Jul 17, 2010

Malazan: The early books - Genabackis

After describing the Malazan world, it is time to go into the novels themselves. However, the story of the Malazan Book of the Fallen is way too complicated to go book by book. In the first five installments of the series three major plot-lines are presented, on three separate continents. Characters sometimes jump from one to the other, but mostly they are almost completely self-contained until book six, The Bonehunters, where they start to merge. So, I have decided to separate my first posts on the series into plot-lines instead of books. This entry covers the continent of Genabackis, where the first and third novels are set.

Gardens of the Moon begins with the siege of the city of Pale in northern Genabackis - another step in the conquering campaign of the Malazan Empire. As Pale falls, seemingly abandoned by its allies - the Tiste Andii of Moon's Spawn - Empress Laseen sets her gaze on Darujhistan - the jewel of the continent, and its richest city. The few surviving Bridgeburners - an elite group of soldiers, lead by the legendary Sergeant Whiskeyjack - are sent before the army, to ensure victory from within. But many powers gather to prevent Laseen's insatiable conquest. Anomander Rake, the Son of Darkness, allies himself with Darujhistan, while the Ascendants of High House Shadow - the gods Shadowthrone and his right hand Cotillion - have their own reasons of wanting to hurt the Malazan Empire. Meanwhile Oponn - the twin-gods of Chance - play a game in which two mortals become their unwitting pawns. And as powerful forces converge on Darujhistan, and a few mundane humans try to stay alive amidst the onslaught, an ancient creature stirs in the outskirts of the city - one mighty enough to shatter all carefully arranged plans in its icy fist.

The beginning of the Malazan Book of the Fallen has a few faults that prevent it from appealing to the broad audience. One of those is the fact that Erikson chooses to literally thrust you into the middle of a raging battle. As the reader finds himself among the soldiers of the siege of Pale, he is drowned under a wave of names, relationships and history that he knows nothing about. True, it takes less than fifty pages to find your way to the surface of those dark waters, but it is an unfriendly beginning to say the least, and many people don't like being treated in that way. Then follow the "GotMisms", so named because they are incongruities specific to the first book - things that contradict facts, established in further installments. Nothing particularly major though, and definitely nothing that steals from the enjoyment of the book. Steven Erikson's style is still a bit tentative here, not daring (or simply not yet matured enough) to unleash his full potential. Still, the quality of his writing is high, even if some parts are chunkier than others.

In the end, Gardens of the Moon is not even half as good as the books that follow it, but still remains among the best in the genre, and sets the scene for most of the major plot-lines that comprise the series. I would strongly recommend giving it a chance, and if after it you are unsure as to where you stand with Steven Erikson - plunging directly into Deadhouse Gates. By its end you will know.


Book three, Memories of Ice, continues the story of those left on Genabackis. After the disastrous events of Gardens of the Moon, the survivors have forged new alliances, as an unexpected threat has risen in the southern part of the continent - the Pannion Domin and its mysterious leader, the Pannion Seer. The Domin conquers and literally devours every land on its way north, and the fragile alliance of powers forged to stop it is nowhere nearly enough to defeat it. Until the undead hordes of the T'lann Imass emerge to join the battle, following a new call to arms and the tiniest glimmer of something that has long been buried under the ash of millenia - hope.

Meanwhile, in the city of Capustan, the mercenary army of the Gray Swords must defend against the cannibalistic tide of the Domin, while hoping against hope that help will come from outside. And underneath it all, something poisons the Warrens themselves, turning traveling through them, and even the simple use of magic into a deadly perilous affair. Bridgeburner mage Quick Ben is bent on unraveling this mystery, before magic becomes completely unaccessible.

Memories of Ice finally gives us the main "villain" of the series, if he could be called such. The Crippled God, fallen from the skies after being summoned from a place outside of the Malazan plane and its Warrens, has been chained by a host of Ascendants, but he still manages to touch the world both directly, and through those he bends to his purposes. And his power is growing...

The third installment in the Malazan Book of the Fallen was for a long time my favorite. After rereading it, I realized that its main appeal is in the thunderous revelations and plot-twists it contains, and thus the experience diminishes after the first time. Still, Memories of Ice is undoubtedly one of the best books in the series, especially due to the fact that it is centered mostly around the T'lan Imass and their tragic fate. Also, together with book two, it boasts the most epic, emotionally engaging and truly "heroic" ending in the series so far. The intensity of emotion is so huge, that I can't read its last fifty pages without putting the book down for short rests. Erikson's style, after its sudden bloom in book two, Deadhouse Gates, is in top shape here, finding perfect balance between exuberance and narrative flow (one which the author will, regrettably, lose in later installments). The novel is a fast read, despite its scope and the rich descriptive prose used to paint its chaotic world.

In the end, Memories of Ice is Steven Erikson at his very best, proving that the Malazan Book of the Fallen is a bar setter and a series to be reckoned with. The book is among the very few greatest examples of what Fantasy is capable of, and an unquestionable must read.


Next: Malazan: The early books - Seven Cities

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