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.

I was SO excited about meeting Steven Erikson, the creator of the Malazan Book of the Fallen, a couple of Saturdays ago that I got to Forbidden Planet on Shaftesbury Avenue a full 45 minutes early and had to hang around the store like a wraith just in case I missed my place in the queue. But I found lots of wonderful and new-to-me sff titles so it’s all good. Even though I’m still only on the 4th volume, House of Chains, I had to get the 10th and final volume of the series, The Crippled God, right? Right? Yeah, I thought I was right. I also got myself a new copy of The Gardens of the Moon because 1) that’s where it all started, 2) I really need to re-read it and 3) my copy, even though I read it only once, had fallen apart due to the extreme humidity of Sri Lanka where I first read it 2 years ago and I couldn’t take that with me to get it signed now, could I? Enough with the excuses.

But I wasn’t the only one crazy about the Malazan books. I eavesdropped on several conversations where some of Erikson’s fans had read the whole sequence TWICE. You heard me. And each volume is the size of a brick. And when the guy in front of me dug out 4 limited edition copies of the Malazan novels including The Crack’d Pot Trail, a novella featuring the necromancers Bauchelain and Korbal Broach, I felt a hush and a sudden whispering of ‘That’s The Crack’d Pot Trail!’ and ‘Where did he get his hands on that?!’ It’s so cool to be amongst fellow geeks although in this case, I felt I still had a long way to go before I could call myself a proper, seasoned fan.

I actually spoke a little to Erikson who was gracious about having his photo taken, warning me that he was ‘a little hungover’. What a cool guy.

I really don’t know why it took me two whole years to read the second installment of Steven Erikson’s monumental fantasy sequence, the Malazan Book of the Fallen, because the first volume, Gardens of the Moon, totally blew me away with its epic scope, sophisticated style and complex plotting. I did however read Ian C. Esslemont’s Night of Knives which is set in the same universe and just before the first book so felt it was time to tackle Erikson’s second. Once again the hefty novel (it’s almost 1000 words) did it’s job. It’s hard going and emotionally wrings you dry but it is brilliant. Now I think I’m on some sort of Malazan kick and have the next three lined up. I’ve just started Memories of Ice and once again my mind is awhirl.

Deadhouse Gates opens with Felisin, youngest daughter of the aristocratic House Paran and sister of Ganoes the Captain of the Bridgeburners (an outlawed Malazan military corps), chained between Baudin, a grizzly warrior, and Heboric, an ex-priest of Fener with no hands. Unfortunately for her, the Empress Laseen, formerly known as Surly, the now-dead Emperor Kellanved’s assassin, has decided to cull the aristocratic houses of the Malazan Empire and Felisin must pay the price, sent as a slave to the Otataral mines for hard labour on the orders of her own sister, the Empress’ Adjunct Tavore. Felisin vows to do everything she can to survive and get her revenge on Tavore and she does so with the help of Baudin and Heboric. Many miles away in the Holy Desert Raraku, rebellion is brewing as the Sha’ik gathers her followers to rise up against the Malazan Empire. Laseen calls back Coltaine, the legendary captain of the Crow, and together with the Malazan Seventh Army tasks him to drive back Sha’ik’s Whirlwind rebellion and prepare for war. Duiker, the Imperial Historian, is charged to observe and witness the events that unfold. At the same time, two Bridgeburners, Fiddler, a sapper, and Kalam, an assassin, are also making their way back towards the heart of the Malazan Empire to kill their Empress. The two are separated as Kalam goes to find the Sha’ik and Fiddler falls in with two ancient beings who have been wandering the world for many millenia. As these events slowly spiral towards each other, there is an unsettling in the Path of Hands as spirits and non-humans travel towards a sorcerous convergence at the Deadhouse Gates. Something is brewing and it’s big.

There is so much happening in Deadhouse Gates that it’s virtually impossible to jot down a coherent summary without giving anything away and also not getting bogged down with all the characters and history. I’ve only written the bare bones of a summary that doesn’t really do the book justice. Does Felisin survive? Will the humans who use the sorcery remain unscathed? And what will happen to the non-humans that have been wandering the land looking for salvation? Erikson is a master of tying together the various strands of his story that began in his previous book and he does that admirably. There is a lot of background to this series, but it doesn’t matter that you don’t get it all. You know that it will be revealed at the right time. I just want to talk about it all, but I’d rather you read it yourself:) In some ways, I wish I had re-read Gardens of the Moon before reading this but it would have just taken too long.

I’m not such a fan of military or war fiction and Deadhouse Gates really is all about war, but I just couldn’t stop reading it. I’m finally getting why the series is called the Malazan Book of the Fallen because that is what the historian Duiker is doing, writing about the Malazan fighters whether they survive or not. You have to really credit Erikson for writing complex characters which keep you hooked. And what I found most compelling was that you didn’t necessarily have to like these characters but they would have one or two features tucked away within their layered psyche which just shocks you into wanting to know what will happen to them. Another thing I noticed and liked was how strong the female characters were. In fact, there didn’t seem to be much difference between the male and female characters since most of them were fighters or soldiers.

Apart from the various human characters in Deadhouse Gates, some of the more fascinating characters are the non-human Tiste Andii, Tiste Edur, the Jaghut, T’lan Imass, etc as well as the gods who have been prowling Erikson’s world for thousands of years. They live on a different timeline to those of the humans and move around in warrens of sorcery. In particular, and very scary, are the Hounds of Shadow. Lovely.

I didn’t necessarily find this easy reading, some of the plot twists and storylines made me shudder but there is a real sense of epic history and culture and you just can’t help but get swept away in Erikson’s world.

I really cannot wait to continue reading this series. Erikson’s just finished the tenth and last volume of the series, The Crippled God, and will be signing at Forbidden Planet this Saturday at 12:30pm (26th February). Will you be there? ‘Coz I sure will!

Yesterday I wandered over to Wertzone and Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist and discovered news of Scott Lynch’s eagerly awaited The Republic of Thieves. I’m not being over excessive when I say that Lynch’s debut The Lies of Locke Lamora is probably one of the best fantasy/speculative fiction books I have read in a long time. His world building is truly breathtaking. I gobbled it up on holiday two years ago, then raced back to London to get it’s sequel Red Seas Under Red Skies and cannot wait to read the next. Lynch has planned an ambitious series of seven books in the Gentleman Bastard sequence. Only Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen, a ten book sequence starting with Gardens of the Moon comes close.

If you want to know more you can check out Lynch’s website here. News about his forthcoming book in 2010 and a preview can be read here.

For my part, I have waited this long and can wait a little longer to read the whole thing in one go. Happy news!