Saturday, September 20, 2008

"Surrender to the years of struggle that was life's own chorus": Live-blogging Toll the Hounds

Toll the Hounds by Steven Erikson, pages 1 to 35

So I think it's pretty obvious that I'm not going to get through the entire Malazan Book of the Fallen before Toll the Hounds comes out and I lack the restraint to hold off on TtH until I'm done with the seven previous books (at least two of which are not even here in Chicago with me). However, once I'm done with TtH, I probably will go back and reread again. 

Partly that's because Erikson is trying to wrap up the series (I think there might only be one more book after this), so this book echoes the first book in eerie ways. In general, Erikson has always been wicked (in a good way) about leaving characters alone. One book will see a set of characters off into the sunset with a happy ending...only to run into them out of the blue two books later falling to pieces. 

Call it the "nothing ever ends" philosophy of literature. Whereas other series seem to jump the shark when they bring back fan favorite characters that disappeared years ago, it usually happens because they're trotted out to face the exact same threat as before or a less impressive one.

To Erikson's credit, that's not an issue because of the variety of nested threats this series is filled with. Characters might fulfill their ultimate goal, but the world is still going to intrude in interesting way.  The new threats might be even worse because they threaten the equilibrium the character had established. Erikson doesn't do this to just drag characters down into the muck, the outcomes usually end up more complicated than that.

And of all the happy endings to come back and disrupt, Darujhistan has to be the ultimate one. For the last few books, we've seen a few glimpses of Krul's Bar and the Deadhouse as a refuge from the chaos elsewhere. I had a tendency to think of Darujhistan as safe from the problems sweeping the world of MBotF. However, just because they've solved problems in their neck of the woods doesn't mean new ones won't come up (how like real life!).

So after a thematically linked prologue that deals with dogs, especially the Hounds of Shadow, we're back in Darujhistan. And pretty quickly we see *SPOILER* a new assassination plot on the city's inhabitants (as in the early Darujhistan sequences in GotM!), a new cult that has sprung up around the "dead" Rallick Nom (who we know from GotM isn't dead at all), and the murder of a very jaded Murillo (one of the Daru heroes of GotM).

Probably the last is the most shocking since Murillo was one of the good guys and one of the winners in Gardens of the Moon. Now he's seducing alcoholic rich widows and realizing how purposeless his life is. And as this realization starts to register in his mind (as per the post title's quote), he gets killed immediately post-coitus by an over-zealous and clumsily drunk romantic rival.

The effectiveness of this sequence is helped by the way it contrasts with scenes of old, retired Malazan soldiers getting the drop on fresh, young professional assassins (cue PJ O'Rourke quote re: old age and guile versus youth and a bad haircut). It also helps that, in literature, we are trained to expect an epiphany to bring with it salvation and protection from the world's forces. The sufferer of the epiphany might suffer some more, but that new perspective allows them to survive whatever they face and maybe even rise above it.

Unfortunately, in MBotF and in the real world, those epiphanies frequently come too late, on the very edge of death. I'll leave it to someone else to append the moral to this.

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