (or at least, strong speculation based on findings) of cannibalism among Neanderthals. I don’t think it’s even been directly linked to Sapiens , but I’m also not sure that can be ruled out, as opposed to the typical speculation they ate each other. Besides liking the layer this adds to the story, I’m keenly interested in the whole exploration of early humans, so I love this little bit.
I also like the line about the archetypical nature of this storyline—the “son devours the father, heart of a thousand myths.” As we indeed have—pick your culture, you’re almost bound to find the story of the son taking down the father.
This also recounts another thread of a theme we’ve seen repeatedly—extinction, the last of a kind. A theme that has really risen to the fore in this book.
And then, how crushing is this scene between Tool and Toc the Younger? Crushing in so many ways—Tool having earned his rest in the afterlife. Tool, who if you recall went through hell to rescue his friend Toc a ways back, having that bond utterly dissolved, their prior missed opportunities, the arrows (Tool’s own arrows), and that killer last thought of Tool’s: “I embrace hate.” From Tool of all people. But we’re not done, because then we learn that Toc was compelled to do this by Olar Ethil. Man, this scene just kills. Is there any light in this? Maybe that moment Toc breaks free of Olar Ethil and tells Tool to fight for the children. But will Tool, who has embraced hate, do so?
And what is this all in service of? What are Olar Ethil’s plans? Why does she need not just Tool, but a Tool who turns his back on compassion and love and embraces hate?
And speaking of Olar Ethil. I mean, really, what the hell with that speech she gives to Torrent? Is all that true? None of it? Can any of it be taken at face value? Is it pure deception? Is she just trying to intimidate Torrent? Is it metaphorical—she is in spirit with those figures she named—many mother figures? Is she really Burn? (she is associated with Tellann (“the guise of life-giving fire”). Is she a fragment of a once singular godhood that fragmented into those forms? Are those forms she puts on and off? Is she a D’ivers and so those are all fragments making a unified whole? Or have they separated and become themselves? Or is it something else altogether? Might a prequel show us more? And if it does, would it necessarily clarify things?
And it does seem Torrent’s guess that all that’s been taken from her hits kind of close to home. And who or what has “promised” Olar Ethil that “The Stone Bitch shall awaken once more.”
And I love the craftiness of that close to that scene. How it is left unclear as to just who Torrent is talking of when he says I will do as “you” ask—who is the you? Olar Ethil? Toc? Who else has he been with—Setoc? Cafal? Someone else?
Speaking of Setoc and Cafal, that vision of Setoc continues to the environmental theme, as well as the theme of humanity’s amazing power of annihilation: “Who wages war upon all living things? Upon the very earth itself?” Good question, who indeed?
As is often the case in this series, we keep circling around these same themes. The extinction and humanity’s murderous capabilities rise again with the appearance of the wolves, and then with Kalyth and the K’Chain Che’Malle who are trying to forestall their own extinction, and then Kalyth’s understanding of what humanity’s “secret to success” is: We annihilate everyone else until none are left, and then we annihilate each other.” One sort of has to wonder where Erikson is going with this, as the picture being painted of humanity is one of a cancer, a blight. Is removal of the tumor the only possible solution?
Are the K’Chain Che’Malle meant to be seen as victims? Or are they a parallel to humanity—a civilization riding its power ever higher until it takes down itself? Can they recover and is that a sense of hope for humanity if they do? Is Gunth Mach’s breaking of tradition another sign of hope? We know that those who fight change, those who do not evolve seem not to do so great (witness the Barghast); is Gunth Mach’s willingness to embrace change (as did the Matron with this quest) a sign that perhaps the K’Chain Che’Malle can survive this nadir of their civilization?
And a quick moment to note that war against the Tartheno Tel Akai—all that power, all that tech, all those numbers (50 legions of 5,000 Ve’Gath), and the K’Chain Che’Malle are “decimated”? That’s something to consider re the Tartheno.
And speaking of change, we see the potential in two other characters here: Sceptre Irkullas, who might not drive the Barghast into extinction but sue for a peace he needn’t ask for; and Bakal, whose experience with Tool has clearly transformed his viewpoint. Can these characters embrace change fully enough? Each of them has not yet done so, each of them is conflicted on their options, each considers both change and marching down the same old path. And even if they do accept change personally, can their embrace of it ripple outward, have any impact? After all, Tool tried to change the Barghast. Cafal as well. And yet…
From those who change to those who do not. Sekara. Who changes in small ways (whom she will support, whom she will betray), but not in big ways. Amongst all the deaths that take place in the Barghast camp, how frustrating is it that one is not her own?
OK, and here we’ll skip over events with regard to Hetan and the children as we’ll discuss those in the other thread.
After all that, and after that scene with Tool and Toc earlier, it is so good to see his appearance to save the children. Again.
But then we get Tool rising again in that great vividly epic scene that closes the chapter (and wouldn’t you love to see this on the big screen?) and talk about a bit of a downer at the end. Talk about ominous and grim: “carrion eaters,” “dried up blood,” “insects crawled like the teeth of the earth, devouring all they could,” “a storm raging,” “gods howled,” “ghost wolves,” “stench of spilled blood,” “ash heap of burnt remains,” “the Slashes seemed to pulse and waver,” “Bones clattered together… pieces of rotting flesh pulled free, tendons writhing like serpents, ligaments wriggling like worms,” “flesh and desiccated skin,” twisted,” “rotting meat,” “slashes gouging,” “knitting like a scar,” “fists closed into tight knots… muscle building to terrible violence, faces immune to the sun’s heat and life’s pity,” “bled coulour into the sky.” Yeah, even without the “He had a people to kill,” you kinda sorta get a wee feeling this is not going to a good place.
Just a reminder: the discussion of the events surrounding Hetan should take place solely in today’s other thread, please. Thanks!
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.