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 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.
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.”
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.