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 the first part of Chapter Fifteen 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.
Bainisk and Harllo mend their friendship. They talk about Venaz’s cruelty, his desire to take Bainisk’s job. Harllo tells Bainisk more stories about the city, including when he and Gruntle went to visit the ghost Hinter. They head off to a chute, with Bainisk dreaming of the city and Harllo sadly recalling his absent father, his mother, and Gruntle.
Kruppe tells his listeners he isn’t looking for easy emotionality.
Upstairs in Krul’s Bar, Blend recovers from her wounds, thinking of Mallet and Blue Pearl, the arguments since the attack between Antsy and Picker. Scillara arrives with food and Blend tells her she’s unsure they’ll recover, pointing out how years ago Picker would have been charging off to kill someone. Scillara responds by telling how Picker can’t sleep and is still shaken, thanks to almost losing Blend, and how she can’t even see her in this condition. Blend says if that’s what stopping Picker, that Scillara should tell her it’s “unattractive,” saying soon as she heals she’s going on a hunt. She asks Scillara to find her a mage healer.
Downstairs, Picker and Duiker discuss the Seguleh found in the basement cask. Picker says they’ve found twelve altogether. Duiker says Baruk was upset at the news and they discuss the role of women in Seguleh society (they can choose to be warriors or not, the need to replace a constantly-being-killed-off population). Picker, feeling Duiker isn’t telling her everything he knows, heads to find Antsy. Antsy is anxious to go after the Guild, but Picker says their real foe is whoever hired the Guild. She wishes Paran were there to help, and Antsy suggests going to the Azath House to see if he’s there or to try and send him a message. Picker agrees, knowing Antsy is right about being proactive rather than reactive, but she is afraid, especially due to Blend almost being killed.
On the way to the Azath, Antsy seethes as this feeling of defeat and muses on how the Bridgeburners had transformed from the camaraderie of a fighting squad to being more like a family, which made the losses even harder to bear. He recalls his younger self (with a mustache) and thinks of how remembering is like telling a story and living is the narration still going on. He tells Picker they’re in more trouble than usual, because in the past when trouble found them they were trained to deal with it and were still sharp, but now they’ve lost their edge. Picker seems to agree. They arrive at the House and Picker knocks. Raest opens the door and lets them in. After some Jaghut humor, Raest agrees to try and help them with their problem if they do something for him. They outline their issues, he offers some suggestions, then they circle back to the original idea of contacting Paran and he leads them to a Deck of Dragons room.
Raest tells Picker if she concentrates on Paran, his card may become active and she can gain his attention, though she might also simply go insane. She sees Paran: “The scene behind him was one of smoke and ruination, the blasted remnants of rolling farmland... She thought she could see bodies.” He tells her it’s a bad time to call, as “We’ve landed in a mess.” He then asks her to “Warn them, Picker. Warn them off... Darujhistan can take care of itself. Baruk knows what to do—trust him. You need to find out who wants it. Talk to Kruppe. Talk to the Eel. But listen, pass on my warning, please.” He fades out, leaving Picker unsure of much of what he said. She suddenly feels something evil dragging her into something “vast and hungry, something that wanted to feed on her.” But another presence arrives, saying, “Not here. Not now. There were torcs once, that you carried. There was a debt, still unpaid. Not now, not here.” The new presence attacks the dark one and Picker tries to crawl away, wounded, lost, thinking she needs to find Antsy, tell him Paran’s words and also share her realization that the two bodies that had been in the tower were gone, meaning Vorcan was out in the city.
Raest drags the unconscious Picker to Antsy and tells him the only thing he could hear from her was the name Kruppe. He adds that his payment for his assistance will be a dead cat to have as a pet.
Baruk and Hinter the ghost converse at Hinter’s tower. Hinter says the return of the Tyrant would mean his enslavement, so he is willing to help. When Baruk starts to refer to forces in the city, Hinter stops him and asks him to quit his deception, saying many of the forces were invited by Baruk and the alchemist can hardly be surprised by the others. Baruk objects he didn’t invite all of them, pointing to the dual presence of Spite and Envy as particularly worrisome. Hinter admits Envy has visited him several times and is probably aware of Spite’s presence. Baruk asks what Envy wants and Hinter replies, “What she has always wanted.” When Baruk says she can’t have it, Hinter suggests he visit Spite then. Baruk brings up the High Priest of the Cripple God “squatting in an abandoned Temple of Fener,” calling the CG a “most unwelcome complication.” Hinter calls it “the legacy of messing with things not yet fully understood,” pointing out “of course, those precipitous sorcerers all paid with their lives, which prevented everyone else from delivering the kind of punishment they truly deserved. Such things are most frustrating, don’t you think?” Baruk feels this is aimed at him, and argues he doesn’t shirk his responsibilities. Hinter agrees, saying Baruk would have allowed himself to escape via being killed, by Hinter, or, as his Cabal mates, by Vorcan. Baruk says he’d always wondered how easily his comrades had died that night. He asks if Vorcan has visited Hinter (she hasn’t) and realizes she hadn’t even tried to speak to him or Derudan that night. Baruk recalls how it had seemed the contract with the Empire that night had simply let Vorcan do something she’d always wanted to do, “murder every other mage in the Cabal,” though he isn’t sure why. Before leaving, Baruk asks leave to put Chillbais on Hinter’s tower, to warn if any of those trying to resurrect the Tyrant attack the ghost, saying he will try and help Hinter in that case. Hinter agrees, so long as it doesn’t mean he is in Baruk’s debt.
On his way home, Baruk recalls his meeting with Vorcan shortly after her escape from the Azath House. Vorcan had told him they can’t stop what’s coming and they need to focus on their position, their “level of comfort” at that time. When she tells him she plans on keeping her current “privileged state,” Baruk objects that there will be no Assassin’s Guild in the new circumstances and she agrees, saying the Guild’s days are numbered. He asks if that’s why she sent her daughter away (Taya) and she tells him it’s none of his business. He asks what role she foresees for herself then, and she replies, “a quiet one.” When he responds, “Until such time, I imagine, as you see an opportunity,” she says they are understood and that he should also inform Derudan. He agreed. Now, recalling that conversation and the events before, he thinks she had seen what was coming and prepared for it—removing herself from the Guild, sending her daughter away, “visiting her version of mercy upon the others in the Cabal,” and he wonders if she might try again to be the sole surviving member.
I don’t know if it is because I have a six year old nephew right now, but Harllo’s sections all really resonate with me. The manner of the friendship between Harllo and Bainisk, the way that Erikson describes the way that wonder about a place or person can be utterly crushed if a young person comes face to face with what they dreamed about. I especially like the way that they became friends again just by swapping a water jug: “...far beneath the world’s surface, two beating hearts that echoed naught but each other—and this was how young boys made amends.”
And you know something? That scene where we get Harllo’s perspective (that Gruntle was mad at a ghost) and then can ascertain the way that Gruntle was feeling (And when he asked if maybe his ghost father was still around because he was looking for his son, then Gruntle’s big hand squeezed tight and then tighter for a breath or two, not enough to actually hurt Harllo, but close.) Man, that just does me in. Makes my heart break a little for this poor boy.
Since Erikson chimed in with his points about religion in the comments of the last post (seriously, a must read response) it then seems to jump out, this quote: “What had once been a temple was now a crypt.”
This stark thought is exactly the way that I’ve been feeling: “The bastards had survived decades of war, battle after battle, only to get cut down in their retirement by a mob of assassins.” Man, this almost conveys offence against Mallet and Bluepearl, for not surviving when they should have. And I can totally empathise with that level of anger from Blend.
It’s sweet seeing Blend’s reaction to Scillara—makes me think there could be something between them, with that “something sweet and avid curled up deep in Blend’s gut...” And also sweet that it takes Scillara explaining to Blend why Picker is not at all right.
Hmm, the Seguleh have some parallels to Spartan ideals. I haven’t mentioned at all the picked Seguleh in the cellar of K’rul’s Bar, and that’s mostly because I can’t quite relate them to the rest of the story right now. I don’t know if they relate in some way to the Seguleh in (sort of) charge of Hood’s army. The Seguleh have popped up here and there through the whole Malazan tale, and I’m still not completely sure where they fit in—apart from being a crazy martial race that Anomander Rake once visited. Knowing Erikson, it wouldn’t be at all a surprise that they held the key to everything. *grins*
And what does Duiker actually know of the Seguleh and their society?
Ah, here’s a sign of how very hard it is to let go of military life: “It ain’t our job to react—it’s our job to hit first and make them do the reacting. Twice now they hit us—they do it again and we’re finished.” Job? From someone retired?
And this is terribly interesting: we’ve not seen Ganoes Paran for ever such a long time and here’s a reminder that the story doesn’t stop just because we’re not looking at it right now: “Wherever Paran’s gone, he’s probably busy—he’s the type. Always in the middle of some damned thing.” I love the fact that story threads here and there are going on behind our back and that we just have to catch up on once we encounter the people involved again. And just what is Paran involved in?
Heh: “Do you expect me to serve refreshments as well?” Raest is such a ray of sunshine! But also funny as hell: “One needs to amuse oneself on occasion. Company is so very rare these days.”
Ahh, just the odd moments when I fall out of the prose - this, for me, was way too modern: “...the thought of asking directions to the water closet was suddenly akin to demanding that the Jaghut hand over all his money or else.”
“Creative misery”—I imagine some authors refer thusly to their craft and their impulsion to commit words to paper!
The sense of humour Raest displays is actually on a par with that provided by the Malazan marines in the past—this seems like a meeting of minds, once they take the measure of each other. It is a truly excellent scene!
Haha, I find Raest’s description of Picker’s choices mirthful:
Should your willpower prove unequal to the task, I am afraid that what remains of your sanity will be torn away. Your mind itself will be shredded by the maelstrom, leaving you a drooling wreck. [...] Such a state of being may not be desirable. Of course, should you achieve it, you will not care one way or the other, which you may consider a blessing.
So we now get a glimpse of what Paran is up to, but it is the merest glimpse... What are these claws tearing into Picker’s mind? My god, the torcs! Meant for Gruntle, so related to Trake, right? Is this where the claws are coming from?
“Matters had grown far too complicated in this city.” Yes, I would say so! With all the personalities converging here, it is a far from tranquil place.
Hmm, what did Vorcan find out from being in the Azath, leading her to think this: “It is not a question of seeking prevention—we cannot stop what is coming. The issue is how we will position ourselves for that time.” What is coming, converging on Darujhistan?
Loved the use of “criminals” and “victims” to describe “artists, scholars, inventors” and others who have retained their sense of wonder into their adult years.
That bit about how the two repair the “tear” in their relationship also felt very real to me. My wife and I often laughingly remark on what in our experience has been a very gendered difference (note the “our experience” please and accordingly hold all angry replies/charges of sexism. Or not.) in such repairs, with the guys often simply and quickly moving on with either no gesture at all or the most trivial of gestures and the women going through a lengthy series of dance steps (forwards and backwards, silence and sound) before the rift is patched (but still not forgotten for some time, the patch still easily noted due to its different coloration, say).
“People like him always want to take over. And most times when other people see it they back off and let them. That’s what I don’t get.” Out of the mouths of babes, eh? And certainly in a book constantly referencing the return of someone known as The Tyrant, and detailing the rise of the Dying God, there’s a bit more than general philosophy to be considered here.
It’s a nice bit of characterization, the literalism via the mind of a child (children, after all, can be both the most imaginative and most literal of all creatures) when Harllo thinks maybe he isn’t going to talk about the T’lan Imass because a “skeleton wasn’t a true ghost.”
And then, as Amanda says, more heart-breakingly, the perspective of a child continues with Harllo misconstruing Gruntle’s anger. Ouch. (though it does make me giggle to think of Trake’s agent going off to “buy sweets.” Trake as Tigger.)
You have to like Bainisk for all the obvious reasons, but this seems a wonderfully warm subtle moment to me: “But thinking about Gruntle made him sad, so instead he reached for the jug of water again and drank deep. Bainisk watched him, and then rose. ‘There’s a new chute that’s been cleared. I was thinking maybe you could climb it... ” I read it as Bainisk so attentive to Harllo that he sees the sadness encroaching and tries to find a way to break its hold on the boy—both the attentiveness and the action are heart-warming.
And then, ouch again, as we are struck by the naiveté of Bainisk’s vision of Darujhistan: “a place where people had so much food... and people didn’t hurt people... and people like Venaz got exactly what they deserved.” Oh Bainisk, if only.
And no, Kruppe, I wouldn’t call it “cute”—far from it.
This whole section with the Bridgeburners feels just as real to me as the earlier section with Harllo. The anger at those who died, who “let themselves” be killed. The fear that they can’t regain their earlier selves, that they’ve lost the ability to rise up, to push back. The fear that is greater for the one you care about than yourself. The obliviousness to someone feeling that way about you. The ensuing anger at finding out you’re the reason they’re not doing what they know they should be. All very real, all very moving, all a reminder of why we loved the Bridgeburners.
As far as the Seguleh go, Amanda, besides their whole “challenge society” aspect (which we saw directly with Tool and Envy’s co-opted Seguleh as well as with Iron Bars in RoTCG), we’ve had many small references to them being strongly connected to Darujhistan and the Tyrant, as with the Seguleh Second’s (Soldier of Death to Hood) conversation with Cutter in The Bonehunters:
“Tell me, do the Tyrant’s children still rule Darujhistan? The Tyrant’s army still holds sway in the city, then?”
“Who? We have no army.”
“Brilliant insanity! No Seguleh in the city?”
“No! Just stories, legends I mean.”
“So where are my masked stick-pivoting compatriots hiding?”
“An island... ”
“Morn! Now the sense of it comes to me. They are being held in readiness... Paranoid mages! Crouching low, lest the Tyrant returns, as one day he must. Returns, looking for his army!”
While I find the little mini-lecture by Duiker re Seguleh society interesting and a bit informative, my favorite part of that discussion is how Picker seems to have thought of things Duiker, the historian remember, hasn’t even considered—such as the idea that the Seguleh women must be enraged. Granted, this is Picker transferring her own viewpoint to that of the Seguleh women (who knows if they are angry at all), but still, this is a telling point, I think, and an indication of why diversity in academia (amongst other places) is so important—we too often don’t see our own blind spots and thus don’t know what we don’t know.
Love that Antsy can’t call up his younger self, his ten-year-old self, without putting a mustache on the face. Nice tiny bit of humor to alleviate for a moment a series of tough scenes.
And for all these times we get references to past events, including long, long, long ago pasts, here’s a fair warning: “Memories were messy things. Unreliable, maybe mostly lies in fact. A scatter of images stitched together by invented shit.” Keep that in mind while reading and definitely when we (eventually) get to that prequel trilogy. I also like the writer using narration as the metaphor for memory. Life as a story that ends. A recalled life filled with fiction as much, if not more, than non-fiction: “You think you know me old man? Not a chance.”
Speaking of some comic relief, one can always count on a Jaghut for that. Dry as a desert, but still oh so comical. Outside of the repartee, just the image of Raest and a dead pet cat. Priceless. And specifically, a white one. Even more priceless. I also love how his suggestions fit what one would assume of Raest: Kill every assassin. Kill all thugs. Kill the client. I sense a pattern.
Yeah, that moment of contact with Paran is just a cruel tease, isn’t it? Where is he? Who is he with? What is he doing? Why is there “smoke and ruination”? What sort of “mess” has he landed in and why? Who is Picker supposed to warn? And from where? Where he is? Or someplace else? What a tease. (let’s try to avoid spoilers on this one in the commentary I’d say).
I think (always need that qualification, huh?), Amanda, that the claws are some inimical being/god/ascendant able to work through the warrants/Deck, but that it isn’t really important as to what particular being that is. But it is Treach who comes to her rescue, because he owes her for carrying his torcs as she did.
I’m curious as to which specific forces Baruk “invited in” and which he did not (besides Spite and Envy, whom he explicitly says he did not invite).
What is it that Envy wants that she has always wanted? Is it something general or something in (or soon to be in) Darujhistan?
This is an interesting turn to the conversation with Hinter. His implied criticism of mages (or powerful folks) who meddle with things they don’t understand (cue all those final voice-overs to 1950s monster movies). His seeming hesitation over use of the word “mage” to refer to Baruk and the Cabal (as if he was going to call them something else?). The idea that the Cabal mages who were killed by Vorcan allowed themselves to be, so as to “evade responsibility.” For what—the return of the Tyrant? Or what they would do if the Tyrant were to return? Were they escaping what the Tyrant would do? What they would do? Avoiding their responsibility for the Tyrant? Or their responsibility to do something about the Tyrant?
Since we’re here, let’s not forget just where Vorcan’s daughter ended up and what she did there...
Lots of people playing long games here; it’s enough to weary one’s poor head.
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.