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 nineteen 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.
Just a note: Amanda is at a conference and will be catching up via the comments section. And we’d like to thank our readers for their patience with the chaos lately. And Bill is at the end of his teaching semester, which means final papers, projects, and exams. There might be another bump or two in the next two weeks, but we’re hoping to get back on our more regular path soon. Again, thanks for the patience.
At an ancient shrine, Kilmandaros, Sechul Lath, and Errastas recover from Draconus’ powerful arrival. Kilmandaros says the power of his return was meant to let them know he was back, but Sechul replies that it wasn’t just aimed at them, adding he believes Draconus wasn’t angry, since last time that happened, “nothing survived intact.” They realize this must mean Dragnipur is shattered and Rake is dead. After cycling through various reactions, they want to find out how it all happened. The Errant says it’s obvious; only Caladan Brood could have shattered the sword, though Kilmandaros says that still doesn’t answer the how, as Rake would never have given up the sword, even to Brood. When they wonder if Brood killed Rake, Kilmandaros says “Nothing could have so fractured that ancient alliance… It was friendship,” adding she herself would not have killed Rake had she the chance: “His existence had purpose. He was one you could rely upon, when justice needed a blade’s certain edge.” Sechul suggests the Errant trike now, while the Master of the Deck is probably himself still recovering from Draconus’ arrival, that he should make Paran think the trio had planned all this and had actually freed Draconus themselves. Sechul and Errastas prepare to head into one of the holds, while Kilmandaros stays behind, worried about losing control “so close to the Eleint.”
Errastas asks why Kilmandaros hates humans so much and she tells him, “Who among all the races is quickest to claim the right to judgment… Who holds that such right belongs to them and them alone… A woodcutter… is attacked and eaten by a striped cat… Before too long, there are no cats left in that forest. And humans consider that just. Righteous.” The Errant and Lath depart, seeking “one under a Jaghut stone.” Kilmandaros muses on the temple/shrine builders, the Tyrant who compelled thousands for his/her own glory, the inevitable backlash, nature’s indifference. She is joined there by Mael, who tells her Errastas is no longer Master of the Holds (they haven’t had one for millennia) and the two acknowledge that the Errant’s “summoning” had no true effect, that they are all deceiving him on that regard. He notes Sechul now walks behind the Errant and asks when he’ll stick the dagger in. When she tells him her son knows how to be subtle, Mael responds that the best kind of subtlety is when “no one ever even notices what you’ve ever done, ever… I know of only a few capable of such a thing. One is mortal and my closest friend, the other wasn’t mortal but is now dead. And then of course there is Draconus.” Kilmandaros scorns the idea of Draconus being subtle, until Mael points out that Draconus had needed to accomplish something and he did, “without lifting a hand. Without anyone even noticing his involvement. Only one man ever defeated him… Only one man could stand in the face of chaos and not blink… And Draconus walks free. Draconus has broken Kallor’s curse on him. He holds Darkness in a blade of annihilation. Not longer chained… no longer haunted by the terrible error in judgment that was Dragnipur.”
Kilmandaros refuses to believe it was all done via Draconus’ planning, but Mael replies that’s just his point about true subtlety—“Will we ever know?” He goes on to say they’re all vulnerable, that Draconus will either come after them or “pull loose all our secret ambitions.” He shocks her by revealing Rake was killed by Dessembrae wielding Vengeance, adding that “The hand that holds it must be pure in its desire.” He also warns her to leave Dessembrae alone, saying “he was as much a victim as anyone… Worse, he has been cheated, and used.” She also warns her off of Draconus, telling her he might be innocent of it all, and also if she goes against him she’ll die. He wonders if he is even sane anymore after all that time in the sword, and then asks “Would Rake have willingly freed a mad Draconus?’ She replies, “He had a purpose,” and Mael wryly remarks that somehow they still have faith in Rake even when he’s dead. He also adds that neither Darkness nor Light “faces away” any more. When Kilmandaros wonders what Rake has forced upon them, Mael says “A final accounting… An end to the stupid games… He now forces our hands—we are all stirred awake. Elders and Children both, moral and immortal… I think he wants us to deal with the Crippled God… That alien god’s power is anathema. We need to fix it.” Kilmandaros and he discuss the possibilities and then he asks her which hold the two others took and when he hears it was Death, he informs him that Rake killed Hood with Dragnipur first and that Shadowthrone and Cotillion were there. Kilmandaros does her best Seinfeld “Newman!” imitation then starts destroying rocks.
Mael watches Kilmandaros destroy a bunch of stones and muses on the concept of subtlety.
Brayderal thinks she is “not like the others… She alone possessed the legacy of the Inquisitors.” She has seen her relations trailing the Snake and she wonders why they haven’t just killed everyone so she can go back home, “before it’s too late.” She thinks of how every morning the children eat the corpses of the dead and recalls her father’s words that “Children are quickest to necessity… Be careful with these humans. To live, they will do anything.” The Snake also is using the dead to capture the Shard locusts to eat, and Brayderal wants to warn her kin they’d better hurry as the Snake’s survivors are getting stronger in some ways. She believes she has to kill Badalle, who suspects her, and thinks “I could unleash my Holy voice for the first time ever” to get her kin to move in, but she knows he needs to be patient, that they must have their reasons for not striking. She hates to look at the city they are nearing, “so powerful was her sense of wrongness.” She watches Rutt lead them toward it and knows she can’t do anything to stop their entry.
Badalle points out to Saddic how much Brayderal hates going into the city, saying, “The Quitter awakens.” She knows they can’t attack her though, as she would kill too many and call in her kin as well, who have the ability to “command… to drive a man to his knees.” She tells him “Held is the secret,” though she knows he doesn’t understand. She recalls the cruelty of the temples, before the Quitters came down and killed everyone, but says this temple is different: “It was built to warn us.” She tells him to keep an eye on Brayderal, warning him that danger is coming, that “The time of the Quitters has arrived.”
Inquisitor Sever leads a group of languishing Quitters (now confirmed to be Forkrul Assail if it wasn’t clear), only four of which are left alive from the original twelve—one (Brother Beleague) just died, others are wracked by wounds. Sever takes the blame for the mistaken judgment that would have assumed the Snake would have collapsed/surrendered/all died by now. As Sever thinks of her mate back home, it’s clear Brayderal is her daughter and that Beleague was her son. She’s a bit annoyed that these children have “refused their submission… did not accept that righteous truth.” They agree the City is impregnable to them and they can’t let the children enter it. Sever asks if Scorn, their last Adjudicator, will “lead them into peace” and they prepare for a “long day of slaughter.”
The Snake runs for the City, carrying Brayderal along in the rush. She worries because she can’t see where Badalle is, which frightens her, as Badalle “is transformed… is somehow quickened.”
Badalle wonders what her words can achieve. The Forkrul Assail appear and command the Snake to “Yield.” They all stop save Badalle, who lifts free and finds her voice: “Power in the word, but I can answer it.” She turns their own words against the Forkrul, killing several and driving the others into retreat. The Snake moves into the city.
A thousand T’lan Imass approach Tool and recognizing several of the Orshayn clan, he realizes the assumption they’d gone extinct had been in error. Ulag Togtil tells Tool they have indeed been summoned, but they believe not by Tool, and he thinks Tool can refuse them. He also introduces the others, informing Tool they were “descendants of those who sought to follow Kilava when she rejected the First Ritual,” though she did not desire followers. Nom Kala finds Tool to not match up to the legend. Tool tells the Imass he seeks not battle but “an accounting” with Olar Ethil. Nom Kala tells Tool they have no warleader, that they “fought” against the humans’ overwhelming numbers by “keeping alive our stories, our ways of living. And by hiding,” though they eventually ran out of places to hide. When they agree to go with Tool, he tells Ula “you bow to Olar Ethil’s desires.” To which Ulag replies, “that perception may lead to carelessness on her part.”
Rystalle Ev and wonders if Tool can relieve the Imass of “the burden of despair,” can give them Reasons to stand, reasons to stand against.” Kalt tells her he once saw Tool defeat a challenger with consummate skill, but then stand “as one defeated… weary of the necessity.” They agree this is a warrior they could follow.
Atri-Ceda Aranict listens as the mages recover from Draconus’ arrival. She recalls Quick Ben’s immediate understanding of what her moving earth had meant and how he’d had her reassigned to his cadre. She and Bottle go into Quick Ben’s tent. Quick ben tells them:
Bastards reaching out to me… Do I want a conversation? No, I do not… Burn trembles, the Gate of Starvald Demelain rages with fire, and cruel twisted warrens the like of which we’ve never seen now lie in wait—when will they awaken? What will they deliver?… Who brokered this whole damn mess?… Aye. Shadowthrone and Cotillion. Does the Adjunct really believe she chooses her own path… There’s T’lan Imass out there!… Who commands them?… She [Tavore] thinks she can cheat them… she was the pre-eminent scholar of the lives of Kellanved, Dancer, and Dassem… even Tayschrenn… Banaschar… is her potential emissary should Tayschrenn finally decide to do something… Draconus changes everything, and I’m the only one who can stand against him… But don’t think for a moment I’m doing it for Shadowthrone and Cotillion… or the Adjunct. All that time in Dragnipur—it’s changed him. He was never so subtle before—imagine, a gentle invitation to converse.
Aranict unknowingly opens a channel to Draconus, who doesn’t barrel through, which tells them something. Quick tells her she should check on Brys, with Bottle explaining that “The dad never quite come back all the way. Not while there was a god of death. It may be that Brys is now awakened. To everything he once was.”
Smiles and Cuttle discuss the Akryn fighting the Barghast and the upcoming trip across the Wastelands. Smiles says Cuttle is right, “None of it made sense. Never did, never will… We march around and cut up other people, and they do t he same to us—if they can… [Lether] got a decent King and people can breathe easy and go about their lives—but what’s in those lives? Scraping for the next bag of coins… It ain’t for nothing.” Tarr replies, “You want meaning? Make it up. You want truth? Invent it… You make worlds inside your head and worlds outside, but only the one inside counts for anything. It’s where you find peace.” He tells her they’re heading for a war because otherwise Tavore would have disbanded the army, but Smiles says maybe she’s just selfish.
Cuttle finds Fiddler in bad shape and talks about how the Adjunct has them on the fast march and also that Fiddler is making the squad nervous. Fiddler talks about fishing, says Quick Ben needs to show himself, says “Darkness got an edge”, the “biggest wolf of all has returned,” and the Adjunct “don’t stand a chance.”
I love the irony of this chapter’s opening, with Kilmandaros of all people “Moving like one bludgeoned.”
I also like the way this chapter continues to hype of the return of Draconus, with the impact on the powerful and the sensitive, the chilling reference to how last time he got angry nothing survived (And I’m thinking Draconus might get angry at some point), and Mael being impressed by Draconus’ subtlety.
And also how it recalls Rake, such a great character and momentous moment and it’s good to have that reminder of him. I especially liked the line “His existence had purpose” and the way that even after his death, people still have faith in his will.
Humans are not getting a lot of good press lately. This is the second time in not so many pages we’ve had somebody bemoaning the fact that nobody wiped humanity out. I’m not sure I can say I “like” it, but I admire the fact that Kilmandaros uses an example of humanity wiping out an animal because one of its kind killed a human, rather than that they hurt some intelligent race. And as often occurs, I’m not sure how one can read this part of the “fantasy” novel and not make some pretty direct connections to the real world. For instance, to name just one animal also prominently mentioned in this series, we did a pretty good job on those pesky wolves.
We’ve seen someone under a Jaghut stone before.
The whole ephemeral nature of monuments with regard to nature is a well-worn path (“Look on my works ye Mighty and despair”), but I liked how rather than simply give us that old standby (which is an oldie but a goodie in my mind), Erikson instead adds in the bit about how people will “destroy it long before nature works its measured erosion.”
This is a lovely poetic line/image from Mael: “Only the roots of the stones still hold moisture. I have followed your journey in the morning mists, in the damp breaths of the beasts.”
This is a surprisingly expositive conversation between Mael and Kilmandaros, and a nice bit of a quickly efficient reminder of events with regard to Rake’s death. It has been a while after all. And perhaps the most expositive segment in the whole thing might be this with regard to Rake’s endgame: “A final accounting. An end to the stupid games… he wants us to deal with the Crippled God.”
But perhaps my favorite part is the news for Kilmandaros about Shadowthrone and Cotillion and her response to it. I love picturing that.
But of course, the delight I’m guessing many of us take in that scene is quickly turned to its opposite with the move to the Snake. And this is another surprisingly revealing few scenes, with everything laid out in terms of who/what Brayderal is, of what the Quitters are, of their ability to command via voice.
There are a lot of heartbreaking lines in this series. And I mean a lot. But this has to rank up there with them, not only for this series but also for again its relevance to our world: “Children are quickest to necessity. They can make any world normal.” This line to me is more tragic than the graphic nature of the corpses and the sucking of marrow from the bones.
I like the lesson of Rutt hunting the hunters (using the corpses to catch the Shards) as it foreshadows Badalle hunting the hunters—turning their power on them.
I was pretty sure I think when I read this my first time that Badalle would in fact find out that words have power. After all, we’ve spent a lot of time as readers feeling the power of her words, and this is coming through the voice/mind of a writer after all. And it’s hard not to hear that writer in this:
I have nothing but words… What can words achieve? Here in this hard, real place?… What happens to all I say, once the words slip into them? Alchemies. Sometimes the mixture froths and bubbles. Sometimes it boils. Sometimes nothing stirs and the potion lies ahead, cold and grey as mud. Who can know? Who can predict? I speak softly when all that I say is a howl.
This series has, at many times, been both a howl and a plea, a howl at the world’s cruelty and indifference and apathy, a plea for compassion and empathy, for awareness.
Though I wonder if getting Brayderal’s POV here dilutes the impact a bit of her ability to turn the words against the Forkrul Assail.
Tool’s storyline here is nicely set up for suspense as we’re not quite sure where he’s going with this—how much of this is Olar Ethil? How much is Tool? And we have in the mix as well some seemingly pretty independent Imass—what influence might they have?
And speaking of wild cards—Shadowthrone and Cotillion, Tavore who wants to cheat them, and then a mage who says he is the only one who can stand against Draconus. Draconus. And here you should pause a moment and recall that scene of Draconus stepping out into this world. And then recall the impact that arrival had in that world. Even on gods. And here we have Quick Ben saying he can stand against him. Tell me you don’t want to see that. Boy, I love that character.
I like the Atri-Ceda here as well. That grabbing the candle, and Quick Ben’s look as she uses it to light her smoker, alone was worth the price of entry to this scene.
Tarr has shown some nice growth in this series. It would be interesting (and no, I’m not volunteering) to go through these books, excise all the parts dealing with single characters, and lay them out in a line to chart their growth throughout, starting from their first appearance all the way through each subsequent one and on to their last one. He has a lot of nice lines in this conversation, including the ones about making one’s own meaning and truth, but the one that strikes me as most pertinent was this one: “I’m a soldier and so are you. What more do you want?”
As much as I liked this scene, I could have done without the moths to the flame at the end.
From there to Fiddler, and another reference to Quick Ben coming out from the shadows and “showing himself.” Will we see indeed see this? And I’m guessing no reader at this point is counting out Tavore. When Fid says, “She don’t stand a chance,” even coming from Fiddler, it’s very hard for me to imagine anyone nodding in agreement.