03 February, 2011

Review - Toll the Hounds by Steven Erikson

Erikson does it again, he blows me away with a stellar ending, but, does that make the other 1200 pages worth it?

I am a huge fan of the Malazan Book of the Fallen series and I fully realize my limitations when it comes to reviewing these doorstops, these paperweights for giants, these tomes of many words, these ... you get the picture. So, instead of attempting to review the entire thing, I'll let the back of the book tell you the story and then give you a couple thoughts.
In Darujhistan, the city of blue fire, it is said that love and death shall arrive dancing. It is summer and the heat is oppressive, but for the small round man in the faded red waistcoat, discomfiture is not just because of the sun. All is not well. Dire portents plague his nights and haunt the city streets like fiends of shadow. Assassins skulk in alleyways, but the quarry has turned and the hunters become the hunted. Hidden hands pluck the strings of tyranny like a fell chorus. While the bards sing their tragic tales, somewhere in the distance can be heard the baying of Hounds...And in the distant city of Black Coral, where rules Anomander Rake, Son of Darkness, ancient crimes awaken, intent on revenge. It seems Love and Death are indeed about to arrive...hand in hand, dancing. A thrilling, harrowing novel of war, intrigue and dark, uncontrollable magic, Toll the Hounds is the new chapter in Erikson's monumental series - epic fantasy at its most imaginative and storytelling at its most exciting.
In Toll the Hounds (2008) [US] [UK], which by the way is a brilliant title, Erikson departs from his usual formula by having Kruppe narrate. Yes, Kruppe, the man who has a way with words, many many words.

Don't get me wrong, I love Kruppe, he's probably one of my favorite characters in the series, but this really tends to lengthen out an already extremely long book. I've ranted a bit on this before, but I think a bit more editing could be used on these latter Malazan books. Then again, the fanboy in me can't ever get enough Malazan, but it still makes these daunting to say the least.

Does that mean this is a bad book? Definitely not. It's typical Erikson style, dark humor, lots of action, and an ending that is both tragic and exhilarating.

Toll the Hounds brings back a lot of characters that we haven't seen in a while (many not since Memories of Ice), such as the aforementioned Kruppe, but also Anomander Rake and his crew, and some ex-Malazan marines who happen to have retired in Darujhistan.

Why Should You Read Toll the Hounds?

Because it's Erikson, what's not to love? I'm guessing if you haven't given up by now you're probably in it for the long haul. This isn't my favorite installment, but that doesn't mean it's not on the same level as the rest of the series - one of my all-time favorite.

4 out of 5 Stars

10 comments:

Alec said...

I got the Crippled God in the mail last night and was super excited, until I started reading it.

I almost feel like Erikson has been digging himself out of a hole he made back somewhere in book 5. His inclination for the poetic has increased. His plot lines are definitely getting more convoluted. He takes longer and longer to deliver on his promises of epic encounters (although when you do get there they are fairly awesome).

I knew when I started with the series that this was not an author with an inclination for brevity, but still. Bleh. That is all I wanted to say.

Anonymous said...

Why does a book have to be short? Why shouldn't a movie not last 4 hours?
I think the other way round.

Movies usually have to be short because there is not enough plot or it's just not dense enough. The same goes for books. But really not in Erikson's case or in movies that need time to cover the original.

I cannot understand the critics who think Erikson needs too long to come to those big clashes. He gingerly, sensitive, carefully builds up his novels, we get background all the time, interesting background of almost each and every "player", hints, that are not always hidden, but only obvious if you read very carefully. Solving small and large riddles is fun, rewarding and satisfying even if that needs 5/10 books. Most of the time two thirds, or 4 fifths of a tome are used for setting up the finale, then the main convergence starts. When that happens you sit jaw-dropped. No other author in fantasy, in my eyes, at least and I read really much of that stuff, is capable of repeatedly doing that. Delivering with every output.
To me, without being the typical fanboy at all, there is no single tome which has not earned 5 stars. Way, WAY AHEAD of other authors.
Some readers and wannabe-pro-readers are missing the smaller highlights in between, and there are many of them. So I recommend highly to everyone, really to EVERYONE, not only to read but to RE-READ the entire series to cover what they missed throughout almost every page. That is one of the many values TMBotF has. Re-read is essential. Turning off every distraction is essential. Reading unhurried is essential. Maybe for some this is too much effort when just wanting to read an "ordinary" book.
And in TtH many readers get the most answers there were yet. Satisfying answers, suprising answers, not the usual good/bad answers, maybe not clear enough for some.

Ryan said...

Between your review, and Anon's comment, I feel like I just got a pep-talk to carry on with this series. I've had Toll the Hounds on my shelf for about a year but the size of it is daunting. I'm so damn close to the end now though. I guess I'll have to dust this tome off and read it before the end of the year.

Anonymous said...

Hey Ryan, same Anon as before here.
my Dust of Dreams tome is even thicker ;)
I still don't know why there should be a problem with around 650 to 1200 pages (depends on the issue) when it's a tale of the Malazan world or a really good book. There are many other books and series that could be told in 100 pages and last for 800 or more.
But TtH and almost every output of Erikson is worth 90% of its pages.
Hm, I sound like a huge fan ... but it's conviction. My last doubts were deleted when I read Erikson's comments on his own books and his parttaking on the tor.com reread of tMBotF. He never was unfair or unkind to his fans, was able to put out a novel a year with such outstanding quality no other fantasy author has achieved in the last 10 years.
And I say it again, read it, and then RE-read it .. slowly and with the pleasure of every word or dialogue. It's worth it.
Since tMBotF every other author in this genre has to bear the comparison to Erikson and there are not much outstanding ones. The one I can name here is Joe Abercrombie, also very unique in style and his imsolent prose. GRRM is another candidate if he ever releases for what we all wait. But who else is there with the same abilities as Erikson? Bakker? Too much philosophy. Kearney? He could not hold the quality in his Monarchies of God series, though it is a great read. Lynch? Just above average, .. you can name more of those, but none of them comes even close to what Erikson has produced and invented together with Ian C. Esslemont.
If you read let's say 30-40 fantasy books a year and there is still just Erikson who implodes your mind with his last 200 pages, whereas others mostly lack those great finales, then this has to come from something huge.

To be honest I'm afraid to start tCG because after that the main storyline is over, nothing more to come. What is, if it is not to my liking, what is, if too many questions stay unanswered? I doubt that I would be disappointed but let's say confused. And for that there is still this nice almost bald guy called Erikson who tries to answer what he could without spoiling anything.
This is the main reason why I adore him.

Ryan said...

Thanks for your reply Anon. I appreciate your opinion. I agree that Erikson is a unique fantasy writer, but what holds me up on reading each of his books is not just the sheer size of them, but also the complexity. He has created a vastly complex world and reading one of his books requires an extra amount of focus and concentration. I'm definitely not saying that's a bad thing, but I definitely need to be in the right frame of mind, and be free of distractions to fully enjoy and appreciate his books fully.

Oh, and I've heard that he has two more trilogies planned in the same world with some of the same characters, after he finishes this series.

Seak (Bryce L.) said...

I don't think I explained it as well in this review as I did in my Reaper's Gale review, but I'm honestly torn. I agree that this is a wonderful tale, which I absolutely love and part of me can't get enough. Therefore I don't care about the length of the book.

Then there's the other part of me which looks over the seas of not-yet-read books that I own and when it takes a month to get through one book I kind of cringe.

Not to mention, with all the complexity of tMbotF, I feel like he throws in so many extra plotlines that don't actually matter and that are just to confuse.

I love the series, and I think I'm going to re-read it, but because of how large each book in the latter half of the series has been, I'm not quite sure that will ever happen. I don't have that kind of time. Maybe I should make it though.

Anonymous said...

Anon again,

yes, I have to agree. tMBotF is not an easy read or a pageturner and it needs really focus. No TV, no other persons in the room, no music, no phone, no internet, nothing. And time. But it is, and that's a fact, rewarding. Immense. Erikson's finales are worth 5 finales of other authors, never disappointing, most of the time surprising. What more does a reader want as to be astonished by a clever buildup and a great ending?

I have also a pile of books here that wants to be read (30-40) but not a single one the last 4 years was even near Erikson. Maybe I read the wrong authors, maybe my expectations are too high. None of them has the value of a Malazan tale. Some exceptions may be possible, be it China Miéville (The Scar is more than just good) or maybe Dan Simmons (Hyperion is simply godlike) and some others. But I read novels highly praised by press and reviewers and those were just mediocre compared to tMBotF. Maybe I love the complex :)
My next try is Rothfuss, maybe he will take on the challenge to write sophisticated fantasy/sf.

Seak (Bryce L.) said...

Haha, I really like that (I might steal it in fact) that Erikson's endings are worth 5 other author finales. Awesome and very true. When I get back into reading Erikson I just love it, it's top quality that's for sure.

I just finished The Name of the Wind and I can highly recommend it. It's slow paced, very straight-forward though (unlike Erikson), but I really enjoyed it. The characters are amazing and the story engrossing.

Ryan said...

Funny that you guys bring up The Name of the Wind, as I plan on reading that one soon too. I've held off on it for too long, and Rothfuss is gonna be in Seattle in March to promote Wise Man's Fear, so I want to at least have read the first one by then, so I can go see him speak.

Seak (Bryce L.) said...

Wise Man's Fear coming out in March is exactly the reason I finally read it. Well worth the wait imo. :)