Jul 30, 2010

Malazan: The early books - Lether

The third (and last) major plot-line of the Malazan Book of the Fallen starts in Book five, Midnight Tides. It begins at the time of Gardens of the Moon and brings us to the faraway continent of Lether, situated on the opposite side of the globe from the Malazan birthplace of Quon Tali. As the story unfolds, we see the descendants of the first Tiste Edur invaders in this world. The Children of Shadow have degenerated into tribal savages and the tribes have recently been unified by the Warlkock King. Tensions between the Edur and the humans from the nearby mercantile expansionist Kingdom of Lether are rising.

The Walock King prepares for open conflict with the Letherii and for that purpose, he sends the Sengar brothers - Fear, Rhulad, Binadas and Trull (whom we have briefly met in House of Chains, set further in the chronology) - on a mysterious quest that ends with Rhulad - the youngest - being killed. But that is only the beginning of tragedy for the Sengar family, and also the beginning of a great change not only for the Tiste Edur clans, but also for the Kingdom of Lether and quite possibly the whole world.

Midnight Tides is my favorite book in the series, and - ironically - the last really good one. Erikson's prose has long since found its proper pace, and the story unfolds with smoothness that only Deadhouse Gates could match. The characters, although new and unknown to the reader, are among the finest in the series. Trull Sengar is brooding and introspecitve, but has not yet turned into the emo b**ch he will become in later novels. His brother Rhulad is a tragic image of youthful insecurity gone terribly wrong, while in the Kingdom of Lether we have the amazing Bedict brothers (yes, brotherhood is a big theme in Book five. Actually, I think that in every one of the first few installments a prevalent theme could easily be found) - the eccentric genius Tehol and Brys - King's Champion and the finest swordsman in Lether. Also a great addition to the series is Bugg - Tehol's servant and a creature of extraordinary wit and many talents who competes with Kruppe and Iskaral Pust as the Malazan's best comic relief character (even though - just like them - he is much more than that).

Midnight Tides is unique in that it shows a place quite literally frozen in time. Due to events shown in the prologue, time in Lether has not moved the same way as in the rest of the world, and that accounts for a lot of differences. First of all, magic exists here in rawer form. Instead of Warrens, mages use the older Holds. The Deck of Dragons does not exist and prophecies are based on the Tiles of the Hold. Elder gods walk the continent, unchallenged by the new Houses and younger Ascendants. But that is not all. Ghosts and the Undead are common in Lether, and some even play a major part in the story of the book. All this creates an atmosphere that is quite different from what we're used to in the series.

This is - alas - the last book that manages to find the balance of epics and human drama (further installments completely miss the second part), as the ending is possibly the second best in the Malazan Book of the Fallen. It is also the last book to make an overpowered character believable and human - Brys Beddict is always spoken about in terms of his inhuman ability with the sword, but never actually shown to use it, while at the same time he is a kindhearted and gentle person of responsibility and integrity. So when he does use his sword at the end of the book, the reader is left quite literally gaping.

In the end, Midnight Tides is the last installment in the series to show Erikson's true potential, and in my view - one of the very few greatest works of fantasy ever written. It is a sad thing what this particular story-line turns into in later novels, but as a stand-alone story (and it reads quite well that way, especially considering the fact that it has almost no connection to what has happened before in the series) the book is pure genius.


Next: Malazan: Novels of the Malazan Empire - Night of Knives

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