Fri
May 9 2014 11:00am

Malazan Reread of the Fallen: Dust of Dreams, Chapter Twenty-Three

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 twenty-three 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.

CHAPTER SUMMARY

SCENE ONE

Queen Abrastal recalls the death of an uncle and how the random events that led to it had taught her that “the world and all life in it was nothing but a blind concatenation of random occurrences. Cause and effect did nothing but map out the absurdity of things, before which even the gods were helpless.” Felash’s message had used that story of Abrastal’s uncle to warn her something big and dangerous was coming toward them. The Queen stumbles out of her ten and calls for Spax.

SCENE TWO

Spax, seeing the fear on the messenger’s face, goes to the Queen immediately.

SCENE THREE

The Queen and Spax ride to the Perish camp. Spax had discussed the idea of convergence, of power drawing power, but the Queen thinks, “what is drawing close before us, Spax, is something crueler. Random, unpredictable. Stupid in fact. The curse of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.” He tells her if she thinks to turn the Perish away she will fail. The two meet with Krughava, Tanakalian and Gall. Abrastal warns them of convergence, and Krughava’s eyes light up while Tan kalian says it isn’t the right time, they must be wrong. Krughava says the Perish will aim for the Bonehunters immediately, and Gall says the Khundryl will be in the van. Abrastal shocks Spax by informing them she and her soldiers will join them. Krughava advises against it, but Abrastal says they will anyway. Tanakalian continues to argue that the whole thing is wrong, but Krughava cuts him off and tells him he should have stayed home if he wanted to continue playing political games.

SCENE FOUR

Kisswhere sees a dust cloud ahead and thinks on her message: “The Adjunct says, O Mortal Sword, that betrayal does not suit the Perish. Nor the Khundryl. Come to her she asks… there is a betrayer among you, and by that betrayer’s words, you doom the Bonehunters.” Recognizing the riders as Khundryl, she realizes they are already on their way.

SCENE FIVE

Rafala leads the Khundryl scouts who come across Kisswhere, her own mission being to find the Adjunct and warn her to wait or better yet, ride south so the armies can stand together. She scoffs at the idea that anything out here can be a threat and hopes she’d at least get a chance to fight. Kisswhere eschews formality and says she needs to be taken to Gall and Krughava immediately, that the Malazans are two or three days out. They escort her south.

SCENE SIX

As she nears the army, Kisswhere worries there are too many commanders, “too many women holding skillets here.” She tells Krughava that at this pace, her army should meet the Bonehunters today sometime. She adds that seers among the Malazans believe “the threat of betrayal was judged to be very real” and that she was sent to “confirm the alliance.” Krughava goes “deathly pale,” the Queen looks at Tanakalian, and Kisswhere thinks this group already had a sense of betrayal. Gall says the Khundryl will ride on as fast as possible, and Krughava says the Perish will not betray the Malazans and are already marching as fast as they can toward them. They wonder what enemy the Bonehunters have found, but Kisswhere says she was only sent due to the fear of betrayal. Unable to evade it, Kisswhere agrees to lead the Khundryl to her army. Once away, Gall tells her he senses she was looking to desert, but if Krughava had that same sense she would have executed her. She lies and says she has no uniform so as not to give anything away, and also that her sister’s presence with the Bonehunters necessitates her return.

SCENE SEVEN

Masan is riding hard, looking for “ghosts” and carrying some of Aranict’s live dirt in a pouch at her side. Five T’lan Imass appear before her and say they are the ones she is looking for. She mentions there should be more, but they repeat they are the ones, those “who remain,” and pointing to her pouch, add that one of them is “incomplete.” She gives them the “dirt” and they introduce themselves as the Unbound—Urugal the Woven, Kahlb the Silent Hunter, Halad the Giant, and Thenik the Shattered. (These were the Teblor Gods in Karsa’s area and servants of the Crippled God). They say soon they will be seven again, adding that fallen kin “refuse the enemy. Some will not follow the one who leads nowhere.” When she asks if they can keep up, their reply is, “You are the banner before us, mortal,” and she thinks she’s heard something similar before. They head back.

SCENE EIGHT

Four leagues away, Tool stops, sensing a brief brush of stranger T’lan Imass. More distantly, he feels as well a summons from Malazans, the old claim between Kellanved and the Logros clan. Despite knowing the Malazans are in danger, he refuses the summons though, thinking, “Duty was dead. Honour was a lie—see what the Senan had done to his wife, his children.” He will not be turned aside from his goal by either the Malazans or Olar Ethil. He recalls how his body had been desecrated, how his love had been so powerful he had “witnessed the hobbling of his wife and the rapes that follow. That unable to find his children, he had at last set out for the underworld—to find his beloved Hetan, his family… And you turned me away. Toc. My friend. You turned me back, to this.” He moves on, thinking the Malazan summons would soon cease, “for evermore.”

SCENE NINE

Brys wonders at the audacity of taking an army across the Wastelands and then a desert. He still does not know the motivations for such a crossing: “No known atrocities demanding retribution, nor a declaration of hostilities from an advance empire to be answer.” He worries about what happens when soldiers believe themselves to be in the wrong: “Something breaks inside. Something howls. Something dreams of suicide… It is one thing to lead soldiers into a war. And it is one thing to send them into a war. But it is… wholly another to lead and send them into a war that is itself a crime. Are we to be so indifferent to the suffering we will inflict on our own people and upon innocent victims in unknown lands?” He focuses on the gods in his heart, those that had broken their worshipers’ souls and those who had been broken by “the mortal madness of senseless wars,” and he thinks how “the former suffered a torment of breathtaking proportions. There was, in the very end—there must be—judgment. Not upon the fallen, not upon the victims, but upon those who had orchestrated their fates.” Though he wonders if this is true or if it is his own anguish and sense of righteousness and not the gods’. He is interrupted by Aranict urgently telling him there are in the wrong place and must flee. Thunder rolls.

SCENE TEN

Keneb spots a dust cloud ahead and thinks it might be their allies. He sees Blistig coming toward him.

SCENE ELEVEN

Banaschar notes the wind and realizes it is a warren. He is overtaken by convulsions.

SCENE TWELVE

Sunrise and Sweetlard rush to help Banaschar but are shaken by the thunder, and then enclosed in a wall of dust. Blood spatters Sunrise’s hands and they think someone stabbed the priest. They turn him and realize Banaschar is sweating blood all over.

SCENE THIRTEEN

Ruthan Gudd sensed something and felt a moment of terror. He rides ahead, steam rising from his sword as “the skeins of sorcery that had disguised the weapon—in layers thick and tangled with centuries of magic—had been torn away.” The sword, he realizes, is “answer [ing]” something, but he doesn’t know what. Then, as rides further out, he and his horse riming with frost, he smells something that scares him.

SCENE FOURTEEN

Fiddler is getting his soldiers lined up. When Faradan Sort asks why, saying it’s just some foreign army and they’ve already sent emissaries, Fiddler tells her get the army ready, those emissaries are already dead. She sees his eyes and snaps to it.

SCENE FIFTEEN

Bottle stands atop a wagon watching the emissaries near the other army. He sees something big up in the sky and recognizes the same smell from Stormy and Gesler’s tent. The emissaries are cut down by a blinding beam of some sort.

SCENE SIXTEEN

Sinter races to the officers. On her way she notes the other army has five or six thousand and they are inhuman and huge, while behind them the sky swarmed with flying creatures. She tells Tavore they have to retreat, “This is wrong,” but Tavore says it’s too late. Sinter says the K’Chain don’t want a fight; the Malazans are just in their way. Tavore again says it appears to be too late; the K’Chain Nah-ruk are going to engage the Malazans.

SCENE SEVENTEEN

Quick Ben thinks how this whole thing is “Ill luck. Stupid, pathetic, miserable mischance. It was absurd. It was sickening beyond belief. Which gods had clutched together to spin this madness?” He’d told Tavore all he knew, that they had seen the sky keeps in the warren and knew the Nah-ruk were gathering. But who expected them here? He thinks even the gods couldn’t have set this up. He tells himself he will do what he can for as long as he could, and then he would fall, and so many will die. He tosses a bunch of acorns to the ground and looks down at the legions coming.

SCENE EIGHTEEN

Ruthan Gudd, riding slightly ahead of the Malazan front line, comes within 200 paces of the Nah-ruk (40, 000 in total by his guess) and sees them as half again as tall as a man, armored, some in the front bearing club wrapped in wires and one out of every dozen or so carrying a strange ceramic pack, while those behind carry halberds or falchions. Ruthan is completely covered in ice and frost now. He hopes the Nah-ruk will see him and send their “fury” his way.

SCENE NINETEEN

Lostara and Tavore watch Ruthan Gudd ride out. Lostara hopes Brys, and Henar Vygulf, would flee. Keneb rides toward Gudd, ignoring the horn that is meant to recall him.

SCENE TWENTY

Quick Ben realizes Gudd wants to draw the Nah-ruk fire so the Bonehunters will realize what they are facing. He tells Gudd to “go well.”

SCENE TWENTY-ONE

Keneb rides to pull Ruthan Gudd back in, thinking if he is indeed some sort of Ascendant the army needs him.

SCENE TWENTY-TWO

Skanarow is shocked to see that Gudd appears to be a Stormrider.

SCENE TWENTY-THREE

Ruthan Gudd thinks, “this Stormrider crap had better work, but gods below, it does hurt to wear.” He rides forward after sensing Keneb coming up from behind.

SCENE TWENTY-FOUR

Fiddler and the marines watch Ruthan charge.

SCENE TWENTY-FIVE

Ebron watches in horror as Crump sets up a bunch of shapers in his trench, telling him to spread them down the line. Crump refuses, saying they’re all he has left.

SCENE TWENTY-SIX

The wired clubs seems to ignite, one bolt of lighting arcing into the ceramic packs and the others striking Ruthan Gudd, engulfing him and creating a big crater. Then more lightning strikes the Malazan trenches.

SCENE TWENTY-SEVEN

Bottle sees the devastating impact. Tarr pulls him in. Keneb is ripped to pieces, and then Ebron.

SCENE TWENTY-EIGHT

After the first attack, while the Nah-ruk weapons recharge, Quick Ben whispers, “Little acorns, listen. Go for the drones—the ones with the packs. Forget the rest, for now.” Then he walks toward the Nah-ruk lines.

SCENE TWENTY-NINE

Ruthan Gudd and his horse climb out of the crater, Gudd thinking, “That wasn’t so bad now.” He heads for the Nah-ruk.

SCENE THIRTY

Fiddler tells his crossbows to aim for the nodes. Corabb yells out that Gudd is still alive and fighting amidst the Nah-ruk. Fiddler gets ranges and then they get ready to fire.

SCENE THIRTY-ONE

Hedge tells his group, “I don’t care what Quick thinks, he’s always had backup, he never went it alone. Ever. So that’s us, soldiers.” He tells them this is nothing and when they ask if they’re going to win, he answers, “Count on it.” A concussion comes from the Nah-ruk ranks and Fiddler tells them “That, soldiers, was Quick Ben.”

SCENE THIRTY-TWO

The Nah-ruk strike at Quick Ben who is all too happy to draw their fire as he shunts their bolts aside: “I ain’t Tayschrenn and this ain’t Pale. Got no one behind me, so keep throwing ‘em my way, y’damned geckos. Use it all up!” He sets the air on fire around as many as possible.

SCENE THIRTY-THREE

A stray bolt comes for Hedge and Sunrise steps in to take it, sacrificing himself. Fiddler tells the rest to hit the ground and wait it out, thinking, “Fuck you Quick—this ain’t Pale you know! And you ain’t Tayschrenn!”

SCENE THIRTY-FOUR

Ruthan Gudd’s progress has slowed, and he begins to get taken down by the sheer numbers and weight of those around him. He is struck hard and all goes dark.

SCENE THIRTY-FIVE

Fiddler’s group shoots shapers and burners, killing many. Then the Nah-ruk hit the trench.

SCENE THIRTY-SIX

Corabb fights a Nah-ruk.

SCENE THIRTY-SEVEN

Primly is impaled. Neller hits the Nah-ruk with a sharper, killing himself and Mulvan.

SCENE THIRTY-EIGHT

Tavore’s position is struck, killing a bunch of officers and nearly killing Lostara and Tavore. Lostara looks over to where Quick Ben had killed an entire phalanx and sees him take on another. Suddenly, from the sky a huge lighting bolt strike Quick, killing the Nah-ruk thirty paces away. The shock wave knocks Lostara to the ground. She thinks of Pearl.

SCENE THIRTY-NINE

Skanarow sends a messenger to Kindly telling him they need to retreat and he’s in command since Keneb is dead and she doesn’t know what Blistig is doing.

SCENE FORTY

Brys takes a volunteer to get Tavore to safety. Henar offers. Brys says he will close with the Nah-ruk.

SCENE FORTY-ONE

Gall sends Kisswhere to tell the Perish the Malazans are under attack, then leads the Khundryl to their aid, thinking of his wife as he does so.

SCENE FORTY-TWO

Fiddler and the others are trying to perform a fighting retreat to the heavies trench. He sees Koryk killed. Cuttle tells Fiddler the retreat has been sounded and that Quick Ben was killed. Fiddler tells him to help get the squad to the heavies so they can regroup.

SCENE FORTY-THREE

Bottle, lying in a trench as the Nah-ruk pass by where he’s buried under corpses, sees the wyval overhead. He thinks of his grandmother telling him not to reach too far; he sends his soul up.

SCENE FORTY-FOUR

Corabb makes it to the heavies trench. He’s told someone saw Tarr go down. The first trench explodes, killing a slew of Nah-ruk. Cuttle says they must have stepped on a cusser (Crumps?). They heavies head in.

SCENE FORTY-FIVE

Hedge sees the Letherii preparing with their pikes and thinks those are good weapons. He tells the Bridgeburners they’re going to soften up the Nah-ruk—one volley and then a retreat. They hear horses.

SCENE FORTY-SIX

Gall’s Khundryl charge the Nahruk, even as Gall thinks, “This is the last day of the Khundryl Burned Tears. My children, do you ride with me? I know you do. My children, be brave this day. See your father, and know that he is proud of you all.” The Nah-ruk ready their lightning weapon.

SCENE FORTY-SEVEN

Hedge sees the Khundryl devastated, then orders a salvo.

SCENE FORTY-EIGHT

Brys leads the charge after the acid and explosions causes chaos among the Nah-ruk lines, then orders the onagers and arbalests to fire. He is shocked to see Khundryl survivors fighting on, then more than shocked to see that the Malazans have stopped the Nah-ruk advance: “Blood of the gods, what manner of soldiers are you?”

SCENE FORTY-NINE

The heavies stand. Wyval come down in large numbers to kill Nah-ruk. The heavies stand.

SCENE FIFTY

Bottle takes more and more wyval, even as he feels his mind shredding.

SCENE FIFTY-ONE

Tarr joins the marines and gathers them to help the heavies.

SCENE FIFTY-TWO

Urb and Hellian fight.

SCENE FIFTY-THREE

Henar arrives at the hill to see Tavore and Lostara on the ground and four Nah-ruk just arriving on the other side.

SCENE FIFTY-FOUR

Lostara wakes to see Henar badly wounded and three Nah-ruk. He tells her he is sorry, but she says he is going to live. She Shadow Dances.

SCENE FIFTY-FIVE

Henar is in awe.

SCENE FIFTY-SIX

Kisswhere drags herself free of her fallen horse, its legs shattered by a hole of some sort. Her own leg is broken, but she thinks it doesn’t matter, none of it does: “Sinter. Badan. Bonehunters—Adjunct, are you happy? You killed them all. You killed us all.”

 

Amanda’s Reaction

This start to the chapter, where Abrastal thinks on her uncle, and reflects on the fact that there were so many arbitrary decisions and circumstances of ill-luck that led to his death, is a microscopic version of what we are about to see in the rest of the chapter. And that is a beautiful form of storytelling.

All of these things just make the foreboding grow:

“Is chance the weapon of fate? One might say so, I imagine, but what is drawing close before us, Spax, is something crueller. Random, unpredictable. Stupid, in fact. It is the curse of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Now, I like Abrastal—I think she is canny and wise and a good judge of character. So her unease regarding Tanakalian just makes me all the more inclined to look upon him with suspicion.

So do we think that Tanakalian is the Adjunct’s betrayer when Kisswhere thinks this: “The Adjunct says there is a betrayer among you, and by that betrayer’s words, you doom the Bonehunters.” Or is there going to be a twist to this part of the tale?

Eek—seeing things like this doesn’t make me any more comfortable about the situation: “Well, they would crush whoever the fools were, and then march on.” Oh really?

Wow. That section with Tool, where he thinks on the fact that he is feeling a pull from the Malazans who require aid, but will not answer is just heartbreaking. I have a sense that he perhaps is one of the things that might turn the tide in this convergence that is coming and that I sense will not be a good result for the Bonehunters. This, especially, is gutting: “The summons meant nothing. Nothing to him, at any rate. Besides, in a very short time it would cease. For evermore.”

And then, the bitter climax begins, and Erikson’s method of showing us tiny glimpses before moving on helps to generate terror, lack of knowledge about what is happening, everything an army itself would feel when faced with a sudden attack from an unknown enemy.

So. Umm. I sort of just read through to the end of the chapter without being able to stop to write any comments. I doubt they would have been coherent, even if I had managed. Mostly expletives anyway.

I think my best thing to do would probably just do bulletpoints of how I felt on the way through:

  • I want to know what Aranict means when she says they’re in the wrong place: is it that they’re too far from the Malazans to do anything but come in on the tail end of the slaughter, or is it that they should be getting out of there quick as can be?
  • I am wondering which warren the K’Chain Nah’ruk travelled through to get to this place—who sent them? The Forkrul Assail? To get rid of the threat of the Malazans? Except it’s been made clear that this meeting of armies is just ill-luck, so have they been sent against someone else?
  • Ruthan Gudd is badass. Utterly tremendous. Who does he mean when he thinks ‘she answers’?
  • Fiddler says “We need to dig in, Captain, and we need to do it now.” Is this just because that is the automatic response to an army approaching, to create some form of defence? Or does he know enough of the K’Chain Nah’ruk that he wants to get people grounded to avoid the weird electricity weapon thing they have?
  • And this from Quick Ben, that pulls together so many little threads for us, when he thinks: “We saw their sky keeps. We knew they weren’t gone. We knew they were gathering. But that was so far away, and so long ago now.”
  • Over forty thousand Nah’ruk……
  • Didn’t feel the need for the whole Stormrider red herring thing about Ruthan Gudd, to be honest.
  • Oh Keneb… That one hit hard.
  • Ha, Ruthan Gudd is targeted by a massive force of this blinding white light and when he struggles back to his feet, thinks: “That wasn’t so bad now.” BADASS.
  • Oh, damn, Sunrise. The Bridgeburner hero, at the last.
  • That line ‘And then he set the air on fire’ just had the hairs rising on the back of my neck. Especially when Ruthan Gudd thinks: “Quick Ben, how much longer can you hide?” He has more to give? He certainly can’t be dead! Can he?

Excuse me now, while I frantically read Chapter 24. I. Just. Can’t. Stop. Here.

 

Bill’s Reaction

This is such a powerful close (and yes, I know we aren’t there yet but we’re at the beginning of the end) to this novel, this huge battle where so many are killed—including some who have been with us for a long, long time—or possibly killed, and what for me makes it all the more heavy, all the more hard-hitting is given to us in this opening scene: the utter randomness of it. No seeking of vengeance, no attempt at a land grab, no coup, no usurpation, no attempt at dominion, no power grab, no response to a perceived insult. Just a “convergence of chance events… a blind concatenation of random occurrences.” The impact of this on the gut is just staggering I find.

And I like how we’re set up for this in an almost folksy tale-telling kind of way with this meandering “for the want of a nail” uncle story that quickly turns both dark and urgent.

The response to the Queen’s news is interesting, Krughava’s eyes lighting up at the mention of “convergence” and her talk of “destiny” seem to confirm Tanakalian’s earlier views that she seeks heroic glory. On the other hand, Tanakalian’s stubborn insistence that this isn’t right confirms her views that he is self-centered and not particularly insightful or competent. So yet again, in this on-going schism between these two, we’re left a bit at sea as readers—do we trust this one over that one, or that one over this one, or are both right, or are both wrong?

Beyond the “puzzle” aspect of re-reading (seeing foreshadowing you missed the first time around), this is another joy of that act—thrilling to a scene before it takes place. So reading Gall volunteer to be the “tip of the spear” can’t help but call up the later image of him leading the charge, and so I don’t need to wait until that scene to get the thrill; I get it here. And then yet again at the scene itself.

No, Kisswhere is not going to be the cliché—riding back at the head of an army arriving in the nick of time to save the day (and the lives) for the Bonehunters. Not here at least. In fact, with her thoughts of deserting here, her being forced very grudgingly to turn back toward the army she wants to leave, and then her being horseless and broken-legged at the end, she’s almost as far from the cliché as one can get.

Is she right though, in her reading of her sister and Tavore and whoever else was there—that none expect to see her again? And even if she is right about that, is she right that none care about seeing her again?

I like how Rafala’s scornful idea about what could possibly be out here to harm such a collection of armies comes immediately after she notes the clouds on the horizon. Clearly, we readers have a sense of what faces them, but the stark reminder is a nice touch of irony I think.

I’m also a fan of how Erikson always manages to work in a quick tiny reminder of events past—of Coltaine, of the Chain, here of the Wickans. Over such a long span of reading time, it would be so easy to forget people and events. Which would be such a shame. Both for the sense of thrill of some of those events. And for the sense of sorrow. Or horror. Too often scenes evoke an emotion then it’s on to the next, but we constantly recall both scenes and emotions in our lives, we’re constantly reminded/haunted by our past experiences, so I’m glad Erikson keeps dropping these reminders into the mix.

Another throwaway mention of clouds, this time by Kisswhere, who confused them for mountains.

Interesting that it is Queen Abrastal and not Krughava who looks at Tanakalian when Kisswhere mentions betrayal

You have to like Gall’s quick insights/actions in this scene: first to note that Kisswhere plans on deserting, then his quick move to save her life by saying she can use a litter if need be, then his “apology” for getting it “wrong” when she says of course she’s going back to the Malazan army, and then his having to get the last word in. A bit of humor in a tense and about-to-get-far-worse chapter. And also a bit of empathy and compassion.

The talk of desertion is used as a nice segue into Masan Gilani’s scene, as she thinks about why deserters are so often caught. And we also get a nice contrast, with Kisswhere looking to leave, thinking bitterly about the army, and Masan here wishing she were back with the army, even “sharing mouthfuls of the same dust, cursing at the same whining flies”—the same things that help drive Kisswhere away.

So, the Unbound. Interesting that the T’lan Imass Masan finds are those who work (worked?) for the Crippled God. Hmm.

So Masan says “I was sent to find you.” Was she in fact sent to find these Imass? Or was she supposed to find Tool’s Imass?

I admit, I’m blanking on just what “You are the banner before us, mortal” is echoing. Anyone?

Oh, I’m guessing this pains a first-time reader, to have Tool turn his back on the Malazans with such foreboding. But as a re-reader? This kills. Just kills.

But beyond that, it kills as well for how this character, one whom as a reader I’d grown to really care for and like, how low he’s fallen. His focus on vengeance, his turning his back on “the gentler emotions, the sensual pleasures of camaraderie and friendship. The gifts of humour and love.” If tragedy is the fall of a great man, then this, my friends, is tragedy. Lost his wife. Lost his children. Lost his people. Lost his friend. And the man who would run rather than fight, is now nothing save this: “He was a weapon.” Rake merely dies. But Tool? Tool falls.

“It is one thing to lead soldiers into war. And it is one thing to send them into a war. But it is wholly another to lead and send them into a war that is itself a crime.” Once again people, I give you the “escapism” of fantasy. A genre that never wrestles with the big ideas/issues...

Oh, and then it begins.

This is a great way to start it: the urgency that built up at the start has flattened out as we get some relief. Oh good, Kisswhere is hurrying up the Perish etc. Oh good, Masan found some Unbound drifting along. We had some humor. And then we get Aranict thwacking us upside the head with urgency again and then we fragment the narrative—zipping from POV to POV, everything hinting at something big or adding urgency:

  • Keneb’s wind that smells of something bitter and his “now what?”
  • Banaschar giving us a tiny bit more—that wind is a warren, and then fear, “Oh, Worm of Autumn, no.” (btw, nice reminder of his connection).
  • Sunrise and Sweetlard adding the sight of blood to the mix, and then the “Something’s happening.”
  • Gudd, filled with terror and now clothed in the frost of the Stormriders and more fear echoing and thus amplifying Banaschar’s: “Gods below, spawn of the Azath—I smell—oh, gods, no.”
  • Fiddler’s active urgency: “Form up! Marines form up!… Deadsmell—awaken your warrens! Same for Widdershins.” Imperatives. Short sentences. Exclamation points. And this is Fiddler. And so like Faradan Sort, we know, we know—this is serious. This is going to be bad.
  • Bottle giving us more—these are K’Chain. And then the prologue: “it struck the mounted emissaries. Bodies burst into flames. Burning horses reeled and collapsed in clouds of ash. Bottle stared. Hood’s holy shit.”
  • Sinter giving us more details: “Those soldiers. They aren’t people. They aren’t human—gods below, they are huge.” And then Tavore’s ID: “K’Chain Nah’ruk.”
  • Then Quick Ben, reminding us that this isn’t going to be some small squad: “We saw their sky keeps. We knew they weren’t gone. We knew they were gathering.”

It is a great use of structure to increase tension, to build both knowledge and suspense and fear in the reader. And also to give us via Quick the sense that this will not end, no matter how it ends, well: “On this day, we shall witness the death of friends. On this day, we may well join them.” And a knife to the reader at the hint that it may not be just the red-shirts who fall today: “He would do what he could, for as long as he was able. And then he would fall.” (And I love that it is Quick Ben who gives the Soldier’s Creed). And that fear is heightened by the immediate use of a formal address, a near-elegiac tone, to refer to the character: The High Mage Adaephon Ben Delat drew from a pouch.” And then that foreboding close: “It is so very cold.” The classic last words or near last words of the almost-dead. But, but, but you say, you can’t kill off Quick Ben. Not Quick, you bastard! (“I am a leaf on the wind” runs through your mind… )

Now that the tone has been set, we can settle back into a more descriptive narrative description of the Nah-ruk, who after all need to be made a lot more concrete than they have been if we’re going to invest in this battle. A good decision to stop and do that.

I love that line of Gudd’s: “It was such a pretty day.”

And just when you think Gudd’s mystery is revealed (though it doesn’t seem to really fit neatly)—“he’s a Stormrider! Aha!”, because after all, that’s what Quick Ben and Skanarow say, we get into his mind and he is not a Stormrider (d’oh!). I say that on the assumption that members of that species wouldn’t call it “This Stormrider crap,” and also because Gudd says “it does hurt to wear,” as if it is a mask or shifting.

And then he’s engulfed. And you wonder, is he dead? Because we all know in book and movie land, unless you see someone die, you see the actual death and then the actual body, you’re not sure they’re actually dead (and then of course in a world of resurrection and walking dead and undead and still dead but hanging out with the other dead etc, who knows anyway but… ). But there is, alas, no such wondering for poor Keneb who is “ripped to pieces.” With “chunks of flesh sprayed outward… part of the Fist’s upper torso—a shoulder, a stub of the arm and a few splayed ribs—cartwheel skyward.” There is no doubt here. Nor, sadly, for Ebron either, as a bolt “caught him dead center on his sternum. It tore through him, disintegrating his upper chest, shoulders, and head.” Just a reminder, we’ve been with these characters since Deadhouse Gates and House of Chains. That’s something like 5-7000 pages of having these characters in our heads (in the back if not always in the forefront), that’s years, years of carrying them around with us. That is a long time to spend with a character, secondary characters or not. Each book raises the stakes for us as readers. And here is the result. A moment of silence for these two if we may so we can recall some of their better moments.

OK

Just who is Ben talking to with his acorns? (We’ve seen him use acorns before.)

And here is Gudd. Well, he is a bit more than he seemed, isn’t he? And could a Stormrider have taken that hit? No, I’m pretty sure the Nah’ruk, like the reader, hadn’t really expected to see him again (well, maybe the Nah-ruk a little less sure about that than the reader).

Love that Hedge line, said with a huge Hedge grin: “That, soldiers, was Quick Ben.”

And holy crap, Quick Ben. Taking them down by the hundreds.

We’ve spent thousands of pages with Keneb. And nowhere near that with Sunrise. And yet how moving is this end? The man who wanted to start anew. The man with the oh-so-hopeful new name. The man who finally “was a Bridgeburner. The man he had always wanted to be; he’d never stood taller, never walked straighter.” This too hurts. “See me? Sunrise—” Oh, that name.

So we thought Gudd was dead. And then he wasn’t. And now we think he’s dead again. Or do we?

And then Quick? Quick?

Lostara?

And oh, how you want this ride of the Khundryl to save the day. The cavalry to the rescue. The Ride of the Rohirrim on the Pelennor Fields. But 40, 000 Nah-ruk? With those weapons? Oh, you want it to be. Oh, but you know…

Tarr? Tarr?

“Hail the Marines.” Tell me that didn’t set your hair on end.

Gall? Gall?

“The Nah-ruk were no longer advancing. Blood of the gods, what manner of soldiers are you?” Tell me that didn’t set your hair on end.

Bottle? Bottle?

But wait, Tarr’s not down!

“Dance… The Shadow Dance belonged to this. Here. Now.” Tell me that didn’t set your hair on end.

And a cruel chapter ending. I’d be shocked if anyone reading this for the first time, or tenth time, stopped here. Shocked.

OK, not a lot of analysis here. But god, I love/hate this chapter. This battle. It’s structured masterfully. But really, I just want to react to it with all the pain and sorrow and thrill and hope and dashed hope and renewed hope and more sorrow it evokes.


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.

27 comments
Tufty
1. Tufty
I don't know why, it's not like he's my favourite character or anythng, but Bottle's
Grandma, you always said don't reach too far. Close your dead eyes now, and remember, I loved you so.

He left his body, winged skyward.
And then
But he felt himself being torn apart. He felt his mind shredding away. He could not do much more of this. Yet Bottle did not relent.
Hit me really hard every single time... even after dozens of times. Most of the tragic scenes still get me when I do a full re-read but not if I just pick up that section. Bottle's little bit here somehow has me sniffling and eyes-watering just from reading the damned summary here!
Tufty
2. Tufty
Of course, with all this talk of this encounter with the Nah'ruk being simply due to the worst luck, we can't discount the fact that we recently saw the Elder Gods of fate and luck set out on a little side trip in the wake of Draconus' return. We didn't see what they did on that side-trip, but last time we saw them they were back with Kilmandaros and resuming their quest to the Otataral Dragon.
Chris Hawks
3. SaltManZ
One of my all-time favorite books, Matthew Stover's Blade of Tyshalle (the second in his criminally-underrated Acts of Caine—Bill, you'd love Stover's stuff) begins with this quote as an epigraph:
But we have soothed ourselves into imagining sudden change as something that happens outside the normal order of things. An accident, like a car crash. Or beyond our control, like a fatal illness. We do not conceive of sudden, irrational change as built into the very fabric of existence. Yet it is. And chaos theory teaches us...that straight linearity, which we have come to take for granted in everything from physics to fiction, simply does not exist...
Life is actually a series of encounters in which one event may change those that follow in a wholly unpredictable, even devastating way...
That's a deep truth about the structure of our universe. But, for some reason, we insist on behaving as if it were not true.
—"Ian Malcom"
Michael Crichton
Jurassic Park
I couldn't help but think of that quote when reading the story about Queen Abrastal's uncle, and indeed, the rest of the chapter.

Just an all-around fantastic chapter; even though it's relatively long, the pages just fly by.

Also, the summary says Koryk dies, when all Fiddler sees is a dead Nah'ruk fall on him. Just saying...
Tufty
4. DRickard
They killed Keneb! You bastards!
Thomas Jeffries
5. thomstel
Many a Malazan fan have summed up the story of the The Book of the Fallen with the line "HAIL THE MARINES!"

And every person who flipped right into the next chapter without a drawn breath now knows why. :)
Bill Capossere
6. Billcap
Salt man. Thanks for catching. I'll change that when I get home.

And nod thanks as well for the rec on Stover
Tufty
7. Jordanes
@ Bill:

The 'you are the banner before us, mortal' line is vaguely remembered by Masan Gilani because - I think in Reaper's Gale - she's riding with Balm's squad and they let her ride out front so that they could stare at her arse, which was like a banner before them :) Now imagine undead broken T'lan Imass leering at you...

Relatedly, did anyone else get shivers the first time they read this section, where Masan Gilani meets up with the Unbound? I'm surprised Amanda skipped over it. It all seems here like a horrible mistake and that the Unbound are tricking Masan, when in fact she should have found Tool and his army (imagine how useful they would have been against the Nah'Ruk). Not that, it seems, Tool could have been convinced anyway...

This is my favourite chapter of the book, and as always I love the way SE flits between innumerable viewpoints of the battle. I just couldn't believe at first that Keneb died! And Ebron, and Primly, and who knowns how many other characters that we'd been with since DG and HoC. And Sunrise. All gone, just like that, in single sentences. Brutal. Absolutely brutal.

And while you get this uplift of pride at the marines and heavies managing to make a stand, it all seems completely hopeless. We can note that the Bonehunters have been built up throughout the novel as the most badass army there's ever been, and yet here we see them utterly outmatched and virtually being slaughtered.

On a related note, we finally have the full reveal here of all those mysterious death-dealing clouds that have been popping up throughout the book - it was the marching Nah'Ruk army.
Brian R
8. Mayhem
And now the tumultuous cascade of events begins at last ...

The heavies stood. The heavies held. The marines were bleeding. They were exhausted. And they went back in anyway.

Another chapter that just plain grabs hold and won't let go, and it hurts, oh how it hurts.

... and the desperation of starting the next chapter to see what happened next only to still be left on tenterhooks!
Tufty
9. Tufty
@Bill, while you're changing the Koryk thing, the summary of scenes 31, 33 and 35 says Fiddler when it should say Hedge.
Steven Halter
10. stevenhalter
I certainly couldn't stop with this chapter the first (or second) time. SE does these climatic scenes so very well.
40,000 Nah'Ruk. With Sky Keeps. Lots of powerful scenes. As Bill says, we've been with many of these characters for thousands of pages and years of reading.
@Amanda:When we get to the end of this book I'll have more to say, but think about having to wait a year after you get to the end.
Bill Capossere
11. Billcap
Huh. I switch back and forth from Hedge to Fiddler. What am I--Helian? (That is the drunk and oft confused one right?). Sheesh!
David Thomson
12. ZetaStriker
This is a little out of left field for the current conversation, but a thought occurred to me this week. With the Imass - much like Brys did - all gaining back their thoughts and feelings in the wake of Hood's death . . . what of the ones that were destroyed? They had their skulls buried, built into hillsides, or otherwise disposed of, and that is not a position I'd want to be in when I suddenly felt a little more human again.
Sydo Zandstra
13. Fiddler
Thomstel@ 5:

Many a Malazan fan have summed up the story of the The Book of the Fallen with the line "HAIL THE MARINES!"

HAIL THE MARINES!

And bloody kudos to the Heavies.

Thus far we haven't seen much from the Heavies, except from Stormy fancying them (more on that later), and the few who held the quay at Malazan city in The Bonehunters. After almost nine books, we finally see what the Heavies truly are capable of. And oh, they deliver.

Makes you wonder what the regulars in the Bonehunter army can do to equal that...

I really love the three Bridgeburners here. They aren't together, but they think together. Whiskeyjack had a hell of a squad...

QB: "I ain’t Tayschrenn and this ain’t Pale. Got no one behind me, so keep throwing ‘em my way, y’damned geckos. Use it all up!"
Fiddler: "Fuck you Quick—this ain’t Pale you know! And you ain’t Tayschrenn!"
Hedge: "That, soldiers, was Quick Ben"

QB calling Nah'ruk geckos is also funny. It reminds me of Benny Hill tapping the short bald guy's head.


And I want to hail the Kundryll too. Outnumbered. Big Lizards, and they went for it, to uphold their alliance. Certainly no Betrayal there.


This is one of my favourite chapters in all the series. And I am glad Amanda got back in time to do her usual rereading stuff. And Bill, I love your comments here.
Ryan Dick
14. Wilbur
Poor Sunrise. And the others, but especially Sunrise, for whom the arrival of the Bonehunters seemed a promise of a new life.

The bad luck of the KN connecting with the Bonehunters is written as just being an unlucky coincidence of geography rather than an intended ambush, correct? Unless Sechul was indeed influencing the luck as Bill said.

The KN were traveling through the Imperial Warren prior to DoD, although I never understood their motivations. Where were they for the last thousand years? Where were they heading to, and why?

For me, Tool's rejection of the call for help, and indeed all camaraderie, makes perfect sense. He was betrayed by his clan, the Senan, and by his friend, Toc. Once betrayed, he owes no one any loyalty.

In GotM, Ben's acorn released a demon to attack Rake, so I assumed that these acorns were also demons of some sort.
karl oswald
15. Toster
Despite all the hints dropped throughout the book, the arrival of the nah'ruk, here, facing the bonehunters is damned heartbreaking. i think my first read left me in a state of shock and of course i had to read on. so much loss, and so much desire to deny it all! keneb especially was hard to take, with all that he's survived, and it's even more frustrating to know that Quick had time to raise his hands before the lightning struck. is he dead or not? how could he survive? of course, we all want to believe nothing could kill quick ben, but i'm guessing he took a direct hit from a sky keep!

it is also very suspicious the terms 'mischance' and 'ill-luck' being thrown around here. how can you not think of the errant and sechul with all they've been up to? where did they go to seek 'the one under a jaghut stone'? that missing scene is the most intriguing scene we never see!

again though, how heartbreaking to see the khundryl charge blindly into the mouth of the nah'ruk kep'rah? it's devastating really, like so much we held dear is just obliterated.

i assume kep'rah is the name of the nah'ruk weapons, since we get the term from sag churok right before the 14 jaghut take out the nah'ruk pursuing kalyth's party. which leads to another point:

the bonehunters are apparently 'just in their fucking way', and fiddler thinks to himself that the nah'ruk have been this way before, so it would seem that we have the answer to all the dead dragon towers, the 'rooted' sitting across the wastelands. the nah'ruk have been taking them out one by one. this is what all the che'malle of ampelas rooted know but never tell kalyth.
Tufty
16. mjb93
"Excuse me now, while I frantically read Chapter 24. I. Just. Can’t. Stop. Here."

Kudos for being able to still see the book at this point. I'm sure my eyes stopped working the first time around.

Blood of the gods, what manner of soldiers are you?
michael
17. worrywort
Toster, that's the first time I've ever seen that thought about the Rooted expressed. Gonna have to think about that one.
Tabby Alleman
18. Tabbyfl55
@1, Bottle's section here is a little bit reminiscent of Beak, non?
- -
19. hex
Skanarow is shocked to see that Gudd appears to be a Stormrider.

Ruthan Gudd thinks, “this Stormrider crap had better work, but gods below, it does hurt to wear.”
wonder
A concussion comes from the Nah-ruk ranks and Fiddler tells them “That, soldiers, was Quick Ben.”
chills
Gall’s Khundryl charge the Nahruk, even as Gall thinks, “This is the last day of the Khundryl Burned Tears. My children, do you ride with me? I know you do. My children, be brave this day. See your father, and know that he is proud of you all.” The Nah-ruk ready their lightning weapon.
tears

He is shocked to see Khundryl survivors fighting on, then more than shocked to see that the Malazans have stopped the Nah-ruk advance: “Blood of the gods, what manner of soldiers are you?”
intense pride
She Shadow Dances.
awe

I probably finished DoD a year ago, but I had a frog in my throat rereading most of this summary.
- -
20. hex
@14

We see the Nah'ruk skulking here and there throughout the novels. Karsa wrastles (sic) one at one point. Mappo and Iccy wander through one of their sky keeps, and I think see the dragon Serc impailed there being bled dry. I think there's a line later talking about how they were using the power of the aforemention blood to gear up for Something Big (tm). I want to say that the Nah'ruk were also responsible for killing the Jaghut that Paran befriends in BH(?).

As to why they're doing what they're doing, I don't know we get a lot of speculation from characters in the book. Quick Ben says something to the effect of them coming back to clean house when he and Stormy/Gelser were observing the massing sky keeps in the imperial warren.

Re: Quick Ben/Acorns

When QB sicks the demon on Rake in GotM, wasn't it described as being contained in a vile full of white smoke, which he had stolen from Tayshcrenn? I don't think it was until later he was described as using acorns and small stones.
Ryan Dick
21. Wilbur
@21

Thank you, hex, that is good stuff about the KN.

And you must be correct about the acorns, too.

@15

Toster's idea that the KN have been recently attacking the KC ampelas rooted in the area is indeed thought-provoking, as worrywort in @17 mentions. Up until I read this comment, I just thought that the KC had been in a centuries-long decline, dying out slowly until just the one matron was left. But Toster's idea that the KN have been more recently killing off the other KC matrons and their hives again would fit in with the story as we know it also, wouldn't it?
- -
22. hex
@21 You're too kind. Don't trust my memory though. Hopefully someone else can confirm, or I'll look it up. Another small object demon summoning association would be the black diamonds that Pust gave to Kalam. Those summoned azalan demons.

Another mention of acorns in GotM was Reast's finnest which took the form of one.

I want to say there was some acorn business between QB and
Lostara Yil/Pearl, but things are pretty fuzzy in that part of my memory grab-bag. Every book needs a concordance.
Brian R
23. Mayhem
Up until I read this comment, I just thought that the KC had been in a
centuries-long decline, dying out slowly until just the one matron was
left. But Toster's idea that the KN have been more recently killing off
the other KC matrons and their hives again would fit in with the story
as we know it also, wouldn't it?

I'm pretty sure the KN are a recent arrival on the continent - I have a feeling they were driven off at some point in the past, and have gathered their power and are returning home. And part of the reason they are travelling home is probably to do with the final breaking up of the Jaghut ritual from Gothos that froze time and death on the continent.

I think the KCCM are very much a millenia old civilization in steady decline - recall most of them were obliterated by the Andii & Edur in the prologue of MT. I would say that Acyl Nest was probably the last remaining Matron alive anywhere for a VERY long time. Given the Jaghut ritual, she was probably only now detectable by the KN, and vice versa. Hence the sudden search for allies, and a desperate desire to breed an army.
Steven Halter
24. stevenhalter
QB has used objects for various purposes. Demons, portals and communicating devices are things that spring to mind.
Tabby Alleman
25. Tabbyfl55
I'm thinking that QB gave Kalem an acorn that Kalem could use to either summon QB, or at least send him a "Ok, teleport here now!" message... but I'm not about to go back and try to verify.
Joseph Ash
26. TedThePenguin
WOW, what a chapter, when I read it I was basically stunned by what was happening, I knew SOMETHING was coming, but certainly didnt see this. the sheer devastation, all of our characters, just... gone! I had to keep reading, but this really hit hard the first time. And the Marines and Heavies are damned impressive!

as for QB's Acorns, I would just guess that he is talking more to himself, as he enchants them to do his bidding.
Michael Friedman
27. lycophidion
@Bill - I think this -
On the other hand, Tanakalian’s stubborn insistence that this isn’t right confirms her views that he is self-centered and not particularly insightful or competent. So yet again, in this on-going schism between these two, we’re left a bit at sea as readers—do we trust this one over that one, or that one over this one, or are both right, or are both wrong?
is too gratuitously even-handed and ignores the interior monologues Tanakalian has been having at least since the death of the Destriant. Just his thought that he would pick and choose among those he would "save" tips us off that this is a man with an agenda, and counterposes him to his Grey Sword counterpart, Itkovian "The Redeemer." It would actually be informative to compare the Grey Swords, their personages and trajectory, with the Grey Helms...

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