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 Eleven 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.
SCENES ONE AND TWO
Kruppe extols the imagination of children, decries those who “drive children into labour [which] is to slaughter artists.” Harllo delivers “splints” (leg bones of an emlava) to Dev’ad Anan Tol, who tells him they will serve him as actual legs instead, since he has been caught in the Tellann Ritual. Harllo heads back.
Scorch and Leff let in two visitors to the Lady Varada’s estate: Lazan Door and Madrun. They tell Studlock (whom they call Studious) that they are late because they had to dig their way out of a mountain, collapsed by Brood’s hammer. Studious makes them compound guards and takes them to meet the Lady.
Nom arrives and is told of Lazan and Madrun. Nom recognizes the name Studious Lock: “Studious Lock the landless, of One Eye Cat” and thus knows why he wears a mask and rags—“to cover up what had been done to him back in his adopted city.” When introduced to the new guards, he blurts out “Where are their masks,” and then has to admit he’s heard rumors of “the ones hired to oust the Malazan fist.” Lazan says the rumors are lies, that they “completed our task, even unto pursuing the Fist and his cadre into the very heart of a mountain.” Nom recalls that Lock, however, was involved in a different action, but then decides silence is the better course. Nom leaves them and decides to try and break in to see the Lady to see if she is aware of the guards’ history. He overhears Studious telling Lazan and Madrun to get new masks. Nom makes it to the Lady’s balcony where she is sitting, veiled. She invites him in for some odd talk Nom doesn’t understand, then tells him it’s unfortunate he’s estranged from House Nom and that he should rectify that. She dismisses him without him telling her his suspicions about the new guards, asking him to get Studious on his way out. He does so, gives the other two their duties, and walks away, recalling the names he’d heard for Studious: “Blood Drinker, Bile Spitter, Poisoner.” He wonders at the point of making new masks, since “renegade Seguleh are renegade—they can’t ever go back.”
Leff suggests Nom’s wife is poisoning Nom, using her witchly powers to make him sick, because she hates Scorch and thinks he’ll get Nom in trouble like always.
Kruppe meets with Baruk, who asks if things are as desperate as they seem and tells him “certain arrangements have been finalized.” Kruppe replies that time and nature march on, heedless of kings and tyrants and mortal acts. He offers up two situations: a man who beats another to death in an alley and a wealthy man who conspires with other rich people to raise the price of grain, causing ripples of desperation, starvation, crime, and early death, asking if both are acts of violence. They discuss which has more blood on their hands, justifications and rationalizations, the idea that the rich man is waging war, the balance that holds off revolution, the cycle of oppression—revolution—new wealth—oppression again, the idea of everything getting wipe clean and starting again.
Barathol has set up his smithy in an old bakery and is working with Chaur when Guild thugs come in to wreck the place and beat him. He faces them down with an open gas line and a cusser (a blank). The woman leading the thugs withdraws. Barathol knows eventually there will be a fight, so he plans to outfit Chaur with armor and weapons.
Gaz heads out to kill while Thordy works on her stones, Scillara and Duiker walk the streets, Challice and Cutter pass in the market, Rallick and Krute meet to talk, Murillio comforts Stonny who reveals all, and assassins prepare to attack the marines.
SCENES NINE TO THE PENULTIMATE SCENE
Inside Krul’s, folks are having their usual night. In the cellar, Bluepearl is checking casks and finds one that tastes of magic, but then he is interrupted by a ghost. He closes the cask and starts to head upstairs with it. Upstairs, assassins start to enter through a second-floor window. Blend watches as five nobles enter, seemingly drunk. Antsy is hunting a two-headed rat in the small storeroom. Eleven assassins are now on the upper floor while the five new entrants starts up a loud argument as a diversion. Picker and Mallet pick up something funny about the argument, just as Blend realizes the argument is an act. Three more assassins enter via the door, these ones with crossbows that they immediately fire, killing Stevos the bartender, Hedry the serving girl, and possibly Picker, who ducks back. The five “nobles” draw weapons and begin attacking.
Everyone gets involved in the fight. Blend is struck in the shoulder by a crossbow. Mallet is hit in the stomach and the throat and is killed before he can try and heal himself. Bluepearl is killed by another assassin. Antsy kills several with sharpers, Picker kills some more with her crossbow and then another sharper, then the two work together to kill more. Blend comes to after having passed out, only to see another six assassins in the street heading toward the open door. Just as they’re about to enter, Barathol and Chaur attack them, then are joined by Antsy. Eventually all the assassins are killed and they take note of their losses: Mallet, Bluepearl, workers, guests. They don’t see Fisher, but there are a pile of bodies near the stage where he’d been. They’re angry and sad and wondering if there are enough of them left to retaliate. Antsy says he feels “old.”
Cutter and Challice meet. There is a flash forward: “Later, he would look back on this moment, on the dark warning contained in the fact that, when he spoke her name of old, she did not correct him. Would such percipience have changed things? All that was to come? Death and murder . . .”
I absolutely love this image of children as artists. How many times have we personally observed children at play and marvelled at the extent of their imagination? A table with a sheet thrown over it becomes a den deep in a jungle. A oddly-shaped rock in the woods becomes a magical gate to a new world. All we adults can do truly is observe, because that imagination and glorious joy in the tiny vanishes as we become work-worn and broken down by responsibilities. (And I simply adore Kruppe’s description of the child at play, who only pauses to wipe his nose on his sleeve—just so accurate!)
Which makes Erikson’s observation that children driven into labour is the slaughter of artists all the more poignant and painful... “all crushed to serve grown-up needs and heartless expectations.”
What a bitter thing to put, after this more whimsical look at childhood: “No, for Harllo childhood was over. Aged six.”
At age six Harllo shows a real sense of responsibility and duty—and I suspect this came from the childhood where he suffered from the depredations of Snell and had to do work for his foster parents. The fact he is spending his precious rest time trying to find “splints” (which he had to puzzle out the meaning of) and then climbing in darkness to get them to the Bone Miner, shows real guts and heart. “That had been before his shift, and now here he was, trying to do what he had promised [...] His neck and shoulders were raw from the ropes [...] If someone went looking for him and didn’t find him, an alarm would be raised.” Yes, an incredibly brave child.
Okay, so I’m reluctantly warming a little to Leff and Scorch, especially when Leff thinks such things as: “Standing here at the gate, yes, that was within his abilities.” And then there conversation about there only being one quarrel, with Lazan Door and Madrun standing right there. The whole conversation at the gate just made me laugh helplessly.
Haha! “I like juggling, tried it once, got up to two at a time—that took weeks, let me tell you.” Yes, helpless with laughter.
And it strikes me that thanks to the humour of Leff and Scorch, we don’t really dwell too much on this garishly costumed arrivals—so when we hear that a mountain collapsed on them, it sort of makes you think you might have missed something! Who are these new arrivals?
Erikson definitely knows the moments between a couple where it’s all nicey nicey on the surface, but underneath bitter warfare is being conducted.
Ah, I missed that the two newcomers called Studlock Studious, an entirely different name... And Studious Lock and Landless, of One Eye Cat is definitely a different name, that Torvald Nom seems very familiar with.
Mass murderers? Sadists? It seems as though Torvald Nom knows—or thinks he knows—a fair amount about what happened at One Eye Cat. However, I don’t think we can safely accept his perspective, knowing that we’ve seen events from two different sides before (I mean, Jaghut and T’lann Imass shows us that there is most definitely two sides to every story).
And what is all this about masks—the importance Torvald is putting on the masks? I think the only people we know that wear masks to any great degree are the Seguleh and these guys don’t seem the type!
Hmm, is it me, or does the veiled lady know quite a lot about House Nom?
Ha! “Renegade Seguleh are renegade—they can’t ever go back.” But what if these aren’t renegade? And, indeed, what do they need to make new masks for?
That scene between Baruk and Kruppe shows everything that is both good and bad about the series. Fabulous characters, astute observations, some humour and mystery—all so, so good. Lots of wordiness and difficult for the fast reader to appreciate all the details—so bad! I tend to be a fast reader and Erikson’s writing truly does not allow that in order to take in everything that needs to be grasped. Is it bad I’m already contemplating my first re-read of the Malazan series—probably as soon as I close the page on The Crippled God!
I love that in the observations of Kruppe as he bids us look at Gaz and Challice and Cutter, he also shows us a beautifully brief image of Stonny and Murillio, as he starts to help her heal, asks her to tell her tale, and causes her to weep the pain away. It’s so perfect a scene.
That cask that Bluepearl breaches—could it be selyk?
Oh, I love how Picker, Mallet and Blend all know just about instantaneously that these new arrivals are actually disguised trouble. Shows the mark of the experienced, and those who have worked together for a long, long time.
Wait, Mallet? No! After all that has happened, he’s killed by a dumb ass assassin for a stupid reason? God, I’m angry! And that last thought about Whiskeyjack... I am stunned.
And Bluepearl—it’s like we never knew you, never got a chance to hear all those stories you had.
And, in a painful end to what became a painful chapter, this quote: “Barathol wrapped Chaur in a hug to calm the man down. Tears streaked Chaur’s broad cheeks, and his fists were still closed, like massive bloody mauls at the end of his arms. He had wet himself.”
And this is a cold observation that I agree with and revel in: “It’s not good to do that. Leave some marines still breathing.” Vengeance will be done.
Oh, what a painful, painful chapter. And worse for us re-readers, who know what’s coming. It’s a good scene, but I hate this chapter.
Good old Kruppe, who could argue with his cold contempt, his lack of pity for those who “drive children into labour.” I like how we come at this from a different angle than the usual approach—the physical nature of the demands on children—seeing their crushed or missing fingers and limbs, their emaciated forms. We all call that up somewhat naturally on our own, I think. But Erikson, via Kruppe, gives us a slantwise look—the loss of the child as artist, the loss of wonder—crushed or severed as much as those fingers and limbs. One wonders, as well, if there is another connection to be made, to the artist put to labor. Not literally, not physical labor, but put to labor in the sense of driven by market forces, forced by editors or publishers or agents (if one wants to try and sell one’s art) to “serve grown-up needs and heartless expectations.” For “grown-up,” read “something someone can make profit from.” Or perhaps I read too much into this. I do like that reference to “the eel” at the end.
The emlava, if you recall from earlier references, is a large sabertooth-like cat the size of a plains bear.
Based on their clothing, their garrulous nature, would anyone have pegged Lazan and Madrun and Studlock as Seguleh? One wonders if their natures are what made them go renegade, or if their natures came as a result of going renegade. Their story is another example of how we’re only getting a peak at a small part of this tapestry of a world, a few threads, some images, but off to the edges are so many more pictures. Why did these three leave their society? What happened in One Eye? What was done to Studlock? Why? Why were they after the Fist? Who was that Fist and who was in his cadre? Who were “mass murderers” and how? Who was a “sadist” and how (though I think we might guess that one) I do so enjoy when Erikson refuses to let his story be the only story in this universe (ignoring Cam’s bunch o’ stories, of course). Something Kruppe (whom I think stands in for Erikson the author often in this novel) often gives us in his zoom out moments, as in this chapter where we go by all these people and their shoes and nightmares and harps and all don’t linger, but they all have their stories.
I also wonder why Studious wants renegade Seguleh to still wear masks.
Love Torvald’s dry, “He’d been a thief for years, a successful thief too, if not for all the arrests and fines and prison time and slavery and the like.” And besides that, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?
And absolutely cracked up at:
“Are my two gate guards as incompetent as they appear to be?”
“That would be quite an achievement, Mistress.”
So Lady Varada. Any clues here as to our mystery woman? Maybe one or two. She does seem to know the House of Nom pretty well, knowing of Torvald’s estrangement and commenting that “loyalty was ever the foremost trait of the family Nom.”
You do get the sense that Kruppe knows so much about what is going on, but just how much and in what detail is unclear. And I’d say, highly important given what happens next in this chapter.
As a reader, I like this scene with Barathol because of course it just makes me feel good how planned he is for this attempt at intimidation, how he faces the woman and her thugs down. As someone paying attention to the writing, I like even more how it sets us up for what is coming. Because here we have an attempt at mayhem and maiming (maybe even murder) by the bad guys and the good guys, our guys win. And win wholly, handily, and with style. Which lifts us up even higher so that we fall even further in a page or two. It’s a masterful sense of structure and timing. As is the zoom-out scene that follows, as it’s so wide in its approach, and so removed, that despite the emotions it presents us (Stonny weeping, Challice) it offers up a sense of security, as if we’re easing out of this chapter. And then. And then.
This is mostly obviously all action here, so not a lot to say in a moment by moment, paragraph by paragraph fashion, but a few general comments on the attack scenes.
It’s a great example of how POV can be used to heighten the impact of a scene. The short scenes combined with the different POVs keep the reader off-balance and discomfited as a reader—exactly what you want in a scene like this. The shifting POVs also raise the suspense as we don’t know at a given moment sometimes what happened—someone sees another person targeted—were they hit? Wounded? Killed? We don’t know yet, and that suspense, that wanting to know drives us forward.
We haven’t seen a lot of Bluepearl and so starting with him and giving him some significant page time (relative to the length of these scenes) makes the impact of his death all the greater
The slow buildup of the assassins getting into place and then leaving them to focus on someone else before coming back also increases tension and is wonderfully (well, if one can use that word) effective here. You know what’s coming next, you dread what’s coming next, and Erikson just draws it all out so you know and dread all the longer.
My wife and I always say we love reading about/watching (on TV or in movies) smart people. We so much more enjoy those than the books/movies/shows about idiots. I love how we see just how smart and observant these marines are. Yes, they lose lots of folks, yes they castigate themselves for their carelessness, but in reality, they comport themselves pretty damn well considering this is an assassins guild and all, and they’re hugely outnumbered. I love Picker and Mallet picking up the wrong tone of the argument, Blend realizing at the same moment, Fisher noticing something wrong (yes, he’s not a marine, but still). Beside letting me enjoy how smart they are, it also makes this scene so much more bittersweet because oh, what if they’d all reached those conclusions just a moment or two earlier?
And speaking of increasing the pain. It’s bad enough to watch Mallet go (and how much more painful did Erikson make this moment by giving us that recent scene with Mallet and Barathol—Mallet so warm and funny and supportive and so child-like). But to have him then think of Whiskeyjack, which is poignant enough, and then it of course makes us think of Whiskeyjack and that pain. Ouch. Just ouch.
Love that “cold grin” of Picker’s.
Love the munitions stored everywhere.
Love that Antsy gets the crew out into relative safety in the alley.
Love Antsy and Picker working as a team.
Love Barathol and Chaur arriving to help. Love them doing so “with nothing more than a knife.” Love that Barathol fights with “fear for Chaur.” Love that Blend pushed herself into the fray despite that wound, despite having just a dagger. Love that Antsy shoves her aside. Love that Barathol “hugged his friend tightly with need and with raw relief so exposed that both Malazans had to look away.”
More great mystery about Fisher.
Love that fierce anger over the innocent being killed, not just their comrades.
Love this scene. Hate this scene. Love this scene. It’s so damn effective as action. So damn heartbreaking.
I admit, I love this scene so much, I would have preferred if this chapter ended with Antsy’s “I’m feeling old.” I wanted this emotion to linger longer than we’re given. And Cutter in the headstone shop was both a little too on the nose with the death just gone, and a little too abstractly philosophical after the personal nature of those deaths (and you know I generally am a huge fan of the philosophical moments). Oh, there are nice lines in this scene. I like the way death broadens out to death of friendships, of love. I like how the pregnant women connects to some recent scenes. I like that image of “from the dust, a new seed,” something that seems to connect to Kruppe’s talk with Baruk, with some possible plans in the mix, with some future books perhaps. I like him and Challice finally meeting of course, as we knew it had to happen. I just wanted it to happen in the next chapter.
But oh, this chapter....
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.