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 Fourteen 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.
Quell tells Gruntle he needs a quick look into Hood’s realm to see what is going on there. Gruntle suggests they begin by talking to the corpse that came out with them. The corpse, who calls himself Cartographer, says Hood has never before commanded but now he does, telling the dead to “come.” He adds Hood also told him to “go,” and thus he says he will not return to Hood’s realm. Quell and Gruntle enter Hood’s realm, where they see the dead gathered as a marching army. They’re approached by a Seguleh, who tells them how nice it is as a commander to have troops without fear. Quell asks what Hood wants with an army, and the Seguleh only says it isn’t to be used against the living. Three others approach: Toc, Whiskeyjack (named Iskar Jarak here) and Brukhalian. Toc asks Gruntle to tell his god (Trake) “not long now.” Whiskeyjack mentions Skinner, which gets the Seguleh all upset and he rides off. Gruntle, looking at the remaining three, sees “nothing of redemption, nothing purged—guilt, shame, regrets and grief, they all swirled about these figures.” Whiskeyjack points out that Gruntle has lost all of his followers and also that they are not in Hood’s realm. When Gruntle says “And they should be, I suppose?” Brukhalian answers they aren’t sure anymore. Toc warns Quell the gate is now closed to the living: “Where we march you cannot go. Not now, perhaps, never. Stay away, until the choice is taken from you.” Gruntle sees now that Toc’s seeming coldness to him is more anguish: “bone-deep fear and dread... the man’s warning was a cry to a friend... Save yourself... Gruntle, give this all meaning.” Quell tells the others he will inform the Guild and readies his and Gruntle’s departure as an undead dragon begins to rise from a barrow nearby. Quell and Gruntle get out, but the dragon follows them through the portal and flies off.
Traveller senses the dragon’s escape and tells Karsa and Samar “something is happening.” They prepare to move on as Samar wonders how Karsa seems different. Traveller tells her Karsa isn’t that complex: “A child dragged into the adult world, but no strength was lost... young enough to still be certain.” He informs her they are being shadowed not only by Great Ravens, but also by Hounds of Shadow. Karsa says he’ll ride off to try and see what the Hounds want, though Traveller tells him the Hounds aren’t interested in him.
Skintick recalls Andarist’s death and thinks of how many died and wonders for what cause, especially as Traveller’s easy slaughter of their enemies had made all those deaths meaningless. That day, he thinks, killed off many things he once believed in—duty, honor, honesty, courage, patriotism. He wonders if Rake grieves for any of the dead and expects when they finally meet Rake, unlike what his compatriots expect, they will be met with disdain and platitudes. He himself assumes he won’t survive the journey and isn’t sure he wants to. He thinks Nimander has changed and wonders if he might be used by Skintick, might become someone to follow down a sordid path of ambition. Skintick asks Nimander why they saved Clip, whom he trusts even less now, and Nimander says Aranatha believes Clip is needed, though he doesn’t know why she thinks this. Both Skintick and Nimander agree they feel like they are “drowning in blood,” and to Skintick’s shock, Nimander also agrees Rake will not be the answer.
Endest meets Rake in a deep cavern where Rake sets Dragnipur down for a short while. Rake tells Endest he’s sent Spinnock away and now Endest “has no choice” but to do what he can, adding the High Priestess will help as she is able. Rake tells Endest “We were murdered by compromises. No those that followed the arrival of Light. Not those born of Shadow... The day we accepted her turning away, Endest, was the day we ran the knives across our own throats... Without the blood of dragons we would all be dust, scattered on the winds... the chaos, Endest, gave us the strength to persist, to cease fearing change... And this is why you chose to follow us, each in our time, our place.” Endest thinks to himself, “Yes so few of you proved worthy of our allegiance... until now here you stand, virtually alone... The one who was worth it. The only one.” Rake says both he and Endest will find the strength to do what must be done, and he reclaims Dragnipur’s burden.
Seerdomin asks Itkovian if he can’t summon the T’lan Imass to help him against Salind, a way to pay back for his acceptance of their burden, but Itkovian says he won’t, that what he gave was a gift. He says Seerdomin has a choice, though he admits not much of one. If Salind wins, Itkovian says the Imass and all within him will “succumb,” insisting though that Seerdomin is not responsible for what happen to them. It was, he says, his error, his lack of “provision for judgment,” which he is trying to change. Seerdomin realizes Itkovian is talking about him, and he recoils, saying “I am not one of your pilgrims... I do not worship you!” Itkovian responds, “Precisely... believers... second guess the one they claim to worship.” When Seerdomin asks what choice they have given the god’s silence, Itkovian replies, “every choice in the world.”
Salind dances in the “bliss of certainty.” She thinks she will give the Redeemer the “gift of certainty,” allow him to see “difference... who was deserving and who was not.”
Karsa meets Shadowthrone and Cotillion (Cotillion seemingly unimpressed at first). Shadowthrone, noting Karsa’s resistance to magic, wonders if all humans will eventually be that way. They warn Karsa that he will be driven (by the Crippled God I assume) to Darujhistan, where a crown and throne await. Karsa replies he’ll know when to turn aside. Shadowthrone says “It is because we understand you that we do not set the Hounds upon you... We too left civilization behind... Acceptable levels of misery and suffering... Acceptable? Who the fuck says any level is acceptable? What sort of mind thinks that?” And when Karsa answers a “civilized one,” Shadowthrone responds, “Indeed!” and gives an I-told-you-so to Cotillion, who “stands corrected,” and says if the Crippled God hasn’t learned his lesson yet with regard to Karsa, he’ll obviously get more lessons. Shadowthrone warns Karsa not to stand in Traveller’s path and Karsa’s response: “We are agreed... I will not stand in his path and he will not stand in mine,” silences the two a moment as they consider it. As he prepares to leave, Karsa notes he killed two Deragoth, who were “arrogant,” and warns the two that, “You laugh at those coming to the Crippled God. Perhaps one day I will laugh at those coming to you.”
Shadowthrone and Cotillion discuss how the spirits in Karsa’s sword were “proud” and Shadowthrone pities the future clerks of civilization when Karsa gets around to them.
Quell’s group, much to Gruntle’s dismay, plans to hitch a ride on a huge storm heading their way.
I LOVE this image of Gruntle walking around the island while Master Quell follows behind in clear sight without uttering a word to get Gruntle to stop.
This matter of Hood and his army and his new desire to command the dead is slowly ratcheting tension into the book. I wonder if this is now becoming one of the key storylines to the end of the series, or whether it is going to be dealt with by the end of this book. I am starting to wonder, as I imagine you all did on a first read, how on earth Erikson can possibly wrap up this story to any satisfaction. Right now we have such disparate storylines, and new things are being added even now, so when will we begin the final (as final as Erikson can possibly be, I guess) resolution? With the way he’s treated his readers so far, I can quite well see him leaving much of the fall-out from the ending to the imagination of the reader.
I also love the gentle humour of Gruntle facing the entire undead horde with his two cutlasses in his hands, and then putting them away.
Gruntle then gives us the parallel that we might not have seen so far—I don’t know how relevant it is (or not)—that the undead army formed by Hood sort of echoes the T’lan Imass, in terms of being undead and without fear.
And why has one of the Seguleh been chosen to command the army of the dead?
Awww: “Trake’s spitting kitten” sounds so cute and yet so derogatory at the same time!
Such a powerful scene that follows, although not the way I would have wanted to meet Whiskeyjack and Toc Anaster again. It seems their tasks are not yet done, and they have not found the peace that death should have offered—and this is down to Hood. What is he up to? Closing the gates to the living? Does that mean that no one can now die? Or does it mean that those who die are doomed to wander the world of the living as ghosts or something?
Is Hood worried about those who might come across from the world of the living to the realm of the dead, and so is closing everyone out?
This is painful to read about these particular three characters: “Looking upon these animated corpses, Gruntle saw nothing of redemption, nothing purged—guilt, shame, regrets and grief, they all swirled about these figures like a noxious cloud.”
Hmm, this message to Trake: “not long now.” Is Trake being told rather bluntly that he now has to take sides in this war? Or that he finally needs to step up to take the place of Fener as God of War? Or is it him who has to declare this war that is brewing? A little obscure for me!
That scene with the undead dragon exploding from the barrow and then fighting through the rent back to the island is simply magnificent.
The sexual tension between Karsa and Samar Dev is off the page—and also a little funny. She stares at him all the time. Pretty much her every thought is about him. Maybe it’s me, but I’d probably be acting on that impulse by now. I don’t quite know why she doesn’t.
Can Traveller feel Hood? Because he seems to know that something is different about Hood’s realm.
Poor Skintick. This is a really stark look into his past, and how the final battle on Drift Avalii has affected him, causing him to lose things like duty, and honesty, and courage. “He was having none of it, not any more, never again. And this was what made him dead now.” Tell you what, this is like a representation of depression.
And depression may be what makes him view Anomander with such scorn. The Anomander we have seen would never look at them with disdain.
His view of what their future might hold after reaching their journey’s end is a bitter representation of what the remaining Bridgeburners who opened K’rul’s Bar might have felt: “...until all we once were become memories thick with dust, barely worthy of the occasional reminiscence, some annual gathering in some tavern with a leaking roof, where we will see how we each have sagged with the years, and we’ll get drunk swapping tales we all know by heart, even as the edges grow blunt and all the colours bleed out.”
The way he views his companions’ probable futures is also terrifying and indicative of someone who is feeling depressed and unable to cope. Poor Skintick. “He did not expect to complete this journey. He was not sure he even wanted to.”
And then, dear reader of this commentary, it utterly breaks my heart to have Nimander turn to him and observe that he is smiling and therefore must be happy. As a person who has suffered from depression—and is, indeed, currently struggling through another bout—it is often a case of plastering a smile to your face (that feels more like a rictus grin) and trying to fool people that you are capable and able and happy. And inside you are a mess that can’t see a way out.
We’re being given little hints that Clip is no longer quite the same fellow: “He was, if anything, even more evasive than he had been before, and more than once Skintick had caught suspicion in the warrior’s eyes when observing the rest of them.”
Wow, seeing the reaction of the stone when Anomander puts Dragnipur against it gives a real insight into the burden that this Lord of Darkness carries: “At once the obelisk began sweating, thick, glistening beads studding the smoothed surface, then racing down the sides. Something like thunder groaned through the stone underfoot.”
Yet more hints about the darkness of the days in Kharkanas—and then when the darkness was removed from the Tiste Andii, when Mother Dark turned from them. Why would this be so? “The others, the ones outside all of that, how they watched on, bemused brows darkening with anger. Draconus, you thought you could give answer to all of us. You were wrong.” What is Endest thinking about with all of that? Is it something I just have to file in terms of the new trilogy by Erikson?
Is this to do with the fact that those mentioned were the ones that drank the blood of dragons to become Soletaken?
Oh God, that last line of the section featuring Endest and Anomander, that just slays me: “And his Lord stepped close then, and with one hand brushed the wetness from one cheek.”
I really like the reminder of that moment where the T’lan Imass kneeled—this is exactly right: “A moment to shake every belief, where the world drew breath and... held it.”
Oho, there is a theme of the series, if ever I saw one:
“You are free to choose,” the Redeemer replied. “Defend me, or step aside and see me fall.”
“That’s hardly a choice!”
“True. Such things rarely are.”
Eep, imagine knowing that your body has been fed on by scavengers and can no longer be returned to or used!
Oh, Shadowthrone’s view of what the world will become and the people in it has echoes of what our world is like, where there is no magic, and the gods do not walk amongst us.
Has Shadowthrone, here, finally met his match in Karsa? There does seem to be a real and instant understanding between them.
And there are still moment where laughter is surprised out of me by the dialogue in this series—love it:
“Why is it,” Mappo asked, “that Master Quell seemed indifferent to unleashing an undead dragon into this world?”
“Well, hardly indifferent. He said oops!”
I have to chuckle at this image of Gruntle pacing this tiny island in circles, the Bole brother waving each time he passes, and Quell walking behind him for however many circumambulations it took for Gruntle to stop and turn around. And also at the conversation with Cartographer (who continues our theme of science here—arguing he’s now proved the world is round).
We’ve seen the Seguleh Second before if you recall, hooking up with Cutter, Heboric, Scillara and the others before they were attacked by the T’lan Imass. He left his spear behind (and was angry at Skinner then too). He also spoke a lot of the Seguleh connection to Darujhistan and the Tyrant and the Tyrant’s return.
So what role does Trake have to play in this—clearly some, as Toc says Gruntle should tell the god “not long now.”
I like Whiskeyjack’s clever use of mentioning Skinner to get the Seguleh Second out of the way.
Lots of talk of the afterlife in this book. Gruntle seems a bit depressed over the idea that there’s no redemption or cleansing after one’s life.
And the mystery about Hood’s plans continue. Not just the army, which we knew about. Or the idea that the realm is closed to the living, which makes a lot of sense. But what is this issue with Trake’s followers not appearing in Hood’s realm when they die? Where are they going? Why aren’t even these folks, who appear relatively high up in Hood’s counsel, sure of what is happening? Curious.
That’s a great moment with the dragon’s escape—tense, visual, dynamic. And then a great close with Faint’s complaint they didn’t hitch a ride on it and Gruntle’s “Insane. They are all insane.”
It’s an eye-opening moment, I think, this look inside Skintick’s thoughts. We know of course they lost friends, loved ones, in that battle on Drift Avalii, but the intensity of his thoughts (knowing when he “died”) and the concreteness of his memories (the “thud” of javelins into bodies, the spilling of entrails onto the “dusty cobbles and ribbons of grass”) all drives it so much more home. And then that realization that had they just hung out of sight for a little while, that Traveller would have killed everyone, making all those deaths in defense of the place “meaningless.”
His argument that “to be told the truth was to feel the shackles snap shut on one’s ankle. Truth was delivered with the expectation that it would force a single course of action,” is an interesting one in the context of all the discussion of religion in this novel. After all, so much of religion (at least many) is predicated on the idea that their version of things is “the truth,” the one and only truth.” And many obviously come with some pretty strong expectations with regard to action or behavior. We see this in action somewhat with Itkovian and Seerdomin—Itkovian tells him what he sees as the truth (all within me will succumb) and while he says Seerdomin has a choice, to someone of a certain moral bent, there will appear only one “true” course of action.
Of course, we as readers take some of these thoughts with a grain of salt as he continues, since it’s hard to imagine Rake looking at these young Andii who have suffered so much loss with “disdain.” Perhaps even impossible. Which then makes us question his other insights. But then, when he starts imagining grim futures for them all in Black Coral, it all sounds so bleakly realistic, so grimly like actual life.
Another reference to being more suspicious of Clip. Another reference to the mystery that is Aranatha (she somehow knows Clip is “necessary”).
Nimander seems very Rake-like in the lack of despair visible to Skintick.
That’s a very Macbeth-ian line to end on: “We need to wash this blood off.” The clear implication, I’d say, is metaphorically, that’s going to be tough (even given all of Mael’s oceans).
That obelisk in the cavern is a great visual, concrete way of conveying the sense of the immense burden that Dragnipur is to Rake, the rock and earth itself react to its weight. What must it be like to carry that nearly every moment of every day for all those centuries?
Yet another ominous overtone to both what awaits Endest and what Rake plans for himself. Which, if Rake’s history lesson is relevant, would seem to have something to do with Mother Dark and her turning away and redeeming the Andii spirit. Note as well his defense of chaos as Endest looks upon Dragnipur and hears the wagon and the chaos storm drawing nearer to it: “Chaos gave us the strength to persist, to cease fearing change, to accept all that was unknown and unknowable.”
The ending of this scene, as so many between these two are, I find extremely moving—the loyalty, the love, the dignity, the sense of sacrifice. We really see the spectrum of human (I use that term broadly here) life in these books, don’t we?
From one discussion of sacrifice to another. Seerdomin, who doesn’t see any path but the one that is the “right thing” to do, apparently. And I have to say, I like this idea of a god learning as he goes, with Itkovian trying on the fly to figure out a way to add a judgment aspect (if I’m reading his conversation right) to his godhood. We’ll have to see if he figures out a solution to this problem, his “error.”
And then Salind brings us to another error—the idea that certainty is a virtue, something we’ve seen again and again is the opposite of true in this series. We can see the error of this thought in the way she defines compassion via her certainty—compassion that is to be “meted out only to the truly deserving... the rest, the could all burn, for they deserved no less.” Which would seem to pretty much not be a definition of compassion at all.
I enjoyed this meeting of Shadowthrone, Cotillion, and Karsa, beginning with Shadowthrone’s intriguing, if depressing, question about whether all humans will end up like Karsa, resistant to sorcery (we’ve had a few references, slight and rare, to the idea that magic may disappear in this world).
Is this one of the more explicit references we’ve had to why Shadowthrone and Cotillion are doing what they’re doing (if not explicit as to actually what they are doing): “Measure it all out! Acceptable levels of misery and suffering! . . . Acceptable? Who the fuck says any level is acceptable?” Is their goal to alleviate misery and suffering? We’ve said (or at least, I have but I think many of you have said so as well) that Cotillion is often a symbol of compassion in this series, so it would make sense that compassion is his (and Shadowthrone’s, though the crazy old man façade makes it trickier) long range goal. And if so, what might Hood have to do with it? And his army? Hmmmmmm.
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.