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 ten 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.
Kalyth recalls a long-running rite of her people involving a spirit figurine, hers now lost, meaning her soul would “find no haven” upon her death. She thinks how her people had thought too highly of themselves, something she assumes is true of all peoples. Until they are humbled. She remembers a bhederin who took a long time dying and thinks how she too still stands.
Kalyth wonders why they are hiding from clouds. She sees flashes of light beneath the far off clouds, the ground shake, and she sees the plain on fire. Gunth Mach suddenly grabs he and the K’Chain Che’Malle take off running. Gu’Rull flies down before them and they come to a stop. Kalyth tells him they fled the storm on her command, surprising herself at standing up to the assassin. Gu’Rull looks at her, then takes off. The others set camp.
Zaravow of the Snakehunter (a sub-clan of the Gadra Barghast) bitterly recalls how his clan had once been powerful until their losses on the One Eye Cat Mountains to the Bridgeburners, their dissolution since then. He thinks their trip here to Lether was a disaster: their current camp is filled with rubbish, the young warriors are getting drunk and becoming addicted to a local drug, and he wishes he’d convinced the council to kill Tool and “Hobble” Hetan. As he prepares his deathmask, he sees his wife and soon after a young warrior—Benden Ledag—and he realizes they’ve been having sex. He decides he’ll challenge and kill Benden, then Hobble his wife. His wife suddenly starts screaming at something outside of camp and as he spins to look he sees a bank of quick-moving storm clouds moving right for the camp, before something inside is revealed.
Sekara, wife to the Gadra Warchief Stolmen, is proud of her title Sekara the Vile and the power it gives her, power greater and more efficient than her husband’s, whom she controlled anyway. She considers herself the rightful Barghast Queen, as opposed to Hetan, who won’t even take the title. She passes by the crucified victims of the Gadra with nary a glance, and she can’t wait to see Tool, Hetan, and their children suffer the same fate. She sees the storm clouds off in the distance, but dismisses them once she notes they aren’t moving closer, just as she dismisses the cowering dogs.
Hetan is with her son in their yurt when Tool enters and tells her somewhere Barghast have died. She and some warriors follow him to the edge of camp. When she asks if they’ve found their enemy, he says maybe, though he hopes not. They see storm clouds on the horizon and Hetan asks if the storm is magic. He tells her no, but makes it clear it is something, something grim. He adds that 500 Barghast were killed in seconds and he would cut his tongue out before telling her what he knows. He drops his sword, saying he wants to run, he does not want to lead the Barghast against what comes. She replies she stands with him, whatever, but she needs something from him. He asks if the Barghast will follow him if he tries to lead them away and she thinks to herself no, they’ll kill you, our children, and then do worse to me. But aloud she whispers if that is the plan—for them to flee in the dark. He tells her to select a hundred of his worst critics for him to lead to the killing site, where he says they’ll find no enemy, just their work. He hopes that will incite fear enough in them, though Hetan believes it will incite anger instead. He tells her stay behind with the children and await the return of Cafal and Talamandas, whom she should make sure stay until he returns as well.
As she watches Tool’s group ride away, Hetan thinks how the Barghast have become scattered, how peace has acted upon them like a poison. She notes the Jade Spears above and wonders if they truly had been omens of evil, thinking “When ruin is coming, we choose not to see it.” She realizes Tool had been asking her permission to flee with her and the children, to be a coward, and she had refused, had forced him into his position. She believes they will find an enemy, will go to war, and will lose, though Tool will command strongly even knowing that.
Setoc, Cafal, and Torrent reenter the world in the Wastelands, the ghosts they brought with them flowing out and vanishing. When Cafal says the land is empty, he tells them it was once full of great beast, but “we emptied it and called that success.” Setoc says she’ll travel with Cafal back to his people rather than with Torrent, saying she is responsible for the ghosts she brought and that “their journey remains incomplete.” They separate.
In Icarium’s city, a K’Chain Che’Malle drone is awakened and senses the intruders, much to the “ghost’s” dismay.
Feather pulls out new tiles and tells the others: “The old ones are dead. Useless. These belong to us, just us. For now. And the time has come to give them their names… No Holds, you see? Each one is unaligned, all of them are unaligned. That’s the first difference.” She names/describes them: Chance—Knuckles “at war with itself”; Rule and Ambition the flip side of the same tile as they “kill each other”; Life and Death, Light and Dark, Fire and Water, Air and Stone, Fury and Starwheel—Fury “blind, a destroyer of everything” and “Starwheel “that’s time, but unraveled”; Root and Ice Haunt, that “both seek the same thing. You get one or the other, never both”; and finally Blueiron and Oblivion, Blueiron as “the sorcery that gives life to machines” and Oblivion as “a curse [that] eats you from the inside out. Your memories. Your self.” She says Oblivion is getting stronger, that someone is coming to find them and that they need to feed Blueiron. Taxilian says he knows but can’t figure out how to help the city. Feather says to cut himself and let it—“the taste” of the city—inside. Icarium watches and thinks Sulkit, the drone, is coming, but not to slaughter them. Icarium feels a new sense of hope.
Yan Tovis leads her refugees through the dark road, though inside she is panicking because she is lost and she can feel her power waning, herself growing weaker. Pully and Skwish have grown younger on her power. Yan Tovis collapses and the refugee train drops out on the “underside” of Gallan. Yedan Derryg heads toward his sister. As he passes through the mob, he thinks the Shake have become “a diminished people, in numbers, in spirit… they had made themselves small, as if meekness was the only survival strategy they understood.” He wonders if they’ll ever be able to rise again. He arrives at the van and finds Pully and Skwish, though he doesn’t recognize them in their youthful bodies at first. They tell him Yan Tovis is in a coma, maybe dying, and they acknowledge what Derryg knows—they’ve landed in a realm of the Liosan. He tells them to force feed his sister, then he rides off to face the Liosan and slow them down once they, inevitably, come after them.
Swish and Pully discuss how their original plan to do nothing and just let Twilight live or die is unworkable now—either Derryg will kill them if she dies or he won’t return and they’ll need her alive to get out of this realm. They think maybe they can come up with another plan once they’re out.
Derryg is surprised by the appearance of a Forkrul Assail named Repose, who tells him “this land is consecrated for adjudication” (as proven by the skulls on the ground) and that because Derryg’s people have brought “discord” to the land, they need some of that Forkrul Assail “Truth”. Derryg declines the offer, but Repose says resistance is futile. Derryg, having seen what happened to Picard, decides to fight anyway, surprising the hell out of Repose by both winning and by declaring that he is the Watch of the Shake, just before he not-so-futilely cuts off Repose’s head. Just then, five Liosan appear. Unfortunately for the reader, none of them are Jorrude. Derryg kills them all, employing the age-old Watch tactics of sword-hurling, head-removing, eye-gouging, horse-leaping, and vertebrae-separating. He turns back to the camp.
Yan Tovis wakes up to find her people under assault by light and fire (five suns have now risen). Her brother returns and tells her they have time. She tells the two witches to begin the preparations to continue the journey. Pully and Skwish leave to do so, and the two siblings look at each other in recognition that they might have to kill this two before their quest is over.
Okay. Okkkaaaaaay. So, this chapter starts to get into the arena where I am feeling massively uncomfortable. I know we plan to deal with the big incident in a separate post, but, frankly, this quote left me feeling ill—and the Barghast storyline is so thoroughly unpleasant that I have no idea how I will manage to proceed through it: “He’d take the front half of her feet, a single merciful chop of his cutlass, once, twice. And then he’d rape her. And then he’d throw her out and all his friends would take their turn. They’d fill her. Her mouth, the places between her thighs and cheeks. Three could take her all at once.” This follows rapidly on the heels of “His wife raped and the toes clipped from her feet, so making her a Hobbler, lower than a camp cur, forced to lift her backside to any man at any time and in any place.”
What the actual fuck? I think swearing at this juncture is totally appropriate, frankly. Why should I be reading this filth and depravity? Why should I be suffering through scenes like that in my head? Why should I want to deal with this Barghast storyline? Unless it has some massive bearing on the rest of this book and in The Crippled God, I actually have no idea why this plotline exists except to showcase a cruel and horrible way of tribal life. I can see no redeeming features, and I can actually feel myself getting more and more worked up about it.
The additional problem, I think, is that the Barghast story sits with none of the light-hearted elements that we see in the Malazan chapters. Rather we have the Shake, the K’Chain Che’Malle, Icarium etc alongside the Barghast. I mean, I don’t think we could easily have quotes like those above next to Tehol, Shurq, Janath and Bugg bickering away about sexy times—that format wouldn’t work either. But, damn, these chapters featuring the Barghast are becoming grimmer and grimmer.
Thankfully I am thoroughly enjoying Kalyth—her internal thoughts, her observations on life and faith, her development as a character. I loved seeing her standing up to the Assassin over the fleeing of the K’ell Hunters from the storm.
And that storm—I’m guessing that the clouds of dust are concealing Forkrul Assail. Bill seemed to think it was pretty clear to the reader what was coming, but I must admit that I didn’t have a clue as I read the first parts of the chapter. I was slightly concerned by the reaction of the K’Chain Che’Malle: “...her terrifying guardians, clung to the ground like rush-beaten curs.” If they’re scared, then we’re talking something major.
I find the Icarium storyline really confusing, in that he seems to drift off away from his body and the other people in his head. Or does he? It just isn’t clear, is it? I’m guessing that is to make it unclear for those people who haven’t guessed what the actual situation is?
In this Tile reading, we are seeing a lot of opposites being shown, which I think is important after we saw the extreme opposite of the dragons in the previous chapter about the K’Chain Che’Malle, where we learnt more about the nature of the Otataral Dragon. Chance at war with itself, so two sides. Fortune and misfortune are mortal enemies.
Yedan’s attack and ability to take down Repose is pretty damn impressive! And, wow, how chilling are the Forkrul Assail? Their cold reactions to the world, their reasoned judgment, their dispassionate attempts to bring justice—but their brand of justice.
You know something? This is the first chapter where I had to read the second half a couple of times to make sense out of it, and that was purely down to the horrible impact that the Barghast part had on me. I was so shell-shocked that I found my thoughts turning back to what I had read, rather than taking in what was said afterwards. This one was a struggle, folks.
I liked that little anthropological journey through the Elan’s beliefs. And the bhederin standing, the idea that the defiance is all. I might have preferred the connection made not so directly as happens at the end of the scene, but I can live with it.
So I think by now we can be pretty sure about what’s going on with these clouds. Especially given that the K’Chain Che’Malle (or should I say these KC) are afraid of them. Even so, I like the slow build to what eventually comes.
Kalyth is really coming into her own here, isn’t she? Standing up for Sag’ Churok and the others. Standing against the assassin. One would assume, based on all this build-up, she’s going to need that steeliness, that feistiness.
So we’ve clearly had the Barghast painted in a not-so-great light lately. But now we’re really ratcheting things up with the mention of ritualized maiming and rape. It doesn’t take much to see this is going somewhere, and with our earlier comments, that would pretty much seal the deal. Since we’ll be having that conversation soon in our separate posting, might be best to hold off on discussion on this prelude until then. But oh, how you really won’t mind if those clouds do what one thinks they’re going to do. And oh, how you want Hetan to listen to Tool. But that’s all I’ll say here and save it for our big post.
Well, at least we can move on to something more uplifting, like the plain where Torrent, Cafal and Setoc arrive, full of life and wondrous creatures. Oh wait. Damn. There was some speculation as to whether the world they entered for that brief time might have been our own. But there’s no doubt this one is, if not literally: “[There were] more animals, wandering about. Great beasts that trembled the ground… We emptied it and called that success. Fucking unbelievable.” And by “the ground,” I mean pretty much every place we’ve step foot. We’re an entire species of extinction-level comets.
OK, Setoc has an incomplete journey with the beasts. So that will probably eventually be important.
I always read this scene with the sleeping drone as dealing in terms of nanomites—others? I like a lot in this scene: the description of the drone’s awakening, the opening up of more information about the K’Chain Che’Malle, the adaptability of this system, and the way it starts to turn into a bit of a horror novel/movie scene: tentacled, fanged creature in an isolated, creepy old place with a small group of unknowing people (well, kind of) milling about. Give Sulkit a hockey mask and we’re all set…
A few thoughts on Feather Witch’s Tiles
- I read them as linked to Icarium’s new warrens
- The unaligned makes sense to me both from being linked to Icarium and also being new
- That they are coins would makes sense in two ways to me. One is the progression we’ve seen before, from wandering to Holds to Houses. And once one has Houses then it seem larger collectives are in order and thus one gets Economy (or coins). Also, since these warrants were birthed in Lether, a coin-focus seems highly appropriate. Perhaps there are other reasons to be coins though?
- I like the dismissive “Thrones are too obvious.” Young whippersnappers always know better than their elders. Or is that, their Elders?
- I also like the implicit lesson in Rule and Ambition being flip sides as one “kills” the other
- The duality pattern is interesting and while I can see it, I’m wondering where it comes from specifically here—is it just an ordering, a recognition of a “truth”, from Icarium’s own “duality”? Though Breath seems to dismiss the idea of a forced “order”, though perhaps she means only onto Time, as it’s in reference to Starwheel
- Fury would certainly have a connection to Icarium.
- As would Starwheel, as he has a long-standing connection with Time. But we have another character as well who can “unravel” time.
- Root: an interesting linguistic choice as we’ve had several variants of that sound in this novel.
- Ice Haunt: is this his Jaghut nature coming out?
- Blueiron: technology?
- Oblivion—what is coming for them? Is it Sulkit? But can he do anything to them? Is it the “ghost” that is Icarium? Or something else?
Off to the Shake:
Hard to trust these two witches before. Now, with their newfound youth, thanks to Twilight’s blood, it’s even harder to. And that’s before their conversation about future betrayal.
It’s an interesting parallel between the Barghast and the Shake as a “diminished” people. Will either “rise” again?
And holy s—t but did Derryg open up a can of Watch asskicking on some arrogant folks. Who saw this coming their first time ‘round? I’m pretty sure I didn’t, though I don’t remember for sure. But as a rereader, I love this scene even more for the microcosm it is of the future. Even if the whole eye-gouge move was a little gross (imagine what this guy could do with a good sword). Plus, I’m pretty much of the mind that anyone who says “let me be your truth” deserves as much humbling ass-handing-to-them as they get.
On the other hand, I’ve got to give some credit to the Liosan for raising freaking “suns” as their weapon of choice. You’ve got to admit—that’s pretty, um, cool.
And on that painful note…
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.