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 One 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.
Lady Vidikas, once Challice D’Arle and now wife to Councilor Gorlas Vidikas, stands on the balcony of her home watching the crowds celebrating the New Year. She thinks of the fad lately among Daru men of wearing Malazan-like torcs (but gold and gemmed) and also of her husband’s contempt for much of the nobility. She believes she has seen what her life is now going to be like, and she mourns the past.
Picker is returning from the market on her way back to K’rul’s Bar, cursing Blend’s inconvenient “sprained” ankle and annoyed as well at Mallet’s misery since retirement.
Dester Thrin, a member of the Assassin’s Guild, is tailing Picker as part of a contract on at least several of the retired Malazans. He thinks back on the succession wars after Vorcan’s disappearance, his relative contentment with the new Grand Master. He recalls Rallick Nom’s use of poison over the then-preferred magic and how a cult has grown up around Nom since his disappearance, though the current Grand Master had outlawed it and killed several of its alleged leaders.
Baruk’s demon Chillbais, perched atop a wall watching over the Azath House, sees something emerge from the house and go over the wall. Chillbais flies off to tell Baruk.
Zechan Throw and Giddyn the Quick, two other Guild assassins, wait to ambush Antsy and Bluepearl, who are returning from the market with wine and who seem a bit drunk as they stumble toward K’rul’s.
Dester makes his move on Picker, but she kills him instead, having long ago picked him out tailing her. Realizing Dester was an assassin and not a common thief, she hurries back to the bar.
SCENES EIGHT AND NINE
Zechan and Giddyn make their move, but Bluepearl had been casting an illusion to make it seem that he and Antsy were ten feet ahead of where they actually were and the Malazans kill their attackers easily, realizing afterward, as did Picker, that they weren’t muggers but paid assassins.
Picker spots what seems to be another assassin near K’rul’s. She kills him just before Antsy and Bluepearl catch up to her and the three enter the bar. Picker calls a meeting, telling Blend to find Mallet and Duiker. Blend notes it’s too bad Spindle has taken off on a pilgrimage. As they head to the meeting, a bard is singing Anomandaris, though no one is listening.
Challice observers the three councilors in her home: Shardan Lim, who seems to regard her with a predatory eye; Hanut Orr, an arrogant playboy; and her husband, contemptuous and seemingly indifferent to how Lim looks at Challice. Challice goes to her room and tells her maid to pull out her old jeweler. Looking at the pieces, she decides to see them tomorrow.
Murillio’s latest woman, the widow Sepharia, has passed out and her daughter makes a move on Murillio, which he knows he should ignore but doesn’t. At the close of their amorous adventure, the girl’s current suitor stabs Murillio, wounding him badly. Murillio leaves the house, blood streaming from the wound.
In the Phoenix, Scorch and Leff bemoan having taken on the job of taking on a debtor’s list. And acting as collectors/enforcers. They lose a game to Kruppe and he tells them he’ll defray their debt if they cut him in on the list for a percentage. Their conversation is broken up by the arrival of the badly wounded Murillio. Kruppe sends Meese for Coll.
At K’rul’s the Malazans discuss the contract put out on them. Coll bursts in requesting Mallet’s immediate help. Mallet goes with Bluepearl.
SCENE FIFTEEN THROUGH EIGHTEEN
Baruk is reading a seemingly not-so-credible account of the old Tiste days, involving the alliance between Anomander Rake and Osserick against Draconus. The scroll was a gift from Rake, delivered by Crone, who watches as Baruk reads. Baruk and Crone discuss the White Face Barghast and Grey Sword taking ship and Rake’s delay in accepting Darujhistan’s offer to set up diplomatic relations with Black Coral. Crone says Rake wants to know “when will it begin,” and if Baruk needs assistance, adding Rake can make said assistance hidden if necessary. Chillbais enters and tells Baruk “Out! Out! Out!” after which Baruk tells Crone “it has begun.”
This Frail Age poem is by Fisher kel Tath, and echoes what we heard in the prologue. Does this mean that the grey-haired gentleman who joins K’rul and Kruppe is Fisher, or is it merely that he sings the same song that Fisher did?
Look at the lead through that poem: “Oh frail city! ... Oh blue city! ... Uncrowned city! ... Doomed city!” Anyone feeling a little tense at what might happen to Darujhistan in this novel?
The spiders mentioned in that poem—anything to do with Ardata? Or are we merely talking about webs and hidden things?
It feels both strange and nice to be back in a city where there is wealth and no war or deprivation (as of yet). This is definitely highlighted by the start of this chapter: “Tables laden with exotic foods, ladies wrapped in silks, men and women in preposterous uniforms all glittering gilt....”
There is so much in these first few chapters. For a start, those “soldiers” are shown to be those acting a part, those who have not seen war. It all makes you feel uneasy, linked to the poem about this doomed city of Darujhistan. Makes you feel that these fake soldiers may have to become real soldiers before the book is done.
Also, we see a real shift in attitude towards the Malazans—from a chilling threat to an empire that provides inspiration for jewellry now sported by nobles. And that switch did not happen slowly. This breeds a perspective, rightly or wrongly, that the people of Darujhistan are rather like willow trees—swaying in the direction that the wind blows, but mostly just continuing their lives uninterrupted.
“Flaying of Fander”—something to do with Fanderay?
Hello Challice, welcome back! So she did marry Gorlas, did she? Seems as though that marriage is not quite working out for her—wonder if she ever thinks about Crokus?
Quick glimpse at the ex-Bridgeburners, via Picker and her quest for Blend’s flatbread—it does make you wonder how they’ve taken to retirement. In my experience, a lot of soldiers find it incredibly hard to adjust to civilian life. Perhaps Mallet is struggling in this respect? Or maybe it’s the residue of what he’s had to cope with during his time with the Bridgeburners.
This is immediately picked up as we realise that Picker is being trailed by Dester Thrin, and he reflects on the fact that the soldiers haven’t remained in shape on leaving the army: “They were old, sagging, rarely sober, and this one, well, she wore that huge, thick woollen cloak because she was getting heavy and it clearly made her self-conscious.” This is so overt, though, that it does make me think that Dester is about to be proved wrong in a bad way!
Why has the clan-master targeted these ex-Bridgeburners? On whose orders? I mean, I know that the ex-Bridgeburners probably have many enemies made over the course of their lives in the military, but I wonder what this is about.
Ah, I see we have a mysterious Grand Master “who was both vicious and clever”—I wonder if we should be guessing who this is yet? Also, let’s pose this question. How often when a character is put on the page but not referenced as male or female do you automatically assume they are male? I do this WAY too often, and it frustrates me.
Although here it turns out the Grand Master IS male: one Seba Krafar.
Chillbais sort of reminds me of a gargoyle, because of his stoniness and his observation of the Azath House. SO MANY QUESTIONS, just from this tiny brief section. Who came out of the House? Or was it someone who went to the House and then returned? Why is Chillbais watching the House? What sort of demon is he? Who is his master? Haha, this feels like a familiar place: overwhelming confusion as I head into a new Erikson book. By this point, though, I feel affection and trust rather than annoyance. I’m fine with trying to put these dots together, and totally willing to be wrong while guessing!
Aww, Dester, it’s like we never knew you. And I do enjoy being proven right there, in that the Bridgeburners will never really be ex. They do take down these assassins with ease. Are the assassins just not very good, or are the Bridgeburners too experienced in spotting these things?
So Shardan Lim is a bad guy, right? From this description he might as well be wearing a black hat and a t-shirt that says “I heart monologues”: “He met Challice’s eyes like a man about to ask her husband if his own turn with her was imminent, and she felt that regard like the cold hand of possession round her throat.” If he is an example of the new breed on the Council, then I don’t like who is in charge of Darujhistan.
I do feel for Challice as she thinks: “Oh, there had been so many possibilities then.” Sure, she is being more vain about things, but I think most of us look back to our childhoods and think that the world truly was completely open to us then. As we get older, more and more doors are closed.
Oh, Erikson is so clever with his language. With phrasing like: “...this stroking of his vaguely creped and nearly flaccid ego...” and “...Tripping over his sword all night...” he has quite clearly laid out the amorous path intended in this scene. That was if the reader hadn’t already clocked the half-naked girl.
Murillio has died here?! That can’t be the way we return to a character, surely? Although, as Bill often points out, we haven’t actually seen the word corpse. And even that isn’t always the end of a person!
Encounters with Kruppe make me smile. I remember being vaguely annoyed with him when we first met him, but now I just drink in sentences like: “Kruppe, of course, felt magnanimous towards them all, as suited his naturally magnanimous nature.”
See? See Murillio not being dead? (I should not really make comments as I go along, because I am so often proved immediately wrong, but I do like to give you my instant reaction on events!)
Although there has been some question raised so far in this opening, I am finding the first chapter to have started at a neat sprint. Considering the slower way some of the Malazan novels have unwound, this feels very different.
Annnnnnnd, having just said that, the scene with Baruk and Crone unwinds both slowly and mysteriously. Why exactly did Anomander offer up Dillat’s book to Baruk? Just for entertainment value? We get a real sense of the Tiste Andii’s ennui and long lives, as we realise that Anomander could quite feasibly consider Baruk’s request for alliance and embassy until Baruk is dead and gone. Yet it seems as though Anomander has, in fact, been holding back for a reason—he is thinking that Baruk might require more covert assistance. But assistance for what?
Either of your guesses about that opening poem make sense Amanda, but I don’t think it much of a spoiler to say your first is right and here indeed that clue I was talking about re our mysterious third guest around the fire with Kruppe and K’rul.
I like how Challice’s name is withheld until the end, a case where the delayed information has greater impact. As for if she thinks about Cutter Amanda, I think her focus on the moon and the past is telling us that yes, she does indeed.
I also like that section on the torcs and this idea being portrayed of how when there is not war, the artifacts of war can become like playthings, delinked from their actual meaning and horror (as well as their good linkages—valor, self-sacrifice).
We’ve seen far too much Bridgeburner competence to have much suspense over the assassins I’d say. I’m not saying these were bad scenes, but I think the tension is more over how the Malazans would escape death rather than if. Anyone feel differently?
As for Chillbais’ scene. While it isn’t laid out, if we can spin our heads waaaayyyy back to our last time in this city, we can call up who was employing demons (Baruk) and who was inside the Azath House (Vorcan and Rallick). I’d also say that relatively lengthy aside on the cult of Rallick Nom is a pretty good indicator that back in Darujhistan as we are, and knowing as we do that he is not dead, that we’ll probably be seeing him at some point. The same holds true for the reminder re Vorcan.
And like Amanda, it is good to see these folks (the Malazans) back in their usual no-nonsense, competent fashion. And with the Bridgeburners comes that dark humor as well—loved the “Served ‘im right, standing there like that,” line, along with Picker bemoaning turning down her best proposal in decades.
Note that throwaway line—where exactly is Spindle off pilgrimaging to?
And that other throwaway line about the bard singing Anomandaris, and nobody listening.
Yes, Shardan does appear on stage in near-full moustache-twirling form, doesn’t he? We’ll have to see how that plays out.
“He should never have lingered in the garden” followed closely by “Turning, he found himself looking upon the widow’s daughter” is like an easy-to-solve algebra equation: 2 + 2 = X. Oh, Murillio, we all saw this coming after the first paragraph or two.
And yes, the language is a good time indeed. As is the way in which Murillio slips into his “usual detachment [so as to ensure] impressive endurance,” pulling himself out (so to speak) just in time before getting lost in a malaise that would have not helped his, um, “ego.”
As we read about Kruppe’s “naturally magnanimous nature,” let us not forget just who is telling this tale....
I can’t recall if this continues throughout the novel, but I just want to stop a moment to point out we’re getting lots of echoes here already. We had Challice thinking back to her past and feeling a sense of regret and now we’ve got Murillio doing the same. We’ve got mention of the moon in both those scenes. We’ve got two bars: the Phoenix and K’rul’s. We’ve got two groups in each. We’ve got assassins on the streets (though admittedly not for long) and assassins perhaps about to hit the streets (from the House). Here we’ve got a game being played with Skirmishers and Mercenaries, etc. Soon we’ll see another, similar game being played elsewhere. As I said, I can’t recall if this continues, but it may just be something to keep an eye on. In any case, I always like how these sorts of connections lend a sense of unity to a work.
And speaking of the past and regrets, we’ve also got Duiker here, who has yet to recover seemingly from his experiences. And while we’re with him, let’s note that tapestry he’s looking at, an armada of dragons approaching a place that looks just like this bar, which if you recall, was once a temple sacred to K’rul. Reminding us of that connection between the Elder God and the dragons.
I like how matter-of-factly these guys talk about the ghosts below. A little thing, but it does tell us something about this group.
Speaking of echoes, we’ve had a bard singing obscure lines from the poem Anomandaris, a reference to Duiker the historian, and now we’ve got Baruk reading an alleged history of Anomandaris, though it’s pretty clear there is not a lot of actual “history” in it (and here perhaps might be a good place to mention for a few of you who have asked that yes, we are planning on doing the prequel books. And yes, for those who have read Forge of Darkness, it’s going to be hard at times to stay quiet when we get references to those days here and the rest of this series. Prepare to gird thyself to silence.)
By the way, I’m wondering if maybe E.R. Edison wrote this version of Anomandaris With Blood On His Face. It sounds a bit like the Worm Ouroboros if I recall that book right (a book I absolutely loved when I read it long long ago in a teenhood far far away).
It’s interesting that soon after getting a scornful account of historians, we get Baruk referring to Fisher’s Anomandaris (a long poem) as seemingly more authoritative. Interesting in what it says about both Fisher and about poetry/creative writing vs. history.
The Barghast and Grey Swords off to the seas. We know where they are by now....
What indeed is the “it” which has begun? What might Baruk need assistance with? What could be so large that it would be beyond Baruk and require not just assistance but help on the scale of Rake? How is whoever escaped from the Azath House connected?
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.