Against all odds, Toll the Hounds blew my mind away and became one of my favorite installment within the series.
Toll the Hounds, just like House of Chains, is one of the installments which I heard plenty of mixed things about; they’re there for valid reasons. However, unlike House of Chains which disappointed me a lot, I actually found Toll the Hounds mesmerizing, a treasure trove for philosophies, and also one of the most rewarding books in the series so far. The story of the novel focused on the characters in Darujhistan and the Tiste Andii race. That’s right, we’re finally back in Darujhistan after seven books and we finally get to see the story focusing almost completely on the Tiste Andii.
Picture: A fanart of Anomander Rake by artsed-d8joaqa
I won’t lie, a lot of the warnings about the extremely slow pacing and the overload of philosophical content—as amazing as they were—towards this entry were there for good reasons. It took a LONG time to get to the rewarding convergence and believe me, this isn’t by all mean a flawless book; a lot of the philosophical content didn’t add any value to the book other than being there for social commentary. Like the majority of the fans said, the barrage of philosophies was so extreme that it almost damaged the entirety of the book. Every character has become a philosopher here; a single question asked will be answered after four or five paragraphs of self-contemplation. But gods below, the last 25% of the book was totally worth the struggle. Plus, I’m confident that this is a book that will be much better upon a reread due to the touch of omniscient narrative that Erikson added for premonition and foreshadowing value.
“People don’t change to suit their god; they change their god to suit them.”
The last quarter alone won’t be a sufficient reason to warrant my high rating and love for this book. Let’s start with expectation. This is probably the first time I’m thanking all the warning provided by the fans of the series; without spoilers too! If I haven’t been warned about what kind of pacing to expect here, I most likely would suffer through this read a LOT more. This raised the question of whether the book was actually good or not that it required a warning to be enjoyed but I won’t get into that now. Let’s just say that because of the word of mouth I received regarding this book, I ended up reading all the slow and philosophical contents as a lesson in writings and a dissection of philosophies instead. This made my reading experience much less boring than it was supposed to be.
“Survivors do not mourn together. They each mourn alone, even when in the same place. Grief is the most solitary of all feelings. Grief isolates, and every ritual, every gesture, every embrace, is a hopeless effort to break through that isolation.
None of it works. The forms crumble and dissolve.
To face death is to stand alone.”
Talking about studying Erikson’s prose and storytelling structure within this book, I really need to applaud how well-crafted some of the chapters were. As I mentioned before, Erikson added an omniscient narrative to this book, I DISLIKED omniscient narrative, it very rarely worked for me. That being said, the new storytelling direction allowed Erikson’s prose to have freedom in switching POV from a bird’s eye view to the standard close third person view. At the same time, Erikson was capable of telling an undiminished epic fantasy quality while effectively portraying what the characters felt with minimum words. In my opinion, one of the most brilliant writing skill in this book was the way Erikson starts and ends his chapter. For example, he starts one chapter with this sentence:
“The soul knows no greater anguish than to take a breath that begins with love and ends with grief.”
And then he proceeds to tell an entire chapter revolving around that passage and finally ending it with the same passage added with discussions and philosophies that made the chapter more meaningful. This situation happened several times and they were astonishingly brilliant.
Other than readers’ warning, the other crucial aspect on why I found the extremely slow pacing tolerable was due to the familiarity of settings and characters. This doesn’t mean that there weren’t any new characters to find here, Erikson just won’t simplify things for readers. The main difference between this book and the previous installment was that I found the new characters in this novel to be so much better to follow than the one in Reaper’s Gale. There weren’t any ridiculously dumb and pointless story arc just like Redmask or the Shake (forgot his/her name already due to boredom) storyline. In fact, Harllo was one of the few characters Erikson wrote that made me truly empathize with. For god sake, Harllo was practically Fitz plunged into the Malazan world, enough said.
Throughout the majority of the book—give or take 75%—the plot looked like it’s going nowhere and I seriously wondered “what the hell is Erikson trying to do here?”, “what even is the true main plot of the novel?” and “how will he be able to conclude this one satisfyingly!?” and Beru fends, he did. He absolutely nailed the last 25% with massive impact force; making the last 25% of the book the best explosive closing in the series so far; even better than the climax sequences in Memories of Ice. It was astonishing and ingenious the way Erikson unraveled everything he has prepared into the last 25% of the story. I wish I could give you a spoiler-free explanation on how masterful it was but I can’t. I’m honestly speechless and I’m writing this with the convergence playing like a movie in my head. It was truly a cinematic experience of grief, darkness, light, vengeance, ash, destruction, humor, and of course, one of the greatest imagery that epic fantasy has to offer; you must experience this for yourself.
Picture: One of the interior artworks in the Subterranean edition by Marc Simonetti
I’m at the homestretch of the series now and I don’t really have anything else to say about this tome without going into repetition or spoiler territory. Toll the Hounds may have a lot of flaws in pacing and overload of philosophical contents—I love philosophies but anything that’s too much is never good—but overall, it was still expertly crafted. Only two more books to go now. The beginning of the end has been sparked and my journey within this gigantic series is very close to the end. Allow me to close this review with a quote that will definitely stick with me for a long time.
“There is no struggle too vast, no odds too overwhelming, for even should we fail – should we fall – we will know that we have lived.”
Or in other words of my other absolute favorite series: “Journey before destination.”
You can order the book HERE!