Orb Sceptre Throne

In the continent of Genebackis, a lone scholar unearths the burial cave of a long forgotten Tyrant, guarded by a thousand wards, freeing this entity hungry for vengeance. At the same time, the formidable fighting force that is the Seguleh are setting forth towards Darujhistan to answer a call they have been long awaiting. Far away, a Bridgeburner named Antsy is on an expedition to unearth treasure in the remnants of Moon’s Spawn that dot the Riven Sea guarded by mercenaries. And in Darujhistan, a despot manoeuvres himself into a position of power and an ex-assassin named Rellick Nom must stay on top of things in order to save himself and his city from destruction and realpolitik. And as the threat to Darujhistan grows, the alien species that is the Moranth flee the city and prepare themselves to continue a long forgotten war with their ancient enemy, the Seguleh.

This is the second book of Esslemont’s after The Night of Knives which I really enjoyed. Set in Dharujistan, Orb Sceptre Throne, the fourth in Ian C. Esslemont’s Malazan Empire series is probably the closest to Steven Erikson’s style. Part of the reason could be the reappearance of several characters from Erikson’s novels – a bit like old times. The chopped storylines, the myriad plot threads, the creeping tension, all made Orb Sceptre Throne a buzzing read for me.

As with the other Malazan books, summarising the plot is almost impossible and I don’t want to give anything away. I loved that I learnt more about the mysterious warrior cult, the Seguleh, reminiscent of a ninja x Shaolin monk crossbreed. The Moranth are still a mystery to me but I want to know more of this alien species famous for their alchemical weaponry. The only disappointment was the ending which seemed too easily wrapped up and with no loose ends. And we get to spend time with the salty veterans of the Malazan army, the Bridgeburners.

We also meet Kiska and Leoman of the Flails again, who are thrust through a rent into a different dimension in order to search for the Imperial high mage and Kiska’s master, Tayschrenn. Everyone assumed he was dead but what is the real story?

Although many reviews have given this one a battering, I really enjoyed this book although I did feel it ended a little too prematurely. But the buildup is superb and there’s a lot going on in the book and I’m looking forward to the next one, Blood and Bones.

Do also check out the reviews on Tor.com, Wertzone and Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist.

As before, I recommend reading the books in order. Although you can probably read Esslemont’s books alone, you will get a richer reading experience if you read them in tandem with Erikson’s novels.

Malazan books by Steven Erikson:
Gardens of the Moon
Deadhouse Gates
Memories of Ice
House of Chains
Midnight Tides
The Bonehunters
Reaper’s Gale
Toll the Hounds
Dust of Dreams
The Crippled God

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.
Return of the Crimson Guard – this one is set after The Bonehunters
Stonewielder

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After the conclusion of Steven Erikson’s epic Malazan Book of the Fallen, I was feeling a little bereft. I knew that Erikson was working on a new trilogy set in a much earlier time and in Kharkanus, which meant it was going to be about the Tiste. I was in two minds about this as I really enjoyed delving into the lives of the characters with whom I had become so familiar in his ten volume sequence but a whole trilogy about the sombre and depressed Tiste? I wasn’t so sure. But as soon as I started reading Forge of Darkness, volume 1 of the Kharkanus Trilogy, I knew I was in very experienced hands.

In Forge of Darkness, we will finally learn about what sent the Tiste from their world into the Malazan world. And in delving into their history, we will uncover the terrible events and grief that have so stained the Tiste and moulded an entire race, setting a path of violence and, ultimately, their destruction. This sounds rather grim but Erikson’s prose is light and although tinged with tragedy, it doesn’t wallow in it and makes you want to know more about the characters that we (who have read the Malazan books) have already met.

In the land of Kurald Galain, Anomander Rake and his brothers, Silchas Ruin and Andarist, are young and carefree and about to celebrate Andarist’s marriage to his beloved lady. The three brothers have been adopted by Mother Dark who has slowly enveloped herself in sorcery and darkness through the machinations of her lover and Consort, the mysterious Draconus, who is looked upon suspiciously and with much envy by the nobleborn Tiste. Walking amongst the Tiste are the Azathanai, a different race with special powers. Who are they? And what are their connections with the Tiste?

Draconus leaves Kurald Galain to search for a special present for his lover which will cement their love and complete her transformation. Leaving behind his three strange and creepy daughters, Malice, Spite and Envy, he takes his young bastard son Arathan with him on his journey where they encounter many strange characters. The murder of an innocent Jaghut becomes the catalyst of a new game which will lead to the birth of gods and the beginning of war. This is the seed of what is to come. For there are some amongst the Azathanai who are unhappy with the paltry status their power gives them and who wants more.

And faraway, at the edge of Kurald Galain, an unknown entity has risen out of the highly poisonous and mercurial Sea of Vitr and the River God has awoken sending cataclysmic shudders across the land. What is this catalyst and great change that is sending Kurald Galain into a war that is inevitable and yet morally suspect? And can Mother Dark protect her children who are losing their way? As the Tiste plunge into a vicious and violent blood bath, who will survive unscathed?

As usual, it’s all very complicated and you’ll have to be patient and just read the book. One of the things I really enjoyed was trying to connect the characters from the Malazan books with their younger incarnations. Since this trilogy is set hundreds of thousands of years earlier and before the birth of gods, ascendants and the warrens themselves, I’m not sure how Erikson will tie everything together since the timelines seem rather shaky. I keep trying to remember all the relationships from before and although some of the relationships seem to have changed and is rather confusing, it still casts a tragic pall knowing what will happen in the future. Other points of interest are seeing how the Tiste diverge into the Andii, Liossan and Edur, how the different races coalesce and the emergence of the soletakens.

Needless to say, I LOVED this book and the past histories that are unfolding regardless of the confusion. In fact, trying to tease out all the relastionships is part of the fun. And Erikson’s style seems to have become even more polished since his last book. My new favourite character from this volume is, surprisingly, Silchas Ruin, Anomander Rake’s albino brother, with Draconus following closely behind. But Anomander Rake is already a strong presence and it’s interesting to see his transformation. I CANNOT wait for the second in the series, Fall of Light, and may have to go back and re-read The Crippled God just to get my Malazan fix.

Although the Kharkanus trilogy is a prequel to the Malazan books, in my opinion, you’ll get more out of the reading experience if you tackle the Malazan Book of the Fallen first.

In the meantime, here’s an interview with the great Erikson.

And do also check out the review on Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist.

I would like to say a BIG THANK YOU to Transworld Publishers for kindly sending me a proof to review.

Finally, we’ve come to the end. Steven Erikson’s ambitious 10 volume epic, The Malazan Book of the Fallen, ends with The Crippled God.

Following on from the events of Dust of Dreams, the Malazans are driven to the edge of their endurance, and for many, their lives, for they have one last thing to do and one last battle to save the world from the evil that has manifested. For the ancient race of the Forkrul Assail are sweeping across the land meting out righteous justice and nothing can stand against their sorcerous power. The only thing that gives the Malazans hope is that there is one who will prevail. But he is chained and his heart is held by the Forkrul Assail. Adjunct Tavore is taking her Bonehunters across the Glass Desert devoid of magic and water. Will they make it across and reach Kolanse where the Chained God is rumoured to be imprisoned?

Elsewhere, Tavore’s brother, Ganoes Paran leads the Host, the second Malazan Army, as he prepares his soldiers for the coming war. But he is also the Master of the Deck of Dragons and with the help of Quick Ben, they hope against hope that Tavore has a plan and that it will all come together.

And in Kharnasus, the Tiste Andii have a new and reluctant Queen and her followers, the Shake, are fighting against the onslaught of an ancient enemy, the Tiste Liosan who are hellbent on taking back what they believe is theirs. Can they survive the onslaught of dragons?

And finally, the Elder Gods are unhappy with the game that is unfolding. Fearing their powers diminishing, they have unleashed the Otataral Dragon who was chained thousands of years ago so that magic could flourish, for she is the only thing that can negate it.

Will Tavore prevail and her secret plans come together? Will the Malazans survive against the Forkrul Assail? And what exactly is Shadowthrone and Cotillion’s game? For it is they who have set the ball rolling all those years ago.

Wow. Erikson really knows how to write and tell a tale. I love the Malazan books and despite their complexity and humongous list of characters, I persevered through 10 volumes because not only did I want to know what happens but I also happen to care about all the characters.

And yet. Finally finishing The Crippled God, I felt that there really should be one more volume, albeit a shorter one, just to tie up all the loose ends. It’s admirable that Erikson actually did tie up several strands but I felt it wasn’t enough. I was left with a lot of questions. What about Felisin? What exactly happened to Laseen and her role in Shadowthrone and Cotillion’s plot? And what exactly were the role of the people in the House of Chains? And what was all that stuff about jade and Fener? I didn’t get it. I still don’t.

In some ways, the vastness and complexity of the Malazan books makes it inevitable that all the strands can’t be tied up. But I still want to know! And one more grumble, I have to admit I started getting lost with all the characters and was getting a little tired of all that soldierly banter. Of course I was happy when I was reunited with Quick Ben and all the Bridgeburners as well as the T’lan Imass Onos Toolan and Toc the Younger. But I was disappointed at the slight role of the Bridgeburners when I was expecting much more. There was so much build-up in the previous books that it felt a little like an anti-climax when everything was resolved so quickly. I kept thinking, is that all? Where’s the fighting? Where’s the agonising? How can it just end like this?

But, I still laughed and shed tears and held my breath in anticipation for Erikson certainly knows how to keep his readers hooked. And unlike G.R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire (which I will be writing about later), I will definitely be re-reading the Malazan books again. It really is the most ambitious and epic fantasy series that is currently around, written with intelligence, compassion and heart.

So I really, really hope that you will give it a try one day. Preferably quite soon so that we can discuss it.

But hold your tears, Steven Erikson is hard at work on a new Malazan trilogy but one set in an earlier age. Forge of Darkness (Kharnasus Trilogy 1) will be out in August 2012. I CANNOT WAIT.

Malazan books by Steven Erikson:
Gardens of the Moon
Deadhouse Gates
Memories of Ice
House of Chains
Midnight Tides
The Bonehunters
Reaper’s Gale
Toll the Hounds
Dust of Dreams

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.
Return of the Crimson Guard – this one is set after The Bonehunters
Stonewielder

After a hiatus of about five months, I’ve returned to Steven Erikson’s stunning epic The Malazan Book of the Fallen with his ninth and penultimate volume, Dust of Dreams. You might all think I’ve forgotten most of the story since it’s so cunningly complex, and yes, I did get a little confused at times, but the feelings you get when reading Erikson’s work, the excitement, the passion, the realisations, the sorrow, never quite leave you and soon I was back into the throng of things.

The previous novel, Toll the Hounds, left me feeling rather bereft and unsure as to where the story was heading. But Erikson is nothing if not a master of weaving tales. But I also know that he’s not one to reveal everything in one go. He’ll feed you a tantalising glimpse one drop at a time. In Dust of Dreams, the Malazan forces under the increasingly isolated Adjunct Tavore Paran are getting bored waiting in the city of Letharas after the defeat of the Tiste Edur and their mad emperor. Letheras has a new ruler, the mad but benign genius Tehol Beddict who is cunningly restructuring his beloved city into something peaceful and economically sustainable. As Tavore tries to put her secret plans into action, she slowly realises that she is not quite alone as her faithful soldiers, the Bonehunters and the surviving Bridgeburners, begin to fathom the desperate choices and gambles she has been making. As they awaken to the possibility that their leader may actually know what she is doing and that she may be fighting against the game the gods are playing with the humans, the Malazans begin to march into the Wastelands to Kolanse where a hungry power yearns to be free. Only Tavore knows what awaits them.

At the same time, the elder gods are unhappy at being sidelined by the new gods and ascendants that are crowding their space and want some of their old powers back. As the convergence that has been brewing gathers force and the tangled strands of Erikson’s story come together, the T’lan Imass are re-awakened with the First Sword, Onos T’oolan baying for vengeance. The K’Chain Che’Malle are looking for a human Shield Anvil and Mortal Sword to lead them into battle and the dreaded Forkrul Assail are spreading their justice across the land, blighting everything in their path. Are they what the Malazans will be facing? Can Tavore realise her hidden plan and save her soldiers?

You must read on to find out! Dust of Dreams is essentialy part one of the finale and ends on a cliffhanger to be continued in The Crippled God. But even though it’s not as complete as one would have hoped (well, none of the Malazan books are as the main story is EPIC, I tell you) I didn’t find it an issue. As this is a 10 volume series, I would expect each book to add to the story’s continuity.

A big part of the story is the dissatisfaction of the Malazan troops as they are garrisoned in Letheras while Tavore decides what to do. Idleness is the enemy of the soldier, as they say, so it was interesting to see how the soldiers, who come into their own in battle, deal with having time on their hands which adds to their growing unease and faith in their leader. But as I said before, I love the banter between the Malazan soldiers and I especially like how strong the female characters are.

In this part of the tale, we learn more about the mysterious lizard creatures, the K’Chain Che’Malle with their mad Queen who are trying desperately to avoid exctinction. I am still foggy about the Forkrul Assail, but I’m sure we will see more of them in The Crippled God. And we see glimpses of the ascendants and figures from the dead as Hood, the god of death, no longer holds his throne. And we are reunited with old friends such as Onos T’oolan, Toc the Younger, Mappo the Runt, Icarium Lifestealer even though they are heartbreaking.

What can I say? If you haven’t started reading the Malazan books, you are MISSING OUT.

Malazan books by Steven Erikson:
Gardens of the Moon
Deadhouse Gates
Memories of Ice
House of Chains
Midnight Tides
The Bonehunters
Reaper’s Gale
Toll the Hounds

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.
Return of the Crimson Guard – this one is set after The Bonehunters

Ok, we’re at volume 8 of Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen with Toll the Hounds. What a great title, and indeed the Hounds of Shadow make a big appearance in this chapter of Erikson’s epic. This one was dark, very dark and to me, very poignant and sad. Erikson certainly knows how to lay the emotions down thick and fast. It keeps on going and going and you don’t know whether you want to keep reading or stop right there. But of course you will continue, because it’s almost the end and you need to know what’s going to happen. I think it’s just that Erikson knows how to draw characters in such a way that you really care what happens to them. And lots of bad things happen. And I’m beginning to wonder whether I’m going to be laughing or crying at the end. Really not sure here although I suspect there will still be lots more tears. Oh dear.

Toll the Hounds
is mainly centred in Darujhistan, the capital of the Seven Cities, the bane of the Malazan Empire, where the Whirlwind Revolution began (Deadhouse Gates), where Crokus Younghand, later Cutter, Quick Ben and Kalam Mekhar come from, where it all began. Cutter has finally returned to his home city with his new companions minus the love of his life, the assassin Apsalar, for whom he still pines. He is re-united with his old crew at the the Phoenix Inn where the surviving Bridgeburners now congregate but they can all see how much he has changed, and why he has chosen to rename himself Cutter.

At the same time, Karsa Orlong, the Theloman Toblakai is also heading towards Darujhistan together with the witch Samar Dev and their mysterious companion Traveller. Who is he? And why are there Hounds trailing them?

From a more magical place, Nimander Golit, grandson of the Son of Darkness, Anomander Rake, is making a difficult and heartbreaking journey together with his remaining Tiste Andii kin to their new homeland, Black Coral, where Rake now resides. Will they be welcomed back? And can they trust Clip, the self-styled Mortal Sword of Darkness, who holds a grudge against the Son of Darkness who abandoned them all?

A conversion is imminent and it is all happening in Darujhistan. Hood, the God of Death, is missing and death is no longer a certainty. What does this signify? And will Chaos win? New gods are emerging, pouring bile and madness amongst the tormented population. It’s not only the Crippled God that they need to worry about. There are far worse things creeping out of the darkness.

Once again, the strands Erikson has woven from his first novel in the sequence, Gardens of the Moon, are slowly coming together. One of the things I enjoy most about Erikson’s novels is the banter between the soldiers, in particular the Bridgeburners. They have a cynical sense of humour, yet their capacity to care really makes me laugh one minute and then gulp down emotion in another. And I like the squabbling and tension between Karsa Orlong and Samar Dev (I know Karsa Orlong is supposed to be a monstrous warrior, but still. Don’t ask.) And there are still secrets that Erikson uncovers that will draw gasps and there is inevitable heartbreak and he once again cuts down much-loved characters. All part of the story. All necessary. But you won’t feel that while you are reading and you will rail against his decisions. It’s hard to see how the tale will pan out. And I’m excited to keep on reading. As I hope you will be too. So have you started the Malazan books yet? Have you? You know I’ll just keep going on about it until you do.

Malazan books by Steven Erikson:
Gardens of the Moon
Deadhouse Gates
Memories of Ice
House of Chains
Midnight Tides
The Bonehunters
Reaper’s Gale

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.
Return of the Crimson Guard – this one is set after The Bonehunters

This was a LONG book. Over 1000 pages, it took me took me two whole weeks of reading exclusively. And partway I swore that I was going to take a little break before getting into the next one. But you know what, as soon as I finished the blighted thing, I wanted more. I tell you, once this Steven Erikson has his Malazan hooks into you, it’s really hard to break free.

So we come to Reaper’s Gale, the 7th volume in Erikson’s epic Malazan Book of the Fallen where we are re-united with familiar faces from Midnight Tides. Rhulad Sengar is now Emperor of his Tiste Edur and Letheras Empire. He is still tortured, disfigured and unable to die (yup, that’s him on the cover). His twisted, tragic mind can only spot betrayals and he is unaware that his empire is being manipulated by the very people he has subjugated. His surviving brothers, Fear and Trull, are in exile and shorn from Edur society.

Adjunct Tavore, no longer part of the Imperial Malazan Army, is on her way to Letheras with her Bonehunters. What is she up to and does she even know? There is a mysterious assassin with two terrible allies named Redmask of the Awl who stalks the city. And when he returns to his own lands to seek revenge on the Letherii army, he rescues from his own forsaken people, Toc Anaster or Toc the Younger, survivor of the Pannion Domin (Memories of Ice). Quick Ben finds himself in the company of Trull Sengar, the shorn Tiste Edur, and his unlikely friend Onrack the Broken, a T’lan Imass, moving from one magical warren to another. And Seren Pedac leads a strange company headed by Silchas Ruin, Anomander Rake’s albino brother who has been freed after a millenia, Udinaas, Rhulad’s ex-slave, Kettle, child of the Letherii azath house, and a strange but disdainful Tiste Andii, Clip, across the icy plains of Omtose Phellack (the warren of the Jaghut). All are heading towards a convergence, and as Erikson draws all the main players towards Letheras, will he finally reveal what is really going on? Can Rhulad be killed? And will the Crippled God triumph? We can only read on to find out.

In a 1000 page book, so many things are going on that it’s really tough to summarise the plot. Besides, I don’t really want to give away anything, so I’m keeping it brief. But there is a lot of nostalgia, camaraderie and heartache, let me tell you. We see real evil in the Letherii imperial administration and real courage in the Malazan and Edur forces. Innocence in a Malazan mage called Beak, strength in Karsa Orlong, the Toblakai recruited to kill the insane Emperor Rhulad Sengar, and perhaps madness and a breakthrough in his fellow champion Icarium the Jhag’s realisation of who he is.

Interspersed between the battles and soldierly banter, there are some true comedy in the bits where Tehol Beddict and his manservant Bugg are steadily going about their business orchestrating the collapse of the Letherii economy. And I particularly enjoyed reading the exchange between Karsa Orlong and his travelling companion, the witch Samar Dev. One of the things I did find difficult to read was the sheer malevolence and petty avarices of the bureaucrats that propped up the Letherii civilisation especially the imprisonment and torture of Tehol Beddict’s one-time tutor. It may have been necessary to the story, but maybe not to that extent. In some ways it shows, as in any society, that people are born casualities of their leader’s machinations. Yes, I’m a cynic and this is a cynical book. Still doesn’t make it easy reading though.

And we finally get to see some proper K’Chain K’Malle action. Who are these strange reptilian creatures, creators of alien machinery and extreme savagery? Where are they hiding and what are they planning?

Lots of storylines coming together and being tied up while new questions are once again raised. REALLY GOOD STUFF.

Malazan books by Steven Erikson:
Gardens of the Moon
Deadhouse Gates
Memories of Ice
House of Chains
Midnight Tides
The Bonehunters

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.
Return of the Crimson Guard – this one is set after The Bonehunters

Ohkay…so I thought the 6th volume of the Malazan Book of the Fallen, The Bonehunters, was going to be about the T’lan Imass bonecasters but who am I to secondguess Erikson, huh? It’s bonehunters, not bonecasters, so I naturally got it all wrong.

Everything is slowly starting to come together in this volume. All the characters we have met along the way in vols. 1-5 are in place for the final epic battle that has gods, ascendants and people all vying for power and survival. And it’s very exciting when the pieces start falling into place and you begin to see glimmers of the whole picture. It’s stupendous indeed and I am struck anew at Erikson and Esslemont’s conceit that they can pull this off.

So we come to what is left of the Malazan Imperial Army, the 14th, survivors of the Chain of Dogs and Shaik’s Rebellion in vol.2, Deadhouse Gates, and vol. 4, House of Chains. We are once again reconciled with our favourite Bridgeburners, Fiddler, Kalam and Quick Ben. Ganoes Paran, now Master of the Deck of Dragons, is active once again, as is Apsalar who has renewed her relationship with Cotillion, the God of Assassins. Elsewhere, Icarium and Mappo have reached a crisis, the Tiste Edur are gearing for war under their mad Emperor Rhulad, and the Whirlwind Apocalypse has found a new figurehead in Felisin the Younger. And Karsa Orlong, the Toblakai, is on a hunt to right wrongs. And all through this, the Malazan Empress Laseen’s Adjunct Tavore Paran has to keep her cool and shield her soldiers, who haven’t quite made up their minds whether they can trust her, from betrayal. Because betrayal is inevitable.

What is it about Erikson’s skill as a writer that he makes you care so much about the characters that populate his novel? Because you do care and because you really don’t know what is going to happen. And characters die and you weep and then he twists everything and you are shocked back into the story.

One of the things that really strikes me about Erikson’s books is his treatment of women. I have written before about how difficult it is to find decent, fair and realistic portrayals of women in the sff genre. I’m often disappointed whenever I encounter the perpetually frustrating and boring vision of Woman: virgin, mother, whore. It’s just dispiriting and frankly tedious. And lazy. So one of the reasons why I like Erikson’s books so much is that he treats men and women pretty equally. Soldiers are soldiers. They are strong, feminine yet not girly (I mean, exactly how many girly girls do you know?) And their attitude to sex is frank and healthy and not tainted by all that stereotypical rubbish. And he doesn’t shy away from the shocking stuff either, yet it’s not titillating or voyeuristic. Yeah, others may argue that you can only write what you know or is based on history. Really? But that argument really doesn’t cut it for me. Especially if you’re writing science fiction and fantasy where there should be no limit to your imagination. So yes, I have high standards when it comes to writing about women and yes, I am impressed with Erikson. And I like his female characters A LOT.

I don’t need to tell you this, but really, go and pick up Gardens of the Moon, the first in this epic sequence and start reading. NOW.

I’ve caved and ordered the rest of the Malazan books. Next up is Ian C. Esslemont’s The Return of the Crimson Guards which is chronologically the next in line. Ooh, I can’t wait to meet more of the Crimson Guards.

Malazan books by Steven Erikson:
Gardens of the Moon
Deadhouse Gates
Memories of Ice
House of Chains
Midnight Tides

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.