Wed
May 14 2014 12:00pm

Malazan Reread of the Fallen: Dust of Dreams, Chapter Twenty-Four (Part One)

Steven Erikson Malazan Book of the Fallen reread Dust of Dreams 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 one of chapter twenty-four 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.

Note: we will cover the last few scenes of this chapter (the post-battle, epilogue-like scenes) and also do our whole book wrap on Friday. And then Steven will join us for our usual Q and A.

 

CHAPTER SUMMARY

SCENE ONE

Nom Kala waits while Tool is unmoving for some time. Just as she thinks it will not be long before her fellow T’lan Imass break away, Tool tells them “I reject your need… You shall, however, bow to mine.” Nom Kala realizes he had given them their chance to leave, and none had; “Instead, we fell inside ourselves, ever deeper, that endless eating and spitting out and eating all we spat out—this is the seductive sustenance of hatred and spite, of rage and vengeance.” Ordering them to dust, Tool says they are “upon a time of killing.” As they do so, Nom Kala thinks: “They are none to look upon us now… to wonder who we once were, at who shaped us with such loving hands… None to witness. Dust of dreams, dust of all that we never achieved. Dust of what we might have been and what we cannot help but be.” When she alone remains standing, Tool says she has no rage and wonders what she will use in its place. She tells him she does not know; the humans won, were better than the Imass, and she feels only grief. Tool asks if there is not anger in grief, and when she says there might be, he says there is time. She turns to dust.

SCENE TWO

As Nom Kala turns to dust, Tool has a thought of Toc, that he and Tool both have grown “intimate with dust.” He sees Nom Kala as “what the Imass might have become, had the ritual not taken them, not stolen their future. A future of pathos. Sordid surrender. The loss of dignity, a slow, slow death.” He says to Toc he will give him nothing but “silence. And its torrid roar. Will you hear? Will you listen?”

SCENE THREE

Kalyth, with Stormy and Gesler, looks upon the wonder of Ampelas Rooted now become Ampelas Uprooted—a huge sky keep, still awesome despite its obvious damage and age. She senses the Matron within, dying, fully insane. Looking upon not just the keep by the thousands of soldiers, Gesler wonders why the K’Chain Che’Malle didn’t do that before and thus rule the world. Kalyth tells him such a birthing caused great pain and loss of sanity, adding that the Matron is dying and points out her heir, Gunth Mach, now approaching, along with Sag’Churok and Bre’nigan, the Matron’s J’an Sentinel. Sag’Churok informs them that the two Shi’gal allied and eaten the forebrain of the Matron. Thus controlling her, they have raised the keep, but when the Matron dies, so will Ampelas Rooted. He warns they must find their enemy soon. When Kalyth asks why they would have done this, he tells her the Shi-gal see “no future.” When asked about Gu’Rull, he tells her the assassin tried to stop the others but was wounded and driven off. Gesler and Stormy argue, then Stormy accepts Gunth Mach’s “flavours” so he can communicate. Gesler grudgingly does the same. As the two Malazans bicker, Bre’nigan tells Kalyth they seem “wayward” and when she agrees, he says it doesn’t matter; the battle will be the end of all of them anyway. She thinks in that case the K’Chain Che’Malle should just let the humans go free, but he replies they cannot; “You are the legacy of [the Matron’s] mind. Even now, how can we say she was wrong.” When she argues they are putting too much on three humans, he can only agree. Gesler and Stormy are given Ve’Gath mounts as the two Malazans still spar.

SCENE FOUR

Speaking so as not to be overheard, Stormy and Gesler discuss the apparent coup, how the Matron’s plan seems crazy, how the two Malazans are “redundant”, and then their roles in the upcoming battle. Gesler says Stormy needs to command the Ve’Gath while Stormy commands the K’ell Hunters. Stormy says the entire war is crazy—wondering why the two K’Chain types can’t co-exist, to which Gesler says “The slaves are loose with a few hundred generations of repressed hate to feed off. They won’t be satisfied until the last Che’Malle is a chopped up carcass.” His concern, though, is not for the K’Chain Che’Malle but for whom the Nah-ruk will turn on next: What’s to stop them? They fucking breed like ants. They’re laying waste to warrens. Gods below, they’re hunting down and killing dragons… We’ve got to stop the Nah-ruk. Not for the Che’Malle… but for everyone else.” Gesler turns to Gunth Mach and says they need Gu’Rull for his aerial surveillance capability. He dismisses the fatalistic attitude of the K’Chain Che’Malle, saying he’s in this to win, and telling her “Nothing is over until we decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell, no! And it ain’t over now!” Oh wait. OK, he actually tells her “one thing us humans don’t understand, and that’s giving up. We fight when the fight’s been thumped out of us. We rebel when all we got left that’s not in chains is inside our skulls. We defy when the only defiance we got left is up and dying… With [Gu’Rull’s eyes], I can win this battle… The Matron—was she insane? Maybe. Aye. Insane enough to think she could win. And to plan for it. Mad? Mad genius I’d say.” Gunth Mach stares at him, then tells him his words have been heard by all and they shall obey. Gesler announces they’re heading for the Nah’Ruk now and they all head out with the Ve’gath and Ke’ll chanting “Toga. Toga. Toga.”

SCENE FIVE

Gu’Rull, flying high above, thinks how impressive the Malazans are, and considers how they are no longer human: “Ancient fires had forged them. Thyrllian, Tellann, perhaps even the breath and blood of the Eleint.” Thinking of the dragons makes him think how the K’Chain Che’Malle semi-worship them, calling themselves “Children of the Eleint” and naming their cities for the First Born dragons, thought the dragons of course were utterly indifferent. Though he will lend the Malazans his aid, Gu’Rull also thinks this battle will be the end of the K’Chain Che’Malle: “The Nah’ruk will see to that… The [shield anvil’s] heart was vast, it was true. He was a thing of sentimentality and compassion… But such creatures were vulnerable. Their hearts bled too freely, and the scars never knitted true. It was madness to embrace the pain and suffering of the K’Chain Che’Malle—not even a Matron would yield to such a thing… The mind would die. He was but one mortal, a human at that. He would take what he could, and then fall.” Gesler interrupts his thoughts and then as the two discuss the upcoming battle, Gu’Rull starts to grudgingly admit to being even more impressed: “The Assassin would not permit himself the delusion of hope, but this man was a warrior in the truest sense… the insanity of belief. And now you make us believe. With you. In you… You taste bitter human. You taste of your world.”

SCENE SIX

Stormy tries to tell Gesler that Gunth Mach isn’t telling them something, but then Gesler, through Gu’Rull’s eyes, sees the wreckage of the battle between the Nah-ruk and the Bonehunters. Horrified, he describes the scene to Stormy, including the pile of bones that seems to be evidence the Nah-ruk ate the dead.

SCENE SEVEN

Gesler wonders what could have torched thousands of Nah-ruk, or caused that huge crater. He sees the remnants of a destroyed Khundryl charge. Gu’Rull tells him he’s impressed at the damage the Bonehunters inflicted, and at their bravery in not surrendering, though he admits surrender was probably not an option. He adds he’s found a trail and signs of retreat, but as he speaks of maybe pursuing it, he cuts out. Gesler warns Stormy the Nah-ruk are coming.

SCENE EIGHT

Strahl’s scouts report the two K’Chain armies marching toward each other and that the Senan must retreat so as not to get caught between them. He dismisses them and thinks these are not the enemies they seek; the Malazans are, and he thinks how all this talk of renegade armies is mere deception, that the Bonehunters act for the Empress. As he prepares to order the retreat, the camp is attacked by Tool and the T’lan Imass. Tool himself kills Strahl, even as the warrior tries to tell him, “We avenged you! Onos Toolan, we avenged them all! Do not.” As he dies, he thinks, “We did all we could. Our shame. Our guilt. Warleader, please. There are children, there are innocents.”

SCENE NINE

Nom Kala does not take part in the slaughter, the killing of children, and thinks “This was a crime that would poison every soul… [Tool] could see himself, as if torn loose and flung outside his own body—he saw and the very sight of what he was doing was driving him mad. And us all. Oh, give me dust. Give me a morning born in oblivion, born in eternal blessed oblivion… This is was, once. Terrible armies of T’lan Imass. We hunted down the Jaghut. We gave them what I see here. By all the spirits, is this our only voice?” As the slaughter winds down, she hears “a terrible moaning” from the Imass, and believes, “Onos Toolan. Your vengeance—you delivered it… upon us… We followed your lead. We did as you did. We broke our own chains. We unleashed ourselves—how many millennia of this anger within us?… Now we are become slayers of children. We have stepped into this world, again, after all this time spent so, so free from its crimes… Once more, we are born into history.”

SCENE TEN

Stormy is distraught and thinks he and Gesler should have died fighting beside the Bonehunters: “We’re family when fighting to the last, but the real family is among the fallen. Why else do we stagger half-blind after every battle? Why else do we look upon dead kin and feel so abandoned? They left without us, that’s why. A soldier knows this.” He thinks at least he and Gesler could still die together. And the K’Chain Che’Malle will die as well. Gesler breaks in and tells him his thoughts are leaking, destroying morale, then gives him some tips on keeping his thoughts to himself. They discuss tactics as they near the Nah’ruk, though Stormy can’t figure out why Gesler doesn’t seem to be factoring in Ampelas Uprooted. Kalyth tells them the K’Chain Che’Malle can hear their plans and confidence and are “awestruck with wonder and faith.” Stormy thinks to himself that they are mere amateurs, recalling Dujek and, best of them all, Dassem Ultor. He can see Gesler patterning himself on Dassem and thinks he’s doing a good job. He heads off to his battle place.

SCENE ELEVEN

Kalyth finds their confidence “insane,” and their ease and irreverence leaves her stunned. She believes Gu’Rull had chosen right: “these two men are the answer to Gunth’an Acyl’s vision. A future alive with hope. But they don’t care. They will lead us in this battle, and if we all die they will either flee at the last moment, or they will fall—it’s no matter to them. They are no different from Redmask… She wanted Gesler and Stormy to die… They’d done nothing wrong… were about to do precisely what they were meant to do… But I want a world without soldiers. I want to see them all kill each other. I want to see kings and generals standing alone… no weapon to hack their will… I want to see them revealed for the weak, miserable creatures they truly are.” She knows her death is coming and wonders what the Malazans see in her eyes. She thinks how if she could, she’d lead the Ve’Gath against “her own kind. A holy war against the soldiers of the world and their masters. Leaving only herders and farmers and fisherfolk. Artists and tanner and potters. Story-tellers and poets and musicians… A world of peace.”

SCENE TWELVE—SIXTEEN

As Stormy gets set to stand, he sees sky keeps exiting the warren up in the sky, and then Ampelas Uprooted fires. Gesler tells his troops to run out from under the keeps and warns Stormy to give up his site and charge, to close in with the Nah-ruk. Gesler sends his soldiers on a charge as well, even as he sees the greatly outnumbered Ampelas taking a beating. The soldiers are engaged in close fighting, but to his dismay, Gesler sees the Nah-ruk keeps firing into the midst of the mêlée, unconcerned about killing their own, and he realizes they’ll kill everyone on the ground if necessary. Then suddenly, two of the keeps explode.

SCENE SEVENTEEN

Icarium arrives in his own sky keep and looks upon “Strangers [who] bring pain. You bring suffering. You bring to so many dreams the dust of death. But strangers, I am Icarium. And I bring far worse.”

SCENE EIGHTEEN

Kalyth watches the new keep’s arrival, wondering. Sag’Churok tells her it is Kalse Uprooted, controlled not by a Matron but by one who has not walked amongst the K’Chain for a long time.

SCENE NINETEEN

Gesler watches Kalse take down keep after keep, always nearing the gate of the warren where ever more Nah-ruk keeps wait to come through. Stormy and Gesler plan wedge charges to break out of their encirclement and flee the keep’s destruction overhead, and then once the Nah’ruk fill in the gap, turn on them.

SCENE TWENTY

Icarium is being battered. Feather Witch tells him he must close the gate and she gives him the Errant’s eye with which to do it. The other “ghosts” chime in as well and when he says he cannot hold, they tell him “there are children in the world… The children wait. The children hear.” And then he can hear Badalle singing. Rautos tells him to have faith, and Icarium transforms the Errant’s eye into a finnest.

SCENE TWENTY-ONE

Kalyth watches as Kalse enters the gate then as a massive stone tree breaks through the ground and rise up, spreading outwards across Kalse and then the gate itself. Both are assailed by Nah-ruk keeps, until sudden heat flares them to ashes. She sees a boy and girl on a ridge pouring out sorcery.

SCENE TWENTY-TWO

Stormy is saved from a Nah’ruk by Bent. Stunned by the dog’s appearance, he looks up to see the sky keeps flame. And then the battle turns and the K’Chain Che’Malle begin the slaughter.

SCENE TWENTY-THREE

Gesler sees Grub and Sin walking toward him with Kalyth, Sag’Churok, Gunth Mach, and the Sentinel. He tells Roach his yappy voice is “the prettiest sound I’ve ever heard.”

SCENE TWENTY-FOUR

Gesler warns Grub and Sinn they’re in trouble. Grub says Bent and Roach found them and that they were safe the whole time, but Gesler answer that the Bonehunters needed them—they’d run into the Nah’ruk. Sinn says it is an Azath that sealed the gate. When Gesler asks who is in there, what living soul, she tells him “he is gone” and what seals the gate is an eye. Gunth Mach tells the three humans they “are the mortal truths of my mother’s faith,” adding they will now honour the fallen, both K’Chain Che’Malle and Nah’ruk, and hope the Nah’ruk will one day “know the gift of forgiveness.” Gesler says the Nah-ruk appeared to have become “bred down, past any hope of independent thought . . They can repair, but they cannot make anything new. They are the walking dead.” When Kalyth says she thought she’d seen the same in Gesler’s eyes he answers she might have, but “we shed things like that like snake skin.” When Gunth Mach says the K’Chain Che’Malle are now pledged to the humans and will help find the survivors, he replies that they don’t owe them anything. And besides, he continues, he and the others hadn’t actually been asked and they were renouncing, “shedding”, their titles.. Stormy agrees, adding the K’Chain Che’Malle have a city to build or another Root to find. Kalyth laughs at the idea they can just drop their titles, and asks if they’re going to just leave her. When they answer she can come with them east, she warns them that if they go that way they will all die. Gunth Mach says it’s obvious then—the surviving K’Chain Che’Malle will go with them and guard them—“It is the new way our mother foresaw. The path of our rebirth. Humans, welcome us. K’Chain Che’Malle have returned to the world.”

SCENE TWENTY-FIVE

Sulkit, now become a Matron in Kalse, hears the words and thinks she will not make herself known yet. She feels “old seeds” growing in her, as well as “life bleeding into the Rooted’s stone. Strange, alien life. Its flesh and bone was rock. Its mind and soul was the singular imposition of belief. But then what else are any of us?”

 

Amanda’s Reaction

I’m not sure I quite get this first scene with Tool and the T’lan Imass with him—does he make them become dust and quit “life”? Or are they travelling elsewhere? If this is a true ending of them, then it is quiet and desperate and far from what we are seeing with the Bonehunters:

“None to witness. Dust of dreams, dust of all that we never achieved. Dust of what we might have been and what we cannot help but be.”

Ampelas Unrooted is something I demand to see on a screen near me, now. That city filling the sky, with the fifteen thousand Ve’Gath marching beneath it. And how scary is this idea: “A hundred was deemed sufficient. Gunth’an Acyl has birthed more than fifteen thousand.” However, having now seen the K’Chain Nah’ruk in action, it doesn’t seem quite sufficient…

Stormy steps up rather quickly to command of this more-than-scary force, doesn’t he? No hesitation, unlike Gesler. I love that they’re bickering as usual, when faced by these massing K’Chain Che’Malle, with Stormy saying:

“You’re the Mortal Sword—these are the questions you need to be asking, not me! Who’s going to command here? You are, you stupid lump of dhenrabi shit! So stop lapdogging me and get on with it!”

Ha, they are just so impossibly irreverent: “Now you got thirty thousand lizards expectin’ you to take charge.”

This is a bleak picture of the war between the two flavours of K’Chain:

“The world’s not big enough for Long-Tails and Short-Tails both? Stupid. There’s barely any left as it is. Like the last two scorpions busy killing each other, when the desert covers a whole damned continent.”

The slaughter of the Malazans? Presented as even more unnecessary when faced with this thought, since I’m guessing the Nah’ruk were only going through the Bonehunters to get to the Che’Malle.

Interesting… The Nah’ruk are hunting down and killing dragons? Laying waste to warrens? Just because they want to destroy the Che’Malle or at the behest of others?

Oh man! That scene where Gesler talks to Gunth Mach and his words are heard by all the K’Chain Che’Malle, where he basically tells them they’re going to slap down the Nah’ruk? That is something else. Love it.

This coming together of Gesler and Gu’Rull is also amazing. And I confess I’m still marvelling at how Gesler and Stormy’s eventual roles were begun so far back in this series’ read. The way they were forged in fire so that they became more than human, and so able to survive and thrive through everything that has come since then. This is fantasy on a truly epic scope. Reading this the word epic is rampantly over-used when it comes to most fantasy fiction.

And then the heartbreak as Gesler is able to see through Gu’Rull’s eyes the fate of his comrades.

“The Nah’ruk have dropped everything. They’re coming for us. We’re on our own.”

“And the Bonehunters?”

“We’re on our own.”

Ah, and my answer to what Tool has done with the T’lan Imass—destruction of the Senan. I can see why Tool would want revenge, I can. I can see why he wants to take down the White Face Barghast, but surely that brings him down to their level and negates his death? This is the very definition of two wrongs don’t make a right… “She heard tiny wailing voices fall suddenly silent. This was a crime that would poison every soul.”

I seriously am loving these sections with Stormy and Gesler. This one where Stormy contemplates his and Gesler’s reason for running off and swearing to Fener—the orgies, naturally—and then where Gesler tells him off for spilling his morale-sucking thoughts all over their force; well, it’s just so entertaining, and dark, and humorous, and sad, and everything that Erikson writes so well.

The other thing that is pulling at my heart, is seeing these casual thoughts and mentions of Coltaine and Dassem Ultor, and knowing how far we’ve come from them as well.

Awwww:

“See you when it’s done, Shield Anvil.”

“Aye, Mortal Sword.”

Kalyth sees mockery there; I see respect and affection for each other.

Oh. My. God. Ampelas Uprooted and the sky keeps of the Nah’ruk—this is just AMAZING.

And Kalse Uprooted—Icarium! “The one who commands… it has been a long time since he last walked among the K’Chain Che’Malle and Nah’ruk.”

Ah, more epic stuff! The Nah’ruk killed a dragon to make this hole in the world through which they are spilling their forces! Feather Witch is telling Icarium to use the Errant’s eye in order to block it! Sinn and Grub are using Icarium’s new warrens—his fire—to destroy the Nah’ruk sky keeps! This is so much.

Back to back, chapters 23 and 24 more than made up for frustrations on the way through, a slow build, and the horror of some of those middle chapters. It was just writing on a grand scale, with some things occurring that practically had me weeping and some with me wanting to punch the air in delight.

Has Icarium gone?

 

Bill’s Reaction

That’s a nice bit of what I’d call subtle foreshadowing, or at least chill-building, description that opens the chapter when Nom Kala looks at her fellow T’lan Imass as “warriors who had ‘forgotten what it was like to live’.” I’m thinking if you’re looking for any sense of compassion, mercy, empathy, etc. in folks heading off to battle, the ones who have forgotten what life was like would be the last ones to look to.

If that wasn’t enough, her later thought that they are the result of “the seductive sustenance of hatred and spite, of rage and vengeance” probably helps clarify our vision of this group a bit more. And while “we’ll follow you over a cliff” sounds nice on the surface as a statement of loyalty and trust, looking only a little deeper, it doesn’t seem to say much about the intelligence of those following or the ethics of the one leading. Contrast that to the Malazan soldier, who will follow nobody over a Hood-damned cliff. Nom Kalas willingness to at least question/think about all this perhaps foreshadows her standing aside during the later attack.

That’s a nice bit of language use, describing Tool’s will closing about them “like a fist”—about as clear an image of violence and domination as one can get.

Nom Kala’s recitation of the title phrases has a lovely if tragic elegiac tone to it: “Dust of dreams, dust of all that we never achieved. Dust of what we might have been and what we cannot help but be.” We all do eventually come to dust—ashes to ashes and all that—but what might happen if the dust continues? Can one maintain one’s humanity? One’s empathy and compassion? Must one forget? The Imass are of course the living (cough cough) metaphor of that, but the idea has also been explored from the viewpoint of other long-lived races. Rake certainly kept his, but we also know his people struggled with the issue. Draconus needed to be reawakened perhaps to compassion. We see the dust as well not only in the eventual organic end, but think of how many times we have seen “achievements” turned dust—potshards and ruins and impressions in the ground. The series is littered with all these examples of the temporary nature of life and what it “accomplishments” which should, I would think, make one question how to define said “accomplishment.”

Nom Kala also make a valid point, though by implication only, when she Tool wonders if there is no rage in her grief, and she answers, perhaps, “But if I must search for it—” I read that unfinished line as continuing along the thread of—if I have to dig it up, if I have to go get it, then what does that say about me? About the ethics of doing so? About how “true” that rage is? Or how “justified” the result of that rage. Other thoughts?

Tool’s vision of what the Imass future would have been is certainly bleak. But considering his mindset, his goal here, and his soon-to-be action, should we take that assessment at face value?

Right with you Amanda on wanting to see these sky keeps on the big screen. C’mon Hollywood! If Adam Sandler can get movies…

From one non-future to another, at least in the eyes of the K’Chain Che’Malle (until the big inspiration speech at least).

I also liked the bickering between these two—titles or not titles, Ascendants or no Ascendants. It’s that irreverent and irascible attitude that is going to help come the big stuff (especially loved the wrong-way saddle line).

That war description also sounds a bit like the T’lan Imass—those generations of hatred building up. One would think, in fact, that the world could be big enough for these two (though perhaps that is explained a bit by the later revelation that the Nah-ruk have seemingly devolved somewhat, are becoming more hive-minded and less intelligent).

I’m not sure how this is known about them killing dragons—I seem to have forgotten where that comes from. Later, Icarium senses this is how the Nah-ruk burned the hole in the sky. Earlier, Icarium and Mappo had found Sorrit crucified in the keep but they had decided it had not been the K’Chain Che’Malle who did it: from our Bonehunters reread:

They speculate as to what/who could have killed Sorrit. They identify the wood as Blackwood and the “rust” as otataral and then discus the power of blood. They deduce Sorrit was killed in the Shadow Realm by the Tiste Edur.

Anyone?

Gesler may say he isn’t “one for that inspiring crap,” but he does a pretty good job.

And then you think Gu’Rull has bought into it, impressed as he is with the two humans, these Ascendants forged in ancient fires, and then we see he shares the same fatalistic view as his people—both for his personal survival (“I give him my eyes for as long as I remain in the skies… such time shall not long survive the commencement of battle. The Nah’ruk will see to that.”) and his people’s survival.

And I love how “irreverent” and “wayward” Gesler breaks in: “I don’t give a flying fuck… ”

And then, while he won’t grant himself “the delusion of hope” the old, old, old, old reptile does feel something… And I like how that “You taste of the world” works in two ways in this chapter. One, it contrasts the Malazans with the T’lan Imass, who are cut off from this world. And two, it foreshadows the line toward the end with the K’Chain Che’Malle returning to the world.

And then yes, that moment of Gesler’s vision of the post-battle scene is horrible to contemplate. As is Stormy’s desolation later, his “survivor’s guilt and sorrow” over not having died at their sides, at having to go on without them, abandoned by them—his “family.”

And poor Gu’Rull—that’s on ominous cut-off-in-midsentence that comes simultaneously with a flash of “lightning.” By now, I know I was pulling for the old guy to make it.

So I wonder, with the slaughter of the Senan, near the last of the White Face, coming at the hands of Tool as a result of their (not the Senan necessarily) actions, can one say that the enemy they kept seeking turned out to be themselves?

But how horrid a scene is this? How low has Tool gone? Is there any possible redemption from this? The slaughter of children? What will this “poison” do the these T’lan Imass going forward? And what adds to this tragic fall of Tool is his recognition of it: “he knew, he could see himself… and the very sight of what he was doing was driving him mad.” I used to have a running debate with a friend who also taught English over whether or not Macbeth ever regretted his acts, ever saw truly what he had become. My view was yes, because it is so much more tragic than if he were simply an oblivious monster. That’s how I feel about this scene with Tool.

“She was a big fat lizard.” Love the way I hear that line. And I also like Gesler’s respect for the Matron, who had been willing and able to break “ten thousand years of changing nothing.” Contrast that with many of our characters, such as the T’lan Imass. And consider as well how we often hear that kind of thinking behind the language of Shadowthrone and Cotillion, Rake and Hood. You hear its echo as well in Kalyth’s bitter/wistful thoughts of a world without soldiers. A world full of fishers and farmers and artists—tenders and creators rather than destroyers.

Two great battle scenes in this book. One in the trenches and one in the skies. Love this entire scene. The epic scale of it, the way it is humanized by Gesler and Stormy. The Han Solo-like arrival of Icarium in Kalse (“let’s blow this thing and go home!”).

Speaking of Icarium, his thoughts as he arrives are a bit muddy (at least to me). I’m thinking the “she” is Ampelas? Does everyone (anyone) else read those lines the same way—his mind is merged with Kalse and so the two keeps were of a kin on the ground and now they are in the sky and Ampelas is dying?

Nice to see the Errant’s eye used for something good.

And I absolutely love that yet again we circle back to the group always it seems at the heart of this series—children (remember the Chain?). It is heartbreaking to me, Icarium’s line that he cannot hold, until he is told, “There are children in the world.” Sure, his children are “warrens”, but they are also children—they are Badalle and Rutt and Held and all the many others, living and dead and those yet to come. And then Rautos’ killer line—a line of love, of faith. For Root. And for Rutt.

And yet another timely arrival—Sinn and Grub.

And then yet another—Bent. I love that moment.

Now that was a cinematic battle!

Nice to see the two kids back and OK and helpful. But boy, Sinn takes her brother’s likely death a bit coldly, eh?

And where did Icarium get to, that sneak?

Boy, Tavore keeps collecting armies like comic books, doesn’t she? The Khundryl, the Perish, the Letherii, the Bolkando Queen’s, and now the K’Chain Che’Malle. That’s one formidable force. Of course, we’ve been set up for Kolanse needing one, so we’ll have to see if all those folks are enough (especially as the Bonehunters and Khundryl and K’Chain Che’Malle have been so whittled down). And who might betray amongst those? Or is it someone else still?

“Humans, welcome us. The K’Chain Che’Malle have returned to the world.” Now who would have thought we the readers would take that as a good thing back when we first heard of these people? Think how often we keep getting our first impressions overturned in this series.

I’m wondering what Sulkit’s new life can do in that sealed Azath. But that’s a nice hopeful image and line to close the battle scene with: “All is well.”


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.

18 comments
Chris Hawks
1. SaltManZ
@Bill:
The series is littered with all these examples of the temporary nature of life and what it “accomplishes” which should, I would think, make one question how to define said “accomplishment.”
This puts me in mind of a powerful passage I read just last night in Donaldson's The Last Dark, in a conversation between a human and a long-lived Giant:
"Nothing matters. It's all dust."
"Mortal lives are not stones. They are not seas. For impermanence to judge itself by the standards of permanence is folly. Or it is arrogance. Life merely is what it is, neither more nor less. To deem it less because it is not more is to heed the counsels of the Despiser."
Surely one of these years Tor.com will do a Covenant reread? Maybe when we finally run out of Malazan, eh, Bill? ;)
DRickard
2. DRickard
Keneb! By Grabthar's hammer, by the sons of Worvan, you have been avenged!
Paul Boyd
3. GoodOldSatan
Just a quick comment on Bill's 3rd to last paragraph (and relating a little to comments by @8 Mahem and @10 stevenhalter from last chapter) ...

... this may not seem like much a reveal now -- we are, we all hope, jumping right into the CG. But for those of us who read these books as they were published??? Well, a year or so worth of frustration, consternation, anger, and uncertainty, about who, if any (save the Perish, the Bolkando, Stormy & Gesler, Grub & Sinn and our favorite foul mutts), survived this most unfortunate convergence. You first timers have it easy.

I'm a little confused (a running theme) about how Feather Witch could "give" Iccy Errastas's eye.

Loved the image of the stricken Skykeep shooting skyward.

Wonder about the Skykeeps trapped on the other side of the gate (as in, what happens to them now?)

As for Tool ... He sacrifices his mortal self so that the Senan might survive. But when they do not protect Hetan and Toc denies him passage through Hood's Death's Gate (to spend eternity with said Hetan), he decides to wipe the Senan from the world? Clearly I missed something (another running theme).

And Stormy & Gesler? Well you gotta love 'em. (Does any of what has happened here in this chapter relate to Fiddler's last reading? Stormy = Throne, Gesler = Orb)?

Thanks as always.
Tricia Irish
4. Tektonica

There is nothing more epic than an SE battle, and the convergence of books and books of plot threads. This really pulls at the heart strings! Tool, have you reached rock bottom? Gesler and Stormy, still bickering and hopeful. So many great thoughts and lines, like:

Why else do we look upon dead kin and feel so abandoned? They left without us, that’s why.

Great synopsis Bill. Thank you.
Steven Halter
5. stevenhalter
@Bill:I had the same idea with Icarium's thoughts wrt Ampelas Unrooted. He is Kalse in a way here.

The two assassins eating the Mothers forebrain to bring her under control had a definite squick factor for me but also an underlining of the alienness of the K"Chain thought there.
Then, as Bill says, we get our expectations reversed as the K'Chain become adaptable and allies and the T'Lan show their unadapability.

The burning sky keeps and appearance of Ampelas and Kalse are certainly cinematic gold. As Amanda noted, these two chapters are just fantastic stuff.

The sight of the Nah’ruk loading up carts of meat is certainly chilling as we know where that meat must come from. Also, the existence of the Nah’ruk implies certain things but doesn't confirm them. Lot's of things like that and we'll be making lists of threads from which we are dangling on Friday.
DRickard
6. KarlReadsTheseBooks
@#3: Feather Witch ate the Errant's eye in Reapers Gale. If you operate under the assumption that Icariums machine in Letheras absorbed not just the memories of the group that entered Kalse with him, but their actual spiritual embodiments, then its more than likely an object as...well...magical, for lack of a better term, such as the eye of an Elder God, then it would probably make the trip with her. The souls of Rautos, Taralack, feather Witch, etc. were part of Icarium, probably much in the same way Quick Ben has a bunch of souls in him. THe actual transfer of the eye was likely more meta-physical than just a handing off.

Tool and the Senan was just Tool having reached rock bottom, I suppose.
Sydo Zandstra
7. Fiddler
Not only the scene with the skykeeps would be awesome to see. The scene where Gesler sees the battlefield from above through Gu'rull's eyes, would make an awesome dramatic scene. No sound needed there.

Good to see Grub and Sinn show up again. Even better to see our two favourite dogs again. I love the bonding between Gesler and Roach. File that. Remember how long these two dogs have been with us, and how it were Gesler and Stormy healing them after the Chain of Dogs. One of the biggest acts of compassion in the whole series, in my opinion.

What I missed in the description was that a whole side of shielding was stripped from Ampelas Unrooted in order to create shields for 15 thousand Ve'gath heavies. And Stormy's delight at seeing those. This made the skykeep vulnerable.

Speaking of the Ve'gath, reading how the Matron created 15 thousand, where usually a few hundred were enough, made me think of her in awe. The old lizard may have been crazy, but she sure had a vision. Looking for humans to become Mortal Sword, Destriant and Shield Anvil fits in there well too.

I always love scenes with Gesler and Stormy (I named my cat after Stormy, btw, since he's a big lovable redhaired too; ask Tektonica). They're bickering like brothers or very old friends. I like seeing that through Kalyth's eyes, as she hates them at the start, then realizes slowly who and how they really are.

We did witness Nah'ruhk killing people in abandoned skykeeps. Although them killing Sorrit is an educated (but correct) guess, we did see them closing in on that Jaghut female that Paran met in The Bonehunters. How this became common knowledge is one of the mysteries in this series, just like how Fiddler seems to collect knowledge like that.

I, too, had to wait a year after this major cliffhanger. When The Crippled God finally came out, I took 2 days off from work to read it asap. After that I took a break from serious fantasy for a month (yay for Feist). But that's a whole different story.


Minor nitpicks @ scene 4:
- Gesler told Stormy to lead the Vegath, while Gesler (not Stormy) would lead the K'ell Hunters.
- Pearl Harbour was not bombed by Germans :P
DRickard
8. Tufty
Rather than the "kin" Icarium-Kalse was speaking to being Ampelas Uprooted itself, it could also have been Gunth Acyl. I think the timing of him coming to see her but her voice being cut off works a bit better than when Ampelas Uprooted was finally destroyed by the Gathran Citadels... unless those dragon towers can travel really, really, really fast!


I don't think the Nah'ruk killing dragons to open gates was common knowledge at all. Gesler and Stormy didn't know the Nah'ruk were coming to fight the Che'malle or anything else until Gunth Mach gave them their "flavour" - and I think that is when they more or less instantly learned all the hive-mind knowledge of the Nest, including who the enemy was and how the Nah'ruk were operating.


And we did see back in the prologue one of those dragons being crucified to open one such gate. Gesler uses the terms "the slaves are loose". My interpretation is that the Nah'ruk have not been running around for millenia and only now decided to attack. I think tons of Nah'ruk survivors have been chained or locked up (like we saw in tBH) and only recently have they finally started breaking loose. The first ones to get loose go free more, and they reproduce as fast as they can at the same time, and then once they're all free they came for revenge against the Che'malle.
Joe Long
9. Karsa
@7 - Bill was quoting a rather rousing speach by John Belushi in "Animal House" when he said "did we give up when the german's bombed pearl harbor? Hell no!"
Ryan Dick
10. Wilbur
Once again, let me express my disappointment with the Barghast storyline. After the siege of Capustan, after finding the Really Cool Ancient Swords, after Tool married Henan, I really expected them to get out of their rut and make something of themselves. Instead, they end up betraying Tool, and thus being rightfully destroyed by Tool. Pfah.

Also, the arrival of this book's Icarium seemed really...muted. It is just not the same personality as the Icarium when he was with Mappo.

Unlike some of the other readers, I don't think badly of Tool at all; I find his reaction to betrayal to be completely sensible. The Barghast betrayed him and Toc turned his back on him, so F them all.

But hooray for Bent and Roach. They've come a long way, baby.

In scene 25, Sulkit's meditations make me think that some new breed of KC is being hatched. Is it the influence of Stormy and Gesler that is modifying the hatchlings, or that of Icarium?
Joe Long
11. Karsa
@10 - re the continuation of the revenge cycle...I'm guessing you are thinking that in the abstract, but who knows.

Personally, as much as I find the hobbling etc. "unsettling", I get the point -- the ultimate horror that revenge leads to revenge and everybody loses, the children die, and we become that what we hate. The belief that betrayal justifies the slaughtering of children and other innocents is the root of much of the murder going on across the world. I don't find it "sensible" I find it horrific and tragic.
michael
12. worrywort
The fact that these wonderful ancient artifacts were swords of all things is kind of a red flag from the beginning. The fact that they're meant for the Barghast kids made that red flag the size of Colorado. Barghast storyline is near perfect.
Joseph Ash
13. TedThePenguin
I agree these two chapters really need to be on the big screen, so much impact, so many visuals. I love Gesler and Stormy, and their banter, and how it affects everyone around them. The horror at seeing what happened to the bonehunters, the resolve to avenge them, the inspiration. And then the battle itself and the explosive arrival of Icarium and then Sinn. Also, wow, Sinn is really becomming unhinged, isnt she?
dylan rice
15. StudiousLock
Seems to be the case, doesn't it? Was looking forward to this, but whatever the reason- come back soon, Amanda and Bill!
Bill Capossere
16. Billcap
Sorry all. I think Amanda might be mid-air again (ahhh the whirlwind traveler life!).

Looking forward to everyone's views on the book (I broke mine up by storylines--liked, loved, OK). Don't forget to have some questions percolating as we'll have a thread set up for Steven questions after the wrap
Joseph Ash
17. TedThePenguin
I certainly understand how travel can disrupt "normal" life, it certainly does help to broaden horizons. I was current with the re-read before my last vacation, and it took me almost a month to catch up (given, I have also been somewhat distracted by real life). Good time to catch up though :-)

I will have to try and remember the questions I wanted to ask after Stonewielder (we wanted to prize stormrider information out right? That kinda counts with Ruthan Gudd, no? I say we pursue!)

Speaking of the impact of this series, there have been quite a few real life situations where I have thought about Malazan, some quotes from it, and the general discussion here. Quotes that come to mind: "Children are dieing" and "Acceptable levels of misery and suffering! Who the fuck thinks any level is acceptable!" which very well may be my favorite line from this series.
DRickard
18. BDG
I'm going to field this question to the readership before the Q&A so I don't overstep my bounds as I have a couple during the re-read of Dust of Dreams (I think I was mentioned twice by SE, once directly and once indirectly...nothing like a good dose of humility haha). I've heard SE mention multiply times that the MBotF is a post-modern fantasy epic and I've been wondering if he means in the terms of the social sciences (which if I remember correctly for the single class I took the remotely looked at its direction, largely calls into question the modern theories of social organization and how we study society in general, at least that's the barebones of what I've learned through sociology, I assume it much more wide-reaching than that.) or in terms of literature (which I have vague (mis)understanding that it's basically a narrative aware of itself, and thus world outside of it...the only book that fits that faulty framework would be TtH).

Or both? Any answer is appreciate really, post-modern theories and narratives unless blindingly obvious go right over my head most of the time.

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