There is almost nothing more exciting for me than buying a new book by an author I really like. This is especially true if it is a book that continues on a series. It’s like getting together with old friends in familiar territory, and everybody having news to relate about what they’ve been up to since you all last met.
Then there is the process of reading. Word after word piling up to form thoughts and ideas. Such a deceptive appearance, passive, not doing much of anything but waiting for someone to read them, to bring them to life. A sword flashes, trees tower, mountains loom, clouds lower, lives are led out to their fullest, or end suddenly. I don’t know about you, but when I read, I form little pictures in my head and visualize the events. From the clues the author has dropped I play out scenes, even after putting the book down. If the writer has done his or her job well, the characters live on and I continue the story in my head, or worry about how they are doing.
I’m constantly amazed by the authors who can develop layers of plot, not convolutions that confuse or show-offs who do it just to show they can, but those who build a succulent cake with icings of intrigue that keep us breathless and on the edge of our seat. Steven Erikson has accomplished just that with his The Malazan Book of the Fallen series. The sixth book of ten is due out in August, and I am already counting the days until publication.
These are not books for the faint of heart (or weak of stomach in places, because he holds no punches in describing the horrors of what men and women do to each other in times of strife); and those looking for a little light escapism should look elsewhere. The first book (Gardens of the Moon) plunges you into a maelstrom of turbulence: the schemes of Gods, men, women, wizards, and a variety of species (dead and un-dead, past, present and future) are all coming to fruition during the turbulent period in which the Empress Lasheen rules the Malazan Empire.
The first three books (Deadhouse Gates and Memories of Ice are the second and third) deal primarily with the Empire’s internal strife, as it expands and consolidates its position through conquest and the suppression of rebellion. Enemies become allies, the dead are reborn as children, men become Gods, and the Gods walk among men as we travel across two continents through desserts, plains and across seas. Through it all march the men and women who are soldiers in the armies. People who cry and swear, kill their officers if they get out of line and battle with weapons (swords, lances, and shields) of hand-to-hand combat. There is no way to shirk the responsibility for your actions. You look into the eyes of the person you kill.
Then there’s the magic that wafts through the weave of all their lives. Deadly and unpredictable, as capricious as the gods whose power it reflects. The magic is sourced from the warrens of the Gods. Pathways through worlds and times, they have the potential to carry a person further than their wildest dreams or nightmares. Each mage’s power rests on the ability to access a warren, and channel its force through themselves and transmit it into action. One warren may create illusions, another give the wielder the power of fire, or the power of the earth to harness. They are as unique as the Gods who created them.
The fourth and fifth books (House of Chains and Midnight Tides) bring more forces into play. A powerful people have reappeared on the scene looking to regain a lost empire. They have entered into a deadly bargain with an angry god, who is seeking to destroy those who chained him and wreak vengeance on a world that has crippled his body. All along he has been lurking in the background, assembling his acolytes and slowly poisoning the earth goddess. Now he has enthralled a people with the promise of a return to past glory. But since they have no memories or records of their past, how can they be sure it was glorious?
At the end of Midnight Tides, they have begun their journey of conquest, but we already know from the House of Chains that they are further along in their plans. Erikson will introduce a character or a group of people in one book, give us tantalizing hints about who and what they are, and in a subsequent book will show how previous events brought them to where they are now.
It’s a testament to his abilities that instead of all this being a confusing mess, it is a fascinating puzzle. Sure, on occasion one feels lost, but you just know that an answer is forthcoming, and although it may not do more than open the door to more questions, there is comfort to be had in the knowledge that the characters in the books (at least most of them) don’t know any more than you do, and are struggling just as hard to find the answers.
Read these books at your own peril; once you get involved, you are hooked. The good thing about them is their ability to stand up to re-readings. So while you’re waiting for the next installment you can at least get a Malazan fix to keep you going.