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 Twelve 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.
A few notes: Amanda is off in NYC for Book Expo America (Have fun Amanda!) and thus will miss the next two or three posts. So Amanda misses less, and since this is one of our longer chapters, we’re going to split this one and Bill will be commenting solo today and Friday. We’ll also be splitting Chapter Thirteen (one of the two longest ones left, along with Seventeen). Going forward, Chapter 17 definitely will be split, while Chapters 15 and 18 may be as well; they are long, but sometimes the split is determined as much by what happens as by how many pages. Finally, fair warning that Bill will be hit and miss as we near the end as he’ll be driving to Alaska, then around central Alaska, then back from Alaska (assuming the grizzlies have behaved themselves).
Nimander’s group, carrying Clip, sneak through the city to arrive at the altar building, where they are faced by armed mobs trying to herd them inside. They enter the building and Nenanda and Kedeviss hold the doorway.
Following the others, Desra feels her “entire body surging with life” after they cut down the priests inside the temple, feeling herself and the others unleashed.
Skintick can’t wait until he finds a life of peace.
Nenanda and Kedeviss kill scores, but are pushed into the building.
Skintick goes to help and Nimander takes Clip’s body forward further into the building. He, Desra, and Aranatha enter the altar room and Nimander feels himself pulled out of the present place and then he hears a child singing.
Seerdomin goes after Salind, thinking Spinnock should have denied her rejection of his help, though he understands the Andii have a different sense of things: “what was avoided one day could be addressed later, decades, millennia, ages later. In their eyes nothing changed. Nothing could change. They were a fallen people. The dream of getting back up had faded to dust.” He thinks he’ll save Salind and bring her back to Spinnock—“one can be saved and that should be good enough.” He is knocked out by Gradithan from behind.
They drag Seerdomin’s unconscious body to the Sacred Tent, past the Redeemer’s once-worshippers now caught in kelyk. Gradithan thinks how “The Dying God was more important than Black coral . . . than the Redeemer . . . The Dying God’s song was a song of pain, and was not pain the curse of mortality?” Inside the tent, Salind dances and Gradithan can taste the sacrifice from far away “closing on the threshold.”
Itkovian/The Redeemer tells Seerdomin he is dying, bleeding into his brain. He explains Seerdomin must fight Salind, pointing to a storm of blackness under which was a giant dancing figure, saying, “It is her need . . . for answers. What more can a god fear, but a mortal demanding answers.” He asks Seerdomin to defend him. Seerdomin asks if Itkovian is worth it, and Itkovian replies, “Worth the sacrifice you must make? No, I do not think so.” When Seerdomin asks if Itkovian will beg to be saved, Itkovian responds, “Will you?” Thinking he never has, Seerdomin rises to face Salind.
Rake finds Spinnock in the tavern and says it is time. He considers telling Rake of his love for Salind, of what is happening, but knows Rake would then not send him to do what he needs him to do, so Spinnock simply accedes to the request. Rake tells him “It is all right to fail, friend. I do not expect the impossible of you.”
Skintick tries to follow where Nimander and the others went. He understands that “surrender is what kelyk offers. The blood of the Dying God delivers escape from everything that matters. The invitation is so alluring, the promise so entrancing. Dance! Al around you the world rots. Dance! . . . Dance in the dust of your dreams. I have looked into your eyes and I have seen that you are nothing. Empty.”
Nimander finds himself in a seemingly infinite room of light and air filled with dolls—on the floor, hanging from the ceiling, many broken. He notes the dolls’ similarities to the scarecrows and realizes they were “versions.” The Dying God says, “On the floor of the Abyss . . . are the fallen. Gods and goddesses . . . . junk of existence . . . All broken, more broken than me . . . Am I a god now? I must be. I ate so many of them . . . their power . . . I first met him on the floor—he was exploring he said . . . The machine was broken, but I didn’t know that. I rode its back, up and up. But then . . . we fell a long way. We were terribly broken, both of us. When they dragged me out. Now I need to make a new version . . . And you have brought me one [Clip].” Nimander thinks the Dying God must be one of the dolls and begins to cut them apart. The Dying God mocks the attempt, saying he will soon be gone thanks to the “river of blood” Nimander’s group has given him, which will open a gate and “take me away from here, bring me back. All the way back. To make her pay for what she did!”
Salind and Seerdomin fight.
Aranatha joins Nimander and speaks to the Dying God, saying she will summon him. She says she knows he spoke to Hairlock on the floor of the Abyss, and that “She discarded you . . . The fragment of you that was left afterwards. Tainted, child-like, abandoned . . . You were the part of her that she did not want.” She summons him by name: “Husband, blood sworn to Nightchill . . . Bellurdan Skullcrusher, I summon you.” A puppet appears in her hand but does not speak. When Nimander wonders if she really has him, she shrugs. Nimander then wonders what the Dying God meant when he said to her, “I know you know—and it is too late.”
Nimander’s group has killed all the humans or they’ve fled. Clip wakes and they tell him where they are. Nimander looks at Clip with suspicion, but says it’s time to go. Clip is not very grateful.
Salind retreats and Itkovian tells Seerdomin he held long enough, that Seerdomin had help. He asks if Seerdomin will stay, as he may need him again, and adds he’s been lonely. Seerdomin replies “As long as I can you will have someone to speak to.” Itkovian tears up.
Monkrat and Gradithan look at Seerdomin’s corpse, then Gradithan tells the mage to get more kelyk.
Silanah stirs, but Rake tells her, “not this time, my love . . . Soon. You will know . . . I will not restrain you next time.” He senses Endest’s arrival (with one “most difficult” task left him) and Spinnock’s departure.
Kallor walks on toward a “throne, a new throne, one that he deserved. He believed it was taking shape, becoming something truly corporeal. Raw power . . . I am the High King of Failures, am I not? Who else deserves the Broken Throne? Who else personifies the misery of the Crippled God?” He senses an upcoming convergence as well. He thinks he will defeat the curse at last by destroying civilization: “I vow to take it all down . . . I will make a place where no fall is possible.”
Here’s an interesting tidbit off the start of this section: the Andii moved through Bastion “with Aranatha’s quiet power embracing them.”
The storyline with the Dying God is really an excellent little subgenre of horror in this novel and this scene in Bastion would be great on the big screen I’m thinking—very Village of the Damned/Children of the Corn
Amidst all the gods in this book, and in this series, and what we’ve seen of their acts, and what their believers force on them, this little bit of Skintick’s passage makes me wonder if this mightn’t be the ideal kind of prayer/worship: “He prayed none the less. Not to a god or goddess, but to some unknown force at ease with the gift of mercy. No, Skintick prayed for peace. A world of calm.”
And this following bit seems to get at the heart of humanity: “Paradise belonged to the innocent. Which was why it was and would ever remain empty. And that is what makes it a paradise.” Ouch.
It is easy to see how Seerdomin would read the Andii as he does, and easy to see how some, perhaps many would be this way: “a creature of centuries and what was avoided one day could be addressed later—decades, millennia, ages later. In their eyes, nothing changed. Nothing could change. They were a fallen people. The dream of getting back up had faded to dust.” Spinnock himself, Korlat, all speak of this problem with the Andii, of ennui and despair. But we know Rake is not like this, though he might take the long-term view of things (and of plans). But as Crone says, he means to topple a stone or two, and that is certainly change.
I like how there are all these little details of description and imagery and action as Seerdomin heads to the barrow that on their own are mere background, but add up to a sense of illness and increase suspense/tension. A rat scurries out, which is of course expected in a place like this, but we have already been set up to associate rats with Monkrat’s possible presence. The camp smoke wanders up like a “serpent.” The ground under his feet is not solid. He says, “everything was on fire,” but he walks in dampening rain.
All throughout this series we’ve talked about how godhood is a two-way street. And we see that here as well with Salind and the Redeemer where, as he puts it, “What more can a god fear, but a mortal demanding answers?” And here we have Seerdomin, who only a few pages ago had rejected the possibility that he fights for the Redeemer, doing just that—the one who asked nothing of the god versus the one who asks everything of him.
Speaking of running series themes, it’s been quite a while since we’ve talked about certainty versus uncertainty, but it is The Redeemer’s acceptance of uncertainty, his rejection of certainty, that makes him worth fighting for in Seerdomin’s mind—it’s the god most human that is worth defending.
From there (with a quick stop-off to remind us that A) Rake is great and B) Spinnock is great and C) Spinnock is probably on a one-way trip) to the certainty the Dying God offers: “dissolution,” “surrender,” “escape from everything that matters.” Probably a sign this is not the way to go.
OK: and then we meet the Dying God himself. It’s too bad we’re missing Amanda on this one because I would have liked to have seen her first reader impression of this scene. So this is my take-away from it—I’ll be curious where we agree/disagree/go “huh?” together.
- The Dying God is a part of Bellurdan that was cast off by Tattersail/Nightchill/Silverfox.
- I say “a part” because back in Memories of Ice Silverfox herself says she has Bellurdan in her.
- The cast-off part ended up on the floor of the Abyss.
- There he met our old friend Hairlock, where he got the idea for puppets.
- He also ate a bunch of other gods or parts of gods, gaining their power.
- He desires vengeance on (I assume) Silverfox.
- He hitched a ride out of the Abyss on a broken machine.
- The worshippers have been constructing him a body in the temple, but Clip will suit him better.
- He plans on riding the river of blood from all the killing the Andii are doing of his worshippers to rejuvenate himself (and maybe to the Redeemer to eat him as well?)
- He recognizes Aranatha, who summons him by his true name, though there is some question as to whether or not she actually got him.
Thoughts? Additions? Clarifications? Rejections?
Note Nimander’s look of suspicion at Clip.
Meanwhile, back at the big fight scene in the Barrow, the silencing of the Dying God seems to have, at least for now, delinked Salind. Giving Seerdomin and Itkovian/Redeemer a moment of simple empathy and company, a lessening of loneliness. Which may be the most basic, most “good,” faith of them all—one where neither side asks anything of the other save presence and acknowledgement.
Monkrat doesn’t seem so keen on being “saved”, does he? File that away.
“Kallor walked an empty road.” Yes. Yes, yes he does.
He’s a bit of a palate cleanser, he is, after all the mysticism and philosophy and deep religious debate. Blunt, clear-cut, straightforward. I have to chuckle at the “Kallor alone turns his back on civilization,” coming as it does not so far after Karsa and Traveller have had their own discussions on that matter. Oh Kallor, always thinking he’s so uniquely special.
And we’re told yet again that we’re heading for a huge convergence. After all that’s happened, and all that’s been set up, hard to believe we’re only at the halfway point in this book (48% to be precise, according to my Kindle). That’s a lot of pre-converging....
Just a reminder that we’ll be splitting Chapter Thirteen next week as well.