Malazan Reread of the Fallen

Malazan Reread of the Fallen: Toll the Hounds, Chapter Twenty-Four (Part Two)

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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 twenty-four 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.

Next week we’ll cover the epilogue on Wednesday and then do our whole-book wrap up on Friday. Ever generous with his time, Steven will be joining us at the end as usual for a question and answer session, so look for the posting of that thread here on Tor as you consider what burning questions you have. Afterward, we’ll be taking our regular hiatus to regenerate our batteries for the next tome, Stonewielder.

CHAPTER SUMMARY

SCENE ONE

Monkrat and Spindle have gathered up twenty children and brought them to the nearby forest tunnels. Monkrat reflects on how he is different now, a new kind of soldier, so much so that he talks Spindle out of taking vengeance on Gradithan so that he doesn’t add more horror to the children’s lives. He tells Spindle he feels “redeemed,” a state of being Spindle admits he was looking for himself. Monkrat tells him “You don’t need answers no more, because you know that anybody promising answers if fulla crap… But maybe it don’t have to be someone else. Maybe it’s just doing something, being something, someone, and feeling that change inside—it’s like you went and redeemed yourself.” He adds that Spindle did what a priest should have—“no fucking advice, no bullshit wisdom, no sympathy… just a damned kick in the balls and get on with doing what you know is right.”

SCENE TWO

Clip nears the Temple of Darkness, hoping it is Rake inside resisting him, as he can sense his weakness. He is filled with rage at Rake’s absence when those in the Andara were killed. He enters to find Endest and the High Priestess instead of Rake and he lashes out in rage and power.

SCENE THREE

Endest feels the Dying God’s power tear into him and begins to yield, but then realizes he is the sole hope of his people and so he holds, seeking something to hang onto to, to give his strength and confidence now that Rake is gone. In his mind, he sees a black river and reaches for it.

SCENE FOUR

The Dying God feels his victory nearing, with both Seerdomin and Endest weakening. He thinks how his need for Clip, whom he disdains, will soon be over.

SCENE FIVE

Aranatha leads Nimander through darkness “to battle,” and as he follows he wonders if this is truly Aranatha. She asks if he will defend her, saying she can “barely reach through… but now she insists. She commands.” When Clip asks who “she” is, the answer comes: “Aranatha.” When he asks then who this person is holding his hand, it becomes clear this is Mother Dark:

Will you defend me, Nimander? I do not deserve it. My errors are legion. My hurt I have made into your curse… We stand in the dust of what’s done… I do not think enough of me can reach through. If you do not stand in his way, I will fall… I feel in your blood a whisper of someone. Someone dear to me. Someone who might have withstood him.… But he is not there to defend me. What has happened?

SCENE SIX

Seerdomin weeps at his helplessness and (he thinks) laughs at his silly pride that had made him think he would nobly resist beyond expectation so that songs would be sung of his glorious stand. When her hands begin to strangle him, he realizes she’d been the one laughing, and that all he had in him had been self-pity.

SCENE SEVEN

The High Priestess watches in horror, shocked at how Endest continues to hold even as she can feel her people start to succumb.

SCENE EIGHT

Everything stops in Dragnipur as all eyes turn to Rake standing atop the pile of bodies on the wagon. From the bodies, “the tattooed pattern had lifted free… unfolding, intricate as a perfect cage, a web of gossamer…suspended in the air around Anomander Rake.”

SCENE NINE

Kadaspala tells his child to stab Rake. And stab. And stab. And stab.

SCENE TEN

Ditch watches as the tattoo-god raises its knife to achieve its “one purpose. The child-god’s reason to exist.” He speaks to the child-god and it considers how “to give its own imminent death all the meaning it demanded.” The god asks what Rake is doing and Ditch, smiling, tells it: “Know this for certain. Whatever Anomander Rake now attempts to do, he does not do it for himself.” The child-god is stunned at this possibility: “Was such a thing possible? Did one not ever choose, first and foremost, for oneself?” And then the god decides to “do no less,” and so it stabs Kadaspala. As Kadaspala “dies,” Apsal’ara comes up with a knife to Ditch. He tells her to take it, and she slices out his eye.

SCENE ELEVEN

Rake smiles at Apsal’ara and tells her “Go, with my blessing,” and when she asks where, he says, “You will know soon enough.” She watches as his eye darken and then tosses him the god’s eye.

SCENE TWELVE

Rake begins to dissolve “as the Gate took hold of him, as it fed upon him, upon the Son of Darkness. Upon what he desired, what he willed to be.” Draconus finally understands and is humbled, crying out “Rake! There is no forgiveness you must seek—not from me, gods below, not from any of us!” As he sees Rake “scattered into the realm of Kurald Galain… [perhaps] to the very feet of Mother Dark,” Rake whispers “Mother Dark. I believe you must face him now. You must turn to your children. I believe your son insists. He demands it. Open our eyes, Mother Dark. See what he has done! For you, for the Tiste Andii—but not for himself.” The pattern grabs the Gate and sinks out of Dragnipur.

SCENE THIRTEEN

Clip draws a dagger to finish off Endest and then true dark enters the Temple as the floor “suddenly awakens with black, seething strands.”

SCENE FOURTEEN

Spindle and Monkrat watch the pattern form above Black Coral and sink down upon the city. When it touches Silanah, she spreads her wing and roars, “a cry of grief, of rage, of unleashed intent,” then launches herself into the air.

SCENE FIFTEEN

Nimander and Aranatha step through into the Temple Room and at the sight of the pattern forming, Aranatha whispers, “The Gate. How, oh, my dearest son. Oh, Anomander.” Clip’s damned chains get caught in the pattern, finally stop spinning, and sever his index finger before disappearing. He is shocked, in pain, bewildered, realizes he underestimated Nimander, and mostly thinks “Oh, s—” He gets tossed across the floor by Nimander and then the Dying God wakes in him. Not-Aranatha floats past Nimander, fully present now, and the Dying God also thinks, “Oh, s—” as she says, “Ah my son. I accept.”

SCENE SIXTEEN

Sensing the Gate has found its home in the Temple, Endest, dying, rises from the river that had sustained him to find the High Priestess mourning over him and asking how Rake could have asked this of him. Endest tells her for all that Rake has asked of everyone, “he has given us in return. Each and every time… We served the one who served us.” Then, to Mother Dark, he says, “For you Mother, he did this. For us, he did this. He has brought us all home. He has brought us all home.” And Mother Dark answers, “I understand. Come to me then. The water between us, Endest Silann, is clear.”

SCENE SEVENTEEN

Salind tosses aside the “ruined, lifeless remnant that had once been Seerdomin,” ready to attack Itkovian, who now marvels at a new presence: “A mother. A son. Apart for so long, and now entwined in ways too mysterious, too ineffable, to grasp.” He witnesses, then realizes “the truth of gifts, the truth of redemption,” and having had the epiphany, he embraces Salind and blesses her, [and] “Against this, the Dying God had no defense. In this embrace, The Dying God came to believe that he had not marched to the Redeemer but that the Redeemer had summoned him… to heal what none other could heal… [and] The Dying God simply slipped away… The Redeemer leaves judgment to others. This frees him, you see, to cleanse all.”

SCENE EIGHTEEN

Chaos has disappeared from Dragnipur and Draconus looks around to see so few left. Among the fallen is Pearl, “defiant to the very end.” Whiskeyjack/Iskar Jarak tells Draconus that Rake had called him a friend, and Draconus says he wishes he could have said the same, that he could have known Rake better. He then asks Hood what is next, now that they all remain chained but can’t pull the wagon due to being so few in numbers. Whiskeyjack says Draconus truly didn’t know Rake, and Hood adds that the final part of the bargain is still to come, though he wonders if he whom Rake made that bargain with will keep it. Whiskeyjack upbraids Hood for thinking anyone would betray Rake in this and Hood agrees.

SCENE NINETEEN

Antsy helps Barathol to his feet, Baruk and Caladan Brood walk up to Rake’s body, Karsa and his two daughters stand there as well. Baruk tells Brood what Rake had asked for must be done, but Brood refuses to do whatever it is until he buries Rake and builds a barrow for him. Barathol helps Brood load the body onto the ox cart and then Brood leads the ox west of the city. He is momentarily interrupted by Kruppe, who bows in deference and grief, and then the ox moves on.

SCENE TWENTY

People line the streets to watch and then follow the procession of Rake’s body as bells toll and thousands of Great Ravens flock overhead. Spinnock heads away from the city. Kallor sits alone in a tavern, listening to the bells playing “his song”—“Death, ruin, grief.”

SCENE TWENTY-ONE

Blend walks into K’rul’s Bar to find Duiker sitting there alone. He tells her Picker left, saying something about “them damned torcs.” They hear a bell ringing overhead and realize they’d put the bell in the cellar.

SCENE TWENTY-TWO

Samar asks Karsa if the two young women are his daughters and he tells her “I raped a mother and a daughter… It was my right.” She points out that “claiming a right so often results in someone else losing theirs. At which point it all comes down to who’s holding the biggest sword.” He says he was young, and when she marvels at the idea he might have regrets, he says he has many, though not his daughters. She asks why he isn’t talking to them and he says he’s waiting to think of something to say. Picker arrives and tells Karsa she has a message from Hood: “You must not leave Darujhistan… [or] you will have lost your one opportunity to fulfill a vow you once made… to kill a god.” Karsa shocks her by simply asking “which god.”

SCENE TWENTY-THREE

As tens of thousands follow, Brood leads Rake’s corpse to a place where a hill had been transformed by Tennes, a barrow and chamber raised, and after he inters the body, he seals it with a capstone that rose from the ground and marks it with the Barghast glyph for “Grief.”

SCENE TWENTY-FOUR

Alone at the site where Rake died, Shadowthrone and Cotillion discuss events. Cotillion says things are out of their hands now “until the end.” Shadowthrone agrees, then remarks he never liked Brood. They were surprised by so many Hounds of Light, and then Cotillion mocks Shadowthrone’s attempt to pretend that Pust going for Dragnipur had nothing to do with him. They decide to let Traveller have a few days before approaching him, and Cotillion says he tried to explain things, but Traveller wouldn’t listen. They leave.

SCENE TWENTY-FIVE

Torvald and Rallick find Bellam (with a broken arm) and escort him home, then the two head for Torvald’s home.

SCENE TWENTY-SIX

Spite and Cutter talk aboard the boat and when she says she’s returning to Seven Cities, he says he’ll go with her. He asks if she got what she wanted and she says no and mostly. As the ship heads out, they watch the procession and Spite says Envy once loved Rake, but then he got Dragnipur, which she assumes was the reason Envy, whom she calls aptly named, fell out with Rake.

SCENE TWENTY-SEVEN

From the bar’s roof (the non-existent bell has stopped ringing) Scillara watches Cutter’s boat head out, thinking Barathol is probably on it with Chaur. She thinks she’s “doomed ever to open her arms to the wrong lover, to love fully yet never be loved in return.” But then Barathol appears and kisses her. They agree to chain themselves together. It’s a blacksmith thing.

SCENE TWENTY-EIGHT

The heart-ill guard returns home to his family, Thordy gets her reward for Gaz, Picker and Blend reunite, Pust finishes rewriting holy text to allow for two wives, and Tiserra sees the two loves of her life at her door. Kruppe sings, “Love is in the air.”

SCENE TWENTY-NINE

Kruppe heads to the Phoenix Inn, drowning his grief in cupcakes. Harllo returns home and when Stonny tries to turn away, he demands her attention and love and she accepts it, looking it his eyes for the first time. Harllo gets his mother.

Amanda’s Reaction

So, straight off the bat we spend some time with Monkrat, who has had something of an epiphany. Now, Monkrat is a difficult character. In order for him to reach this point of redemption and understanding, he had to come quite swiftly from the kind of soldier that is willing to watch girls get raped in order to not rock the boat. And I, personally, think the transition was a little bit too swift in this case. In most cases, Erikson can give us the story of a character in just a few paragraphs—enough to make us care—but Monkrat is almost too dislikeable to have this change over the course of just one book. Even with that, it’s hard not to feel moved by this: “He’d been one kind for a long time, and had grown so sick of it he’d just walked away. And now Spindle showed up, to take him and drag him inside out and make him into a different kind of soldier. And this one, why, it felt right. It felt proper. He’d no idea…”

Also, in order to make Monkrat more likeable here, Spindle is the one that is suddenly after vengeance and fire and killing, which doesn’t quite fit. I feel a little unsatisfied with this scene, on some contemplation, actually. Spindle seems out of character, and Erikson’s use of Monkrat to talk about redemption feels unusually clumsy.

And now we see the start of Endest Silann’s heroic last stand: “This was his opponent? This useless, broken, feeble thing?” I mean, we know that Clip is horribly arrogant, but I think every reader here knows that Endest is being entirely under-estimated.

Plus, I love fiercely that Clip is so terribly disappointed that Anomander Rake is not there. I don’t like the reason for Rake not being there, obviously (still in mourning) but I can definitely cope with Clip being disappointed.

I still do like the way that Erikson can present us with parts of the story in an incidental way, like here where we’re with the Dying God who can sense that his High Priestess is pushing back Seerdomin, who is a mass of wounds, a dozen of them clearly fatal. I didn’t expect Seerdomin to survive this battle, but it’s painful even so to realise that he won’t see the final result of his bravery and sacrifice.

It’s lovely that we’re finally seeing the result of Aranatha/Mother Dark. I confess that this one I probably had signposted pretty well by what Bill asked me to bear in mind and file from earlier in the book. So I’m not overwhelmed by surprise. But I have enjoyed equally well seeing all the little clues dropped into the story—it has been immensely clever storytelling. “A kiss, sweet as a blessing—but had it been Aranatha who had blessed him?”

This little snippet of Seerdomin’s thoughts makes me want to weep quietly—it sort of caught me by surprise, the idea that this warrior could still care about the way he went out:

How grim, how noble, how poetic. Yes, they would sing of the battle, all those shining faces in some future temple of white, virgin stone, all those shining eyes so pleased to share heroic Seerdomin’s triumphant glory.

It is wonderful to me that the twisted child-god created by Kadaspala in a desire to wreak vengeance upon Anomander Rake sees this silver-haired Tiste Andii and is told: “Friend, know this for certain. Whatever Anomander Rake now attempts to do, he does not do it for himself” and is inspired to kill his own creator.

Ye gods, the scene where Anomander Rake shreds into the Gate of Darkness, and Draconus watches with horrified awe and says that Rake needs seek no forgiveness from any of the Tiste Andii—it’s just fantastic. Perfect.

Go Silanah! Burn! Destroy!

And, damn, when Mother Dark whispers: “The Gate. How… oh, my dearest son… oh, Anomander…” I suddenly have ALL the feelings. How does this book continue to wring my heart out?

Moment after moment after fantastic moment—I can picture exactly Aranatha rising into the streamers of darkness, watching the Dying God who quails before her. So good! (I’m going to run out of complimentary phrasing, aren’t I?)

This to me is the perfect eulogy for Anomander Rake:

“All that he has ever asked of us, of me, and Spinnock Durav, and so many others, he has given us in return. Each and every time. This… this is his secret. Don’t you understand, High Priestess? We served the one who served us.”

It’s also cool that Rake’s sacrifice is what allows the Redeemer to properly take control and become the God he was meant to be, banishing the Dying God.

Delighted by this interplay between Hood and Whiskeyjack:

“Shame on you, Hood,” said Iskar Jarak, gathering up the reins. “There is not a fool out there who would betray the Son of Darkness, not in this, not even now—though he has left us, though he has returned to his Mother’s realm.”

“You chastise me, Iskar Jarak?”

“I do.”

The Jaghut snorted. “Accepted,” he said.

It’s telling as well that Whiskeyjack refers to the fact that Anomander Rake has left a whole lot more than just the Tiste Andii, that his loss will be felt by many.

Ah, Caladan Brood, of course. Who better than to take Dragnipur for now and to convey Anomander Rake’s body to its final resting place? And OF COURSE this person could totally face down the combined force of Envy and Spite. And look at the echo here—the ox and cart that conveyed Murillio is now carrying Rake.

Damn, more tears as I think about all those people coming to pay tribute to the Lord of Moon’s Spawn, for whom the heart of the moon broke.

I like that when Karsa is asked what he is waiting for with regards to speaking to his two daughters, he says: “I am waiting…for when I can think of something to say.” I just find this so utterly right.

Ooh, questions, questions: what vow is it that Karsa made? Which god is he supposed to kill?

Eek! Iskaral Pust wielding Dragnipur! What a terrible thought…

And then some lovely snippets of scenes: Bellam Nom meeting with his two uncles, Cutter accepting that Darujhistan is behind him and thinking of the love of his life, Barathol and Scillara (which is just such a lovely moment) and, finally, Harllo demanding that his mother accepts him. This all gives a beautiful feeling of hope, that Rake’s sacrifice was not in vain. It doesn’t lessen the pain any, but it lets us know that the story still continues.

Bill’s Reaction

I’m going to say more about Monkrat in the wrap-up as I discuss the general theme of redemption that runs throughout. So for now, I’ll just say that he clearly is a thread in that thematic tapestry and he becomes an interesting mouthpiece for a mini-lecture (not saying he’s SE’s mouthpiece mind you) on redemption, as he’s a relatively minor character who has been involved (whether actively or passively) in some pretty bad stuff. I have a few issues with his character arc, but as I said, I’ll hold off on those for next week’s wrap.

Meanwhile, we have our favorite boy Clip entering on stage, seeking “justice,” another theme that runs through the novel, though he is clearly on the dark side of things, as he sees no purpose in judgment (another theme!) “when there is no one to hurt with it.” In many ways, Clip is a parallel here to Traveller, in that we’ve got two characters who have spent the entire novel heading toward a confrontation they’ve been seeking for some time, one in which they see themselves as the agent of justice and vengeance: Traveller versus Hood for what happened with his daughter, and Clip versus Rake for Rake’s abandonment of the children and the refuge. Traveller is possessed by the idea of vengeance, driven by it, while Clip is both figuratively possessed by the same and literally possessed by the Dying God (another example to toss into my heaping pile of “fantasy allows the metaphoric to become the literal” argument). Both have opportunities/choices to turn aside and neither does. Both seem to feel they “owe” the dead this act (though it appears neither has actually been told this, and so one has to wonder what the dead actually think). And neither finds who they are looking for—Clip finds Endest rather than Rake, while Traveller, ironically in this context, finds Rake rather than Hood. And both find Vengeance (whether the sword or the possessing god) turns on them in the end.

I love the storyline of Endest from beginning to end—this old man, his lack of confidence in himself, his love of Rake, his loyalty, Rake’s faith in him. I’m pretty sure I had a sense of where this was going to go from pretty early on—not the details, not him facing Clip in the Temple for instance, but in this idea of him holding to the very end and then dying in victory. That sense led a bittersweetness to all his scenes, and a sense of tragedy underlay his words each time he spoke or thought. And I thought these last scenes with him lived up to that feeling; I feel he got the ending he really deserved and that I so hoped for this character. I like that he makes his stand in the Temple, a place of faith, albeit empty to him (and isn’t that faith after all—believing in something not tangibly there?). I like that the High Priestess is there with him. I like that he thinks of Rake as a “pillar of fire” and when he recalls that Rake’s mere touch on the shoulder could bestow confidence and strength to “do the impossible.” I like his human fear of failure, especially now that Rake is gone, his inability to see his true strength. And of course, how despite that inability, despite that lack of confidence, he refuses to yield. That river has been running (no pun intended. Well, maybe a little) in the background of Endest’s story all along and now we see it rise into greater importance than we could have imagined. And I really like this little language play—that his source of confidence all along has been “fire” and now that the fire is gone he turns to water.

OK, I’m not sure anyone by now didn’t see where the Aranatha storyline was going, but we’ve said many times that what seems inscrutable/obscure in Erikson will, if one waits long enough, sometimes, even often, get explained pretty clearly (not always, but a surprising amount of the time considering the reputation he gets for being “difficult”). We’ve been listing all the little hints and clues that Aranatha was not what she seemed, and they have been getting more and more blunt. But if one hasn’t guessed by now, this scene should make it pretty clear. Who, after all, could be “reaching through with little strength” as she has only “ever been able to do,” who has cursed all of Nimander’s people (the Andii), who would sense Rake’s blood in Nimander and think Rake would have defended her, if not Mother Dark? Of course, even if one didn’t get that here, her actions and words later on this chapter pretty much are akin to her wearing a glow-in-the-dark tee-shirt labeled “Mother Dark.” And note as well that she also seeks to redeem her past actions.

And that brings us to Seerdomin, another in the long line of those seeking redemption. I really like how Erikson makes him such a real-life character by taking the time to step away from events and dig into his thoughts and pry out that honest self-appraisal of how he had pretended humility, being all like, “Oh no, I can’t stand against that. Are you freakin’ crazy?” All while he’s picking out titles for those epic songs that will be sung about his standing and thinking of all the little people he’ll need to thank in his speech.

These sort of scenes are greatly helped by the multiple POVs as the cut-away moments serve to ratchet up the tension. Endest barely hanging on then cut away. Seerdomin being strangled to… whatever that would be (we need a new word for “death” in this series since so many dead characters face, well, death. Super-death? Uber-death? Double-death? Double-dog death? Oblivion, I suppose, but it’s so dull) then cutting away. The High Priestess feeling her people fading, then cut away. The child-god getting ready to stab—cut. It’s all very effective.

Speaking of the child-god. There’s so much to like about this oh-so-short scene.

Let’s start with some imagery—that knife reared “like a serpent.” Intentional or not (and I’m thinking it is), “serpent” is a loaded descriptor in western literature and I really like how it plays here—the just-born and thus wholly innocent/tabula rasa child-god connected to the symbol of corruption of innocence—the serpent. With just this simple simile, we’re set up for what is about to take place.

Then there’s the image of Ditch as the eye—but an eye that looks both “inward and outward.” A conscience, a soul, a sense of morality.

The metaphor of regrets as chains, as a burden, a “creaking, tottering burden,” and how it so clearly parallels that damned wagon and those chained creatures. And then, taking that image, which would seem to be negative (chains, burden—a negative connotation to each), and turning it in unexpected fashion to a necessity of being human, a good thing. For to break free of those chains, to free oneself of regret, is to “shake free of humanity itself. And so become a monster.” Those chains, I imagine, being presented as a constant reminder of how one’s actions affect others. And here I think of Rake for instance, who carried the burden of Dragnipur not just of the souls themselves in the sword, but the chains of regret for many of those killings. And what a monster might he have been without that burden—he of such power and with such a sword, unencumbered by regret over taking lives? We see Traveller with chains, Karsa (who notes he does in fact have many regrets in just a few pages) with chains. I think way, way, way back to Cotillion, that epicenter of compassion in this series, and his statement to Apt in Deadhouse Gates: “’When I Ascended, Lady, it was to escape the nightmares of feeling… my surprise that I now thank you for such chains.”

That sense of tragic mortality—born to die. How do we give meaning to the futility embedded in that phrase?

And then perhaps (perhaps) the answer coming in a just-as-simple a phrase: do not do for oneself. This is Rake’s lesson conveyed by Ditch. This god has a choice of fathers in some sense—Kadaspala or Rake—and it chooses Rake. Granted, all this innocence/child-like aspect gets a little muddled (muddied, bloodied) when the child-god kills Kadaspala, but one can’t have everything… This child-god does a nice job of being the foil to the other new child-god/new god—The Dying God. One does for others and one does for himself.

That searing image of Ditch weeping blood—the lone person weeping for the death of the child-god. That’s always such a moving moment, one we see in many books, the sole mourner for a life passed.

Another thread in the theme of redemption—remember why Ditch is in here—killed by Rake for betraying him. And here Ditch is saving Rake.

I give you cinematic moment 1423 in this series: Rake dissolving into the Gate of Darkness. Let’s just pause and witness for a moment.

Note that “willed” again.

I love that Draconus hits his knees in the belief that he “finally understood” what Rake was doing, and it turns out he actually didn’t.

But that’s still a moving moment. And can anyone imagine Mother Dark not opening her eyes? (and isn’t there something just intellectually and linguistically fun about Mother Dark being turned away, not seeing?)

Who hasn’t been waiting all book for Silanah to take off? You go girl!

And another moving moment—Mother Dark’s recognition of what she had lost and what she had gained and how—“Oh, my dearest son. Oh Anomander.” And then “I accept.” How many thousands of pages have we been waiting for this? Even if we didn’t know this is what we were waiting for exactly?

And yes, it’s petty and small and cruel, but I still think “good!” when that damn chain of Clip’s takes off his finger. Boy, I hated that chain.

And then from the petty to the sublime. And I’m moved again, this time by Endest’s love of Rake and his statement that he and Spinnock “and so many others” do what they do because Rake has given them in return. And then, he gets to feel Mother Dark again. And he gets to recognize he is home. Think of the time, think of the loss. Literally unimaginable, but still worth trying to imagine. And a great closing line for Endest, to bring him home, to close that circle of his story of him and the river: “The water between us, Endest Silann, is clear. The water is clear.”

Well, all this wandering through the thematic underbrush of redemption had to eventually bring us to the character called The Redeemer. And so here we are. And he who has been lost as to exactly what his role is, how he does in fact redeem, has been shown the way by Rake and Mother Dark (and interesting that Rake is still around in some fashion—“entwined in ways too mysterious, too ineffable, to grasp” with Mother Dark). Though speaking of “ineffable,” I can’t say I’m wholly clear on what he is shown. I feel I’m missing something subtle here as the “the Redeemer leaves judgment to others. This frees him, you see, to cleanse all” seems to be just the problem he’d (and others) had been struggling with before. I can see Rake’s lesson as Monkrat says—one redeems oneself through one’s actions (as opposed to waiting for some higher being to do it, or someone else). Or the lesson of selflessness as the child-god takes. But I can’t mesh either of those with Itkovian at the end or the idea of “cleansing.” What does it mean to be “cleansed” by the Redeemer? What does it mean to be cleansed but not judged by him? Is the lesson that he has a “gift” and the truth of gifts is that they be shared? That if one can Redeem (whatever that means) one simply should, and leave all the other complicating stuff to others? I’m all fine with Salind being “redeemed” or “cleansed” as much of what she does is done via possession (even if she has aspects that lend her a bent in certain directions) or coercion, but can Gradithan, for instance, be “cleansed” or “redeemed” without judgment? Because I’m with Spindle on this one—Sic ‘em Silanah.

Happy to entertain ideas.

A moment’s silence for Pearl here please.

The procession of Rake is another great moment in a string of them. And does anyone think Rake would be upset to be taken to his barrow on this ox’s lowly cart? Speaking of barrow, I also like how it is raised and capped.

“It was said”—I like how we drift into the storyteller’s voice here. And already the story is changing. This is what happens to stories after all. Something to keep in mind years from now when we get to Forge of Darkness.

A good moment to see Spinnock setting off.

And Kallor sitting alone in the tavern spitting at mortality, cursing the bells and ravens and stupid funeral. But I like that subtle hint embedded in “Or so he told himself.” This is a much more complex Kallor than we’ve ever seen before this book, and in a novel that has focused so much on redemption, is it possible that even he may end up redeemed by the end? Might his curse finally end? We’ll see more of him down the road…

Bells ringing in a belfry with no bell. Just a little creepy.

Speaking of more complex, we noted last time how Karsa is showing sides we’d never seen nor anticipated: his stunned recognition of the skill when Traveler and Rake met, for instance. And now we have his acknowledgment of many regrets. His admission that once he was “young” and its attendant implication that once he was “wrong.” And his admission that he doesn’t know what to say. Like Kallor, this character is becoming more complicated. Character development is typical of course, especially when we see them over the span of thousands of pages. But Kallor and Karsa are both early on presented very much as “types” and have held that image for a long time. I like how those roles are now getting undermined.

Of course, that said, we’re back to good old Karsa with his fantastic response to being told to hang out in Darujhistan so he can kill a god: “Which one.” Plus la meme chose…

So while this part of Shadowthrone and Cotillion’s plan seems to have come off, it now appears this is only an early stage of the plan, though the rest of it is “out of their hands until the end.” So where does all these lead? And what was the plan? To bring Mother Dark back? To rescue the Gate? To do something with Death? What God’s death is required as part of the plan (beyond Hood’s?) Why are all the gods of war being ridden to? Lots of questions about what is still to come obviously, and for what purposes. But there clearly is a plan.

I’m glad though that it’s a plan that can be disturbed (by the appearance of Hounds of Light, by Pust’s actions), that can be surprised, that isn’t in complete control. And seriously, can you imagine Pust with Dragnipur? Eek.

I love the humor in and the image of Pust writing the Book of Shadows. And we do need a bit of humor here after all we’ve just gone through. But we don’t get to enjoy it for long as we’re quickly reminded of Traveler, a “lone, wandering, lost figure.” Another loose end we’ll have to catch up to later.

But if we don’t get to laugh very long with Cotillion and Shadowthrone, we do get a whirlwind of uplifting moments to temper the grief and shock of all these losses in this book (and not just the most recent—let’s not forget for example Mallet): Rallick and Torvald back together, Bellam home to a family worried about him, Tiserra and Torvald’s love, Barathol and Scillara together, the guardsman with a bad heart alive and rejoining his family, Thordy no longer tormented by Gaz, Picker and Blend. And then of course, Harllo. Tough to top a happier ending than an orphan declaring “This is my mother.” And so Stonny too is redeemed.

A surprising swirl of happiness and hope here at the end. It almost makes one fear the epilogue…


Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.

Bill Capossere writes short stories and essays, plays ultimate frisbee, teaches as an adjunct English instructor at several local colleges, and writes SF/F reviews for fantasyliterature.com.

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