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 five 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.
Corporal Tarr is in charge of getting the Letherii soldiers in shape, with Cuttle in the “Braven role,” and the two try to get a rise out of the Letherii. They point out the ridiculous number of casualties this particular brigade has suffered and suggest they start by killing all their mages (on both sides).
Watching, Brys tells Queen Janath they actually have very few mages left and those have gone underground. He adds what worries him more about the Malazan soldiering tactics is “the notion of taking matters into their own hands,” and he wonders if that sort of independence, which he admits works with the Malazans apparently, will work with the Letherii. Janath points out the Malazan pact seems to be “an exchange of trust between the ruler and the ruled. Abuse that from either direction and all mutual agreements are nullified,” continuing by noting they avoid civil war if one party simply leaves. Brys agrees maybe the Letherii can learn from them.
Cuttle and Tarr worry that “thrashing” the already cowed Letherii even more won’t work, but can’t come up with any other ideas. They march the soldiers to stall. Brys and Janath head to a meeting.
Lostara, Keneb, Blistig, and Quick Ben await Tavore. Blistig says she already knows what she’s doing and the meeting is moot, but Quick says everything has changed and they need to strategize. Lostara worries that not only does Tavore want to use her army, she might even “use it up.” She thinks no one really knows what is driving Tavore. Quick says they’re marching through the Wastelands, but Lostara thinks he’s just as clueless. Tavore enters with Sinn and says “The gods can have their war. We will not be used… That reading was an insult. No one owns our minds.” She announces they will march east, negotiating or fighting their way through to war, “marching to an enemy that does not know we even exist.” Quick Ben tells her: “It will be war, yes, but a messy one. The Crippled God’s been busy, but his efforts have been, without exception, defensive, for the Fallen One also happens to know what is coming. The bastard’s desperate, probably terrified, and thus far he has failed more often than succeeded.” When she asks why and he replies because mortals have gotten in the way, acting as “the weapons of the gods,” she wonders how that makes him feel. He responds that “the gods have inevitably regretted using me,” which she likes. He continues, saying the gods will chain the CG again: “this time it will be absolute, and once chained they will suck everything out of him.”
He adds the gods are far from united, that there will be inevitable betrayals, and when he starts saying he can’t imaging Shadowthrone is that stupid, she tells him Shadowthrone has outwitted him. He admits Shadowthrone has been playing him all along, adding Cotillion and Shadowthrone are ruthless and view mortals as a means to an end. When Tavore asks what end, Quick guesses the end of the current pantheon and everything—“sorcery, the warrens . . All fundamentally changed.” Tavore assumes with ST and Cotillion at the head, but Quick isn’t so sure, though he admits he doesn’t believe in altruism. He wonders “Who’s to say that the changes create something better… that what emerges isn’t even worse… It might seem a good move, driving that mob of miserable gods off… put[ting] us out of their reach… but without the gods we’re on our own… What mischief we might do!” Tavore points out not wholly alone, but Quick says Shadowthrone would get bored, adding “sorcery will rot.” Tavore guesses maybe the idea isn’t changing everything but ending everything, starting again from a blank slate. Quick , though has his doubts, pointing out that Kallor tried it “and the lesson wasn’t lost on anyone.”
When he adds that Shadowthrone claimed Kallor’s destroyed warren as the Imperial Warren, he stops suddenly, caught by a thought. After a while he suggests “It comes down to gates. Kurald Emurlahn… the old ones—and the Azath. No one has plumbed the secrets of the Houses as they have, not even Gothos.” Tavore pulls him back and asks about their enemy in the east. Quick replies that “Justice is a sweet notion. Too bad its practice ends up awash in innocent blood. Honest judgment is cruel… and what makes it a disaster is the way it spreads.” He refers to “Those cold-eyed arbiters,” and when she objects that nature requires balance, he says Nature is blind. To which she points out so is justice. Keneb interrupts, asking if they are now the “champions of injustice” and questioning how they can fight an idea (justice).
Tavore mentions Kolanse, an isolated group of monotheistic kingdoms that has suffered a terrible drought the past ten years. Quick says the CG came down in pieces, most falling on Korel, but the heart landing in Kolanse. Keneb says they’re “marching to where the gods are converging… to chain the Crippled God one final time.” He asks why and Quick says we’ll know upon arriving. Tavore answers Kolanse has been “usurped… in the name of Justice of a most terrible kind,” explaining it is the Forkrul Assail. Quick says the FA are preparing the gate (Ahkrast Korvalain) and so will need lots of blood. Lostara points out that Tavore’s army trying to destroy that gate will certainly please Shadowthrone, and Tavore agrees, saying Quick thinks they ST is playing them (Lostara silently agrees with Quick), but she says sharing an enemy doesn’t make one allies. Lostara asks what the FA plan to do with the Gate and Quick guesses “the delivery of justice,” though he is unsure not knows against whom. Tavore dismisses them.
In the throne room, Brys thinks about his near-murder at the hands of the Errant, still shaken by it. And by his sense since his return of rootlessness. He thinks of Hull and hopes he can lead the Letherii army to do some good and thus “heal Hull’s wounds.” Ublala tells Tehol Karsa charged him with rounding up the Tarthenal and meeting Karsa with his army “to destroy the world.” Brys suggests holding off. They discuss Tavore’s desire to march east, with Brys saying he doesn’t trust the Bolkando or Saphii and would like to provide an escort. Tehol says OK, noting that Brys can also chase Tavore or, perhaps a better choice, Lostara. Tehol tells everyone the Malazans are going to Kolanse, though he says he doesn’t know why, and Bugg says he’d rather not be asked as he’d have to lie.
Bottle muses on the trade-offs of being a soldier. He and Ebron meet Deadsmell to discuss “the miserable extinction of sorcery and the beginning of our soon-to-be-useless lives.” Ebron and Deadsmell agree their warrens are confused and have been worse since the reading. Bottle says the Fiddler fed into what Icarium made in Lether months earlier, and he speculates it was “the imposition of a new pattern on to the old, familiar one… the warrens,” explaining he thinks Icarium made a new set and suggests exploring them and “nudging” them so they overlap better. He wonders if they should bring in Quick Ben or Sinn but Ebron warns him to not have anything to do with Sinn. Ebron brings up the two dragons that rose at the reading and worries about others showing up.
Sinn and Grub are at the Azath again and they too feel the new pattern Icarium made. Grubb says it is broken, though, and she suggests fixing it. They enter the Azath and see “blood-red threads . . forming a knotted, chaotic web.” They enter.
The Letherii are about to drop after all the marching Tarr and Cuttle are making them do. Fiddler arrives, gives them great advice, and leaves.
Hedge meets Fiddler, who tells him “You died. So I went and go over you. And now you show up all over again. If you were a ghost then maybe I could deal with it… but we ain’t squad mates any more, are we? You came back when you weren’t supposed to, and in your head you’re still a Bridgeburner… you keep slagging off these Bonehunters… [but] the Bridgeburners are finished, Hedge. Dust and Ashes.” Hedge agrees he has to readjust, and Fiddler suggests he take up with Gesler’s squad.
Pores, pretending to be Kindly, “punishes” Sinter and her sister Kisswhere for being incompetent enough to get captured, and tells them to cut their hair and put it on the desk. Kindly arrives and Pores says the sisters haven’t reported yet, agreeing to go out and look for them.
The two sisters decide to get hair from somewhere else and then ask Nep Furrow to curse Kindly. Sinter tells Badan Gruk he’s the only kind of soldier one can trust—a reluctant one.
Tavore Keneb, Blistig, and Lostara meet with Tehol. Quick Ben explains about the warrens, Icarium’s attempt to impose a new one, the way the Reading showed up a flaw or “wounding,” the relationship of the Deck to warrens, how the wounding or “broken” warren is rippling outward and will soon incapacitate mages in Lether, though he thinks the Malazans leaving will help the eventual healing. Bugg is impressed by Quick Ben’s breadth and depth of knowledge. At first reluctant, Tavore agrees to an escort.
I actually howled with laughter at the start of this chapter, at the bit where Cuttle says: “I’ll get ‘em marching round—that’ll give us time to think” and then where it goes to Brys who says: “There must be some clever strategy at work down there.” It’s just so perfectly played. I think that, in the rush to talk about Erikson’s ability at battle scenes, his wont to philosophize through the mouths of his characters, his desire to show massive series-arcing trends such as compassion and invasion, we do sometimes forget that his humour is one of the finest parts of the Malazan series. Sure, sometimes it doesn’t strike quite the right note—some of the toilet humour has been a little lazy—but, damn, when it works, it’s pure gold. I don’t think there are many other fantasy authors writing today who can span their way from humour like this—almost Monty Python-esque—to the epic and cinematic scenes we know he’s capable of producing as well. Can anyone suggest another author who has similar range?
And that range is shown in absolutely spectacular fashion as we move from that little collection of scenes that had me giggling, to a scene that is blinding in its power and left my jaw agape. At what was revealed (what I could guess at), at who was involved, at the strength suddenly wielded by Adjunct Tavore. This scene is so intense that I could not look away for a second. I didn’t grasp all of it, far from it. I suspect that some of this scene still won’t be clear after reading to the end of The Crippled God.
So, we learn (again) that the Crippled God and the Fallen One are two different gods. We learn that Quick Ben is absolutely torn, because he thinks he sees what they should be doing, but doesn’t know if he is playing directly into Shadowthrone’s hands by following that path. The whole story now seems centered around gates and the Azath. And now we hear about this new gate (or, rather, a very old gate that is to be woken)—that of the Forkrul Assail, Ahkrast Korvalain. For which ‘they’ need lots of blood. The ‘they’ being the Forkrul Assail, I presume.
And this, at the centre of everything, I think: “Oh, Tavore, now I understand your defiance when it comes to how history will judge us. And your words that what we will do will be unwitnessed—that was less a promise, I think now. More like a prayer.” The choice of the Bonehunters is to either be a weapon in the hands of the gods, or to become trapped between two bloodthirsty foes, being the gods and the Forkrul Assail, correct? That seems like no choice at all.
Aaand, an example here of how pacing can be an issue—when you have a scene like the one just experienced, and then move to Brys Beddict being all internal and thoughtful about his life and how Hull is possibly affecting him… Well, it just isn’t that thrilling where it is. I found it hard to engage. And, when I find it hard to engage, I end up skipping over details—which is why, perhaps, I keep having to ask for help as to who this character is and why that character is doing what they do…
Although I do like how Brys thinks this: “It helped having an Elder God at his side, and a wife who was probably a match to Tehol’s own genius” and then this happens: “Brother Tehol, King of Lether, was in the midst of a coughing fit. Janath was at his side, thumping on his back. Bugg was pouring water into a goblet, which he then held at the ready.” Genius. Right there.
Nice little reminder of Karsa’s long game being played: “Why would Karsa Orlong want an army of Tarthenal?” “To destroy the world.”
I find it a little odd that Bugg doesn’t add more to the conversation here regarding where the Malazans are going and what they might be up against, since I’d wager he knows a fair amount of the details himself. Why does he not want to let Tehol and Brys know what is going down, warn them at least of what might lie ahead?
OH! So Icarium’s made new magic/sorcery? New warrens? Something, anyway, that is affecting the use of magic—and now Fiddler’s reading has only increased the effect of this. And they’re planning to do a ritual to find out how the new warrens overlap the old ones? I’m with Deadsmell on how wise that is…
And I snorted at this line, so funny: “Well, I don’t know, Ebron. It depends. I mean, are they real or Soletaken?”
Then more about the new magic—the fact that at least here, it is moving into the old Azath. The fact that no one is currently using it, that there is massive power available. And Grub’s words: “Because it’s broken, that’s why. It doesn’t feel right at all—these new warrens, they feel wrong, Sinn. The pattern is broken.”
I feel sorry for both Hedge and Fiddler in this scene—once so close, but Fiddler has already mourned Hedge and so can’t accept that he’s back. And Hedge feeling jealous and acting snide about the Bonehunters, while Fiddler showing loyalty to them after all he has been through with them. Showing that they are now his people, where the Bridgeburners once were.
Ha! I wondered what Pores was doing, telling the sisters about gaining weight and shaving heads etc., until I realised he was pretending to be Kindly. And then the sisters saying: “Captain Kindly is not only a bastard, but insane.”
Hmm. How many of us, reading this explanation from Quick Ben re Warrens and the Deck wondered why it couldn’t have been given on, say, page one of Gardens of the Moon? It seems so damn amusing to me that we are getting this “Erikson-infodump” (by which, I mean, still not particularly info-dumpy) in book nine of the series. By which point, the reader has gathered up clues and hints and plotlines and stories to work out what the warrens are and how they might relate to the Deck of Dragons.
It will be interesting to see if the Letherii can pick up the better qualities of the Malazan army, especially as they’ll be marching alongside the Malazans and one has to assume there will be just a little bit of fighting somewhere in their future. It’s also a nice bit of welcome humor in these scenes, especially that image of the Letherii marching round and round (and round and round) and Brys assuming there must be some educational purpose in it (beyond panicked stalling by Tarr and Cuttle). And I love later when Fiddler has his drive-by lecture on just what to do.
Lostara is in love. The mystery man isn’t much of a mystery as to his identity considering what we’ve seen already, but he is a mystery in other ways.
Now we get a very talky, expository-y scene with this meeting. A few recap points:
- Tavore is ticked off at the gods and wants nothing to do with being manipulated by them anymore
- The Malazan’s goals/acts may align with some gods’ desires, but that doesn’t make them allies
- Tavore is marching to war against the Forkrul Assail in Kolanse
- The heart of the Crippled God fell in Kolanse
- The Forkrul plan on using“ lots of blood” to open the Gate to their warren and hand out “justice”, which may also involve the CG’s heart
- Some gods wish to chain the Crippled God again, a final time, and drain him dry of power
- Thus there appears to be a grand convergence coming at Kolanse
- The Crippled God who knows what is coming for him, has been acting “without exception defensive[ly]”
- The CG is “desperate, probably terrified” and has failed in his defensive attempts
- The prior defeats of the Crippled God worked to the favor of manipulative gods
- The gods are at war amongst themselves
- Gods mentioned as being perhaps involved are: Hood, Togg, Fanderay, Fener, Oponn, Mael, K’rul, Kilmandaros
- Quick thinks the goal for Shadowthrone and Cotillion is to take down the status quo, fundamentally change all
- Quick thinks ST and Cotillion have some knowledge of the Azath and Gates that they are working from/toward
And a few responses:
- We’ve talked a lot about the reversal of readerly perspective re the Crippled God, and here it’s explicitly laid out. Hard not to sympathize at least a little with someone described as “terrified” and “desperate” and who has only been fighting a “defensive” battle against those who would “suck him dry.” (Crippled God and Fallen God—one entity Amanda, but perhaps a different tone in the names)
- We’ve seen convergences before and it appears we’re being set up for the granddaddy of them here, which would seem to make sense as we come to the close of this massive series. Will Erikson deliver on this seeming promise, or pull the rug out from under us, as has happened before when expectations are set up?
- It appears we’re going to have wheels within wheels within wheels as we go forward, as everyone has plans and counterplans and ally-plans and quasi-ally plans and pretending-I’m-your-ally-plans and clearly agendas are not wholly aligned. This could get messy. And confusing. And messy.
- I love Quick Ben. There. I said it.
This is a good reminder, and perhaps an important one, of Brys’ past experiences: his connection to “forgotten and abandoned gods.” His death and resurrection. A resurrection that has come with a strange restlessness/rootlessness.
Oh, I will miss Tehol and Bugg. And amidst the humor, let’s not forget how smart Tehol is—note how he thinks the great mystery of where the Malazans are marching off to (a mystery to the vast majority of Malazans) is “obvious.” I also like how Bugg asks to not be asked further about it so he doesn’t have to lie to the mortals.
Bottle’s meditation on the burden and reward of soldiering is both lovely and moving. And gives us a nice sense of why these are the people to do what they’re about to do (even if we don’t know what it is really that they they’re about to do—if that makes sense). I also have to chuckle at his close, which could almost be our author speaking to those critical of so many of these kinds of meditations among the grunts: “Gods, we’re just going for a walk here. I don’t need to be thinking any of this.” No. No you don’t Bottle. But as a reader, I’m glad you do.
So now we get a little explanation of why Fiddler’s reading was so intense—the result of Icarium’s attempt to create a new pattern/warren, that appears to have been not wholly successful, creating a “broken” warren instead. Since this gets mentioned later by Quick Ben, and we’ve got two groups (this one and later Sinn/Grub) talking about exploring this new warren, and we’ve already seen Icarium, perhaps we should file these new warrens and their broken nature?
Yet another red flag about Sinn, this from Ebron.
Dragons seem to be coming up an awful lot in discussion as well.
Another red flag from Sinn: “Feel this power! With it we can do anything! We can knock down gods!” And then we see Grub as reining her in a bit—will he always be able to do so?
Poor Hedge. Coming back from the dead is never as easy as one thinks it should be. But still, this is a moving scene and one can’t help but hope these two find a way through what is coming together.
Love Pores and Kindly.
And a nice little talky scene to effectively sum up warrens/readings/Icarium’s new pattern. Who says these books are opaque?
Did I mention I’m going to miss Tehol and Bugg?
Mostly a set-up chapter here, with some nice if talky recapping and explaining and a wonderful bit of humor, probably needed after the close of our last chapter.
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.