I thought it was a good idea to go back and re-read Gardens of the Moon once I finished the 4th volume in Steven Erikson’s epic Malazan Book of the Fallen sequence just to refresh my memory regarding how it all began. So far, in volumes 2 (Deadhouse Gates), 3 (Memories of Ice) and 4 (House of Chains), we followed the different trails of the main story, all connected and set in the same time frame. The cast of characters is huge and Erikson keeps introducing new ones in each volume. I toyed with the idea of continuing on to volume 5, Midnight Tides, straight after House of Chains, but I thought I’d better take stock first. And I’m really glad I did. I hadn’t actually forgotten the plot in Gardens of the Moon, which I first read over two years ago, but so many things began to make sense and fall into place.

So, Erikson kicks off his sequence by setting his first volume just before the Empress Laseen usurps power. He then fast-forwards nine years when she has set her sights on the city of Darujhistan on the continent of Genabackis. We follow Captain Ganoes Paran, working for Adjunct Lorn, Laseen’s second in command, who is on the trail of one of the Bridgeburners, the legendary Malazan corps, whom they suspect is not who they seem. We also meet the Bridgeburners who survived the siege of Pale, Dujek One Arm, Whiskeyjack, Quick Ben, Kallam, Fiddler and others who are given orders to infiltrate and sabotage the city. Opposing them are the T’iste Andii led by Anomander Rake and Caladan Brood as well as the mercenary Crimson Guard who are sworn enemies of the Malazan Empire. We are also introduced to Kruppe, a bumbling figure who is not as scatter-brained as he seems and his friends Rellick Nom, Murrillio and Crokus Younghand who live in Darujhistan. And then there is Sorry, the newest and youngest recruit of the Bridgeburners, deadly and possessed by a God.

This isn’t just about the human characters, but also the gods who are itching to enter the story including Oppon, the twins of chance, who have chosen Ganoes as their pawn in their game of power. Shadowthrone and Cotillion, the two newest Gods are looking for a way to get their revenge on Lasseen for taking their mortality. As I keep saying, the Malazan books are really hard to summarise as Erikson keeps introducing new characters. But I enjoyed re-reading Gardens of the Moon because I felt like I was meeting old friends. The T’lan Imass, the immortal ancestors of men who can vanish into dust, the Jaghut Tyrants who laid waste to continents because of their hunger for power, the T’iste Andii, beings from another world, who live in perpetual sorrow. And the mages and sorcerers who get their power from the magical warrens or paths, each different and separate, and in which they can travel. Everything makes a little more sense.

In Gardens of the Moon, Ganoes Paran escapes his noble heritage by becoming a soldier, leaving behind his two sisters, the cold and ambitious Tavore and young and innocent Felisin. He sets off to Darujhistan looking for Sorry. But before he finds her, he is ambushed and drawn into a game of gods, escaping death by forfeiting a life not his own and tasting the blood of a Hound of Shadow which will forever change him. His lover Tattersail, an army mage, and her gamble to wreak revenge on the Imperial mage Tayschrenn will lead to events which no one can foresee. And Quick Ben’s deception of Shadowthrone and his intricate plans to ensnare the crazy wizard Hairlock will lead to Sorry’s liberation. And we are always drawn back to Lasseen, inscrutable, deadly and the cause of it all.

Re-reading Gardens of the Moon has once again re-awakened my astonishment at Erikson’s scope and intricate plotting. You can see how cleverly he’s set up the story right from the beginning. And going back to the beginning a second time, it’s even more heart-breaking as you know the choices made by the characters will have such significant repercussions. And really, I can’t believe how I didn’t pick up on how amazing Quick Ben is the first time around. I guess I was just dazzled by Anomander Rake’s long silver hair and cold demeanour.

This may not be a series you want to dive into if you haven’t read any fantasy before. I would recommend reading a few fantasy books before starting the Malazan Book of the Fallen which is aimed at adults. I grew up reading Terry Pratchett, Raymond Feist, Katherine Kerr, Janny Wurts and Stephen Donaldson, all of whom I recommend highly.

If you want to be challenged and to enter a rich and exciting world, I urge you to give this book a try. Really, you won’t regret it. It’s even better the second time around, which is quite rare for me as I tend to do a lot of skimming. But I didn’t here. I even read all the poetry that sets up each chapter as I now know they are relevant to the story. Erikson doesn’t spoon feed you. He makes you work. And that makes it even more rewarding.

After Gardens of the Moon, you may want to read Erikson’s collaborator Ian C. Esslemont’s Night of Knives which is set at the beginning of the events of this book.

I’m now reading Midnight Tides and I’m just happy that I’ve got a further 5 more thick volumes to read. I want to know what happens, but I don’t want it to end! Absolutely brilliant.

This is my first book for Carl’s Once Upon A Time V Challenge!

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House of Chains, volume 4 of Steven Erikson’s epic Malazan Book of the Fallen, took me a lot longer to read than the previous two. In some ways, it wasn’t as relentless as it was coming to some kind of conclusion begun in the first three books. But we all know it’s still a LONG way from the end and we can only heave a small sigh. As you’ve probably come to realise if you’ve read my posts on Deadhouse Gates and Memories of Ice, I rate Erikson pretty highly and this book didn’t disappoint either. But I’m actually beginning to feel that I must needs re-read Gardens of the Moon just to make sure I ain’t missing anything, and this might be a good place to do so.

Because although a resolution is in sight, things have gotten even more complicated. In House of Chains, we are once again re-united with the main characters from Deadhouse Gates (volume 2) and the events follow on directly from then albeit with flashbacks from several pertinent characters. The book starts with how the ferocious warrior and giant Thelomen Toblakai (one of the founding races of Erikson’s world) became one of the Sha’ik’s followers and bodyguards. This ties in with a deeper mystery of the origins and evolution of the main races in the long and ancient history of the world. We follow the Teblor warrior Karsa Ohrlong, before he became known as Toblakai, as he tries to cement his reputation by leaving his sheltered home, is taken prisoner by his enemies and then the Malazans, loses his innocence, begins to understand the value of friendship and slowly unveils the secrets of his seven gods. We also see the fractured army of the Sha’ik Reborn as Felisin is taken over by the goddess of the Whirlwind, slowly losing herself in order to exact her revenge on her sister Tavore, and how this affects her loyal followers Heboric Light Touch/Ghosthands, Toblakai, Leoman of the Flails and Felisin Younger, her adopted daughter. And we see Tavore herself, untested Adjunct to the Empress Laseen, trying to hold together the shattered remnants of the Malazan Army. And we are once again re-united with the Bridgeburners, Kalam, Fiddler and Quick Ben as they converge in the Holy Desert Raraku, home of the Whirlwind rebellion, to aid the Malazan army. But Tavore hasn’t forgotten Felisin and tasks Pearl, a Claw, and Lostara Yil, captain of the Red Blades, to find her sister.

This volume was a much slower read than the previous two partly because there was a lot more information to digest, not just from this volume but from the previous volumes. The cast of characters is huge and sometimes it’s easy to get lost. But Erikson keeps drawing you back into the story so you are never quite as lost as you think. Here too there are some truly hideous characters such as Bidithal, the priest who shaped the first Sha’ik, obliterating all emotions and memories of pleasure so that she can become the vessel of her goddess, and who has cast eyes upon Felisin Younger, the adopted daughter of Sha’ik Reborn. Erikson doesn’t shy away from the grotesque, and although it’s not graphic, it leaves you feeling soiled. I’m not sure if this is a good thing or not even though there is some sort of redemption. It does make you think about the treatment of women in sff and Erikson is pretty much in the minority in being fair, but I think that’s for another post. The gods are no better as they are exposed as selfish, self-serving beings uninterested in the fates of their believers so long as they fulfill what is needed of them.

For me, the most poignant moment was when Tavore and Felisin finally come to face each other and in some ways I didn’t like what Erikson did although I’m sure he had his reasons and we will see why as the series progress. It was gut-wrenching because of the suddenness and sparse style.

I loved the banter between the soldiers, especially the Bridgeburners, and Erikson excels in showing the spirit of the soldiers as they face a huge and unknown enemy. And did I mention how amazing Quick Ben is? He is fast becoming one of my favourite characters. And I particularly liked the pairing of Pearl and Lostara Yil, initially struggling to balance their contempt for each other with an uncertain flirtation. We are also re-united with Icarium, the ancient Jagh, and his travelling companion Mappo the Trell, when they encounter Karsa Orlong on his travels.

And on top of all this, we find out more about the invading races Tiste Edur (shadow) and Tiste Liosan (light) who are related to the Tiste Andii (dark), a little more about the T’lan Imass and we are introduced to the Forkrul Assail, another of the founding races. All I can say is thank god for Malazan Wiki where I can keep up with all this info.

The Malazan Book of the Fallen isn’t a linear tale, although it follows one big broad event, and it does takes some getting used to. While you are reading about events in one particular geographical place, you are also constantly reminded of what is happening elsewhere which together increases the tension in the tale. But when all the little pieces click together and things start to make sense, it’s an amazingly epiphanic feeling.

The question now is whether I should go back and re-read Gardens of the Moon now or plough straight into the next volume, Midnight Tides. Decisions, decision.

You can read an interview with Steven Erikson here .

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!

Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson

One of my favourite books is the Narnia series by C.S. Lewis. Narnia and Nancy Drew were the staples of my childhood reading. And ever since then I have been fascinated by stories set in other worlds. And that probably also fed my fascination of other physical worlds and led me to get a degree in astrophysics. Funny how one thing leads to another.

At school I read The Neverending Story by Michael Ende, Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, The Wizard of Oz (every book I could find in the series and there were a lot) and Anne McCaffrey’s Dragons of Pern series recommended by one of my friends. I also loved reading mythology and remember being wowed by the story of Wagner’s The Ring of the Nibelung during my music classes when I was nine. The Norse gods, the Roman gods, the Greek gods, the Egyptian gods all enthralled me. And as I’ve said in previous posts, I looooove vampires and werewolves and went through a phase where I only read them, which really worried my sister. I’ll post about them later as I think they deserve a post of their own.

Here are some of the writers and books that I think are incredible:

Science fiction and fantasy
Terry Pratchett (Discworld novels)
Scott Lynch (The Gentleman Bastards series)
Steven Erickson (Malazan Book of the Fallen series)
Steven Donaldson (Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever series, The Gap series)
Jasper Fforde (Thursday Next series)
Neil Gaiman (Sandman graphic novels, American Gods)
Iain M. Banks (The Culture series)
Anne Rice (The Vampire Lestat, Queen of the Damned, The Witching Hour)
Katherine Kerr (Deverry series)
Janny Wurts (The Wars of Light and Shadow series)

I’m sure I’ve missed out loads of my favourite books, but the writers I’ve listed above I’ll buy without even having to think twice. Try them if you haven’t, you’ll be impressed with the quality of writing.

There’s so much written about how sff books aren’t taken seriouly by the literati and major awards panels and I have to agree. There’s so many really well written books, a lot which are better written and more substantial than some of the literary novels out there, and I do feel that sff writers get a bum deal. Just because a story isn’t set in the real world doesn’t mean the story has no substance. Fiction is fiction after all. Realist novels are also figments of the writers’ imagination. So what’s the difference? It’s just something that annoys me whenever I start reading about it in the papers. Look at Ian Banks, he can write both literary and science fiction. And both are brilliant. Here’s a recent article about this in the Guardian.

What do you think?

BBAW_Celebrate_Books

I normally stumble upon books while trawling through Amazon or wandering around in bookshops, but I’m increasingly finding recommendations through the blogs I read. And some of them are pure gems. So thank you!

Here are some of the books I’ve read this year that have stuck in my mind and won’t leave me alone:

Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson which I first heard about on Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist. I can’t believe I hadn’t read his books before although I think I’ve seen them in various bookshops. But this is the first book in a ten book sequence and it’s really brilliant. The epic sweep of the story, the excellent writing, the depth with which Erikson spins his tale of revenge, love and war is staggering.

Singled Out by Virginia Nicholson which I found on A Work in Progress is a non-fiction book about the so called ‘surplus’ women struggling to carve out an independant life after WWI while mourning the loss of their loved ones and kissing their dreams of marriage and children good bye. Extremely readable and you are left with such admiration for these woman who stood up to convention and grabbed their chance of happiness with both hands.

Silent in the Sanctuary by Deanna Raybourn was recommended on Me and My Big Mouth. It’s got mystery, history and romance and a very sexy leading man. I’m saving the third installment in the series for a rainy day. Can’t wait.

In the Woods by Tana French. I can’t remember exactly on which blog I first heard about this book and it’s sequel The Likeness (which I haven’t read yet) because I think it wowed a lot of readers and reviewers with its incredibly well written prose and fully realised characters. An amazing debut.