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Monday, September 22, 2008

"Love has no honour": Liveblogging Toll the Hounds

Toll the Hounds by Steven Erikson, pages 46-317

Expect a post on religion in high fantasy and sword and sorcery in another couple of days. The past couple hundred pages have given a lot of interesting materials for those speculations. Perhaps also another post on the point in the venn diagram of literature where epic intersects with purpled prose and why that might be necessary.

However, for the moment, I do want to make a point about Erikson's push and pull (stealing his own terminology for fate) of characterization.  Towards the end of this chunk of TtH is a scene where Lady Challice Vidikas sits down to dinner with two of her husband's political allies, knowing that her husband expects her to carry on an affair with one of them.  Even worse, he sees this as merely one more political marker he can call in later. Most of Challice's thoughts prior to this have been of the coldness of her marriage and her very life. From her point of view, everyone in her circle seems contemptible. Previous books and other scenes in this one has reinforced this impression of the trio of young turks made up of her husband Gorlas Vidikas, Hanut Orr and Shardan Lim. Or rather, the reader sees the first two as dishonorable and manipulative and assumes Shardan is of a piece with them.

He still might be, in fact. But following Hanut Orr's exit in high dudgeon, Shardan Lim becomes disarmingly honest and romantic.  And every time Lady Challice confronts him on a contradiction in what he says, he admits the contradiction, leading to this post's title quote. He even offers to walk out and duel Hanut Orr for offending her, though he admits it will do nothing for her reputation.

In a book where most characters lie to either help themselves or protect those around them, such a moment of honesty wins over not only Challice but this reader. This ability to both see his own foolishness as he is swept away by it... suddenly this novel's Lepidus is suffused with tragedy and reluctantly I hope for his escape from the doom that is sure to come whether their plot succeeds or fails. Well played, Mr. Erikson. Well played.

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