After decades of internecine warfare, the tribes of the Tiste Edur have at last united under the Warlock King of the Hiroth. There is peace – but it has been exacted at a terrible price: a pact made with a hidden power whose motives are at best suspect, at worst deadly.
To the south, the expansionist kingdom of Lether, eager to fulfil its long-prophesies renaissance as an Empire reborn, has enslaved all its less-civilised neighbours with rapacious hunger. All, that is, save one – the Tiste Edur. And it must be only a matter of time before they too fall – either beneath the suffocating weight of gold, or by slaughter at the edge of a sword. Or so Destiny has decreed.
Yet, as the two sides gather for a pivotal treaty neither truly wants, ancient forces are awakening. For the impending struggle between these two peoples is but a pale reflection of a far more profound, primal battle – a confrontation with the still-raw wound of an old betrayal and the craving for revenge at its seething heart…
In the conclusion of my review for House of Chains, I made mention of the discussion of whether that book was a bridge between the first three novels in the Malazan Book of the Fallen and the last six. I also said that since I hadn’t read beyond House of Chains before, I didn’t know where I stood in that discussion. After finishing Midnight Tides I can say that at least those last six novels at least start of in a completely different place than where House of Chains ended. Midnight Tides takes us to a completely new continent and a set of completely new characters. In fact the only characters in the book we’ve seen before are Trull, the Tiste Edur we met in House of Chains, and the Crippled God, who makes a few on-the-page appearances. Even if we’re dropped in totally unfamiliar environs, I had far less trouble getting into this book than I had with House of Chains. After the prologue, we start off with the Tiste Edur, seeing how Trull’s tribe reacts to a raiding of their hunting grounds by the neighbouring kingdom of Lether. And this is the main conflict in the book, that between the Edur and the Letherii. The Edur are tribal and relatively primitive, while the Letherii are the embodiment of capitalism. They don’t have a clear religion other than that of the worship of money and profit.
We start with the Letherii as the aggressor, they raid the Edur hunting grounds, while at the same time sending a diplomatic delegation to renew the treaties between the two, but we end up with Lether being the victim of conquest, when the Edur, under the leadership of their new emperor, conquer Lether in a quite efficient manner. I liked the fact that Erikson kept the points of view switching between these two peoples and that at no point in time it’s clear which side is in the right; they both violate treaties and they both commit heinous acts, but at the same time there are characters you want to root for on both sides. In the end, once I closed the book, I still didn’t know whose side I was on, other than the side of some specific characters, regardless of their origin.
Another core opposition in the book are the two sets of brothers. On the Edur side we have Fear, Trull, Binadas and Rhulad, on the Lether side we have Hull, Tehol and Brys Beddict. I really liked both sets of brothers, though overall, I liked the Beddict brothers more, mostly due to my fondness for Tehol and Brys. Tehol is the jewel of this book, together with his manservant Bugg. Erikson writes great duos: Fiddler and Hedge, Kalam and Quick Ben, Mappo and Icarium, and Tehol and Bugg are another pairing in this line. While ostensibly they mostly offer comic relief in the dark and tense narrative of Midnight Tides, they actually have some of the most important plot lines and scenes in the entire book. I adored these two, they stole every chapter they were part of and kept surprising me with their hidden depths. Brys is a typical, honourable soldier, of the type that I love and he was a favourite, especially in the scenes with the Ceda, the Lether court sorcerer.
In addition to the worldly story arc of the war between Lether and the Tiste Edur, there is also a story arc with the dying Azath in Letheras, which due to its death and the consequent loss of its power, is loosening its binding on the terrors it held captive. A young, undead girl called Kettle lives in the shadow of the Azath and she needs to help it release its guardian before other horrors escape, so it can eliminate their threat. I loved this story arc, from little, creepy Kettle to the eventual final battle at the Azath.
It remains hard to write full and complete reviews for these books, as there is just so much depth and layering to them that it’s hard to include everything without writing a tome yourself. So perhaps I should just keep it to this: Midnight Tides is another great entry into the Malazan Book of the Fallen. It contains epic struggles, but also focuses on intimate, internal conflicts. And it has some great comedic scenes and scenes that made me cry. In short, it’s an experience. It is also a book I know I’ll have to reread after I finish the series to get the entire nuance from it. But that is the fun and the power of the Malazan Book of the Fallen and Erikson’s writing; there is always more to discover. Proof of this can be found in the Malazan Reread of the Fallen, where even the old-timers, who’ve read the books numerous times still find new things this time around. Right now we’re hip-deep into the next book, The Bonehunters and that is proving to be just as engrossing as Midnight Tides.