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 Five 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.
Barathol feels for Scillara and thinks Cutter was a “damned fool.” He thinks of how the words “too late” had haunted him for some time. He accidentally leads Chaur and Scillara into the red light district and on their way out Scillara asks what he would do if he could and he replies that he would open a smithy. They head to a tavern.
At the same tavern (Fisher having told them to eat there tonight), Antsy, Picker, and Blend take notice of the new arrivals and of Barathol‘s resemblance to Kalam. Picker wonders if he’s a Claw and Antsy suggests maybe he’s the one trying to kill them. Blend goes over to ask.
Blend tells Barathol she knows Kalam and he tells her they’re cousins. They discuss how neither is with the Malazan embassy, how Barathol never served “directly” in the empire, and how Blend’s group is retired and running K’rul’s bar. She leaves and Barathol says they’re probably deserters worried he’s a Claw come to kill them (he mentions they’re Bridgburners). They’re impressed by Blend’s blunt courage and send over a pitcher.
The tables send drinks back and forth until it ends with the Bridgeburners drinking Quorl Milk and passing out.
Crone watches Baruk conjure a demon with jade eyes which he says is a disembodied soul “from the realm of the Fallen One . . . Reaching [for its god], touching, recoiling . . . from the ferocious fires of pain.” He admits he recently had a visit from Shadowthrone. He asks Crone where the other gods are who “cringe every time the Crippled God clears his throat. So eager for this war, as long as someone else does the fighting,” adding she should warn Rake that whatever Shadowthrone offers, “nothing is as it seems. Nothing.” Crone says Rake is not blind; “He stands before a towering stone and would see it toppled.” She also warns him of Vorcan’s imminent arrival and also that she has found the confirmation that Rake sought, which Baruk assumes was that Shadowthrone “spoke true.”
Baruk tells Chillbais to fly to Derudan and invite her to counsel with him and Vorcan. The demon leaves and Baruk thinks of how Vorcan has left only the three of them to stop “if we can, the return of the Tyrant.” He wonders if he should have asked Rake for help, then thinks even Rake wouldn’t be enough, “which means one of us will choose to betray the others. Currying favor for when he returns.”
Cutter stands outside the Phoenix torn about going in. He’s surprised from behind by Rallick whom he wounds when instincts take over before both recognize the other.
Scorch and Leff tell Kruppe they found Torvald and didn’t hand him over to Gareb because Torvald said he’d pay Gareb himself then pay them. Kruppe thinks if Gareb hears they’ll be in trouble.
Cutter helps Rallick in and they help. When they’re suspicious he’s an assassin, Cutter denies it and Meese tells the crowd to cool it. Cutter talks to Kruppe.
Torvald returns to his wife Tiserra, apologizes for being gone so long, and tells her he stole from Gareb.
Kruppe closes with a bird’s eye view of the city and several of the characters.
This first paragraph concerning Scillara, and Barathol’s observations of her as a woman hurting, do make me want to grab Cutter by the scruff of his neck and shake him. He’s not so naive that he can’t see the way he’s treating this woman, surely? Scillara has gradually become a favourite of mine—she’s such a delicate balance of broken feelings and wisdom, and Cutter could learn so much more from her.
Barathol’s thoughts on Cutter seem exactly right: “This was what came of being so young, and deftness with knives was a poor replacement for the skill of surviving everything the world could throw in the way.”
We don’t really know much of Barathol’s past, do we? Just that he is Kalam’s brother [Bill: cousin I think. At least, Barathol says “that will do;” I don’t recall if it ever is made definitive], and has been a blacksmith in a small hamlet for a fair while now. So what is it that he hides from in his past? Here we get a hint, with his thoughts about the longing he left behind.
Barathol and Scillara really are well-suited, it seems. First of all, her teasing of him feels very natural and like a blossoming friendship would. And then Scillara puts into words what Barathol has been contemplating: “We really are the lost ones, aren’t we? [...] We need to find ourselves a purpose... in life.”
Ah, isn’t it a coincidence that Scillara and Barathol would pick the very inn to eat in where some of the few people in Darujhistan who would recognise the similarities in the Mekhar brothers would be (yes, I’m ignoring the “footplay” between Blend and Picker—it feels like the equivalent of Jayne from Firefly in “War Stories” saying “I’ll be in my bunk.”)
Scillara comes into her own during this scene where she ascertains what kind of people Blend and the rest are, then lets them know with no words required that she isn’t the kowtowing kind. I really do like her lots. She has sass. It’s also fab to have another outside perspective of how people view the Bridgeburners—the wary respect and appreciation for their bravery.
“It’s that quiet one who worries me,” Antsy continued. “He’s got that blank look, like the worst kinda killer.”
“He’s a simpleton, Antsy,” said Blend.
And then: “Tell her, Pick, it’s an act. That’s your Claw, right there, the one that’s gonna kill us starting with me...”
These three are just awesome for comic relief!
This has descended into a Carry On film territory! “Think I can’t work this out? Two women and a man here, one woman and two men o’er there! You are all disgusting...” Mind, it’s a handy little example of how people automatically assume that men and women go together, and that women and women together are not to be expected. Looks like Darujhistan is just as prejudiced in that way as we are!
And it really is the meeting of like-minded people, this encounter between Antsy, Picker and Blend, and Barathol, Scillara and Chaur. “Us Mezla just got trounced. Gods, it’s about time we met folk worth meeting.” It must be hard to make new friends when everyone thinks that you’re some kind of hero.
So, the Fallen One referred to by Baruk here is the Crippled God? Seems so if this demon has eyes of jade, since jade is definitely something that comes from the home world of the Crippled God.
Oh, this is a powerful paragraph, that says a lot about the state of play. And, having seen Anomander chafing against his new role of administrator, you can just see him taking up the gauntlet against the Crippled God, can’t you?
“The gods and goddesses. The ones cringing every time the Crippled God clears his throat. So eager for this war, as long as someone else does the fighting. None of this should be set at your Lord’s feet. I don’t know what Shadowthrone has offered Anomander Rake, but you would do well to warn your master, Crone. With Shadow, nothing is as it seems.”
What could Shadowthrone possibly offer Anomander Rake? A noble death? A valid opponent? A mend of the rift with Mother Dark?
Right, okay, I need a quick reminder of Derudan (the name tickles from waaaay back) and how she and Vorcan are connected to Baruk. Also, why is he talking about the Tyrant? Is that not the Jaghut that was imprisoned in GotM in the Azath House?
I feel exactly as Cutter does here whenever I head back to the town that used to be my home for so very long: “There was no returning. He had known that all along, at least intellectually, but only now, as he stood here, did the full realization descend upon him.” It is incredibly painful to realise that what you thought was your home no longer truly exists, and I empathise with Cutter here.
And here is more absolute proof that Cutter is a very different person from Crokus Younghand—he certainly couldn’t have stood against Rallick Nom before he left Darujhistan... And this made me laugh out loud: “Yes, you’re sorry. Well, you won’t find it down there. Try my left shoulder.”
I also love Kruppe saying: “Noms and flowers” as he senses the arrival of Rallick Nom. There are indeed all the Noms in Darujhistan tonight!
You can hear Cutter’s overwhelming relief as he sees Kruppe: “Oh, Kruppe, look at you. If anybody wasn’t going to change, it’s you.”
Ahh, this part of Chapter 5 is full of the laughs, isn’t it?
“Torvald Nom. You’re late.”
“Sorry, love,” he replied. “I got waylaid. Slavers. Ocean voyages. Toblakai, dhenrabi, torture and crucifixion, a sinking ship.”
“I had no idea going out for a loaf of bread could be so dangerous.”
We do know a bit more about Barathol, Amanda, though not a lot and (shocker) not in any authoritative sense. Here is L’oric after finding Barathol in the small town he was smithing in (when Cutter’s party was attacked by the Imass):
Barathol Mekhar, a name riding ten thousand curses . . . was nothing like L’oric had imagined him to be, given his crimes . . . [He] had murdered the Fist of Aren. He’d been arrested and gaoled, stripped of his rank and beaten without mercy by his fellow Red Blades . . . The city had risen in rebellion, slaughtering the Malazan garrison and driving the Red Blades from the city. And then the T’lan Imass had arrived . . . And Barathol Mekhar had been seen . . . flinging open the north gate . . . The question no-one had asked was, why would an officer of the Red Blades murder the city’s fist?
And here is Gesler in Reaper’s Gale with a slightly different view:
The slaughter of the inhabitants of Aren, when the Logros T’lan Imass rose from the dust of the streets . . . . If not for that ex-Red Blade driving open the gates and so opening a path of escape, there would have been no survivors at all.
And here is Barathol himself, speaking with L’oric:
“Oh, The T’lan Imass don’t need gates . . . Oh, I opened them all right—on my way out, on the fastest horse I could find. By that time the slaughter had already begun.”
Given all the above, I found his memory interesting in that he “left his longing behind” came well before those events, which had always in my mind been what defined him (at least as a character up until relatively recently). What was that raider’s camp? Vengeance for them killing someone special to him? Is this what brought him into the Red Blades (“Give the Mezla that . . . They turn no one away, friend.”) Anyone more clear on this memory or remember something I’ve forgotten about his past?
“Too late”—Barathol has put words to that sense of regret that I’ve pointed to on several occasions now as one of the seeming motifs of this novel. And so yes, he and Scillara seem well matched in this—both burned by their pasts and seeking a new beginning. I really like how this relationship begins, both wounded, both recognizing the wounds, both helping the other in their attempts to help each other.
“A second chance”—how many of these characters we’ve seen would wish that?
I admit, I’m a sucker for just about all the Bridgeburner/Bonehunter mystique stuff, so I love it that Barathol sees Blend heading his way and automatically gets “A Malazan, and a veteran. A damned marine.” I also enjoy both the quick thinking and the sense of constant paranoia/awareness of the twisted nature of politics etc. that lets Barathol put together so fast the whole retired/deserter/worried about Claws thing.
Not much else to say about this scene save to savor its humor.
Yes, the Fallen One is the Crippled God (again, remember to keep your gods straight in this book; there’s a heapin’ passel of ‘em). Note how that God is portrayed here—in such pain that it drives even those who seek him out away: “recoiling from the agony, from the ferocious fires of pain.”
“Did he sit in a chair?” Crone with a sense of humor.
So, Shadowthrone and Rake in cahoots in some plot involving the Crippled God and the others? And Shadowthrone might have a little side plan going? And Rake is aware of it? And just what “towering stone” does Rake wish to see toppled? File all this, obviously.
OK, the Tyrant is the past horrific ruler of Darujhistan, after Raest, who confusingly was also called, as many Jaghut were, a tyrant. Derudan was a witch and with Baruk and several others was part of the magic group that was sort of a shadow power in Darujhistan (the T’orrud Cabal). And I’m going to stop there because it’s admittedly a little blurry for me as to what first-time readers would know at this point beyond this. If anyone is more clear on what Amanda would know by now, feel free to fill in, but try to avoid major revelations of later books. I don’t think it’s giving too much up to say there’s more to come, based on Baruk’s lines at the end of this scene, which don’t seem to hold out much hope of stopping the Tyrant’s return.
This is a nice character moment here with Cutter outside the bar, and another reason I find these books so much more satisfying. I think a lot of authors wouldn’t have bothered with these few paragraphs at all, which are mostly a depth of character and a chance for the reader to see themselves (as it’s hard to imagine anyone not having experienced this same emotion at some point) in the character and reflect on their own experiences/emotions in the “you can’t go home again” vein. A lot of fantasy writers would worry about slowing the action or losing the reader’s attention. I like to think they underestimate their audience, though I can’t say I’m optimistic about that. I also like the parallel that who he runs into here, and almost kills, is Rallick, who has also been away a long time and is out of things.
I’ve got to say, that’s a hell of a violent reaction to the “scrape of a boot” in a public street in front of a bar. I mean, who is to say this wasn’t Grandma Drunk or Grandpa Boozer or some poor 12-year-old sent to get a bucket of ale for his soused-at-home dad?
That is a great line by Torvald at the door, and a great response by Tiserra. How can’t you like her already here?
Ahh, good old Kruppe. He doesn’t seem to change at all, as Crokus says. And I like his reference to the “dance” here, reminding us amidst this forest of language and all the humor in his words and surrounding events (the tongue worming its way down Cutter’s mouth, for instance), reminding us of how despite all this humor, this story is wending its way toward a tragic ending.
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.