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 two 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.
Udinaas watches the still figure of Silchas Ruin, joined by Onrack T’emlava. They discuss the albino Tiste Andii—what he wants and whether they should drive him away. Udinaas goes to talk to him. Silchas Ruin confesses that he was misled, and feels humbled by what he has seen. He tells Udinaas that his son Rud Elalle is in grave danger and that he wants to speak to him, but can’t get there because the Eleint blood does not allow him to approach a community (I think, anyway!) He asks that Udinaas give him his son, telling him what is coming and why this is needful.
Onrack sees Silchas and Udinaas walking towards him and notes the latter’s “battered spirit, his fugue of despair” and thinks that no good is going to come from their talk.
Onrack considers the peacefulness of the Refugium, and the fact that “intruders into this realm rode an ill tide, arriving like vanguards to legions of chaos.” He thinks on his mate Kilava, who is waiting to give birth, which leads him to remember sadly when he visited Seren Pedac and spoke to her of Trull Sengar’s death. As far as he is concerned “…women could be frightening. In their strengths, their capacity to endure.”
Shield Anvil Tanakalian of the Perish Grey Helms looks on the D’rhasilhani (well, that isn’t something I want to be spelling too frequently! I pity the copy editor who had to make sure each instance of that was kept accurate…) coast and ponders on how different it is from the coast that he had known for most of his life. “The constant inflow of fresh water, thick and milky-white, had poisoned most of the bay, as far as Tanakalian could determine.” We learn that the Perish Grey Helms are trying to find a delegation of the Bolkando, that the Destriant Run’Thurvian has visited the Adjunct. Tanakalian is pleased that neither the Destriant or Mortal Sword are out on the deck, since they make everything so much more formal. He is considered to be “too young, woefully inexperienced, and dismayingly inclined to rash judgment”—and he takes his cues from the way the Bonehunters interact. He heads below to find the Destriant in order to seek his help in providing sorcerous protection to help the ship through the passage to find the Bolkando. In his cabin, the Destriant is dying—literally melting—and tells Tanakalian that there will be betrayal, “she is not as we believed,” and “the vow—we have made a mistake!” The Destriant refuses the embrace from his Shield Anvil, telling Tanakalian that he is insufficient. Tanakalian resolves to tell the Mortal Sword that Run’Thurvian did accept the embrace.
Yeden Derryg, the Watch, walks down to the shoreline, watching the night sky which shows smears of jade comets that reflect in the water. He washes his hands in the water, contemplating idiots and the fact that the coven of witches and warlocks who, until recently, had rules the Shake were an example of how trouble could come from hidden deceivers and those of middling intelligence. His sister comes down to him at the shoreline and we learn that he has butchered twenty-eight people who he deemed to be a threat to her new leadership. Yan Tovis banishes him from her realm.
Pully and Skwish—now the last two remaining Shake witches after Yeden Derryg’s cull—talk about the fact that the world is pushing back on them. (At least I think they do; their dialogue is pretty dense).
Udinaas thinks on his son Rud Elalle, and the fact that his innocence is a soft cloak masking a monstrous nature, thanks to his ability to change into a huge dragon. Silchas Ruin thinks that Rud Elalle might be able to go against his Eleint nature, but it isn’t certain. Onrack is confused as to why Udinaas is allowing Silchas Ruin to talk alone to Rud Elalle. Udinaas believes that Rud Elalle cannot go against his nature and so needs to speak to another with the same blood. Udinaas realises that sending his son away is the best way to save those within the Refugium. When Rud Elalle emerges from the hut, Udinaas knows he is going with Silchas Ruin and goes to say goodbye.
We see Mortal Sword Krughava from Tanakalian’s point of view, and it is not really a favourable look at this character—one who heads towards inevitable betrayal at the climax of the tale. Tanakalian believes that the Destriant has manipulated him into stirring Krughava into outrage concerning betrayal and so has decided not to tell Krughava the news that might send her into a frenzy of retribution. He does tell Krughava about Run’Thurvian’s death, and acts in such a way—appealing and needing reassurance—to manipulate her into steeling herself and avoiding panic. He and she head out to meet the Bolkando emissaries, who are Chancellor Rava and Conquestor Avalt. They are offered a drink, which contains the blood of the King’s fourteenth daughter, who has been sacrificed to show the King’s commitment to these proceedings.
We see the aftermath of the meeting from the point of view of Chancellor Rava and Conquestor Avalt, who suggest to each other that they advise the King that these people who are so desperate to go east into the Wastelands are allowed to do so. If there are any survivors then they will strip them of any valuables and sell them as castrated slaves.
We learn that one of the servants attending Rava and Avalt is expecting imminent death, but has already passed on an account of what was talked about with the Mortal Sword and the Shield Anvil.
Pully and Skwish are expressing their anger using urine about the deaths of the rest of their coven. Yan Tovis says that they three now need to discuss what they must do. Skwish says that Yan Tovis needs a king, but she is firm that she does not. Instead she says that all the inhabitants of the island—not just the Shake—must evacuate because of the rising of the sea. They must flee the shore. When the two witches leave, Yan Tovis breaks down and mourns her brother.
As dragons, Silchas Ruin and Rud Elalle leave the Refugium.
So now we pick up the threads of the story that ended up in the Refugium, with a clearly-reduced and humbled Silchas Ruin, one who is burdened both by what he did and what he knows is to come. It is good to see Udinaas again and hear his clever dialogue—I find this character one of the best in terms of arc and how I regarded him at the beginning.
I am curious about who Silchas is talking about when he says: “She will be Queen.” It is almost as though something takes him over and issues those words—he doesn’t seem to realise what he has said, and he and Udinaas do not continue to talk about it at all.
I was curious about the idea that Eleint blood precludes community—I guess that all dragons therefore cannot work together. We did see that with the three dragon sisters as Quick Ben took them down (mentioned by Udinaas). This is particularly sad: “So it proved with me and my brother Anomander. Once the Draconic blood took hold of us, we were driven apart. Andarist stood between us, reaching with both hands, seeking to hold us close, but our newfound arrogance surpassed him. We ceased to be brothers.” I guess here at this point Silchas Ruin doesn’t know that he won’t get the opportunity to reconcile with his brother.
Onrack presents a truly idyllic scene as he thinks on his race and their desire for peace, with such thoughts as: “Every appeasement of the spirits sought the protection of that precious peace, that perfect continuity” and “Memories wove strands that bound everyone together, and when those memories were shared, that binding grew ever stronger.” I think it is telling that he then moves on to contemplate the time when he shared his memories of Trull Sengar with Seren Pedac. This idyllic picture does automatically make me think that we’re about to see it shattered, especially in light of the discussions between Udinaas and Silchas Ruin.
Well, this Tanakalian is an interesting character, no? I don’t know how to consider him right now. On the one hand, I feel he is hard done by his Destriant, who considers him to be reckless and insufficient, and that he is just very young—shown by his enjoyment of being away from strictures and rules and liking the camaraderie of the Bonehunters. But on the other, his attitude when Run’Thurvian dies and the way he thinks that he shall not tell the Mortal Sword that the Destriant refused the embrace makes me look quite coldly on him.
And this, that the Destriant discovered: “She is not as we believed. There will be… betrayal. Tell Krughava! The vow—we have made a mistake!” What does this all mean? Who is the ‘she’? Is it the same ‘she’ that Silchas Ruin talked about when he mentioned the Queen? Or is it the Adjunct that they have spent some time talking with? Is Tavore going to betray the Grey Helms in some way?
What a sinister little scene featuring Yedan Derryg—there is nothing to suggest that he has just committed multiple murders. I can see why Yan Tovis is so utterly shocked. He has also undermined her new leadership, which is likely to have difficult repercussions. Also, I note the mention again of these strangers in the sky, these smears of jade. It seems they are getting closer.
In the scene with Pully and Skwish, I particularly liked Pully’s musing on age and the way it affects people. As each year passes, things like this become way more poignant for me—especially the idea that inside every old person is a young mind believing that they are still youthful and finding it difficult to reconcile the aches and pains and wrinkles with this. I suspect that Erikson writes on a rather personal level when he states this stuff!
Okay, so a little more of a foreboding edge added to the idea of Eleint, and the fact that their nature is to head into megalomania: “The ripening harvest of the Eleint, a fecund brutality that sought only to appease itself—that saw the world (any world, every world) as a feeding ground, and the promise of satisfaction waited in the bloated glut of power.” It is interesting the discussion about Rud Elalle and whether he can fight against his nature. Nature vs. nurture. Is Rud Elalle going to remain the innocent and tackle his Eleint blood, or will he succumb?
A reminder to us as well that if the Refugium is to be destroyed, then those within will head back to being T’lan Imass. I can easily believe Onrack’s horror at the idea of this, and it pulls at the heartstrings—especially because we have this fear that the idyll of the Refugium is not to last.
Hmm, is Tanakalian’s view of Krughava a red herring concerning the ‘she’ who the Destriant said would betray them: “…until such time, at the tale’s dramatic climax, when the truth of betrayal and whatnot was revealed, and punishment soundly delivered.” However you look at it, his view of Krughava is certainly not that positive, is it?
He really has a very low opinion of his Mortal Sword, doesn’t he? I’m starting to hear warning bells where Tanakalian is concerned. But there really is a massive ambiguity here, because Krughava is the one who has delicate sensibilities over the drinks they are offered (the blood of a sacrificed virgin, the wine of a fruit that is fed by stillbirths) and Tanakalian is the one who feels that they cannot react. I don’t like Tanakalian right now, that’s for sure, and I think he will prove to be someone not to be trusted (watch this first impression be so, so wrong!)
Ha, I love this: “Still-births… fourteenth daughter’s blood… you always had a fertile, if vaguely nasty imagination, Rava.” So those drinks were just made of normal items! Also, if any of the Bonehunters etc do manage to survive whatever is coming in the Wastelands, I’d like to see the Bolkando try to capture them—it strikes me that only the luckiest and most badass are getting out of this alive.
The Bolkando are a nasty little race though, what with the whole ear drums being punctured and tongues carved out of the slaves… As Erikson himself puts: “In the tiny kingdom of Bolkando, life was an adventure.”
Must just mention that I completely forgot that Yan Tovis was also referred to as Twilight, so I got thoroughly confused at the scene with her and the two witches. Twilight is used as a name that sounds so separate to Yan Tovis that I was convinced they were two people!
There’s an ominous feeling in the background in this scene in the Refugium, references to decay or vulnerability or change for the worse—we’ll have to see if there is any reason for that. A few examples:
- “the rotted remnants of ship timbers”
- “tattered clothes”
- “desiccated leaves”
- “hands went numb”
- “vulnerable as a child”
- “armor shorn away”
- “once solid ground inexorably shifting beneath his feet”
- “everything was pitching headlong, a hundred thousand boulders sliding down a mountainside”
- “Winter is coming.” (OK, I lied, it’s really “winter fast approaching”)
- “nothing good was on its way here” (yeah, that one is kinda obvious, huh?)
- “this world seemed to rush past, ephemeral and elusive…”
So perhaps you can teach an old dragon new tricks. I like this more humbled Silchas (coming after Udinaas’ musing on being humbled).
As far as the “She will be Queen” line, there are a few options (one in particular), but I think discussing them here would be a bit spoilerish.
I do like Udinaas’ mini-lecture on parenting and this line in particular: “You cannot gift a child with your scars.” Great line for brevity and depth.
Another little reference to folks (or emlava) never learning.
Nice little bit of anthropological scene setting there with the camp description followed by a lovely poetic ode to the cycle of day to day, year-to-year living, the power of story and memory and continuity.
Another lovely description of Onrack’s new feelings and awareness of time and of the impact of the ritual making time meaningless. These sort of moments, by the way, are what I personally find separates Erikson from much of the “gritty” or as kids seems to be calling it nowadays—“grimdark”—fantasy. Sure, this series can be gritty and grim and dark (and hoo boy, will we see that in these next two books), but it’s not simply that. It’s also poetic and lyrical and has a depth (and yes, a bent toward philosophy) that I don’t see enough of in most other works.
It does seem a lovely idyllic moment here in the Refugium. Hmmm, wonder if it will last…
From one scene with a lot of references to decay to one with a coast looking “gnawed and rotted” and filled with “mounds of dead fish” being scavenged, while farther down the coast silt has “poisoned most of the bay.”
Tanakalian is an interesting mix early on here. How can we not respond positively to someone who responds so well to our beloved Malazans? Especially to their “brash lack of decorum, their open irreverence, and their strange penchant for reveling in the absurd.” Just as it’s difficult to criticize an “active mind.”. On the other hand, as you say Amanda, his response and decision post Run’Thurvian makes us question our first response to him more than a little. It’s interesting that this question of “judgment” has come up before with regard to Itkovian, but would we have questioned Itkovian’s judgment as much as we might Tanakalian’s?
And of course, the big question is what does Run’Thurvian see? Who is the “she” who is not “as we believed”? Who will betray whom? What vow was a mistake? File this away. Along with his ensuing prophecy: “You shall fail her. The Wolves shall abandon us. The vow betrays them. I have seen our deaths… You, Tanakalian. The Mortal Sword too, and every brother and sister of the Grey Helms.”
Love the descriptions of these ships.
Change seems to be a prominent theme already in this book. No surprise, coming as we are to the end (well, closer to the end at least). And we go from Tanakalian’s reference to change to Yedan Derryg’s realization that “the night sky, so familiar… was now revealed to him as strange, jarred free of the predictable, the known.”
There’s those green “comets” again being mentioned.
I really like this slow reveal of what Yedan has done, and especially these lines just before we find out: “[he] reached down his hand until the cold water flowed over them and what was clear suddenly clouded in dark blooms. He watches as the waves, sweeping out so gently, tugged away the stains.” Reminded me a bit of Macbeth’s “Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood Clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather The multitudinous seas incarnadine, Making the green one red.” Save Yedan seems far less troubled. I like his complete befuddlement at first by Twilight’s response to the murders of 28 old men and women, and then his whole, I’ll just wait ‘till she comes around. Pretty obvious, exile or no, we haven’t seen the last of him.
And more “green glows” via Skwish’s vision quest. And something bad happening off in the east—“all stems of one branch.”
Speaking of ominous, how’s this for Udinaas’ reference to Rud Elalle: no matter what you do, do not awaken him to his anger.” What are the odds of Rud getting angry at some point? And I enjoy the mundanity of how every father notes the moment of his son’s rise past himself, but yes, losing for the first time to your son in basketball isn’t quite the same as your son “veering into the shape of a dragon.”
Nor are the Eleint as a whole coming off so great here: “The ripening harvest of the Eleint, a fecund brutality that sought only to appease itself—that saw the world (any world, every world) as a feeding ground, and the promise of satisfaction waited in the bloated glut of power. Rare the blood-fouled who managed to overcome that innate megalomania…” Anomander. Osserc? Maybe, maybe not. There was a bonecaster once. And a Soletaken Jaghut.
More reason to like Anomander. And a Soletaken Jaghut? Cool! Me wanna see! (assuming of course I haven’t yet)
So that earlier ominous sense with regard to the Refugium is given direct voice in this conversation between Onrack and Udinaas—what is coming? Will Onrack return to being T’lan Imass? If so, will he retain what he has regained or no? Or can Rud save them somehow?
It’s been a while since we’ve had mention of compassion, what I’d call the predominantly important note in this entire series (or at least one of two, the other being empathy). And Udinaas’ take on this version of compassion, the “tragic” kind is a nuanced exploration, the kind that sees “sacrifice as the only choice and thus no choice at all.”
So we’re wondering about Tanakalian’s judgment and then we get this from his POV about what Mortal Sword Kurghava is like, that she has a “belief in her own imminent elevation to heroic status.” I’m thinking anyone like that can’t be headed down a great path and woe betide those riding beside her. But the question is, do we trust Tanakalian’s viewpoint on this character description? Or later when he says she “thrived on certainty,” which we’ve come to view with the utmost skepticism in this series.
But then there’s this, and now we’re thinking he does have some insight: “He had come to suspect that no hero… was anything like the tales told… his growing realization that so many so-called virtues, touted as worthy aspirations, possessed a darker side. Purity of heart also meant vicious intransigence. Unfaltering courage saw no sacrifice as too great, even if that meant leading ten thousand soldiers to their deaths… the true nature of heroism was a messy thing.”
What to think of this young one?
I do love the interplay in this diplomatic meeting—the meeting itself and then the revelations that come afterward. It’s all very entertaining and sharp. The games within games. The planned betrayals. The inner and outer politics. Mention of the Khundryl Burned Tears (who currently aren’t doing very well).
And what is driving this “Mad need to venture east? What is in or past the Wastelands?
I like the scene showing Twilight coming into her own (and also realizing, despite the horror of what was done, that part of her ability to come into her power and wield it is thanks to her brother’s action). Where is she going to lead the Shake to? And how might they change the world?
And what a lovely ending to this chapter with its ominous starting tone: “hot blood soaked the ground, eyes glazed over, and something that had lived free lived no more.”
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.