Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Dust, Night, and Gale - Reviews and Thoughts on Three Malazan Novels

It has been Malazan this and Malazan that the past handful of days. Yesterday, Owen posted his insightful review of the penultimate volume in the über-saga, Dust of Dreams

Thus the end begins oddly in places new - such as the fortress of an insane K’chain Che’malle matron, following a line of malnourished and tortured children out of a dark place infected by the Crippled God - and old, the court of blanket-wearing sovereign Tehol the Only. At the court of the king where an Elder God does all the work, we are surprisingly offered a few clear answers. Of the connection between warrens and decks, gods and mortals, between the things we have suspected and the little we know to this point. For its honesty; where whence there was only subterfuge and shadows, it is all the more refreshing. Don’t get used to it.

Dust of Dreams is not like the other books. It starts fast, the disparate fragments of places not yet seen and characters not yet met in the prologue give way to one of the most tense and exciting scenes in the series. Old favourites and new wards face a reading of the Deck of Dragons like no other and isn’t everybody just happy to be a part of it. Plans are laid, the board is set and the shocks have only just begun.

For my part(s), my review of Night of Knives, the first novel entry of co-creator Ian Cameron Esslemont. I thought the book was enjoyable and as a novel-length prologue to the entire series, quite effective.

One of the things that stuck with me is how little page time the three most powerful characters get in the novel. Granted, Laseen doesn’t get much play in the series books written by Erikson, either. Here, she is known as Surly and is the third most powerful person in the Malazan Empire, just under the Emperor and Dancer. Esslemont makes it pretty clear that Dancer and Kellenvad have things much loftier than ruling an empire on their mind. All told, the events of the novel take place in a 24-hour period and Esslement really maintains a frantic tense, pacing throughout the novel.

Lastly, I finished Reaper’s Gale over the weekend and thought it another solid entry in Erikson/Esslemont’s enormous world. Like most of the Malazan novels Erikson has authored, this one was both exhausting and rewarding. I won’t go into a full review here, but I’ll say that I thought the insanity and chaos inherit in the character of Rhulad Sengar paralleld some of the chaos of the series itself.

I also liked just about all the scenes involving Tehol Beddict and his ‘manservant’ Bugg, especially knowing Bugg’s true nature. Icarium was once again an imposing character, but didn’t do quite as much here. Karsa Orlong continues to be one of my favorite characters in the series, if for nothing else because of how his sheer force of will comes across so well on the page. Despite being a violent, sadistic giant, I was still rooting for Karsa. It was nice to see Quick Ben again, and his true power came across subtly, I thought. His speech patterns and interactions with Hedge were a lot fun. My only negative for both Ben and Karsa is that I would have liked to see more of both in this volume. In Ben’s case, his power and

Throughout, Erikson’s (and maybe by proxy Laseen’s) full plan comes to light through Ben and his travels in the warrens as well as the Malazan fleet that arrives in the Letherii Empire.

The pacing was a bit uneven, but that may not be surprising in a book with a page count well over 800 (in US edition and at 900 in the UK edition). At around the 3/4 mark of the book (page 700 or so in the edition I was reading) ,the pacing seemed to come to a halt and I felt as if I was forcing myself to read the book. Fortunately, about 50 or so pages later the pacing picked up again, which led to a satisfying conclusion.

In short, with each book, Steven Erikson / Ian Cameron Esslemont’s Malazan series climbs up the chart of my favorite fantasy series. The books are often chaotic, but that adds to the good ol’ sense-of-wonder and Holy Shit aspect of the series.

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