Welcome to the Malazan Re-read 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 Twelve of Toll the Hounds (TtH).
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.
A few notes: Amanda is off in NYC for Book Expo (Have fun Amanda!) and thus will miss the next two or three posts. So Amanda misses less, and since this is one of our longer chapters, we’re going to split this one and Bill will be commenting solo today and Friday. We’ll also be splitting Chapter Thirteen (one of the two longest ones left, along with Seventeen). Going forward, Chapter 17 definitely will be split, while Chapters 15 and 18 may be as well; they are long, but sometimes the split is determined as much by what happens as by how many pages. Finally, fair warning that Bill will be hit and miss as we near the end as he’ll be driving to Alaska, then around central Alaska, then back from Alaska (assuming the grizzlies have behaved themselves).
Endest flashes back to a scene in the old forest (Suruth Common) he was sent to witness by the High Priestess back in Kharkanas. In the near distance, the forges and factories of the city belch out smoke and fire as they ready materials for war. Andarist, Rake, and Silchas Ruin arrive and greet him contemptuously. When Ruin objects to discussing matters in front of the temple representative, Rake says perhaps it will keep the Temple “neutral.” When Ruin asks why the Temple would have more faith in the three brothers than other Andii, Endest replies, “You three are not standing here trying to kill each other.” They discuss their plans and alliances, mentioning other Andii such as Hish Tulla, Vanut Degalla, Manalle, and others. Silchas notes he is “speaking of the greatest crime of all, the spilling of kin’s blood,” and asks Rake, horrified, what they are doing. Rake answers they’ll deal with it, adding, “The one who will break our hearts stands before us. Andarist, who chooses to turn away.” Andarist mocks the idea it was a choice, saying “One of us, it must be, at least one of us, and I have no desire to walk your path. I have not the courage for such a thing. The courage and the cruel madness. Mine is the easiest task—I am to do nothing.” To which Ruin tearily replies, “Until I betray you.” Endest thinks how centuries down the road he is still unsure if everything that ensued was planned: “such destruction, the sheer audacity of the treachery—could they have meant all of that.” He remembers when he reported back to the priestess, she merely “turned away.”
Brood and Endest discuss gifts, Endest saying, “We give so that we can then justify taking it back,” arguing that’s the way of all races/worlds. Brood disagrees, saying not the Jaghut, who “gave far more than they took. Excepting the Tyrants, of course.” He also argues against the Endest’s characterization of them as “stewards,” saying it implies an arrogance that wasn’t present. He calls the Forkrul Assail the Jaghut’s “opposites . . . the purest manifestation of arrogance and separation.” When Endest asks if there had been war, Brood implies it continues still, “far way from here.” Crone’s arrival interrupts the conversation, telling Endest Rake summons him.
Seerdomin kills what he thinks is the last of the conspirators (Harak). He ponders the agony of soldiers who have fought an unjust war, the ravaging guilt that often leads many to suicide, though he hasn’t taken that path. He thinks he will fight for justice, for Black Coral, for humanity, despite no hope of redemption for him, though he believes it a paradox, as “one cannot murder in the name of justice.”
Salind considers redemption and morality and justice, the lack of a “moral compass” in the Redeemer faith as he embraces all, punishes none, and thinks it an “abomination.” She imagines building up a church and how it would become corrupt over time, breed cynicism, lead to a loss of faith in religion. She walks to the Barrow, thinking, “There was meaning in Seerdomin’s refusal of the easy path. In his prayers that asked either something the Redeemer could not grant or nothing at all.” She stops at the Barrow to demand answers of the Redeemer, but is grabbed by Gradithan, who orders Monkrat to get some saemankelyk so she can open up a “path straight to [the Redeemer].” They make her drink.
Spinnock finds Salind missing and heads out to the Scour tavern. Seerdomin enters, smelling of blood. Spinnock confesses he’s lost his heart and Seerdomin mistakenly believes he means the High Priestess. When Spinnock corrects him (not saying it is Salind), Seerdomin calls him a fool. Seerdomin explains he’s killed eleven people (“so far”) that were conspiring against the Andii. Spinnock says it was unnecessary and Seerdomin agrees, but says he did it to show humans could take care of their own problems sometimes and to keep the blood off Andii hands. Spinnock recalls the tale of Whiskeyjack trying to keep from Rake the burden of killing the Pannion witches. They return to discussing Spinnock’s love and when Seerdomin realizes it is Salind, who has gone back to the Barrow, he is horrified at what awaits her there. Seerdomin rushes out.
Samar Dev resents the easy companionship Karsa and Traveller have fallen into as they trade tales (Traveller telling of Ereko, Karsa of his two friends Bairoth and Delum). Traveller discusses the old history of the Empire, Kellanved’s Napan commanders, all secretly sworn to Surly as the heir to the crown of Nap Isles, though Traveller isn’t sure she really was. He calls Urko, Crust, Nok, “all of them quick to fanaticism, willing to do anything and everything to advance the Empire.” Karsa wonders if they were just using Kellanved to advance Surly, but Traveller explains after Kellanved’s “death,” all of them save Nok “drowned.” Samar reminds them there was also Dassem Ultor, who was Dal Honese, saying Laseen had him assassinated. They discuss how the Edur occupied Lether while the Malazan conquered Seven Cities, saying Kellanved knew the difference. Karsa declares his intent to destroy civilization and Traveller quotes Duiker: “The first law of the multitude is conformity. Civilization is the mechanism of controlling and maintaining that multitude. The more civilized a nation, the more conformed its population . . . until multiplicity wages war with conformity. The former grows ever wilder, ever more dysfunctional in its extremities, while the latter seeks to increase its measure of control, until such efforts acquire diabolical tyranny.”
I don’t recall if we’ve ever had such a vivid image of Kharkanas before (please correct me if I’m wrong). It seems to me this comes as a sharp contrast to what we might have expected—the belching forges, the rain of ash, the almost Dickensian or Blakeian vision. The defoliation and extinction. It’s all a bit “Scouring of the Shire” isn’t it? I know we’ve had these environmental issues arise before, these warnings about what happens to those who destroy the world around them, but I don’t remember it being linked to Kharkanas in earlier books. I find it interesting that the same society/civilization that is unwise with regard to its treatment of its natural surroundings is also unwise as evidenced by its civil war. Not necessarily a cause and effect, but perhaps both symptoms of the same problem.
And here is another example of that near-science we’ve seen a surprising amount of in this novel: the Andii scholar’s treatise on the carbon dioxide-oxygen-plant cycle. Though more poetic, in true Andii fashion—the “blessing of breath, the gift of life.”
I find it humorous that even millennia ago, Endest is feeling bewildered by Rake.
I know we’re getting a lot of this backbackbackstory in the Kharkanas trilogy (or I should say, a version of this story), so there might have been some idea of actually telling it at the time of writing this. But I’m not sure there are many authors who would give us such precise details, such maddeningly precise details—names, plots—of events that we’re not going to read about. It seems to me that usually these sort of legends are wholly removed from events of the main narrative or they are fully explained (think of the long songs in LotR, for instance). I always like how this sort of frustrating reference, despite its frustrating effect, adds to the richness of this universe.
But arrggh, how frustrating, huh? What was the plan? What was the betrayal? What was the turning away? Why did Endest expect the High Priestess to be “outraged”? Did it go as planned? At least we’re closer to finding out now than we were when some of us read this scene for the first time.
I loved that with prescient symbolism—“she had but turned away.”
Another nice scene shift—from the fires of the blackwood trees to Brood’s campfire.
Reading these lines: “Until the forging of the ice—defending against the Imass—the Jaghut gave far more than they took. Excepting the Tyrants, of course, which is what made such tyranny all the more reprehensible in the eyes of the Jaghut,” and the lines about how (in Brood’s mind) the Jaghut showed no arrogance. It might be a good idea to cast one’s mind back to how we were first introduced to the idea of Jaghut and how far we’ve come from that image of them. And perhaps to keep that in mind with others as we keep reading.
“If you destroy the things around you, eventually you destroy yourself. It is arrogance that asserts a kind of separation, and from that notion that we can shape and reshape the world to suit our purposes, and that we can use it . . . “ So glad fantasy is “escapist” literature, with little to say about the real world we move in. Sigh.
It’s been a while since we’ve had any real talk of the Forkrul Assail, and this is a bit of a bombshell, this idea of an ongoing war involving them. File away. These lines are also interesting in that passage:
“Far away from here friend, which is well. Imagine what your Lord might elect to do, if it was otherwise.”
He would intervene. He would not be able to stop himself.
One might wonder, is distance alone enough to stop Rake from doing anything?
I find it more than a little ironic that Seerdomin’s night of slaughter, while effective in the most concrete way, is actually driving the “liberators’” thoughts right down the exact wrong path—this is all the Andii, see how they have secrets, brutal tyrannical police, etc. Well, while the liberators have thoughts, that is. Which doesn’t appear to be for long.
Another small little throwaway detail that shows some richness of worldbuilding, but more importantly in my mind, some integrity of world building. The fact that the battlefield from the Pannion war isn’t simply glossed over—it still exists as a lengthy reminder of what horror happened there, filled still with “charred trees, fragments of mangled armor, the occasional leather boot, and here and there in the dead soil, jutting bones.” Sure, as we’ve seen again and again, nature will eventually reclaim much, then most, then all. But it takes time, and too often those things are ignored in other works. It’s like you can still wander Civil War battlefields, battlefields from the Native American wars, even a picked over one like Little Bighorn, and still find these remnants. The world takes longer to recover from our personal horrors of civilization than we like to think.
Seerdomin’s thoughts on war and unjust war and the effect of either on the soldiers who fight in them is another layer of reality over this fantasy world and we certainly have our historical and contemporary versions (numbers may vary depending on point of view). As a sidelight, I’ve just finished Daniel Abraham’s The Tyrant’s Law—part of his The Dagger and the Coin series—and this book depicts a perfect example of how one society tries to ensure this problem doesn’t exist by manufacturing the “just” part of the war they’re about to embark on. Something again with real-world analogues. If you haven’t read any Abraham, my the way, I highly, highly recommend it, as I consider him one of the top five or so fantasy authors going today.
Given what comes soon, Seerdomin’s lines about how “He could fight for . . . the Redeemer—no, that cannot be. What I do here can never be healed,” are a bit ironic, in that he literally does just that—fight for the Redeemer.
Hmm, “We were put in an impossible situation, and at least for us, the tyrant responsible is dead—has been punished. It could have been worse—he could have escaped retribution, escaped justice.” (cough cough Burn’s Cavern! cough cough Memories of Ice cough.)
“There was trauma in war. Some people survived it; others were forever trapped in it. For many of these, this circumstance was not a failing on their part . . . It was, in truth, the consequence of a profoundly moral person’s inability to reconcile the conflicts in his or her soul.” These lines remind me of Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried (absolutely great, great book, a must read. Hmm, it must be reading recommendation week here at Tor): If you don’t care for obscenity, you don’t care for the truth; if you don’t care for the truth, watch how you vote. Send guys to war, they come home talking dirty.”
“One cannot murder in the name of justice.” Talk among yourselves. (No really, what do you folks think?)
It’s quite the contrast in style from where this scene began—a heart-pounding chase scene in the POV of the prey, to the more philosophical musing of Seerdomin and then to Salind. These few pages are almost a microcosm of the series as a whole. And it certainly makes for a smooth scene shift as both Seerdomin and Salind are focused on questions of justice, punishment, and redemption.
Salind’s question re the impact of promised, guaranteed redemption has long been debated with regard to faiths that have redemption as part of their religion. Is it, as she wonders, a Get Out of Jail Free card, with “culpability and consequences neatly evaded”? Is the Redeemer’s religion a version of Christianity but without the idea of sin, heaven without the hell? Not being religious, I’m kind of curious how folks (religious or otherwise) see this religion—any mirrors to real life? Direct or indirect? Is that “first bag of silver” a hint of indulgences? Anyone take offense at it? Or if not at the Redeemer’s religion, Salind’s idea that the creation of a priesthood—that which takes the more amorphous, abstract spiritual/religious concept and makes it concrete, grounds it in rules and rites, which almost automatically starts to separate “them” from “them”—is this evolution of the “idea” into the “church” an automatic first step toward corruption and cynicism? Big ideas here.
This is one of the better uses of a POV, not simply relating a clear thought or intent, as one often sees, but watching a character actually work through a thought, climb clumsily, awkwardly after something and chew it around, as when Salind realizes her image of Seerdomin as “an animal pounding its head against the bars of a cage,” unaware of the wide open door right next to it, didn’t make much sense and so she must be reading something wrong. And then she comes to the idea that he didn’t seek the Redeemer’s embrace at all.
The same with her idea that maybe the Redeemer simply hold everything “in abeyance until when? The redeemed’s death? What then, did some hidden accounting await each soul?” Is this like a double deus ex machina?
“She would not bargain. No, she had questions, and she wanted answers. She demanded answers.” Anyone else suddenly picture Jack Nicholson as the Redeemer here?
You want answers?
I think I’m entitled.
You want answers?
I want the truth!
You can’t handle the truth.
Poor Seerdomin: “You damned Andii—you live so long it’s as if you’re incapable of grasping on to things in the here and now.” He’s about to find how horribly true that is in a moment.
So many pages later, not to mention time, and still that called up scene with Whiskeyjack, Rake, and the witches has such power to move.
A reminder as we watch Spinnock listen to Seerdomin’s despair, of just what Seerdomin means to him—from Chapter Two:
Seerdomin, for all his grief, was somehow holding despair back, defying the siege that had long ago defeated the Tiste Andii . . . A virtue that although Spinnock could not find it within himself . . . he could draw a kind of sustenance from none the less. At times, he felt like a parasite, so vital had this vicarious feeding become, and he sometimes feared that it was the only thing keeping him alive.
What effect will this have on Spinnock’s ability to hold off his own despair, now?
After these opening scenes so fraught with tension, violence, blood, deep thoughts, it’s a good shift into some humor with Samar’s irritation at how well Karsa and Traveller get along, their boy talk about sex and weapons, their practice swings. Though it isn’t all light—Traveller tells his sad tale of Ereko and Karsa his of his two friends’ deaths. And then we get some details about the early Empire (and tell me you don’t want to read that trilogy—the founding of that Empire, the meeting of Kellanved and Dancer, etc.). I don’t think anything new comes out of this discussion (did I miss anything?).
The description of how Kellanved viewed occupation vs. conquering reminds me of how the smarter Empires did things in our world—kept the locals in power as much as possible, allowed for religions, cultural touch points, etc. to still exist.
And back into deep thoughts. What do people think of Duiker’s theory of civilization and conformity?
This was a pretty “talky” half of a chapter, more conversation and monologue/philosophy than not (don’t worry hack and slay folks—lots comin’ in the next section!). Reactions? As comes as no surprise by now, I eat these scenes up for the most part. Take the Redeemer part—look at how Erikson can raise a whole bunch of questions that touch at least in some part on the role of religion in our societies/lives but worry less about offense because it’s all about some made up god in some made up world. It’s like parents sneaking medicine into candy. Or questions about occupation, in a world filled with occupiers and occupied, but again, it’s just some made up Empire in some make up land, right? I mentioned Tim O’Brien earlier and he has a great story in that collection where he talks about the difference between accuracy and truth, and how as an author he will toy with accuracy because he’s far more interested in the gut truth (“How To Tell a True War Story”), truth rather than facts. And it seems to me Erikson is working in that same mode but just more removed from accuracy. Why do we think soldiers who come back different/changed are “broken”? Wouldn’t the ones who come back unchanged have been the “broken” ones? What constraints does “civilization” puts upon us as individuals, what do we sacrifice as we become more collective and where does that line become problematic? Is civilization on an inevitable march toward tyranny, even if it’s “soft” tyranny? How do we find redemption in our lives? Is redemption even a good thing? What does it say about us if we create a god of redemption who doesn’t ask much? What does it say if we create a god of punishment? Can one kill in the name of justice? These are day-to-day questions in our world, though we often don’t or prefer not to think of them day to day, and I love that there are books out there that force us to confront them. And if there are dragons and magic swords and millennia-old folks, and giant wagons pulled by demons, all the better.