book-reviews

The Malazan Book of the Fallen

by Steven Erikson

Rating: ★★

After being several times given a recommendation about this series, I decided to give it a go. Reading around, several reviews seemed to mention that the first book, Gardens of the Moon was somehow a struggle to get through, but that the series would pay off if I persevered. I went through the first book perhaps over-prepared because of this. There was a large cast, true, and there were no scenes of overt exposition, but were I not trying to find the thing that all the reviews mentioned, I doubt I would have even noticed. The excessive warnings probably tell you more about what the fanbase had been reading beforehand than the series itself.

The only problem I really had with the first book is one which has carried over into the rest: I'm finding it hard to care about the characters. The Bridgeburners don't particularly appeal to me, and nor do any of the supporting cast thus far. I'm following the plot with some interest, but I don't really feel bought-in. I didn't mind if the march succeeded, if the historian died, or whether the assassin was taken down. For I while I wondered if the problem was with me, but as I read on I came to realise that the issue is that Erikson doesn't care about characters except as tools for making cool scenes happen.

Admittedly, he has a knack for grand scenes. Each of the books I've read so far moves toward some momentous events, in a complex web constructed of plots, counter-plots and happenstance, and the payoff is great -- rich imagery around the clash of some great and terrible powers. You can't help but acknowledge that some of that stuff is just plain cool.

With the third book, the series looked to have finally revealed where it is really going, giving some structure to the previously aimless exploits. I was fairly eager to see how this develops, given the comparatively rapid and eventful campaign which ended the novel. However, my interest was not being paid off. In the fourth book we get diverted to yet another set of theological and geopolitical developments which are at best tangential to what has been established, the previous cast being basically abandoned.

By Midnight Tides I've lost all patience with this series. We are thrust wildly over the world (without even the decency of a map that properly contextualises where everything is) to a political struggle taking place elsewhere, with the only connecting thread being a deity. Look, I get that worldbuilding is fun, but you have to make me care about your world. I don't give a shit about anything that's being destroyed because I'm only introduced to it immediately beforehand. There are no people who are anything other than amusing, and most of them aren't even that.

I'm not really sure I want to push on with this.