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 Thirteen 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. 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).
The Trygalle Trade Guild carriage wades through hordes of attacking animated corpses, all the dead heading in a single direction. Just before Quell pulls them out of Hood’s warren, Gruntle catches a glimpse of an army of the dead marching in formation in the same direction. They land on a tiny tropical island, joined by one of the animated corpses. Quell tells them they never reached the gate, that there wasn’t one.
The Bole brothers, Amby and Jula, spar over a moccasin and who most impressed Precious Thimble.
Sweetest Sufferance tells Faint about her grandfather’s time in the Revenants, a group commanded by an outlawed Seguleh in One Eye Cat. When Faint asks how her grandfather was still around when Hood supposedly took all the Revenants to serve in his realm, Sufferance explains her grandfather had lost his sword arm and he retired. She continues to say her grandfather had taught her that the Hood ritual Dawn of Flies, when the priests covered themselves with honey (Faint says other places use blood) to attract flies, the priests were doing it wrong. The flies weren’t the important part according to her grandfather; it was the blood:
Blood on the skin, life bled out to die on the skin . . . It’s why Hood cherishes dead soldiers more than any other of the countless dead . . . The Merchants of Blood, the army that will fight on the hidden plain called Defiance Last . . . A final battle.
Glanno Tarp and Reccanto Ilk leer over Sufferance and Faint.
Mappo, watching Quell try and deal with his pain, feels guilt over the fact that it was his coin that put them on this journey, and also muses over the things of real value in the world and how “all the truths that mattered were banal.” Quell explains a bit about warren travel and confesses he’s become troubled about it: “I think we’re scarring the whole damned universe. We’re making existence bleed.” He also says he’s concerned about the fact that “the dead sleep no more.”
Precious Thimble recalls her rite of passage when she was buried in peat for two days (given a breathing tube): “Most of them [died], but the soul remained in the dead body . . . A child must be given into the peat . . . and the soul must be broken free of the flesh it dwelt within, for only then could that soul travel, only then could that soul wander free in the realm of dreams.” Since then, she’s discovered she has some power and has also decided she would never give herself to those men who desired her. She sees the Bole brothers as the solution: protectors against both magery, men, and each other, though she worries what would happen should one die on this Guild journey.
At night, Gruntle and Mappo see the astral form of Precious Thimble hover over the Bole brothers, then drop back down into her body. Gruntle then dreams himself into a jungle glade in tiger form. He’s approached by a group of proto-humans and Gruntle realizes he has preyed on their kind (“in this form in this place and in this time). They ask him for protection from a she-leopard who has been feeding off their children and one offers herself as a sacrifice. Gruntle refuses the sacrifice and tracks the leopard’s spoor. The leopard tells him she too is “ridden;” her soul has traveled “through time. Through unknown distances.” He realizes he is summoned by prayer and then asks her to spare the humans, calling them the only ones that can pray. She tells them there are others—the K’Chain Che’Malle and Forkrul Assail, the Jaghut and Toblakai and Trell. She agrees, though she warns that both the leopard and tiger, “unridden”, will still hunt. When she asks why he cares, he tells her he pities them, and she replies that “for out kind there is no room for pity.” But Gruntle disagrees, saying “It is what we can give when we ride the souls of these beasts.” The soul rider tells Gruntle she is from “New Morn” and he wonders if she comes from a time long ago in his world. The two separate.
In Dragnipur, Ditch (badly wounded and unable to pull anymore) is dragged along by Draconus toward the wagon. Eyeing the nearing storm of chaos, he thinks that Rake has stopped killing and they in the sword are doomed. He tells Draconus it’s ironic in that he’d long ago looked for him thinking Draconus might know how to escape, though he realized if that were true, he would have. Draconus agrees that’s a logical deduction but adds he is “not in the least” logical. Still dragging Ditch, Draconus climbs the mountain of flesh in the wagon bed, drops Ditch at the top, then leaves. Ditch sees a blind and legless Tiste Andii crawl toward him with a sharpened bone and warns him he’ll defend himself. The Andii asks if Ditch can see, and when Ditch tries to access his warren, it’s still a barrier like a wall, but unlike prior times he’s tried, he can sense cracks in the wall, “things bleeding in, bleeding out” thanks to the nearing chaos, and he wonders if a time might come just before the storm hit that he can use his warren to escape. Pulling on the tiny power he can use, Ditch sees the pile of flesh he lies amidst:
A mass of tattoos blanked every exposed patch of skin . . . patterns within patterns . . . Not a single body atop this massive wagon had been exempted—barring Ditch’s own.
The Andii tells him he could see the scene if he could rise up higher, adding that he’s been here a long time, as he was one of the first killed by Draconus (for trying to steal the sword), saying he would have used it first to kill Rake. The Andii identifies himself as Kadaspala, brother to Andarist’s wife Enesdia and says he needs to use Ditch as the “nexus” of his creation. Ditch refuses to be part of it and wants to know why Kadaspala wanted to kill Rake and who blinded him. Kadaspala says he wanted to kill Rake for what he’d done to his sister and Andarist, and that he’d blinded himself after he’d seen what Rake had done to them.
Apsalar has decided her biggest mistake wasn’t breaking into Moon’s Spawn but in trying to stab Rake when he caught her, even though he’d seemed more amused than angry and hadn’t said anything of punishment. She recalls the look of regret and sorrow he had on his face afterward as she died. She can sense that the chaos storm will catch them soon and thinks back to a childhood memory of the caribou migration, her sense of both awe and terror, her recognition of the cycle of life and death and the constancy of chaos. Lying under the wagon, she feels it all over again.
We’ve pointed out a few of the more cinema-worthy scenes in this series and I would add this army of marching dead to that list. I would absolutely love to see this on the big screen (yes, I know it’d be four guys and a CGI host, but still). And those are some big questions the group comes up with: what is that army for and where is it going or (and perhaps worse) what is that army retreating from?
We’ve had lots of signs that Hood is up to something. Is this part of what he’s doing? Or is it a “While the cat’s away . . . ” sort of thing? Could Hood have been co-opted? Or has he gathered this army with some specific plan in mind for it?
There’s some good relieving humor (and some not so good) in the Trygalle island scenes. I especially like the corpse landing a few moments after they do.
Sweetest Sufferance, if you note, lived in One Eye Cat, which is where Studlock and the other “guards” came from according to Torvald Nom. So there may be a connection here with her grandfather’s squad of “Revenants” commanded by an “outlawed Seguleh.” If so, one has to wonder just how recently Hood “took” them all and why. And is that army in Hood’s realm really aimed at some “final battle”?
Good old Mappo. Amidst the horror and the idiocy, it seems one can always count on his empathy and compassion. Though what a burden he must always bear. I think coming on the heels of our discussion on the Redeemer and redemption and judgment, Mappo’s lines, coming from a character it is all but impossible I’d say to not admire, are an interesting counterpoint: “Honour meant, after all, a preparedness, a willingness to weigh and measure, to judge rightful balance.”
Given what we know about the warrens and K’rul, I like Quell’s language when he discusses travel through them, when he talks of “cauterizing,” which is what one does to a wound to stop the bleeding. His concern about their use of warrens “scarring the whole damned universe” is kind of a big bomb to drop in the middle of this series. Are we being set up for either something catastrophic due to the warrens, or a final cauterization, sealing the warrens away for the safety of the universe?
I love Precious Thimble’s story of the ritual she had to go through. The level of detail to it, the belief system that underpins the whole concept, and that horrific richness of those times things go wrong and then on the Night of the Awakened Children (what a great holiday name) “children with blue-brown skin and hollowed-out eye sockets, with hair the colour of rust or blood, with long polished nails—walking the swamp and singing songs of the earth that could drive a mortal mad.” I’m not sure a lot of authors would have come up with something like this ritual, but I’m pretty sure a lot would have just stopped at the rite itself and not followed its track into when it went bad. You can really see Erikson’s professional training here and I think that goes a long way to explaining why his society-building (as opposed to world/setting-building) feels so much more real and especially consistent/logical (even in a fantasy setting) than other authors, where often societies and rituals feel very random or arbitrary, thought up as a “cool difference” rather than something that organically comes out of that particular society in that particular setting/environment in that particular time.
We see it again with Gruntle’s dream and the proto-humans with the offerings and self-sacrifice to those animals that prey on them: the physical details, the tools, the questioning about whether this is where the idea of human sacrifice came from, Gruntle’s realization that he is summoned by prayer—that these early humans prefer that to a world of randomness (which besides being true I’d say of our species, also speaks to the underlying battle between order and chaos). It’d be great to take all these early human-type (I’d include the Imass in this and others) scenes and lay them out in chronological order and get a big picture view of Erikson’s presentation of social evolution, the growth of social interaction, of rites and rituals, faith and religion, gods and goddesses, etc. Keeping in mind as well that not all evolve or make it—there is a question here, for instance, spoken by the proto-humans themselves, that they may in fact be the last of their kind, they may be a branch that dies out. It would also be interesting to see this laid out and see how “we” haven’t changed over all that big time as well—the ways we still fear the dark, still fear the other, still have religions and rituals, and so forth. To me, this is so much more interesting than just big battles or small band vs. overwhelming odds to achieve a single goal.
We see more richness of detail even as throwaway lines in this scene as well. Don’t you want to see a “pit city” of the Forkrul Assail? I do.
There are also a few questions raised in this scene. Who is “riding” this panther? As far as I can recall, we’ve had only one character directly associated with a black panther. Is this that character? Or someone wholly different? What is “New Morn”? Or should we say, “when” is New Morn? Is it a time earlier than Gruntle when Morn, now a ruin, was in fact “new”? Is it a time later than Gruntle, when Morn, now a ruin, has been rebuilt? And let’s not forget there is some connection between that panther character and Morn—is this a further clue?
Finally, I want to say something broader thematically about this scene, and it comes from what Gruntle says when the panther argues there is “no room” for pity in their kind: “I disagree. It is what we can give when we ride the souls of these beasts.” It seems to me (and I’ll talk more about this as we go forward), that one of the big subjects in this novel is choice. What do people choose to do when they can choose. What they choose to do with their lives. Who they choose to stand with or against. What they choose to stand for or against. What they choose to do with power. What they choose to do despite little power. We see it individually and we see it en masse. Rake has clearly made some big choice. Seerdomin and Endest both choose to do what Rake asks of them despite some pretty ominous overtones about what that might mean to them. Seerdomin makes several choices: to kill the conspirators, to go after Salind, to fight for the Redeemer. Mallet makes a choice to stand by Barathol. Barathol makes a choice to be himself (and to stand by the Malazans). Challice has made some choices. Mappo chooses compassion. Murillio has made some choices. Snell has made another kind of choice. As has Gorlas. And some others. Kallor has chosen (like always, he chooses Kallor). In this scene, Gruntle choose pity. More characters have choices yet to come. The Dying God’s adherents have chosen surrender, a kind of non-choice, a choice that ends their choices. The Redeemer’s adherents seem to arrive at a similar position albeit via a different path—if all are redeemed no matter what, then it appears to still be a kind of non-choice as one’s choices do not matter: choose good, choose evil, redemption comes all the same. I think this idea of choice goes hand in hand with another, perhaps, The theme of the series, the one I keep harping on—compassion and empathy, which are, after all, choices. This seemed a good spot, roughly halfway through with a bald statement of choice by one character—to stop and consider this and to keep in mind as we go forward. Obviously, I’d like to hear what folks think about it.
Before leaving this scene, I just have to say how much I loved that monkey throwing a stick at the tiger—the laughing, the stick-throwing, the hitting something that just showed pity—so damn human.
OK, moving on . . .
Now this is an interesting little exchange:
“I thought you might know a way of escaping. Now isn’t that funny? After all, if you had, you would not still be here, would you?”
“That seems logical.”
An odd reply. “Draconus.”
“Are you a logical man?”
“Not in the least.”
This seems pretty strongly to imply (unless, which is certainly possible, Draconus is simply having poor Ditch on) that Draconus could leave Dragnipur if he so desired. Which of course raises the question (if that is true), why hasn’t he? What purpose is gained by his staying? Beyond that, I just laughed.
Talk about throwaway details, look at the bodies piled on the wagon: “Human, demon, Forkrul Assail, K’Chain Che’Malle, others of natures Ditch could not even identify. He saw one hand and forearm that appeared to be made entirely out of metal, sockets and hinges and a carapace of iron skin . . . ” Wait, what? The Tin Man? A Robot? A Clockwork Man? Did we just jump into Oz? A Lester Del Rey or Isaac Asimov story? A steampunk novel? Or is this just some sort of prosthetic arm? It’s like that damn watermelon in The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension.
Another cinematic moment—I want to see the camera slowly pull back to reveal Kadaspala’s tattoo masterpiece.
Well, there’s a tale to be told—what did Rake do to Andarist and his wife Enesdia that made Kadaspala want to kill Rake? And why did it cause Kadaspala to blind himself? What horror did he see? And given that background, what is it that Kadaspala is doing with this scene and do we have any reason to think it’s a good thing?
More reasons to think Rake is great—his reaction to finding Apsal’ara in Moon’s Spawn. It’s easy to see him admiring both the chutzpah and the skill in doing so. And then the regret at having to kill someone showing both in such high fashion. By the way, not to harp, but I’d point out two choices made here: one to attack and one not to attack.
Coming after that vision of Rake, pitying and sorrowful at Apsal’ara’s death (and not long after Gruntle’s pitying turning away from death), this bit about the “indifference that was the other face of the universe” is a nice sharp contrast. And too in that great image of the caribou migration, the river crossing with all it carries with it: the idea of a cycle, the “implacability” of nature, life facing it anyway, chaos vs. order, death and life, indifference and desire, all endlessly repeating. A great moment.