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 Twenty 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—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!
We go back to the group of Tiste Andii, who have now learnt of Kedeviss’ death. Skintick feels betrayed by Nimander’s lack of emotion and draws away from him. He wants to climb down the crevasse so that they can observe Kedeviss’ death properly. They set out again and Nimander walks behind Clip, feeling the judgement cast against him by the eyes of his companions. When they draw closer to Black Coral, the Tiste Andii talk and Nimander realises that none of them are fools, that all of them have realised to a greater or lesser degree that Clip is not what he once was. Nimander asks them to pretend to be fools for a little longer and pick their own time to confront Clip.
Nenanda asks Skintick how Nimander has managed to bring them back into his hands, and Skintick reflects that it is true leadership, that he helps them find their resolve.
Monkrat watches as new pilgrims approach the camp by the barrow, and feel the wrongness of the place. They are offered cups of kelyk, and Monkrat wonders how many will succumb. He knows that if the Redeemer falls to the seduction of kelyk then the dragon will fly from the tower and raze the camp in flames. As he heads back to Black Coral, Monkrat realises someone is following him. It turns out to be Spindle, and he recognises the soldier (ex-Bridgeburner) that Monkrat used to be. They talk about current affairs, and then head into Black Coral to get a drink together.
The High Priestess realises that the time is coming, and reflects that she isn’t ready. She contemplates Mother Dark and Anomander Rake, and suddenly comprehends that Rake’s betrayal of their god had been necessary, at least in Rake’s mind. A priestess—the temple historian—hurries in to her and asks whether they are at war, and the High Priestess says that they face a greater risk than at any time since Kharkanas.
The Redeemer explains to Seerdomin the difference in worship, intent and followers between the Crippled God and the Dying God. The sky begins raining kelyk and Seerdomin realises that Salind is now ready to begin the fight.
Kallor stops to observe the Gadrobi Hills, and thinks about the throne within the city. He seeks to take it by wresting it from the Crippled God—or, at least, open negotiations about the manner in which he will sit the throne. He plans to make demands of the god, and, with that thought, approaches Darujhistan.
Samar Dev and her companions arrive at a line of enormous standing stones. She realises that she has been slowing them down, because she’s not as driven as they are. Karsa asks her why she will not share the back of Havok with him.
Karsa wonders whether he truly wants to lead his people into a world of cynicism, even to deliver civilization from evil. He thinks about the fact that the Crippled God has never understood him since Karsa knows he cannot be broken, and yet all the CG’s gifts are an invitation to be broken. Something happens to Traveller where he stands against the standing stone—he becomes haggard and Karsa tells Samar Dev that “shadows are cruel.” She decides to ride Havok with him.
Ditch watches as Draconus violently tells Kadaspala that he must not fashion a god there, that Dragnipur is nobody’s womb. He is angry because Kadaspala was supposed to be creating a cage to keep Darkness in and Chaos out. Kadaspala thinks that the pattern to keep out Chaos is doomed to fail. Draconus tells Ditch that he has been made the nexus of the pattern, that the word of identity is written on him—and if he manages to hold onto himself then he can break the pattern. When Draconus leaves, Kadaspala tells him the word is kill.
The three ladies of the Trygalle Trade Guild watches as the wagon approaches and ask what happened with the Jaghut couple. Master Quell says they need a new place to hole up to mend the wagon, and so Cartographer draws a map which he tells Quell should be invested with power—then they can get to where they need to.
Kallor, Samar Dev, Traveller, Karsa and the Seven Hounds all converge on Darujhistan. The Hounds howl and Kallor knows a moment of fear.
After the pain of the last chapter, it is a wrench to find that we are beginning this chapter with another group responding to the death of a companion. So much death. So much grief. But I do appreciate the way that this scene, coming so quickly on the heels of the scene with Kruppe et al, is very different in tone and reaction. I think this is governed by Nimander’s dry eyes and Aranatha’s private nod to him. Although Desra weeps, I feel that the reader is unlikely to weep here along with her.
This is a worrying question, and something that I hadn’t really considered until Nimander thought it: “Could something as alien as the Dying God assume the Unseen Crown?”
And I think that this is both a strength and weakness of the Tiste Andii:
“Obedience had never been deemed a pure virtue among the Tiste Andii. To follow must be an act born of deliberation, or clear-eyed, cogent recognition that the one to be followed has earned the privilege.”
On the plus side, the Tiste Andii are unlikely to ever let themselves be taken over by a tyrant; on the other hand, it does mean they are less likely to have the blind loyalty that other leaders can inspire and that can be a positive quality.
This I enjoyed, because it’s just so Malazan:
“…oh, he’d seen how such fools were usually weeded out, through the informal justice system practised by the common soldier, a process often punctuated by a knife in the back…”
Interesting that even Nenanda—who seems the least sharpest—questions Aranatha about the fact that she must have sensed something. Seems like we’re starting to get to the point where Aranatha’s true nature will be revealed.
I also love the way that Nimander has gone from just following along and assuming Anomander would know everything and deal with them, to believing that “it’d be dangerous to assume someone else can fix all this.” He doesn’t see himself as much of a leader still, but that sense of responsibility is what the others are beginning to respond to.
It is a relief to me that Silanah is an option for razing the camp of those unfortunates now in the thrall of the Dying God. Especially when considering how far it has fallen, and how terrible it must look to newcomers, what with the dead child in the ditch and the weeds on the path leading to the barrow, showing that worship of the Redeemer is over.
And what a cool meeting between Spindle and Monkrat. I am wondering if Monkrat is someone we’ve met previously, or merely a random deserter from the Bridgeburners who we have never met before. It’s a nice reminder of what Dujek did for the Bridgeburners left after the battle—added their names to the list of the deceased. Damn, and an echo of the grief from the previous chapter as we realise that Spindle has no idea about what has happened to those left behind in Darujhistan.
Well, now, the High Priestess didn’t really tell us anything in that scene where she first thinks lots of philosophical things (someone else have at them in the comments, if you’re so inclined!) and then warns the temple historian that they are facing massive risk. We sort of knew all of this, but it’s not been said so explicitly before—that Anomander Rake has gone abroad to try and win a war on multiple fronts. And this, how ominous:
“No room for failure?”
“And if one should fail?”
“Then all shall fail.”
“And if that happens… ashes, oblivion—that will be our fate.”
The High Priestess turned away. “Not just ours, alas.”
So, with the Crippled God “salvation arrives with death, and it is purchased through mortal suffering.” But the Dying God there is “worship as self-destruction” where they “celebrate the act of dying,” and there is nothing to follow death. See, if it was a choice between those two, suddenly the Crippled God doesn’t look too bad, does he? At least some sort of salvation is achievable!
These standing stones that Samar Dev, Traveller and Karsa approach remind me of Stonehenge, in the way that Samar Dev thinks on the fact that their use and true purpose has been lost somewhere in the past. We can speculate but will never know the truth. “And the purpose of all that effort? Not even the gods knew, she suspected.”
I like Karsa’s examination of the different ways in which stubbornness can be employed—either as a pure desire to achieve a task, or perhaps just stupidity. But I was not sure at all what happened to Traveller and why he was suddenly so haggard and desperate-seeming.
This is an exchange that sums up Samar and Karsa for me:
“Ride it with me, Witch—you surrender nothing of value.”
For me, it shows Karsa’s development, in that he recognises what may or may not be a surrender of something valuable—considering when we first met him we saw him involved in rape, and not realising that he was stealing something that wouldn’t have been surrendered; something of great value. It shows his recognition of Samar Dev’s character—the fact that she has pride and doesn’t wish to surrender to Karsa in any way.
I think one of the most confusing characters of the series for me (along with Tavore) is Draconus. I just can’t get a grip on whether he is a good character or a bad. I don’t know his actual role in what happened between Mother Dark and Anomander Rake. I don’t know if he is doing the right thing while trapped here in the sword. All the time that I have felt such strong regard for Anomander Rake, I feel as though Draconus is the bad guy. And so I’m wondering here whether Draconus or Kadaspala is who Ditch should be listening to. Anyone else so conflicted by Draconus?
I properly giggled when Sweetest Sufferance said: “Either of you other girls feeling a tad bloodthirsty?”
And those last short scenes… The convergence on Darujhistan and the beginning of the end could not be made more clear.
Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.