Toll of the Hounds is the eight book in Erikson's massive Malazan Book of the Fallen series. The ninth book, Dust of Dreams, is scheduled for release in August 2009. Until now is have always waited for the paperback release but after reading Toll of the Hounds, with the end of the series in sight, I am considering changing this policy.
Writing a synopsis of one of Erikson's books is always a pain. Like the two previous books, The Bonehunters and Reaper's Gale, this book is absolutely massive. My mass market paperback has 1295 pages, that does include the 25 page prologue of Dust of Dreams but it looks like Toll of the Hounds is the biggest book in the series so far. The reason why this book requires so many pages is the huge cast of the novel. The Dramatis Personae at the beginning of the book includes over a hundred characters that are to some degree important to the story. I'm not even going to try to write something coherent summary, let's just say Erikson is working up to one of his infamous convergences again, with the city of Darujhistan at the centre of it. A smaller but still significant part of the book is devoted to events in Black Coral, the city the Triste Edur settled after the loss of Moonspawn.
I suppose it is only fitting the parts of this enormous book that are set in Darujhistan are narrated by the very character who is plagued by an incurable case of verbosity. Without Kruppe the various seemingly unrelated stories of the Darujhistan characters would probably have driven the reader to despair as to where Erikson is taking all this. Slowly the pieces of this intricate puzzle fall into place as we approach the final chapters and a confrontation between a number of big players in the series. If Kruppe is he narrator, Anomander Rake, the ancient leader of the Triste Edur is probably the central character in this story. He is involved in both major story lines in the book. While he seems to do a lot of brooding and biding his time, when he does get moving the consequences are far-reaching, in fact he shakes up the Malazan pantheon quite a bit.
As I mentioned before there is not large military campaign at the heart of this novel. That is not to say there isn't quite a bit of violence of course, the events in this book take their toll among ordinary people, ascendants and gods alike. Without a military confrontation, a big battle at the end if you will, to look forward, the direction the book is taking takes a bit longer to be revealed. Given the size of the book, a bit longer is quite a long time indeed. Some readers might think the book takes too long to get to the point. On the other hand, if you followed the series for this long, and there really is no point in reading this book without having read the previous seven, it should not be an obstacle. As usual the climax of the novel is worth the wait.
In previous books I had my doubts about whether the story justified the page count. In this the story needs is. Where many fantasy stories are oversimplified, with one or relatively few characters able to cause major changes or achieve great goals Toll of the Hounds strives to look at the events leading up to final confrontation from just about every viewpoint. From the lowliest inhabitant of Darujhistan to the most powerful deity in the Malazan pantheon. One has to marvel at Erikson being able to keep track of all those individual strands in his story. I must admit quite a bit of my time spend reading this novel went into figuring out where we've seen this or that character before. I seems I am definitely up for a reread.
So how do we rank this effort in Erikson's Malazan series? Opinions are going to be split on this novel. It is probably the most intricately plotted novel Erikson has delivered yet, on the other hand it does miss the rush of a military campaign and large scale battles. Personally, I think Reaper's Gale and Memories of Ice are better reads but not by much. Part of that is probably the return to the location where the story started. With much of the city set in Darujhistan, where much of Gardens of the Moon is set, puts the reader on familiar ground. Where Erikson likes to throw the reader right in the middle of the story without much in the way of an explanation this book felt familiar to an extend. Until you realize half just how large the cast actually is anyway. Toll of the Hounds is a very interesting read, I'm looking forward to finding out how Erikson means to wrap things up in the last two novels in this series.
Title: Toll of the Hounds
Author: Steven Erikson
Publisher: Bantam Books
Format: Mass Market Paperback
First published: 2008