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 Part Two of Chapter Eight 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.
Nimander recalls his youth (via a flashback to how Deadsmell and some rum had brought these stories out in the ship they’d come in on), brought up in a keep by someone they called Father, with scores of kids and Rake “wandering the corridors in godlike indifference.” Before that had been a priest, “an ancient companion of the Son of Darkness [Endest],” who had taken care of them. He thinks how the children had tormented that poor old man until the arrival of Andarist, who after some fighting with Rake about something unknown, took them away to Drift Avalii and how Endest had wept when they left, Endest whom they’d thought a heartless “ogre.” They traveled via portal with Andarist, who taught them weaponscraft and whom they came to love despite his sternness. Nimander thinks about how children make great soldiers but the vessel “breaks” and speculates that the Dying God is a child. He recalls two Dal Honese who had been shipwrecked on Drift Avalii and of their cultural habit of not burying their dead, but making them part of the huts’ mud walls, each corpse beginning a new wall until three corpses allowed for the new room to be roofed over. The shipwrecked pair had said the pressure of living with one’s dead often drove people insane and told the tale of how the land was filled with constant war, blood vengeance, and that the only rational response was to flee. Kallor interrupts Nimander’s thoughts with a comment on the scarecrows they’re passing and notes that the plants are “not even native to this world.” Kallor and Skintick debate whether things change and if things get worse. Kallor claims greater wisdom and Skintick complains about the desire by the old of keeping the status quo. Kallor tells Skintick to get off his lawn and turn off his damn noisy music. Kallor reveals he can see them as kin of Rake and mockingly asks what they think will happen when they find Rake, telling them “Anomander Rake is a genius at beginning things. It’s finishing them he has trouble with.” He tells them he knows Rake, but they are interrupted by a Jaghut ruin. The Jaghut recognizes Kallor and invites him, Skintick, and Nimander in for tea.
Inside the tower, two of the walls have been replaced with “black, glimmering barriers of some unknown substance” that make Nimander feel dizzy to look at. The Jaghut discusses gods, essences, first forms, chaos, DNA (though not calling it that) and then tells how it met a wolf god when the Jaghut was fleeing in disguise from the Imass that had been allies against a Tyrant but turned against him and the other Jaghut they’d been helping. The Jaghut says he killed 43 T’lan Imass and a Bonecaster and then names the Tyrant they imprisoned as Raest, one of his “more obnoxiously arrogant offspring.” The Jaghut grabs Kallor’s wrist and tells him he (Kallor) “wounded that wolf god . . . terribly when you laid waste to your realm.” Kallor threatens to kill the Jaghut, who points out the ruin used to be an Azath House and asks if Kallor would like the Jaghut to awaken it. Kallor recognizes the Jaghut now as Gothos. Gothos orders Kallor outside just as the tea starts to have an effect on Nimander and Skintick. Unfortunately, Nimander falls through the strange walls.
Desra thinks how there are strong people and weak people in the world and the weak were worthy of contempt, despite outnumbering the strong. Most of the strong are just as bad, bullies more often than not, but some are worthy—the quiet ones who often thought themselves weaker than they were but when push came to shove held out. Clip is not one such, Clip whom she will use as necessary. Nimander, however, is one of the worthy ones, she has decided.
Kallor exits and tells the others the Jaghut has decided to “use” Nimander and Skintick. Desra heads for the tower.
SCENES FIVE AND SIX
Skintick awakens to find himself naked on a stone platform surrounded by a grove of olive trees and broken columns. He sees corpses, feels an “evil” sun, and realizes this is a world with no one left alive, a dying world where someone had “seeded a world with life . . . then nudged the sun to anger.” The question “Who is the Dying God” keeps repeating and then he finds himself flying free because “nothing mattered anymore . . . We all die. Meaningless!” He is slapped awake by Gothos, who calls him a “bad choice . . . Answering despair with laughter like that.” He continues: “There is a last moment when every sentient creature alive realizes that it is over, that not enough was done . . . You Tiste Andii understood that. Anomander Rake did. He realizes that to dwell in but one world was madness. To survive, you must spread like vermin. Rake tore his people loose from their complacency, and for this he was cursed.” When Skintick says he saw a dying world, Gothos replies, “So it is. Somewhere, somewhen. On the paths of the Azath, a distant world slides into oblivion.” He asks what Skintick felt and when Skintick responds “free,” Gothos repeats he was a bad choice. Desra arrives.
Nimander finds himself in darkness, being grabbed and pummeled. Suddenly a giant figure grabs him and runs up a slope and then down into a caldera filled with heat and ash. The “child-like” giant tells Nimander “Like you, I too do not belong here,” and explains that Nimander’s attackers were “Spirits. Trapped like ants in amber. But . . . it is the blood of dragons.” He is named Elder by the spirits and he says he doesn’t know how he arrived here and that he is lost. He talks of how he used to build houses of stone that would vanish just as he finished them and thinks if he could build another he’d stop being lost, but the spirits’ attacks prevent him. Nimander explains what happened to him and the Elder says he remembers Gothos, recalling how Gothos would appear “just before the last stone was set. He would look upon my house and pronounce it adequate . . . And then he would walk inside and close the door, and I would place the last stone, and the house would vanish. Nimander speculates to himself that the Elder builds Azath Houses. When the Elder says the spirits cannot get inside the caldera, Nimander suggests he build the house there, using the rim as the foundation, and that Nimander set the last stone from outside (knowing that it would trap him there forever and accepting that sacrifice so as to help the Elder escape).
Gothos tells Desra he doesn’t know how to get Nimander back. He admits to drugging the two Andii, explaining he “had reasons for doing so, which seem to have failed. Therefore I must be more direct.” He asks that when they meet Rake, they tell him “He chose wisely. Each time, he chose wisely. Tell him, that of all whom I ever met, there is but one who has earned my respect and he is that one.” Desra looks inside the walls and thinks she sees motion.
Kallor tells the other Andii no Jaghut should be trusted, especially Gothos. Kedeviss guesses Kallor is being chased and Aranatha says, “He has always been hunted.”
Nimander watches as the Elder is nearly done (he has no sense of time in this place) and wonders what a tower built of dragon’s blood would do. The Elder explains what Nimander will need to do to set the last stone, but wonders why they can’t both stay inside and have the Elder set the stone from there. Nimander says wherever the tower will take the Elder, maybe to his home realm, it will not be Nimander’s home. The Elder replies the spirits will war over Nimander and kill him. Nimander sees the truth of that, but accepts it and goes out through the window, then sets the final stone. As he does so, he falls down the slope and feels his hands grabbed. He is pulled out of the wall by Desra. Gothos yells at Nimander for what he’s done with the Elder, saying, “I was saving that one for later. And now he’s free . . . I needed that one. There is now an Azath in the blood of dragons . . . You idiot, Nimander. Dragons don’t play games. Do you understand me? Dragons don’t play game. I despair, or I would if I care enough. No, instead I will make some ashcakes. Which is will not share.”
The Andii exits Gothos’ tower and Aranatha says she needs to talk to Gothos and goes in. Kallor calls her “uncanny” and wonders what she has to say to Gothos.
The Captain tries to convince Karsa he is the Captain’s heir but Karsa refuses, saying he will free all the slaves and without them the Captain’s kingdom will be destroyed and all forgotten. Dying, the Captain whispers, “You could have lied.”
The Captain dead, Karsa tells everyone to exit the carriage, saying they don’t have much time. He recalls how once “he had set out to find glory, only to discover that it was nothing like what he has imagined it to be. It as a brutal truth that his companions then had understood so much better . . . [but] the power of Karsa own will had overwhelmed them. What could be learned from that? Followers will follow, even unto their own deaths. There was a flaw in such people—the willingness to override one’s own instinct for self-preservation. And that flaw invited exploitation . . . Confusion and uncertainty surrendered to simplicity, so comforting, so deadly. Without followers the Captain would have achieved nothing. The same the world over. Wars would disintegrate into the chaos of raids, skirmishes, massacres of the innocent, the vendetta of blood feuds, and little else. Monuments would not be raised. No temples, no streets . . . no cities . . . Every patch of ploughed land would shrink to what a few could manage. Without followers, civilization would never have been born.
He would tell his people all this . . . make them not his followers but his companions. And together they would bring civilization to ruin. . . Because for all the good it created, its sole purpose was to breed followers—enough to heave into motion forces of destruction . . . at the whim of those few cynical tyrants born to lead . . . with irony words—duty, honour, patriotism, freedom.” He sets the carriage aflame and exits.
Karsa tells everyone the slaves are free and the loot shall be divided amongst everyone—officers, soldiers, slaves—equally. He tells them to leave, but adds that next time he sees them, in however many years, he will come “as a destroyer” where they hide in their cities. Years later, these people will speak of how “Broken Face” came among them.
Traveller tells Samar Dev “I once led armies. I was once the will of the Emperor of Malaz . . . We served death of course in all that we did. For all our claims otherwise. Imposing peace, ending stupid feuds and tribal rivalries. Opening roads to merchants . . . Coin flowed . . . And yet, behind it all, he waited . . . Where all the roads converge, where every path ends. He waits.” They see flames ahead and when Traveller wonders what burns, Samar says, “Karsa Orlong burns, Traveller. Because that is what he does . . . The Skathandi are no more.” Traveller says her tales of Karsa frighten him and she understands.
This flashback to Nimander’s early life says so much about he and the others and how they came to be—running happy as imps, with a distant father and a dismayed guardian, not knowing the future that awaits. It seems odd to think about Tiste Andii as children, but these solemn creatures must have come from somewhere.
Damn, Andarist turned them into killers. I hate this picture of children as the perfect killers—wreaking destruction without any remorse or morality. Anomander might have been a distant father, but we all know he would never have done this to his children, not even if he felt there was some cause for it. I think that he would rather take the burden than make children fight on his behalf.
Nimander might have no ancestors, but I guess that is because most of those who would have become ancestors are still alive! They just have too much indifference to try and guide those who come after them.
Ack, see, now Kallor is a mystery to me—on the one hand I hate, hate, hate him for what he did to Whiskeyjack and for some of the atrocities he’s committed, and yet I have to reluctantly admire his pragmatism created through such a long life. For instance, knowing that at some point he is likely to be on the same side as Anomander Rake again—and also seeming to know Rake’s perspective on life incredibly well: “Anomander Rake is a genius at beginning things. It’s finishing them he has trouble with.”
Ha, what is old if even Tiste Andii think it’s old?
You know something? Nimander and Skintick come across here as a little bit wide-eyed and naive—both about Kallor and the world around them. I guess their isolation from the world hasn’t helped. They certainly don’t know much about Kallor and his past, and I think Kallor is quick to interrupt this Jaghut as he states: “I know who you are, O Lord of Futility. King of Ashes. Ruler of Dead Lands. Born to glory and cursed to destroy it every time. Killer of Dreams. Despoiler of—”
You know something? When it all gets too deep in these books, I totally see Kallor’s point here. And I wonder if Erikson put it in deliberately as a nod to those who complain! “In my empires, philosophers spewed such rubbish for centuries, until, of course, I grew tired of them and had them tortured and executed.”
Every time I see the word tyrant I wonder if it is to do with the tyrant from Darujhistan! Before it was made clear there was such, I always thought it was a Jaghut tyrant. And now I don’t know either way! Luckily this time the name Raest is mentioned, so I know we’re talking Jaghut! So this is the father of Raest we’re dealing with here?
Ah, Gothos—a familiar name. If Gothos is the father of Raest and Icarium, does that make them brothers? Or when Gothos says “offspring” about Raest, he just means another of the Jaghut race?
Ah, it’s always lovely to see one of our more main characters seen from the point of view of another—Desra acknowledging that Nimander is one “whose strength was absolute.” It’s particularly interesting, this perspective, considering we’ve seen the way that Nimander views himself—as a person who is weak and unable to take charge in the manner that everyone expects.
I’m a little confused by what Gothos is doing here, sending Nimander and Skintick through the paths of the Azath. What is he searching for? Why is he using Nimander and Skintick for this? He does seem disappointed in his choice of Skintick for sure!
Nimander, at least, seems to be demonstrating his quiet strength here as he meets the Elder. Despite his obvious confusion and his panic, he tries so hard to reassure the Elder and work out how to solve his issue. I find the idea of Gothos stealing these Houses and, it seems, keeping the Elder prisoner, very unlikeable—although I do accept that I might have the wrong end of the stick there. It wouldn’t be the first time!
I’m disturbed by the idea of the Elder building a house within the blood of dragons. It fills me with a great sense of foreboding.
Oh, there is so much here to try and digest. So much. Who is the Elder? Why is he so different as he builds? And, the big one, did Anomander plan Nimander—who has looked after him, what life experiences he had—in order to bring him to this point, where he is able to become what the Elder needs here? It seems so. Anomander does play the long game, doesn’t he?
It’s quite upsetting to me that Nimander has ended up in that position thanks to such a sorry character as Clip, and trying to make him whole again.
Now the Elder is referenced as the mason—and I somehow feel that should have capitals applied. The Mason has been seen throughout the series, with that role being attributed to various characters. And now the Mason is free. I wonder what that will mean for the future.
Kallor is sort of seeing to the heart of Aranatha here: “That bitch sister of yours is uncanny.” It says something that, after Nimander and Skintick have been blatantly used by Gothos, Aranatha still isn’t worried by the idea of going to face him.
Karsa really is one in a million as a character. I think there is my triumvirate of favourite characters—Anomander Rake, Cotillion and Karsa. True for anyone else? Who is yours? I know I have woefully left out any of the Bridgeburners. Oh, and hang on, I’ve left out Quick Ben. And Itkovian *sobs*. Oh, wait, there is Coltaine as well. And Tehol and Bugg. Damn. Well, for this minute only, that is my triumvirate of fave characters. For the next minute, who can say? That really is the triumph of this series, isn’t it? The fact that we have an endless parade of memorable characters, who make us laugh, achieve epic feats, have quiet conversations, cause us to sob like babies. I don’t think I’ve read another series with such a large quota of truly tremendous characters.
It is odd, as Amanda says, to think of mischievous Andii children. Though also a bit heartening, this sense of kids being kids. Poor Endest....
Look at that idyllic description of Drift Avalii: “A place of warmth, of stretches of soft sand and pellucid waters, of trees crowded with fruit.” What a sharp contrast to what is done to the children there.
That description of children as “perfect soldiers” is sad enough in the context of this novel, but when one considers the world, and images we’ve seen of eight-year-olds holding AK-47s and the like, it’s heartbreaking.
“The Dying God, Nimander now believed, was a child.”
I’ve said many times (really, many times. Tell me to shut up when you all get sick of these repetitions) how one of my favorite aspects of fantasy is its ability to make the metaphoric literal. We see that here with the Dal Honese story. Over and over in this book and in the series we see people haunted by the past, by their past, by the dead, by their dead. And now we see the Dal Honese bury their dead in their walls and thus literally are forced to “live with their dead,” with their past. And what that leads to: insanity.
I really enjoy this generational battle between Skintick and Kallor, this, ahem “age-old” debate. Kallor does have a point with regard to the way nostalgia sets the past awash in a golden light, that “Golden Age of the Past” sort of thing, which all too often ignores the realities or confines itself to a small swath of those who things were “better” for. And I think part of this is just how one defines what is changing. I mean, one could say folks still kill each other, so things “never change.” But then again, violence has declined over time. There are still hate crimes, bigots, etc. So things haven’t changed. But then, it’d be hard to argue there is less acceptance of difference (gender, race, sexuality) than before.
“Anomander Rake is a genius at beginning things. It’s finishing them he has trouble with.” Is Kallor right? Or does he lack the long-term perspective he needs? File.
Oh, is there anything better than Jaghut humor?
Look at Gothos talking about DNA! “If I but scrape your skin . . . that which I take from you beneath my nail contains every truth of you, your life, even your death, assuming violence does not claim you. A code, if you will, seemingly precise and so very ordered. Yet chaos churns. For all your similarities to your father, neither you . . . nor any of your brothers and sisters is identical to Anomander Dragnipurake.” I’m curious how folks felt about this moment.
Yeah Amanda, it wouldn’t surprise me if Kallor is standing in for certain readers here. Then again, I wonder how many of those readers would still be here to get this line from Kallor. Though I guess from some of our comments, I guess a lot of folks just suffer through the philosophy but keep going.
If Gothos is the literal father of Raest (“offspring” leaves it a bit vague), then he and Icarium would be half-brothers.
A few clues as to the tea: “The tea was heady, hinting of mint and cloves and something else.” Gothos stopping Kallor from drinking the tea.
Mysteries atop mysteries in this chapter, that’s for sure.
Amanda raises a good point: what was Gothos’ goal here? It wasn’t to send Nimander to meet the Builder, apparently. What was he hoping to achieve with these two Andii? It seems he did mean to send them along the paths of the Azath, but seemingly at random. It didn’t appear that he knew what Skintick would see, for instance. He seems disappointed that Skintick responded with a sense of freedom (in the “nothing matters” way is how I took that) to “potential snuffed out.” What was he hoping for? Compassion? Grief? Anger? Action? Was this a test of some sort? And what will he now do because this failed, something more “direct”? We’ll have to keep an eye out for him and this new plan. And what about his words for Rake? Has he always thought Rake chose wisely each time, or did this “failure” bring this thought around to him? What choices by Rake does he mean? The confrontation with Mother Dark? Partaking of Tiam’s blood? Leading his people here? So many possibilities—were all of them right? It’s interesting we get this view after Rake himself seems to be questioning at least some of his choices.
The Azath Builder/Mason/Elder. What is he? (This may be something we pick up if we remember in FoD reread). He remembers a land of three suns. Starvald Demelain had three suns (from our reread of RG: “a sky with three suns. Clip welcomes them to Starvald Demelain”); is this what he recalls? Where do the Azath houses vanish to? Do they go where we’ve seen them? Or do they go to some big Azath warehouse warren, which they exit when needed? How many builders are there? Gothos seems to imply more than one when he says “I needed that one.” What does Gothos mean, “he’s free?” Is he implying that he’s been imprisoning such builders? Or is it simply that he now doesn’t know where this Builder disappeared to? Are there repercussions of Azaths being built without Gothos able to transport them to wherever he goes? Is there a repercussion to an Azath in dragon blood? Can’t wait to get all these answers as we keep reading....
I agree Amanda that this little scene with Desra shows the power of shifting POVs. We’ve been given a pretty narrow view of Desra—using sex as a tool toward power, not much of a thinker, preferring Clip, scorning Nimander. And here we see that’s all turned upside down. She is a deep thinker. And she sees Clip as one of those who “imagine themselves strong but were in truth, weak.” While Nimander is not at all contemptible in her eyes. Instead, she “felt weak” before him and sees him as “one to whom she might surrender whatever she chose without fearing he would one day use it against her.” I like how this group of Andii is getting more and more fleshed out, how things we thought we (and they) once knew about them are being shown to be false or at least not wholly true, and how they are starting to show signs that they might form a cohesive, mutually protective group. Clip, meanwhile, we’ve been told/shown is blind to much of what he doesn’t choose to see—will he see any of this?
And while we’ve heard complaints about Nimander, seen him scorned by Clip, heard him diminish himself, this scene with the Azath builder seems to show Desra has him right. Strength plus goodness, power combined with compassion. What might his willingness to sacrifice himself for the Builder say about what might be coming up for him and his group?
Note Kallor still feels “besieged” by Aranatha.
Note she “strides” toward the tower.
Note she feels the need to speak with Gothos. As Kallor says, why? How does she have something to say to him? “Uncanny,” yes.
And c’mon—what a great ending to this scene: “I will make some ashcakes. Which I will not share.” Give me more Jaghuts!
That line from the Captain is a pretty concise on-the-nose summation of Karsa in many way ways: “You could have lied.” And it’s implied “But you didn’t.”
We know Karsa of now is not the Karsa we first met, and here is Karsa himself recognizing this: “he had set out to find glory, only to discover that it was nothing like what he has imagined it to be. It as a brutal truth that his companions then had understood so much better.” Remember how he mocked those companions? Our little giant barbarian has grown up!
Karsa’s musings on followers, though he is focused on civilization and political/military leaders, is an especially appropriate side trip in a book that deals with so many gods (The Dying God, The Crippled God, The Redeemer) and at least one loyally-followed Ascendant (Rake).
He raises an intriguing question—is civilization inherently better? Or does it merely serve as a magnifier of all that is bad within us, thus allowing for greater scope of violence? (if I’m reading his thoughts right). Are raids and skirmishes better than wars? Is this what he is saying? If we return to farmsteads and villages—no roads to connect them, no bridges—would this on the whole be better? Would evil remain evil but be defanged or lessened by lacking the power of numbers and technology and anonymity?
Is this the lesson of the carriage and Karsa’s torching of it: the carriage the symbol of civilization—full of fine foods and clothing and art (via trade and slavery and death), ever moving (i.e. “progressing”), never standing still, never thinking to stand still, that there might be benefit in standing still, but always moving forward, stripping the land around it. And here is Karsa, burning it all to the ground. How the hell is a Karsa trilogy going to end, one wonders.
From one man’s musings on civilization to another’s: The Malazan Empire, which has been in many ways presented as a boon to those it conquered (the outlawing of slavery for instance), still served Death, according to Traveller. Though if it’s merely that Death “waited” behind it all, it’s hard to see what doesn’t serve Death.
One imagines there isn’t much that makes Traveller afraid. Makes for a nice close then, this anticipation of the meeting between him and Karsa.
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.