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 second 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.
Grisp Falaunt lives on the Dwelling Plain—a place he claimed because it was empty and available. And a place he realises is unclaimed because it’s useless. Over the course of his time there, he’d pretty much lost everything and just dwells now in a little shack on the edge of the Plain. On this night—as thunder and lightning fills the sky—Grisp’s two-legged dog senses something out there, and Grisp sees the Hounds approach. He decides fairly swiftly that the time has come to leave the Plain.
Kruppe introduces the arrival of the Hounds.
Spite brings half a mountain’s weight of magma and releases it over the estate where Lady Envy resides—and misjudges just how far the magma is going to go. As she runs away gracelessly, Envy targets her with her own magic. Neither notices the arrival of the Hounds into the city, gripped as they are in their own power struggle.
Scorch and Leff, on guard at the estate, are attacked by a group of rather ineffective assassins, comprising the diversion force for the main attack.
Torvald—on the roof—is also attacked. One of the assassins receives a bolt in the head from an unknown party as Torvald rolls off the roof, with the Blue Moranth sharpers tucked into his belt. Turns out they become a sloshing sphere of water, which rather protects him from the sorcery that engulfs the courtyard from the hands of assassins. As Torvald is released from the sphere and lies on his back recovering he is approached by Rallick Nom. We are finally given the reason for why these cousins have not been close—Torvald thought Rallick hated him for “stealing” Tiserra. Rallick was the one who shot the assassin, looking out for Torvald. Lady Varada emerges from the estate and we learn that she is actually Lady Vorcan (not Lady Envy!)
Harllo runs along the road, knowing the Venaz is right behind him, catching him up. He knows that Venaz is going to beat him to death, and that there is nothing and no one to stand in his way. Harllo understands that no one really loves him or wants him, and thinks that Gruntle is dead and that he wants to be where Gruntle has gone on to, because then he will be safe. Venaz catches hold of him and Harllo realises that he doesn’t want to die. As Venaz strangles Harllo, a strange boy rescues him and, as this boy gets pounded on by Venaz, Harllo steps up and beats Venaz to death with a rock.
Hanut Orr stands waiting outside the Phoenix Inn in the alley, and a shambling figure passes by.
The shambling figure is Gaz; he turns around and kills Hanut Orr. When he realises that he has killed a highborn and not an ordinary drunkard, he determines to get home and pretend that he’s been there all night.
Coll and the others at the Phoenix have trapped one of Hanut’s men, so we know that Hanut probably wouldn’t have survived for long, even if Gaz had not already killed him. The man they have captured neglects to tell them that there are two men waiting at the gate of Coll’s estate.
Sulty calls on the guard we’ve met before (with the bad heart) to attend the death of Hanut Orr. He suspects that this is the work of the same killer, and Kruppe helps him piece everything together. The guard hurries off to face Gaz, while feeling more and more ill, after Kruppe has told him to “Beware the Toll.”
Gaz arrives back home and goes to the garden to find Thordy, who promptly kills him and lets his blood fall on the circle of flat stones. She calls him a soldier, and refers to herself as a mason who has been getting it all ready for... him.
And we must assume that “him” refers to Hood, the High King of the House of the Slain, who begins to manifest physically in her garden. Eep.
The unnamed guard arrives at the house of Gaz and Thordy, and begins to die. In his last moments he sees Hood come for him, and realises that it is the end. But Hood wants to have his own way just this once, wants to save this soul that is bright and blinding with honour. So he gives the guard back his life and then walks on.
The guard goes into the house and is met by Thordy, who confesses to the murder of Gaz and then claims the reward, which the guard agrees to give.
Kruppe explains that the harvester of souls walking through the city of Darujhistan results in unmitigated slaughter; we flit from person to person to see the results.
A massive Soletaken dragon swoops down to land near Worrytown. It blurs into a human-like figure watched by a coyote, a man who blesses the coyote with anguished love.
Anomander Rake walks un-accosted and unnoticed into Darujhistan, unsheathing Dragnipur as he comes. The sword unleashes chains of smoke, writhing in his wake.
The sisters Envy and Spite pause in their fight as they sense Rake’s arrival into the city of Dragnipur.
Anomander Rake and Hood approach each other, witnessed by Hounds and Great Ravens.
As Hood begins to speak, Anomander Rake lashes out with Dragnipur and decapitates Hood (OH MY GOD) and the night is but half done.
And yet another capsule story in the form of Grisp Falaunt—we learn about his life, the futility of his attempts at carving a life out on the Dwelling Plain. His family has deserted him and his only friend is a two-legged dog. We get a sense of his resignation and his acknowledgement that things haven’t exactly gone to plan. Then we see him on the night that the Hounds arrive—his fear and sudden decision that the Plain really isn’t anyplace for him to be. All of this. And Erikson manages it in two pages. More detail and personality in two pages than a lot of writers manage in twenty.
So, I don’t know about you, but I’ve sort of lost my fear and sense of wonder about the Hounds over the last book or so, what with seeing them wandering the world in the company of various people. And suddenly that vision of them is just turned on its head as they explode into Darujhistan, their very presence causing the destruction of the main gate and the houses around it. And the fact that they have the power and strength of a flash flood, yet with intent to accompany it—that is just very, very scary. And suddenly I’m terribly worried about what exactly they’re here to achieve.
Oh, I love, love, love this conversation between Rallick and Torvald. Just goes to show that misunderstandings can affect personal relationships for years. I especially liked this:
“Sure, I thought she was cute, but gods below, man, any boy and girl who start holding hands at seven and are still madly in love with each other twenty-five years later—that’s not something to mess with.”
It’s cool to know that what we’ve seen as a reader (Torvald and Tiserra having a wonderful and close relationship) is also acknowledged by those in the story.
And Mistress Vorcan/Lady Varada! I should have seen that one from miles away, but I was so intent on it being Lady Envy. I wonder where Envy was holed up then?
I like as well the idea that Torvald is probably more knowledgeable in the ways of love than his cousin, since he is the one who spots that Mistress Vorcan seems to hold a torch for him.
Could anyone at all read Harllo’s thoughts that people like him died all the time because no one cared what happened to them, and not feel sad and upset? Especially because I wanted to show Harllo that, in fact, people have been looking for him for the last few days and trying to get him back. That last bit, where he thinks that he wants to be dead so that he can go where Gruntle has gone, so that he will always be safe, that just makes me want to cry.
And I HATE that innocent and good-natured Harllo has to stoop to the level of people like Snell and Venaz in order to kill Venaz with a rock. How is this going to change the boy?
I’m not going to deny that I’ve been pleased by the spate of deaths in this chapter: Gorlas, Venaz and Hanut. Blood-thirsty? Moi?
Since it was such a throwaway line—that fact that there is someone waiting for Coll at his estate—I’m now worried and wishing that the man had revealed it.
I love this guard that we’ve seen periodically, although it seems as though his death is approaching. I do hope he manages to face down Gaz before it occurs. One thing that interested me is the fact that we like the unnamed guard and we like Kruppe, yet the unnamed guard is suspicious of Kruppe and calls him a thief. It’s almost a surprise to be reminded about the way that people view Kruppe and the persona he presents—especially after spending a whole book in his narration.
And “Beware the Toll”—what exactly are the Hounds there to do?
So, it seems that Gaz was the Soldier of Death, and Thordy has been working (being the mason) to bring Hood to full physical manifestation?
The whole short scene where he manifests is utterly chilling:
“Hood now stood on the blood-splashed stones, in a decrepit garden in the district of Gadrobi, in the city of Darujhistan. Not a ghostly projection, not hidden behind veils of shielding powers, not even a spiritual visitation. No, this was Hood, the god.”
And what a first action for Hood to make. This healing of the guard is so vividly written and has so much depth and meaning to it. I love first this: “But this once, I shall have my way. I shall have my way” and then this: “And, for just this once, the Lord of Death had permitted himself to care. Mark this, a most significant moment, a most poignant gesture.” I think it gives a little glimpse into the soul of Hood—the fact that he has spent so long taking lives, and thought nothing of the justice of which lives he is taking. I find it so incredibly special that Hood looks on this man, and realises that he can actually do something, that the loss of this man is more than he can bear. Very powerful.
The sequence moving from death to death is wonderfully done—once again Erikson shows us little snippets of actual lives. And I really appreciate the fact that we’re shown Hood has regained his equilibrium, and deaths are taken evenly: the innocent child, the monster of a human being, the man who has looked after his dead mother. All are equal. Death is the only certain fact of life.
DAMN DAMN DAMN! Anomander’s walk through Darujhistan—the way his presence affects the city the same way that Hood’s has—the approach of the two figures—and then Anomander KILLS HOOD. WHAT?! OH MY GOD? (yes, the capitals are essential). Why? Why does Anomander need the God of Death inside Dragnipur—because that necessity must be the only reason for Anomander to do this, right?
And then, god: “One was dead. The other, at this moment, profoundly... vulnerable. Things noticed. Things were coming, and coming fast.” Who is going to take advantage of Anomander’s current vulnerability?
And so one quasi-mystery solved—the identity of Lady Varada.
I love the comic image of Torvald setting off the Moranth “munitions”—his journey through the fight scene in a big water bubble
Poor Harllo. Even in escaping, we don’t get a “happy” ending. Not fully. Not after his revelation that this little kid knows all too well how too much of the world works. Not after he is forced to pound a dent into Venaz’s skull. No, not a clean, happy ending.
After all the earlier deaths of good people, of characters we liked, it’s nice to start a roll call of the other guys—Gorlas, Venaz, Orr. And then Gaz (whose, “the stupid woman hadn’t even lit the hearth—where the fuck was she” does the same job that Gorlas and Orr’s last words/thoughts had done—made it easy not to mourn their passing.
We’d wondered earlier (I think) about Tiserra’s Deck reading and the Soldier of Death (I may be misremembering). Thordy’s line: “You’ve been a good soldier” makes things a bit clearer. But what have the soldier and mason of Death been preparing for?
Oh. This. “Hood, The Lord of Death, High King of the House of the Slain, Embracer of the Fallen, began to physically manifest.” Oh. Wow. No, really. Wow. And the night is young.
And Hood’s first act is to not collect a death. But to refuse one. “But this once, I shall have my way. I shall have my way.” That repetition, that emphasis via the italics, so works for me. And Hood, rewarding what? Compassion. Compassion. See kids?
After that though, well. As Hood himself says, “I cannot prevent what comes with my every step here in this mortal world. I cannot be other than what I am.” And thus: “unmitigated slaughter, rippling out to overwhelm thousands.” But Erikson, as he has so often before, refuses to gloss over such deaths solely by painless generalization. Through Kruppe, he offers us real lives. Real deaths. He, through Kruppe, makes us “witness.” And I’m so glad he does so because I have long ago gotten weary of books and movies that don’t offer up real deaths—just cardboard ones. Meaningless ones. The ones where the single person in danger is rescued and everyone celebrates and is joking and laughing at the end as if eight people hadn’t died to rescue the one. The ones where entire cities are utterly devastated, yet people are laughing and joking and celebrating hours, days, weeks, months, later as if the deaths of tens of thousands (hundreds of thousands?) were insignificant. Yep, I’ve mostly lost my patience with those endings, so thank you Kruppe for not just trying to have it be cool and awesome that Hood’s tread down the streets of Darujhistan wipes out thousands. Though I admit, I could have done without some of the details of some of these. But still, I’m glad we get some concrete ones—evil, innocent, random, deserved, undeserved. And then the general confirmation that it was death visited upon all and sundry: “No age was spared… Death took them all: well born and destitute, the ill and the healthy, criminal and victim, the unloved and the cherished.” And I love that image of the City of Blue Fire being snuffed out by “so many last breaths.”
And of course, after we react to all these details, all these individual vignettes, we have to wonder: What the hell is Hood doing in the real world? What kind of plan is this?
C’mon. Rake is cool. You know it. What an entrance.
And what a scene. This scene floored me my first time through. This whole thing, from the manifestation of Hood to the God of Death saving the guard against his own nature—his vital insistence against his own nature—to his presence wreaking utter havoc, to Rake’s entrance, to those chains behind him, the burden of those chains, to these two powers coming to meet and then what the hell? No, really, what the hell? Nope, I did not see that coming—Rake decapitating Hood. And then if Dragnipur had been a burden before, what must it be with The Lord of Death added? Rake to his knees? His knees? No doubt, one of the best scenes for me in all this series of so many great moments. And the night, as I said, remains young.
And what did Hood mean with “I have reconsidered—”? Damn you Erikson! Let the speculation begin! Though it seems clear that Hood and Rake had a plan together (and I think we can add a few others into that mix). Is Rake following through that plan by killing him? Or not? Let’s hear thoughts…
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.