Steven Erikson – Midnight Tides

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.

Steven Erikson – House of Chains

In Northern Genabackis, a raiding party of savage tribal warriors descends from the mountains into the southern flat lands. Their intention is to wreak havoc amongst the despised lowlanders, but for the one named Karsa Orlong it marks the beginning of what will prove an extraordinary destiny.

Some years later, it is the aftermath of the Chain of Dogs. Tavore, the new Adjunct to the Empress, has arrived in the last remaining Malazan stronghold on Seven Cities. New to command, she must hone twelve thousand soldiers, mostly raw recruits but for a handful of veterans of Coltaine’s legendary march, into a force capable of challenging the massed horde of Sha’ik’s whirlwind who lie in wait at the heart of the Holy Desert.

But waiting is never easy. The seer’s warlords are locked in a power struggle that threatens the very soul of the rebellion, while Sha’ik herself suffers, haunted by the knowledge of her nemesis: her own sister, Tavore.

House of Chains is book four of the Malazan Book of the Fallen and the fifth book in the Malazan Reread. This review is way behind though, as by the time this will go live, we’ll probably have finished the next book, Midnight Tides as well. House of Chains is very different from the previous three books. It starts with a section dedicated to Karsa Orlong, who is to say it mildly not a pleasant character.  After this first part we return to the more familiar switching view points. I found it refreshing that Erikson wasn’t afraid to experiment in his writing and his build up of the novel. However, because Karsa isn’t that likeable to start with, I had a hard time connecting to him and it took me a while to find my feet in the book. Luckily, Karsa undergoes a lot of character growth and isn’t as abhorrent any more in later chapters, which made finding my feet much easier.

In House of Chains we also reunite with some of the characters from Deadhouse Gates and we see some of the few remaining Bridgeburners appear as well. It was good to return to these characters and meet new ones. There are some awesome new additions, such as Cuttle and the rest of Fiddler’s new squad, Felisin Younger, Greyfrog, Onrack and Trull. With the returning characters especially those who had been caught up in the Chain of Dogs, but in Fiddler too, Erikson manages to show how much damage trauma and loss can do, but also how well some people can cope with said damage. Forged in the fires of adversity – how’s that for an understatement – some of these people turn out to have cores of steel, such as Captain Keneb, Temul and Fiddler, others turn brittle and can break under pressure, such as Fist Gamet, the Wickan sorcerors Nether and Nil, and Felisin the Elder. His characterisations are magnificent and you come to feel for all of them. If Erikson’s good guys are strong characters, his villains are even better. There are few writers who can get me to dislike characters as intensely as Erikson can. Among the Malazans these were few this time, though Captain Ranal made my blood boil with his stupid arrogance. Among Sha’ik’s adherents though, these dislikeable characters were far more numerous; starting with the lesser evils of Kamist Reloe, Febryl, Silgar, and Korbolo Dom and ending with the despicable Bidithal. Oh, how I hated Bidithal! This might be mostly caused by his predilection for abusing young girls and female genital mutilation, which as a female and as the mother of one (soon to be two) daughters offends and disturbs me to no end, but he’s a treacherous and selfish creature as well.

The main arc of the novel deals with the impending clash between Tavore’s forces and Sha’ik’s army, but there are some interesting side stories as well. Of course, there is the rather long introduction of Karsa, mentioned above, but there is also Tavore’s journey to the heart of Raraku, which mirrors the path of the Chain of Dogs, the forming and forging of the 8th Legion, the meeting and bonding of Onrack and Trull, the Tiste Liosan make an appearance and of course the deceit and treachery within Sha’ik’s camp and that is just what I can remember off the top of my head. Of all of these, I loved Karsa’s story and the story of the 8th Legion the most. Karsa’s because Erikson managed to actually make me like the bastard by the end of his introduction and the 8th Legion’s story, because I just love the Malazan army sequences. From the end of Karsa’s introduction onwards, there is a building to the climax of the battle between the Malazans and the Rebellion. Depending on your point of view the final confrontation in the book is either hugely disappointing or genius. I myself will go with genius, since again Erikson shows he isn’t afraid to go against expectations and that the course history often turns on the smallest of actions.

House of Chains was another stunning addition to the Malazan Book of the Fallen. There is a lot of discussion whether this book is actually a transition between the first three books and the books that make up the rest of the series, as the first three books form a sort of cohesive whole and apparently so do the latter six books. Since I haven’t read beyond book five, which I’m currently reading for the first time, I can see that House of Chains strikes out in a new direction from the first three books and I’m curious to see where I’ll find myself in this discussion once I’ve finished the final book in the series. For now though, I can only say that if you haven’t been reading this series, you’re missing out. It is one of the best (finished!) fantasy series out there today!

Steven Erikson – Memories of Ice

The ravaged continent of Genabackis has given birth to a terrifying new empire: the Pannion Domin. Like a tide of corrupted blood, it seethes across the land, devouring all who fail to heed the word of its prophet, the Pannion Seer. In its path stands an uneasy alliance: Dujek Onearm’s Host and Whiskeyjack’s veteran Bridgeburners alongside their enemies of old – the forces of Caladan Brood, Anomander Rake and his Tiste andii, and the Rhivi people of the Plains. Outnumbered and mistrustful, they must get word to potential allies, including the mercenary brotherhood, the Grey Swords, whose orders are to hold the besieged city of Capustan at all costs.

But more ancient clans too are gathering. As if in answer to some primal summons, the T’lan Imass have risen. For it would seem something altogether darker and more malign threatens this world. The Warrens are poisoned and rumours abound that the Crippled God is now unchained and intent on a terrible revenge…

Well, three down, ten to go! Time for another book wrap-up over at‘s Malazan Reread of the Fallen. Memories of Ice is the fourth book we read, but the third in Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen. Memories of Ice is the book where the painfulness of this series became clear to me. Yes, the Chain of Dogs in Deadhouse Gates is harrowing, but the events here in Memories of Ice broke my heart in pieces several times over and I lost some of my favourites characters so far. It brought home that no one is safe. Where I found Deadhouse Gates an emotional rollercoaster, Memories of Ice – while just as emotionally draining – was far less up and down for me. The tension kept building during the story, only to break after the Siege of Capustan before building back up to crest at the end of the novel.

It’s hard to pinpoint my favourite story arc in this book; while I loved Envy, the Seguleh and Tool and really enjoyed reuniting with the Bridgeburners in the Alliance arc, in the end I’ll have to go with the Grey Swords in Capustan. I loved their valiant sense of honour in the face of inevitable defeat. And they are the source for both my favourite character and my favourite scene in the book. While the final two chapters of the book are filled with clear cut awesome, my favourite scene is one from far earlier in the story during the siege of Capustan. And it’s my favourite because of its epic cinematic qualities and the bravery of its main focus. I’m talking about Brukhalian’s Last Stand of course. You can just see his moves in slow motion on the big screen. But what really impressed me was the courage and faith Brukhalian displayed walking on to that square and accepting he wouldn’t be walking away from this fight. My favourite character from this book was Itkovian. He embodies everything I loved about the Grey Swords and then some: he’s honourable, courageous, and has such a heart it’s unbelievable. He’s also very human as illustrated by his struggles with his fate, his interactions with the Barghast woman Hetan and his grief for his friends. Despite everything he keeps on going, claiming ‘I am not yet done.’ But when he is done, he is truly done and his final act is one that takes the breath away. Itkovian is not just my favourite character from this book but joins the ranks of my most memorable characters so far: Whiskeyjack, Coltaine and Duiker.

Memories of Ice is an amazing book and I wonder how Erikson will go on from here. I’ve already started the next book, House of Chains, and so far (I’m one chapter in) I’m having a hard time with the new characters we’re being introduced to. But hopefully they’ll grow on me! Everyone says that the coming books are just as good as the past two so I’m soldiering on. If you’re interested in the Malazan books and you haven’t checked out the Malazan Reread yet, I advise you to do so, it’s enhancing my reading experience of these books by tons and very much worth investing time in.

Steven Erikson – Deadhouse Gates

In the vast dominion of Seven Cities, in the Holy Desert Raraku, the seer Sha’ik and her followers prepare for the long-prophesied uprising named the Whirlwind. Unprecedented in its size and savagery, this maelstrom of fanaticism and bloodlust will embroil the Malazan Empire in one of the bloodiest conflicts it has ever known, shaping destinies and giving birth to legends…

Embittered and enslaved, Felisin, the youngest daughter of the disgraced House of Paran, dreams of escape from the horrors of the Otataral mines. However, freedom and revenge have their price: her soul. The outlawed Bridgeburners Fiddler and Kalam had vowed to rid the world of the Empress Laseen but it appears the gods have other plans. And Coltaine, the charismatic but untried commander of the Malaz 7th army, will lead his war-weary troops in a last, valiant running battle to save the lives of thirty thousand refugees and, in so doing, secure an illustrious place in the Empire’s chequered history. Then into this blighted land come two ancient wanderers, Mappo the Trell and his half-Jaghut companion, Icarium, bearers of a devastating secret about to let slip its chains.

Well, another book wrapped up in the Malazan Reread of the Fallen over on Deadhouse Gates is the second book in Erikson’s massive series, which was just completed by the publication of The Crippled God last month. While it takes us back to the sprawling world of the Malazan Empire, it doesn’t take us back to those we left at the end of Gardens of the Moon; or at least not all of them. Instead we are taken on a gruelling, brutal trek across the Seven Cities continent following several parties through war, rebellion, death, deprivation and witness acts of both the vilest human depredation and deepest courage and honour. Erikson’s writing only gets better in this book and he shows his masterful touch with pacing. He manages to take us from the bleak hopelessness of despair and grief in one scene to the relief of laughter in the next, before plunging us back into the ravages of battle. From the first page on Deadhouse Gates is an emotional roller-coaster ride.

But what a ride it is! I’d read the book once before, years ago, and I’d forgotten more than I remembered. What made it extra interesting to me this time around, wasn’t just the superb writing, the story, the hints for the rest of the series or the discussions on the Reread threads, though all of these are true, was the fact that this was the first time that I actually realised, while reading, that my outlook on life has changed irrevocably by becoming a mum. The way Erikson wrote about the children resonated with me so powerfully, that it made several scenes very hard to read. It made the scene where Felisin talks about having a daughter so much more poignant to me, just as the Wickan desire to at least save their children from the Chain of Dogs.

My favourite storyline in this book was the Chain of Dogs, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that my favourite characters in this novel were Duiker and Coltaine. I love their bravery, their dignity and their tenacity and they just made me bawl like a baby the last few chapters.

My favourite part was the scene where Apt bullies Shadowthrone into remaking Panek for her and she adopts him. That just made her so relatable (I was going to say human, but not the right word I think). Those two, Apt and Panek, were very high on my list of favourite characters, if only because they occasioned the line ‘I’m … Uncle Cotillion’.

I’m looking forward to see where the next book, Memories of Ice, takes us; I’ve been warned it’s as harrowing and emotional a ride as Deadhouse Gates. I can’t wait, though I’m buying a big box of tissues to be safe! In the meantime, I can’t recommend this series enough and if you’re planning on reading it, why don’t you come catch up to the Malazan Reread? It enriches the reading experience and it is great fun to boot.

Ian C. Esslemont – Night of Knives

Malaz gave a great empire its name, but now this island and its city amount to little more than a sleepy backwater. Until this night.

For this night there is to be a convergence, the once-in-a-generation appearance of a Shadow moon – an occasion that threatens the good people of Malaz with demon hounds and other, darker things.

Also this night, it is prophesied that the Emperor Kellanved will return, and there are those who would prevent that happening at any cost. As factions within the Empire draw up battle lines, an ancient presence begins its all-out assault upon the island. Witnesses to these cataclysmic events include a thief called Kiska, and Temper, a war-weary veteran. Although they do not know it, they each have a part to play in a confrontation that will determine not only the fate of Malaz City but also of the world beyond…

The second book in the Malazan Reread of the Fallen over at was Ian C. Esslemont’s Night of Knives. It was my first introduction to Esslemont’s writing and it was very enjoyable. As I’d been told his style was very different from Steven Erikson’s, I didn’t go in expecting it to be another Malazan book with just a different name on the cover. I think that definitely helped stave off any confusion or disappointment. Esslemont’s writing is far more direct than Erikson’s; most of the questions posed in the book are answered and there are far less red herrings.

The writing in Night of Knives is a little uneven, but there were passages that were arresting. Such as the following:

‘Eventually the beast wearied of the game and let him roll away. Crippled, his arm broken and mangled, he was past pain and long past fear. He was in a place he hadn’t know since his last battle nearly a year ago, and it was like a strange reunion. He was floating, euphoric. It was the place he retreated to during the worst of his engagements. Where all his strength and resilience flowed unbound. Where his body moved like some remote automaton of flesh and bone; where no injury could reach. Lying broken and dirt-smeared, he bared his teeth at the hound.’ p. 220

I really, really liked the flow of these lines. And the baring of his teeth reminded me of Paran in Gardens of the Moon, which gave me a nice sense of connection to the other series. Another example is when Esslemont switches locations in a flashback. I liked the juxtaposition of the icy, stormy, freezing beach where some of the characters are in the present to the hot, arid Y’Ghatan plain of Temper’s flashback. Lastly, I really enjoyed  the spookiness of the writing. Some of the scenes, especially those at the Deadhouse were pretty spooky and since we read the book around Halloween, it was perfect for that time of year!

On the reread threads there was a lot of grumbling about Kiska, but I actually liked Kiska’s POV. She was completely exasperating, but this was mostly because she behaved as a typical teen. And teenagers are supposed to be stubborn, pig-headed, self-righteous and convinced of their own immortality. I loved Temper’s far more experienced view too. But funnily enough, Artan was my favourite character in this book. I loved the way he sort of took Kiska under his wing. My favourite scenes in the book were the flashbacks of Dassem and the battle at the Deadhouse. That just had me turning pages till it ended, I just couldn’t stop reading.

The ending was a bit neat for me, everything nicely squared away, with only the Stormriders for a hook for the next book, but other than that I really enjoyed Night of Knives! It was totally different from SE, but that never bothered me as much as it seems to have bothered others. On the whole, this book is a must read for any Malazan fan and recommended for anyone who enjoys an exciting, battle-filled story.

Steven Erikson – The Gardens of the Moon

When announced that Bill Capossere from and Amanda from Floor to Ceiling Books were doing a reread of the Malazan Book of the Fallen, it was just the kick in the behind I needed to get back to this series. Especially since they plan to be finished just in time for the publication of The Crippled God, the final book in the series, in about a year’s time. I’d originally read the first four books and then got stuck waiting for hubby to finish the then newly published fifth book and never got back to them because, sheesh, those door stoppers intimidated me! So this reread was a good excuse to get back to them and I am glad I did. The reread has fast become a Wednesday highlight. I love getting back into the Malazan universe and am perversely glad we’re also reading Ian C. Esslemont’s books, since that will make it last longer. I’m even keeping my fingers crossed they’ll add the novella’s too!

Gardens of the Moon is where it all began. And it begins with a bang. Thrown in to the story in the middle of a battle, the reader is left to get her bearings on her own. Erikson has to be credited for his shock value, from the massive battle at Pale, to Bellurdan’s grief, to the first assassinations in the book, he never lets up and keeps the reader reeling.

But shock value is not Erikson’s only forte. Combining superb world-building, well-crafted writing, a wicked sense of humour and intricate characterisation, Erikson presents us with a deeply satisfying tale, that doesn’t just let the reader sit back, relax and let the story roll over her, but expects the reader to be on her toes and actively pay attention to notice all the details and clues in the story. It’s exactly this challenge that makes a reread of the work so rewarding, since something new can be discovered every time.

While the cast of characters is quite large, there are two main groups that are followed, with some additional characters regularly popping up in their own threads as well. These main groups are the Bridgeburners and the Phoenix Inn regulars, while both Paran and Lorn weave in and out of their storylines whilst following their own plots. Combined with Erikson’s knack of making even bit players memorable (the demon Pearl comes to mind) these clear divisions make it surprisingly less complicated to keep everyone apart than one would suspect.

What is bewilderingly complicated and mysterious, is Erikson’s magic sytem of Warrens, Houses, Gods and ascendants. They’re all tied in together, but how they tie together and what the rules are doesn’t really become clear in this first novel in the series. Fortunately, I’ve been assured by the more experienced Malazan readers over at that things become clearer at some point. I guess I’ll just have to trust them (and Erikson) that at the end of The Crippled God, the final book of the series, I’ll have a clue how it works.

Over at The Malazan Reread in the concluding post on this book we commented on our favourite character and scene of the books and I thought I’d repeat mine here. My favourite character is actually a duo, the sappers Fiddler and Hedge. They’re absolutely mad and provide some comic relief at tense moments. The glee with which they can booby trap an entire city is positively unholy. Besides, I love their loyalty, to the Bridgeburners and each other. They’re just full of awesome. My favourite scene was the sequence where Paran finds himself drawn into Dragnipur. The spookiness of the place he finds himself and the people he finds himself with just give me chills every time I read it. And of course my favourite line of the book. It’s Baruk talking to Crone about the Malazans searching for something in the Gadrobi Hills: 

‘Seeking is not the same as finding, and finding is not the same as succeeding.’

It isn’t just apt for the situation it regards, but also for Paran and Lorn and their quest to find Sorry. And it is also true in life, a fact many people in this age of entitlement tend to forget.

Gardens of the Moon is a gripping beginning to the epic Malazan Book of the Fallen. It is amazing, bewildering, confusing, exciting, frustrating and rewarding all in one. The best advice for first time readers (and second, third, etc.) is found in the book itself by way of Toc.

“Out of your depth, Captain? Don’t worry, every damn person here is out of their depth. Some know it, some don’t. It’s the ones who don’t you got to worry about. Start with what’s right in front of you and forget the rest for now. It’ll show up in its own time.”

It’s advice worth taking and I intend to follow it for the rest of this (re)read. I hope when you pick up this book you do too and enjoy the experience as much as I have.