Midnight Tides by Steven Erikson
5 July, 2011
OK, maybe it wasn’t a good idea to fit in a re-read of Gardens of the Moon, the 1st volume of the Malazan Book of the Fallen by Steven Erikson after the 4th, House of Chains. Maybe I should have dived straight into the 5th, Midnight Tides. But then I’d probably still have been confused, for Midnight Tides once again is a new thread in the vast epic that is the Malazan Book of the Fallen. In this volume, we are introduced to the Letherii, a people whose empire is founded on commerce, wealth and the ideas of debt and repayment. Interesting concept. They, as is common in the Malazan world, are in conflict with the Tiste Edur, the children of Shadow. However the two live in lands far away from the Malazan Empire and have no knowledge of others except for what has remained in their folklore. So once again, we, the readers, are given new characters, new traditions and new histories which we will try and connect with what has come before.
Midnight Tides took me a lot longer to get into, partly because I stopped reading it near the beginning to concentrate on other books. The lesson I learnt is that you need to keep going with the Malazan books and don’t stop as it quickly picks up momentum with each nugget of knowledge and secret you uncover. The thing that keeps you going is not only Erikson’s mastery of plot, with its twists and turns but his creation of characters that you cannot help but care about. The thing here is, there is no set course. You cannot second guess Erikson because characters die and it’s sad and bad things happen. But his skill is that he keeps you reading and you want to know what will happen next.
We learnt a little about the Tiste Edur, similar but un-related to the Tiste Andii, in the previous books. Tall, grey and children of Shadow, the ones we encounter in Midnight Tides are few in number and follow a tradition handed down to them from the Betrayal of Silchas Ruin by Scabandary Bloodeye, thousands of years ago that have left them bereft and alone and with no memory of their Draconian lineage. Across the ocean is the human Kingdom of Lether, sly, greedy and ever calculating. The two have maintained a fragile and uneasy truce which slowly disintegrates as both sides construct plans for war.
The Tiste Edur is ruled by a Warlock King who has made a secret truce with a shadowy and fallen god. He sends the four Sengar brothers, Fear, Binadas, Trull and Rhulad, to retrieve a sword which ultimately divides and binds the Tiste Edur to a monstrous and terrifying leader. In the city of Lether, the Beddict brothers also follow very different paths: Hull, the betrayed who has forsaken his people and is on his way to the Tiste Edur, Tehol, the financial genius who pretends he has lost everything and yet is quietly planning a coup and Brys, the King’s Champion.
And then there is Seren Pedac, the Letherii Acquitor who is in love with Hull Beddict and who accompanies a doomed delegation to the Tiste Edur to exact compensation which will spark a war. There is also Shurq Elalle, an undead, Bugg, Tehol’s manservant and Kettle, a ghost child who guards the Azath House in Lether. And we finally get to meet the members of the legendary Crimson Guard, Iron Bars the Avowed and Corlo his mage together with their companions who are trying to find a way back to the Malazan Empire. I was SO excited about this!
And while Midnight Tides is about the war and occupation of the Lether Kingdom by the bloodthirsy Tiste Edur, it is also about the hidden machinations of the Crippled God and the inevitable freeing and resurgence of ancient creatures of power such as the Forkrul Assail. And in Kettle is the key as slowly the inhabitants of the Azath House reawaken.
I have to say that of the Malazan books I’ve read so far, this was probably the most light-hearted and funniest of the lot (i.e. doesn’t tear your heart to shreds). That’s not to say that there isn’t grim and heartbreaking tragedy, but the exchanges between Tehol Beddict and his increasingly mysterious manservant Bugg as well as the zombie Shurq Elalle provide welcoming relief and laughter. And the economic strategies of the Letherii people are fascinating and reminded me somewhat of the Romans.
Once again, and I know this is getting boring but, I am astounded by Erikson’s vision. His characterisation is as strong as ever, and although this isn’t my favourite volume in the series, I came away with several favourites including Iron Bars (naturally), Trull Sengar who is thoughtful and cannot break free from his conscience and Tehol Beddict, the brilliant financial bad-boy. I cannot wait to get stuck into the next book, The Bonehunters, which is winging it’s way to me right now. And after I finish that, I’ll be on to Ian C. Esslemont’s The Return of the Crimson Guard. Epic.
Malazan books by Ian C. Esslemont:
Night of Knives – this one is set just after the prologue of Gardens of the Moon and before the main events so should be read after the first volume by Erikson.