Jul 13, 2010

Malazan: An Introduction, Part I

I was first introduced to the Malazan Book of the Fallen around the time that book five, Midnight Tides, was coming out. By that time my fantasy experience had been pretty standard, with names like Jordan, Martin and Feist comprising the core of my knowledge of the genre. Then along came Steven Erikson and knocked me off my feet, changing my whole perspective of the field. Here was a series of such epic proportions, a vast world of such immense historical depth, and a cast of characters of such magnitude and diversity, that I could not believe a single person could have invented it. I was later to learn that it were actually two people that invented it, but at the time Esslemont's name was still unknown.

I fell in love with the series, and it bordered on religious adoration until book six, The Bonehunters arrived. Even then I retained most of my good feelings for the Malazan world, but then came books seven and eight, and the magic was mostly gone. But the journey is not over (and neither will it be over when the final tenth installment of Book of the Fallen comes out, since there are many more tales in this universe), and I am yet to read book nine too. But although my feelings for the series are somewhat colder now, I still consider the first five books to be among the greatest examples of what Fantasy has to offer. There has never been another work in the genre that deals with events of such magnitude, on such a broad scale and with so many fully developed characters.

So I decided to write a series of posts on the topic. Not exactly reviews, although the latter ones may turn out to be such, but more an overview of the Malazan world. I am not entirely sure how many posts there will be, although I am guessing the number will be around five or six. There will be no spoilers, although some of the stuff written bellow might be more fun to dig out on your own. Still, I'd like to think that it is safe to read my ramblings without fear that they would ruin your enjoyment of the books if you haven't read them yet.

And here we go.

The Malazan world is a place of ancient secrets and devastating cataclysms. Powerful godlike beings dwell on its many continents among races both old and young, human and inhuman. It is a world of layers, where what has happened before never disappears, but sleeps under the feet of civilizations rising and falling for hundreds of thousands of year, waiting to be awakened. It is the center of a multiverse created by Mother Dark, one through which the blood of an Elder God flows freely to create the streams of magic.

As the story begins, we are introduced to the powerful Malazan Empire. A century ago a band of rogues captured a small pirate island off the coast of the continent of Quon Tali. Led by the charismatic Kellanved, those extraordinary people created the heart of what was to be a power to conquer half the known world within less then three generations. At the time of the first book, the Empire controls three continents and wages wars of conquest on two others. Its armies are the finest fighting force in the world, as the brilliant Malazan leaders have paid heed to the lessons of innumerable civilizations that have preceded them. But the Empire is only the beginning for its creators.

Outside, inside, over and under this world are the Warrens - pocket dimensions, through which mages can both travel and access their magic. Some of the Warrens are aligned to an element or a god. Others are the birth places of the world's races. Many are not accessible to humans. They are both places and the road to places. Sources to power and knowledge. And some of them have preceded the Malazan world itself. Magic is always fluid in the Malazan series. There is the ordered system of the Warrens. But there is also the magic of ancient spirits and shamanism. There is the power of faith and symbolism, and there is the power of curses that span millenia. And those often merge to create mind-blowing effects, especially in the first few books.

The Malazan world is populated by many sentient races, and all of them are original creation of Erikson and Esslemont. No elves and dwarves here. First, the Four Founding races:

The ancient prehistoric progenitor of humanity, the Imass, made the ultimate sacrifice to wage a war of utter extinction on beings who had the power to trap whole continents in a prison of ice. They became the undead T'lan Imass - immortal and indestructible creatures of dust and fire who can not find rest as long a single one of their enemies still breaths. But the mortal was never meant to endure the weight of immortality, and as hundreds of thousands of years pass, the T'lan Imass' souls have turned to dust, and of memories of ice.

The Jaghut were once the rulers of the world, after the decline of the K'chain Che'Malle. Creatures of Omtose Phellack, the Elder Warren of Ice, they were forced to live alone by their own power, as the conflicts between Jaghut could tear down continents. As they themselves had once been slaves, so too did they enslave the hapless Imass, posing as gods for no other reason but the joy of control. Too late the Jaghut realized the threat that loomed beyond the horizon, and even as the last Jaghut Tyrant was cast down by his own kind, the immortal T'lan Imass emerged to drive their race to near extinction. Three hundred thousand years later the immortal Jaghut still pay for their hubris.

Little is know of the lizard-like K'chain Che'Malle, except for the fact that they came from beyond the stars, and used technologies that the world has not yet rediscovered. Their Matrons possessed powerful magic and utter control over their broods. Until a new experimental breed turned too volatile to control, and the ensuing civil war destroyed the K'chain Che'Malle civilization, opening the way for the emergent Jaghut.

Even less is known of the mysterious Forkrul Assail. They were creatures of limitless power, almost indestructible, with tremendous physical strength and near impervious to magic. The Assail never formed any sort of culture, nor did they have connections to the other races of the world. Obsessed with balance, their only interaction with others was to come when imbalance was perceived, to unleash a genocide of apocalyptic proportions and then vanish again. At the time the series takes place they have disappeared, although some remain in remote places.

To be continued...

Next: Malazan: An Introduction, Part II

1 comment:

  1. Thanks so much for making this available. U have made many false starts with book one, but personally I believe many people toss it aside because each little nuance (persons name, city, magic, lore, etc) that we don't understand, we brush aside. As these build up we get more and more distracted and frustrated. Most of the haters put it down to bad story, but after taking the time to re-read the first 1/3 a couple of times (I know...), it really paid off in depths I hadn't previously realized were there.
    I think most people who criticize it as uninteresting do so for reasons something akin to a child reading an adult book and saying "Mommy this is borrring!"