Welcome to the Malazan Reread 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 Nineteen 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 dropped in for this installment to make comments, but we shouldn’t rely on it going forward. And, indeed, he should be enjoying his holiday!
Kruppe urges the reader to realise that events are now beginning to speed towards their conclusion, and he hopes that he is able to recount it all. Murillio’s body is brought by the man with the ox to Two-Ox Gate.
The body of Murillio is taken on the cart through the streets of Darujhistan and Kruppe rages a little about the way in which citizens are treated by those seeking power.
The old man on the cart goes into the Phoenix Inn and decides to get breakfast rather than dealing with giving Murillio’s body back.
Cutter wonders whether he loves Challice. All he knows is that he doesn’t feel the same with Scillara, and he senses that Challice is desperately seeking something that she still hasn’t found. When Cutter meets Challice, she tells him that Gorlas knows about the affair, and will kill them both. He realises that she is excited by the idea. She refuses to run away with him, and instead encourages him to kill Gorlas.
Kruppe takes us back to the mine, where a child named Venaz heads for the tunnel called Steep to retrieve Harllo.
We’re shown a scene that demonstrates just what a delightful child Venaz is... Actually, we also see that people in the mines don’t give tuppence for what Gorlas Vidikas thinks.
Harllo discovers new black silver within the mine and feels an odd attraction to it. Bainisk warns Harllo that someone came to find him from the city—Gruntle, he immediately assumes—but was killed in a duel, and now Vidikas wants him. Bainisk says they have to escape, so they set off. Bainisk helps Harllo along, and tells him that he needs him for when they reach Darujhistan. They crawl through seemingly endless tunnels that open at a cliff face; Bainisk lets down a rope and they make their way down the cliff. Harllo reaches the end of the knot and calls for Bainisk, who now realises that they are in trouble as he hangs onto the rope. He feels a tug from the top and sees Venaz and their gang, and decides he and Harllo are better off if he cuts the rope.
Kruppe begs the trust of his reader as he skips back to the present, and takes us to K’rul’s Bar, where Blend watches Scillara but thinks guiltily of Picker lying in a coma upstairs. And Antsy surveys the crazy array of weapons in front of him and wonders which to carry, even though he’s supposed to be on a peaceful mission. Blend tells Antsy he doesn’t need the weapons, as Fisher says the contract out on them has been cancelled. Blend sits down with Fisher in an effort to distract herself from thoughts of Scillara, and questions him about the amount of poems attributed to him. Finally, Scillara, Antsy and Blend set out to the Warden Barracks to see Barathol.
Baruk arrives at the temple where Iskaral Pust and Mogara are staying. Mogara tries to put a curse on him, but he orders her to retract it. He meets with the High Priestess and Iskaral himself, who passes on a message from Shadowthrone.
Lady Spite wonders what to do with Chaur, since she has to visit Lady Envy. She says Chaur needs to remain there out of sight and he nods, but we’re given to believe that he hasn’t quite understood the command.
Meese is told of a body on a cart outside the Inn and goes to investigate—stunned by grief, she realises who it is, and gradually news filters out of Murillio’s death. Two men then converge on the Phoenix—Rallick Nom and Cutter—and we’re basically told it would have been better all around had Rallick been the first to get there. Instead…
Cutter arrives at the Inn and is told by Kruppe about Murillio and the duel. Cutter has a horrible premonition about who killed Murillio and has his fears confirmed when he hears it is Gorlas Vidikas. Cutter is determined to go and seek out Gorlas.
Bellam Nom takes the children Mew and Hinty to the duelling school and gives them to Stonny. He manages to get through to Stonny about her responsibilities and what her lack of caring has caused.
Shardan Lim waits for Challice to return from her tryst and uses her body, telling her that giving in to him should be easy now.
The old friends gather at the Phoenix to take Murillio to his final resting place. Rallick learns about Cutter’s plan for vengeance, and says that he will make sure that Shardan Lim and Hanut Orr cannot interfere with Cutter’s path. Coll starts drinking again, although Kruppe has ensured that the drink is not a strong one.
Picker’s soul wanders lost, into a realm where she is chased by the Wolves of Winter. She is captured by humanlike, primitive figures and made captive in a cave where she is pushed into a hole.
Harllo falls safely to the ground with nothing but cuts and bruises. Bainisk is not so lucky, and asks Harllo to tell him of the city. Harllo’s words seem awfully reminiscent of his own life in the city, and he holds Bainisk until he dies.
Kruppe ends the chapter by showing us some of what has changed in Darujhistan thanks to these events, including Cutter on a lonely road experiencing visions of Apsalar, who tells him to turn back from this path.
What I particularly like about the first two sections of this chapter is that we see Kruppe’s emotions, thanks to his narration—first, his sadness over the events he is recalling, and then his rage over what war does to people. For me, in the day and age that we live in, where, I believe, we’ve now been at war for about half of my life, this statement of Kruppe’s is so very poignant:
“A soldier goes to war. A soldier carries it back home. Could leaders truly comprehend the damage they do to their citizens, they would never send them to war.”
Also, a timely reminder that Kruppe is recounting the death of a man he called friend—someone now being brought home on the back of a cart. Sad indeed. The Book of the Fallen just keeps on giving in such a bitter manner.
“The body’s not going anywhere, is it?” Does this man know nothing?
The mention of wine and rustleaf with regards to Challice makes me think that she has an addictive personality, and, right now, she’s simply addicted to the naughty trysts she is having with Cutter—and that there is nothing more to it.
I’m both glad and sad that Cutter seems able to sense this; realising that it is very different to when he was with Scillara, who is a much more honest and open person, despite her past and her previous addictions.
Also, how mean of Erikson to have Cutter think fondly about Murillio’s retirement when the reader knows exactly what has happened to him!
The Challice and Cutter storyline is an odd one. We’ve seen both of these characters in a more likeable light, when they were younger and innocent, so I have some sympathy and liking for who they used to be. But this couple, these two people now... They are just so very damaged: Challice feeling excited now that she might be in danger; Cutter doing what he thinks he should to regain the boy he once was. I don’t like either of them much, but particularly Challice, who is horribly manipulative.
So, Venaz... Just a nasty piece of work. We’ve been given, in one book, two rather nasty children in the form of Venaz and Snell. It makes me wonder why Erikson uses children in these roles. Because it somehow makes it more horrific? Because he wants to give some commentary on nature vs nurture? Anyway, Haid managed to endear himself to me rather quickly by stomping all over Venaz and letting him know that he’s just not important.
I really enjoyed this daring escape by the two young lads, especially Bainisk’s fierce loyalty in taking Harllo with him. At the back of my mind, though, I can’t help fearing for his reaction when he realises that Darujhistan is just not what he wishes it to be. Also, brave or stupid for taking a fall into the unknown instead of allowing Venaz to take Harllo?
Okay, I want to hug every part of the scene with the ex-Bridgeburners to me, because it’s such good fun and has so many levels. Firstly, the sadness of contemplating a new life while the remains of your last one are in a coma and look set to stay there. Then the humour of Antsy trying to work out how to fit all those weapons on him just so he can walk the streets of Darujhistan without fear of assassins—and, of course, that has a dark note as well, showing how affected this group is by what has happened. I love the interplay concerning Fisher—Antsy insisting he’s just taken the same name, Blend trying to work out how he’s managed to produce so many poems. And then the wonderful scene with Barathol, where he and Scillara are hard put not to laugh at the fact that his punishment for what he did will allow him to gain membership with the Guild. And that last bit: “Remembering Kalam.” Touched me deeply, that did.
Sometimes we discuss the best quotes of chapters and books. Mine for this chapter is this:
Baruk could not help himself, turning to Sordiko Qualm. “What was Shadowthrone thinking?” The question clearly depressed her. “I admit to a crisis of faith, High Alchemist.”
It’s just so perfectly done, and made me laugh out loud. Again, we are experiencing the benefit of eight books’ worth of background and build up to lines like that.
And from one wonderful quote straight to another:
“The gods know, happiness is a precious and rare commodity, and indeed it seems that the more intelligent and perceptive the individual, the less happy they generally are.”
This rings so true for me.
And hands up anyone who is feeling comfortable and happy with the idea that Chaur is definitely going to stay put and cause no trouble! Anyone? …Is this thing on?
I think the build up to Murillio’s arrival back at the Phoenix has been handled well, because it seems I feel more what his friends are feeling at the loss of him. I feel the desperate realisation of Kruppe about the boy he was seeking at the mine. It’s so well done.
What interested me particularly about the scene where Kruppe tells Cutter who killed Murillio is the fact that Kruppe seems to know ALL of the strands that have led to this point—what is occurring with Challice and Cutter; how Gorlas fits into it all. And I’ve known at some level that Kruppe is narrating this story for us, but it suddenly made me wonder how exactly he knows everything he does. Or should I not pick at that thread, and just accept it as Kruppe being Kruppe?
Who wasn’t moved by that scene between Bellam Nom and Stonny? The worst thing for me, I think, is that Stonny is regaining her feelings and being refilled and yet we know that Murillio is already dead. I hope so much that is doesn’t send her backwards... And I loved Bellam Nom here—that tough love approach seemed exactly what she needed.
I find myself repulsed by Challice. I just wish she would sort herself out and escape from this situation! With the awakening of both the Crippled God and the Dying God, I am wondering which one Challice is currently in thrall to—or is this just her character? I hope it’s the former, but I’m afraid it’s the latter.
Every scene where the repercussions of Murillio’s death are dealt with—his friends coming to terms with their loss—I feel so sad. And this is bang on:
“Grief is the most solitary of all feelings. Grief isolates, and every ritual, every gesture, every embrace, is a hopeless effort to break through that isolation. None of it works. The forms crumble and dissolve. To face death is to stand alone.”
Finally, an explanation about why there are more than one god/ascendant of war! “War could not exist without rivals, without enemies, and this was as true in the immortal realm as it was in the mortal one.” So the four gods of war: Fener, Treach, Togg, and Fanderay. Or do the Wolves of Winter count as one entity? Who would be the fourth in that case?
Bainisk’s death is just a drop in the massive ocean of grief that this series brings to a reader. And Harllo’s words about “...and the mother loves her son for ever and ever and the father doesn’t rape her...” makes me unutterably sad. It seems Harllo knows exactly his position in life.
And then that final blow of Irilta’s suicide: “There were loves in the world that never found voice.” I think it’s time I went to cuddle my teddy bear. I’ll see you for the next chapter, and hope it isn’t quite as painful.
Interesting bird choices by Kruppe for that wide-zoom view of the city: “a crow, an owl, or indeed a winged eel.” We’ve seen both of those first two play important roles in this series (and Kruppe, I assume, is that eel).
Here again is a momentary glimpse, in the ox-cart man (a good poem by the way)—of not even a side character, but a wholly insignificant character in terms of plot. And yet he’s given the respect of a few humanizing details: that lined brow, those aching knees, his pained heart, and most of all, the cumulative effect carting around corpses has on his soul, his sense of himself.
And a nice little follow-up lecture by Kruppe on the effect of witnessing a series of deaths—the defense of gallows humor that is no real defense, at least, not below the surface. The effect on soldiers who “carry it back home.” (Another reminder of a book I’ve mentioned before—Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carry—it’s a common enough theme, but O’Brien presents it in a more effective way than most. As does Erikson in his own fashion and style.)
I like these reminders we get (and which I think we need in a book of this length) that this is not some faceless, authorial narrator but Kruppe telling us this tale, and Kruppe is deeply affected by what has (it is told after the fact which is also hard to remember at times) happens—these are not players on a stage but comrades, friends. And as we’ve seen once or twice before, there seems to be an inverse relationship between the depth of emotion and the number/complexity of words Kruppe uses. As here: “Forgive this raw spasm of rage. A friend lies wrapped in canvas on the bed of a cart. Death is on its way home. Forgive.”
From death to sex—the circle of life. And how painful is this mention of Murillio via Cutter?
While Cutter is still young (and yes, at times that can be trying), he shows some impressive insight into human nature (especially the darker side) in this scene with Challice—with regard to both her and Gorlas.
So is this move through water and a tunnel a rebirth for Harllo and Bainisk? That’s a cruel stoppage of scene by Kruppe, at the cutting of the rope without letting us see what follows. He better ask for trust.
A good bit of (needed) comic relief with Antsy’s “plans.” Love the “skirt of shortswords” image. But also a subtle reminder of the just-played scene when Antsy focuses on the rope.
I also, amidst all this death and planned death and possible death, enjoyed the humor of Barathol’s ironic path around the Guild’s intransigence and Antsy getting a jail sentence when he visits the jail.
“I admit to a crisis of faith, High Alchemist.” Can’t you just picture Sordiko Qualm’s face and tone here?
And also Baruk’s with “Yes, that’s all of them.” Good ol’ Pust—always there to break up the tension.
I like how the bit about which man (Cutter or Rallick) first learns of Murillio’s death comes just a little after a discussion of the Twins and the idea of push-pull/chance. Things appear to be snowballing now.
Bellam. Have I mentioned how much I like this kid? “Enough of this. Take responsibility for them Stonny.” From the mouths of, well, not quite babes. But still. She needed to hear this sharply blunt wake up call. And probably from a stranger. Of course, the question now becomes, as she feels her “hollow shell” refilling, if it’s too late.
And then this same question arises with Challice after her scene with Shardan Lim and what she plans on telling Cutter, “never mind [her] husband.” Things are not only snowballing; they’re also turning increasingly dark. In a book that’s had more than its fair share of dark moments already.
This moment of grief among Murillio’s friends is so achingly real—not some ideal fancy of a grief scene—all tears and black clothes and formality and soft voices and fond remembrances—but raw human emotion scraped and torn and exposed to all the nerves. It’s a great scene I think, but I also am glad we were given some poetic eloquence to suit the moment via Kruppe in his closing lines, also very real, about grief.
These last few scenes (I know, I’m rushing, but it’s late here in Prince George, and it’s a long drive to Banff-Jasper Park in the morning) are beautifully poignant and moving. Three-quarters of the way through, and so much pain and sorrow and grief and heartbreak and death, but we have yet to reach the end that Kruppe has already promised us will make us weep. One almost fears to keep going.
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.