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 second 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.
SCENES ONE & TWO
Kruppe waxes poetic on Fisher meeting Envy, who has taken him as her lover.
Torvald tells Tiserra something odd is going on at Lady Varda’s estate, adding Varda’s claimed her place on the Council. Tiserra warns him to leave it, but Torvald tells her his instincts are up. She does a Deck reading and pulls The City, then the Rope, followed by a “nest” of three: Obelisk, Soldier of Death, and Crown. Then Knight of Darkness (“The Rope on one side, the Knight on the other”). Then another nest: King of High House Death, King in Chains, and Dessembrae. Then finishes with The Tyrant. She thinks she has seen the end of Darujhistan and terrible deaths coming. Tiserra then opens Torvald’s cache and finds a Sea Raider’s axe as well as Moranth munitions made of glass and imbued with magick, both of which are unusual traits for munitions.
At the Phoenix, Torvald tells Kruppe that Rallick wants to see him; Torvald is scared because he once did something “horrible, disgusting, and evil” to Rallick—the reason Torvald ran away—and he assumes Rallick will kill him for it. Kruppe agrees to talk to Rallick and then “lets slip” that he knows Torvald was formally blessed by the Blue Moranth, though Torvald can’t figure out how Kruppe could know that.
Cutter and Challice have sex. Cutter is appalled at what he sees in Challice’s eyes: something “all-consuming, frighteningly desperate... he had become a weapon on which she impaled herself... There was something alluring in being faceless, in being that weapon,” and he wonders if this is what Apsalar was afraid of. Cutter thinks of how he’d hurt Scillara and that perhaps he’d gone to far to return to what had been “precious” and “true.”
Challice, meanwhile, thinks of Gorlas and how he seems happy that she is sinking into depravity and that there is a sexual tension now between them that hadn’t been there before. Gorlas had told her of a falling out amongst the conspirators—himself, Hanut Orr, and Sharden Lim. She worries what Gorlas might do if he finds out her lover is “outside the game,” and she warns Cutter her husband is a duelist and dangerous, that he might hire thugs or assassins. Cutter asks what she wants from him, what she sees for the future. She reminds Cutter that he once asked her to run away with him and though she said no, she’s changed. He scoffs at the idea she’d leave her high life behind and she, angered, replies that the “lowborn always think we have it so easy... don’t think that people like me can suffer.” He tries to show her the difference between her life and the lives of others—how she has more choices, including saying no to Gorlas. To which she says he’s just showing his naiveté. She’s shocked at how indifferent he seems, though they agree to meet again the next night.
On her way home, Challice feels trapped, knowing Gorlas would find out about the affair sooner or later—she wonders if Gorlas would confront her, or possibly kill Cutter. She wonders if she is capable of using Cutter to get the life she desires.
Barathol punches out a Guild agent sent to collect a fee. Business has been slowed by the Guild’s blacklisting of his new forge, though the resident Malazans have been coming. Barathol worries he’s gotten mixed up in two wars, not the peaceful new life he’d been hoping for.
Murillio thinks 15-year-old Bellam Nom is the only student of any worth at the dueling school. He and Stonny talk; Murillio knows the role he plays for Stonny with regard to her guilt and fear for Harllo, and isunsure how long his “love could survive such abuse.” Murillio has been looking for Harllo, searching for unclaimed corpses and checking at the docks. Stonny tells him she’s thinking of signing over the school to him, that nothing much matters to her now. He knows she feels the need to drive him away and thinks she might be moving ever closer to suicide. He knows he’s given his love to the wrong woman, but tells her to wait; he has one more thing to try.
Back at K’rul’s, Blend has been healed and an attempt made as well for Picker, but nothing could be done. Blend and Antsy get armored up with plans to go talk to the Eel.
Lady Envy and Fisher? Not a pairing I could have envisaged! Anyhow, I enjoyed the way that Bill summed this very flowery section up in just one line *grins* But I enjoyed more just how much care Erikson put into this brief section that might be hidden to one who merely skims over it. For instance, we learn which character we’re following through this: “He is a caster of nets, a trailer of hooks.” We have this delicate view of the Tiste races: “The Tiste Edur worship this instant. The Tiste Andii are still, motionless as they wait for darkness. The Tiste Liosan have bowed their heads and turned away to grieve the sun’s passing.” Plus, those sentences make the Tiste Andii sound like vampires, which amuses me a little. Oh, and I am thinking that Lady Envy is our hooded lady that Scorch and Leff are guarding—she must be with the whole estate guarded by Seguleh part of the section, right?
Although, wait, the hooded lady from the estate with Scorch and Leff has claimed her place on the Council? Wasn’t Baruk and Vorcan talking something along those lines in the previous chapter? Ah, I guess Erikson will be forthcoming when he needs to be!
For me, Torvald Nom and Tiserra are a picture of a couple long-together, who are comfortable and talk things through. I do so enjoy seeing nice, healthy relationships in the course of these books, as well as the relationships that aren’t going quite so well. It feels as though Erikson is doing some clever work here as well—first off, having a section talking about taking a lover and the next scene starting with talk about pregnancy. And then having Tor and Tiserra as a reflection of what Challice and Cutter most certainly are not, i.e. healthy in their relationship.
I’m intrigued as to what the other card is that Tiserra has added into her Deck of Dragons, especially since it appears to be a card she has no desire to think about. I do love how every aspect of the Deck could have varied meanings and interpretations, such as the Rope potentially referring to Vorcan being back in the city, how the Guild has been taking out the Bridgeburners, or how Cotillion is roaming around and putting his oar in. One card, three potential meanings—and perhaps more that I haven’t managed to puzzle through!
So the Obelisk, the Soldier of Death and Crown are all attached to Anomander in some way? And what does this mean: “Thus, the Rope on one side, the Knight on the other”? I can’t think that Cotillion is facing off against Anomander, so the Rope must indicate someone else in this instance.
We already know that King of High House Death—Hood—and Dessembrae—Traveller—are linked, what with Traveller pursuing Hood but I don’t know who fills the role of King in Chains. Unless this is Kallor? He might well pop up in their little endgame...
Ah, that mysterious card represents the Tyrant—and I don’t think we mean Raest here, do we?
Okay, I have absolutely no clue what is going on with Torvald Nom’s little stash of Moranth goodies—have we heard anything that hints about this already? Or is this the start of a new little story strand?
And, once again, we see the wisdom of long-term lovers represented in Tiserra’s section: “Successful marriages took as sacrosanct the possession of secrets. When so much was shared, certain other things must ever be held back. Small secrets, to be sure, but precious ones none the less.”
Oh, Kruppe, your sections have me smiling in glee—at the language, the gentle humour, the sharp examination of what is happening:
“Not a chance.”
“Then, er, a dying confession—”
“We’re about to hear one of those, yes.”
He is terribly infuriating, Kruppe—I couldn’t imagine actually being his friend; you would kill him before a week was out! But reading about other people being frustrated by him—that’s much more fun.
Erikson’s use of language to set a scene and idea is, as usual, exquisite—we all know that this sex scene between Challice and Cutter is deeply uncomfortable and not for good purposes, what with bits like: “...all-consuming, frighteningly desperate [...] she was unmindful of him [...] weapon on which she impaled herself [...] she stabbed herself again and again...” Strikes me that Challice is definitely feeling that indicated “inwardly directed contempt, perhaps even disgust.” And is it ever a good sign when your partner thinks about not one, but two women while in the throes of passion—neither of which is you?
What is even more clear is that these are two very damaged people, and their affair has the flavour of tragedy, to be honest.
I love this quote about the Malazans—it certainly is something we’ve seen time and time again: “There was, evidently, something in their nature that resisted the notion of threats, and in fact being told they could not do something simply raised their hackles and set alight a stubborn fire in their eyes.”
I can totally see how Murillio’s love for Stonny is already becoming something that he is unsure of, considering those tiny faces he has to look upon to try and get Harllo back and Stonny’s fearsome lack of regard for anything right now. “He had given his heart to the wrong woman.”
More mystery to Fisher—not so much the love of Envy, but that Envy doesn’t know if he is even mortal. This scene also raises questions about if/how Envy having a lover might affect what she would or wouldn’t do. But mostly I just like the elevated language in this section, a perfect matching elevation in a scene dealing with a poet.
Laughing out loud at Tissera and Torvald and the pregnancy dream.
Ahh, Deck readings. Always so fun. Shall we?
The City. Well, that’s obvious. I do, however, think it is important as I would take it as strongly implying everything that follows afterward deals directly with the City, with Darujhistan. Which is no surprise, as we’ve been told again and again a convergence is coming.
The Rope: Tiserra gives us our two good candidates—Vorcan (who is in the city) and Cotillion, who is certainly engaged in what happens in the city. As it’s a Deck reading, I see no reason it couldn’t be both. I can’t think of who else it would be beyond these two.
Obelisk: we’ve seen this card associated with Burn before. And we’ve already seen one character in this book directly associated with Burn himself. Is he heading toward Darujhistan? If this is him?
Soldier of Death: We’ve seen Hood appear to one person so far as we know in Darujhistan. That’d be my guess here (though I could have fun with an ironic choice).
Crown: This one befuddles me. I wonder if it is an actor or merely a placeholder—a general reference to the throne everyone keeps mentioning. We also have a character often referred to as “King.” And we know he is heading toward the city. That’s might another possibility.
Knight of Darkness: Well, we pretty much know who this is (I’d say the wagon sounds and smoking sword are tiny hints). What does this therefore imply with regard to Darujhistan?
King of High House Death: Well, Hood would seem to be pretty clear.
King in Chains: This one also befuddles me a bit, as I think we know who this is at this point, but I can’t quite place that person in here. But perhaps it’s a temporary point.
Dessembrae: No mystery here and again, we know for sure he is heading to Darujhistan.
Weird Moranth munitions. See also: Chekhov’s gun?
Speaking of the Moranth, loved that color-quilt of Moranth Kruppe offers up to Torvald: Pink Moranth? Violet? Mauve?
Poor Chalice (not really, I know, but)—she’s just had sex with the guy, and in short process these are his three thoughts: another woman, another woman, and “man, she’s heavy.”
I do like this line here: “He also suspected he had hurt her [Scillara]... sought to sever what they had aboard the ship... And now it seemed he had gone too far, too far to ever get back what he now realized was precious.” I know a lot of people find him too whiny and don’t care for his storyline, but I like this portrayal of a young guy slowly, very slowly, finding his way into maturity. Especially as so many other characters we came to already fully mature, if not jaded even or simply world-weary. And I think there’s something to be said for the microcosm/macrocosm parallels one can draw between how people treat each other as single individuals and how society treats people or societies treat each other. Cutter is waking up to the ideas of empathy, compassion, and the idea that actions have consequences—all of which, as we have said, play out in much larger ways in this series. But those larger ways all have to start with the individual, it seems to me.
In neat fashion, as Cutter begins to explore this idea that he can hurt other people, that he can sow the seeds of misery and pain and that means he should be more careful, Challice is exploring just how much she can harden herself and rather than worry about other people, use them: “She was thinking of what to do with him.”
This makes a nice segue into Barathol’s short scene as we see both sides as well—using people and helping people. Barathol, who risked his life to help the Malazans (as did Chaur), and who helps Chaur out, and the Malazans who still buy from Barathol despite the blacklist, versus the Guild. I also like how Barathol’s position in many ways mirrors that of the Bridgeburners—both seeking to move on from lives of violence and death and both getting dragged back to that life. It’s hard not to feel for them all.
Another Nom? Oh no. I like how Murillio takes down the idea of that fancy ring-spear technique. I always dislike those arcane sort of fighting exercises one sees now and then in fantasy novels.
I confess, I would have liked a more developed sense of Murillio’s “love” for Stonny so that this plotline felt a bit more authentic and carried a bit more emotional heft. (I’m speaking purely of his attempts to help her and her use of him, not of the whole Harllo missing, Stonny as reluctant mother aspect.) I like, though, that Erikson takes the opportunity to broaden this very personal tragedy beyond Harllo. By having Murillio search for Harllo among so many dead children—by there being so many ways he could have been harmed/killed/mistreated—it becomes sadly obvious this is far from a singular event. Murillio’s nightly tears brings back to mind Shadowthrone’s: “Acceptable levels of misery and suffering... Acceptable? Who the fuck says any level is acceptable?”
Murillio’s thoughts that Stonny is heading down a possibly suicidal path makes her yet another character being pushed to near-limits in this book. And certainly the deaths of Mallet and Bluepearl have to give a reader pause rather than simply dismiss this.
Well, I’m looking forward to this meeting with the Eel, as once again our characters starting making moves toward converging.
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.