Apr 26 2013 12:00pm

Malazan Re-read of the Fallen: Toll the Hounds, Chapter Five (Part One)

Malazan Re-read of the Fallen Toll The Hounds Steven EriksonWelcome 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 readers. In this article, we’ll cover Chapter Two 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.

Note: something unexpected came up and Amanda won’t be posting today, though she will catch up to us in the comments. She sends her apologies.)




Kruppe gives us a big picture sense of Darujhistan’s liveliness.


Torvald breaks into Gareb the Lender’s home. Gareb’s wife thinks it’s her husband playing a role-playing game—“The Night Stalker this time? Ooh, that one’s fun”—and Nom makes love to her, also getting the location of the loot during.


Five-year-old Harllo eats an onion, leery of his cousin Snell, who is a sadistic bully. He thinks of Uncle Two (Gruntle) as the “bravest, wisest man” in the city. He also thinks of Aunt Two (Stonny), “who wasn’t Aunt Two at all, but Mother One. Even if she wouldn’t admit it.” Harllo knows he is the product of rape and that is why Stonny acts as she does. Both his adoptive parents, Aunt Myrla and Uncle Bedek, suffer mentally and physically: Bedek has no legs below the knees and can’t do much and gets depressed, and Myrla was injured in childbirth and tires easily. Harllo does much of the work (including stealing food) for the household, especially as Snell does almost nothing. Gruntle arrives to Harllo’s pleasure and Snell’s fear and hatred. As Gruntle and Bedek reminisce and Snell plots some cruelty, Harllo thinks how tomorrow he’ll head out of the city to collect dung for the fire.


Duiker burns his failed attempts at writing a history of the Chain of Dogs, disdaining history as well as his own every-more-uncharitable feelings toward people. He mourns the singular constancy of human stupidity, broken only now and then by rare and fleeting moments of greatness. Mallet tells him the marines are working on tracing back the assassins to their source then talks of his own sense of growing cynicism and his feelings of being lost in retirement, having lost so many friends for who knows what reasons. Duiker’s says he has a meeting with Baruk tomorrow and heads off to bed, warning Mallet to watch his back.


Thordy, who runs a vegetable stall in the market (the one Harllo has stolen from), watches her husband Gaz storm off in a rage. She thinks of how Gaz never hits her because he needs her, but he takes his rage out on others, likes “kicking faces in, so long as the victim was smaller.” Gaz lost all his fingers to an underwater creature when he’d been a fisherman, and part of his rage stems from that accident and how it had made his hands fit “for fighting . . . and nothing more.” She considers how she has changed recently, how her former “emptiness” had begun to fill, and she thinks how both she and Gaz would be happier were he dead.


Gaz walks away, thinking Thordy should have kicked him out long ago. He thinks how he lies to her about his victims, how he actually chooses “the meanest, biggest bastards he could find” and how he’s killed four of them so far (“that he was sure of”). He knows someday it’ll be him dead and that Thordy won’t mourn him. He is met by a cowled figure who tells him “Welcome your god,” whom Gaz has sacrificed to six times. The figure tells him to keep harvesting souls (though he had no need of sacrifice) and when the time for more comes, Gaz will be “shown what must be done.” When Gaz begins to protest, the figure says Gaz’s desires are irrelevant and then the sound of flies buzzes into Gaz’s head. Sensing killing will drive the sound out, Gaz strikes out at someone who has just entered the alley.


Rallick Nom meets an old friend and current assassin, Krute. Krute tells him there was a cult around Nom, that it had been outlawed by the Guildmaster (Sebar), that Krute is under suspicion and being cut out, and that a lot of assassins have left for Elingarth, Black Coral, and even Pale to join the Claw. He explains the cult was not so much religious as philosophical with regard to assassination: no magic, lots of poisons, otataral dust if possible; but that Seba is trying to go back to magic. Krute assumes Rom will take over, but Rom tells him Vorcan is out as well and he has no idea what she plans. He tells Krute to sit tight for a while.


Pust (followed by some bhok’arala) enters the Shadow Temple, announcing himself as Magus of High House Shadow.


A night watchman escorts Mappo to the Temple of Burn. On the way, they come across Gaz’s victim, and the watchman notes it’s the fifth victim thus killed and he thinks it’s time to bring in a mage/priest to the case. The watchman leaves Mappo at the temple, where he is met by a priest who opens the door as if expecting him. The priest asks if he would “walk the veins of the earth” despite its risks and Mappo says yes. He lets Mappo in and shows him his path—a gate/warren as a river of molten rock. He says they’ll prepare Mappo by bathing him in blood.


Amanda’s Reaction

I do really enjoy Kruppe’s quiet and wise look into the happenings of Darujhistan. This idea of every single moment being consequential is great to contemplate, especially when he adds in that little soft tale of the guard who was able to live long enough to secure his wife and children a pension, and had a last kiss. It’s sweet and gentle, and fits Kruppe very well.

I also like the structure indicated here—that we’ll see each of those supposedly inconsequential people as we head through the chapter alongside our main characters. Such as Doruth here, who is the “Uncle.” Nudge nudge, wink wink.

This cat shadowing Torvald reminds me of my own—being where it shouldn’t be, getting underfoot, causing problems, but being so damn cute you just can’t resist petting it.

Ha, this work seems like an absolute thriller, doesn’t it? “An Illustrated Guide to Headgear of Cobblers of Genabaris in the fourth century.” You know something? If I wanted to hide information or something that was important, I’d stick it on a scroll like this, that no one in their right mind would want to read. Certainly not in a scroll that was apparently about Anomandaris.

Aww, I love the idea of this massively muscled guard knitting! I can picture him, with his tongue poking out as he concentrates fiercely.

I feel a little...well...uncomfortable with the idea of Torvald Nom fooling this woman by having sex with her. More than a little actually. I wonder if it was meant to be funny? I didn’t find it to be so. Am I just being delicate?

Young Harllo’s story is presented in stark form, through the matter-of-fact words of a child. We learn that he is bullied by his sadistic cousin, that his mother (Stonny) was raped and he is the product, that his adoptive parents are both struggling and hence Harllo has to take on a large amount of work in the house, including stealing sufficient food.

I love Harllo’s thoughts about Gruntle here—shows how accepting children can be: “But Harllo was learning the tiger’s way, thanks to Uncle Two, whose very skin could change into that of a tiger, when anger awakened cold and deadly. Who had a tiger’s eyes and was the bravest, wisest man in all of Darujhistan.”

Duiker’s section is so very melancholy. I feel so dreadfully sorry that this wise and good man can no longer see anything worth living for. He’s clearly deeply depressed here, and unable to find a way out. The worst is that we know different than this: “Oh, there were moments of greatness, of bright deeds, but how long did the light of such glory last? From one breath to the next, aye, and no more than that. No more than that.” We know that people remember fine and heroic deeds for generations, and so Duiker would do well to record his memories.

I also find Mallet’s observations about retirement to be very astute—in fact, I have seen family members experience the idea that everything that made them worthwhile is now over, and striving to find something that might help fill the gap.

The next two sections—the first featuring Thordy and then from Gaz’s viewpoint—are excellently done. They show two sides to the same story—Thordy feeling that Gaz is increasingly pathetic, knowing that she partially failed him because of her barren womb, knowing that she’d be happier were he dead. And then seeing Gaz, still desperately in love with his wife and realising that she no longer loves him.

This hooded god that meets with Gaz—I feel there could be many candidates. We’ve heard about the Dying God. The hood could mean it’s Hood. Obviously the Crippled God is always a thought. And the flies? That might mean someone else.

How odd must it be for Rallick Nom to be told that a cult has grown up around him! We also hear now that Rallick is worried about Vorcan and what she is up to.

What the hell is happening with the bhok’arala? I mean, it’s quite cute that they’re following all of Pust’s moves, and funny to boot, but what is making them act like this? Just poking fun at their god? And an equally het-up what the hell has Iskaral Pust done with his wife? Is it just wishful thinking on his part that she’s now trapped in a funerary urn?

Is Iskaral Pust really what he claims to be, if even other members of Shadow have no idea who he is, where he’s come from and what he’s capable of? He really does swing between lovable buffoon and distinctly creepy, doesn’t he?

From Mappo’s section, we get to see the result of Gaz’s fights: “Hood take the one that did this—four others just the same. That we know of. We still cannot fathom the weapon he uses... perhaps a shovel handle. Gods, but it’s brutal.” It was also brutal for the reader hearing about how Gaz ended up with fists and no fingers—I actually cringed at that bit.

This exchange makes me smile:

“You sound almost regretful, Priest.”

“Perhaps I am at that. It was a most poetic list.”

“Then by all means record it in full when you write your log of this fell night.”


Bill’s Reaction

This early line, “Who could call a single deed inconsequential?” is an important facet of this series—as much as we see big deeds by big people (Rake, Shadowthrone, etc.), small acts by “small” people ripple out as well. This is, after all, as much if not more a story of the “grunts,” of the common soldier, as of gods and ascendants.

I asked before about these swooping views of the characters/city. If I haven’t made it clear, I’m a big fan of them. I like in this case how we’re introduced to these few before we know who they are, and then these skeletal characters get fleshed out. That guard with the flawed heart, for instance, is one of my favorite characters in this novel. I’m also a fan of how these lines give us a sense of lives beyond the story. We’ll see that guard, but not the wife and child he’s worried about once he dies. We see these characters walk across the stage of the narrative, but when they’re done in front of us, they don’t take off their costumes and make-up and disappear—they head off to their very real lives that we don’t get to see, and I like how these moments emphasize this. There are stories that could be told here, stories in some ways just as important (certainly to those in them more important); we just don’t get to see them.

And there is Kruppe reminding us that he is the teller of this tale, and so he decides what gets told.

I like how this conversation between the guards hearkens back just a page to the Uncle-Doruth-who’s-a-secret. And this whole scene lends us some humor, something this book needs as a counterpoint, with the academic titles, the guards’ fight, the knitting guard, the elixir. I have to say though, (And Amanda had some similar reaction), it’s a bit of a discomfiting move from this role-play sex scene (which I think is played for laughs and can be seen as funny on one level) to Harllo who is the product of rape, which is different in the lack of screaming? A simple addition of a line that let us know she was in on it—recognized it was not her husband, would have made me feel a lot better about this scene.

Throwaway line for the scene: “The lost verse of Anomandaris, with annotation.”

Snell. With a name like that, the kid was almost fated to be an ass.

This is a nicely efficient few lines to remind us of relationships and past events regarding Gruntle, Harllo, Stonny.

And poor Harllo, shunned by his true mother, having to do all the work for this family, set upon by a sadist, and caught in the oft-woven spell of a mythical Golden Age past: “where the sun was brighter, the sunsets were deeper . . . men stood taller and prouder, and nobody had to talk about the past back then, because it was happening right now.”

Nice image of Duiker’s burnt pages floating up like “crows.” And here we are, by the way of little Harllo, at that great past “full of life.”

And so here we go with more regrets stacking up: Stonny over the rape and the product of the rape, Gruntle over Harllo’s treatment by Stonny (though he understands it), Harllo’s adoptive father’s depression over his lost legs and “uselessness,” and now Duiker.

And with all these regrets, we’ve seen lots of this theme as well from Duiker: “nothing was worth revering, not even the simple fact of survival, and certainly not that endless cascade of failures, of deaths beyond counting . . . endless scenes of seemingly mindless, pointless existence . . . the pettiness of life.” And if Duiker feels this, what must our ancients like the Andii and Kallor be feeling? Who or what can relieve these people of this feeling? Can anything? Might this be one of the questions of this book, as we’ve seen so much of this?

I also like how this segues into his idea that people

“imagin[ed] themselves in control of their own lives. Of course they weren’t. In freedom such as they might possess, they raised their own barriers, carried shackles fashioned by their own hands. Rattling the chains of emotions, of fears and worries, of need and spite, of be belligerence that railed against the essential anonymity that gripped a person. A most unacceptable truth. Was this the driving force behind the quest for power? To tear away anonymity . . .?”

How much of our arts have focused on this “barbaric yawp”? The “I am here!” existential cry in what seems a wholly indifferent universe? I know people have their own preferences with regard to this sort of stuff, but I love the drilling down into these big questions in this series (I also like that series-unifying imagery of the shackles and chains)

And from there onto this uplifting moment: “There was no value in writing. No more effect than a babe’s fists battering at the silence that ignored every cry. History meant nothing, because the only continuity was human stupidity.” Boy, this is a dark, despair and ennui filled start to this novel (why we need those humor scenes so badly). What will turn it around? Anything?

And now we’ve got Mallet adding to the regret pile.

And that is an ominious bit of an ending to this scene:

“Watch your back healer. Sometimes the lad pushes and the lady’s nowhere in sight” followed by “burden” followed by “walked away from the warmth . . . colder and colder with every step,” followed by “crows danced . . . until they went out.” Eek.

Ah well, maybe this lovely married couple will relieve us of this burdensome... hmmmm, apparently not: rage, violence, more regret, thoughts of murder, actual murder. Oh well. Sigh.

And now it appears Hood is on stage (a cowled figure, one whom deaths summon, flies). What is this god up to? Why does he want Gaz to keep killing? Especially after telling us that “I do not demand sacrifices. There is no need . . . You drain a life . . . Nothing more is required . . . I am summoned, without end.” (hmm, and is that “without end” a reference to no goals/intent required, or is it another example of the ennui that permeates this novel?)

Not a lot to say about the Krute-Rallick scene save that it gives us some exposition and sets us up for some possible moves.

With all this death and despair, it’s a good move to turn to Pust for some humor here before things get overwhelmingly heavy. Oh, this poor High Priestess.

Nice guard here in his response to Mappo and willingness to show him to the temple (yes, he says it’s for his benefit, but one senses, I think, that this is not a selfish man). I like the little “Hood take the one that did this” when he stumbles upon Gaz’s handiwork in the alley.

Note the echoes in his lines to Duiker’s: “Is it just that sweet sip of power? Domination? The sense of control over who lives and who dies?”

Power that Mappo calls “illusion, farce.” You get the sense these two could have a nice tankard of ale together.

And again, a bit of humor to lighten things, as the priest at Burn’s temple has his long poetic list that could have been longer. Love that meta-fiction kind of moment.

Heck of a way to travel, huh? And what a pre-boarding ritual—“We wish to bathe you in blood.”

Dark, dark, and more dark....

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

Chris Hawks
1. SaltManZ
Looks like some cut-and-paste errors in the header, which says this is Chapter Two, and that Amanda won't be posting. (Nope, and nope.)
Steven Halter
2. stevenhalter
So, the commentaries (with Amanda) go to about scene 10? The summary seems to do the whole chapter.
Chris Hawks
3. SaltManZ
Bill also went up through the same scene. Add in the copy-and-paste errors, and this is rather confusing.
Chris Hawks
4. SaltManZ
Anyway, my comments:

Love the Kruppe narration. I don't recall how I felt about it on my first read, but I can tell you my reading tastes have certainly changed (or, rather, expanded) considerably in the intervening 4.5 years. I found TtH a slog back then (though ultimately really good), but I am absolutely savoring SE's prose this time around.

Mallet's scene immediately brought to mind Glen Cook's classic line: "Soldiers live. And wonder why."

Is anyone else bothered by the fact that "bhokarala" seems to have lost the apostrophe? Or is it just the text of my book club edition that consistently spells it that way? (I suppose I could check my MMPB for verification, but I'm lazy, and also at work right now.)

I thought Torvald's scene with Mrs. Gareb was hilarious, but at the same time it made me mildly uncomfortable. (And I was also aware that I should probably have felt more uncomfortable than I did.)
Bill Capossere
5. Billcap
Sorry folks
It's Amanda's birthday week (yea Amanda!) and I'm under the weather, so we'd warned Tor we might not be able to get our post in on time or at all, or that Amanda might not be able to post until later. But "talking" about it later (sometimes the whole two continents things makes communication less than timely), we realized this chapter was longer than our earlier ones. So rather than miss a post, or post late, or have only one of us post, we figured we would split the long chapter and have both of us comment on time. Our hard-working editors (whom we too often make work even harder--sorry editors!) must have gotten the first memo but not the second and thus the note re Amanda.

As for the extra scenes (our comments go up to and include scene 9) --my bad for forgetting to excise them once we made this decision. Scenes 10 to the end will be covered next week. All on me.

Apologies for the confusion.
- -
6. hex
Torvald's behavior with Gareb’s wife didn't sit well with me either, Amanda. It's even worse in the context of (the next chapter I think?): the reunion with his wife, and his worrying about the other lovers she might have had.
7. Jordanes
I'm intrigued to know what Amanda thinks of Harllo's age...
Sydo Zandstra
8. Fiddler

I get the impression that Amanda forgot that Harllo is the product of Stonny being raped by Pannion Domin troops during the siege of Capustan in MoI...

Speaking of the Harllo plot, Bill called Snell an ass. He's being mild here. Snell is the kind of kid that starts torturing kittens and puppies at a young age and then works himself up to become a serial killer.
I really loathe him...

Looking forward to Pust's dealings with his Genebackan colleague. :D

On a side note, Barathol's and the BB's plotlines really make me regret we skipped Stonewielder here, because Orb, Sceptre, Throne takes over these right after this book, and because Toll the Hounds overlaps with the last to books, timelinewise. We'll have to do two Esslemont back to back anyway, so we'd better have had that out of the way...
Just my two cents :)

P.S. Happy Birthday Amanda, and get well, Bill!
9. aaronthere
I always took the flies to be a strong signifier of Hood's presence, going back to that first scene in Deadhouse Gates, with the worshipper of death completely covered in flies. There are so many nameless hooded characters though, so it is smart not to assume that every hooded character is the man himself...
Steven Halter
10. stevenhalter
I would like to know the color of the cat.

"Why is everyone I meet insane?" -- why indeed?
Scott Goodwin
11. LazyBarghast
Hello all, I have finally caught up to this reread. My thanks to the group, you all have made my past few weeks of backtracking through the posts enjoyable, and thanks especially to Amanda (happy birthday!) and Bill (feel better!) for the work they have done. I’ll be reading along now on my fourth reading of TtH and those that follow.

I seemed to have caught up just in time for the “wait-Harllo-is-how-old?” crisis. As with all discussions of the timeline it is known that way lays only madness.

I will buck the trend and say I enjoyed the bedroom role-playing scene in the bawdy humor I think it was intended. Sure, it can be seen in other ways, but if one drills down deeply on everything it just sucks the fun out of life, so what’s the point (a lesson learned while pursuing my own degrees in anthropology, much to the consternation of my post-modern professors). Torvald’s adventure gives us a taste of the happy-go-lucky rogue archetype doing his thing that we haven’t seen since Crokus in GotM, and allows for a bit of fun in an otherwise dark chapter.

Thanks again to all, and I look forward to tagging along with you to the end.
Nisheeth Pandey
12. Nisheeth
I find Kruppe's narration beautiful. Especially when it is circular.
Love the guard as well. I can't seem to remember, but do we know his name?

Having just completed the book, this is the favourite book in the series.
Eric Desjardins
13. SirExo
I take the bedroom scene as a warning, if you want to roleplay, keep the lights on so you can recognise your partner.
Bill Capossere
14. Billcap
"if you want to roleplay, keep the lights on so you can recognise your partner"

doesn't that defeat the purpose :)
Kartik Nagar
16. BloodRaven
Enter Gaz and Thordy. For some reason, I feel that they are two of the most realistic characters of the series, in that I would not be surprised to find such characters in real life. Also, it seems that Hood has blessed Gaz to continue his dirty work, but I always pictured Hood as a 'kind' god, similar to Mael, who actually cares about people. This blessing seems out of character, so there must be some hidden reason. Also, I think it was Hood that Shadowthrone and company were waiting for in the prologue, so he is definitely plotting something.
Tricia Irish
17. Tektonica
Happy Birthday, Amanda. Taureans rock ;-)
Feel better, Bill!

Fiddler@8: Thanks for the reminder of who it was that raped Stonny. And yes, the timeline is, well, wonky, but we don't care really, do we?

Welcome LazyBarghast@11: I tend to agree with you about the Role playing in the bedroom. A mildly amusing interlude in a dark chapter. I just don't want to read too much 21 century morality into it.
Tabby Alleman
18. Tabbyfl55
The roleplaying in the bedroom scene just felt like something out of Animal House, so I took in that way and didn't feel any guilt over finding it humorous. Even going back to House of Chains, Torvald was always kind of a goof-ball so any time I'm reading him, I put those glasses on and nothing bothers me about any of it. : )
Darren Kuik
19. djk1978
BloodRaven @16: I've never had that impression about Hood in general, although there are instances when he does seem to. I do agree that Hood is one of the participants in the prologue, but not the one who is being waited for. And I think you're right about Gaz and Thordy.

I'm with the general amusement camp about Torvald's scene, although I can appreciate the other side. Just don't think it was meant to be read that way.

The watchman is I think one of my favorite unnamed characters.
George A
20. Kulp
So Harllo is six? How long has it been since we last saw Stonny and Gruntle?

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