Sep 20, 2010

Malazan: The recent books - Toll the Hounds

A few months have passed since the siege of Capustan, and the continent of Genabackis is enjoying a time of relative peace. However, something is happening in Darujhistan, and this time maybe even ever capable Kruppe can't deal with it by himself. The few retired Bridgeburners running K'rul's Bar suddenly find out that there is a contract on their heads, as the Assassin's Guild begins to threaten them. Lady Spite arrives by sea, only to find out that her hated sister Envy is also in the city - and both of them know what terrible consequences their meeting would have. High Alchemist Baruk - leader of the decimated T'orrud cabal - learns that something has escaped Finnest House, and realizes that he has not the power to stop a new Tyrant. Meanwhile others travel toward the City of Blue Fire - Karsa Orlong and his witch companion Samar Dev, the mysterious Traveler and the High King Kallor, running from Tiste Andii vengeance.

But while mortals and Ascendants alike focus their gaze on the inevitable convergence in Darujhistan, the city of Black Coral - run by Anomander Rake and his Tiste Andii - has become the focus of another threat. Itkovian's sacrifice has liberated the T'lan Imass from the prison of their memories, but it has also created the new religion of the Redeemer. However, the emergent Ascendant's power is not in action, and so the Redeemer is helpless when a new god tries to corrupt the fledgling faith to his inhumane goals. And as Anomander Rake seems to be content with inaction, tension in the city rises. Meanwhile a group of young Andii travels through the continent, led by Nimander Golit and guided by the strange Clip, who wishes to confront the Son of Darkness. When they stumble upon the damage done by the Broken God, it seems that more than a quest for answers connects them to the events in Black Coral.

And while the two Genabackis cities struggle under the weight of impending apocalypse, a much bigger threat looms out of everybody's sight - Chaos has almost reached the wagon in Dragnipur. The Chained seem helpless to outrun it, because Anomander Rake has stopped killing with the sword, and so no new souls replenish their ranks.

Sounds awesome, right? It isn't. Actually, it is exactly this magnitude that completely rapes Toll the Hounds. In three paragraphs I've managed to list maybe a half of the story-lines in the book. And yes, ok, they are the more important ones, but there is still almost as much happening, and there are only so many pages to tell everything. The result is predictable - short five-page entries with one character/line switching to the next, and the next, and the next. Which means that no story-line moves more than an inch every time we visit it, and sometimes it's hundreds of pages before we get back to it.

The chapters themselves switch between Darujhistan and Black Coral, with characters outside of the cities put into the group they are associated with (Nimander Golit's band of rejects for example is obviously dealt with in the Black Coral chapters). Many old characters from both Gardens of the Moon and Memories of Ice make their reappearance, as well as some of the series ever-present continent-wandering ones like Karsa, Krokus/Cutter and others. In truth, the scope of Toll the Hounds could have been ok if a third of the minor lines (like Murillio's, the conclusion of which, incidentally, also made me insane with anger, but I'll get there in a second) were cut, and the rest were more focused, with less time spent on the usual Eriksonistic musings on how futile everything is, and how unsure everyone is about Stuff.

Unfortunately, the book doesn't even deliver in the final convergence. It is a sad thing to admit, but after seven Apocalyptic Showdowns With Gods, Fireballs And Assassins!!!! it seems that I've become inoculated against this particular brand of over-the-top. New powers randomly enter the game, revelations pop up like porn-site commercials, ALLPOWERFUL GODS die by the hundreds... You know, it just doesn't impress anymore.

But I have another - personal - problem with Toll the Hounds. It is strange to try and describe it, because I know that no matter what words I use, I will likely be misunderstood. So I'll just come out and say it: I don't like how the stories developed. I am not the type to cling to sympathies. I don't mind having a character I like killed, or anything of the sort, when it resonates with my perception of the book/series and its atmosphere and story dynamics. But I have already mentioned Erikson's desire to frak-up his characters "just 'cause", and it is getting obscenely palpable here. There are entire story-lines that seem put there with the sole purpose of having a loved character killed for no good reason. "Shit happens, so let's make some shit happen again and again and again" really doesn't work for me. What's worse - a lot of those story-lines are reminiscent of one of The Sword of Truth books by Goodkind (my self-preservation instinct has helpfully erased the name from my memory) where literally HALF the novel was dedicated to a random serving boy only to have the poor creature killed by an equally random soldier in some melee, without having done anything to advance the fraking plot! Ok, Goodkind is officially retarded. What's Erikson's excuse?

Ranting aside, Toll the Hounds is noticeably better than the previous two installments in the Malazan Book of the Fallen. True, the plot is slower than the continents' movement, and it is all over the place. Also true - the final convergence fails to impress; the spring has been wound up so tight it just snaps and the reader stops caring. BUT - and that's not a small but - the ending has changed much in the Malazan world. Many characters' stories finally end, even if I rarely liked the conclusions. But what is more important, a lot of the status is no longer quo, and the stage is set for the grand two-book finale of Dust of Dreams and The Crippled God. Whether that finale delivers is still up in the air. I am yet to read Dust, but reviews have left me uncertain what to expect. After books six through eight I have no choice but to doubt Steven Erikson's ability to bring the series to a satisfying conclusion, but at the same time, I can't but hope that he will. If a man can write the first five Malazan books once, he should be able to do it again, no?


Next: Malazan: The finale - Dust of Dreams

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