The Dragonmount Fantasy Review
The Malazan Book of the Fallen by Steven Erikson
Welcome back to Dragonmount's monthly fantasy review. This month's review is on Steven Erikson's epic fantasy series, The Malazan Book of the Fallen. Don't let the singular use of the word "book" confuse you either, each "tale" in the Malazan world is a book in its own right, and quite a large one at that. The tenth and final novel in the series, The Crippled God, was just released bringing to a close the main sequence series. However, several other novels set within this world are still planned.
What is The Malazan Book of the Fallen About? Why Would I Recommend it To Wheel of Time Fans?
The Malazan world is the only fantasy world that I've encountered which is larger in scope than that of the Wheel (George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire would also come close, I suppose). The series takes place across six continents, involving empires, nations, city-states, and religious uprisings. There is hundreds of thousands of years of history layered through the story. You have dragons and shape-shifters, and an entire pantheon of selfish gods ready and willing to manipulate mortals. And, moreover, Erikson is ready and willing to show you them all.
When armies march, in the Malazan world, you don't ride just behind the eyes of the generals and their small council of worthy notables, you get in deep and dark with the individual marine squads on the front line. You meet the enemy and learn to like them--or not, as the story needs. You get to see the political machinations behind the war, the games of assassins and emissaries.
What is the Value in this Style?
Well, the writing itself is pretty engaging, if sometimes given to being overly verbose. In my opinion the greatest value in this is that Erikson does the prep-work damned well, and as such when it comes times for the climax, it becomes explosive--when Anomander Rake draws his sword, you will want to jump up and down. When the Bonehunters decide to march on a rival empire, you'll be ready to scream. When High Mage Quick Ben does... well, anything, you'll probably clap, even if it makes you look stupid. Indeed, when it comes to the ending of each of these books you'll have been brought to understand what's at risk, who's at risk, why the characters are risking it--and then you get to watch as Erikson weaves all this neatly together into an ending which explodes off the page.
Alright, So What Are The Downsides?
Erikson doesn't really ease you into his world--rather he drops you in the ocean at midnight, and then proceeds to whip up a storm. I've compared it to being introduced to the Wheel circa A Crown of Swords, but even that's not entirely accurate as Erikson continues to run--constantly working in more and more elements of the world. I think it was the end of the third novel, Memories of Ice, that I felt I was truly beginning to get a grip on the world.
Of course it is not a truly insurmountable problem. The characters are interesting, the plot is gritty and engaging, so the fact that you are filled with a vague sense of confusion over what's what and why things are the way they are doesn't necessarily detract from the enjoyment of the story. But even though you might be a bit confused about it, Erikson is not, and you will come to understand everything.
You Didn't Really Answer the Question. What's The Malazan Book of the Fallen About?
The series does have an over-arching storyline, though it doesn't become truly apparent until the later books, nor do you realize the ways in which the events of the earlier books are moving toward or supplying for that overlying arc. So in book one, Gardens of the Moon, we have the Malazan invasion of the continent of Genebackis, and all the politics that responds to that. In book two we jump to the continent of Seven Cities with the beginning of the uprising of the cult of Drhyjna the Apocalyptic, and book three were back to Genebackis. Though characters and sub-plots crossover in each of these books they are largely self-contained stories, with their own endings.
So yeah, just trust me when I say it's quite a ride.
To those who enjoy the scope of the world-building within the Wheel of Time, The Malazan Book of the Fallen will blow your mind. Beyond that, the characters and plot--and perhaps more significantly, the key character moments and plot points, are all chock full of awesome. Though it should be warned that this is a somewhat darker series than the Wheel, including far more graphic violence and sexual content.
You can purchase the first book, Gardens of the Moon here and support Dragonmount.
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