Saturday, August 17, 2013

Book Review: Toll the Hounds by Steven Erikson

Toll the Hounds is the 8th book in the Malazan Book of the Fallen series.

In this book, we return to the city of Darujhistan, which we saw in Gardens of the Moon, and to Black Coral, which we saw at the end of Memories of Ice. Lots of characters we are familiar with are key to the story and mysteries that have haunted us since the beginning are starting to get answers.

Read on for my full review.

Overall Impression
This is yet another fine addition to the Malazan universe. The story oscillates between the two cities and the people around them, though it converges at the end in typical Malazan fashion. The prose is sometimes very poetic and philosophical, especially when we have certain viewpoint characters. I feel the prior book was more intense, emotional, and touching than this one, despite the cool characters and amazing events that take place in this one.

Plot
The story is told in a very interesting fashion. While it moves forward, the chapters jump back and forth between Darujhistan and Black Coral. Each city, and the surrounding lands, has its own set of characters. However, all of them converge near the end as has happened in other Malazan books. The connections between the various plot lines may not be evident at first, but everything becomes clear at the end. Even an ox that keeps getting mentioned has an important role to play.

Characters
Many of the characters from prior books make an appearance, including Crokus/Cutter, Duiker, Anomander Rake, Karsa Orlong, Blend, Nimander Golit, Clip, Iskaral Pust, Kruppe, and much more. We also see several gods and ascendants such as Envy, Hood, and Shadowthrone. Erikson wisely avoids introducing any new major characters. The cast list is already very long and the series feels like it's winding down. There were times in the book that I forgot who was who, but after reading a few lines it became clear where we had seen the character before.

Some of the characters are very funny and serve as a comedic break to the action and tragedy that takes place in the book. Kruppe and Iskaral Pust are the main relief characters, though a few others share this briefly. One of the funniest moments is the confrontation between Kruppe and Pust, each aboard their two mules. There's also some humorous interactions between the Malazan ex-marines.
‘There are some poisons,’ Picker said, ‘that kill the person next to the one who took it.’
The ex-sergeant lurched back in his chair. ‘Damn you – I heard of those – you killed me!’

Setting / World Building
We've already seen the two cities in this book and have already been introduced to the magic system in the world. In this book, however, we see a much clearer picture of the realm within Dragnipur, the sword of Anomander Rake, the Son of Darkness. Within this realm, there is a giant carriage being dragged by countless creatures chained to it. Every time Rake kills someone with the sword, their soul is bound to it and they must drag the carriage for all eternity. This book explains why this is all important and what happens when things finally stop moving.

As before, gods and ascendants play a key role in driving events in the book. We see far more of Hood, the god of death, in this tale and see a new (but actually old) god of war. The Crippled God, or more actually his priests, make an appearance in Darujhistan, but near Black Coral we have the rise of the Dying God and the Redeemer. The Redeemer is a weak new god, but we like him. We've seen him in a prior book before he ascended. Similarly, the Dying God is a prior character, whoever he has become twisted and his blood is poison to his followers. His aspect is similar to that of the Crippled God and aims to use Kurald Galain, the warren of Darkness (just like the Crippled God aimed to use the fragments of Kurald Emurhlan, the warren of Shadow) to grow more powerful.
People don’t change to suit their god; they change their god to suit them.

One other part of magic in the book is that of the Hounds. We've already seen the Hounds of Shadow and the Deragoth, the Hounds of Dark. Here we see some of the Hounds of Light and hear rumors of even more...

Final Thoughts
This book was good, though it took me quite a while to finish. Most of the characters are old friends now whose stories we know well. The plot, while somewhat rambling and meandering, is cool and ties up neatly. We see some amazing events that I will not tell so as not to spoil the story. Overall, it's another fine addition to the Malazan universe and does feel like it's starting to wrap up.

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