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 first half of chapter twenty 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.
Ruin tells Ryadd Eleis that generally there are two sorts of people: attackers and defenders, though he points out either can be aggressive, as “Aggression takes many forms. Active, passive, direct, indirect… “ He says attackers attack out of insecurity, as a form of defense, for they are “a fragile person.” Ruin then broadens the discussion to cultures rather than individuals, arguing that “The culture of attackers seeks submission and demands evidence of that submission as proof of superiority over the subdued. The culture of defenders seeks compliance through conformity, punishing dissenters, and so fainting the smug superiority of enforcing silence and from silence, complicity.” Ryadd thinks the Imass must be defenders, thinking of Onrack being punished for defying conformity. He has a harder time coming up with an example of an attacking culture. When he asks Ruin if there is a third way, Ruin answers that he has seen many variations, sometimes within the same person, and says the “the key… is to hold true to your own aesthetics, that which you value, and yield to no one the power to become the arbiter of your tastes.” He goes to give advice of how to deal with the two kinds. They discuss Ruin’s travels with the group and when Ryadd asks if she (Kettle) had to die, Ruin replies she was never really alive, though perhaps now she is more alive (and more vulnerable) than she had been before Ruin ensured her “potential” was realized, adding that it is not the seed that carries hope, but those who create/plant the seeds. Ryadd concludes that Udinaas does not “hope” that Ruin will save the Azath via his resolve, but he has “trust” he will do so, though he silently wonders if Ruin trust his—Ryadd’s—resolve. Ruin interrupts by saying “they” draw nearer—this mysterious thing he’s been keeping an eye on—and warns Ryadd that “she” is most formidable (Olar Ethil).
Olar Ethil and Torrent have been journeying the Wastelands, passing by several dragon towers of the K’Chain Che’Malle, this last one surrounded by the detritus of violence, a violence that “remained, intrusive as bitter smoke.” When Torrent says the “Wastelands” is an apt name, Olar Ethil tells him long ago, the place was filled with the “spirits of the earth and wind,” but gives a cryptic answer (“when it is easy to feed, one grows fat”) when Torrent asks what happened to them. They’re conversation is interrupted by the appearance of Ruin and Ryadd in dragon form, though upon landing they veer into human shape. Olar Ethil tells Ruin he isn’t welcome and says that Ryadd “mocks my own people.” She asks if Ruin has bargained open the gate to Starvald Demelain, and after identifying Ryadd as Menandore’s son, asks her if she thinks he’s prepared to pay the price for such a bargain. She answers she has no idea what he’s prepared to do. When Ruin tells her Ryadd is under his protection, she mocks his inflated view of himself, then says she thinks he is keeping Ryadd close to control him, adding her opinion that he’ll fail, since Ryadd is Menandore’s son. She warns him Eleint always betray each other, then warns Ryadd that Ryadd has starts to outstrip him, Ruin will strike first. But Ryadd replies he knows Ruin will do no such thing, as he [Ryadd] has already surpassed him, a proclamation that makes Ruin step aside and motion toward his swords.
He continues, knowing he knows of her from his life with the Imass and from Kilava and Onrack. Olar Ethil calls Kilava a bitch, but adds that Ryadd can tell her that Olar Ethil forgives her, and he can as well tell Onrack that Olar will not seek to “reclaim” him, that his life is his own. When Ryadd says that’s good, as he’d sworn to protect them, she tells him she has “chosen” and she is not his enemy, for which he is lucky since she’d have to kill him otherwise. He dismisses her threat, saying she could not stand against both Ryadd and Kilava, telling her that all other Bonecasters, including Olar Ethil, stagnated once they accepted the Ritual—they are only what they had been at that time, but Kilava has continued to grow, has “surpassed” them all. Olar Ethil calls Ruin a fool for keeping Ryadd close, and warns him he better beg her for an alliance and fast. Ruin, however, says her insight into why he kept Ryadd near was only one of the reasons, and not the most important either, and that he’ll happily cede leadership to Ryadd if he has indeed outstripped him (oh, and he’d rather have sex with an enkar’al than ally with her).
Torrent introduces himself as the last of the Awl, and when Ruin says he grieves for the extinction of his people but hopes Torrent will not let their cherished memory destroy him, Torrent says it’s too late—“I now cherish destruction.” He adds he hopes to “slay my slayers… end the lives of those who have ended mine,” and says perhaps it is this that binds him to Olar Ethil. Ryadd points out their surroundings, saying this is what comes of such thinking, but to his dismay, Torrent says he’s fine with that. Olar Ethil asks Ruin if he’s done, and Ruin says as a sign that he is not her enemy, he’s letting her know two undead dragons are looking for her and thought they’ll seem obedient, they are “vile.” She says it’s odd he knows them while she does not, considering their shared past. He tells her they are from “when the Eleint were unleashed… seeking to claim realms to rule amidst the shattered remains of Kurald Emurlahn… They are the true spawn of Tiam… I believe they are twins… of a single egg. Among all the Eleint during the Wars of Shadow, they came closest to victory.” He trails off as he recalls that day, “the last time I stood beside my brother… we were happy.”
Torrent feels sympathy for the obvious grief in Ruin’s voice, wondering if regrets are all we have left of our lives, but Olar Ethil just mocks Ruin: “Happy delivering death. O, you were all such righteous fools… and now… only you remain.” She asks him what his “great cause” is now, and wonders how many must die to achieve it, though she says he’s welcome to all the mayhem he causes. She informs him that Errastas has summoned the elders, naming Sechul Lath, Kilmandaros, Mael, Draconus; that Rake is dead, and both Draconus and Mother Dark returned. When she continues on about Mother Dark’s preference for Rake over Ruin, greatly paining Ruin badly, Torrent backhands her, calling her out on her “spite” and telling her to shut up. He then stops Ryadd from doing worse, telling him to take care of Ruin; he’ll take Olar Ethil away. He mentions her “attacks,” and reminded of his earlier conversation with Ruin, Ryadd nods and says, “I see,” then turns to the stricken Ruin. The difference between them—Ryadd young and strong and Ruin old and seemingly broken—makes Torrent think that Ryadd has indeed surpassed Ruin. He heads out on the trail of the carriage they’d been following before the meeting, wondering if Olar Ethil will ever admit he had just saved her life.
The undead plains wolf, Baaljagg, reminds Setoc of an old, senile or brain-injured, Barghast man who used to wear a wolf hide and crawl around and bark amongst the dogs, “until he had subdued ever bewildered, cowering animal.” Baaljagg’s “pitted eyeholes” seems to tell her: “I am death. I am your fate and the fate of all living things. I am what is left behind. Departed from the world, I leave you only this.” She wonders what had happened to the old man’s mind that had made him want to be a wolf, had made it impossible for him to find his old true self. She thinks, “The mind held too many secrets. The brain was a sack of truths and their power… was absolute. Twist one truth into a lie, and a man became a wolf. His flesh and bones could only follow.” But that’s only the most obvious sort of lie, she believes; “The self could become lost in more subtle ways… Today I am this person. Tomorrow I am another… bound to no single self, but unleashed into a multitude of selves. Does this make me ill? Broken?” She feels she let Cafal down and wonders what has happened to him. She worries her “addiction to dissatisfaction” may be incurable. The group comes across tracks—ruts and horses hooves—and decides to follow. After a long march, they find a single horse and on the ground behind it, Cartographer. At first she just sees a corpse and wonders if it’s Toc, but he says, “No, Saw him though, once. Funny eyes.” Setoc wonders “Does nothing dead ever go away around here?” They continue on with him, though he’s a little worried about Baaljagg, saying he’s dreamt that a big dog will bury him. They come across the wrecked carriage, torn apart horses, and several corpses (non animate ones), and Cartographer tells Setoc something struck them from the sky, adding he knows it wasn’t a dragon. Setoc finds tracks leading away and as they follow, Cartographer says he wishes he’d seen “Trake’s Mortal Sword truly awakened. To see the Trell’s rage rise.” They eventually find the survivor’s camp: Mappo, Gruntle (who names Setoc Destriant of Fanderay and Togg), Amby and Jula Bole (the latter badly injured), Precious Thimble, and Faint.
Cartographer says it was the Bole brothers who drove the demon away, saying they are especially effective against demons and the like, adding Mater Quell had wondered if they were themselves spawns of sorcery, maybe Jaghut creations. He tells her that it was Toc who led them from Dragnipur. She asks what a Destriant is and he tells her it is the person who is the “god’s own.” She notes that Toc has a wolf’s eye, and he says that’s because he is the Herald of War, but he also has a human eye because “humans are the true heralds of war.” She’s not sure of that, but drops it and the two discuss that Toc must have been leading her east because she was needed as Destriant there, as Destriant to gods of war. She decides to talk to Gruntle, also a god of war, as Cartographer had mentioned that Gruntle had little respect for his god. She looks at Gruntle playing with Tool’s boy, his tattoos faded, and she wonders what Tool would have thought of all this, if Tool had been bringing them to meet this group. She thinks she does not want to wear the skin of war, no matter what the Wolves want.
Mappo looks over at Gruntle and Setoc conversing and thinks it makes sense they’d be talking, with war clearly on the horizon. He wonders about Icarium, thinking, “Old friend, you must have no place in what is coming. If thousands needlessly die by your hand, what dire balance would that tip?… I must find you. Take you away. Already, too many have died on your trail.” He tells Faint she will live, though Quell is dead, and she replies that means they are stranded. He thinks how close they are—he can feel Icarium not too far off—but knows that delivering him was only half the job; the Trygalle shareholders now have no way home. Faint, however, says Precious Thimble might be able to manage something. Mappo thinks back on the fight and wonders what the K’Chain Che’Malle had been out there doing, what other tasks it has, and then fears it might be hunting Icarium. He discusses the Ay, the twin girls with Daru blood, the more-than-half Imass/part Barghast boy, Setoc’s mysterious ancestry, tells Faint she’d spoken in at least 16 different tongues when she was out, and then talks about theories of language and the brain. He realizes that perhaps he can communicate with the newcomers in Barghast. Turns out he’s right. He heads over to learn more about them.
“Attackers attack as a form of defence”—I think this can be said to be exactly what the Barghast women do when it comes to hobbling, as was explained to Bakal. In order to defend themselves from the same fate, the women will attack each other.
Silchas’ words on different cultures favouring the approach of either attackers or defenders seems true on the face of it—like the Toblakai and Barghast are attackers; perhaps the Letherii are defenders? But what he says seems almost too simplistic. It strikes me that, even within those cultures, there will be people—many of them—who follow a different road and don’t fit into either of these particular moulds.
And the Malazans? They are both attackers and defenders, depending on which characters we see.
I am liking very much this quiet and contemplative Silchas Ruin, and I especially like this sentiment:
“The key, I think, is to hold true to your own aesthetics, that which you value, and yield to no one the power to become the arbiter of your tastes.”
This scene where Torrent watches the two dragons descend and then shift into two powerful figures brings to mind the words of Dorothy: “We’re not in Kansas anymore.” Indeed, his thought: “I have travelled far from my village.”
I wonder exactly what the payment for a bargain to open Starveld Demelain is? I suspect we might be seeing that in this final book and a bit of the series. Linked to that, Olar Ethil’s warning about the Eleint: “The blood of Eleint can never flow close to its own. There will be betrayal. There is always betrayal.” Sounds like titanic times ahead, especially if there are dragon battle scenes!
So, the meeting between these characters (Olar Ethil, Torrent, Silchas Ruin and Ryadd Eleis) contains lots of handy information and some rather opaque bits and pieces. It looks like Telorast and Curdle are on the track of Olar Ethil, right? Those are the two undead dragons I am familiar with. Although I’m not familiar with them having so much power that this would be true: “Among all the Eleint during the Wars of Shadow, they came closest to victory.” I guess we’ve seen them for so long as bumbling odd little creatures, trapped in those undead birds, that their power has been somewhat concealed.
Long life is not all that! “Fucking regrets. We all have them, don’t we. Live long enough and maybe it’s all we have, all we keep alive in our minds.”
I actually feel hate towards Olar Ethil for what she tells Silchas Ruin here and the manner in which she delivers her awful news. Not just letting him know that Anomander is dead, but also being spiteful about the fact that Mother Dark loved Anomander Rake best. Silchas has always been such a grave and remote person that to see him undone in this way is pretty painful:
“The man looked so wounded it was a wonder he was still standing. He had wrapped his arms about his own torso, curled in and shrunken. The liquid that leaked down from his eyes traced crimson glints down his hollowed cheeks.”
From Ryadd Eleis’ actions here, we are definitely supposed to be looking on him as someone who could become a major player.
Ha, I do think that Erikson is poking fun at himself, since when Setoc says: “Does nothing dead ever go away around here?” it isn’t the first time in this book we’ve heard similar.
Now just how much does this say: “The children of Onos Toolan and Hetan seemed unaffected by the arrival of yet another animated corpse.” They aren’t at all normal, are they?
So Hellian might not have been seeing things, since we now have the more reliable Setoc saying: “I know it’s getting dark, but keep your eyes on the sky—there’s something up there.”
Ah, Setoc here is formally named as Destriant of Fanderay and Togg. What will the Grey Helms think of this?
Umm, the Boles were the ones that sent this flying demon fleeing? Neither Gruntle nor Mappo were able to drive it away? That’s pretty badass!
I’m not looking forward to the reunion of Mappo and Icarium. After what Mappo has suffered in order to find Icarium’s trail and reconnect with him, and what we know of how Icarium has changed, I just feel that the relationship could be unbalanced compared to what it was. Also, Mappo thinks: “I must find you. Take you away.” But I think that Icarium is already far too involved to want to depart the field.
Hang on, the flying demon was a K’Chain Che’Malle? And the Boles fought it with their own fists? Caused gasps of shock and panic from the beast? Definitely badass! (Oh, just an aside, but I can’t help but think of the Frog brothers from The Lost Boys whenever referring to the Boles. Not sure why!)
Ruin’s discussion of how an attacker attacks as a means of defense is not an unfamiliar concept (how many times have you heard that bullies are insecure). It does, however, do a nice job of continuing a rehabilitation of one who has been more of the more prominent “attackers” in the series: the Crippled God.
We know there we’re moving toward a major conflict/convergence here, and so this question of who—what individuals, what groups—might be attackers or defenders, and how one should deal with either, might be of paramount importance in getting it right. A connection I think is made clear by the reference to “cold iron” which has been associated with Tavore from a long time ago, but was just specifically referenced with regard to her only a few pages ago.
And “seed” is a pretty broad term—is Tavore a seed? The Malazan army? Is this plan re the Crippled God (if it is indeed a plan)? What about Kalyth? And we could go on.
I like that image of violence hanging around, never really leaving the place it has visited.
And Torrent’s question is a good one, if indeed the Wastelands once were full of spirits, where did they in fact go? What does Olar Ethil’s line about getting fat mean?
A lot goes on in this meeting with Olar Ethil and Ruin et. al. So we get some more straightforward exposition (amazing how many things are just being “simply” explained lately, isn’t it? One would almost think we’re nearing the end) here. Telorast and Curdle are “true spawn of Tiam,” twins of a single egg (I should stop here and say this is of course all from Ruin—we don’t actually know if he is right), came the closest to winning/ruling in the “Wars of Shadow” over Emurlahn, and are not to be trusted (more of that betrayal/loyalty theme).
Then we get some clear idea that Ryadd is a potential badass among badasses—question being of course what will he do with that badassery.
Along those lines, we’re also set up for Kilava being another potentially huge player, with the whole “she has surpassed you all” as a Bonecaster thing.
Ruin comes across as very vulnerable in this scene, unexpectedly so for such a powerful figure. First his humble response about ceding leadership to Ryadd if need be (oh, that painful moment when the son surpasses the father (figure), the student the master. Then his devastation at Olar Ethil’s news about Rake and then her incredibly (even for her) spiteful rant about Mother Dark.
If Ruin comes off sympathetic here, Olar Ethil comes off as anything but, with her assumptions, her insights that aren’t all that, her arrogance, and then that vicious attack on Ruin via Mother Dark. Something perhaps she herself realizes the crossing-the-line nature of, seeing as how she simply takes Torrent’s backhanding of her (or maybe it’s just self-preservation, hard to say).
It’s also interesting that for all his talk of “cherishing destruction,” when it is put before him, as with Olar Ethil’s attack on Ruin, Torrent stops it. And he displays empathy throughout this scene (whereas Olar Ethil), putting him on the side of the angels (or at least of Erikson’s primary theme) in these moments. Whether he stays there is another question.
Finally in this scene, I like how we’ve circled back around to our conversation that began this whole thing (we do a lot of circling in this series, anyone notice?), as Ryadd realizes that Olar Ethil is an “attacker” (here at least), meaning she is “fragile” and insecure, despite her guff. We’ll see…
As a minor point, that’s an interesting image at the close—a huge dragon tower towering over two veered-into-human dragons, one of whom stands tall over the other. And then the sun setting on all three.
Speaking of circular, we see that pattern again in this scene with Setoc, as she begins with the image of the addled old man wearing a wolf skin and we then end with the wolf’s skin being the metaphor for doing the Wolves bidding by going to war, something Setoc has no desire to do—she does not want to be that old man—barking, growling, forcing the “bewildered” dogs to cower in submission. And I’m sure it’s no accident that that metaphor is associated in its pre-imagery with a sickness of the mind. Or with a human reverting back to a beast, a truth become lie. Unless of course the “truth” is we are in fact beasts, though I prefer to think of it as the truth being we all have beasts within us, but that needn’t mean we must let them rule. Maybe that’s part of Setoc’s “multitude of selves” she mentions. That’s a great image, as she muses over the whole “skin” thing at the end, of Baaljagg: “the huge teeth forever bared, the eyes forever empty. The skin of war.” Hardly a “glorious” or enticing image of war.
We circle back as well, somewhat, to Ruin and Ryadd’s conversation, as the two of them had discussed “not fighting” as a means of fighting, the idea that “sheathing one’s sword” was a valid tactic. And now we focus on two characters who are the literal embodiment of swords—two creatures of war, neither of whom apparently has much interest in war. (not to mention the image of a shattered sword that hangs over all this book).
Erikson does a nice job of turning the knife on the pain of recalling what happened to Cafal with Setoc’s “soft-eyed priest.” Eyes that no longer see anything. And of course, it’s a bit ironic that it’s Setoc recalling those eyes, as Cafal had died thinking he’d killed her. Whoops, felt that blade twist a bit more.
This land just keeps getting better and better: “withered,” “worn,” “desiccated,” “bones,” like mountains gnawed through from every side.” And then yet another image of hunger associated with it, as per Olar Ethil’s earlier line: “It [the land] will devour you, and there is no end to its vast hunger.” Is this just our author in an imagistic rut, a purposeful line of imagery just for consistency, or is he trying to tell us something here?
Amidst all this wasteland and spitefulness and war/death talk, Cartographer is a breath of fresh air (if one can say that about an animated corpse). He adds a very welcome bit of dry levity to this section. So much so that one has to hope his dream of being buried by a big dog is not prophetic. At least, not for a while.
As with the earlier line with the Jaghut, I love this “Does nothing dead ever go away around here?” line of Setoc’s. And the later line about how “The children… seemed unaffected by the arrival of yet another animated corpse.” Pretty much any book will have me if they can have the line “yet another animated corpse.”
I think there are not a lot of choices for taloned demons flying through the air in this area that can take down a Trygalle Carriage with those folks on it. But we don’t need to guess, as Mappo confirms for us it was a flying K’Chain Che’Malle.
Poor Quell. I liked the guy.
Cartographer’s lines about not knowing what one wants must strike Setoc hard, though we don’t see that, as she’s been musing this whole time on her sense of dissatisfaction and of losing her true self.
It’d be nice if it were under better circumstances, but it’s nice to meet our old friends here, especially Mappo and Gruntle. And how classic is that of Mappo—that the first thing he says to Setoc’s group is that it might not be safe to hang around them, as they’re being hunted. Classy guy.
So to Ryadd and Kilava, we can now add yet another maybe surprisingly powerful player (or two) in the Bole brothers, who more so than Mappo (no slouch himself) or Gruntle (um, Trake’s Mortal Sword) drove off the flying demon. And if they are indeed, as Quell (poor Quell) speculated, a Jaghut creation, think of the Nachts we just saw performing some action not too long ago. Even Mappo was impressed with the damage the two Boles had done. More telling, even Gu’Rull had let out with “gasps of shock and pain… [had] lashed out in frantic self-defense, a blind panic.” Let’s remember we’re talking a K’Chain Che’Malle Shi’Gall Assassin here, double the size of a K’ell hunter. And when faced with a pair of Bole brothers, it “panics.” And then it “fled.” Fled!
By the way, I’m adding this fight scene to the Jaghut-KC one as off-stage fight scenes I really, really wanted (want) to see.
Interesting that Gruntle appeared to have been Gu’Rull’s target. Ideas as to why?
Another funny line about Gruntle getting drunk with Toc, “before Toc got himself killed, one presumes.” But only presumes, because in this series, who knows for sure?
Also funny, Mappo’s linguistics lesson. For some reason, I flashed back to Ioreth’s (name right?) dialogue with Aragorn in Gondor after the big battle when he wants to know if they have any athelas handy
His little trying-to-keep-Faint-awake treatise is yet another circular move, as it comes back to Setoc’s opening imagery of the brain-injured old man (he and Faint even use the exact same word—“addled”). And of course, the imagery of “chains”, well, we’ve seen that before. Just a bit.
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.