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Toll the Hounds by Steven Erikson

Toll the Hounds by Steven Erikson
Book Name: Toll the Hounds
Author: Steven Erikson
Publisher(s): Bantam
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / eBook
Genre(s): Epic Fantasy
Release Date: June 30, 2008

A ticket to ascendant adventure costs no more than the Toll of the Hounds, but do you have the courage to pay it?

Toll the Hounds, book eight of the Malazan Book of the Fallen, is an extraordinarily good read because it gives us what we want, in spades! We get old friends and new, along with a convergence of ascendants unlike any we have seen so far; for where great cycles of power are behind the previous examples in this series, the convergence squarely at the heart of this book owes its origins to a series of powerful grudges.

Grudges make great plot fuel. With their roots in high drama, a satisfactory resolution can only come about with a commensurate amount of pathos, as ancient wrongs are righted, and what is right gets wronged most royally. Grudges also changes characters; twisting them in ways we had not thought possible, and bring out in those we thought we knew so well, that which we hoped to never see.

The action in this book returns us to Darujhistan, where we reacquaint ourselves with Kruppe and Cutter, the Noms, Scillara and Barathol. Also in Darujhistan are the last remnants of the Bridgeburners, as well as the city’s usual compliment of scheming lordlings and commoners with delusions of grandeur. And right away there are consequences for our principle characters. Whether it be Scorch and Leff, trying to get out from under crippling debt; the nervous return of Torvald Nom, hoping to sidle into the city without falling afoul of either his cousin or his wife; Lady Envy and her sister, Spite; Clip and his quest to cause as much pain as possible to the Tiste Andii; the lethal hatred directed against the Malazans; and let us not forget Cutter’s grudge against everyone and everything because Apsalar remains out of his reach; this book has grudges all over the damn place!

And were the moments these storylines produce all that Toll the Hounds had going for it, I would still recommend that you read it. That we get such gems as the stories surrounding Harllo and Murillo, Gaz and Thordy, Chaur and Mappo, means that, as we have come to expect from Erikson, we get to enjoy our bitter sweet desserts as well. But even these memorable moments from within the 1000+ pages of great writing is not why Toll the Hounds is such a great book.

Ned Stark, Boxer (Animal Farm), Gandalf the Grey, Captain Ahab: Nancy (Oliver Twist), Ophelia, Anna Karenina, and Charlotte (Charlotte’s Web): a good death scene makes for a powerful experience, and often provides an emotional punch that leaves a dent in your soul. And in this work, we are treated to two such moments; deaths so powerful and, most wonderfully for us readers, altogether so very beautiful that they will stay with you long after the last page is read. The passing of two of this series’ loftiest ascendant characters, who incidentally I think are two of the best from the entire epic fantasy genre, is handled masterfully.

Many authors, having contrived to bring about a conclusion as stunning as this one, would sit back and let the special effects of these encounters carry readers through to the end; but not Erikson. While some of this world’s most important mortals and immortals stand by to watch, Erikson focuses us in with laser-like precision on what this culmination costs the central characters. And it hurts them a great deal.

Which brings me back to a point I made in a previous review of The Bone Hunters, book six of this series. Amongst those drawn to the convergence in Darujhistan is Shadowthrone, who at times within this series has offered aid where it was not expected, pulled back when you would have thought the time was right for him to delve deeper, and has basically played everyone and everything like a virtuoso performer. But why?

As a mortal visitor to an Azath House, what was it that Shadowthrone saw that clued him in to the vast, deep and ancient plots conceived by those who took part in the binding of the Crippled God? And even more alarming; what did he see in there that gave him insights into the deepest corners of Mother Dark’s realm, and inside the hearts of her nearest and dearest?

How could Shadowthrone have foreseen what would take place in the streets of Darujhistan, who would be in situ and what the potential spoils might be? And given that he saw so much, why are there so many things he does not seem to have a clue about? These are not questions I expect anyone to answer but that this story entices me to ask them means the author has succeeded in earworming me in a most pleasing fashion.

If you pick up Toll the Hounds then I hope you will be as impacted by the book’s majestic conclusion as I was, and also be left curious about what was it that Shadowthrone discovered about the ascendants he strives with and/or against inside that Azath House.


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