Friday, December 4, 2015

Toll the Hounds Book Review

by The Wanderer

Author: Steven Erikson
Publisher: Tor Books
Genre: Military Fantasy
Series: Malazan Book of the Fallen Book Eight
Pages: 1,296

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(Spoilers for the previous seven Malazan books are below).

By word count this is the longest book in the Malazan Book of the Fallen.  Toll the Hounds has its moments, but it often feels bloated, especially with the addition of more new characters.

Continuing the Darujhistan story arc, a lot of returning faces are a welcome sight, and with these returning characters there are definitely some powerful moments.  But there are also significant errors to the structure of the story, most of which have to do with timing.  Toll the Hounds has enough moments to surpass Reapers Gale, but it also contains portions that are a lot weaker.  The bottom line is this book gets real hot, but it also gets real cold.

Like previous Malazan books, a great number of plots and happenings take place, so bullet pointed below are the major plot threads:
  • Councillor Coll worries about ambitious upstarts on the council, especially Gorlas Vidikas
  • Kruppe continues his role as Eel of Darujhistan advising his friends and preparing the city for another convergence.
  • Crokus returns home, but finds things are different.  His feelings of love for Apsalar are complicated by Scillara and his first love Challice.
  • Rallick Nom returns home and is quickly at odds with the new leader of the assassin guild.
  • Torvald Nom returns home to his wife and tries to build a legitimate life not based around thieving.
  • Stonny Menackis opens a fighting school, she doesn’t raise her son, Harllo, instead leaving him to relatives and the cruel treatment of their son Snell.
  • Nimander and his siblings look to make contact with Anomander Rake.
  • Shadowthrone and Cotillion employ a friend who goes by the name Traveller to embark on a quest for them.  He teams up with Samar Dev and together they search for Karsa Orlong.
  • Karsa Orlong looks to set the world free by destroying civilization.
Toll the Hounds has readers returning to Darujhistan for the first time since Memories of Ice.  Kruppe and the rest of the Phoenix Inn Regulars are a welcome sight; it’s great seeing all of these familiar faces.  In addition to these sorely missed characters readers will also get to see the Bridgeburners (left behind in Memories of Ice), Crokus and company, Gruntle and Stonny, Anomander Rake, and Karsa Orlong.

While Erikson is right on the money with the above mentioned characters he once again decides to add a myriad of new characters, or focus on some characters that are really just annoying.  Topping the list of characters that were extremely irritating to read was Nimander and his group of siblings and friends.  Nimander’s internal conflict about whether or not he was fit to lead is just full of self-righteous banter that felt meaningless.  His arc has been my least favorite any of the arcs I’ve followed in Erikson’s series thus far.

After Reaper’s Gale I was hoping for some improvements in quality to the Malazan story, but overall that doesn’t happen in Toll the Hounds.  In fact a significant editing mistake in regards to timing is made.  This book takes place approximately six years after the events of Gardens of the Moon, where as readers had been led to believe the first seven books had occurred in a span of a few years (Book 5 excluded). This error is extremely confusing, and it’s disappointing to see such a huge error this far into the series. This really negatively impacts Crokus’s character as he was stilling coming of age in The Bonehunters, and all of the sudden he’s just a man now in Toll the Hounds.

That being said there are a lot of high points in this book that counteract those low moments.  The Malazan’s in K’rul’s bar have an engaging story from start to finish and so does Crokus and Murillio.  Kruppe is still amusing, and Karsa Orlong is still crazy.  So there are still a lot of good things happening.

One of the aspects I liked best though had to be how a number of the chapters end with Kruppe reflecting upon all of the happenings of the major characters in Darujhistan.  This not only gives readers the impression that Kruppe is all knowing, but it links all the plots together in a way that’s aesthetically pleasing.

The convergence when focused in Darujhistan is very strong – when it’s not though, it’s very weak.  Needless to say the events that occur in Darujhistan are built up and executed perfectly.  They are memorable moments for the characters, and there are a couple of high points for the entire series in the Darujhistan part of the convergence.

Toll the Hounds is still a strong book, but again Erikson has definitely told better stories.  It’s a shame he doesn’t shorten the books or stop adding new characters this late in – at this point the whole new character thing is getting irritating.  I’d rather spend time with characters that have been developed and learn more about them.

Score: 8.0

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