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 one 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.
On the grounds of the dead Azath House in Letheras, lizards eat two-headed bugs, which in turn kill the lizards, “as from the mouths of dying lizards grotesque shapes emerged.” All this observed by an owl who does not learn the right lesson of the sudden pain in its full-of-lizards stomach.
Smiles and Throatslitter discuss someone who bolted from them and think they’ll get a chance to jump him again.
Bottle, Koryk, Tarr, Corabb, Maybe, and Masan are trying to corral a quarry. They have him cornered in a tavern when Gesler, Stormy, and Balm arrive. The “target” escapes after a fracas and something that caused some white smoke went off. Bottel yells at Balm, telling him they need the target alive.
The target is flushed out toward Smiles and Throatslitter, who take him down as the others arrive to help. They tell the target—Fiddler—that Tavore wants him and there’s no using running. Balm asks if Fiddler want mutiny and Throatslitter replies Tavore wants him to do a reading.
Sinn and Grub are outside the dead Azath House. Sinn notes that people have been digging there. They discuss the upcoming reading, that when Sinn looks at Grub she thinks “Mockra,” and that each thinks the other is “what’s coming.” They enter the house.
Lt. Pores had been watching when Sinn and Grub went in, ordered to observe them by Captain Kindly. He’d been surprised to learn that Sinn wasn’t actually mute and that she had a crush on Grub. He starts to go in after them but whacks his head on a black wasps’ nest. He runs, is stung into unconsciousness as he nears the Malazan barracks.
In the house, Sinn starts a fire in the fireplace using sorcery (“too easy” for her, Grub says, adding he didn’t “even feel a warren), and the two examine a tapestry showing the Tiste Edur and Andii warring against K’Chain Che’Malle, with sky keeps and huge dragons overhead overhead. Up in the tower, they find a Forkrul Assail corpse. He tells Sinn he thinks the Azath didn’t die but “just left… just walked out of here.” She wants to know how he knows things—about the Azath, how he can identify a Forkrul Assail. He tells her he bets Quick Ben knows too, knows “the truth… You, me, the Azath. It’s all changing. Everything—it’s all changing.” He comments on her utter control of fire and she says she would use it to “break the world” and that Grub is the only thing stopping her from trying, “just to see what it can do.”
Tehol asks Bugg what’s wrong, and Bugg replies he’s nervous about Fiddler’s reading tonight, especially that the Errant might “object to its [the Deck’s] unveiling. He may do something precipitous.” Tehol decides to send Brys to warn the Malazans. Inside the throne room, they meet with Brys, Rucket, and Queen Janath. Banter ensues, mostly about sex. Brys then says he wants to hire the Malazan sergeants to remold the Letheri army in the same vein as the Malazan marines. More banter about sex ensues.
Pores wakes to the ministrations of a squad healer and the criticisms of Captain Kindly, who mentions blood blisters on the testicles to the healer.
The healer tells Nep Furrow to quit cursing Captain Kindly with blood blisters.
Preda Norlo Trumb bravely refuses to hand over prisoners sentenced to be executed to a squad of Malazans. His soldiers being less brave, they refuse, after which Norlo gets a common sense epiphany (Skulldeath’s two swords and “sleepy” eyes helped) and orders them turned over.
The prisoners, which include Sergeant Sinter and her sister Kisswhere, come out in horrible shape, having been near starved. Skim and Honey “accidentally” graze the Preda’s ears with crossbow bolts.
Banaschar, in a room with Telorast and Curdle, recalls his time as a priest of the Worm of Autumn, the way they sold blood, the amount of treasure they had. Curdle and Telorast promise him more power than he can imagine. After they seal the bargain, it is revealed that the Errant has been sitting there and Banaschar agrees to listen to him.
Faradan Sort and Lostara Yil report to Tavore, who tells them to round up, forcibly if needed, the usual suspects—those who will attend the night’s reading.
Brys passes Sort and Yil, eliciting sighs, and then gives his warning to Tavore about the “Errant Master of the Tiles… the Letherii corollary to your Deck of Dragons.” Tavore guesses that the Errant “would view the divination and the Deck as an imposition, a trespass,” and Brys says the Elder god’s response “cannot be predicted.” He explains that the warning comes from Bugg, whom she can consider the Chancellor and a Ceda, and adds that Bugg is not afraid of the Errant, but plans to hide away during the reading. Tavore is stunned when Brys says Bugg didn’t want his presence to unduly influence the reading, and then is stunned again when Brys offers his assistance, implying the Errant would hesitate before tangling with him. When he says he can at least negotiate with the Errant, Tavore says she’d appreciate his help.
Quick Ben and Hedge are talking in a tavern. Quick Ben says Hedge is keeping secrets and that the Adjunct is nervous about him. To which Hedge replies that Tavore makes him nervous. Lostara and Sort show up to collect them.
Kindly politely orders Bent (the Wickan cattle-dog) to find Sinn and Grub, but the two show up anyway, admitting they’d tried to hide from the reading in the Azath. They go with him to the reading.
Bugg goes to Seren Pedac’s and offers himself as protection for her baby, the child of Trull Sengar. He tells her Trull was the Knight of Shadow (through no choice of Trull’s, his son is now, and that he [Bugg] will not allow the Errant to “strike his enemies through the child you carry.” Seren demands the High King of Shadow come himself to protect his new Knight. She is skeptical when Bugg tells her he will suffice, so he offers to summon other forces for her if she wants. She agrees, but says she will speak herself to this King of Shadow after tonight. He warns her that she will most likely find that meeting “unsatisfactory.”
On the way to the reading, Fiddler asks Bottle what he senses, and Bottle answers that “things [that were] mostly sleeping up until now” are awake and that his reading is a very bad idea. Fiddler tells him he’ll have a cusser the whole time, in case some “nasties” show up. Fiddler just hopes they don’t have thirteen because it’s a bad number for a reading. Bottle reassures him Tavore said only eleven.
Ursto Hoobutt and Pinosel (whom we’ve met before) arrive at Seren’s. Bugg explains they are “the remnants of an ancient pantheon… the first wo, the Lord and Lady of Wine and Beer.” They reveal that Bugg is an Elder God.
Fiddler is dismayed to learn that Brys has been added to the reading.
Banaschar notes “green swords”—new stars in the sky—and thinks they might be getting closer. The Errant has grown suddenly pale and tells Banaschar “Your allies do not concern me but another has come and now awaits us… You go in ahead of me. I will await the full awakening of this Deck.” Banaschar says the Errant had promised to simply stop the reading and that there would be no violence, but the Errant says things have changed. When Banaschar demands no innocent blood be spilled, the Errant orders him to keep them out of his way then. Banaschar walks on, thinking, “that’s the problem with the Bonehunters, isn’t it? Nobody can keep them out of anyone’s way.”
The Errant waits ”with murder in his heart” in the alley, not knowing he is “the thirteenth player in this night’s game,” a fact that had he known it would have made him “run for the hills.” We hear the chimes at midnight.
Those two-headed beetles!
There is a sense of homecoming, seeing these oh-so-familiar names again and realising that the Malazans are about to take centre stage. And the humour is back (which is rather a relief, after the comments on the prologue, where everyone made it very clear that I was about to descend into a true grimdark novel…)
Love this image: “It’d be a thing worth seeing, Bottle smiled to himself, if a mob of irate Letherii shoppers descended on the glowering barbarian, pummelling him into the ground with loaves of crusty bread and bulbous root-crops.”
And I adore the fact that we see these Malazans cornering their quarry and finally taking him down at cost to themselves, and only then are told that it is Fiddler trying to get away from doing a reading for the Adjunct. It reminds us exactly about Fiddler’s character, especially when he grumpily wishes he’d brought a sharper or two to use against his squad.
I do like having a scene from the perspective of Sinn and Grub, and then immediately seeing them from Pores’ point of view, an adult looking at children. “And she had a crush on Grub, how sweet—sweet as tree sap, twigs and trapped insects included—why, it could make a grown man melt, and then run down a drain into that depthless sea of sentimentality where children played, and, occasionally, got away with murder.” Fantastic stuff.
Sinn doesn’t use a warren for her magic? What does she use then? Does she have a particular affinity with flames, thanks to Y’Ghatan?
This says a lot about Sinn, where she looks at the tapestry and says ‘pretty’—the tapestry that depicts slaughter and harrowing destruction.
Ain’t this the truth:
“I bet Quick Ben knows, too.”
“Knows what?” she hissed in exasperation.
“This. The truth of it all.”
This scene with Tehol and Bugg is just wonderful *sighs*. The swift dialogue, the comedy of them together, the reintroduction of Tehol as King and the fact that he is aware of Bugg’s true identity. It’s so well done, since it does that reintroduction of the situation (including Janath—and a reminder of who she is) but also builds up this whole reading of the Deck, and the fact that Fiddler is an adept with the cards in his hands.
Oh, but I didn’t miss Nep Furrow and his entirely incomprehensible speech!
This first chapter does feel like a bombardment of names and trying to pick up all the threads that are coming together, all the different people that we haven’t seen for a book (or more) ago. I’m happy enough to be with them all, but, damn, this is a proper exercise in memory that I am most definitely failing! I’m hoping that the context of their storylines will remind me where we saw them last and what they’re associated with.
I do remember the Errant, however, and I remember disliking him fervently and feeling deeply uncomfortable that he is getting his claws into Banaschar.
Scary—this reading is being built up massively now, what with the Adjunct ensuring that certain people are brought to be present when it takes place. And Lostara being concerned about some of the names on the list.
I like here that Erikson has two women objectifying this man, rather than the other way round.
“Is the Chancellor a Ceda—if that is the proper term for High Mage?”
“It would be best to view him as such, yes, Adjunct.”
Yes, I do think Tavore should view Bugg as being as powerful as a High Mage *snorts* Don’t want to underestimate this god, after all…
Brys is certainly giving Tavore a lot to think about (not least of which his smile). After all, he talks about this Elder God (the Errant) but then lets slip that Bugg is not scared of facing him. He also makes it clear that the Errant would hesitate in crossing him as well, which definitely makes Tavore take notice. I like this exchange, and it’s cool to see Tavore again. I wonder what guidance she is looking for from the Deck here?
Seren is wonderful here, isn’t she? The idea of her standing up to Shadowthrone and giving him trouble because of inadvertently making her unborn son Knight of Shadow—well, that is a scene that I can imagine being tremendous.
And it’s also great seeing things like this said about Bugg: “If the Errant wants to harm my child… you may well be a Ceda, but the Errant is a god. Who has already murdered the man I loved—a Knight of Shadow. You may not be enough.” Great, because the reader knows exactly what “Bugg” is capable of. Or perhaps not *exactly*… I suspect we haven’t seen everything that Mael can do.
And even more indications that this Reading is BIG: “This reading, Sergeant, is about as bad an idea as voicing a curse in Oponn’s name while sitting in Hood’s lap.”
There’s going to be thirteen at this reading, isn’t there….?
“But that new span of stars made him far more nervous, a swath like sword blades, faintly green…” Jade statues? Also, this reminds me of War of the Worlds, and those luminous jets of gas descending to earth through the night sky. “The chances of anything coming from Mars are a million to one…”
I hope everyone else was as happy as I was to see the return of our two-headed bug friends, especially as you have to know that will herald the return of the two-headed comic creation of Tehol and Bugg.
Perhaps these lessons—all is not as it seems, “not all prey was as helpless” as it might first appear, the allegedly wise (owls) just might be surprisingly oblivious—are ones we (or at perhaps some characters) might consider as we move forward.
I love this opening—with our Malazans hot on the track of some poor bad guy, who turns out of course to be Fiddler, fleeing the reading. Quite well done I thought—both the humor, the playing on expectations/assumptions, and the way the plot point and the structure allows for a very quick and efficient reminding of all these characters we’ve left behind for so long: Throatslitter, Tarr, Corabb, et. al.
Poor Pores. But I do so enjoy his and Kindly’s scenes. Boy it’s good to be back.
So a few things to file with regard to this scene with Sinn and Grub:
- Grub’s reaction when Sinn brings up the flames: “That’s too easy for you. I didn’t even feel a warren.”
- The tapestry reminding us of the K’Chain and of big dragons
- Grub’s memory of Sinn at the firestorm of Y’Ghatan and his vision of her—“satiated and shining”—amidst all the death and destruction of the tapestry scene
- The introduction of the Forkrul Assail
- Grub’s revelation: “You, me, the Azath. It’s all changing Sinn. Everything, it’s all changing.” (which should remind us as well that there are always those who resist change, who will see change as a threat)
- This dialogue:
Grub snorted, “The way you make it [fire] talk…”
“It can shout too, Grub.”
He nodded. “Loud enough to break the world, Sinn.”
“I would, you know… just to see what it can do. What I can do.”
“What’s stopping you?”
She grimaced… “You might shout back.”
Ahh, Tehol and Bugg. Did I mention it was good to be back? Though with the reference to the Errant and his potential for mischief, perhaps I’m not so happy to see everyone again.
By the way, from the Snake to the Tehol and Bugg show—there aren’t a lot of novels with that range of tone.
Hmm, might this bargain between Banaschar and Telorast/Curdle for “more power that [he] can imagine” come into play down the road? What sort of “power” might these two have? What use might Banaschar have for it?
Nice little sly moment with Brys’ forsaking of wine, if one remembers his last encounter with it.
You know you’re enjoying a series and dealing with a good writer when you’re happy to see a dog (Bent) again.
Another bit of understated humor with Bugg’s dry statement that Seren might find a meeting with Shadowthrone “unsatisfactory.” But I do like that Seren demands to give a piece of her mind to a god. You go girl!
Did anyone really think the number at the reading was going to stay at the “safe” eleven?
I really like that bit of substantive depth that lies under the silly-on-their-surface characters of Ursto Hoobutt and Pinosel—the rise of agriculture and the not all that long afterward fermentation. “Elemental forces in the history of humanity” indeed. And then we get a little mini-lesson on various crucial moments in said history (I’d call it a “timeline,” but, well… ): “animal husbandry, the first tools of stone, bone, and antler, the birth of music and dance and the telling of tales. Art, on stone walls and on skin.” Many of which we’ve seen in this series (think of Onrack and his cave art for instance).
That is also an interesting example of what we’ve discussed before—the impact of believers on their gods. In this case: Respect for their gifts has vanished. The more sordid the use of those gifts, the more befouled become the gift-givers.” And perhaps an even more interesting take via Ursto: “We don’t mind. Far worse if we wuz outlawed, becuz that’d make us evil and we don’t wanna be evil, do we?”
Those “green swords” in the sky coming closer, yes we probably want to pay attention to those.
Banaschar doesn’t seem to have a lot of respect for the Errant, does he?
I admit, I don’t have a lot to say in this chapter. It seems mostly to me to be a setting up and a reminding: reintroducing us to characters and relationships we haven’t seen for some while and preparing us for some news re the reading (and hoo boy, is that going to be some reading!). And with so many characters and so many storylines, I think it was a wise choice and one effectively executed.
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.