Deadhouse Gates by Steven Erikson

November 24, 2010 at 3:04 am | Posted in 3 stars, Book Reviews, Fantasy | 6 Comments
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If there’s one thing you can say about Steven Erikson, it’s that he’s not afraid to take risks. Gardens of the Moon was a novel that refused to compromise its vision, even if many readers were left struggling to keep up. Deadhouse Gates, the second book in the ten book Malazan Book of the Fallen series, requires similar concessions on the reader’s part, but they are concessions of a different kind. At the end of Gardens of the Moon there’s a fair amount of narrative momentum leading into the conflict with the Pannion Domin, but this is left entirely for the third book, Memories of Ice. Instead, Deadhouse Gates leaves almost all the characters from the first book behind in favor of a different story set on a different continent.

Although there isn’t a lot of carryover from the previous novel, readers new to the Malazan series are still advised to start with Gardens of the Moon, which I reviewed at length last week. One reason is that even if there’s not a lot of direct continuity here, there are revelations about the history and nature of the world that are much more effective in their proper context. Another is that, in my opinion at least, Gardens of the Moon is a significantly better novel.

It turns out that most of the shortcomings I identified when reviewing Gardens of the Moon have been addressed. The narrative is more focused. There are fewer characters trying to do far fewer things. The timespan of the story is much longer, stretching across months instead of days. All these things give the characters a great deal more room to breathe than in the previous novel, which always felt in a hurry to get to the next scene.

Unfortunately, many of the virtues I celebrated in Gardens of the Moon are likewise absent. Where Gardens suffered from a conclusion that felt diffuse, most of the main story threads in Deadhouse end poorly, or else not at all. Meanwhile, although it’s more focused, Deadhouse Gates is actually quite a bit longer than Gardens of the Moon. For vast stretches of the novel, characters are stuck traveling from point A to point B, thinking back to what happened at A and planning what they should do at B. This has been a problem for fantasy novels since Tolkien (and some would say Tolkien suffered from this as well). Generally a few of these scenes go a long way, since all things being equal I think most readers would rather read about the points of interest instead of the trip between them, but this sort of traveling is responsible for a considerable portion of Deadhouse Gates‘s length.

It’s also, frankly, a rather dreary novel. The characters spend most of their time worrying about dying, whether from starvation, thirst, or through attack by the many powerful and malign forces around them. Not a few of them do, in fact, die, and almost all of them are in various stages of despair. Erikson tries to lighten the mood periodically but for me most of these “light” moments fell flat. Worse, they threatened the suspension of disbelief that is so important in secondary world fantasy. In particular, scenes with the courier service and Coltaine’s sappers felt completely out of place with the rest of the story. The only exception was Iskaral Pust. I haven’t looked around for other people’s reactions but, like Kruppe in Gardens of the Moon, he seems like the sort of character a lot of people would find tiresome. For my part I thought he was hilarious, and his behavior seemed more or less believable given what we’ve seen of Shadowthrone.

Although it’s too long and suffers from other problems I’m going to dive into momentarily, I do want to point out that this isn’t really a bad book. The vast detail of Erikson’s world is still a big selling point, and its unique attributes (briefly, the vast sense of history and the grand disparity of powers) still make for some very nice moments, like Icarium standing in the ruins of a city trying to understand the survival of his timekeeping device or the dragons flying over and then through the vast mosaic. Erikson’s background in anthropology continues to provide a fairly unique sense of history to the landscapes his characters must travel, and when they fight and die it is always clear that these are just the latest verses of an old, sad song.

The plot of Deadhouse Gates can be split fairly cleanly into four distinct narratives. All of them concern the rebellion in Seven Cities and each has a few links with each of the others, but they could have been published separately (or, the cynic in me mutters, not at all in some cases) without losing very much in the process.

Of the four storylines, the one readers will have the most initial affinity for concerns Fiddler, Crokus, and Apsalar, since along with Kalam they are the only holdovers from Gardens of the Moon. They get off to a bad start, however, mired in authorial contrivance. At the end of the previous book they were, after all, heading for a completely different continent. Why did they come to Seven Cities instead, and having come there, why does their best plan to reach their real destination consist of traveling to a place whose location and even existence is not certain, all so they can take advantage of a a means of travel that is even more hypothetical? It’s not that the book doesn’t provide answers to these questions, but they are not very satisfying. This is the sort of novel where the characters frequently ask, “What are we doing here?” or “Why am I doing this?” It’s probably unfair to suggest they are channeling the author’s subconscious, but since I was asking the same questions and was unimpressed by the answers, I couldn’t shake the suspicion.

On the positive side, Fiddler and company meet up with Icarium and Mappo, whose situation is intriguing and eventually even somewhat moving. Unfortunately some of the power of the Icarium/Mappo scenes is lost through overuse. Again and again we are treated to Mappo’s angst without him being able to arrive at any sort of decision. Considering he’s been traveling with Icarium for centuries, it seems like Mappo ought to have thought things out a little better. When push finally comes to shove, the reset button is hit and nothing changes in their relationship. Fiddler, Crokus, and Apsalar meanwhile finish the book having had almost nothing to do throughout.

The same can’t be said for Kalam, since he plays a key role in the uprising. However, it’s a role that comes on him suddenly and is dispensed with almost immediately. The scene where Kalam takes shelter with Malazan soldiers and has a Deck of Dragons thrown at him is great, but it’s downhill from there. Kalam incites the uprising, becomes linked with a demon, inexplicably acquires a love interest, and fights pirates, but he does all these things essentially by accident. He himself doesn’t seem to know why he’s doing any of these things and certainly doesn’t feel very strongly about them. For a series widely considered the epitome of swords and sorcery, the climactic ninja battle in Malaz City is hopelessly silly and reads more like a parody of the subgenre. Finally, after a conversation that lasts about a minute, Kalam decides that everything he’s been doing for the past few months was a waste of time. I’m not sure why, as a reader, I shouldn’t conclude the same about his portions of the book.

The chain of dogs storyline is a different matter entirely. This is by far the best material in the book, not to mention the most memorable (it was the only part of the book I remembered from my original reading a few years ago). It’s still longer than it needs to be, but because it’s a story of endurance the slow pace isn’t as harmful here as it is to the novel’s other narratives. It reads something like a sports story, in that you know the team is going to get to the final game, but you don’t know where the author will go once they get there. It also has some similarities to Ender’s Game in that they both concern a military genius using trickery to defeat stacked odds again and again. It also indulges in some of the hoary cliches of military fiction, setting selflessly noble soldiers against morally bankrupt savages and painting both the high command and wealthy civilians as utterly craven. This use of over-the-top villains is a regrettable first for the Malazan series and mars what are otherwise the strongest elements of the novel.

The last of the four groups of characters centers on Felisin, sister of Captain Paran from Gardens of the Moon. Felisin’s an unusually unsympathetic viewpoint character, although her character goes through some changes that some readers probably find interesting. I’m afraid I found them quite disappointing. She undergoes two wrenching experiences that change her personality, but the first happens completely off screen. She then spends most of the novel being contemptible until going through the second shift, and this one happens only at the very end, so we don’t see the woman she becomes. While I appreciate what Erikson was trying to do, I find it mystifying that he didn’t spend more time on the changes and less time on the long period in between when Felisin is completely unlikeable.

It doesn’t help that Felisin and her various companions spend most of the book undergoing constant deprivation, exhaustion, and attack. The similarity to the vastly more effective chain of dogs scenes doesn’t do either storyline any favors. Meanwhile, her mostly helpless group is subject to constant attacks by vastly more powerful forces. On occasion these result in characters dying, but the there’s a crying wolf effect. After the tenth time they are attacked by a deadly foe, it doesn’t seem that important any more. Again, this is aggravated by the presence of another narrative, in this case Fiddler’s, since that group is under similar threat, making the reader even more inured to it. When someone finally dies as a result of one of these attacks after there was no lasting damage from the previous fifteen, it feels arbitrary. Sometimes arbitrary catastrophe can provide a sense of realism, but here it never feels very likely that these underpowered characters could survive as much as they do.

It’s possible that many of my problems with this novel are a result of treating it as if it stood alone when it’s the second book out of ten. This is obviously only the beginning of the story for characters like Felisin and Icarium. But some of the blame must also be laid at the feet of Erikson’s refusal to provide context for his characters. This was probably a strength in Gardens of the Moon, since it gave the world a feeling of depth. But in Deadhouse Gates the lack of information caused me to have real problems sympathizing with the characters. We have no idea what Felisin was like before her arrest, for example, so there’s absolutely no way to tell how much of her personality afterward was warped by that experience. Much is made of Heboric’s loss of faith in the god Fener and his partial reconciliation, but it’s never made clear exactly how and why Heboric fell away from the god in the first place. Nor is it explained what Fener is like, what demands he makes of his priests, and what rewards he confers on them. Without this information, it’s impossible to make heads or tails of Heboric’s issues. Kalam and Fiddler are perhaps the worst off, since their feelings about the Malazan Empire and the Empress are crucial to their aims in the novel, but again we have no reliable information on either of these things. Laseen and Kallanved in particular and the Malazan Empire in general are all ciphers. Kalam, Fiddler, and the other Bridgeburners from the previous book all seem like good people whereas Laseen and Kellanved do not, but they dislike Laseen and revere Kellanved. I assume this will all be filled in later, but it’s asking a lot of readers to make them go for so long without this information given how important it is to understanding the main characters and their motivations.

Thematically, given how impressed I was with the way Gardens of the Moon dealt with violence and war, it’s surprising that Deadhouse Gates doesn’t seem remotely as nuanced. At first, Coltaine’s chain of dogs seems like a continuation of the first book’s modern spin on warfare. Everything about the setup and the mission itself is anachronistic. Not only do I doubt an ancient army in our world would protect poor refugees, the sheer number of refugees wouldn’t make sense in previous eras. Including the many who die along the way, the chain of dogs probably had about fifty thousand refugees. Considering that far more civilians were killed in the cities and the surrounding countryside, it seems like a million people would be a reasonable guess at the total number of Malazan people in Seven Cities. This is a preposterous number of colonists by ancient standards, especially considering their home country is on an entirely different continent.

However, this tale of modern war is built on a foundation of, and there’s no way to sugarcoat this, imperialist values. Most people today are pretty sympathetic to the concept of self-determination of peoples, but that principle makes no appearance here. The Malazan Empire conquered Seven Cities fair and square, it seems, and they need to just accept it. At best, the opponents of the Malazans are primitive people being manipulated by a god. They are fundamentally dishonorable opponents: they attack civilians, they commit all manner of atrocities, and they violate the terms of truce on multiple occasions. Again and again we are invited to compare the steadfast Malazan soldier bravely fighting to defend civilians with the undisciplined rabble they are fighting. Unlike in Gardens of the Moon, we are given no viewpoints from the other side to humanize this opposition. And whereas in Gardens of the Moon death in battle was seen as an almost meaningless sacrifice on the altar of a vast Imperial war machine, the chain of dogs story is rooted in the view that dulce et decorum est. The tragedy here, we are made to feel, is that there are not more righteous Malazan soldiers available to put all these vile rebels to the sword, with the caveat that Coltaine and his army are winning great glory for themselves and their nation thanks to the absence of same.

That’s not to say that Deadhouse Gates is completely lacking in self-awareness. Running through all its disparate narratives are questions of responsibility. Icarium is judged not to be responsible for the results of his violent rages and this is sufficient reason to preserve him from imprisonment, even though it endangers countless future lives. Felisin is absolved of responsibility for her constant hateful behavior by Heboric on the grounds that it is her suffering that has made her this way. Many people, meanwhile, are proposed as being responsible for the Seven Cities rebellion. There’s Kalam, since in his autopilot wandering through the novel he helped Sha’ik get everything started. Kalam’s opinion, shared by several other characters, is that the Empress and her negligence is to blame, although this is mostly dropped about halfway through the novel. At other points the Whirlwind goddess seems to be responsible, since the rebels are, after all, religious fanatics. Yet by the end, Felisin tells us that no, the goddess was horrified, absolutely horrified, by what is being done in her name, and those awful prophecies emerged from the warped mortal soul of Sha’ik. Even Emperor Kellanved is put forward as being responsible since the T’lan Imass army theoretically under his command committed mass murder at Aren, an atrocity not forgotten by the people of Seven Cities. He wasn’t responsible, Kalam and Fiddler insist, on the grounds that he didn’t actually order the slaughter, although they don’t contest the fact the Emperor brought the ancient army of undead to Seven Cities in the first place.

No matter who is responsible, this seems to be the latest in a cycle of violence that began with the Empire’s invasion of Seven Cities many years before. In another break from the previous book, there isn’t really any acknowledgment that this cycle ought to be broken. The Empress hisses that Seven Cities will pay for their rebellion, much to Kalam’s approval. Fiddler even enlists to go with the Adjunct’s army and fight the rebels, presumably because he considers the mission of wrath to be a righteous one. Coltaine several times tells Duiker that being a historian makes him the most important person in the chain of dogs, for the memory of what has happened must be preserved. The implication, I think, is that the efforts of Coltaine and his soldiers must be recorded as an example for future Malazan armies to follow, but this memory will necessarily preserve a record of the unspeakable atrocities committed by the rebels. “Possessing these memories enforces a responsibility,” Apsalar tells Icarium, “just as possessing none exculpates.”

The Malazan Empire seems more in need of exculpation than responsibility, I think, and perhaps the Empress agrees, since her purges of the Emperor’s men are frequently said to be a deliberate attempt at effacing the record of his reign. There’s no doubt that the Malazan forces sent to put down the rebellion will make the Seven Cities answer in blood for what was done to Coltaine’s army. “Eventually a man reaches a point where every memory is unwelcome,” Fiddler tells Mappo at another point, and it seems the Malazan Empire and its enemies reached that point a long time ago.

The Malazan Book of the Fallen reviews:

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  1. So we can disagree 😉

    I have a basic different reaction to what you say: I do love that the plot is not smooth and clean. The way Kalam’s plot “fizzles” at the end (but it opens so much more that is unsaid, and so can be observed from different points of view), or the way Fiddler and Kalam chase different purposes at once, not just carrying the girl back home.

    This series, and Erikson’s writing, fights actively against the clean message and purpose in fiction. The way all things should fit perfectly and always have a specific drive and meaning. So also again the idea that the Chain of Dogs subplot could be lifted, cleaned and streamlined in a 250 pages book.

    Erikson confirmed this deliberate intent when he said he always writers linearly and never jumps back and forth in chapters. It’s not simply the way he writes every day, but it’s also an approach to what writing means in general. He said that going back and adjust/change elements of the story, move plots around, rewrite things, would feel like “cheating”. This because of how he does the writing. He relies completely on a sort of “Stanislavski’s system” of complete identification. After setting up the character he goes right in his shoes and observes things playing out.

    This system works as long all the premises are set correctly. The outcome will always be “right” and will flow naturally. Having a “writer” coming in the process and changing things would feel like breaking that intent and cheat the “truth” of the story and its meaning. Dispossess a character of his own truth.

    This has the effect of making events in the book completely open to the interpretation of the reader because the book doesn’t offer just one authorial perspective and purpose. Things can be examined as they can be in reality, so without a “writer” who presents them already is a specific, closed perspective. Because in the end writing about something is about taking the chaos and rebuilding it with a certain narrative sense. You have to decide what to leave out and what to include, so you recreate what you observe. Put a meaning where there is none, see motivation where there’s just casualty, see a moral where there’s just convenience, and so on.

    Erikson lets his characters speak, he indeed has his own opinions and filters them through characters, but this series feels for me like I’m witnessing his own journey, and it arrives to me in all its truth and sincerity. The way characters struggle to find a sense or work against some events only to fail is the mirror if Erikson’s own struggle facing the same aspects. And in doing that he achieves sincerity, which is what I care for in the end.

    So, as a book intended as a craft, it surely fails. Because when you’re done you indeed feel like you could take the whole thing and organize it much more “coherently”. Impart it a more definite direction. You can take apart the various story lines and make them more lucid and straightforward. Clean the diversions and everything superfluous. Polish the narrative intent and purpose so that it stands out clearly. Give it a coherent structure with a beginning, an end, and a crystal clear narrative intent.

    But in doing so you lose the sincerity of the journey and its link with the truth. It would tell a nice story that exists entirely on an abstract, rational level, but that has nothing of the hopeless emotional attempt to desperately “reach” something true and authentic.

    And in the end this difference is at the core, because all the rational, plot-level mysteries and intricacies, bad-assness, showy spectacular scenes, these are all the surface to something buried deeper. It either works or doesn’t depending on who’s reading.

    It also depends whether you want to see technical skill as the mean for showing a perfect craft. Or if you see it as a mere mean to reach some truth and express sincerity. Form or content? On the formal level it’s obvious that the book, and basically all the books in the series, are full of holes and imperfections, but Erikson made plain the intent of going against all rules, experiment, fail, succeed. He tries to break away from the structure. Tries to turn things on their head, and so on. These flaws are not mistakes or distractions, they are actively manipulated to break patterns.

    Feel free to doubt, but I believe that you can’t surpass Erikson in awareness 😉

    On the other side, this can only work if you actually keep the control of all the parts, and it’s something that Erikson definitely can do. I have the exact opposite idea when you say the book is a filler travelogue. One strength and weakness of Erikson is that there are no transitions in the books (nor slices of life, which is what you say about the lack of context in characterization). Every scene you’re being shown is deliberate and moves some pieces of the story (even if the story is not self-contained and cleanly organized). And in all cases what looks like a pointless detail will trigger a major plot later in the series (which may or may not be seen as a strength).

    I also think that, beside the Chains of Dog, Felisin is the real pivot of the book. You seem to look at this story like a flat description between two different states (She then spends most of the novel being contemptible until going through the second shift), but for me the character shines not in the ideal arc she traces in the story, or the two states that she passes: this story shines and acquires a meaning in the way Felisin interacts with Heboric and Baudin. For me it’s ALL there. The way these different characters deal with each other (relationship instead of straight introspection). This is for me the pillar that sustains the whole book and why I think it’s great. It’s not Felisin as a character, or the way Erikson traced her change, it’s all in how those characters share their feelings, the way the reach to each other. For me there’s nothing repetitive or trite in there. It’s pure treasure and the very best a writer can hope to deliver to me.

    And it works to unimaginable levels because of Heboric, which is so far my favorite character in the whole series. In House of Chains you’ll see Felisin in that last state, but once again the transition has already happened, and the interplay between Felisin and the Goddess is, at best, glimpsed. That interaction is cut out. And it works great because Felisin, the girl, is choked. The story reflects the truth of the character, it is a mere mirror. Once again this only works because it is filtered through Heboric’s humanity (well, humanity, heh).

    It doesn’t help that Felisin and her various companions spend most of the book undergoing constant deprivation, exhaustion, and attack.

    But it is what powers the relationship. The truth down there about people only comes up when you strip everything superfluous, when everything is truly barren, when there’s no place where to retreat. It is not particularly fun to see, but you have to respect what Erikson tried to do.

    they dislike Laseen and revere Kellanved

    Here you are wrong. Things are nuanced and a lot happens off-screen (like Kalam’s true intentions and mission), but Kellanved is not revered at all. Especially by Bridgeburners.

    However, this tale of modern war is built on a foundation of, and there’s no way to sugarcoat this, imperialist values. Most people today are pretty sympathetic to the concept of self-determination of peoples, but that principle makes no appearance here.

    This is very much an open theme. It’s a very precise intent.

    Again and again we are invited to compare the steadfast Malazan soldier bravely fighting to defend civilians with the undisciplined rabble they are fighting. Unlike in Gardens of the Moon, we are given no viewpoints from the other side to humanize this opposition.

    But the point here is that the Malazan empire is also de-humanized. The intent is not much describing the rebellion as illegitimate, but actually describe as, no matter how noble the principle, people are caught in and will die unjustly. Both the Malazan empire and the rebellion itself are opposite forces that grind lives in a similar way. It’s not that one side is “evil”, because both are. The Malazan empire is not, as a whole, used to represent the “good side”. While within you can see single characters that try to do something and stay human. You’ll see more of the other side in House of Chains, but the civilians are out of the picture and what is left is only the war.

  2. Here you are wrong. Things are nuanced and a lot happens off-screen (like Kalam’s true intentions and mission), but Kellanved is not revered at all. Especially by Bridgeburners.

    I believe you, but I’m speaking from my sense based on the first two books. Information about the past is hoarded greedily by Erikson and only doled out in the smallest amounts, and by the end of Deadhouse Gates he already has forced one major reevaluation, so I’m sure plenty more are in store. Maybe I just missed a few clues, but so far I just didn’t see it.

    This, along with some of your other points about Felisin and Heboric in House of Chains, is why it’s perilous to review any fantasy series individually instead of all at once. I don’t think Erikson somehow forgot the themes I appreciated so much in Gardens of the Moon, but apparently they are only going to resurface as the series goes on. Given the sheer length of the series, though, I’m going to stick to the book-by-book approach. I’m sure when I get to House of Chains I’ll report about whether it makes me reevaluate Deadhouse Gates or not.

    Your argument about Erikson’s “system” and its implications for the plot is interesting and reminds me of some of the comments made here by George R R Martin fans when I reviewed his series. I’ll keep that in mind as I go forward, but I don’t think I’m ever going to like how some of the plot developments in Deadhouse Gates are handled. It’s not that I’m incompatible with Erikson’s style, because I didn’t have these issues with Gardens of the Moon, or indeed the first half or so of Memories of Ice that I’ve read so far. We’ll see how it goes.

  3. I believe you, but I’m speaking from my sense based on the first two books. Information about the past is hoarded greedily by Erikson and only doled out in the smallest amounts, and by the end of Deadhouse Gates he already has forced one major reevaluation, so I’m sure plenty more are in store. Maybe I just missed a few clues, but so far I just didn’t see it.

    Yes, but you are inferring things that aren’t there. Stick to what’s there.

    If you say that you’re confused about the way the Bridgeburners consider Kellanved or Laseen, then ok. But you said that they seem to revere him, and this aspect is unsupported. There’s already enough confusion and obfuscation with the elements that are there, no need to add more 😉

    The other aspect to consider (and you touch on this) is that they are more than what they seem. Whiskeyjack was at Dujek level before he was demoted to the role he has now. Kalam is more relevant than just an assassin with a grudge in the army. That’s why his plan wasn’t simply to take out the Empress. Consider that the actual idea was not to go right to the Empress, but to port Quick Ben there at the right moment, and maybe someone else (consider that this is Quick Ben and Kalam’s plan, and that Whiskeyjack was kept in the dark about it).

    Also, everything I’m saying is limited to what you’ve already read, I’m not drawing on further knowledge since the plot moves so fast and the stakes rise exponentially that your attention will be redirected to different aspects.

    About Martin, I’ll clarify my point. I somewhat agree that the odd structure of his series is about him losing control of the plot, without a clear idea of where he wants to go (so the fantasy aspects still lingering remotely). It’s supported by the fact he’s having an hard time writing the books and how he went through deep revisions about making the leap in time and then deciding against it.

    The flaws and problematic aspects in Erikson’s series are instead deliberate. In the sense that they aren’t mistakes or lapses. The reader will say if it works for him or not, but you can be sure that everything Erikson does he does for a reason and is fully aware of it. He can be stubborn, but he’s also extremely lucid in his writing and where he goes with it.

    Also, another difference I feel between them is that Martin is fully focused on the reaction of the reader. When he rereads and rewrites I’m sure he does it from the point of view of the reader and whether the chapter works or not. If the effect is not perfect, he rewrites it. It’s as if every reaction of the reader to every part of the book is tightly scripted. If at some point the reader has a different reaction than the one intended, say despise Tyrion instead of feeling sympathy, then it means the book failed in that part. That’s the nature of the craft and its perfecting: every word has to trigger something very specific, in the same way movies screenplays are written. You go through it till it’s not absolutely perfect and your public has the same reaction.

    The feel I get about Erikson is instead more personal and intimate. Erikson writes the way he feels through his characters. If it works it’s because you develop a certain empathy but he’s not interested to “win” or persuade the reader to be followed. He does not plot the narrative to exploit certain feelings and then use those feeling to empower something else. He surely wants to communicate something, but he does it by simply exposing his inner dialogue the exact way it exists for him (so the sincerity aspect), and it’s up to the reader to decide what to do with it. What to draw. The reaction isn’t strictly codified and the matters are complex because they are the result of a struggle more than a specific direction imparted. The books gives you a myriad of suggestions, often underdeveloped, but it doesn’t give packaged, pre-planned reactions (in general). There’s a dynamism that it’s not that easy to find in other books with much better/clean structures.

    Oddly enough, I thought that based on your comments you were going to like MoI even less, since it’s much more chaotic in structure and is even more wasteful.

  4. Well, Steven Erikson disagrees as well. He posted a reaction to this and my other Malazan reviews in the comments of the Tor.com reread here. Most of it is a general response but he mentions some things from this review in particular so I thought I would note it here.

  5. Having read Erikson’s thoughts, he seems more interested in fans than readers – god knows why, even Terry Goodkind has fans. I’ve found your reviews tremendously interesting and I’m right with you on this book in particular – on all the points.

    Erikson says, “you’ll just have to trust me”, but I can read a lot of interesting writers in less than a thousand pages that I don’t have to take on faith, and the plethora of deus ex machina and elements that were clearly hastily cobbled together in this one make that faith hard to come by.

    Memories of Ice will be make or break for me, which is a shame, I was genuinely thrilled by the ambition and creativity of Gardens of The Moon. But this was a bloated mess, and for me Coltaine’s March was the only section that was really enjoyable. The endless, passive journeys of the other characters, the last minute magic and the relentless rug-pulling were too much for me.

  6. Patrick: thanks for your kind words. The good news is that for me, at least, Memories of Ice was a lot closer to Gardens of the Moon in terms of my enjoyment, although I think Gardens remains my favorite of what I’ve read of the series so far. In general I think the way Erikson has split up his series is a laudable approach. The early books don’t feel incomplete the way, say, any individual book of Martin’s does. But it does mean the quality is more variable (actually Martin ran afoul of the same effect in his fourth Ice and Fire book).

    That said, this is a long series and the structure of many of the books involves long, slow-paced, contemplative journeys punctuated by brief moments of terror. This is a common fantasy structure so it’s by no means unique to Erikson, and to some degree it matches the experience of real warfare, for whatever that’s worth. But when combined with the fact each Malazan book is almost as long as a trilogy of traditionally sized books, reading the series requires some endurance. I’ve been taking something of an extended break myself, but I hope to get back to it early this year.

    I’ll be interested to hear what you think of Memories of Ice when you read it.


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