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 part two of chapter twenty-four of Dust of Dreams and our thoughts on the entire book.
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.
Mappo thinks, “I have lost him. Again. We were so close, but now gone.” Faint is surprised how the littlest one has so taken to Gruntle: “there was something in that huge man that made her think he should have been a father a hundred times by now—to the world’s regret, since he was not anything of the sort.” Setoc tells Faint that “storm” they’d seen was really a sorcerous battle. Torrent is seen approaching.
Toc watches the group from afar, remembering, “what it was like to be a living thing among other living things . . . But that shore was for ever beyond him now.” Olar Ethil appears beside him and says, “We all do as we must.” She recalls the “fool” who once wept for the T’lan Imass, saying it is too easy to forget the “truth” of them, adding “The most horrid of creatures . . . are so easily, so carelessly recast. Mass murderers become heroes . . . Fools flower in endless fields, Herald, where history once walked.” When Toc asks what her point is, she tells him the T’lan Imass were “Slayers of Children from the very beginning . . . The First Sword himself needed reminding. You all needed reminding.” She asks why he does not join the living around the fire, and when he says he cannot, she agrees that his pain and loss is too great, and also that none of them should “yield love” to Toc, for he is “the true brother [of Tool] now. And for all the mercy that once dwelt in your mortal heart, only ghosts remain . . . You are not the man you once were.” He asks if she thinks he needed reminding as well, and she replies, “I think, yes.” He finds himself agreeing with her, recognizing the pain he’d lived with was merely “A ghost. A memory. I but wore its guise. The dead have found me. I have found the dead. And we are the same.” When she asks where he will now go, he answers simply, “Away.”
Hood, frozen on his throne, begins to steam, ice cracking, and then awakens to mortal flesh once again. Before him stand fourteen Jaghut warriors, who ask, laughing, “What was that war again . . . Who was that enemy? . . . Who was our commander? . . . Does he live? Do we?” Hood rises, then drops to his knee and says he seeks penance. They say they will give it to him, then asks once more, “What was that war again?”
The Errant lay unconscious, blood pooling in his empty eye socket. Sechul Lath tells Kilmandaros he’ll live. She says she is ready to “free the bitch. Beloved son, is it time to end the world?” He replies, “Why not?”
Where is Hood now, on this throne?
What is that war?
Lots of questions and, damn, that ending. I can’t even imagine having to wait a year or more for the next (and last) installment.
Okay, so, as Bill has given a handy little format below of which storylines he liked and didn’t etc, I shall sneakily snitch it from him and you shall read mine first mwah ha ha ha. *ahem*
- The Bonehunters (mostly). There was a lot of sitting around in their storyline, but Erikson somehow managed to make that interesting and provide character development for us as well. The highlights were Quick Ben, Fiddle, Bottle and Hedge. I say mostly here because some of the Bonehunters I didn’t really engage with. I don’t know if that’s because they didn’t have as much screen time here or if *heresy* I can’t remember so much of their brilliant scenes in previous books and so sorta skimmed them a little here (Hellian would be a particular example). I wasn’t sold on Sinter and Kisswhere either, which made it hard to read their sections. But, obviously, that ending… Not knowing which of the beloved Bonehunters are still with us… Hell, Quick Ben—where is he now…? Yeah, it pretty much redeemed itself at the end, and my heartstrings were more than torn.
- The K’Chain Che’Malle. It took me a little while to get into their storyline, but I was absolutely enamoured by it at the end. I loved the sheer alien aspect of them—the fact that they are so utterly different from everything we’ve seen. And I really enjoyed Erikson’s ability once more to flip my preconceptions on their head—horrific killing machines? Not any more! Kalyth was a great counter in the end to our two Malazan boys who joined her as the Mortal Sword and Shield Anvil, and the Che’Malle we got to know more closely became fantastic characters in their own right.
- The bickering gods. We only saw them a few times on page, but their conversations were just so startling and revealed so much that I have to include them. Plus, is always great seeing Errastas being mocked like the whipping boy he appears to be to all these other gods. Was great seeing Mael in his god role as well.
- Queen Abrastal and her fourteenth daughter, Felash. Although newcomers to the story, these two lit up the page whenever they were around, so I include them here. Always awesome to have wise, clever female characters, who are not “strong” in an ass-kicking way, but able to use their feminine qualities (all of them, not just their breasts) in order to achieve what they need. Great job on multi-faceted characters who are always entertaining.
- The Letherii characters—Brys Beddict and Atri-Ceda Aranict principally amongst them. Maybe my fondness for these characters stems from the fact that we have spent more time with them recently. Ublala’s meeting with Draconus was just pure gold.
- Speaking of Draconus… THAT entrance. Spectacular.
- I can’t say I loved the storyline, but I appreciated what Erikson was trying to do with the Barghast and Hetan. We’ve spoken about it before, so I won’t belabour the point, but this did make me think more closely upon fantasy, realism within fantasy, and how stories represent those issues that make us want to turn away.
- Linked to this is Tool’s storyline. Again, there was no part that I liked. Betrayal, supposedly-faithless friends, hobbled wife, legions of people who worked towards bringing him down, his final actions in the book—deeply poisonous, killing children. I don’t know where he goes from here, and I’m not that keen to find out, to be honest.
- I merely liked the Perish Grey Helms storyline. I wasn’t delighted to go back to it each time, but I also didn’t sigh at having to plough through more of it. Tanakalian is a suitably enigmatic and unreliable character, and keeps my interest throughout.
- Silchas Ruin and Rud Elalle—there wasn’t much of them, but their discussions intrigued me, and that scene where Silchas Ruin learns of Anomander’s death is absolutely heartbreaking.
- I can’t say there is ever any part of Erikson’s books that I actively dislike, but in this book a few storylines were ones I merely tolerated. These include the Shake, the Snake, Torrent and Olar Ethil, Setoc and her wolves, Sandalath and Withal (although the Nachts are always good value), and Icarium with his ghosts.
I gave this book four stars on Goodreads. It isn’t my favourite of them all, but it isn’t the worst either. It does suffer a lot from being half of one long book rather than a book complete on its own. The hobbling storyline is a brave choice but makes for some very grim reading, which doesn’t help the case. And, unfortunately, the storylines I merely tolerated took up quite a lot of page time, which meant that I was often flicking ahead to see how far I needed to read before I got back to one of my favourites, which isn’t something I usually do with the Malazan novels.
This is all sounding lukewarm, isn’t it? It isn’t meant to be so. I found this book entertaining, funny, tragic, horrific, challenging, thought-provoking and tender. There were moments of intense hate. Moments where I could barely read through covered eyes, for fear of what would happen to characters I have loved for actual years now. There were times I giggled helplessly. All in all, this book was rewarding, and I think that is the best thing you can say about a novel.
We’re obviously left hanging with what happens to Icarium, but at least we know he isn’t sealed in the Azath. But how badly do you want Mappo to find him? This “I’ve lost him” is heart breaking, and one almost wonders if it would have been better to have Icarium sealed. At least he’d be in one place, Mappo could find him, and then figure out how to release him. Now you just have no idea if these two will get back to the pair we so love.
Nearly as tragic, though in a far different sense, is this description of Gruntle, the ever-reluctant Mortal Sword of Trake. We get such a sad image of a world that could have been, a life that could have been. It hearkens back a bit to Kalyth’s wish for a world without soldiers.
From sad to sad, from a life that could have been to a life that could have been. In this case, poor Toc, witnessing a life, or just life, that he is severed from. And note how when he looks at what he cannot have, he doesn’t think merely of the good, the obvious—he sees and misses it all: “Sorrow and joy, grief and the soft warmth of newborn love . . . all of life was there, ringing the fire.” As a sidelight, I love the ‘round the fire bit as fire is life, fire is storytelling, fire is community. (Note as well the reminder of “jade light”—let’s not forget what’s coming ever nearer.)
Here are some words to take to heart for this series, something we’ve been reminded of again and again: “The most horrid of creatures . . . are so carelessly recast. Mad murderers become heroes. The insane wear the crown of geniuses. Fools flower in endless fields, Herald, where history once walked.” Beware history, we’ve been told repeatedly (something to keep in mind with regard to those prequels)—beware the storytellers. What did we start out thinking about the Jaghut? The K’Chain Che’Malle? The T’lan Imass?
Speaking of trust. Can we trust Olar Ethil’s “insight” into Toc? Is she right when she says “all the mercy that once dwelt in your mortal heart, only ghosts remain”? Is Toc right when he agrees with her? I know none of us want to believe that.
What a great image—Hood reanimated into his flesh, the ice cracking, the steam rising, the 14 warriors standing before him. And Jaghut laughter ringing out (reminds me a bit of Saltheart Foamfollower). Not to mention the playing at forgetting that war, that foe. As if could forget a war on Death.
And a strong close, obviously—“why not?” indeed….
- K’Chain Che’Malle storyline: First, I loved how the K’Chain Che’Malle were transformed in my mind. From horrible undead lizards and then horrible living ones (with Redmask) to near-extinct, on-their-last legs, trying everything they can my god I’m feeling sorry for them and rooting for them lizards. Whodda thunk? And they came alive for me as full characters as well—the Assassin had a personality, Sag’Churok had a personality, even the old Sentinel did. They sacrificed—the Matron, the one who went back to fight; they had flaws—fatalism; they had infighting. They had cool technology, neat ways of communicating. I was thrilled they joined up with the group at the end because I was not ready to be done with them.
- The Khundryl: Love Gall. Love that charge at the battle. But love even more he does it thinking of his wife. And I loved the domesticity of much of the page-time devoted to him. We are reminded many times that these are characters with lives, not simply cardboard props moving through the requisite plot points, fight to fight, quest stop to quest stop, and when the quest is over they shut down like robots. And the Khundryl make a nice contrast to the Barghast.
- Icarium storyline: I like when I sometimes have to think a bit while I read, if not out and out struggle. And Icarium’s storyline at the start made me have to think a little more than usual. I don’t think it was particularly obscure, but it made me have to pay attention and I like that. I also liked the representation of different personality aspects, something that is true of other people who didn’t get caught in a machine trying to make magical thingies. It had a nice creepy factor, I liked the way we’re introduced to a whole other aspect of the K’Chain Che’Malle (even without meeting any of them, save for Sulkit, who doesn’t quite count yet). And I like how his internal struggle—different folks trying having to coexist and come together to create a unified and effective personage can mirror the same idea with regard to entire peoples/societies. And I love his appearance at the end, flying in to help save the day.
- The Snake: This is a hard one to say I “liked” as it is so disturbing, so tragic, and it has such resonance in our world, both metaphorically and literally (the Nigerian girls, the Lost Boys). But children have been such a focus in this series that it makes perfect sense to me that they become their own storyline here at the end, that they get their own chance to come front and center, to make their own case, to not let us avoid them. And as mentioned above, this more so than Icarium’s storyline made me have to think, thanks to its sideways slant of looking at things, its use of metaphor, its more poetic language, its own use of vocabulary (ribbers, fathers, quitters) And as with the children, it makes sense as well to me that here at the end of this massive series, language gets its own due, gets to strut itself on the stage a bit.
- The Perish: I think they had the correct amount of page time. I liked how Erikson keeps us off balance between the two leaders—who are we supposed to believe in terms of what they say/think? Who are we supposed to root for in their conflict—this one, that one, neither? The whole plot line walks a very nice line I think. Plus, I love the whole miscalculation by Chancellor Rava and Conquestor Avalt.
- Setoc: The Lorax of the novel. A voice that needs to be heard and so I’m glad it is.
- Sinn and Grub: They obviously were a much smaller plotline, and I liked some of their deeper discussion. The sense of ominousness surrounding Sinn was a bit heavy I thought; I would have preferred a lighter touch, but that’s okay. It’s also probably worse for a re-reader than a reader.
- The Shake: I don’t have anything against this storyline. It’s just that it seems to me they’re mostly being moved into place in this book. I do, though, like how they as a “diminished people” mirror some other such peoples (such as the Barghast) and so we get to do some comparison/contrast.
- Tool: Hated the storyline, loved the tragedy. I mean, you can’t “like” what happens here. Any more than you can “like” what happens to Macbeth or Hamlet or Willy Loman. But you can love the tale, the fall. We have been through so much with this character. Think back to meeting him with Lorn all those many books ago. How his friendship with Toc so humanized him. His love of his wife and children. And then this. Slayer of children. And his tragic story carries so many other tragedies along with it or beside it. Toc, whom you just have to weep for if you think about what this guy has been through.
- And of course, Hetan. Hated the storyline, understand the desire. Said it all in the post.
Finally, the Bonehunters: Seriously? I need to say? Thought not!
Mostly I loved this book and how it set us up for the end but stood on its own as great (especially the end). Waiting for the next one was murder. Luckily, you first-timers don’t have to suffer that.
- Fiddler’s reading
- Nah-ruk battle 1
- Ruthan Gudd going all Stormrider
- All hail the Marines
- Bottle talking to his grandmother
- “That, soldiers, was Quick Ben”
- Gall’s charge
- Lostara’s dance
- “Blood of the gods, what manner of soldiers are you?”
- Nah-ruk battle 2
- Gesler’s inspiring speech
- Icarium’s arrival
- “There are children in the world”
- Bent’s return
- Yedan taking on the Forkrul Assail and then the Liosan
- Draconus stepping back into the world
- Anything with Quick Ben
- Anything with Fiddler
- Especially anything with Quick Ben and Fiddler together
- Anything with Kindly and Pores
- Anything with Tehol and Bugg
- Nefarias Bredd
- Anything with Jaghut laughing
- Especially anything with 14 Jaghut laughing
- Deadsmell meeting Hood
- Tool killing himself
- Whiskeyjack’s conversation with Kalyth
- Tool coming together again after dying
- “Doesn’t anyone ever go away?”
- “Does nothing dead ever go away around here?”
- “The children… seemed unaffected by the arrival of yet another animated corpse.”
A few things to remember (I’m doing this because these last two books are really meant to go together and because we are nearing the end. I’m only reminding of things we have pointed out, but if you feel that’s still too much “hey, look over here,”, you might want to skip):
- (Wait, do I go on three or after three?)
- Heboric’s mention a while back
- “…readying myself to wield a most formidable weapon. They thought to hide it from me… even thought to kill it… The key to everything you see is to cut clean, down the middle. A clean cut.” After a discussion on vision questing, she tells him “The old ways have failed,” and he responds that “The old ways ever fail…so too the new ways, more often than not.” She begs him for something and he adds “The secret lies in the tempering… You weapon must be well-tempered… It is a flaw to view mortals and gods as if they were on opposite sides… Because then, when the blade comes down, why, they are forever lost to each other.” He pulls his hands out, which are rust-colored, and he says they are not green jade, “not this time, not for this.” But then says they aren’t ready and shoves them back into the sand.
- The Refugium at risk, the gate weakening
- The Wolf Gods think something big is coming. And they aren’t happy
- The Jade spears are getting closer
- All the references to dragons/the Eleint in this book
- Impending betrayal
- Shadowthrone and Cotillion
- Lots of references to Brys being different, having a task, remembering gods
- Banaschar is sneaky, smart, and a priest of D’rek
- There’s a mystery Talon among the marines
- Ublala has a mission and a big mace. Oh, and Draconus.
- Bugg gave a gift to Tavore: a “water-etched dagger.” Bugg tells Tavore, “When you face your most dire necessity, look to this weapon… When blood is required. When blood is needed. In the name of survival, and that name alone.”
- Lots of plans spoken about with regard to freeing: the Crippled God, the Otataral Dragon
- Neither Setoc nor Gruntle want to be part of a war
- Felash’s handmaid is not what she seems (oh, and they were all in a very, very bad storm)
- Yedan has a Hust sword!
- Blistig is getting on people’s nerves
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.