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 the first half of Chapter Twenty-One 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.
Cutter arrives at the mine, and an old man starts to make his way towards him.
Gorlas Vidikas is told that another man has come to take Harllo back, and wonders what is so special about the boy. He has a vision of paupers as he walks towards the ridge, and thinks that he is right to be greedy and ambitious, as it has brought him everything he desired. He hopes that the man waiting for him is Coll, but is even more pleased that it turns out to be Cutter, considering what is happening with Challice. He assumes that Cutter is here because of Challice, and tells him that Harllo is dead. Cutter goads Gorlas into a duel, to the point where Gorlas says they should dispense with convention—Cutter replies ‘“I was waiting for you to say that.”
The foreman watches as Cutter assassinates Gorlas with two knives. The two of them talk: Cutter makes sure that the foreman will confirm that he never issued a formal challenge; the foreman ascertains he won’t have to pay back the loan he owed Gorlas. As Cutter leaves, the foreman spits on Gorlas’ face, then sends messengers back to Darujhistan with the news of Gorlas’ death.
Cutter stops riding on his way back to the city, and weeps both for Harllo and the boy that he used to be.
Venaz likes to be thorough and so heads off the confirm that Bainisk and Harllo are actually dead. He thinks he will be rewarded that way. He finds Bainisk and soon realises that Harllo is still alive and has escaped the mines. He follows Harllo through a womblike passage to the surface, until he spots him and shouts after him: “Harrrllo! Found youuu!” The chase is on—Harllo reaches the top of the scree first and makes a run for it.
Kruppe shows us a few of the inhabitants of Darujhistan as a strange wind blows and events begin to quicken.
Shardan Lim goes around to the Vidikas estate to look on it and think about his plans for the future, when he has impregnated Challice and can seek to usurp Vidikas. He is therefore in place to receive the message that Gorlas is dead. One of the men reveals that it was murder and vengeance rather than a duel. He directs the messengers to tell Hanut Orr of what has happened, while he gives the news to Challice.
Challice selects a rather revealing gown in which to receive Shardan Lim. When she meets him, she realises that he is trying not to smile as he tells her the “terrible” news. Shardan Lim suddenly thinks—as he talks to her—that maybe Challice took a contract out on Gorlas. He thinks she had him murdered, and asks why she didn’t go to Shardan for help. Challice lets Shardan Lim assume it was her, since she believes that Cutter killed Gorlas Vidikas at her request.
Hanut Orr receives the news about the assassination of Gorlas Vidikas and believes Coll to be the culprit. He assembles four guards and together they go to the Phoenix Inn, with the intention of bringing justice to those within.
Torvald Nom stands on the roof of the estate, watching Madrun and Lazan Door throw knuckles, and sees that they are also being watched by Studious Lock. He feels an odd wind, and thinks to himself that at least he has done all he could, but it most definitely isn’t enough.
Even Scorch and Leff can feel the tension in the air.
Cutter is back in Darujhistan and heads for the ship he arrived in. He chastises himself for the way he treated Scillara, and then realises that he needs Lady Spite’s particular form of hard comfort. There is no one on board ship. He goes below to the main cabin and finds the lance that the dead Seguleh horseman gave him in the plague-stricken fort in Seven Cities. The lance’s blade appears to be sweating; it feels warm to the touch and seems to be trembling. As he goes back on deck he hears the deafening chorus of howls and realises that the Hounds have arrived.
(Song of) Old Friend that starts the chapter by Fisher is haunting. Especially given recent events.
And I love that Kruppe ends his first section of narrative by saying “It begins.” I do feel that this is basically the start of the true endgame, that this chapter marks the beginning of the rush to the end, so Kruppe is definitely saying more than just “Cutter has arrived.”
Ah, Gorlas. Such a lovely, warm, sympathetic character… *tumbleweed* Ye Gods, he doesn’t even go out on a high note, where we can be sorrowful that he never achieved the redemption that he had the potential for. Nope, he just thinks on about how he is better than everyone else:
“Let them fall to the wayside, let them tumble underfoot. He was going where he wanted to be and if that meant pushing them out of the way, or crushing them down, so be it.”
I don’t think anyone will grieve for this man.
Also want to just mention where Gorlas says:
“If you want to think it was all your idea, fine. But I should tell you, I know her well—far better than you. She’s been working on you, filling your head—she’s pretty much led you here by the hand, even if you’re too thick to realise it.”
I actually think that Gorlas is right about this. Challice has played Cutter, because I don’t think he would have been so quick to march out for vengeance on Murillio if Gorlas hadn’t been the one to cause it. Sure, he would still have been upset, but I think there would have been some talking with Kruppe—maybe time for Rallick Nom to join them as well. Things could have gone differently.
I love the whole: “The child’s not some orphaned prince or something, is he?” Very cool nod to traditional fantasy.
I think my heart broke a little, first at Cutter saying that Harllo was just a boy that no one loved, and then as he weeps in the desert for the boy that he used to be. I think the transition from Crokus to Cutter is pretty much complete at this stage.
Thoroughly enjoyed the chase scene with Venaz and Harllo—suitably taut and tense. And especially creepy when Venaz shouts after Harllo once they’re both on the scree—just imagine thinking that your escape was almost complete and then hearing that? Absolutely terrifying. Also liked that Venaz just couldn’t comprehend the smile on Bainisk’s face—this is a little boy who could quite easily turn into Gorlas Vidikas if he is allowed to grow up…
The quick look at some of the residents of Darujhistan as the tension increases on this night is well done—I love especially the move from a terrible marriage to a marriage of love and respect as we stop first with Thordy and then with Tiserra. Even the thoughts that they end their respective sections with are very telling. Thordy thinks: “Anticipation was such a delicious game, wasn’t it?” while Tiserra thinks: “It promised that the night ahead would stretch out into eternity.” One of these is eager for what is to come, while the other is dreading it.
I’ll be intrigued to see where Blend is heading—following Scillara?
It’s sweet to see Chaur refer to himself as C’ur and Barathol as Baral.
And I like seeing once again this guard, stricken by pains but doing his duty and thinking about his wife and children. “He was a man who would never ask for sympathy. He was a man who sought only to do what was right.”
Shardan Lim really shows the nature of his soul, as he watches the Vidikas estate and gloats to himself about his intentions of usurping the place of his co-conspirator. And then when he hears about Gorlas Vidikas’ death, there is not the hint of any sorrow. All he does is move to consolidate his position, while directing Hanut Orr on a pointless and potentially deadly route towards vengeance against Coll and his companions. Another person this world can do without!
And then we move to another unlikeable person: Challice. Sure, she has probably been forced into some of what she has done through circumstances, but I’m feeling a distinct lack of sympathy for her now. Even her ‘I killed him, I killed him’ refrain doesn’t make me feel an ounce of sympathy. She knew everything she was doing. She went open-eyed into adultery, found she liked it, and then manipulated Cutter into a position where he might well have gone to kill Gorlas at her urging. I am actually looking forward to her knowing that it wasn’t really her at all that caused it, simply because it might stop her thinking that the entire world revolves her. Hmm, that all got a little ranty, didn’t it? Just shows my dislike for her, I think!
Intrigued to see what Torvald Nom is up to on the roof of the estate, carrying Moranth munitions…
It comes to something when even Scorch and Leff can sense something coming in the night! I absolutely adored this line: “Ug, got nuffin but this mask, and m’luck’s boot to change, ‘sgot to, right? So, I’m in—look, ‘sa good mask! Ug.” Simply because it is so very far from what we’ve seen of the Seguleh up to this point!
I have completely neglected to remember the lance given to Cutter by the dead Seguleh… Anyone care to quickly refresh my memory? I can’t tell if it is sweating and trembling because of the presence of Seguleh in the city casting bones or because of the approach of the Hounds.
And then what a fabulous line to leave this on: “The Hounds. They’re here.”
We’ve seen several times how Erikson, just before killing off a character, will give us something prior to that death scene that will make the death all that harder to bear—an insight into good character, a warm laugh, a Mallet offering to help Barathol, and so on. We get pretty much the opposite here with Gorlas—it’s pretty hard not to root for this guy to get killed as he works through these early pages—looking forward to killing someone else, his contempt for the poor, etc. You find yourself really hoping this isn’t going to be one of those “The world sucks, so sometimes the bad guy survives” kind of scene.
The part of this that sticks out as different is his vision of a half-dozen paupers. I’ll just mention that we have seen this scene—a long, long time ago (but not in a galaxy far far away). Anyone recall?
I do like the tongue-in-cheek nod to fantasy cliché via “The child’s not some orphaned prince or something, is he?”
And of course, you have to like Gorlas being hoisted by his own petard in this “duel.”
Of all we’ve seen happen in this book to this point, I find it interesting that one of the saddest lines of all, one of the most affecting, comes in response to an untruth (that Harllo is dead): “He was a boy nobody loved.” So simple. So incredibly heart-breaking. Even the man who runs the moles has to wince at its harsh reality and all it says about the world.
And then, almost as sad, is the impact on Cutter of all of this, and his weeping both for the boy thought dead, and the boy he once was and/or could have been. It’s perhaps a key linguistic choice that Cutter is referred to multiple times as “the man” throughout this scene, as if cluing us in that this character whom we have most likely always thought of as young, either no longer is or soon no longer will be.
Boy, we really don’t get to revel in Gorlas’ death for long, do we?
Or in Harllo’s escape, as we’re tossed into the creepy, suspenseful chase scene.
So what voice is Thordy listening to? Who has a heavy voice that can speak of a “legacy of death”? And who does she wait for with that knife? Her husband? Herself?
And suddenly everything is a swirl of motion and activity and “anticipation.” Things are moving apace, the game is afoot! And so we have a shift into very short chapters zipping from one POV to another.
This first shift is a nice one, from a marriage in name only (Gaz and Thordy) to a real one: Tiserra and Torvald.
And I really like that Erikson spares the time to give us not just the ascendants and the god-touched and our main characters, but ones like Tiserra (evidence that there is love in the world) and Chaur (more such evidence) and the poor heart-worn guard, exemplar of a man who sought only to do what was right. Such people appear in the world, every world, now and then, like a single refrain of some blessed song, a fragment caught on the spur of an otherwise raging cacophony). Though I like to think such people are not quite so rare, that is a killer line to close that scene: “Imagine a world without such souls. Yes, it should have been harder to do.”
The guard’s scene tells us this is the “culmination of the Gedderone Fete.” We’ve seen this celebration before, in GoTM, so this is a nice bit of a full circle here. It’s also more than a little ironic, as the Gedderone Fete is to celebrate the end of winter and beginning of spring—i.e., the return of new life into the world. Yeah—good luck with that tonight… Though I suppose in some ways…
I like how the housing detail with regard to the Vidikas estate can stand very well for the sort of relationship/love inside that home: “its rooms abandoned to dust and spiders.” The dust conjures up an image of barrenness while spiders, as we all know, sit in their webs and spin dark and fatal plots. And then a few lines later, we get “If the tower were a tree, it would be dead, centuries dead. Hollowed out by rot, the first hard wind would have sent it crashing down.” Commentary on those inside, or foreshadowing of their future? Well, “her” future at this point, as it’s a bit late to foreshadow Gorlas’ death.
Interesting choice of phrasing with regard to the messengers and Challice: “having three sweaty men descend on her wouldn’t do.” Cough cough.
More foreshadowing? “[L]ying flat and motionless on her bed… a ghostly walk in the silent garden.”
Challice’s musings on what creates success are in direct contrast to her husband’s earlier thoughts on the same topic:
“the truth was, luck and mischance were the only players in the game of success. Privilege of birth, a sudden harmony of forces… good fortune. Oh, they might strut about… and proclaim that talent, skill, and cunning were the real players, but Challice held the belief that even the poor, the destitute… might possess talents and cunning.”
Seems we regularly have this same debate today (see “You did not build it… I built it” in our last Presidential campaign)
I’m thinking when a character retreats toward a tower already associated with dust, death, and rot, further connecting it to dust and rot herself, taking with her a symbol of lost innocence and imprisonment, while obsessively repeating “I have killed him,” that this is not perhaps going to end well.
Speaking of full circle—the celebration, the “duel,” the assassination, two knives, an Orr, Coll. No, the past never does stay the past.
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.