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The Malazan Book Of The Fallen by Steven Erikson : A Review

This is the kind of fantasy series that deserves the description “epic”. I realise in advance this review and overview of the series can be a little messy – so I apologise. It’s difficult to summarise this series in one blog post.

Originally created by Steven Erikson and Ian Cameron Esslemont as a screenplay, via a role playing game, is now a series of 8 hefty novels broadly following the rise and fall of the Malazan Empire. In fact Esslemont writes his own novels set in this world.

This series has a cast of hundreds. There is a Dramatic Personae section at the start of each novel, along with a few maps, to help if you get stuck remembering who’s who, and a further section at the end of each novel detailing other aspects of the world.

Erikson’s writing style is pretty wordy, this is almost literary fiction, and he has an excellent talent for writing action and description. Notably, he has an excellent sense of plotting. The series has an overall story-arc that becomes apparent as you read the novels – events in early books effect the later ones. It is possible to read these as stand alone novels as each is self-contained within it’s main part of the story, but why would you want to?

You can become lost in this world and it’s characters. Once you start reading, it’s difficult to stop. The action never wanes and the story thunders along. So far at least the series has not lost it’s way, something that happened with other long-running series such as Wheel of Time.

When you start with Gardens Of The Moon you are famously dropped right into the action. There is no scene setting, and you can get lost pretty quick. It’s not something I enjoyed – it felt too much like hard work trying to work out what was going on. But peservere and you will soon understand as background themes are developed. It’s something many readers have commented on, but Erikson remains defiant. Just don’t give up 🙂 I know you should never see a book as a challenge per se, as if you’re like me you read to be entertained, but Gardens Of The Moon does take some getting used to!

One point to note is that the events and characters in one novel will sometimes continue two novels later. So Book 1 and Book 3 could be “sequels”, but the intertwining of the main story arcs go much further than this. In fact it’s not until Book 6 -Bonehunters – do ALL storylines begin to merge.  The timeline itself is a little more complicated as sometimes the events of two novels occur simultaneously.

You really get the feel that there’s a lot more going on in the world apart from that which you read in the stories, helped along in part by the quotations, poems and excerpts at the start of each chapter.

This is no tolkienesque fantasy of elves and dwarves (though there are simularities with certain peoples), instead there are many unique races, with interesting histories. The magic system is also unique, as is the pantheon. These are the strong points of the series – originality. It’s extremely well developed, and – importantly – consistent.

I  don’t want to spoil this series for you, so if you’re at a point before book 6 (Reapers Gale) please do not read any further than this. Instead, grab yourself a copy of Gardens Of The Moon and delve right in to the most enjoyable fantasy series I’ve yet to read.

Ready for more? Continue reading below for a book-by-book look at the novels.

The Novels

The best way to look at the story arcs is to look at the novels in order. These are only simplified overviews, as the novels are much richer than I’ve tried to describe here. There at links at the end for futher information.

Gardens of The Moon

Here we are introduced to Whiskeyjack and his Bridgeburners, an elite fighting unit in the 2nd Malazan Army. This first novel is set in the Genabackis campaign, in the city of Darujhistan and the devasting battle for the city of Pale. We learn of the all powerful Tiste Andii and their leader, Anomander Rake. We find out about other Tiste races later on, but for now you get a feeling that the human race is young in this world, and that various elder races are still around in dwindled numbers.

Other themes include the appranent betrayal of Taschreyn (Malazan’s High Mage) against the Bridgeburners at Pale, the arrival of Ganoes Paran to the squad – including his brush with death and with Opon (The Twins of Fate), the story of Tattersail –  the last surviving 2nd Army Mage – and Hairlock, and a brush with the Jaghut Tyrant.

At the end the entire 2nd Army of Dujek Onearm apparently defects from the Empire to take on the Pannion Domin, apart from Kalam Mekhar (Assasin) and Fiddler (Sapper) who leave to help with the situation at Seven Cities.

Other important characters introduced here include Kruppe and other residents of Darujhistan such as Crokus, “Sorry” (later Apsalar) who is/was possesed by Cotillion (an Ascendent, known as The Rope – Patron of Assasins) , and Ammanas (Shadowthrone, ruler of the realm of Shadow).

This novel packs a lot in! From the intrigues and power struggles within the free city of Darujhistan, to the Malazan campaign in Genabackis, to the Bridgeburners and 2nd Army themselves.

Deadhouse Gates

This novel moves to the Seven Cities subcontinent, and mainly concerns the heart-rending story of the evacuation of thousands of Malazans fom Hissar let by Coltaine. This is known as the “Chain Of Dogs”.

Although it can be read alone, since the action and most of the characters are seperate from the first novel, it’s still best to read them in sequence.

The second main plot concerns that of Felisin Paran (sister of Ganoes from the first novel) who is the victim of a cull of the nobility in the Malazan capital of Unta. She is sent to slavery on the Otaral Island. Unbeknowst by her she is sent by her sister, Tavore, to protect her from the cull. Along with her is Heboric and Baudin. Her story is also heart-breaking (a theme of this novel!) as she falls into addiction and sex-slavery to survive.

Finally, the prophecy of Dryjhna the Apocalypse is starting as the residents of Seven Cities try to overthrow the Malazans. The Apocalypse is ruled by Sha’Ik, who needs the book of the Apocalypse to start things off. This is duly delivered by Kalam – from the first novel. She is however assasinated by Red Blades who follow him.

There are quite a few more important threads in the plot of this story, such as the Path of Hands (where Soletaken and D’Ivers [shapeshifters] seek to become Ascendant), Iskaral Pust (who has a unique way with words, and coincendantly begins to sound like Shadowthrone himself…) , the arrival of Icarium and Mappo (very important characters later on), and the trio of Stormy, Truth and Gesler (marines) who befall a “godhood” of their very own.

This is perhaps my favourite of the series so far since so much happens, and because of the sad tone of the proceedings. By now you’ve realised Gardens of The Moon isn’t a one off – and Erikson’s plot and characters have immeasurable depth.

Memories Of Ice

The events here take place at the same time as Deadhouse Gates, and is a sequel to the first novel “Gardens Of The Moon”. We are back on Genabackis.

The main plot concerns Dujek Onearms now exiled army forming an alliance with Anomander Rake and his Tiste Andii to take on the immense threat of the religious Pannion Domin.

Along the way we see the story of the Grey Swords defending Capustan against the Host – and buying valuable time for the coalition of Dujek/Rake. We also meet Bauchelain and Korbal Broach who Erikson revisits in stand-alone novellas.

This novel follows one main plot but weaves in stories of the elder races such as the   T’lan Imass and K’chain Che’malle – Erikson likes apostrophes 🙂

It also brings in perhaps the most important plot in the entire series – that of the Crippled God, an alien being brought to this planet who seeks to spread disease, death and decay. It is he who is behind the Pannion Domin for example. This is the event that drags most of the Gods and Ascendants into play.

House Of Chains

This follows on from Deadhouse Gates and we back on Seven Cities.

The first story concerns Karsa Orlong (Toblakai) who descends from his mountainous country on a quest that takes him straight to Raraku and the heart of the Apocalypse – where Felisin is now Shai’ik Reborn. He is a true anti-hero in the novels.

We also follow Adjunct Tavore Paran who is leading the 14th Army now that Coltaine’s 7th has been destroyed. She seeks to enter Raraku and destroy Sha’ik and put down the rebeliion. Of course, she does not know that Felisin (her sister) is the new Sha’ik.

We are also introduced to several other major characters, such as Trull Sengar.

Midnight Tides

Erikson again takes an about turn with this novel and it is pretty much seperate from those that proceded it.

This is the story of the capitaist Letherii Empire, and of the Sengar brothers of the Edur – Trull (from the previous novel, though this is set before), Fear and Rhulad.

They are sent by the Warlock King of the Edur to retrieve a sword – which unbeknown to them was manufactured by the Crippled God (him again) . This sword turns Rhulad into an undead ruler of the Edur and it brings them to war with the Letherians.

It is also the story of the marvelous Tehol Beddict of the Letherians and his manservant, who turns out to be none other than the elder god of the sea, Mael.

Other sub plots and characters include the betrayal of the Tiste Andii leader Silchas Ruin by Scarandi Bloodeye of the Edur on arrival to this world, Udiinas and Feather Witch, and the Ceda and King Diskanar.

This is a novel quite seperate from the others, though the events continue in Reapers Gale which brings together the plots from this novel and one that follows, which is…

The Bonehunters

Now things are really hotting up! If you thought Erikson could not get better, you will be open mouthed in amazement by what he manages here.

The Bonehunters follows House Of Chains. Now that Tavore’s 14th Army has beaten the Apocalypse, they follow the renegade leader Leoman to Y’Ghatan.

Here Leoman makes a deal with a god and burns the city to the ground, trapping the 14th within.

When they escape they aim to return to Malaz Island since their mission is over, but a plague has been unleashed on Seven Cities. Ganoes Paran – now leader of the deck of dragons – manages to fix that, but he is too late to save Dujek Onearm and so he becomes leader of that army, “Onearms Host”.

When Tavore and her army eventually reach Malaz they discover that Empress Laseen has all but betrayed them, because of the machinations of survivors of the Apocalypse. This leads to an intense scene as they try to escape the Claw and return to their ships. Please don’t let Kalam be dead!

Many favourite characters are also following their own paths: Cotillion and Shadowthrone seek to defend the Throne of Shadow, Icarium loses Mappo and is pushed towards awakening his own fearfull power, Karsa seeks to battle Rhulad, Cutter (formerly Crokus, now apart from Apsalar) along with Felisin and Heboric aim to  return to the Otarali Island, the Crippled God continues his manipulation from the sides, and Fiddler, Kalam and Quick Ben all follow their destinies.

I haven’t read any further – I’m just starting Reapers Gale – but all I can say is that The Malazan Book Of The Fallen is the best fanrasy series I have ever read, it’s intricately plotted, has intense action, and memorable characters.

I understand reading is a dying pastime in this day and age, but I doubt a movie series could ever do this justice.

10/10  :  This might be the ultimate fantasy series.

Favourite Characters: Kalam Mekhar, Quick Ben, Fiddler, Tehol Beddict, Trull Sengar.

Favourite Novel: Deadhouse Gates with The Bonehunters a close second.

Favourite Storylines: The Chain Of Gods, Felisin’s Story, Karsa’s Story

Links:

Wikipedia Page

Malazan Empire – Forums and Fan Site

MacMillan Authors Page
Transworld Page

A Fansite on Geocities

Review at SFFWorld

Squidoo Page – interesting History section

Article at Suite101

Review at Blog Critics

Interview


Interview 2

Interview 3

Interview 4

Interview 5

Interview 6

Interview 7

Note: As you can see Erikson is not shy about giving interviews! Search the web for more 🙂

Steven Erikson in the Blogosphere

Biography

Search Amazon and Google Books for previews and views. I even came across PDF’s of the books but I won’t post links — support the Author and the book publishing industry – it’s in much more need of support than, say, the music-publishing one!