31 December, 2012

Why You Should Read The Malazan Book of the Fallen, or A Love Note to Steven Erikson

If you've even attempted to read Gardens of the Moon, the first book in the 10 book epic that is the Malazan Book of the Fallen, you'll see very quickly that you're not given much as a reader. It's confusing, it's complicated, it's full of mysteries and myriad of characters and magics that you can easily become overwhelmed. Not to mention, Gardens of the Moon isn't nearly as well-written as the rest of the series.

Not the most ringing endorsement so far, but we're getting there.

The Malazan Book of the Fallen series is easily the most epic series I've ever read. The history is mysterious (and murderous) and vast, the races are plentiful and old, and the magic is as powerful as it gets.

How many times do you pick up a book that sounds epic, but you start to read and it really isn't? This happens to me all the time. Because of a drawback of the medium, there can only really be a focus on so many characters. I'm not saying it's a bad thing, but it takes away from the epic-ness. The consequences of a few characters may have far-reaching effects and the history and world may even be vast, but there's still no denying that the scope is limited. It can't really be anything else.

Steven Erikson does something that has yet to be seen in epic fantasy. He has created the standard for what is truly epic. I'll not deny that his characters suffer somewhat from this, many seeming to be essentially the same, but he has truly created a world that is so vast and detailed you won't care.

This is also part of the genius. The characters don't even know what's going on, who's killing whom or why. They rarely even know who's actually in charge. And Erikson puts you right there with them. In addition, they're the ones narrating the story, which means you really have no idea who to trust. This is yet another aspect of his genius because as humans, we tend to want things to go our way, to see things our way, even to tell stories that go our way. Many characters are humble enough to see their shortcomings, but the story is told from very human people... well, and gods.

And like George R.R. Martin, Erikson has no problem killing off main characters. It IS the book of the fallen after all.

Another reason to read this series is what I call the Superman phenomenon. Erikson creates characters who have it all when it comes to magic or military prowess or swordsmanship or you name it. They are all-powerful and when they clash it will blow your mind.

At the same time, he creates tragedy filled with pathos that at one point had me devastated for weeks. This is not a bad thing, not only is it good for the soul, it's powerful writing that evokes emotions in you so strong you feel like you've lost a friend when all you did was finish a book. This makes me wonder how he can possibly be accused of having thin characters when he made me feel like that about them.

Finally, and fittingly, Erikson has written simply the best endings I've ever read. Any bit of confusion, and believe me there's quite a bit in every book of the series, is rewarded ten-fold with an ending that you will never forget.

For most books, you may get a hundred pages as you climax after 500 pages worth of build-up. Erikson gives you at least 200 and in some books even more than this. The Crippled God , the final book in the Malazan Book of the Fallen, starts a part of the climax with 400 pages to go in the trade paperback.

Simply put, read this series. When you're 400 pages in and you still have no clue what's going on, it's okay, I've been there too. It will be worth it, keep pushing on. How many authors really trust you, the reader, to put things together on your own? Have you felt how rewarding that is, have you even been given the chance? Now's your chance.

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On that note, there is a Malazan Book of the Fallen read going on at Goodreads here. I know it's late notice, but the official read starts tomorrow and I heartily recommend you join with us. It's for new and older readers as well and there are threads for each chapter and then threads for the rereaders to go off on implications for later in the series.

If you've ever wondered about starting this series, doing so with a group to help clarify things might actually help a whole lot. I'm really excited to give this a go and see what others think of a series that is arguably my all-time favorite.

We'll be reading four chapters a week of Gardens of the Moon, starting tomorrow, January 1. So, if you still need to secure a copy, you won't be too far behind (although Malazan chapters do tend to run long). I'm not moderating or anything, but I thought it would be a great opportunity for anyone who wanted to know about it. 



Ps. For an excellent piece about this series as a whole, check out Neth Space's article here.

8 comments:

ediFanoB said...

Great and of he year post Bryce!
One of my dreams is to read all Malazan books within one year.

There are the books by Steven Erikson and by Ian C. Esslemont.

When it comes to reading order of the books, I trust Adam Whitehead, the guy behind The Wertzone.
I recommend to read his post from 25th of December 2012: Updated MALAZAN reading order and map.

I have not decided yet to join the Group on GOODREADS. It is a question of time and I have been surprised how many comments have been written before the official start on 1st of January 2013.

Josh (Fixed on Fantasy) said...

I have actually planned for a while to start reading this series this year - and I've already bought four of the books in anticipation. Previously it's just been the daunting commitment to such a long series.

I'll definitely check out the group read, sounds like a great idea seeing as I was going to read them anyway. Thanks!

Carl V. said...

Thanks for the thorough, non-spoiler overview. This is a series I've often heard good things about but hadn't done much digging into what it was about or why it is the must-read series that fans of Erikson proclaim it to be. You've done a great job of selling it and one of these days I'm going to have to dive into the first book and check it out.

Bryce L. said...

@edi - Thanks a ton. I should really add those links to the above. Will do when some more internet time shows itself. :)

@Josh - Good to hear and I saw that you joined up. I'm really looking forward to what people think about it on their first time through.

@Carl - I hope you enjoy it and thanks for your kind words. It really is a masterpiece, but good luck on the first book. It's not an easy journey, but it's so worth it.

Ben said...

Have you read the Esselmont books? I enjoyed the first two, but Stonewielder was so uneven and the pacing was interminable that I haven't had the energy to dive into Orb, Scepter, Throne. Does it get better?

ediFanoB said...

Hi Bryce,
I know what you mean when it comes to time :-)

Anyway I'm sure that interested readers also check the comment section and will find the links.

By the way I started to read The Gardens of the Moon ....

Anonymous said...

"It's confusing, it's complicated, it's full of mysteries and myriad of characters and magics that you can easily become overwhelmed."

In all fairness though, his prose is a very fluent read (and write), and you obviously don't have to figure things out, which are neither given nor immediately relevant, or which are clearly given but perhaps just slightly unexpected...

darkul said...

Ok, to add a new aspect after reading "The Crippled God" eleven months ago, I have to copy the last poem of the books, as did Neth on his blog:

And now the page before us blurs.
An age is done. The book must close.
We are abandoned to history.
Raise high one more time the tattered standard
Of the Fallen.
See through the drifting smoke
To the dark stains upon the fabric.
This is the blood of our lives, this is the Payment of our deeds,
all soon to be Forgotten.

We were never what people could be.
We were only what we were.

Remember us


My afterthoughts after those eleven months of Malazan-free-time are that I really remember those great characters as being part of a fascinating world, maybe even a part of my own world, part of history, part of a strange truth, of a universe parallel to ours but somehow feeling real. I miss some of the greatest characters ever created. I still enjoy that they experienced a most epic time ... and I was witness with them all. I was with them. I feel that some story of my own is now buried deep under ashes. Also on the verge of being forgotten. And still I hope that some day those ghosts will rise again. Maybe I have to read the books again to revive them.

The more I think of it, the smaller the story of the Fallen is. Sounds heretical, but isn't, because of the scope of time, a stroy that covered a part of 300000 years and more.
What happened in tMBotF is just a fraction of all the possible happenings in all those years. A small story in this world, easy to be forgotten. One of thousands of epic storylines in this world Erikson created so masterfully.

Small, and for the readers? The greatest and most epic journey ever done in a book.
What Tolkien is for Sir Christopher Lee, reading LotR once a year, is tMBotF for me.

I don't think you need to be a fanboy to see what Mr. Erikson achieved.
And I doubt that there are many who read all 10 books and more who don't like what they read.