A Review in Two Parts: Toll the Hounds by Steven Erikson (1)

I am more or less three quarters through Toll the Hounds the eigth volume in Erikson’s massive Malazan Book of the Fallen series.  I find that I need to start organizing my thoughts a bit earlier on this book than in previous efforts.  Never the most concise with words Erikson reaches new heights of verbosity and while the text never feels bloated the entire novel groans and creeks under the ponderous weight of each sentence (see what I did there!).  I find myself both in awe and staggered by the sheer scope of Erikson’s tale, especially the story contained in this latest volume, and yet find myself hesitant to ascribe accolades to the work therein.

In truth the difficulty lays in separating my own rabid desire as a fan to see what happens next with my own inclinations towards what makes good fiction.  Unlike so many fantasy books Erikson’s Toll the Hounds (and the other books in the series, but more so here) is not something that can be digested rapidly.  The story is spread out between a lot of different character, and by a lot, I mean A WHOLE FRICKIN’ BOATLOAD.  Lets make a list shall we?  There is of course the story’s narrator Kruppe but the points of view range from the entire crew of the Phoenix Inn (Cutter, Rallick Nom, Coll, et al.), the Malazan’s of Kru’l’s Bar (Picker, Antsy, Blend and Mallet), Anomander Rake, Clip, Nimander (and most of his assorted companions), Kallor, Karsa Olong (yay!), Traveller, the witch Samar Dev, Gruntle (Yay!), Seerdomin, the Rope, and various prisoners of the sword Draginpur.   I’ll stop there.  That list isn’t complete, no there are more, so it isn’t any wonder at exactly how massive this book is.

The POVs are divided into two main groupings from chapter to chapter.  The first, and my favorite bunch are the folks from Darujistan who, for the most part, haven’t been seen since the first three books in the series.  The second includes the various Andii and human POVs from around Black Choral and is by far my least favorite set of POVs.  There is perhaps a third set of POVs used between those two mainly Gruntle and the Tygalle Trade Guild plus a variet of other, most Ascendent, characters.  Like the last book, Reaper’s Gale, Toll the Hounds is about a Convergence (a word Erikson uses to describe massive gatherings of various and sundry powers and people) and the slow pacing and massive list of characters have all the feel of something akin to a Category 5 hurricane about to make landfall.

The book is ponderous but never really boring.  I admit every time I hit an Endest Silann section I have to take a deep breath to fortify myself but despite Endest’s consistently depressive thoughts his chapters often shed light (heh) on the history of the Tiste Andii, Rake, Andarist and Silcas.  Indeed the present of the book is mired in the past.   Whether it be the ancient history of the Tiste Andi or the more recent history, like the events that took place in Gardens of the Moon, the past is integral the plot.  This is a bit of an ironic twist considering Duiker’s pressence and his constant assertions regarding the futility of history.

As such this is a hard book to recommend for someone that isn’t already heavily invested in this series, but then again who starts reading a series with the eigth book anyway.  Regardless I have a feeling that that payoff will be more than worth it so stay tuned for my final impressions of the last quarter of Toll the Hounds.

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