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 of Chapter Sixteen 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.
Bill is going to be in and out until Wednesday 7th August, doing various fun things with his family on vacation. I will be doing the chapter recaps and posting alone (apologies in advance)—Bill has said that he will try and drop in here and there to make comments, but we shouldn’t rely on it. And, indeed, he should be enjoying his holiday!
Our narrator Kruppe meditates on the nature of evil and the way that it can be represented, pointing out that it doesn’t always wear the form of scales and talons. And that behaviour that seems evil can often seem reasonable at the time. Apparently Murillio seems to be about to embark on that behaviour, going by his expression. Bellam Nom follows him from the duelling school.
Speaking of evil... The next scene deals with Snell, who is contemplating selling his siblings for coin and worrying that his Da and Ma will find out what he did to Harllo because they’re going to the Temple of the Crippled God.
Bellam Nom has realised that something is wrong at the duelling school, that the heart of Stonny has been broken, and that Murillio is equally shattered because he loves her. We are informed that Bellam Nom is particularly sharp, has been keeping his mouth shut and his ears open, and is able to read lips. Consequently, he knows that Murillio is embarking on something daft and so plans to be there in case he is needed. Like a hero.
Seba, Master of the Guild of Assassins, does not like Humble Measure, the person who hired the assassins to do away with the Malazans. Now Humble Measure has offered a new contract to Seba, and it’s important enough that he advises Seba to concentrate on it. The task is to make sure that a certain councillor dies, in order for Humble Measure to be elected to the Council. “Now, you will assault this particular estate, and you will kill the councillor and everyone else, down to the scullery maid and the terrier employed to kill rats.”
Councillor Coll is accused of either giving or accepting bribes by Hanut Orr. The latter is trying to discredit the former. Coll rather neatly forces Orr to back off. Coll and Estraysian D’Arle then discuss the fact that the Malazan embassy’s reasons for expanding are incredibly flimsy, and refer to keeping Hanut Orr and his two cronies as busy as they can on various committees while they conduct the real business.
The three councillors—Hanut Orr, Gorlas Vidikas and Shardan Lim—snipe at each other outside, passing various insults. We learn that Vidikas is dealing with the Ironmonger, and this name is familiar because Humble Measure was referred to as such. We know that Humble Measure is taking rather fatal steps to get a seat on the Council, even though Lim is pretty sure that he won’t.
Seba Krafar heads down into some cellars on his way back to the Guild, and is accosted by someone who we are not given a name for. Someone who has managed to follow the Master of the Guild of Assassins without him noticing at all. This person pays five councils to buy out the contract against the Malazans.
We learn that the person who bought out the contract is none other than Fisher kel Tath. On his way back to K’rul’s Bar, he in turn gets accosted by one Iskaral Pust, who passes on a convoluted message from Shadowthrone that Fisher should “seek out the eel,” or something similar!
Bedek and Myrla are standing amidst a mob of people waiting to see the Prophet of the Crippled God. Bedek starts to get worried about the nature of the help they might receive from the Crippled God, but Myrla is determined to stay.
Snell is busy trying to create a sling in order to take his sisters to a man who would buy them no questions asked, when Murillio enters the house and finds out from Snell what actually happened to Harllo. Bellam comes in as well and offers to watch Snell while Murillio tries to find Harllo’s trail.
Bellam begins a “delicate and precise form of torture” on Snell, in that he allows Snell’s imagination to fill in the gaps as to what Bellam might do to him.
Gorlas catches Challice as she returns from her tryst, and deliberately lets her know that he will be away at the mining camp for three days, meaning two nights’ absence. They have a chat about Challice’s new lover—Gorlas letting her know that he wants to know who it is, so that he can picture him.
Murillio starts out on the trail to find Harllo, and comes upon the shepherd who sold the boy to the mines.
Some stuff about the mysterious ox. As ever, I am mystified.
Snell tries to escape from Bellam, who catches him with ease and then drags the boy to a slaver called Goruss—who turns out to be his uncle. They fool the boy and throw him in a cell, so that Goruss is able to break Snell’s secrets from him without actually hurting him.
I love the section where Kruppe muses on evil, especially where he indicates that, really, it is a concept to describe a capability that is within all of us. It is not fire breathing and talons; it is, rather, “an innate proclivity towards indifference, towards deliberate denial of mercy, towards disengaging all that is moral within us.”
And poor Murillio—it seems he is prepared to sacrifice something within himself, to take a step onto the path that might lead to evil behaviour, because of love for a woman who just doesn’t care. It’s a sad story.
It doesn’t seem strange at all to have been musing on the nature of evil and then move straight across to Snell’s part of the story! The horrible little psychopath: “If Ma and Da just vanished, why, he could sell them both and make good coin.” Sell his sisters. Sell them into slavery and who knows what. Evil little bugger. And almost a caricature of evil, to be honest. Murillio’s brand of insidious, growing evil is that much scarier.
This is rather cynical for me: “People don’t change to suit their god, they change their god to suit them.”
But this made me pause, and wonder at how important Snell’s idle thought is: “The Crippled God: how good can a god be if it’s crippled? If it can’t even heal itself?” Well, I figure that this god would know better than any other god what it must feel like to be less than whole. This god would have more understanding and compassion.
I instinctively like Bellam Nom, from this first real look we’re given of him. Wouldn’t be the first of the Nom family that I’ve got behind though! They’re a gem of a family, really, with the entertainment provided thus far. Erikson is a teeny bit heavy-handed in inviting us to look fondly on this latest Nom: “Mark him well. These are the thoughts of courage, unquestioning and uncompromising, and this is how heroes come to be.”
Then from one likeable fellow to a distinctly unlikeable one—Humble Measure certainly isn’t endearing himself to me. I guess that’s what happens when you take out a contract to assassinate some of my favourite characters!
We are given a look at the fact that the Assassins’ Guild has been utterly weakened by their attempts at the Malazans—I wonder if that is going to come back to them later.
Since Humble Measure mentions a particular estate when it comes to the councillor that needs taking out—would that be the estate that Scorch and Leff are currently trying in their own way to guard?
I do love the way that Councillor Coll gets the better of Hanut Orr so easily, and just how pale he goes at the idea of having his file looked at by independent parties. Coll and Estraysian D’Arle then prove through dialogue that they are deliberately trying to keep the horrible little trio of councillors busy while they conduct the true business of Darujhistan.
And a nice quick little reminder that Gorlas is in the pocket of Humble Measure, who is involved in some of the darker political currents in Darujhistan. I do like the politicking that Erikson writes.
However much I don’t like Seba, I have to accept that as Master of Assassins, he should have some fair skills when it comes to stealth and working out that someone is following him—so whoever this mysterious person is certainly does have some very rare skills.
I like the set up here of Fisher being the one to buy out the contract on the Malazan lives, but I’m unsure as to why the mystery when his name is revealed in the very next section. It seems secretive for the sake of it, rather than entertainment. Do you think that sometimes Erikson did fall foul of adding in obscurity when it wasn’t warranted?
Kruppe’s asides can be useful and add real foreboding, like with this: “Even a man such as Fisher kel Tath, for all his formidable, mysterious qualities, was quite capable of grievous errors in judgment.” And isn’t Fisher the mysterious one! This supposedly elderly bard is now not only the lover of Lady Envy, but perhaps immortal, and manages to both track down and surprise a Master Assassin—and then holds him aloft with just one hand.
Iskaral Pust really does add gold to certain scenes: “...eke out the eel—no, wait—er, seek out the eel. Seal? Damn, I had the message memorized and everything! Peek at—eat an eel—seek and peek the bleak earl—perk the veal, deal the prick...” Why does Shadowthrone want Kruppe and Fisher meeting? This is certainly not the first time we’ve seen someone start the process of looking for the Eel in recent chapters.
Poor Bedek. I think he is the one that realises that they are wanting something that the Crippled God can’t give, that he probably can’t give any of these people waiting to see the Prophet. And who didn’t get chills at the Prophet taking away a man’s pain by smothering him? Offering him escape through death?
Poor Murillio—this makes me upset: “And Snell saw in those deadly eyes something dark, a lifeless whisper that could flatten out at any moment, and all thoughts of lying whimpered away.” In a book that shows what a loving and equal relationship can accomplish, Erikson is also showing with Murillio and Stonny—and Challice and Gorlas, for that matter—how a sick relationship can change a person.
Bellam is a curious chap—someone who knows the value of pretending to be evil but never taking that last step: “Bellam Nom, being cleverer than most, knew that true terror belonged not to what did occur, but to what might occur. He was content to encourage Snell’s own imagination into the myriad possibilities, which was a delicate and precise form of torture.” Heh, my own parents did this to me, and I can report back that it works tremendously.
Speaking of Challice and Gorlas, here is a nasty little scene showing how very damaged their relationship is. I shudder when I think about them trapped together, and what repercussions their actions have on other people here in Darujhistan, Cutter chief among them.
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.