Memories of Ice by Steven Erikson
15 March, 2011
Man, oh man. You think by the third book Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen may get a little tired and show scuffs around the edges. Maybe the reader’d want to pause a little in the middle (of a 1000 pages) to take a long break just to digest half of what’s going on. But, oh no. Erikson’s plot mastery is such that you just want to plough on, regardless that the book weighs as much as a brick and you still want to lug it around on your commute. It’s that good.
Having finished Deadhouse Gates in early February, I dived into Memories of Ice, the 3rd volume of Erikson’s epic fantasy sequence thinking to myself that it will be easier this time because the events of the previous book will still be fresh in my brain. Except Memories of Ice follows on directly from the first volume Gardens of the Moon. Dang it, I still had to go and google the synopsis just so I could remember all the characters. But it all soon came flooding back as we follow the exploits of Captain Ganoes Paran (brother of Tavore and Felisin) and the Bridgeburners led by Dujek Onearm, Whiskeyjack and their mercurial mage Quick Ben, who have survived the battle at Pale, been outlawed by the Empress Laseen and are now trying to forge an alliance with the enemies of the Malazan Empire, Caladan Brood and the Prince of Darkness himself, Anomander Rake. The events in volume 3 run parallel to the events in Deadhouse Gates. This took a while to get used to as I was expecting a more linear structure to Erikson’s tale, but once I got into the thick of things, it was all fine.
So, Captain Paran who has survived the events at Pale where he fought Rake, was bitten by a Hound of Hood, vanished into Dragnipur, Rake’s sword, and came out not feeling quite human, is having to deal not only with becoming a Captain of the Bridgeburners but also excruciating stomach pains. But that’s not all, he seems to have become more than mortal and it’s not long before he finds out that there is a new ascendant House which wants him to front it. At the same time, he is confronted with his dead lover who has been reborn (together with two other souls) as Silverfox, a mortal Bonehunter of the T’lan Imass, one of the undead folk. In parallel to the Whirlwind revolution happening far away, there is also disturbing events afoot as the T’lan Imass gather at Silverfox’s summoning. But it’s not only the T’lan Imass who are moving as a new and evil empire, the Pannion Dom, are taking control of vast swathes of land, and enslaving the people, turning them into Tenescowri, driven mad by hunger to cannibalise their prisoners. All of this is happening under the ferociously twisted gaze of the Crippled God, torn asunder many millennia ago, but who has managed to crawl back together to seek vengeance. Elsewhere, we also follow the adventures of Toc the Younger, a former agent of the Claw, and Tool, the First Sword of the T’lan Imass, who together with Lady Envy and her eccentric retinue are also on their way to fight the Pannion Dom.
Once again, I’m having a hard time trying to summarise what happened in just over a 1000 pages (yep, it’s another brick). Erikson is nothing if not a master of bringing several disparate threads together in the end. I haven’t mentioned the ancient war between the Jaghut and the T’lan Imass, two of the founding races which resulted in the T’lan Imass giving up their mortality which leaves them with a sorrow they cannot erase. They are looking for redemption from who they think is their saviour, Silverfox. Silverfox, on the other hand, is growing at the expense of her mother, sucking the very life of her mother, already an old women even though she is barely 20 years old. And then there is the Tenescowri and the Children of the Dead Seed. So sick and twisted.
The thing that really touched me was the camaraderie, belief and loyalty of the Bridgeburners. They stick together and do their job amid the ever-changing landscape of politics and scheming, never sure of who or what they are exactly fighting. I have to say my two favourite characters in this volume were Whiskeyjack and his mage Quick Ben. Erikson has once again crafted a tale full of pathos, sorrow and tenderness and I have to admit I cried like a baby at parts. And you would too. And throughout the tale, all the things you learnt in Gardens of the Moon and Deadhouse Gates slowly begin to coalesce, sliding into place like a million-piece puzzle. And I’m looking forward to seeing what the finished painting will look like. Next up, House of Chains.