Book Review: Memories of Ice by Steven Erikson

Memories of Ice

Genre: Fantasy/Grimdark
Series: Malazan Book of the Fallen
Author info: http://www.steven-erikson.com/

This is the third book of Malazan series.
Here is my spoiler-free review of the earlier books in the series: Gardens of The Moon (Book #1)
Deadhouse Gates (Book #2)

Deadhouse Gates was set in a completely different continent with a whole new set of characters (and some old familiar ones), and half of the book was following the non-military folk. Memories of Ice is full on military and a damn great one at that. And -this doesn’t count as a spoiler- my favorite antihero Anomander Rake is back in business, as well as all the familiar characters from gardens of the Moon. Memories of Ice reads like a sequel to GOTM in fact.

This volume is pretty damn epic but be warned -Grimdarkiness levels up and a lot of depressing scenes take place. If Deadhouse Gates broke your heart, Memories of Ice will rip it into a thousand shreds and then some. Well, the series isn’t called Malazan Book of the Fallen for nothing, you know.

It is not all grimdark and despair, however. Kruppe is more hilarious than ever, Quick Ben will crack you up and Picker and Blend will give you belly laughs here and there. Those two are quite brilliant and should be counted among the best female soldier characters. Erikson is one of the rare fantasy authors who writes excellent female characters without sexualizing them or putting them in romantic relationships. One of my biggest pet peeves is female characters being thrown in romance situations or overly sexualized. Erikson’s female characters remind me of ReasonableFantasy subreddit where folks share artwork portraying female fantasy characters in a non-sexualizing way. No chainmail bikinis whatsoever. It’s not like Erikson’s female characters are all chaste asexuals, but their character traits and skills come first and foremost, and some of them are quite powerful where they dwarf even some of the badass male characters.

Mhybe is one of the most intriguing and engaging characters, with a tragic storyline you feel like a stab wound and the fascinating supernatural adventure she goes through.

The battle between the gods evokes the mythologies of the ancient civilizations and I must say I’ve never read anything quite like this in any fantasy series. Wow just wow. Especially the new god that shows up, all the twists and turns that follow, and how it neatly ties the story to that one cool ass element from Gardens of the Moon. I knew that was going to be important and come back later, but it did in such a glorious way. Just brilliant!

The lore gets better and better, and you get to learn all the mysteries of the T’lan Imass. Boy I just love these guys. They are my favorite race after the Wickans. They are so odd and strange and fascinating in every way. Worldbuilding continues to fascinate, with new cool elements revealed. Remember the Deck of Dragons? It will uncover even more surprises and going to drop your jaw some more. Someone should make Deck of Dragons tarot cards and take my money.

Some of the new characters start out as uninteresting, if not outright boring but end up being super epic dialled up to 11. I am not exaggerating at all. I don’t like writing long ass reviews so I gotta conclude here -it shall suffice to say that Memories of Ice is an absolute page turner and superlative epic instalment of a legendary series. I don’t understand why Malazan is so underrated truth be told. I have a hard time to believe it doesn’t outsell A Song of Ice and Fire and not made into TV series. It would make such an amazing series, far more epic than the Game of Thrones imho.

If you aren’t reading Malazan, you are missing a damn lot.

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Book Review: Deadhouse Gates by Steven Erikson

Deadhouse Gates

This is the second book of Malazan series.
Here is my spoiler-free review of the first book, Gardens of The Moon.

Genre: Fantasy/Grimdark
Series: Malazan Book of the Fallen
Author info: http://www.steven-erikson.com/

I’ve been dying to read this for months but other stuff and life problems come along and I wasn’t able to read much last year. I finally got to read this masterpiece and quite happy for it. The story continues, on a different continent and featuring a different cast of characters. Erikson has a way of pulling you right into the story even though it is an alien environment and none of the familiar characters show up at first. But worry you not, dear readers, they do show up alright! Good old Bridgeburners Fiddler, Hedge, Kalam, and that’s more than good. Our old friends Crokus and Apsalar show up too. Kalam’s ninja assassin badassery is the icing on the cake.

The story starts with Paran’s little sister Felisin, ex-Fener priest Heboric and the brute called Baudin. Even though they were completely new and I’ve been missing the Bridgeburners and Anomander Rake, I found their chapters thrilling and addictive. Felisin is the kind of character you don’t know whether to love or hate.

The new characters are pretty fascinating and there is a great bromance involving two of those, called Mappo and Icarium. I am a huge fan of bromances with humor, and this happened to be the just the perfect thing. They have hilarious moments as well as deeply emotional ones, they are both badass in their own right, the whole thing made me yearn for a Malazan TV show in fact.

Iskalar Pust is an intriguing, hilarious old wizard guy and his chapters are both grotesque and funny as hell. Combined with Mappo and Icarium bromance, those chapters are extremely entertaining. Some of the scenes made me laugh like a madman.
The settings and richness of the cultures is mind-blowing awesome as ever, and Erikson’s arhchaeologist background really shows.

Malazan Imperial historian Duiker is another excellent, complex, work of art kind of character. Wickan commander Coltaine is downright one of the best fighter character I’ve read. Wickans are, along with Seguleh, one of my absolute favorite barbarian-warrior races in fantasy literature.

There are hell of a lot more characters than that, but it’s better if you read and discover for yourselves. Despite the large cast of characters, they are all more or less memorable and most of them have some magnificent scenes that will leave your jaw hanging open. For the curious, here is the excellent spoiler-free crash course on Deadhouse Gates characters by Laura M. Hughes: https://www.tor.com/2017/06/01/a-beginners-guide-to-malazan-characters-deadhouse-gates/

Deadhouse Gates makes you laugh, cry, curse, rage, hopeful, depressed, and everything inbetween, but I must drop a word of warning here: It gets more grimdark as you progress and it is going to rip your heart into pieces even if you are a seasoned Robin Hobb reader. That’s all I can say without spoiling anything. Gardens of the Moon wasn’t really in grimdark territory, but Deadhouse Gates definitely is. If you love grimdark stories and Robin Hobb, you will most likely be a fan.

I gotta say I loved Deadhouse Gates to death despite the lack of my biggest crush Anomander Rake. Even if you read Gardens of the Moon and didn’t like it, I still highly recommend to give it a chance cause Deadhouse Gates is different and its format is more like a fantasy book compared to Gardens of the Moon.

Deadhouse Gates has everything I love about fantasy and then some.

Book Review: Gardens of the Moon

Gardens of the Moon

My original plan was to get all my summer reading and ARC’s out of the way before getting into Malazan so I can read all of them back to back. However, the constant stream of people posting in various fantasy groups on Facebook about how Gardens of the Moon is so confusing and asking whether they should keep on reading stirred up my curiosity to the point of dropping the WoT #4 and everything else and grabbing this, and I am so very glad I did.

Gardens of the Moon has the reputation for being one of the biggest Marmite books of fantasy genre. I didn’t care much for Marmite, but I totally fell in love with Gardens of the Moon and looking forward to reading the rest of the series. Even Erikson laments about it in the foreword, you can see the pangs of regret between the pages. But I think GOTM is just fine the way it is.

People who are used to reading books with a clear beginning-middle-end and linear story arc where the world and magic and how everything works is explained in detail are going to find GOTM confusing as hell. People who have enjoyed ASOIAF books -preferably more than once- won’t have much trouble. I was warned about paying attention to detail so I watched everything like a hawk from the very beginning. Tiniest details and pieces of dialogues from the prologue comes back to you with a bang later on, but if you miss it in the beginning, you miss out and end up getting lost. This is true for everything else, not only the beginning parts. Just pay attention! Even the seemingly insignificant and unimportant minor characters are there for a reason and serve a purpose.

I have read a number of medieval chronicles and some early modern fiction, so I was no stranger to the format of the book. Erikson doesn’t explain things with infodumps, he doesn’t hold your hand, so you figure things out by paying attention. Some people say Gardens of the Moon requires a lot of effort, but I beg to disagree. It requires no effort other than paying attention. It’s just a book, not some rocket science manual as some folk make it out to be, only it is structured in a rather unusual way. Unusual for the fantasy genre, that is.

Gardens of the Moon is more like the medieval chronicles and early modern fiction. Sort of like Gargantua and Pantagruel by Rabeleis, which I highly recommend to fantasy lovers of high brow tastes (there is some irony to be found here) and I talk about in detail in this post here. Gardens of the Moon structure is quite similar to that. It is also somewhat similar to medieval Byzantine chronicles.

Those chronicles start with the reign of the current emperor, maybe his predecessor, but they throw you right into the thick of things without holding your hand. They don’t explain the state institutions and how things work and how the framework of the whole empire is structured, you are supposed to know it. Those books were written as a record of the history, and after 1000 years many things got lost. Historians were not able to make sense of some of the jokes, alliterations and references. Some they deciphered by cross-referencing other books and documents of the period, but what’s lost is lost for good.

I have read the chronicles depicting the city I was born and raised and spent the first few years of my adult life in, but it read more like an alien city in some imaginary fantasy land most of the time. Only because some of the edifices present in the period still stand today it is possible to even recognize the place. There are footnotes in almost every page, explaining names, terms, references, military terminology, government positions, measurements (they used different reckoning of hours, calendar, distance units, weight units, nothing like the stuff we use today.) For example, they talk about the time of the day like “third hour of the night” which would be roughly 9 pm of a couple hours earlier or later depending on the season. They measure all distances with stades, which is about 1/10 of a mile. You read the footnote where it’s used the first time and do the conversion in your head through the rest of the book. You convert all those things in your head to the modern units you are familiar with, and if you forget, you have to go back to the footnotes. Now this is something that requires effort to read. Gardens of the Moon certainly does not fall into that category. There is no math, no calculations. You only need to pay attention to things and remember them, that is all.

If you are having trouble, there is an excellent read-along guide recapping every chapter of every book. You can check with it after you finish a chapter or few. Here is the guide: Malazan Reread of the Fallen.

But like I mentioned, if you are an ASOIAF fan, you should have no trouble comprehending Gardens of the Moon. There is a big cast of characters, but even if you aren’t an ASOIAF veteran you eventually get used to it if you stick around. Chapters are short and POV changes within the same chapter sometimes, so it takes a while to get attached to any of the characters. But once you start following them, you will find your favorites. Some of the best ones don’t show up or start revealing their badassery until later.

The sheer number of main characters may be overwhelming for people who aren’t used to that kind of setup, so here is an excellent guide made by my lovely friend Laura M. Hughes to help out: Laura’s Guide to Malazan Characters (Gardens of the Moon)

Some of those characters start out as ordinary folk, but they turn out to be hell of a lot more than what they seem. It’s great fun to watch it unfold, I’m telling you!

Now, if you are a big fan of Riftwar books and Elder Scrolls Games, there is a good chance you will totally love Gardens of the Moon (and the rest of Malazan I suppose.) There are thieves, assassins, rooftop wars, heist scenes, alchemists, cool artifacts, and an epic tavern/inn where all the ruffians meet up and hang out. I’m a huge fan of the thieves’ guild and Dark Brotherhood in Elder Scrolls games, as well as the thieves of Krondor in Riftwar books, so all those scenes were more than reason enough for me to love this book to death before even reaching half of it. Oh, and magic. There is awesome, bombastic, kickass magic. The awesomeness of it is slowly revealed, layer by layer.

More than anything, Gardens of the Moon is a political intrigue and military action book. There is a number of political factions and complex political plots. It was hell of a lot of fun to read as a big fan of political intrigue.

Now let’s get to the characters: There are total cunts you will love to hate, as well as some charismatic guys, silly boys, strong women, loveable ruffians, mysterious elder races, funny dudes, sinister politicians and the legendary Bridgeburners. Brigeburners is the elite military squad everyone respects and their enemies are doing everything to decimate them. Those guys are so damn cool and they have epic tricks up their sleeves and some hilarious bickering moments as the icing of the cake. Gardens of the Moon and the Bridgeburners got me so hooked, I ordered a Bridgeburners t-shirt before I even finished reading the book. That should tell you something.

And then there is the glorious Anomander Rake. I didn’t think I would ever fall head over heels for a character and go all fangirl after R. Scott Bakker’s magnificent Cleric character in The Judging Eye, but Anomander Rake totally caught me off guard. He is ambiguous, mysterious, melancholy, supremely charismatic, has a killer magic sword called Dragnipur unlike any magic sword I have ever read in fantasy books, and badassery level off the charts. I’m smitten! Can’t wait to read more.

And then there is Kruppe, who is the funny uncle with the silly ramblings, but he has some neat tricks up his sleeve and some more. That is all I can say to stick with the spoiler free premise.

There is this Deck of Dragons, which is like a magic level +10 version of Tarot cards. If you are into Tarot, you will definitely enjoy it. Another thing I absolutely loved about Gardens of the Moon is the lack of sappy romance and ridiculous love triangles. There is one case of a dude having a crush on a girl, but it’s hilarious rather than sappy. There is no annoying pining and all that jazz.

It might be a bit confusing to some readers who are not used to this kind of structure, but the payoff is massive. Trust me on that! Not only that but there are excellent companion guides to help out if you are having any trouble, which I linked above. If you love fantasy, this book has every element of fantasy without being cliche and derivative. Steven Erikson is a professional anthropologist and it shows in the realism of the cultures and different lands. It’s incredibly rich in detail. If you are a history buff, you will most probably become a fan.
Then again, it’s known as the Marmite book and you might not like it at all. There is only one way to find out!

Gardens of the Moon: First Impressions

Gardens of the Moon

I keep seeing comments from first time readers about Gardens of the Moon all over the social media, so I couldn’t resist it anymore and abandoned my original plans to get into Malazan after finishing the Wheel of Time and The Prince of Nothing re-read. Fuck it, the curiosity is killing me, I can’t take the torture anymore.

I dropped everything, now reading WoT book #4 in parallel with Gardens of the Moon.

Here are my first impressions: I just finished the prologue and found it quite captivating. I was expecting some confusing mess, since everyone and their brother talks about how difficult and confusing it is. I usually forget the prologues within 5 minutes, can’t keep track of the characters and don’t really understand wtf is going on. A Game of Thrones prologue was the exception. Gardens of the Moon prologue however, hooked me from page 1, characters are memorable and both the imagery and the dialogues are neat. I have a good grasp of what’s going on as far as the prologue goes, it’s pretty normal, ie.not some crazy tangle of hyperactive insanity.

I guess I have to read further to see what’s all the noise about?