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 eighteen 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.
Yan Tovis enters Kharkanas, which is lifeless and overgrown but still surprisingly well preserved. As she walks, she thinks how she and her brother are so different—she seeing indecision as a “way of life” and her brother being exactly opposite—two people “meant to stand together… like counterweights… and in that tense balance they might find the wisdom to rule” their people. She realizes she needs him. Her vanguard follows behind, led by Pully and Skwish, Brevity and Pithy. She tells the latter to get the people settled but not spread out, then heads to the Citadel to find Yedan Derryg.
The Great Hall is in partial ruins and Yedan can feel old magic still in the place. He moves through and into the temple, the Terondai and recalls the legends of the place: that darkness was “absolute [and] only the true children of the Mother could survive in such a realm,” but that “Light seeped in with the wounding of the Mother—a wounding she chose to permit… and then the birthing that came of it.” As he dismisses the legends as “likely little more than nonsense,” he notes the lack of valuables in the area and finds it odd is people’s legends had made no mention of looting, since their ancestors had supposedly been there at the end, though he wonders what their role was: “Who in the name of the Shore were we? Their damned servants? Their slaves?” He wonders too about their titles and what it is they claimed to rule. His thoughts are interrupted by the arrival of Twilight, who tells him to get his horse out of the temple. She’s surprised at his suggestion they occupy the city, and he replies that it was once their home and it is their destiny to make it so again. But she says none of their legends said they ruled there, and so they will move on to the forest and past, to “where it started. Our true home. The First Shore.” When he replies they don’t even know what that means, she says they’ll at least finally find out.
Yedan and Twilight leave the chamber. Something weird happens there.
Brevity and Pithy find the two witches sleeping/dreaming.
Sandalath flashes back via a dream. At the edge of the temple, she looks down on Newly-Blind Gallan, who has just gouged out his own eyes so as to return to the world of darkness. She sends Orfantal (her son) off to find a priestess. She wakes to the line, “What’s broken cannot be mended. You broke us, but that is not all—see what you have done.” She wakes and Withal asks her what was broken, having heard her speak in her sleep. Upset, she wanders off, thinking some one of the ancient races should have seen the threat of humanity and nipped it in the bud. She wonders why the Nachts had attached themselves to Withal, what their connections to the Crippled God and to Mael are, and why they are currently digging a hole. Withal asks her about her past, and she tells him to read Forge of Darkness and its sequels. OK, actually, she tells him, “There were factions—a power struggle… for generations… everything changed… Alliances, betrayals, war pacts, treacheries… I was a hostage… Everything was breaking down.” And she thinks to herself, “We were supposed to be sacrosanct.” She says none of it matters, she can’t go back to it anyway. They continue on toward Kharkanas.
Sandalath flashes back to Orfantal asking why Gallan is eating his eyes. She thinks Gallan should have eaten his tongue, since “if we said everything we could say to each other, we’d have all killed each other long ago.”
“Taralack Veed” thinks how because he had felt bad about hurting someone, he has turned that bad feeling outward rather than inward. Recalling he has killed, he now thinks he will kill again. He enters the K’Chain Che’Malle city where Icarium is.
Sulkit the drone works on the city’s mechanisms as the ghost worries over Veed’s entry. The “others” argue over whether to continue or stop, and Taxilian says, “We must let this happen… in what the drone does we will find our salvation.”
“Veed” “kills” “Nappet,” tells the “ghost” that it was he who summoned “Veed,” and demands the “ghost” lead him to the “others” so he can “kill” “them” before we all drown in air quotes.
Torrent feels his hate growing, and Olar Ethil tells him she has been “feeding it” because it amuses her, but it has always been inside him. She feels a gate cracking open and says, “the road will welcome what comes through. And such a road!” They head for the Spires of the Awl’s legends.
Toc has been missing for days, and the group heads east as that was the direction Toc had been leading them.
Yedan and Yan Tovis head into the Blackwood Forest, each of them feeling intense pressure building into pain as they near its end, such pressure that they begin to bleed from their eyes and nose. Yedan tells her it isn’t what awaits them but what lies behind them—“Kharkanas is empty no longer.” She wonders of Mother Dark has returned as they continue on to arrive at the First Shore.
As clouds move in, the Akrynnai and Barghast battle begins. Strahl stands before the Senan and declares: “Bakal… Onos Toolan. Before him Humbral Taur. We came in search of an enemy. We came seeking a war… Not this enemy! Not this war!” He leads the Senan away from battle.
Maral Eb is bummed.
Sceptre Irkullas is not.
Sekara is angry. And pragmatic.
The clouds arrive. Everyone dies.
Veed kills Asane, Last, Sheb. Sulkit has finished his work and is now a J’an Sentinel. Veed kills Rautos and then “talks” to Feather Witch and Taxilian, telling her Icarium had tried to do what K’rul had, create warrens. Icarium had wanted to “trap him [self] in time.” Feather Witch and Taxilian disappear, and Veed tells Icarium the Sentinel sees only him, “The Nest is ready, the flavours altered to your tastes.” Icarium feels “reborn” and steps forward to take control of the Nest.
Yan Tovis and Yedan look on the First Shore. The beach glows and as they examine it they realize it is made of bone, not sand. The sea rises like a wall, but rather than water it is light. Yedan says, “Memories return. When they walked out from the Light, their purity blinded us. We thought that a blessing, when in truth it was an attack. When we shielded our eyes, we freed them to indulge their treacherous ways.” When Yan Tovis interrupts to say she knows the story, he responds that they know it differently as the Watch “serves the Shore in its own ways.… The Queen is Twilight [and] is the first defender against the legions of light that would destroy darkness. But we did not ask for this. Mother Dark yielded and so to mark that yielding, Twilight relives it.” She wonders how they could have been so superstitious back then, pointing to the sea and saying, “This is the true border of Thryllan… The First Shore is the shore between Darkness and Light. We thought we were born on this shore… but that cannot be true. The shore destroys.” He asks her why there are so few Liosan, why Light is so weak in all the other worlds. She answers that if it were not there’d be no life. He says he can’t say, but he believes that “Mother Dark and Father Light, in binding themselves to each other, in turn bound their fates. And when she turned away, so did he. He had no choice—they had become forces intertwined, perfect reflections. Father Light abandoned his children and they became a people lost—and lost they remain.” When Yan Tovis says the Andii escaped, he agrees, telling her they were the means: “In Twilight was born Shadow.” But she argues that makes no sense, because “Shadow was the bastard get of Dark and Light, commanded by neither.” He tells her though it is everywhere and it was shattered, that the bones on the beach belong to the Shake: “We were assailed from both sides… Shadow was first shattered by the legions of Andii and the legions of Liosan. Purity cannot abide imperfection. In the eyes of purity, it becomes and abomination.” When she responds that Shadow was the realm of the Edur and had nothing to do with the Shake, he calls the Edur, “our very own bastard get.” He continues to explain their background: Scar Bandaris, the last prince of the Edur. King, I suppose by then. He saw in us the sins not of the father, but of the mother. He left us and took all the Edur with him. He told us to hold, to ensure his escape… I wonder if the last of us left set out on his trail with vengeance in mind, or was it because we had nowhere else to go? By then, Shadow had become the battlefield of every Elder force, not just the Tiste—it was being torn apart… every territory… warrens. Every world was made an island, isolated in an ocean of chaos… The Watch… held until we were told to withdraw… The Road was open then.” She tells him it was opened by Gallan, the Seneschal of the Court of Mages, ordered to do so by Silchas Ruin, who saw how few Shake remained, saw the destruction, and dropped his broken Hust sword on the Shore. When Gallan arrived, his companion an Andii woman, he told the Twilight that Darkness had left for new worlds, and that Ruin (“Winged Grief”) had commanded him to make a road for the survivors and charge them to remember the day. Yedan asks what happened to the sword, and when she says Gallan’s companion threw it into the sea, he says it would have healed by now, and that the Light would have rejected it. He goes in search, telling her they can go back to the city once Mother Dark has fully returned.
Olar Ethil wonders what Errastas will do now. Torrent points out some odd carriage tracks that seem to appear from nowhere. She says they’ll worry about it later, then says “The First Temple’s a mess… We have to move on, find another.” They head onward.
Sandalath collapses at the bridge of Kharkanas and the Nachts disappear, blood running from her mouth as she repeats the same line about being broken. She recovers a bit and tells Withal Mother Dark is back. As Withal goes to get water, he complains aloud about the gods “fuck [ing] with a thousand million lives” and tells them to “get lost,” adding at the end, “As for my wife, hasn’t she suffered enough?” A voice in his head tells him yes.
The Barghast-Akrynnai battlefield buckles and heaves, weapons explode, the earth splits, the air itself opens. A figure steps out amidst chaos and lightning and a vortex of flesh and destruction. A sword, “bleeding darkness,” forms in his hand. He looks around at the scene, says, “Ah, my love. Forgive me,” and heads out.
Draconus is back.
I love this idea of Yan Tovis and Yedan Derryg being equal and opposites of one another, so that leadership of the Shake is conducted through a combination of indecision and absolute certainty. This balance—with each exerting force on each other—seems to be a good way of making sure that any bad decisions can be negated:
“They were meant to stand together, meant to fix pressure each upon the other like the counterweights at either end of the bridge, and in that tense balance they might find the wisdom to rule.”
I do envy those of you who have read Forge of Darkness, because it seems that this passage where Yedan walks into the ruins of the Citadel will be ripe with foreshadowing and little things to pick up and enrich the reading of both books.
Of course, for the first time reader, it just opens up a swathe of questions as to what exactly happened in this place, especially with things like this being written:
“Currents of power still drifted in this place, thick with discordant emotions. Horror, grief, black rage and terrible agony. Madness had descended upon this citadel, and blood had drenched the world.”
Hmm, the Azathanai—is there some link here to the Azath Houses? And was it the Azathanai that caused Mother Dark to bring forth light and shadow to accompany darkness and create balance: “Without ground, there can be no sky?”
In fact, first with the nature of Yan Tovis and Yedan Derryg’s balance of leadership, and now this reference to the ideas of the Azathanai, we are being pushed towards the idea and nature of balance, with equal and opposing forces. And it is certainly something that has been occurring throughout this book, talking about chaos and life, magic and otataral etc.
Pithy and Brevity do make me smile—in a dark way, obviously!
“What should we do?”
“I’m tempted to bury them.”
“But they ain’t dead.”
“I know. But opportunities like this don’t come every day.”
Ugh….. Gallan ate his eyes?! In front of Sandalath’s son?
Looks like we have way more to learn about Sandalath, going by her whole “And that is the bitter truth. I have not mended. After all this time…” What broke her?
We’ve seen this view of mortals before, right back in Gardens of the Moon, I think—the idea that they’re so far beneath the ascendant and gods walking among them, and yet have the power to effect change and cause disruption.
“More to the point, if the rest of us hadn’t sneered in our idle witnessing of their pathetic efforts—if we’d wised up, in fact, one or all of us would have wiped them out long ago. Tiste Andii, Jaghut, K’Chain Che’Malle, Forkrul Assail.”
Interesting that we’re seeing all of those players starting to emerge in different storylines. And also interesting that nothing is mentioned by Sandalath of the T’lan Imass.
Is Sandalath sensing the awakening of Mother Dark when she says: “But… somewhere far below the surface, in depths unimaginable… something moves”?
Hmm, so it seems that Icarium has “resurrected” Veed in order to sort out the various personalities within his head?
Why does Olar Ethil need people to hate? Does she think that this will drive them to vengeance more surely? And vengeance against who or what?
I must confess, I was quite surprised by the Senan being led away from the field by Strahl. I mean, I’ve been hoping to see some sign that these Barghast are not just mindless and heartless barbarians—I don’t know if this is actually what I’m looking for, but good to see the most despicable of the Barghast left high and dry when the Senan leave!
These fight scenes are short, sharp and fantastically written little glimpses into the overall chaos of the battle. I also like how we’re starting to see hints that all is not quite right—the arrows punching through armour they should never have penetrated, the frost burning into people’s eyes, the bowstrings shivering into sparkling dust. Something is coming. Something is happening.
It is especially chilling to see Marab El fused with the body of the soldier he has just been fighting.
Oh, this is just superb: “Thousands of warriors frozen in the clinches of murder, as if a mad artist had sought to paint rage, in all its frayed shrouds of senseless destruction.” What perfectly chosen words.
I am glad that Icarium is sort of put back together again now, because I would prefer his storyline to become more focused than simply a bunch of ghosts wandering around.
Umm. That is mostly what I have to say about the conversation between Yan Tovis and Yedan. Umm. There are bits that seem to be something I should recognise and put together with other things I have read in the series, but altogether, it’s pretty mystifying.
And, hell, THAT is the way to end a chapter! Draconus’ return is so suitably badass and epic.
We’ve had a lot of references throughout the series, but especially lately (just last chapter for instance, with the newly risen T’lan Imass) to the false nature of stories and legends, of “history,” and we see this again with Yedan, as he recalls the “history” or stories of Light and Darkness and then thinks of them as “Secret legends, likely little more than nonsense.” History has always been a shifty thing in this series, and we would be wise as readers amongst all the references to past characters and deeds to keep that in mind. As we eventually work our way through to the Forge of Darkness series (in, you know, 2021), we will see in more concrete form just what might have been lost, twisted, or gained with regard particularly to the Tiste, the Shake, the Edur, etc. For those who are have read FoD and who do not want to wait until then, the spoiler thread is probably a better place to discuss the Shake history that gets referenced so much in this chapter, though that’s just a thought and not any sort of decree from on high.
We already know as readers that Mother Dark is not gone, so when we see that hint of something entering the temple, and hear what sounds like a sob, it probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise later in the chapter when Yedan tells Twilight that Mother Dark has returned. Though the question, of course, becomes what does that mean? For the Tiste Andii. For the Shake. For Sandalath on her way and who if you recall from Chapter Two and Fiddler’s reading was named “Queen of Dark.” And for all the godly machinations going on.
And speaking of Sandalath, there’s a lovely memory we flash back to, huh? Not sure I needed the eating of the eyes, or the hacking them back up, though it does give a nice segue into the poet should have eaten his tongue, but still. And I can’t recall if we’ve had this wholly confirmed or not, but just in case, we do get the confirmation that she is mother to Orfantal (and thus to Korlat).
What has Sandalath not mended from? And will she ever? Nearing the end of this series, there is not a lot of time for a mending, meaning she will probably either heal somehow, or that brokenness will play some part (one would assume a la Chekhov’s Gun).
Based on Sandalath’s musings on humans and the Elder races, none of them ever heard the “He had high hopes” song about the ant and the rubber tree plant. They all had their chance to knock out the humans and didn’t (interesting she leaves out the Imass).
“Cute” is just not a word I associate with Sandalath.
Her description of her life as a hostage, when she says, “We were supposed to be sacrosanct,” would seem to imply some sort of violation of a pact that hostages were not to be harmed.
I know people have mixed feelings about the Icarium storyline. I kind of like it myself. I like the conceit of the various parts in his head acting as if they are alive with part of Icarium being the “ghost” flitting around. And then the “healing” that takes place when the extra personalities are conjoined and suppressed via being killed by Veed. There’s a nice bit of metaphor and symmetry to it. And I like how rather than just have them be empty vessels, just the conceit, they become actual characters rather than throwaways. And are employed in the service of theme as well, as in Veed’s insight into how all too often we turn the anger that should be directed against ourselves outward, or how Last gives us yet another lesson in environmental destruction with the horrid imagery of the clear-cut land and the idea of extinction, another especially hard-hit thematic thread in this book. I like that clever move in contrasting reactions from Last to Sheb in terms of one finding his extinction “deserved” and “justice” and the other fleeing in the surety that he didn’t deserve what was coming.
It seems Olar Ethil is collecting/making a lot of haters—Tool, Toc, Torrent (hmm, or maybe she’s just collecting folks whose names start with T?). One has to wonder why.
What gate does she refer to “cracking open”? We’ve had several mentioned in this book.
It’s an interesting echo we get of images—Torrent pictures a Letherii standing atop a pile of bones (his own face a skull) and Setoc pictures Toc standing atop a mountain of bones.
So I’m pretty sure when I read this the first time, I had a pretty good idea what the Senan were going to do. Was anyone surprised at Strahl leading them away from the fight? Even though I wasn’t surprised, I found Strahl’s speech and the shout at the end a nicely effective touch. Maybe we’ll have some Barghast to root for?
I also liked the misdirection, somewhat, of the focus on the clouds and the storm, as we think we know what’s coming but it turns out to be something wholly different (if I’m reading this right). We think it’s going to be the same sort of “clouds” or storm that struck that last battle scene, the same clouds that have wiped out others on the plains, but instead it turns out to be a different cause—Draconus stepping into the world (more on him later). It’s nicely played out to toy with what has already been set up. I also liked how the scene and suspense over what’s happening is increased via the quick shifts among POV, never letting us linger enough to get a full sense of what’s happening until the very end. Especially the way we don’t know if Irkullas is actually seeing/hearing a “figure emerging from the darkness”—is this another soldier? A hallucination? Death? A good use of structure.
OK, as mentioned, I think those of us who have read ahead might want to have the discussion of what Yedan and Twilight find and converse about in the spoiler thread, or at least, be somewhat circumspect as to what we say. But I’d be curious to see what first-time readers make of this conversation. It’s been a long, long time obviously, but I’m pretty sure I was mostly completely lost when I read the first time. The concrete parts were the Gallan opening the road at Ruin’s command (not necessarily knowing why, but just that it seemed easy to understand the “what” in that bit as opposed to the whole Mother Dark/Father Light, Edur-Shake-Andii thing. The other bit that seemed pretty concrete was that Ruin had a kickass sword that can “heal” itself. And after seeing Yedan deal with the Liosan and FA earlier with his normal weapons, you just have to be rooting for him to find the “Hust sword” on this beach.
Hmmm, where’s that carriage going?
C’mon, seriously. Give me that Draconus scene on the big screen. Please. That’s got to be on the top ten cinematic scenes in this series. And a return like that, a character like that, has to end a chapter. And get short sentences, each one driving home with impact. Each shorter than the other, until you get just his name. Great ending. Great ending. A formidable character obviously. A name to cause a lot of quaking in fear. But still this is, one assumes, a Draconus changed by his long tenure in the sword and especially by the events at the very end. As evidence of this, perhaps, we are given a Draconus who enters with an apology on his lips. To Mother Dark? Maybe for Rake’s death? Maybe for past events? Maybe even for all the dead crunching underfoot?
This has been a book of rebirths/returns/reawakenings: Draconus back in the world, Mother Dark returning to Kharkanas, the Shake returning to the Shore, Tool returning as a T’lan Imass, the other Imass rising, Jaghut fighting in the world again, beasts entering the world from another, Killy and Sechul Lath back meddling. Hints of others possibly—dragons, the Otataral Dragon. Lots and lots of folks coming back. Any more to come? This could be one heck of a convergence…
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.