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 the second half of chapter nineteen 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.
Koryk recalls (he thinks—he admits it could be a false memory) once being assigned a huge boulder to remove so as to dig a latrine trench, how folks had laughed at his attempts and how he’d sworn, “he would never again accept failure.” He’d stayed long past the others, until he’d finally dislodged it, revealing a hidden cache of coins—“a treasure… something precious, wonderful rare.” One that he’d long since “Squandered… Every last fucking coin. Gone, and what was left to show for it. Whores are warm to the touch, but they hide their souls inside a cold keep. It’s when you surrender to that world that you know you are truly lost, you are finally alone. It’s all cold to the touch these days… I spend the rest of my years blaming every damned coin. But nobody’s fooled. Except me.” He wants to rush into battle, “cut in two every face on every coin,” to show that life is not empty. Smiles had told him his fever had scarred him, but Koryk believes instead it merely showed him the “truth of solitude.” He doesn’t buy for a second any of Fiddler’s talk of “family,”—he feels betrayals are coming, and he looks forward to when it happens and he can tell them all: We are each of us alone. We always were… save yourselves. As I intend to do for myself.” He thinks Tavore asks too much when she demands “faith, loyalty… honesty.” Asks too much and gives nothing back. As he contemplates desertion, he recalls his spirit hoard: “Everything they gave me was a lie, a betrayal… Someone put them [the coins] there to lure me in, to trap me… Not my fault, how could it be?”
Ruthan Gudd is disturbed by how a passing light casts a “deathly hue” on the sleeping Skanarow. He wonders if Greymane, like him, had sensed Draconus’ return. He thinks back: “The world shook. Balls of fire descending, terrible light filling the sky. Fists hammering the world. Wish I’d seen it. He remembered the Azath’s deathcry… the soil he’d clawed through [to] impossible freedom. Jacuruku, you’ve changed.” He muses how loyalty can be discovered “under the strangest circumstances,” and looking at the sleeping woman beside him, thinks “Do not think of me with love… Do not force upon me a moment of confession, the truth of foolish vows uttered a lifetime ago,” and then recalls a conversation with Draconus.
“It’s better this way Draconus”
“This is Kallor’s empire, friend. Will you not reconsider?”
“The shore seems welcoming enough. If I mind my own business… “
He recalls how Draconus and he had both smiled at that statement. And later, how from within the Azath ground he’d felt Draconus return to Jacuruku to “see for himself the madness of Kallor.” He believes Draconus had been right, and thinks, “Can you hear me now? Draconus?… I have reconsidered. At long last. And so I give you this. Find me, and one of us will die.”
Balm, Widdershins, and Throatslitter talk about seeking a divination concerning what just happened (Draconus’ arrival).
Hellian is drunk, sees something large and winged fly overhead. Or not.
Gesler and Stormy discuss Stormy’s feelings that something is spying on them, a feeling that’s gotten worse since Draconus’ arrival knocked all the sensitives silly. Stormy tells Gesler he’s also having bad dreams of “stuff falling out of the sky.” Gesler brings Stormy to Hedge and sets him up with Hedge’s “two beauties.” Stormy heads off and Gesler and Hedge move to an ensorcelled ring to talk without worrying about Bottle spying. Gesler tells Hedge that the rumors are someone “stinking with power” came through a gate, but Hedge isn’t bothered by that—“So some nasty’s shown up—that means he’s here in the real world. Anyone here in the real world can die from a damned rotten tooth, or a knife, or whatever.” Later he tells Gesler not to worry about Draconus, as “that one ain’t got a thought that ain’t ten thousand years outta touch.” The important thing, he says, is that Hood was killed, though he doesn’t know how or by whom, and that the Fallen Bridgeburners and Whiskeyjack are holding the gate, something Gesler will be thankful for that when his time comes.
Brys and Aranict (the Atri-Ceda) walk through the camp, Aranict trying to hide your feelings for him. They discuss how Brys marches with his army rather than rides, and he tells her that he believes inside each soldier is a “stone of loyalty” on which he needs must carve his name deep, because at some point he might need to ask the impossible of them and so he must be seen as with them. He says they’ll need to especially reassure the soldiers tonight, as they are nervous about all the Malazan mages going down. When she brings up that Quick Ben had said Brys probably had come back from the dead different, he tells her that, “This evening… I felt as if I had awakened, stepped out from a dark, cold place… I’d thought was the real world, the honest world—the coldness, I’d thought, was simply what I had never noticed before… But I understand now that the cold and darkness were within me, death’s own touch upon my soul,” and now that feeling is gone.
Brys catches a glimpse of her unguarded feelings on her face and thinks he must truly have been half-dead to have not seen it before. He wonders what he should do, and decides to set it aside for later.
Sunrise had found that soldiering is getting easier for him. He thinks of all the legendary stuff the Bridgeburners have done and how “More adventures were coming. Glories and heroic defenses, monsters in the sky and flooded deserts… [he] couldn’t wait to get to the legendary stuff… now he was one of them… We’ll prove we’re worthy of the legend.”
Sinter and Kisswhere wait to meet Masan Gilani. Sinter thinks how being a soldier is getting new kin: company’s the tribe, army’s the people—the kingdom.” But she’s not sure she believes that at her core, though she’d wanted to for both her and her sister Kisswhere, who she is sure is going to stray as she always had, leaving Sinter to clean up her mess. Though she admits she sometimes grows tired of those roles. She doesn’t know really who she is, if she wants Badan Gruk to love her or not, she has no idea what the army is doing marching into “blackness”, no idea if they will sand and fight, can kill, and she wishes Tavore would at least give them some reason. She wishes she could be as content as Kisswhere.
Kisswhere is frantic for Sinter to find them a way out of this, thinking how she’d only joined to escape Sinter always interfering in her life, only joined believing she could get out if need, could have “slept her way into some soft posting,” could have simply deserted if necessary. But then her sister and then Badan Gruk followed her and now she is trying to convince herself she is not responsible for their decisions, that if she wants to desert she can. She wonders why Sinter has dragged her out, if she’s planning on running (which she hopes is the reason). Masan shows up, but Kisswhere worries, as “It’s us women who start most of the wars… We’ve been in charge of a long time, us women of Dal Hon, and we’re nothing but trouble.” Kisswhere and Masan don’t exactly hit it off, mostly thanks to Kisswhere. But Masan wins her over with some Andiian brew (Bluerose) and by offering her an out for her behavior. Sinter says she’ll tell Masan what she knows (she has a bit of a “talent” of things about to happen or that could happen) in exchange for something. Masan agrees and Sinter tells her “We’re about to be abandoned… the Bonehunters. All of us, the Adjunct included.” Masan asks by whom—the Burned Tears, the Perish, the Letherii, but Sinter doesn’t know—could be one, could be all. What she wants from Masan is a reason, she needs to know “it’s all worth it.” Masan thinks Sinter isn’t asking just for herself, but is also trying to convince Kisswhere, but Sinter tells her that’s none of her business.
Masan agrees and tells them this is what they think: “He [the Crippled God] didn’t ask for hit. But he’s been making trouble ever since… He’s poison and he knows it and he can’t help it because he doesn’t belong here… the biggest [piece of him] is sitting in this place called Kolanse—and it’s being used.” Sinter assumes they’re going to kill the Crippled God, but Masan tells her they don’t think so, “it’s those chains we’re after. Well, the Adjunct, what she’s after… We’re going to set the bastard free.” Kisswhere can’t believe it and says no wonder the Bonehunters will be abandoned, “even the Adjunt’s not that stupid. Every god and Ascendant in the world will be coming against us.” But Sinter thinks for a moment, then tells her sister, “It will do… I think nothing else would have… It is just, sister. Just.” She says they will have to convince the others not to turn on the Bonehunters, and it will begin by Kisswhere and Masan deserting tonight in different directions (Kisswhere south to convince the Perish and Khundryl and Masan north but to what end Sinter says “that’s not so easy to say.” Kisswhere argues they’ll be hanged for deserting if they return, but Sinter says that won’t happen:
The Adjunct is cold iron—the coldest there ever was. She’ll work it out, fast as lighting… [but] she’s locked in a prison of her own making… absolutely alone… It’s her burden and she won’t dump it on anyone else… not even her High Mage, though he’s probably worked it out by now. She’s put herself between us and the truth—but it’s killing her.
Masan realizes Sinter plans on showing Tavore that she isn’t actually alone, that people are ready for the truth, “We not only worked it out, we’re with her. There to help, whether she asks for it or not.” She says people wont’ be surprised by Kisswhere deserting, but they will be by Masan, but Sinter replies that Tavore will probably come up with some cover story to keep Masan’s reputation up. Kisswhere doesn’t want to be seen as a coward, but Masan says people will see it that way. When Kisswhere says she isn’t a coward, she just doesn’t buy into the whole “family” thing”—“it’s the lie commanders and kings need so they always got us ready to do shit for them.” But Masan tells her, “That whole ‘family’ thing, it’s about fighting to survive. You stand fast for kin, not strangers.”
Kindly. Pores. A heartwarming story of childhood dreams.
Lostara wonders what Quick Ben and Bottle tell Tavore that led to Tavore sending Lostara out so late and kicking out Banaschar. Banaschar tells Lostara it’s “All those choices… surrounding you. Closing in. Creeping. Girl’s gotta run.” He leaves her alone and she thinks how she regrets letting Ruthan go: “It was him. But you let him go. Maybe you thought he’d come back, or you’d just find him again. You thought you had the time. But the world’s always armed and all it takes is a misstep, a wrong decision. And suddenly you’re… bleeding right out… The world’s armed, Adjunct, so be careful… start throwing on that armour.” She passes a Dal Honese woman and wonders where she’s going so late.
Ublala Pung, having traveled for some time, feels abandoned and alone. He meets Draconus (he doesn’t know who he is) who identifies himself as “more or less” a god. Ublala says he’s supposed to save the world, to which Draconus replies, “And here I was contemplating killing it,” but “You are reminding me that some things in this world remain worthwhile.” He adds that he thinks he recognizes Ublala’s armor and weapon, and agrees to travel with him toward the east, which makes Ublala happy as that was the last thing Old Hunch’s ghost had said. They introduce themselves by name, and Draconus offers to help him with his armor. When they discuss the problem of knots, Ublala says they’re “not as bad as chains,” to which Draconus says, “True enough friend.” They head off.
The scene with Koryk is poignant, especially the idea of this stubborn man refusing to accept failure and being rewarded by a cache of coins. The fact he then squandered them on nothing says a lot about his character as well—and about how he seems to be seeking acceptance wherever he can get it.
Ruthan Gudd is MASSIVELY more than he first seemed, if he was around as one of Draconus’ and Kallor’s contemporaries. And it seems as well that he has a real bone to pick with Draconus. Could be interesting! Also, I note that Ruthan Gudd was in a ‘seemingly eternal prison’—Dragnipur as well?
Heh, love Gesler’s advice on being a soldier:
“Don’t die, soldiers.”
“First hint of trouble, strap on and belt up.”
“Your weapon’s the thing strapped to your web.”
Being as there are massive jade things coming from the sky, if I were Gesler I might have taken Stormy’s words about his dreams a little more seriously. Rather than just taking him to have some sex.
Hedge is wonderful being Hedge—saying that he doesn’t have any fear of Draconus because now he’s in the real world and something as prosaic as a bolt in the eye can now take him down. Funny how neither Fiddler or Quick Ben have mentioned the rise of Whiskeyjack—wonder if they can feel it, or if Hedge knows it because of his unique condition?
I love Brys’ description of how to build loyalty among his soldiers—ensuring that he is seen to suffer alongside them so that when he asks them something impossible, they will at least try for him.
Oh bless, Sunrise. Not able to wait to get to the legendary stuff. He sounds so naive. But I suspect that no one in the army will see them as Bridgeburners until they have proved themselves worthy of the name. The Bonehunters now have no reason at all to look on the Bridgeburners as greater than them.
Lots of impressions of the army as the new family for these soldiers:
“What are you, soldier?”
“Marine, Fourth Squad, Third Company, Bonehunters, sir.”
“Not Dal Honese?”
“No, sir. Bonehunters, sir.”
I’m very curious as to what Sinter means when she says of Masan Gilani: “This one is far on the inside, Kiss, way farther in than anyone we know.”
Oh, this doesn’t sound good—that the Bonehunters are going to be abandoned by all their allies in the future…
Wow, I never ever dreamt that I would end up feeling sorry for the Crippled God, but, damn, this just managed it:
“He’s poison and he knows it and he can’t help it, because he doesn’t belong here. There are pieces of him scattered over half the world, but the biggest one is sitting in this place called Kolanse—and it’s being… used.”
Oh my God—so that’s why the Bonehunters are setting themselves against every god and ascendant around, because the Adjunct plans to free the Crippled God!
I love that Sinter has worked all this out, and realises that the Adjunct is all alone and facing the truth by herself—and so Sinter is making this plan to show Tavore that the Bonehunters are ready for the truth and will still stand with her. There’s loyalty.
Gosh, Ublala Pung and Draconus. There is an odd twosome. Although Ublala Pung is not cowed by gods—as he says, “they collect chickens.”
I like how this chapter runs through the themes of abandonment and loyalty, solitude and family. This scene with Koryk is one of the more moving ones and begins appropriately enough with a description of his isolation: “a hundred paces out from the nearest picket.” And he stands as well in darkness, which is also appropriate, as he is indeed in a dark spot here, settled as he has on the idea that solitude is “truth,” that betrayal is inevitable, and that “We are each of use alone.” The other running theme, one we’ve seen for a while in this book is the way Tavore is on the edge of losing people, that her secrecy, her solitude, is making people believe she gives nothing back to them. And that can’t be good.
Later, we have a contrasting view via Brys, who talks of the soldier’s “stone of loyalty” that he feels he must carve his name onto. And the way he immediately and fully wins over Aranict. This is also a bit of a contrast from Tavore—one leader who puts himself with his soldiers and another who isolates herself from them. And when Brys says a time may come where he may ask of his soldiers “the impossible,” you know that’s not only likely for the Letherii, but that Tavore is almost sure to ask her soldiers to do the same.
Then we have a more complicated (for me at least) view of loyalty from Sunrise. Part of me responds to his sense of being part of something larger, he’s an example of that “family” that gets referenced so much on this topic—“now he was one of them.” And that seems to be quite a good change for him. On the other hand, at least part of what binds him, or at least inspires him is the “glorious” and the “legendary.” And whenever someone speaks of war in those terms, I can’t help but bridle a bit and look for the thorn in the flower. This sort of thing would make me worry quite a bit for ole Sunrise.
A much more blunt discussion comes through the Dal Honese women, as they literally debate the whole “army is family” thing. So many of these soldiers are so desperate, so needy for a sense of belonging, a sense of mutual loyalty. And with talk of loyalty in this scene, comes as well talk of betrayal, which has been held before us almost since the very start of this book. It’s interesting that Sinter’s talent seems here to narrow down a bit what has been a relatively abstract foreboding—here it’s said that it could be the Perish, the Burned Tears, the Letherii, or two of the three, or even all three. I think one is much more likely than the others (ignoring of course the fact that I know where things go) and would be curious to here arguments for or against (just based on reasoning, hints as opposed to actual knowledge for those that have it)
I like how in all this focus on loyalty, much of it on the top-down kind, or the horizontal kind (each soldier to the other as “kin”), here we see Sinter not asking what Tavore can do for them but what they can do for her—relieve her of the burden by showing her they can handle the truth (no matter what Jack Nicholson says). Where, though, is she planning on sending Masan?
One of the most frustratingly satisfying (how’s that for a phrase) mysteries in the book/series is just who/what is Ruthan Gudd? Why was he in an Azath plot? What power does he have to be so ensnared? How was he so entombed? What was his relationship with Draconus? What “foolish vows” did he make a “lifetime ago”? What does he mean when he says “Find me, and one of us will die”? We seem to be spending a little more time with this character, or at least, Erikson seems to be drawing our attention to him more and more. One might wonder why.
Does Helian, drunk as she is, actually see something flying overhead? And if so, what (or who) might it be? And does it have something to do with Stormy’s feelings they are being spied upon, as proximity of lines might indicate?
It’s interesting with all the talk of family and loyalty in this chapter, we also see so many secrets being kept—it’s a nice bit of push-pull going on—which one will win out?
I like Hedge’s matter-of-fact view toward Draconus’ return—“Anyone here in the real world can die… I ain’t shaking in my boots… A bolt in the eye can fuck up even a god’s day.” Spoken like a true Bridgeburner. But are Draconus’ thoughts out of date? We know he is not the same Draconus as who went in to the sword. We know too that Rake’s arrival had an impact on him. It will be interesting to see.
When Brys speaks of the “coldness” he once felt, one has to wonder if Tavore feels the same, as she remains such a cipher, not only to her soldiers but to the reader as well. And while it’s nice to see Brys break out of that, and to note Aranict in a way he’d not expected, one always has to worry when a character starts to edge toward happy in this world. And worry even more when they decide to postpone possible happiness “for later.”
OK, so this scene with the three women drops a big expository note, laying out pretty bluntly and clearly the alleged plan: go to Kolanse where the biggest part of the Crippled God lies and free him so he can no longer be used. The question of course has to be asked here—is this the “real” plan, a misinterpretation, a plan within a plan, a diversion? No matter the answer, I love Sinter’s response here: “It will do… It is just, sister. Just.” The repetition, and the italics is well done emphasis as well, you can almost hear her there.
After all the sturm and drang surrounding Draconus’ arrival—that amazing scene where he steps into the world, the impact and ensuing discussion on the gods, the constant references to the impact on the Malazan mages, I love, absolutely love this conversation between him and Ublala. His wry, “more or less” answer to Ublala’s question as to if he is a god or not. Ublala’s lien that gods “collect chickens” and Draconus’ wry (I sense a pattern) response that “We possess mysterious ways indeed.” And the way he moves from “contemplating killing the world” to recalling that there are things in it that make keeping the world around not such a bad idea (and don’t you just love characters that can contemplate killing a world?).
And in a chapter so focused on loyalty and betrayal, what a great closing line: “Everybody needs a friend” indeed.
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.