Malazan Reread of the Fallen

Malazan Reread of the Fallen: Dust of Dreams, Chapter Twenty (Part Two)

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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 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.

CHAPTER SUMMARY

SCENE ONE

Shield Anvil Tanakalian and Mortal Sword Krughava discuss their lack of a Destriant, with Tanakalian telling her just pick someone and Krughava arguing she won’t be so careless about it, as she is already regretting the last time she did so. Tanakalian takes that as an insult. She tells him he sees the titles as something to “grow into,” but in actuality they are conferred on someone already responsible enough to merit them. Tanakalian she sees as a “young man convinced of his own rightness… leading [him] into rash impulses.” They are interrupted by the arrival of Queen Abrastal, who tells them they are to be resupplied, and that they have spotted the Malazans, escorted by Brys and the Letherii. Abrastal asks if they are going into Kolanse to try and form an empire, adding she is uneasy with aiding a mission of conquest. Krughava angers her by implying money should take care of any ethical concerns, adding Abrastal should be happy they aren’t invading her country. When Abrastal asks what the hell they want with Kolanse, Krughava tells her that the three groups (Perish, Burned Tears, Bonehunters) serve only themselves—not a country—and so are free to perform their mission, even if it is, as Abrastal fears, to “deliver misery and suffering upon a broken people.” Abrastal thinks Krughava isn’t telling the truth about only serving themselves, that it is in fact “the very opposite,” and Tanakalian thinks she finally sees that they do what they do “not in service to ourselves, but to all of you.” He wonders:

Can anything be more glorious? And if we must fall, if we must fail, as I believe we will, is no end sweeter than that? The grandest failure this world has ever seen… We seek to save the world, and the world will do all it can to stop us. Watch us lose. Watch us squeeze the blood from your stony heart. But no. There shall be none to witness… We shall rest in emptiness, no forgotten—for forgetting follows remembrance, and there shall be no remembrance. . The perfect hero is one whose heroism none sees… Do you understand that, Mortal Sword? No, you do not.

Abrastal leaves and Tanakalian tells Krughava he believes the Bolkando will leave. Krughava tells him he’s wrong; the Queen will wait and ask Tavore, who will tell her nothing. Tanakalian argues Tavore is selfish if she doesn’t allow the Bolkando to “share in this glory” and when Krughava says perhaps it is mercy, not selfishness, he tells her he is well away of what will be the likely outcome of their march. He meant that he feels “privileged” that Tavore lets the Perish “share her fate.” Krughava, realizing Tanakalian sees the Perish as an army of walking dead, asks if he will “embrace the soul of every brother and sister? Free of judgment?… And what of our enemies? Will you accept that suffering defies boundaries… ? He refuses to answer, though the answer is clear, asking instead if she thinks he is “crowd[ing] her throne.” She dismisses him, saying he has given her much to think about. He leaves, thinking she is dangerous and also delusional in her belief that they might win.

SCENE TWO

Spax meets with the very perturbed Queen Abrastal, and she asks him about the Perish and the Malazans. He tells her he’s not sure what Tavore’s title means, saying now that they are a renegade army, he doesn’t know why she keeps it. Maybe because it’s what her soldiers are used to. He says the Adjunct was the “weapon-baring hand of the Empress. Her murderer, if you like,” adding she has an otataral weapon. Hearing there was only ever one Adjunct at a time, Abrastal says that was a heck of a betrayal and wonders how anyone can trust Tavore now. When she asks if Spax thinks the “real” Malazan army is their eventual enemy, Spax says he doesn’t know, though the Perish won’t care (any war is good for them), nor will the Burned Tears (who are personal sworn to Tavore). She informs him she has sent a daughter east. Kolanse “has fallen silent… empty ports, abandoned villages… and yet, something is there, perhaps deep inland. A power, and it’s growing.” Seeing her true fear for her daughter, Spax says she should recall her, but Abrastal says it is too late. He asks if she plans on marching to war with the foreigners, and she says no, but she will wait to meet Tavore.

SCENE THREE

Hanavat, Gall’s pregnant wife, wanders the camp at night as usual, driven by her discomfort. She is asked to join a young pair—Rafala and Shelemasa—for tea. They discuss how “civilized” people “invent useless things, or make up needs that don’t exist,” though Hanavat wonders if rather than the objects themselves, what is important is that they imply “wealth and abundance, leisure.” She goes on to talk about pregnancy, being a parent, the issues with families—“there is love, yes, but there is also war. There is sympathy and there is the poison of envy.” She ends up in a rant and the others laugh.

SCENE FOUR

Men watching the three women smile but also wonder what secrets they discuss. Women smile as well, thinking of children to be. Inside a tent, Gall and Spax have been getting drunk while Krughava pumped Gall for info about the Malazans, making Spax wonder why this sudden uncertainty from someone who had sworn to Tavore. As he listens, he wonders if the Mortal Sword will notice Gall’s lust for her, even as she goes on about “a failure of confidence—a sudden threat from with the ranks of the Grey Helms… balance all awry. A young man of frightening ambitions.”

 

Amanda’s Reaction

I wonder a little why Krughava delays on making a decision on who the Destriant should be—is it because she enjoys the power, because she is worried about the responsibility, or is she unable to pick someone because, unknown to her, the position has already been filled?

I think that if Krughava knew about Tanakalian’s internal thoughts, she would have even more regrets about giving him the position of Shield Anvil!

I say that, but I wonder just how good Krughava is in her own position—these two characters are properly murky in motivation and make me wonder which of them is in the right or the wrong. Probably a little of both. Tanakalian seems to understand far better than Krughava how offensive she is being to Abrastal with the indication that coin could buy off the Bolkando.

Huh, Krughava maybe reveals here exactly why Tavore took the Malazans into mutiny against their own empire when she says:

“Highness, we leave to you the comfort of the solitary consideration of your own people. You are their Queen, after all, and therein lies the crucial difference between us. We Perish begin and end with responsibility only to ourselves, and to the purpose of our existence […] an identical circumstance obtains among the Bonehunters.”

Regarding this, though, I wonder at what Krughava says, because these armies heading towards Kolanse should also have responsibility towards each other, and it doesn’t sound like they do, which might be why the Bonehunters feel like they will be going it alone when it comes to the big finale.

And then Tanakalian thinks as well: “What we do is not in service to ourselves, but to all of you.”

It seems that Tanakalian is sort of half a Shield Anvil. He sees the beautiful and heroic death of the Grey Helms and, in some ways, longs for it. But he also is not old or wise enough to accept all of the Grey Helms without judgment, or his enemies.

Oh man. Abrastal and Tavore facing each other in discussion. That is a scene I am more than willing to wait for, considering the strength and iron of them both.

Throwaway comment about Abrastal’s daughter heading into Kolanse—a daughter we’ve already seen or one we’re yet to meet? I’m sure we’ll hear more about that.

Aww, I love this conversation that Hanavat has about children—and how they shouldn’t be sucked in to having any more than one, no matter how tempting it seems. It’s amusing and gentle, for me, and a reminder that life is continuing against the backdrop of these titanic events.

Short and sweet!

 

Bill’s Reaction

As Amanda says, the whole Krughava—Tanakalian thing is pretty murky. I like the fact that we’re not quite sure who to like here, who to root for. Both have some good insights/points. But both have thoughts that just rub you the wrong way sometimes. That murkiness does a nice job of increasing tension as we get nearer and nearer to a pretty big-seeming convergence, where the Perish, one assumes, will play a major role one way or the other. And of course, all the references to betrayal, add to the tension/suspense.

I had a little chuckle at Queen Abrastal’s “of all the luminaries involved in this escapade, I alone remain ignorant.” Oh Abrastal, you are far from the only one. Though her concern for a people she does not know says something about her. Something even Tanakalian sees as well (see, he does have some insights).

That’s an interesting distinction Krughava makes about those leaders/armies beholden to a people/country and those not. And how she singles out Brys as the one who may have a tough decision to make down the road. I’d say there’s no way he/the Letherii leave, save all this emphasis on betrayal can’t help but make one wonder at least a tiny bit.

I have to say, if I were a soldier, I wouldn’t want my leader going into the confrontation thinking (happily) that it will be “The greatest failure this world has ever seen.” I’d hope for a bit of a higher aim I think. One has to wonder what sort of impact that belief—that they’re all doing to die gloriously—has on decision-making.

“Watch us squeeze the blood from your stony heart”—interesting choice of words.

It’s possible, as Tanakalian says, that they’ll all be not even forgotten, “for forgetting follows remembrance, and there shall be no remembrance.” But then again, somebody’s telling this damn story…

And just when you think Tanakalian might be showing signs of insight/wisdom, he predicts the Bolkando will leave. You can hear Krughava’s sigh from here.

I like Krughava’s question about what the Perish soldiers seen in Tanakalian’s eyes as he looks at them. Judgment perhaps. Or maybe they see what he sees when he looks at them—a walking army of ghosts. Can’t be very inspiring in either case.

It’s sort of funny how Abrastal leaves this scene very frustrated at getting no answers from Krughava, since it seems the reader very well might feel the same. We get Tanakalian’s pov, but not the Mortal Sword’s, and so we’re left wondering if his insights into her thoughts and motivations are correct or not. And if not, we’re no wiser toward knowing the truth.

I loved Spax’s comment about how the Gilk were making stuff up for the scholar’s to “discover.” You know that has to have happened sometime for real.

Seems an odd conversation between Spax and Abrastal re the Malazans, since we readers of course know all this. Perhaps there are some reasons to re-emphasize Tavore’s title/role, and the fact that she carries an otataral sword, something we may have forgotten about since it’s been a while. Also, of course, it’s yet another emphasis on the running theme of betrayal.

I like how we shift from the Queen as this tough as nails foul-mouthed boiling mad leader to a mother worried for her child, which humanizes both her and the situation. Always better when emotions are more concrete than abstract. And it moves as a nice segue into the scene to follow.

That’s a nice bit of poetry, with Hanavat akin to “the wandering moon of her people’s legends”—I like how it works with her roundness, her nightly perambulations through the camp, the associations the moon often has with the feminine and with pregnancy. And then how these mythic associations which we as readers bring to the linkage are made more in tune thematically with the association (again) with betrayal—“her sister moon’s betrayal”—and with Dark—“lay down in the arms of Darkness.” And of course, our reminder that the green statues have struck the visible moon over this particular planet and shattered it. And the night-sky focus here lets Erikson remind us yet again of those “jade lances” heading this way.

Well, I think we can all see modern culture in that discussion the three women have about what defines “civilization”—“invent[ing] useless things, or mak[ing] up needs that don’t exist.” That’s pretty much the whole purpose of the advertising industry, isn’t it? And pretty much the entire basis of modern capitalism? Can you imagine what would happen to a modern Western economy if people only bought what they truly needed? And we thought the last recession was bad… (says the guy typing this on his Macbook Pro in front of his turned off 55” inch TV next to the 500-channel cablebox + DVR + DVD player + Apple TV. We won’t even mention all the other computers/laptops/iPods/Touches/Tablets…)

And Hanavat has a nice insight into all that useless stuff—the way all the useless stuff “implies wealth and abundance, leisure and all the rest.”

It’s long been said that our short-term memory regarding not just pregnancy but also those first months of babydom is the only reason the human race is still around, because if we all truly remembered what that time was like, really vibrantly fully remembered it, nobody would ever have more than one kid.

Her rant about pregnancy, and her more serious and sorrowful description of her family’s dinner are both funny. But one could also read that family dinner as about people in general—how there is sometimes love, but also war. Sometimes sympathy, but also envy. Sometimes peace, but often a brief period between the power struggles.

Well, things with the Perish seem to be accelerating, if Krughava is opening up about Tanakalian to people outside the Perish. This can’t be a good sign, though it’s buried underneath Spax’s drunken lustful thoughts. Have to say, I’ve heard spank the monkey, choke the chicken, along with euphemisms involving eels, snakes, lizards, etc. but never have I heard/seen “strangle the goose until it honks.” Points for originality. And on that note…


Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.

Bill Capossere writes short stories and essays, plays ultimate frisbee, teaches as an adjunct English instructor at several local colleges, and writes SF/F reviews for fantasyliterature.com.

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