Well, this one almost never happened. Many thanks to Simon Taylor at Transworld for getting me the page proofs on time, and for coming through again when I realized that nearly 80 pages were missing.
First of all, to those of you who fear that reading Toll the Hounds before Ian Cameron Esslemont's Return of the Crimson Guard might spoil the reading experience, no worries. The order in which you'll read both books will not take anything away from the experience, though Toll the Hounds shine some light on something which occurs in Return of the Crimson Guard.
The eighth volume in The Malazan Book of the Fallen sequence brings us back to the continent of Genabackis. A lot has happened since the siege at Capustan, yet, surprisingly, the narrative doesn't focus much on the intervening months since the events chronicled in Memories of Ice. I was expecting this newest Malazan installment to shine some light on some of the unexpected twists contained in Reaper's Gale, but it was not to be.
Both The Bonehunters and Reaper's Gale were all over the place as far storylines are concerned, and many fans were a bit put off by what they consider the author's lack of direction, or so it seems. Truth to tell, the sixth and seventh volumes of the series rank among my favorites because of that very reason. I feel that no other books advanced the main story arcs further than these two. Which is why, perhaps, I found the slow-going pace of Toll the Hounds for the better part of 800 pages to be somewhat anti-climactic. By the same token, it might mean that those who didn't enjoy its two predecessors as much as I did might like Toll the Hounds a lot more.
Antsy, Blend, Picker, Mallet, and Bluepearl are enjoying their retirement and seem content to run K'rul's Bar. But when the Assassins' Guild suddenly come after them, they realize that someone put a contract on their heads. Unfortunately, Seba Krafar, new Master of the Assassins' Guild, and his mysterious client will discover that Bridgeburners are not easy marks.
When their ship docks into Darujhistan, Spite senses the presence of her despicable sister Envy. Both are aware of the foretold clash their next meeting will bring. Cutter, irrevocably changed by Apsalar, is anxious at the thought of being reunited with his old friends of the Phoenix Inn.
Within the realm of Dragnipur, all the Chained are aware that Chaos is on the verge of overtaking the wagon. And when that occurs, Draconus is aware that all the realms could be destroyed. The man who forged Dragnipur has a desperate plan to face what seems inevitable, but little does he know that a blind Tiste Andii has an agenda of his own.
Mappo Runt, eager to travel to Lether to find Icarium, hires the Trygalle Trade Guild to take him to that distant continent. Gruntle, for want of a better idea, decides to become a shareholder in the venture. When things go awry, both the caravan guard and the Trell experience a lot more than they bargained for.
When the High Alchemist is notified that someone or something left the Finnest House, Baruk is aware that the beginning of the end has begun. And he knows that what is left of the T'orrud Cabal cannot hope to face a new Tyrant.
Itkovian's sacrifice gave birth to the cult of the Redeemer. But a new god comes into play, one bent on corrupting the cult and the rest of the continent. And only a former Seerdomin appears to stand in that god's path.
And in Black Coral, the weight of Dragnipur continues to be an ever-increasing burden for Anomander Rake, the only one who can endure such hardship. But for how long? Realizing what is coming, the Son of Darkness asks Endest Silann, broken High Mage of Moon's Spawn, and Spinnock Durav, wandering Tiste Andii warrior, to do what must be done. Meanwhile, far to the south, Clip leads Nimander Golit and the others toward Black Coral, where his confrontation with the Black-winged Lord awaits. However, what they encounter on their way might change them forever.
As Karsa Orlong and Samar Dev traverse the Plain of Lamatath, the Toblakai on his way to gather his Teblor army so they can destroy every vestige of civilization, he will encounter an unlikely companion, someone even Karsa realizes he cannot cross.
And as Hood closes the Gate to the realm of the dead and gather an army of souls, gods, Ascendants, and mortals alike converge on Darujhistan, City of Blue Fire, where a throne awaits.
As I mentioned, the novel's biggest shortcoming is its slow-moving rhythm. Not that Toll the Hounds is boring, far from it. It's just that the first three books seem to focus too much on secondary plotlines whose relevance in the bigger scheme of things appears a bit questionable. So while I found the POVs of Endest Silann and Spinnock Durav fascinating because they provided insight on Anomander's Rake past, Kharkanas -- First City of the Dark, and the feud that led Mother Dark to turn her back on the Tiste Andii, I felt that the pace suffered when Erikson tied up loose ends from Gardens of the Moon and Memories of Ice when the narrative shifted and concentrated on Challice, Murillio, Gorlas Vidikar, and so on.
As a matter of course, Toll the Hounds resounds with as much depth as its predecessors. There are revelations about Anomander Rake and Osserc, the coming of Light, the civil war in Kurald Galain, the Eleint, the Hounds of Shadow, the Jaghut, etc -- there is enough juicy stuff to satisfy every Malazan fan!
After nearly 800 pages spent setting the stage, Steven Erikson finally goes in "attack mode." And when he does, prepare yourself to be blown away! The last 130 pages or so make up what could well be the series grandest finale yet. Complex and convoluted as the storylines have become, there was no way to expect that such a momentous event would take place. Sure, we knew that a huge convergence would shake Darujhistan to the core of its foundations. But this time it's so mind-blowing that it will leave you dumbfounded. How Shadowthrone and Cotillion managed to manipulate events in such a fashion defies comprehension.
Lots of humor again in this one, the culmination of which is a "confrontation" between mule-riding Kruppe and Iskaral Pust. I've aways enjoyed Erikson's brand of humor in the past, yet I feel that the author may have overdone it a bit in Toll the Hounds. Lots of dark themes, and at times it felt that the humor was a tad out of place. Speaking of Kruppe, those fearing that his POV will somehow be annoying need not worry. Overall, it works rather well, though the tone is totally different from what we have become accustomed to from the other Malazan installments.
Though most of the book remains a slow-moving affair, when Toll the Hounds kicks it into gear it delivers on all fronts. Moreover, it sets the stage for what's to come. Still, I have to concede that the ending likely saved this one from being what could have been the weakest volume of the series.
Roll on Dust of Dreams!
The final verdict: 9/10