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 epilogue 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.
Ever generous with his time, Steven will join us at the end as usual for a question and answer session, so look for the posting of that thread here on Tor as you consider what burning questions you have. Afterward, we’ll be taking our regular hiatus to regenerate our batteries for the next tome, Stonewielder.
Well now. Toll the Hounds.
I don’t think I’ve felt quite so overwhelmed about a Malazan novel like this since Deadhouse Gates, so I am going to go right out there and say that this is definitely one of my favourites of the series. I thought it was done exceptionally, from the two interlinked storylines with the very different narrative styles, to the fact that this book ties plotlines together from eight other books. I mean, people have quoted back to me hints from Gardens of the Moon that finally come to fruition here.
For me, one of the big successes was the real difference between the Darujhistan storyline and the Tiste Andii journey. I loved that Kruppe narrated us through the tale—his voice is so distinctive and his turn of phrase both prosaic and poetic.
I enjoyed the strong development of Nimander over the course of this novel. When we were first introduced to him, I found him dull as ditchwater, I’ll confess, and confused/confusing to boot. But here he really came into his own and was a force to be reckoned with by the end—even without demonstrating the magic/power that other characters are capable of in the series. I do look forward (with some trepidation) to the accessing of his dragon blood.
There were so many wonderful characters in this novel in a massive convergence—seeing people like Karsa and Traveller together, seeing the Noms, Hood facing Anomander Rake, the fight between Kallor and Spinnock Durav. And who could forget the charge of the mules, with Kruppe and Iskaral Pust facing each other down?
What I love most about these books—and this has become an all-enduring love as I’ve read further into this world—is the sheer challenge. I love the fact that, on this first read, I’m so clearly missing things that you guys who have already been through the series are catching. I know already that I will be reading this series again. (And that next time it’ll be the GORGEOUS Subterranean Press copies which I am currently collecting!)
There are layers and layers and layers (much like Shrek’s onion/parfait) and the reward of that hard work is to have events now mean so damn much. Like Harllo. Without knowing about the events that occurred with Stonny, Harllo’s story through this book wouldn’t have the impact it does. The same with Crokus/Cutter and his final decision to leave Darujhistan.
Basically, I feel as though this one book is a jigsaw of pieces fit cunningly together, while also being the small part of a much larger picture. And I commend the author who is managing to keep it all together. I approve. Erikson is a top, top writer.
So. Toll the Hounds.
I confess, it’s so long between books, and I like all of these books so much, that it is difficult for me to get a sense of where each might rank in comparison to the others. It tends toward the “this is one of my favorites, no, this is one of my favorites” sort of thing. But TtH is one of my favorites. No really. Here are just a few reasons, and I’ll cover more in back and forth in comments I’m sure.
Kruppe’s Voice Part One:
I know Kruppe’s language evokes differing responses from readers. I’m a huge fan of it myself. I revel in his flights of language in this book, his zoom-out views of the city, his personal asides and interludes, his poetry and consider many of Kruppe’s lines in TtH the best written in the entire series language-wise. I also think his poetry—elegiac as it often is, is extremely well-matched to this particular novel, which has at its core so much emphasis on redemption, compassion, and sacrifice.
Kruppe’s Voice Part Two:
Beyond Kruppe’s heightened language, I’m also a fan of his few metafictional moments, those times where he speaks directly (or indirectly but still we get it) to narrative, to story-telling. I’m generally a sucker for meta.
So much of this book’s ending is set-up by what comes before, with generally a nice balance between subtle hints and not-so-subtle, with most of the not-so-subtle ones coming as one progresses, so they serve to act almost less as foreshadowing (because we get it at that point) as much as to lend the novel a sense of inevitable tragedy (this is not going to end well for so-and-so) or suspense (when will X be revealed directly?). I’m thinking here, to give just a few examples, of Rake’s death, Mother Dark’s reveal, Endest’s death, and others. Even Orfantal’s end gets a nod, as in Chapter Six Kallor thinks of being followed by Korlat and Orfantal and immediately thinks “Eh, I’ve killed a few dragons in my day...” Good foreshadowing is tough to do, tiptoeing that line between overly obtuse and way too obvious. I think TtH generally does a great job throughout.
Theme Part One: Redemption
I like themes. I like when they thread throughout a work and give us a structure or a point of focus. It’s no stretch to come up with Redemption as a major theme here, since we have a god called the Redeemer. But even a cursory recall brings up so many characters in search of (even if they don’t know it yet) redemption. A partial list:
- Seerdomin—redemption for his past in the Pannion
- Monkrat—redemption for what’s happened in the pilgrims’ camp
- Rake—redemption for his people and possibly for his past mistakes
- Murillio—redemption for how he’s lived his life
- Stonny—redemption for her abandonment of Harllo
- Karsa—redemption for how his daughters came to be
So many characters trying to atone for past errors/actions, trying to move on to a different way of being. And so many varied results, some redeemed into a new life, some redeemed but dead (some redeemed by death).
Theme Part One Subset A: Redemption and Vengeance
And what about those who seek vengeance as a means of putting the past behind them? Those who seek to redeem themselves via “justice” or retribution? Kadaspala. Hoisted by his own godly petard. Traveller—driven by vengeance and wielding Vengeance—“broken.” Clip—“possessed” by the idea of vengeance—loses himself, loses a finger. All three focused on themselves, on their desires, their grievances—in contrast to Rake, who “does for others.” Seerdomin, who fights for the Redeemer, for his friend Spinnock. Murillio who fights for Harllo/Stonny. Some, like Rake, are mostly selfless at the start. Others, like Murillio, are forced out of their self-focused nature by events. Some, like Monkrat, are forcibly dragged out of it.
All that said, I wish I had a better sense of the idea of redemption as presented by Itkovian at the very end, his epiphany caused by Rake’s actions, because I’m a bit at sea on just what he “gets” there.
Theme Part Two: The Past is never Dead
Or it is dead, but it can still talk and walk around. The redemption theme obviously plays into this, with the whole atone for past acts/errors thing. But we see this idea in so many other ways:
- The dead in Dragnipur.
- The ghosts in K’rul’s Bar.
- Endest haunted by his flashback memories.
- Challice and Cutter’s past.
- Rake chained to his dead.
- Rallick, Torvald, and Vorcan returned from “the dead.”
- Humble Measure trying to bring back the past in the form of the Tyrant (or “a” Tyrant). Dev’ad Anan Tol.
- The remnant of Bellurdan that forms the Dying God.
- The legacy of millennia ago when Mother Dark turned aside.
The past can’t be escaped in this world, only ridden on into the future. Set-ups. I won’t say much about this for obvious reasons, but:
- Shadowthrone et. al. have a “plan”
- Draconus and others are out of Dragnipur
- Apsal’ara is free
- Mappo is trying to catch up to Icarium
- Paran is in “a mess” somewhere
- The Tyrant is coming! The Tyrant is coming!
- Gods of war are rising/being ridden to
- Forkrul Assail get mentioned a few times
Can you say “Convergence”? I mean, seriously. Holy crap.
- Darujhistan: Rake. Hood. Traveller. Karsa. Hounds of Shadow. Hounds of Light. Envy. Spite. Kruppe. Pust. Vorcan. Rallick.
- Dragnipur: Draconus. Whiskeyjack. Seguleh Second.
- Black Coral: Mother Dark. Clip. Nimander. Dying God. Redeemer. Super-Seerdomin.
- The chains image that runs throughout the novel (and the series) and the way it gets turned from its usual aspect and into this idea of bound to one another
- Challice’s moon ball
- The march of the dead, the fight of the dead vs. chaos
- Rake’s slow dissolve
- Hood’s manifestation
- Harllo and Bainsk’s city
- Endest and Rake, Endest and Mother Dark
- Rake’s slow dissolve
- Hood refusing to let the inspector die
- Jaghut Humor (nuff said)
- Mule charges
- Cotillion. Always Cotillion.
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.