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 Nine 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.
Gaz wonders what Thordy is doing building that strange pattern out of stones in the yard and thinks he might have to do something about it soon. Tonight, though, he will beat another man to death so he can hold off.
Thordy works at her pattern, thinks of how Gaz talks in his sleep at night about “gods and promises and bloodlust . . . and maiming.”
The clerk at the Blacksmith Guild gives Barathol a catch-22 runaround which prevents him from practicing as a blacksmith. Barathol says the Malazan Empire broke up all such closed shops/professional monopolies, adding, “Some blood was spilled.”
Barathol tells Mallet he’ll open a smithy anyway and Mallet warns him the Guild will burn him out and beat him to death, and will certainly intimidate anyone trying to do business with him. Barathol says he knows how to make Malazan weapons and armor, and Mallet agrees the Malazans won’t be scared off by the Guild. They head off to find a good spot for a smithy.
Scorch and Leff apply to be guards at the estate of a mysterious, veiled noblewoman just arrived. They are hired by Castellan Studlock, wrapped and hooded and seemingly masked. Studlock tells Leff he suffers from Greva worm parasites and gives him some medicine.
Tiserra tells Torvald he’s trying too hard and tells him head off to get a job or a drink. He goes to the Phoenix and meets Scorch.
Studlock gives Leff drops to cure his Greva worms.
Torvald gets a job with Scorch and Leff and wonders at their lack of knowledge of their employer.
Studlock makes Torvald Captain of the House Guard, and asks if being of House Nom is going to be a conflict of interest as his mistress is about to be named to the vacant Council seat. Leff appears with bright orange eyes from his medicine and Torvald points out humans can’t get Greva worms. Studlock says “whoops, my bad.”
Murillio arrives at Stonny’s school and asks about a job. Stonny hires him but then they are interrupted by Myrla arriving to say that Harllo has been missing two days. Murillio offers to help and asks Myrla to tell him everything.
Indignant at being accused, Snell goes out to where he’d left Harllo and finding the body gone (he thinks Harllo is hiding to get Snell in trouble), fears what Gruntle might do.
Gorlas tells Challice he’s heading out on a trip and that Shardan and Hanut will be over for dinner while he’s gone. He heads out, thinking either or both of his co-conspirators can have her (if they get him an heir it’ll get his parents off his back); eventually he’ll have everything they own anyway.
Challice thinks on the implication of tonight and its possible repercussions, loss of reputation, more men trying for her, maybe one who will fall in love with her, and then that one might do what she needs—kill Gorlas. She heads out into the city.
Scillara joins Duiker and talks to him of his work with Fisher, says she can tell him of Heboric, reminds him that loss of old friends doesn’t preclude new ones. She tells him she wants him to take her to the Phoenix so she can embarrass a friend.
Kruppe and Cutter discuss Rallick’s anger at Cutter for becoming an assassin, Sorry, Murillio being “crabby and toothless.”
Pust and Mogora leave the temple to go shopping, much to High Priestess Sordiko Qualm’s relief.
Gorlas is given a tour of Humble Measure’s mine (Gorlas is now its “manager”) by the workmaster, who appears to be dying of a lung illness. The workmaster tells him of how they use young boys as “moles,” and prisoners in the lethal areas. Gorlas offers to finance the workmaster’s purchase of an estate (he’ll get it when the man dies soon and without an heir).
Harllo, working as a mole, exits a new seam, helped by 16-year-old Bainisk, a kind “veteran” of the mines. Harllo asks to stay and work, afraid of a bully named Venaz, but Bainisk sends him off, saying he’s spoken to Venaz. On his way back, Harllo thinks of his odd experience this morning, when he’d been lowered into a deep shaft and found a T’lan Imass missing his legs. The Imass, Dev’ad Anan tol, says he is the sole survivor of his clan that had been sent down to die by Raest the Tyrant. Dev’ad says he was feared by Rest and his own clan because he was an inventor with wild idea, and he offers Harllo his tools. Harllo agrees to tell the miners the shaft is filled with bad gas, and he says he’ll try and come back to speak with Dev’ad, who thanks him and, when Harllo asks if he can bring him anything, suggests splints.
Scillara tells Duiker of Felisin Younger, her travel with Heboric and Cutter, how they met Barathol. He lets her know they’re all aware of his actions in Aren and sympathize with the “raw deal” he got. They reach the Phoenix Inn.
Murillio is telling Kruppe and Cutter of Harllo and both agree to help in the search. Kruppe suspects Murillio has a soft spot for Stonny, but before that goes much further they’re interrupted by the arrival of Scillara and Duiker. Scillara gives a quick recap of her history and how she ended up here with Cutter. The others tell her she has to tell it right and she begins to as they drink and eat.
Challice dines with Hanut Orr and Shardan Lim until Orr leaves angry. Shardan changes suddenly, telling Challice that Orr is no friend of his and that he wished Gorlas saw how dangerous he is. He asks why Gorlas is trying to put Humble Measure on the Council and when Challice says she has no idea, he asks her to find out for him. He expresses his anger and disgust at how Gorlas treats her and says she can take him as a lover or kick him out; he just wants her to know what freedom feels like. He warns her though that Orr will spread rumors he (Orr) has already had her and thinks that eventually Gorlas will challenge Orr to a duel once he no longer needs him. He offers to kill Orr for her tonight and she instead takes him to bed.
We zoom out and see Challice having (good) sex with Shardan, Torvald heading home after seeing a cloaked and hooded figure arrive at the estate, Humble Measure plotting the downfall of the city and especially a group of resident Malazans, Harllo telling Bainsk wondrous stories of the city as Venaz seethes nearby, and finally, Crone heading out of the city.
Eep, that poem starting chapter nine is a little bit rude, isn’t it? Check out all those words: “swaggering,” “every vein swollen,” “spurting swords,” “fertile seed.” Well, either it’s rude or I’ve got an incredibly dirty mind and can see the naughtiness in everything... It really could be either way!
Aww, Kruppe doesn’t hide the fact that he is one of those who loves words, does he? “Wax extravagant and let the world swirl thick and pungent about you! Tell the tale of your life as you would live it!”
It’s interesting the way that Erikson examines those who keep their cards close to their chest, and those who wear their hearts on their sleeves (yes, I can come up with idioms all day long...) What I mean is that Gaz is presented as being stoic and silent, and yet he has many thoughts buzzing around his head (buzzing? flies? Geddit?) Actually... not quite sure where I was going with that point, but I’ll leave it there for you to laugh at!
I wonder how Thordy feels, truly. It must be like living with a ticking bomb right now, since Gaz has started working on behalf of the god. Imagine lying there at night in the dark as the man you once loved whispers about how he wants to kill and maim. Truly nightmarish.
And what is she up to, with those rocks in her garden?
Ha, haven’t we all met someone exactly like that clerk! The night watchman who thinks he is in charge of the whole organisation. The petty little administrator who revels in wielding power over those who ordinarily would be stronger than them. And, yes, I’ve totally felt like this: “Barathol Mekhar wanted to reach over the counter, pluck the clerk into the air, and break him in half.” I do love the scene—it’s funny and sharp.
I also like that the reader realises that there are Malazans in the city who would be willing to break open the closed shop because they are now friendly with Barathol. And retired. Almost certainly retired. Perhaps retired?
Oh, Kruppe’s narration about the ox is absolutely sterling: “Of course, to know the mind of an ox is to waste inordinate amounts of time before recognizing the placid civility of a herbivore’s sensibilities.”
Hmm, who is this mysterious nobleborn woman, veiled and shrouded?
I think Scorch and Leff have just demonstrated there the wrong way to go about getting a new job: by shouting at their potential employee and showing their lack of intelligence!
Because Studlock is also veiled, it makes me think that he and his mistress are people that we know. I did wonder for a little while whether Studlock is actually Iskaral Pust in disguise, but then figured that he would have no need to hide like that since he’s able to confound people so thoroughly. Hell, I join the foreman in smirking—I think Scorch and Leff are in a mire now.
Tiserra is appealing to me more and more. I enjoyed here how Erikson used her to poke a little gentle fun at the men who have sheds in their gardens to escape their wives: “Need to plough that field behind the windbreak, love. Going to head out now and drop the nets. Better sand down that tabletop. Time to go out and rob somebody, sweetness.” I also loved the fact that Tiserra has this very wise view on marriage—the idea that individual pursuits are part of what can keep a relationship sound. I quite agree.
Ha, so thoroughly amused by Scorch proudly describing the work that he’s found, but not knowing a thing about who has hired him and the others: “The castellan is bundled like a corpse and you don’t find that somewhat unusual?”
As well as showing that there are continued effects from events, Erikson uses Murillio here for a musing on when age actually hits. And it’s probably to do with confidence. While we’re still confident that we can achieve what we’ve always managed to, then age will not creep up. As soon as that confidence is lost, however... “That drunken pup’s sword thrust had pierced something vital indeed, and no Malazan healer or any other kind of healer could mend it.” Perhaps Stonny is the healing he needs?
And, just like that, all Stonny’s pretences about not loving or wanting Harllo are shattered. I do hope they get a reunion, mother and son, and that Stonny can show him the way she feels.
I almost can’t bear spending time in Snell’s mind—it’s so black and bitter. There was one interesting line for me: “Harllo’s own mother had thrown him away, after all.” I wonder whether Snell would have found the same freedom in persecuting Harllo if they had been true brothers and not thrown together.
Ye Gods, Gorlas is a cold bastard. It’s made very clear that he loves nothing but money—and will use even his wife to get where he wants to be. And poor Challice—flailing to find something that will make life worthwhile.
In this chapter, we get to see three rather odd views of marriage—from Gaz and Thordy, from Tiserra and Torvald, and from Iskaral and Mogora. From the latter: “Oh, how marriage got in the way of love! The bonds of mutual contempt drawn tight until the victims squeal....”
Iskaral Pust’s mule! Servant! When do I get to know more about that? Soletaken? The mule protected them on the ship! Okay, all my exclamation marks are becoming rampant now!
Ah, employment in the Malazan world: “Our moles or so we call ‘em, since they can squeeze inta cracks no grown-up can get through [...] and this way if there’s bad air it’s none of our stronger workers get killed.” Poor Harllo, since I’m guessing he’s now among these moles. And I’m guessing that it says a lot about his childhood, that he’s enjoying being in these tunnels, that he feels safe and secure.
It’s such a very sweet scene between Harllo and Dev’ad Anan Tol, especially to see Harllo’s innocence and enjoyment and sense of wonder. Once he’s reassured that this is no demon, he is more than willing to spend time with an undead miner. I particularly loved Harllo’s little explanation about the “evil T’lan Imass” and Gruntle crying—it reminds me exactly again of my six year old nephew. So excitable that he talks to the point of losing breath. Dev’ad’s moment of shellshocked silence is some delicate humour as well.
Personally I think that Scillara should spend way more time with Duiker, if she somehow helps him to smile again. There is healing in her presence. I just hope that someone manages to heal her pain. Kruppe certainly names her right when he calls her “Scillara of the Knowing Eyes.”
Haha, I LOVE Scillara’s little synopsis of what happened to bring her with Cutter to Darujhistan! This bit is just fab: “The priest was cut down. Cutter got disembowelled and I had a baby—no real connection between the two, by the way, apart from bad timing.” In fact, I could pretty much quote any of her speech and call it fab, because it made me laugh loads. Seems she might have been successful in her aim of embarrassing Cutter.
I’m wondering whether this encounter between Challice and Shardan Lim is going to backfire entirely on Gorlas? I found it rather difficult to read at the start, as Challice considered her forthcoming prostitution thanks to her husband’s desire for power. Wondering which of the men would end up taking her. Not nice. But I liked that Shardan offered her a form of freedom. I think it was the best way of getting her on side and ensuring that she’d work against Gorlas. We’ll see.
Gee Amanda, I don’t see why it has to be mutually exclusive: you can have an incredibly dirty mind and that poem can be overtly (really overtly) sexual
One of the reasons I do like this novel so much (and yes, I realize it’s also a reason some people don’t like it that much) is the metafictional aspects of Kruppe commenting on tale-telling throughout. As in this opening, where he talks about the two paths of writing: a “riotous conflagration of beauteous language” or the “pithy reduction of the tersely colourless.” Think Faulkner vs. Hemingway, maybe. I think we can all tell which path Kruppe chooses.
And then to Gaz, whose “paucity of words” and addiction to brevity brings with it a loss of empathy (there’s that word again!). Is this the argument then: that when one withdraws from language, from the means of communication, it is accordingly more difficult to engage with and feel for/with others?
Yes indeed, what is Thordy doing with those rocks? A pattern. A “sacrifice of fertile ground.” All of which has the ring of ritual to it. What does it mean that she no longer has a sense of expectation? No sense of a “somewhere up ahead?” Which is kind of ominous. And what does Hood want with all these deaths Gaz is causing? And is there a connection between the two spouses, or are their actions wholly separate?
The Guild clerk is a tiny little masterpiece of characterization, a type all too easily and sadly recognizable, as you say Amanda.
How can you not love Mallet in this scene? First the little kid image with his icy treat and the juice running down his hand. His joke (out of concern) re how the Guild will beat Barathol to death for opening his own shop—“and that’s just on the first day.” His immediate “of course we’ll buy from you.” The way he “forgot” they were being hunted by assassins. His “what’s the point in grudges?” Oh—what a better world if that were its motto... And the way his childlike good nature still shines through so much that Barathol can see it plain.
I like not only how Erikson gives us mystery about this estate with both a veiled and hooded noblewoman and a wrapped, hooded, and masked castellan, but does so playfully, with his reference to the possibility of “cloven hooves.”
Tiserra is appealing, as you say and seems a good match for a man like Torvald. But I also like how her little joke about killing her husband has a darker analogue later on with regard to Challice and Gorlas.
This scene with Murillio and Stonny, though it ends with that dark revelation about Harllo, is a possible fit for that run of new lives I mentioned in an earlier post. Is it possible both of these wounded individuals might find their way out to some kind of healing? And might it happen together?
We’ve also got a lot of missions in this chapter: Gaz heading out on his mission to kill. Thordy continuing her mission with the stones.
I’m glad Erikson threw in that qualifier about the sins of the child being visited upon (attributed to) the sins of the mother: “At least, so the mother believed.” Otherwise, what a horrible concept—“And how many hours did you spend with your son, Mrs. Gacy?” It is dark in his mind, but I do like (if one could use that word) how Erikson gives us a plausible range of evil: the rationalization that if Harllo was dead it’s Harllo’s fault for having some defect, or his mother’s fault for dumping Harllo. Or the paranoia—the idea that Harllo (five-year-old Harllo) was out there with a knife plotting against Snell. The celebration of power over life and death. It all horrifies us, turns our stomach, in the guise of a child, but we’ve certainly seen the adult version of this in the series. On the other hand, what is worse (if one can use that word in this context), this kind of serial-killer mentality that performs evil, or the more mundane evil of human nature, the child-killing (and other ills) done out of greed, jealousy, pettiness, desire, willing obliviousness?
And thus the oh-so-smooth transition from Snell to Gorlas (note how closely that “They could take his wife. He would take them, one day—everything they owned . . .” tracks Snell’s rant at the end of his section—“She’d pay one day, yes she would. One day, yes, he’d be all grown up. And then, look out!” And how his brutal thoughts toward the poor outside the city (about burying them for “civic good”) mirrors Snell’s smaller-thoughts of stoning one or two to death.
I like this little bit of POV power, coming after Gorlas tells Challice his two conspirators will be joining her for dinner (and all that implies): “Was there perhaps the flush of excitement on her cheeks now? But she was turning away so he could not be sure. And walking, hips swaying in that admirable way of hers, right out of the room.” So is Challice here furious at being pimped out? Or is she excited by the concept? There’s a little bit of a difference in character, no? And yet the reader is powerless in the POV of Gorlas here. Nice.
In all of this evil and plotting, I do get a chuckle out of the big bad villain looking forward to getting “his parents off his back” (re having an heir). It’s just so banal and sit-commy.
Hard to argue with Gorlas’ deep insight into women though, huh? Just fill their bellies with a few kids and they’ll be content. How can you not like this guy?
And now Challice plotting Gorlas’ murder. Things are aiming at a dark place.
Luckily, we’ve got Pust to give us a few laughs.
But it’s only a temporary relief and we move now onto poor Harllo, five years old and getting lowered down into mine shafts. And yes, what a heartbreaking concept—that this place is in many ways a refuge. However, he is still the victim of bullies. Though perhaps he’s found not one but two protectors here. Hard to imagine Dev’ad Anan tol getting introduced only to stay a legless T’lan Imass buried beneath the ground and seen only by little Harllo. One might wonder as well why that detail about him being an “inventor”—how might that play out?
Note the momentary dip into the environmental ravaging done by this mining operation—the trees all cut down, the land despoiled, the water “lifeless and stained red.” It’s been a while since we’ve been reminded that people happily destroy not only other people, but the natural world as well.
Duiker sounds an awful lot like Kallor here: “There is no progress, that even the notion of progress is a delusion, and that history is nothing more than a host of lessons nobody wants to pay attention to.”
It’s been a long time, but this scene between Scillara and Duiker is also rife with some tension and suspense for the reader. Remember it is a mystery, who Sha’ik was. And now we have Duiker sniffing around that mystery a bit, wondering why Sha’ik came up with the name “Felisin Younger.” Revealing the identity of Sha’ik here might not be so bad, but what if that news travels to Tavore?
I also loved Scillara’s rendition of their adventures. And I also loved how the historian and the wordsmith refuse to let her destroy such a tale with brevity (recall Kruppe’s line on the two paths an author might take).
Well, Challice is certainly dressing the part. I do like how Erikson turns things upside down here, with Shardan’s apparent shift from evil depraved conspirator to someone honestly in love with Challice, someone wishing not to “take” her but have her be her own. But is this the real Shardan? Again, Erikson plays with us via the POV—“Was there a glimmer of triumph in those blue, blue eyes? She couldn’t find it at all.” Is Challice a good reader of intent? Or is Shardan a good concealer? Or is this as it sounds? We don’t know without a POV from Shardan.
We’ve had arrivals. And steps forward into new lives. And in this chapter we had a lot of meetings: Challice and Shardan. Harllo and Dev’ad. Scillara and those at the Phoenix. Murillio and Stonny. Will anything come of any of these new meetings? (and let’s not forget the mule and the horse....)
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.