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 eight 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.
The K’Chain Che’Malle can sense something hunting them and, having no patience for Kalyth’s slow pace, end up carrying the Destriant along with them. The fear for those hunting them is not fed from the humans following them, but flowing out from their matron Gunth’an Acyl. They fear the war that is coming. The Matron is relying on Kalyth to provide answers from humans as to how to face those who hunt them, and she is desperately worried that she will find no answers. The K’Chain Che’Malle skip around the bones of a massive beast, trying to avoid stepping on them, and Kalyth wonders if this is a dragon, wonders whether the K’Chain Che’Malle worship dragons. She wanders through the bones and picks up two teeth—one is bleached from the sun, and one is reddish, like rust. Sag’Churok speaks into her mind that the otataral is making it difficult to reach her. Sag’Churok talks to Kalyth about the nature of one god and how just having one god would make the universe have no meaning. He talks about having two opposing forces, and how otataral is the opposing force to magic, and hence to the existence of life itself, since he believes that all life is sorcery.
Sag’Churok talks of the Otataral Dragon, and calls her the slayer—he says she has been bound, but that she will be freed under the belief that she can be controlled. He tells Kalyth that the “other” is their god and asks that she show them its face.
Kalyth tells them she believes in no god and beats on her temples in despair when Gunth Mach speaks for the first time in her mind and breathes on her. That breath leads Kalyth to a vision of the bound Otataral Dragon and a realisation that if two forces are in opposition and one is bound, then the other cannot exist. So, if this Otataral Dragon is freed then the K’Chain Che’Malle might get back their god.
Kalyth returns to her body and tells the K’Chain Che’Malle that they should find their faith in each other and not in a god, that they should not worship the one or the ten thousand, but the sacrifice they will make. And the K’Chain Che’Malle are pleased and follow her, and have accepted her as their Destriant.
Setoc watches as the Gadra Clan stir themselves to make war on, well, frankly, anyone who gets in their way first after the death of their scouts, but the Akrynnai in the first instance. Setoc then sees Torrent saddling his horse in preparation to leave, his plan to go to Tool and beg permission to leave the Barghast. Cafal asks him to wait, but he is determined. Setoc determines to go with Torrent, saying that the wolves will join none of this. Setoc argues with Talamandas about the war with the Tiste Edur that brought the Barghast here, and their raised voices bring the warriors and women of the Gadra Clan to surround them. Sekara, the wife of Warchief Stolmen, is particularly vicious and bitchy to Setoc, so she picks words designed intentionally to rile Sekara. It works. Cafal says he will open a warren using Talamandas’ power, because if they stay they will all be killed. Setoc warns Cafal not to use his warren; he disregards her and they end up somewhere they never intended to be, trapped because Talamandas has burned.
The three of them work their way out of the cave they arrived in, into a world that isn’t theirs, that has only the ghost of wolves because they have all been slaughtered. Cafal says he will sanctify a space to bring the power alive and tells Setoc to summon the wolf ghosts. She does and is almost overwhelmed by their numbers and by the violence of their deaths.
The Icarium person(s) bicker as they head deeper into the K’Chain Che’Malle fortress. Rather worryingly, Icarium starts fiddling around with mechanical bits and pieces. We see hints of the past from Asane, from Last, from Sheb, from Nappet, from Breath (who we learn is Feather Witch), from Rautos, from Taxilian.
Yan Tovis watches as a riot rages between armed camps of the islanders that she had freed and offered to take with her and the Shake along the Road to Gallan. As the Shake themselves are threatened, Yedan Derryg uses his Letherii troop to force them back and tells his sister that they will hold the portal to the Road to Gallan to present two thousand criminals following on their heels. Yan Tovis opens the portal and lunges forward “into the cold past”.
Yedan and his troop deliver fierce slaughter. They are so effective that they manage to hold against the two thousand and, in fact, scatter them. Pithy and Brevity say that he should be the commander of the Shake army and tell him to leave the petitioning to them. They then walk through the portal.
The leaders of the Snake contemplate their next actions, and decide they must face the Glass Desert.
Well! That long summary of scene one shows just how much information has been imparted, and how much more we need to take on board in terms of this final battle that is coming our way. And I stand fully astounded once again at how much of what we see now is gathered from small scenes and throwaway lines in books that came before—all the way back to Gardens of the Moon. I see now why this series is so damn rich for re-readers. I fully confess that I shall very likely close the page on The Crippled God and, when I feel able to pick up a book again (because I expect to be slayed by the ending of this series) I shall go back to the very beginning and start afresh and read it all the way through to put those pieces together.
I say all of this mostly because of that Otataral Dragon. She was filed when we saw her. She’s come up a couple of times since, but now we learn much, much more about her. The fact she is known as slayer to at least some people. The fact that she fought against the god of the K’Chain Che’Malle. The fact that some seek to free her (hmm, who has been talking about dragons lately? Can anyone say ‘the Errant’?) The fact that she is the ‘negation to creation, absence to presence’. Of course, all of this is from the point of view of Sag’Churok, so a first time reader is still not a hundred percent sure who we should be rooting for here. As usual.
Having said that, Kalyth’s speech about finding faith in each other, and urging them to follow no gods and to worship sacrifice and compassion—well, that all strikes me as being things of honour and good. We’ll see over the course of these last two books, I’m sure.
I’d be interested in Erikson’s personal beliefs, having read the following quote. I know that authors and their works should be judged separately (Ender’s Game, anyone?) but it would be very interesting to see if belief in one god was something that Erikson does not follow:
“Kneel to one or many, but never—never, Kalyth—hold to a belief that but one god exists, that all that is resides within that god. Should you hold such a belief, then by every path of reasoning that follows, you cannot but conclude that your one god is cursed, a thing of impossible aspirations and deafening injustice, whimsical in its cruelty, blind to mercy and devoid of pity.”
Also, just saying that I love reading about the physical aspects of the K’Chain Che’Malle, like the fact that their scaled hides take on a camouflage appearance when they feel hunted.
I really, really, really don’t like the reaction of Sekara and the other women of the Barghast to Setoc. They would actually kill Setoc for her words, and there is absolutely no sisterhood:
“And, she saw at last, there were far more women than men in it. She felt herself withering beneath the hateful stares fixed upon her. Not just wives, either. That she was sitting snug against Torrent was setting fires in the eyes of the younger women, the maidens.”
You know, this world that Torrent, Setoc and Cafal end up in could be ours, with the looted cavern (reminds me of Egyptian tombs being looted and desecrated) and the lack of wolves, destroyed for various reasons. This is us: “You have not seen civilised lands. The animals go away. And they never return. They leave silence, and that silence is filled with the chatter of our kind. Given the ability, we kill even the night.” This upsets me profoundly, because it is exactly what we humans do.
I am finding the Icarium sections by far the hardest to parse and work through. Sure, we now know the identity of him and of at least one of his passengers, but, damn, all those voices and all that needling at each other is hard to read. It just isn’t as interesting as other parts of the book—and that really pains me to say, because I adored Icarium’s sections before now and found him such an intriguing and tragic character.
It is both interesting and frustrating reading a little background of those accompanying Icarium—interesting because Erikson can write a whole lifetime in a few short paragraphs, and frustrating because some of those details are tickling my memory and I’m spending a whole lot of time trying to work out who they are. At least Feather Witch is nice and easy.
There is an awful lot of rape mentioned in this chapter. Yes, I know it happens. Yes, I know Erikson has dealt with it in the past, sometimes well, sometimes badly, in my opinion. But in this chapter the word seems to be tossed around with impunity, with lots of references to people being forced to have sex. I don’t like it.
While Kalyth has “no history to draw from, no knowledge of K’Chain Che’Malle legends or myths,” we do, thanks to some of our more knowing characters. So as to a “war” these creatures might worry about, or as to what foes might cause them fear, we know of one that has already been involved with both matters:
Via Kallor in Memories of Ice:
‘For the singular reason,’ Kallor went on in his dry monotone, ‘that they physically deviated from the other K’Chain Che’Malle in having short, stubby tails rather than the normal, long, tapered ones. This made them not as swift—more upright, suited to whatever world and civilization they had originally belonged to. Alas, these new children were not as tractable as the Matrons were conditioned to expect among their brood—more explicitly, the Short-Tails would not surrender or merge their magical talents with their mothers’. The result was a civil war, and the sorceries unleashed were apocalyptic. To gauge something of the desperation among the Matrons, one need only travel south on this continent, to a place called Morn.’
‘The Rent,’ Korlat murmured, nodding.
And from Reaper’s Gale:
He notes the floor mosaics underfoot, images of war between long-tail and short-tail K’Chain Che’Malle, with the short-tails winning battles followed by the Matrons employing mutually destructive sorcery.
Before it might have been a little vague on what Ampelas Rooted looked like (you sort of had to piece together her journey), which caused if I recall right some confusion about the city Icarium is visiting (so much nicer to just say “Icarium” now). Here we have Kalyth telling us directly that the “Nests, the Rooted. [were] carved in the likeness of dragons.”
I’m trying to remember, have we had such a detailed description of dragons fighting each other as in Kalyth’s legend? We’ve had references to their inability to get along, etc. but have we seen it in an actual narrative? Always good to think about filing items that are new and have some unusual detail to them. Especially considering all the references to dragons we’ve had already in this novel.
Talk about pressure—I would not want to be Kalyth in this scene.
So is that fang rust colored from blood, or is that its natural color? Rust has an association…
And then there we go: otataral. And the Otataral Dragon, which Sag’Churok says “has been bound. But it will be freed. They will free it. For they believe that they can control it. They cannot.” Which echoes Heboric’s lines from Kalyth’s vision in Chapter Four: “It never appears dead, spiked so cruelly and no, you will see no motion, not a twitch. Even the blood does not drip. Do not be deceived. She will be freed. She must. It is necessary.” Though there appears to be a contrast in how the two view the dragon’s freeing.
Sticking with Sag’Churok for a moment, I’m a big personal fan of that whole “balance” argument in general, especially what it becomes at the end of this scene. As for here, one might wonder who/what might be the balance to the Otataral Dragon.
And really, I love his whole discussion. Sure, it’s a big philo-dump, but I don’t mind those as much as info-dumps. I like the thinking behind it. Perhaps more importantly, I like that it makes me think. This was actually one of my relatively minor complaints recently in a review I’m holding (Words of Radiance)—that while it made me think a lot about plot, it didn’t make me think enough about things beyond plot. Erikson does that for me, and this is why I tend to prefer this series to so many. Mind you, sometimes I’m just in the mood for the other kind of story, and I enjoy a good ripping yarn just as much as the next reader, but I’m glad someone (someones) are out there offering up more as well.
I particularly liked in this section, amongst all that I liked, this line: “the freedom that lies at the heart of all life; that choice is the singular moral act and all one chooses can only be considered in a moral context if that choice is free.” Which has its own meaning and repercussions and ripples. But I especially like thinking about it in the context of those twin themes I keep coming back to in this reread (only because Erikson keeps coming back to them in the books): Compassion and Empathy. Because those are, after all, matters of choice. And I think as well it is what I respond to so much in so many of my favorite characters, such as Fiddler—their choices so often fall on the side of those two paths.
These lines too appeal to me: “All life is sorcery… the soul is magical… Destroy magic and you destroy life… When we kill, we kill magic.” Now, one can I think debate whether or not Sag’Churok is being metaphorical or literal here, but this is one of my favorite aspects of this genre that I’ve mentioned several times—the way one can take what is often metaphor and make it literal in the fantasy world. The realms of possibility that opens up to fantasy authors is nigh on infinite, and you have to appreciate those authors who do it well.
Oh, one wishes to be able to wholly refute Kalyth here: We destroy to create. We deny the value of everything we destroy, which serves to makes its destruction easier on our consciences. All that we reshape to suit us is diminished… We have no value system that does not beggar the world, that does not slaughter the beasts we share it with.” One wishes. Thank god for Fiddler. And Cotillion. And a few others. But oh, wouldn’t it be nice if they didn’t stand out so? Btw: do you think the “beasts” have noticed this as well? Something to keep in mind in a world that has a Beast Hold with a pair of powerful gods…
Kalyth’s revelation that something needs to change is a powerful one. And her closing monologue to the K’Chain Che’Malle is, for a rereader, at least for this rereader, is one of the most moving passages in the series. As in choked up have to pause moving.
And this makes for such a tellingly stark contrast, this shift from a change that must be made, a move from opposition, to the Gadra Clan and its preparations for war: “driven to deliver indiscriminate violence upon whoever happened to be close.”
And then this echo in the concrete of what Sag’Churok just offered in the abstract re Toc’s sacrifice: “It was the Mezla’s way, his choice.”
The detour with Setoc, Torrent, and Cafal is an interesting one in that description of the world they enter: wolves hunted to extinction, polluted (“tainted”, “foul”) air, trees cut down with what appears to be machine precision. I wouldn’t go so far to say this is Earth (“no moons” could mean no moon at all or just no visible moon), but it seems at the very least it is a strong image of an Earth that could be. A world that at the least we can, and should, see our own in, filled with the ghosts of all the slaughter our kind has wrought. A world where the civilized lands have grown quiet, “[the animals] leave silence, and that silence is filled with the chatter of our kind.” Besides the obvious sorrowful nature of it, think of the boredom. And then the idea that a monoculture is never healthy in an ecosystem.
So if they do take all these ghosts with them back to their world, what happens to them? And perhaps folks should hope they’re better than the Gadra Clan we’ve just seen.
Just as it felt good to be able to say “Icarium” with reference to the groupmind guy, it now feels good to be able to say “Feather Witch,” since this scene makes clear that is who Breath is, thanks to the whole seer of the tiles thing, not to mention, you know, “Feather.”
Hmmm, Icarium, a man of invention and mechanism, is wandering through a K’Chain Che’Malle city, the folks who invented some mechanism (including ones that fly). And the city isn’t actually dead. Just saying…
Hmm, is this a commentary on Taxilian’s tales or on epic fantasy/legend:
“Taxilian would find himself assailed by a growing horror, as the great hero slashed and murdered his way through countless victims, all in pursuit of whatever he (and the world) deemed a righteous goal. His justice was sharp, but it bore one edge, and the effort of the victims to preserve their lives was somehow made sordid, even evil.”
And does this call into question are Malazans, who have moved through this series handing out their own countless deaths? Do they have more than “one edge”? Will they?
If a moral machine is forced by mechanics to annihilate all intelligent life in the name of “justice,” what might that say about a group we know is dedicated to that concept?
Considering the fact that Icarium might just have the talent to “awaken” any “moral construct” in the city, it’s probably a good thing that Icarium responds with utter horror to the idea of “Justice without compassion,” which he equates to a “slayer blind to empathy” (and is this last the thing that differentiates, if anything does, the Malazans?)
Admit it, you kinda like this Pithy and Brevity, don’t ya?
From one group of refugees to another as we move back to the Snake, who unfortunately can’t just slice their arms and open a shortcut portal to a better place (that’s assuming, of course, that Gallan’s Road leads to a better place, which we don’t actually know).
I like Badalle. Badalle doesn’t like Brayderal. If A = B, and B= C…
Badalle’s poem has to be one of the saddest moment of this series. And I’m talking about the end of it, not the whole five lizards sucking part. But at least we end on a high note, with Badalle thinking of eating Saddic’s arms. Oh wait...
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.