This is book 8 out of a projected decology called The Malazan Book of the Fallen. Book one is Gardens of the Moon and the fact that I'm reviewing bookThis is book 8 out of a projected decology called The Malazan Book of the Fallen. Book one is Gardens of the Moon and the fact that I'm reviewing book 8 at ~1,000 pages each should suggest that I recommend them.
Exec Summary: The general take on this volume has been that it's slow-paced and so-so for the first 2/3 or so and then has a bang-up ending that more than makes up for it. I don't quite agree, but it's close enough if you don't want to read any more.
Review: The themes of Hounds center on redemption: Can you redeem yourself? Do redemption and justice conflict? Is sacrifice required for redemption? Is it antithetical? How is forgiveness related to redemption, if at all?
The series has been building up to righting some great cosmic wrongs and incorporating or destroying some new powerful beliefs: a chain of betrayals and sacrifices that confused the history of the Andii (the closest this world has to elves); the creation of the horrible sword Dragnipur and the effects and betrayals it engendered; the return of the Crippled God, who is so seductive with his nihilistic faith--offering to turn people's failures and weaknesses and injuries into their moral salvation, regardless of cause or result--that the other powers in the universe banished him once; the revelation of the Dying God with a form of self-destructive nihilism spreading rituals of drugged bliss that destroy whole towns; and, especially important in Hounds, the various betrayals the Tiste Andii perceive between themselves.
The first 2/3 of the book is different, both from the last third and six from of the seven earlier books, and it is slower paced, but it never lets up the drive towards resolution on the subjects of redemption. Particularly poignant is the journey of 6 Tiste Andii and Clip, a servant of the Dying God who is guiding the Tiste band to the rest of their people. The action in this story is moderate at best: some troubles with a few towns where the works of the dying god has left the people unfriendly, some tension when they encounter Kallor (a cursed ascendant who committed the betrayal in book that defines the series and brought a tear to the eyes of anyone with a shred of humanity left) and a Jhag (members of an ogre-like race mostly dead and always feared). Much of their journey is devoted to talking around the betrayals and hurts that shaped Tiste history. It certainly isn't an expository lump; Erikson is excellent at giving the shape of exposition without diving into it. The cosmology of the world is revealed in how people react to it and discuss it. For fans who find the world as interesting as the action, this is great stuff. If you want the swords and lightning, it's just build-up.
The other two major stories intertwine in ways that barely make sense but always threaten to.
In the first thread, the city where much of the series' action takes place (Darujhistan) is building to some sort of conjunction of powerful and destructive forces. This build-up is drawing creatures and individuals and gods of great power and holding ancient grudges and most of the Daru defenders doubt the city will survive the events. They enlist the aid of the Tiste Andii and hunker down as well as they can.
This leads to a another long build-up, but one with more action. Unfortunately for the sword-and-lightning crowd, much of this action is social and political, involving a man fighting to start a smithy without joining the guild, an aging Lothario tracking down a missing child, and two powerful sisters--daughters of the Tiste Andii lord--plotting their mutual revenge. We get some action in the nightly murders committed by a man bitter about his disability and chosen by some god to spread death and discord, but these are short and scattered and never rise to the levels of the earlier books with their extended battles and running chase scenes.
The third major thread involves the gods and their worshipers: the new Cult of the Redeemer, which created a new god in book 3 of the series, has found a high priestess, whether she accepts it or not, and her actions threaten to unravel the cult itself; the Tiste Andii's goddess, Mother Dark, deserted them thousands of years ago and they are still working to reach her and entreat her to return; and a reformed agent of the Pannier, the destructive theocracy which formed the major threat in book 3, links the two through his friendship with leaders on both sides and with his insight into the nature of gods, religion, and society. This link also bring the Redeemer into the Andii story as a whole, tying all of the plots together.
So for these stories (the religion plot threads) we have abstract action which centers on friendships and trust, which skirts around the Andii history (although much is revealed that has been hanging since the first book), and which puts pieces in place without revealing how they will fall together.
This is not a great plot combination for many people.
But it does end (and I enjoyed it, for what it's worth) and it ends in a ganga. The final third builds constantly and never lets up on the action. As we've seen Erikson do in the past, the action isn't just of the sword-and-lightning type but also shakes the universe to its core, exposing some of the underpinning of the cosmology and changing others, and we always see it through the eyes of someone deeply and personally affected. They are affected in ways that concern family, belief, and--as the theme of the book--both sacrifice and redemption. And this one choked me up a little, just like that earlier scene (which I'm leaving out because it's a huge spoiler, both for that book and for this one).
If you haven't read the first seven books, a lot of this would take some thinking, but it's still readable. But don't do that. Start with Gardens and expect to look at what's not being said, at what's assumed by the characters, and at how they are affected emotionally, and you'll find some of the best fantasy out there. ....more