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 eleven 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.
Tehol, Bugg, and Janath discuss a gift from the Akrynnai. Somehow, innuendo and banter break out. They also more seriously (somewhat) discuss Tehol’s repatriation law, which involves taking land away from wealth and soon-to-be-angry folks. The Akrynnai envoy arrives, disabuses them (somewhat) of their guesses re the gift, and informs them the Barghast have declared war and the Akrynnai are following the age-old ritual of request aid—have-aid-denied-go home, but also want to make sure the Letherii won’t attack during the upheaval. Upon being asked re the Barghast’s grievances, Bugg tells Tehol that they might indeed have once lived on those plains, but that’s what happens with migratory peoples—they’ve lived everywhere. And along with the Barghast, the Tarthenal, the Jheck, and others did as well. Tehol reassures the Akrynnai that they won’t be attacked either from Lether or by Brys’ troops riding along with the Malazans, and Bugg adds the Malazans as well have no interest in the Akrynnai. Tehol sends him off with much nicer gifts than the Akrynnai are used to. After the envoy leaves, Bugg says he’s worried about Brys and he thinks the Wastelands will have great peril. Tehol replies that he’s pretty sure Brys knew that, adding that his time being dead changed him and he probably didn’t return just to hang out around the palace. Bugg agrees, but says he can’t “see” Brys, that Brys is unaligned and “therefore unpredictable.” He adds that Brys is probably safest from the Errant with the Malazans, and as for when he returns, well, the Errant will have Bugg to deal with, for he is feeling vexed by him. Tehol leaves and Bugg promises Janath he’ll do what he can before he has to leave, which will be soon. He asks if she knows she is pregnant, and she answers yes, but Tehol probably does not. She worries about carrying, but he tells her he fully healed her, both physically and (mostly) mentally.
Knuckles and the Errant run down the list of Elders: Draconus in Dragnipur, Nightchill’s soul scattered, Edgewalker able to ignore compulsion, who knows what’s happened to Grizzin Farl, Ardata and others in hiding, Olar Ethil dead and “supremely indifferent to that condition.” The Errant says she bound herself to the fate of the T’lan Imass by embracing the Ritual. Meanwhile, Kilmandaros is getting her armor on. Knuckles says her rage has been awakened by the Errant and now she needs a target, and he warns the Errant that any semblance of “control” over her is a façade. The Errant sneers at his “weakness.” Kilmandaros announces she’s ready and before they leave, the Errant angers Knuckles by making him look as he once did and should look now: “a tall, youthful Forkrul Assail.” He returns Knuckles to how he wants to be and they all leave.
Shurq Elalle and Ruthan Gudd have a somewhat prickly goodbye. She heads to her ship and makes preparations to leave, wondering if Ublala Pung is going to make it.
Gudd heads out for the departing army, not upset at the idea of being left behind, though “the last thing he wanted was to be sniffed down by a magicker.” He is unhappy being a captain “since it meant too many people paid attention to him.” He muses on some old army analysis, wonders if he’d heard it from Greymane, sure it wasn’t Korelri or Malazan. He recalls Greymane telling him to keep his head down, which isn’t working, and remembers how he’d seen that Greymane knew it wouldn’t (as it wasn’t working for Greymane either).
Harlest Eberict meets Ublala in the cemetery and via the ghost of Old Hunch (the night soil collector connected with the Tarthenal gods) leads him to an old grave where a Thelomen first Hero (from the First Empire) is buried. Harlest instructs Ublala to take the dragon scale armor and the mace “Rilk” which will “know how to use” Ublala. Harlest helps him get armored and tells him he has an important task in the Wastelands.
Alone in his tent, Brys feels that “something was growing in him” that is distancing him from other people. He wonders at the point of life if it is just to die, and wonders as well what was the point of his holding onto the names of those long-ago gods, of keeping them “alive.” He has reshaped the Letherii army, and hopes their sense of competition with the Malazans that had recently routed them would go a ways toward creating a sense of unity as well as help hone the army. He fears this will “be no simple, uneventful march” and that the image of death he sees in his soldiers’ faces is prophetic.
Reliko’s squad (Ruffle, Nep Furrow, etc.) do grunt dialogue
Fiddler has a meeting of sergeants, an old Bridgeburner tradition. They start to question what Tavore is doing, and he tells them it doesn’t matter—they’re the Adjunct’s fist and that’s it. They continue to ask why and if it’s all worth it and arguing if they knew more they’d have a better chance of surviving. At which point Fiddler yells at them that “Surviving isn’t what this is all about.” He wishes he could all it back, especially thinking how Sinter “is not natural soldier… how many more like her are there in this army.” But then Sinter surprises him and everyone else by simply replying: “Glad that’s cleared up. Now, let’s talk about how we’re going to work together to make us the meanest Hood-shitting fist the Adjunct’s got.”
Throatslitter, who’s been spying on the meet, thinks Fiddler had been lying about not knowing what Tavore’s business is, and thinks he just revealed he knows and what it was; the details don’t matter because “who needs details when we’re all ending up crow meat?” He thinks he needs to talk to Deadsmell and find “that other Talon hiding among the marines,” who has been leaving markers. His attention goes back to the sergeants when he hears them talking about betrayal, Fiddler saying, “I wasn’t meaning within our ranks.” Cords says he doesn’t believe the Perish or Burned Tears will turn on them, and when Sinter mentions the Letherii, Fiddler just says he can’t be more specific and they should just keep their eyes out. Throatslitter sees a rat and realizes Bottle is also here, and he likes the idea of Fiddler holding Bottle back as his ace (shaved knuckle) in the hole.
Ruthan Gudd joins a group of captains, including Kindly and Faradan Sort (of whom Ruthan thinks the rumors about her serving the Stormwall—something he knows a bit about—are true). They discuss Blistig’s falling down on the job, being “broken,” and its negative impact on Keneb as Fist. Faradan Sort suggests using the sergeants, and Ruthan backs up the idea. One of the other captains, Skanarow, tells Ruthan, “The old ones among my people say that sometimes you find a person with the roar of a sea squall in their eyes… In you I see not a squall. I see a damned typhoon.” She rides off and he thinks he needs to avoid her. He recalls Greymane telling him he (Ruthan) was the luckier of the two of them. He disagrees.
Koryk returns to his squad, greatly weakened by the fever, as are many of the Malazans, though at least Brys’ water cure has worked. Bottle tells them Fiddler is expecting a bad fight and is “hard” at getting the sergeants ready for one. He walks out, leaving the rest wondering how bad it must be.
Hedge finds Bottle and gives him a sack from Quick Ben; it has Bottle’s rat that was trying to spy on Tavore’s tent in it. As they head to meet Quick, Hedge talks about how he is the last living Bridgeburner (the other survivors have “moved on”) and he’s realized finally he doesn’t need to start over; it is what he is. Pores has given him his own squad and he’s working with a Letherii alchemist to replace what they’re sorely lacking in with regard to the Moranth munitions. He dreams of an entire Bridgeburner army: “five thousand, all trained as marines… but every one of them is also trained as a sapper, an engineer.” Bottle finds the idea terrifying. Hedge drops him at the command tent and leaves. Inside, Quick Ben is looking over dolls and tying threads, but complains there’s at least three in there he can’t ID, “A woman, a girl, and some bearded bastard who feels close enough to spit on.” Quick Ben starts wondering out loud about Tavore or T’amber, saying, “They’ve sniffed me out, Bottle. They’ve edged closer than anybody’s ever done, and that includes Whiskeyjack… Maybe Kallor. Maybe Rake—yes, Rake probably saw clear enough—was it any wonder I avoided him? Well, Gothos, sure.” He snaps out of his musings and tells Bottle about the Wastelands: “a snarl of potent-energies… warring rituals, sanctified grounds.” Bottle calls it “the ghost of a gate,” and Quick agrees, but says the ghost gate has wandered, isn’t there any more; it’s east of the Wastelands. When Quick says better the ghost one than the real one, Bottle asks if he’s familiar with that one, and Quick replies, “She’s worked that one out all on her own.” Bottle wonders if Tavore is talking with Paran, and Quick says he doesn’t know, though it would explain a lot. If not him, they wonder who it might be helping her know things.” When Quick says he can’t get too close to her thanks to the otataral sword, Bottle tells him the sword isn’t as much an obstacle as he pretends; he’s just afraid of exposing himself to Tavore. Therefore, Quick should let Bottle spy on her and Quick agrees. They discuss the possibility of someone with a lot of power, a god/Elder, being able to possibly blind Bottle’s spies with Mockra/illusion. Quick tells Bottle to see what he can find about the Wastelands using his soul riding, as neither he nor Tavore can see in it. When Bottle worries about the risk, Quick tells him he’s got a doll and a thread just for him and he’ll pull it back. Bottle wonders who else might be pulling though.
Hedge meets with Bavedict (his new alchemist) and his recruits (formerly Pores’), who include Sweetlard, Rumjugs, Sunrise, etc. He deems there may be hope for them, despite appearances.
In the Letherii palace, Lostara tells Tavore Keneb has been struck hard by Grub’s loss and that Blistig has “decided he’s already good as dead.” She notes the Adjunct’s worsened appearance, the grief and loneliness in her eyes, and worries that with T’amber’s lost her “last tie to the gentler gifts of humanity had been severed.” Tavore talks of Lorn’s death, legacies, the way it doesn’t seem to matter what is achieved and what is not, and her growing belief that “fate and mercy are often one and the same,” an idea that chills Lostara. Tavore says the current chaos in the army is fine, is something she gives them for her own reasons. Tehol and Bugg enter and say they have a gift for them—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.” Lostara wonders if Tavore’s speechlessness means she already knows what that moment might be, that necessity, and “is horrified by this gift.” They leave.
Bugg tells Tehol he doesn’t expect to see the Malazans again. Tehol asks about Brys, but retracts the question immediately. Bugg tells him Brys has “unexplored depths… [and] carries within him a certain legacy… it has the potential to be vast [in measure]” Tehol tries to cheer up.
See, this scene featuring Tehol and Bugg and Janath is the sort of humour and light interlude that does entertain me. It’s hard to say how this one differs, except that, I guess, it feels more as though it is necessary and driving the plot forwards, what with the mention of Brys, the Akrynnai emissary, the news of Tehol’s edict/proclamation (take your pick!) about the distribution of land. This is all interesting and adds depth, whereas the previous scene featuring these characters didn’t seem to have any real colour to it and was more there just as funny filler.
I do love the fact that none of the three of them has any idea what this gift is and therefore cannot offer a gift in return because they don’t know the relative value. Also, it’s a nice light reminder that art works differently for different people—to the Akrynnai this gift is a piece of art, to the Letherii here it is incomprehensible.
I did chuckle at the emissary’s analysis of the usual Letherii response to aid, as in, either they say an outright no or: “Of course, but first let us have half a thousand brokes of pasture land and twenty ranks of tanned hides, oh, and renounce sovereignty of the Kryn Freetrade Lands and maybe a royal hostage or two.” To which we make a rude gesture and march home.
It is interesting to see a few ideas as to how land should be claimed—is it the right of the current incumbent to the land? Does it belong to the descendants of those who walked it in ancestral times. There are real echoes of Native Americans and Aboriginals in those questions.
This jumped out at me regarding what Bugg says about Brys Beddict: “But I can tell you nothing of the path he has taken. In a sense, he stands outside of… well, everything. As a force, one might view him as unaligned, and therefore unpredictable.” We’ve seen quite a few things marked as unaligned recently, haven’t we?
And fantastic to see a hint of Mael coming to the fore in Bugg’s words: “In my most ancient capacity, he compels me. Sire, by the time Brys begins his return to the kingdom, the Errant will be busy… contending with me.” I suspect no hands up for those who feel sorry for the Errant at having this in his future…
Finally, in that scene, the quiet conversation between Bugg and Janath about the child she bears and the suffering she went through at the hands of the Patriotists is beautifully judged and leaves me feeling both melancholy and hopeful.
Grizzin Farl? Have we ever seen that name before? Who is it? Or is it a RAFO? I mean, this character might be just a throwaway mention, but the fact that he (she?) vanished millennia ago makes me suspicious—disappeared characters in this series rather stay so.
So the name Ardata has been brought back to us—it is rare that Erikson does this without us then seeing that character return to the foreground.
With this quote, Kilmandaros seems to have a fair amount in common with the Barghast: “You have awakened her anger, and now she must find an enemy worthy of it.”
Sechul/Knuckles is an interesting character in this scene, especially the way that he reacts to the Errant. It almost feels like he is being forced into alliance and, when that is the case, loyalty to each other isn’t all it could be.
Hmm, Ruthan Gudd could be more than what he seems—am I reading this right, in that he has been someone else in this series? “Ruthan Gudd clawed at his beard, reminding himself of the stranger’s face he now wore.”
The scenes where Ublala Pung is given the armour and mace is all very sword and sorcery and questy stuff. I adore this: “He used that mace to do it, and its name is Rilk, which is Thelomen for “Crush.” Or “Smash,” or something similar. Poor Ublala Pung—dragged this way and that. Bemoaning the fact that this new task takes him away from what Karsa told him to do. He’s a very sweet and dense character.
The blue metal is called Skyfall? Something that fell from the sky? And the armour is made of dragon scales? These dragons are starting to step front and centre, aren’t they?
Fiddler reviving the tradition of the sergeants sitting around and discussing the future, their troops and relative strengths and weaknesses is wonderful to see and, at the same time, desperately sad.
It feels funny that these troops have no real idea of Quick Ben’s capabilities. They are all about Beak and Sinn, because that is who they have seen in action. I can’t wait until Quick Ben unleashes his power for them—it should be a fantastic scene!
And this quote: “The Adjunct’s not our Hood-damned mother, Sinter. She’s the will behind the fist and we’re the fist. And sometimes we get bloodied, but that’s what comes when you’re hammering an enemy in the face.” That, right there, probably gives a great idea as to why Tavore has been so closed off and not bonded with the troops as we’ve seen other commanders do. She knows that she will be bloodying her fist good and proper.
Hmm, who is going to betray the Malazans then? And who is the mystery Talon, now that we know that Throatslitter is a Talon and aware of another somewhere in the ranks?
I’m slightly disturbed at the layers of secrets that are starting to be shown in the Malazan ranks—after all, if they are heading for war, this is the point where they need to be absolutely together, not with dissension among them.
Hmm, this is a very pointed choice of words about the Letherii troops: “Brys Beddict had them all close hobbled and waiting on the Malazans, patient as old women waiting for their husbands to die.”
Heh, I enjoyed Hedge’s scenes and his irrepressible joy: “You just went for the last living Bridgeburner. I’m guessing you won’t do that again, huh?” It’s like a line/scene out of Die Hard or something like that *grins* And, oh, it sounds wonderful to think about the Bridgeburners starting again from this tiny nucleus that Hedge has formed. Although also sad… Seems like he can’t find it within himself to move on.
This was great: “Bottle tried to imagine five thousand Hedges, with the real Hedge in charge. Hood’s breath, I’d want a continent between me and them. Maybe two.”
Such mystery in everything Quick Ben says! Have to confess, the scene between Quick Ben and Bottle lost me on multiple occasions.
Poor Tavore. Poor, poor Tavore. And, ooh, what is the gift given to her by Bugg. Absolutely no doubt this will play a part at a later stage.
It’s good to see that along with all the mystical convergence and doings of gods and armies, etc., that Tehol is actually doing some governing, a la his repatriation program (and other such “proclamations” based on the intro to the chapter). Also, to jump a few passages ahead, nice to know he’s going to be a daddy. Life goes on beyond, between, and under, these “major” moments—always good to be reminded of that.
We’re getting some sense in these early chapters that Brys is going to have an important part to play. Earlier we had a question about his state of mind upon his return, and here we have Tehol saying he doesn’t think Brys was returned simply to keep him company. And one would imagine that standing “outside of everything” might be a position of power in all that is going on. The same for unpredictability. Then later, his own musings on how he is becoming distant from those around him. And then drawing attention as he does to the names of the gods within him and wondering why he came back with them. The same list Bugg talks about at the end as having “vast measure.” Seems a pretty good flag being run up that not only Brys will play an important role, but those names might as well.
Oh, and don’t you get a nice chill with Bugg’s steely “The Errant will be busy… contending with me.”?
I’m generally a fan of most books where the line “she is supremely indifferent to that condition [death]” can be used
This series is so large that it’s funny when you come across a reference such as “we’ve discussed K’rul” and have to think way back to someone who was such a major player—“Hey yeah, wonder what he’s up to now…”
And then the teasing of possibilities that other characters of power might pop up: Grizzin Farl, Edgewalker, Olar Ethil, Ardata, and then others not even named.
Knuckles has an intriguing characterization in this scene: seemingly reluctant to engage in the Errant’s plots; dominated, even “bullied” by the Errant, “flinching” at the idea of using his power, giving a sense that he thinks this could all end very badly for them. It’ll be interesting to see how these dynamics play out going forward.
- Lots of mystery surrounding Ruthan Gudd in these scenes:
- His attempt at hiding, his desire to not be noticed
- His especial desire to not be looked at by a magic user
- Greymane’s advice that he keep his “head low,” knowing it wouldn’t be possible
- His knowledge about the Stormwall
- Skanarow’s prophecy-sounding like statement “I see a damned typhoon [in you]”
- His thinking he has to really avoid her
Hmm, what is Ublala supposed to do in the Wastelands with a First Hero’s armor and mace?
I really like this scene with Fiddler and the sergeants. I like Fiddler starting up the whole tradition again. I like the acceptance that soldiers are soldiers and yep, those “great ones” we’ve all mythologized probably sat around bitching and moaning too. And then how Fiddler’s outburst shows just how much his knowledge is costing him (at least, this is how I read the scene), another sign of his compassion and empathy. He’s gone through this once already with the Bridgeburners getting wiped out and he’s thinking he’s going to see it again here and it’s killing him. And the way he thinks he went too far. But then how I absolutely love Sinter’s response. And you get the sense the worm may turn here.
So Throatslitter’s a Talon. And there’s another in camp. Candidates anyone?
More hints of betrayal—something that’s been foreshadowed several times. Who will it be?
After all this relatively grim stuff: the chaos in the army, Brys’ premonitions of death, Blistig’s broken nature, the sense most of them won’t survive what’s coming, Hedge is like a breath of fresh air with his enthusiasm and his big plans. And you just have to know that his new munitions are going to be important somewhere down the line. You don’t toss a plot point like that in there and not have it pay off sometime, do you? And I’m glad he gets the new recruits—Sweetlard, Rumjugs, etc. Good for them. And did I mention I tend to like books that can have lines like “ever since I died and came back” tossed off so nonchalantly?
So, Quick Ben’s three folks he can’t identify: A woman, a girl, and a “bearded bastard” who feels very close. Guesses? Or would that be too hard to avoid spoilers? Hmm, maybe.
As if it isn’t bad enough being teased about just Ruthan Gudd’s mysterious background, now we have to get teased more with Quick Ben’s? That’s an interesting list of people who did or “probably” saw something about Quick he prefers remains unseen: Kallor, Rake, Gothos (and not just Gothos but, “Gothos, sure”). And then his familiarity with the gate once in the Wastelands. But no fear, soon enough we’ll know everything about those two!
I mentioned before about what this whole thing was costing Fiddler, and now we begin to see its cost on Tavore, which considering her stoic nature all before is even more of a shock. One has to hope Lostara is wrong about her “last tie to the gentler gifts of humanity” having been “severed” is wrong, or that it gets retied somehow, because that can’t be a good position for someone commanding an army. As with the idea that “fate” and “mercy” are the same thing—not exactly what you want to hear from your commanding officer. Or the idea that time wipes out all success and failures is a “relief.”
I do so enjoy the whole Ceda/Chancellor bit. Sometimes the humor can be a bit forced in this book, but I like this running gag with Bugg’s positions.
And wow, what exactly is Bugg expecting here? Talk about Chekhov’s dagger… Of course, it would also be just like Erikson to have this huge magic talisman fall out unnoticed on a big bump on the way and get left behind in some small crevice. We’ll see…
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.