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Steven Erikson

Canadian fantasy author Steven Erikson is now being published here in the US, and we highly recommend his Tales of the Malazan Book of the Fallen series.

While the Malazan Book of the Fallen series is projected to run 10 books (the first several of which had already been written and published in the UK long before making their American debut), each novel is designed as a stand alone read. You will want to read them in order, however, as they do follow a somewhat chronological path that will ultimately tie everything together.

The Malazan Empire, in its greed, seeks ever to add to its holdings and is often sorely tasked with both consolidating and expanding its rule when faced with rebel armies, religious zealots, and immortal Ascendants opposed to its ambition. But Malazan is not an evil empire, particularly, no more so than any, and like the Romans, often brings order, peace and uniform administrative rule under law to its conquered lands.

Excellent writing, a well-drawn and fascinating cast of characters, and an intricate and unusual magical cosmology mark Erikson's novels as something out of the ordinary.

Erikson's books are most definitely for mature audiences. It's not just that his books are bloody and relate many war-time atrocities, or that his writing is on a level that may be over the head of younger readers, but rather that his themes require a body of life experience sufficient to fully empathize with the characters and understand the depth of human suffering and the subtleties of such suffering that Erikson seeks to portray.

Read my more in-depth book reviews and synopses at Tales of the Malazan.

Buy Malazan Empire Books by Steven Erickson
Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson
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Tales of the Malazan Book of the Fallen

Gardens of the Moon, Volume 1

"The Malazan Empire simmers with discontent, bled dry by interminable warfare, bitter infighting and bloody confrontations with the formidable Anomander Rake and his Tiste Andii, ancient and implacable sorcerers. Even the imperial legions, long inured to the bloodshed, yearn for some respite. Yet Empress Laseen's rule remains absolute, enforced by her dread Claw assassins.

For Sergeant Whiskeyjack and his squad of Bridgeburners, and for Tattersail, surviving cadre mage of the Second Legion, the aftermath of the siege of Pale should have been a time to mourn the many dead. But Darujhistan, last of the Free Cities of Genabackis, yet holds out. It is to this ancient citadel that Laseen turns her predatory gaze.

However, it would appear that the Empire is not alone in this great game. Sinister, shadowbound forces are gathering as the gods themselves prepare to play their hand..." book description.

We are introduced in this book to many of the main characters and to a bewildering array of secondary characters, geographical locations, gods, ascendants, races, and all the intricacies of an ancient, sorcery-laden world. If you stick it out, all begins to come a bit clearer by Book 3.

Frankly, while I admired Erikson's writing, I did not particularly connect with this book or any of the characters (as I knew them then). The atrocities and very mature subject matter made other "hard-bitten" fantasy series seem almost tame. After reading Gardens of the Moon, I waited a year before picking up Deadhouse Gates. Very glad I finally did.
Deadhouse Gates by Steven Erikson
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Deadhouse Gates
(Tales of the Malazan Book of the Fallen, Book 2)

"In the vast dominion of Seven Cities, in the Holy Desert Raraku, the seer Sha’ik and her followers prepare for the long-prophesied uprising named the Whirlwind. Unprecedented in its size and savagery, this maelstrom of fanaticism and bloodlust will embroil the Malazan Empire in one of the bloodiest conflicts it has ever known, shaping destinies and giving birth to legends.

Set in a brilliantly realized world ravaged by dark, uncontrollable magic, this thrilling novel of war, intrigue and betrayal confirms Steven Erikson as a storyteller of breathtaking skill, imagination and originality, a new master of epic fantasy." book description.

Deadhouse Gates follows some of the characters from the first book as they pursue a secret mission for the Empire on another continent. There are three main story lines here, each with its own group of characters, that tie in together (more or less) by the end.

The best story tells the tale of a military retreat spanning more than a thousand miles - Coltaine seeks to escort thousands of Malazan refugees to safety while constantly beseiged by larger forces, in rebellion against the Empire.

This is a book about honor, courage and the sheer will of the human spirit to survive. A fantastic book that stayed with me a very, very long time. Again, I suggest pausing between reads to fully digest each book before moving on to the next.
Memories of Ice by Steven Erikson
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Memories of Ice
(Tales of the Malazan Book of the Fallen, Book 3)

"The ravaged continent of Genabackis has given birth to a terrifying new empire: the Pannion Domin. A boiling tale of corrupted blood, it seethes across the land, devouring all who fail to heed the Word of its elusive prophet. In its path stands an uneasy alliance: Dujek Onearm’s Host and Whiskeyjack’s veteran Bridgeburners – each now outlawed by the Empress – alongside the enemies of old, including the grim forces of warlord Caladan Brood, Anomander Rake, Son of Darkness, and his Tiste Andii, and the Rhivi people of the Plains.

Outnumbered by the Seer’s army of zealots and struggling to put aside their differences, it is vital they get word to potential allies, including an unknown mercenary brotherhood, the Grey Swords, who have been contracted to defend the city of Capustan against these fanatic hordes.

But more ancient clans too are gathering. In answer to some primal summons, the massed ranks of the undead T’Ian Imass have risen. For it would appear something altogether darker and even more malign threatens the very substance of this world. The Warrens are poisoned, and rumours abound of the Crippled God, now unchained and intent on a terrible revenge." book description.

Memories of Ice returns us to the Bridgeburners and Whiskeyjack in their war on Genabackis. Much is made clearer about the history of the world, the various races and the pantheon.

While not quite as edgy as Deadhouse Gates, this book presents an opportunity to finally feel comfortable with the characters and form stronger emotional attachments to them. This book is also a "bridge" that ties together prior events and presages the world-wide battles to come.

Again, we have themes of moral victory under seige and indomitable will, linked with the finest of human compassion and empathy. As is needed with books this heavy, there is enough humor to break the tension, and Erikson's humor is well done.
House of Chains by Steven Erikson
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House of Chains
(Tales of the Malazan Book of the Fallen, Book 4)

“In Northern Genabackis, before the events recounted in Gardens of the Moon, a raiding party of savage tribal warriors descend from the mountains into the flat lands.

For one among them, Karsa Orlong, it marks the beginning of what will prove an extraordinary destiny. Some years later, it is the aftermath of the Chain of Dogs; Coltaine is dead.

And now the untried new Adjunct, Tavore, must urgently raise an army able to withstand the forces of the Sha’ik’s Whirlwind that are massing in Raraku, the few remaining veterans from Coltaine’s march her only hope.” book description.

The book description here is misleading. While the book may give background information before digging into the story, this is not a prequel, but rather picks up with the characters followed in Book 2, Deadhouse Gates, and continues with the story lines begun there.

We begin to come to know Tavore Paran and the new Malazan 14th Army, particularly their marines and sappers, as well as other new characters we will follow into later books. As is the case with all of Erikson's novels, many we loved and/or hated fall in battles of one sort or the other. That's why the series is named as it is. Another excellent read.
Midnight Tides by Steven Erikson
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Midnight Tides
(Tales of the Malazan Book of the Fallen, Book 5)

"After decades of warfare, the five tribes of the Tiste Edur have finally united under the implacable rule of the Warlock King of the Hiroth. But peace has been exacted at a terrible price - a pact made with a hidden power whose motives are at best suspect, at worst deadly.

To the south, the expansionist kingdom of Lether has devoured all of its less-civilised neighbours with rapacious, cold-blooded hunger. All, that is, save one - the Tiste Edur. For Lether is approaching a long-prophesied renaissance - from kingdom and lost colony of the First Empire to Empire reborn. And so its people have fixed their avid gazes northward, to the rich and abundant lands and coasts of the Tiste Edur. And beneath the suffocating weight of gold, or by slaughter at the edge of a sword, it seems the Tiste Edur must fall. Or so Destiny has decreed..." book description.

I found this one weaker than the others. At first, I thought it was because it takes place on a different continent with unfamiliar characters (aside from Trull Sengar and a god or two). But I think it's really because Erikson uses this story as an opportunity to beat us over the head a bit with the general nastiness of unbridled capitalism and economic imperialism. Views should always be implicit in the stories and the characters - not good writing when they are explicitly narrated.

Nonetheless, this prequel (taking place in 1159 Burns Sleep) is an important thread in the overall story and part of Erikson's plan to slowly, but surely, make us all well acquainted with the characters and events that will play pivotal roles in the coming showdown of the gods.
The Bonehunters by Steven Erikson
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The Bonehunters
(Tales of the Malazan Book of the Fallen, Book 6)

"There’s nothing like sweeping up tag-ends to change the world. The Seven Cities Rebellion has been crushed. Sha’ik slain by Tavore, the Malazan forces pacifying city after city on the troubled subcontinent, and one last rebel army, under the reluctant, embittered command of Leoman of the Flails, is pursued to the ancient and infamous city of Y’Ghatan by Tavore and the Fourteenth Army. Dogged by self-doubt and ill omens, the 14th must lay siege to the city, and Adjunct Tavore must seek to outwit Leoman of the Flails, the deadliest foe she has ever faced.

Into this fraught scenario come both new and familiar characters. Among the latter, Heboric Ghost Hands, journeying to redress an old wrong. Apsalar, haunted by possession and now the principal agent of Cotillion, Patron of Assassins, marking a trail with blood and dripping daggers. Cutter, the killer who had once been a thief in Darujhistan, fleeing a shattered heart. Karsa Orlong, a warrior hunting his destiny. And two old friends, traveling companions, Mappo and Icarium, wandering once more the ravaged wastelands, Icarium seeking the ancient truths of his own life, Mappo seeking to keep those truths from him, at all costs.

All, searching for such fates as they might fashion with their own hands, guided by their own will. If only the gods would leave them alone. Alas, the gods are disinclined to be kind, now that knives have been unsheathed, and there shall be war, war in the heavens." from the trade paper description.

The Bonehunters follows the characters and events of House of Chains, as well as the current activites of everyone presently in Seven Cities, and brings us up-to-date with what has occured in Lether under Rhulad's rule. New nations and important characters are also introduced, as we begin to see the emergence of yet another new House in the Deck under the wolf god and goddess. Truly, this book marks the turning point in the series as the focus shifts from the narrower machinations of Laseen and the Malazan Empire to the world-wide conflict with the Crippled God.

A great read, Erikson is back to form here after the very slight slip in Midnight Tides. Fans (or me at least) are feverishly reviewing their own personal Decks of Dragons as new clues are revealed, but who is ascendant and who is not, and where they fit in the Deck (or in the Holds) is still mostly a mystery.
Reaper's Gale by Steven Erikson
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Reaper's Gale
(Tales of the Malazan Book of the Fallen, Book 7)

Reaper's Gale is the slowest moving of the Tales of the Malazan so far. Erikson saves all his big guns for the finale (which includes a priceless line from Fiddler that had me roaring out loud in laughter. You'll know it when you read it.). There are five main story lines, rather than the usual three, with several substories, of course. This is a long and, at times, rather tedious tale. There is no doubt that this book is meant as a bridge, concluding some stories and consolidating others, revealing all sorts of choice tidbits that will be important at the end. But the ending is great, with moments of both laughter and tears. I wouldn't have missed it.

Briefly, the Bonehunters arrive in Letheras, intending to free the inhabitants from Tiste Edur rule. They are in for some major surprises. Lether itself is in the grip of a nasty little councillor and his Nazi cohorts, controlling everything Rhulad sees and hears. Tehol, Bugg and Co. have their work their cut out for them there. Seren Pedac and her band of merry travelers are in seach of Scanbandari's soul. The fourth storyline is so dull and, seemingly to me, pointless (except for the outrageously unnecessary death of a favorite character), it's not worth mentioning. Finally, Karsa and Icarium are also in Lether, preparing to duel Rhulad.

Toll the Hounds by Steven Erikson
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Toll the Hounds
(Tales of the Malazan Book of the Fallen, Book 8 )

Toll the Hounds takes us back to the continent of Genebackis, some time after the events detailed in Reaper's Gale. A new religion is experiencing birth pangs outside the city of Black Coral, now ruled by the Tiste Andii under Anomander Rake. People have taken to worshipping Itkovian, now called the Redeemer, once leader of the Grey Swords (see Memories of Ice). He is opposed by a new Crippled God wannabe called the Dying God. Several well-known, not so well known, and even new characters are slowly travelling across Genebackis, making their way towards the beautiful city of blue lights, Darujhistan. Some sort of cosmic event is going to be happening there, and it is drawing powerful and important humans and gods like flies to honey.

This book moves the storyline forward in earth-shattering ways, towards the final showdown between some folk (hard to know who for sure still) and the Crippled God. Unfortunately, this book is boring. It's as though the stories all lead up to a finale that, while powerful and affecting, has not really been hinted at. So, all the adventures leading up to the grand moment seem rather unimportant. This is especially true of Nimander's storyline - very little of it hints at his aim. Everything is explicated in the last hundred pages. A bit of a cheat, really. And, to top it off, Kruppe narrates a goodly portion of the book. I love Kruppe, but he descends into the trite when given free reign.

Dust of Dreams by Steven Erikson
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Dust of Dreams
(Tales of the Malazan Book of the Fallen, Book 9)

Book description: On the Letherii continent the exiled Malazan army commanded by Adjunct Tavore begins its march into the eastern Wastelands, to fight for an unknown cause against an enemy it has never seen. The fate awaiting the Bonehunters is one no soldier can prepare for, and one no mortal soul can withstand - the foe is uncertainty and the only weapon worth wielding is stubborn courage. In war everyone loses, and this brutal truth can be found in the eyes of every soldier in every world. Destinies are never simple. Truths are neither clear nor sharp. "The Tales of the Malazan Book of the Fallen" are drawing to a close in a distant place, beneath indifferent skies, as the last great army of the Malazan Empire seeks a final battle in the name of redemption. Final questions remain to be answered: can one's deeds be heroic when no one is there to see it? Can that which is unwitnessed forever change the world? The answers await the Bonehunters, beyond the Wastelands.

This was a great opener for a two-part finale, following the Bonehunters on the march, Yan Tovis and her Shake on their way to defend the Shore, the K'Chain Che'malle in quest of a new Mortal Sword and Shield Anvil to defend against their ancient enemies and to preserve their race, plus more Tehol Beddict, now king of Lether, etc. etc. My favorite parts were the numerous slices of life depictions of the Bonehunters as they march to an unknown fate.
The Crippled God by Steven Erikson
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The Crippled God
(Tales of the Malazan Book of the Fallen, Book 10)

Yan Tovis and the Watch, along with the rest of the Shake and their Letherii allies defend the realm of Darkness from the Tisti Liosan at the Lightwall of the Shore. More intense battle scenes and exploits of bravery and self-sacrifice. We keep hoping Nimander and the other Tisti Andii arrive in time to help.

Meanwhile, the rest of the world converges on Kolanse, where the Forkrul Assail have the Crippled God's heart. We finally find out what Tavore Paran means to do to heal her world and save humanity. She is joined in her efforts by many, many old friends. The series comes full circle in meaningful ways, with many of the events harking back to the very beginning of the series and bringing clarity and completion to much that has gone before.

This is my favorite fantasy series and I found The Crippled God to be a satisfying and truthy ending to the Tales of the Malazan Book of the Fallen.
Blood Follows
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Bauchelain and Korbal Broach: Three Short Novels of the Malazan Empire, Volume One (Malazan Empire Novels)
by Steven Erikson

The first three tales of Bauchelain and Korbal Broach, the famed necromancers from the Malazan Book of the Fallen, collected in one volume. Publisher descriptions:

Blood Follows - In the port city of Lamentable Moll, a diabolical killer stalks the streets and panic grips the citizens like a fever. As Emancipor Reese's legendary ill luck would have it, his previous employer is the unknown killer's latest victim. But two strangers have come to town and they have posted in Fishmonger's Round a note, reeking of death-warded magic, requesting the services of a manservant...

The Healthy Dead - The city of Quaint's zeal for goodness can be catastophic, and no one knows this better than Bauchelain and Korbal Broach, two stalwart champions of all things bad.The homicidal necromancers - and their substance-addled manservant, Emancipor Reese - find themeselves ensnared in a scheme to bring goodness into utter ruination. Sometimes you must bring down civilization...in the name of civilization.

The Lees of Laughter's End - After their blissful sojourn in Lamentable Moll, the sorcerors Bauchelain and Korbal Broach - along with their manservant, Emancipor Reese -set out on the open seas aboard the sturdy ship Suncurl. Alas, there's more baggage in the hold than meets the beady eyes of the crew, and unseemly terrors awaken. For Bauchelain, Korbal Broach and Emancipor Reese, it is just one more night on the high seas, on a journey without end.

We first meet these nefarious gentlemen in Memories of Ice - for those with a taste for macabre humor, Erikson has provided a novella of their exploits. Not attractive figures, yet not without humor.