Tag Archives: The Malazan Book of the Fallen

The Lees of Laughter’s End

Well, this is incredibly annoying.

As you may or may not be aware, I am deep in the guts of a reread / relisten of the Malazan books, wherein I have audiobooks for the ones I already read once (which is four-fifths of the original ten book series) and physical books for the ones I never read before or didn’t yet get to. I am doing this by publication date, partly because researching a series chronology is potentially spoiler-laden, partly because the main series already has no truck with a strictly chronological presentation of its story, and partly because that is what the authors of the world recommend. Fine then.

Except, I just read The Lees of Laughter’s End, the second story in the three story collection of the tales of Bauchelain and Korbal Broach (a probably evil wizard/theoretical necromancer and a completely amoral (in the literal sense) eunuch/practical necromancer), only to realize when I was pulling up Amazon to find a cover picture for the standalone book that it is the third story in publication order, even though it starts off merely days or weeks after the first one, Blood Follows, ended. Which is an understandable way to order a story collection, fine, but I clearly was not paying close enough attention to what was going on when I picked up the book and just started reading on the page after I’d left off. (Notably, this would have been even more likely / harder to deal with if I’d had it in electronic form.)

So much for doing a thing right.

Anyway. I think this may be the first Malazan book I haven’t really cared for. Here are a scattershot list of reasons why.

  1. The biggest one is ironically a strength of the series. It starts off res in the media of a really bad night on a ship bound for… you know, I have no idea where they were going? I suppose I know where they ended up, but that’s in dim and distant future from now. But my point is, things start happening fast and furious, and where a book or in some cases a series can benefit from in media res storytelling because you have time to ponder and cogitate and assemble pieces of the puzzle for yourself, a novella does not afford you that luxury. By the time things started being spelled out for me, the story was nearly over and I’d spent 80% of my readthrough confused. Whereas a couple of hours out of a book, or a lot of hours out of a massive series, that’s not nearly so bad. More time to care what’s going on now that it makes sense.
  2. I also usually like a good comedy of errors, and I think I know why I didn’t like this one. The reason a comedy of errors works, structurally, is because all these horrible, blackly funny things are happening to people you care about. All of the new characters in this one, okay, I did like them a little, but I was too busy being confused (see above) to really latch onto any of them; and as for the three main characters, I like one, appreciate one, and am completely creeped out by one. This is not the recipe for a successful iteration of the genre.
  3. Right in the middle of the story, there is an inadvertent crime against one of the bit characters by one of the main characters. It was not preventable, and nobody was at fault[1]. It was exactly the kind of fluke occurrence that fits right into a comedy of errors. Only, I’m really zero percent comfortable with this particular type of crime, played for laughs probably ever, but triply so when written by a male author and where the victim is female. The more I think about it, the less sure I am that I will continue to read these offshoots. But it’s long enough between now and the previous one that I will be reading next, because sigh, that I’ll probably make another attempt. Still, though.
  4. It’s really the “for laughs” that is crushing to me, because without that tone… What worked about the first book is that it was all from the perspective of the necromancers’ manservant, Emancipoor Reese, who has a very Edd Tollett[2] outlook on life. Everything was either happening to him, or through his lens, and that kind of comedy I can get behind. This was more, look how zany and also legitimately bad but in a zany way things can get, and Reese was involved in maybe 20 percent of the events, and mostly his bits were what was good, but I just cannot with my point 3. I was wrong that the first point was the biggest problem after all.

Yeah. This is a book that is nowhere near good enough to justify how problematic it also is. It has not soured me on the original main series, but on its own merits I strongly disrecommend it, and it may well have soured me on this side series.

[1] Because magic, basically.
[2] A member of the Night Watch in GRRM’s A Song of Ice and Fire Series. If you get it, you get it.

Midnight Tides revisited

I feel like I have been listening to Midnight Tides for over a year, which is almost certainly not true? (I could check, but meh.) And it’s “only” 35 hours long, while the next one is 42 hours. That, frankly, is terrifying. But on the bright side, the narration is much much better than in the last book. Oh how I hope that trend continues, though early reviews I’ve read indicate not.

Anyway, I have a lot of thoughts about the book on my relisten… all of which were already covered when I first read the book, it turns out. Also, they were probably articulated much more eloquently than I’m capable of lately, which is just sad-making. Like, I think I used to be good at this? Oh well.

So, this foreshortened review will focus primarily on the Tehol and Bugg show. I’m fine with Korbal Broach and Bauchelain, and in fact that is the next book I’m reading in the series, according to publication order. (Actually reading, since I never did before.) But if Erikson were to go back in time and chuck the whole thing and just write a series of farces[1] about Tehol Beddict and his manservant, I would read those all day long.

(But this grand, sweeping tragedy is also worthwhile, I guess.)

[1] Or, ooo. Doubly so if they were all espionage farces. Where are these books??

House of Chains revisited

It is hard to believe that when I read House of Chains, I was so far ahead of the curve that Tor had only published the first book in the series so far, and I was still buying Orbit copies, usually from amazon.co.uk. And yet now, thirteen years later, I still haven’t finished the series yet. On the bright side, that’s what this is all about, innit?

Since I have read this one, yep, audiobook. And they changed performers! I’m extremely torn here. Unlike what the reviewers on Audible’s House of Chains page will tell you, Michael Page is not terrible. He’s not quite as good as Ralph Lister from a range perspective, but at least he pauses for half a second between point of view character breaks in the text, instead of reading onward like an automaton regardless of the tonal / plot differences that should be apparent right then, not 30 seconds later when I finally figure out what just happened. On the downside, Lister pronounced everything exactly the way I always have, whereas Page is wonky on some of the names (which could be a difference of opinion) and on some of the terms (which 100% could not be; Soletaken is not pronounced sole-uh-tawk-en, and I will die on that hill). It’s an unfortunate trade-off, even though I think I like the pacing correction more than I dislike the other bits.

Spoilers from here on, I reckon, since this is after all a reread. Continue reading

Blood Follows

There is one problem with publication order, and that problem is when small run publications are later gathered into collections. Well, to be fair, it’s not a problem with reading; you just read the part of the book that contains the story you were reading in publication order, and then put it down until later. But it is a problem for me specifically, since I include links to the book I read from, and yet the book I read Blood Follows in is not strictly the original book itself, since it’s a collection. Like, it’s fine now, but what about when I have the same cover and the same link for the next story I read from this collection? (It turns out I used the cover of the original small batch publication, so that may help a little.)

(It’s possible[1] I’m thinking about this too much.)

So, in Memories of Ice, one of the subplots I did not mention was that of the necromancers Bauchelain and Korbal Broach. This is because despite touching on the main drive of the story at several points, they really have nothing to do with anything that’s going on. Despite that, they are fascinating characters. Well, the one who murders people and uses their parts to build constructs in pursuit of some nebulous goal that may not rightly exist[2] is not especially fascinating. But the one who accompanies and protects the crazy one because it gives him a chance to further his own necromantic research, and who presents as a polished and urbane yet evil supergenius in the vein of Dr. Doom, he is fascinating. And their manservant, Emancipor Reese, is usually played for comic relief, but in a way that makes you care about him. He’s stuck in a situation, and making the best of it. (Well, trying and mostly failing to, whence comes the comedy.)

Anyway, though, Blood Follows. This is a short book that gives an answer for why these characters were in the main sequence book: because Erikson is as fascinated by them as I am. We join our characters several years earlier and half a world away. Emancipor Reese has just lost another in a long string of employers to unfortunate death (this time at the hands of a murderer stalking the streets of his city for the past fortnight), and he needs to find a new job fast, lest his wife and probably non-biological children think even less of him than they already do. Also, there’s a reasonably cool police detective type trying to solve the murders.

By and large, this is a story that you will care about if you care about the characters you already knew, and otherwise, you will not. In part this is because Erikson is a far worse mystery novelist than he is a fantasy and war novelist. In part, it’s because even to the extent that the mystery worked, too many characters emerge as major players in the final act, and it is seen through the eyes of someone who has just as little idea of what’s going on as the reader does. This can work in the first book of an epic series, if your reader trusts you and in the meantime the story is written masterfully. It works a lot less well when the story is barely a hundred pages long and the things the reader didn’t really understand revolved around characters he (by which I mean I) doesn’t really expect to encounter ever again.

This isn’t to say I didn’t like it. It is to say that if I wasn’t already invested in the world and the main characters, I probably would not have, though.

[1] probable
[2] That is, I don’t really think he has an endgame in mind (nor that, even if he does, I’ll ever learn it). It’s more like he’s playing with legos to see what he can make.

Memories of Ice revisited

My original review of Memories of Ice is really terrible, and it should not be read. I liked the story, and that part is still the correct opinion, but man is the review a rambling mess. I apologize.

But, I have now listened to that book again, as part of my ongoing reread (and eventually new read) of the entire series, and: seriously, this is an incredibly good series. With an incredibly good reader in Ralph Lister, so naturally he did these three books and then stopped. I do not want to have to get used to someone else!

Anyway, what can I say about the book that is not a spoiler but that also redeems my original review? Man, I dunno. I was definitely interested in the way this and Deadhouse Gates paired with each other, and wonder if anyone has provided a way to read them simultaneously. I mean, interleaved with each other such that the events on different continents are occurring in more or less chronological order. This would be a terrible way to first read them, as they each are so self-contained, but the occasional ways they interact are a lot more meaningful to me during this reread, while I have a decent idea of what’s going on overall.

As last time, the things I cared about were very different upon the revisit. Every scene with Itkovian or with the T’lan Imass was riveting, and every scene with Lady Envy was drenched in snickers. Even the ones that should have been maybe serious? But mostly, I found that this is very nearly a self-contained trilogy, and definitely a good one. Among my favorites, though that’s easy to say when so few exist.

I’m getting towards the part of the story where I remember less about how things are. So that will be interesting?

Deadhouse Gates

It has been a stupidly long time since I finished listening to Gardens of the Moon. Literally over a year! Like, how is that even possible? (Answer: obviously, I don’t spend enough time listening. Particularly, what should be an obvious commute activity is mostly taken up by a radio show that I continue to enjoy greatly.) But: I did finally finish my reread (relisten? both are technically incorrect) of Deadhouse Gates. I definitely reacted differently from last time, and I’m not sure why. I mean, I have guesses, but there are a lot of variables, so.

The primary thing is, the Chain of Dogs. I have always remembered that tale, and I know it made a huge impression on me even then, due to documentary proof. This time, it took pretty much last place. I was most interested in Fiddler and Kalam’s quest to have an, um, discussion with Surly. As for Felisin’s path… I would be better able to discuss my new reactions if I remembered what my old ones were, but I definitely found her sympathetic despite her best efforts. But yeah, Duiker and the refugees: either knowing the outcome in advance deflated the tension entirely, or else something about the performance undercut it. I’d bank on the first one, though.

As usual, most or all of the secondary and incidental characters were fully realized (as honestly is the world, despite my sometime inability to fully understand what I’m seeing). Including one Iskaral Pust, upon who I partially based my most recent RPG character. I very much look forward to continuing, and I suppose I can, now that I’m not behind on reviews again. Maybe I’ll do a better job on the speed, this time?

I’m pretty sure my friend Kenn had read at least a handful of these prior to his consecutive reading of the full series, and I’d be interested in whether his thoughts parallel any of mine, here, assuming he remembered the individual volume well enough. Alas, he has no way of knowing that this review exists.

Gardens of the Moon

51Fl5aumCbL._SL300_First thing: I’ve read Gardens of the Moon before, but I’ve never reviewed it. Some number of years ago, I tried to read it again in conjunction with the person who maintains this site for me, but he failed me, so I only got through like the first third. But now, in the wake of having gotten an Audible subscription in order to listen to the Nightvale book for “free”, I decided that maybe the thing to do is use that book a month to listen to series that I would otherwise have to reread to get caught up on.

This has as its upside that I can read new books in the meantime, and as its downside that I have been slowly, by piecemeal, listening to the same book since February. As you can imagine, that’s way, way too long to hold onto a book[1] if you aren’t previously familiar with it.

That said: these are an exemplary series. I know I like later books a good deal more than this one, but everything that was troublesome about it has been rendered fine and dandy by my general knowledge of the world, and what is left behind is a beautifully meandering prologue into what promises to be an even more beautiful story of the end of the world. As opposed to Martin, who while also writing a story about the end of the world, is writing the grim, filthy version of it.

Last, the narration: it took me a while to warm up to Ralph Lister, but in the end, it turns out he’s an incredibly talented artist. I cannot come up with as many different voices as he has done, much less keep them all straight in my head over the course of a doorstop fantasy novel. That said, the direction or perhaps assembly of the book leaves a lot to be desired. You know how scenes change within a chapter, and there’s a line break in the book to delineate it? There damn well needs to be a pause in the audio to match that, or things can get very confusing, even when I have read the story before. Man, I hope they figure that out by the next book, or, ever.

[1] I feel bad for my father now, to whom I’ve been reading It for better than two years. Um. Oops. I’ve been busy?

Toll the Hounds

One of the very few problems with the Malazan Book of the Fallen is that, like The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, the title of the series is kind of a massive spoiler. But since it’s ten books long, and with approximately that many ancillary books published or on the way, I suppose it’s pleasant to at least have an inkling of what you’re getting into. And yet, at no point (well, okay, at very few points) does the series wallow in its bleakness. The death and tragedy serve as contrast for the heights that humankind (well, personkind, as there are lots of non-humans around, and most of them reasonably immortal to boot) can aspire to. Toll the Hounds alone covers camaraderie, duty, leadership, self-sacrifice, and even that old semi-Vulcan saw about the needs of the one outweighing the needs of the many.

Okay, and the other big problem I have is the same problem I have with every sizable series; it’s impossible to review after a certain point. Nevermind that he’s not really in this book nor that I have yet to draw in my mind a clear diagram of who is on what side of the war against him, why he among all the unlikeable gods needs to be fought, or even what he actually wants: you don’t even know who the Crippled God is! And, okay, reading over that, it doesn’t sound like I do either, and maybe that’s a valid place to start, when you consider that I’m thinking about this review in terms of an absent character. But I have nowhere to go from there either that doesn’t lead me down the same path of worries about how much is too much to repeat again and again and also where would the spoilers lie?

But, okay, I think the theme of this book is dissolution. It happens literally  during the climax, more than a few times, but that’s not really what I’m talking about; it only serves to reinforce my point. Dissolution of conspiracies, of the bonds of friendship, the decay of skills once proudly held, of family ties, and from several different directions, intent to dissolve the whole of civilization itself. (Obviously that cannot happen in the eighth book of a ten book series[1], though I am impressed by my belief that it could really be the direction the series is going.) And if that sounds bleak, just like the series as a whole does from the title, I will say again that there’s a lot of good happening, and that it is served all the better by the high contrast against the bleakness of a theme celebrating entropy’s inevitable victory.

I’ll say it again, and probably one or two more times after this, but you really ought to read Gardens of the Moon. It’s a good start to a thusfar amazing journey.

[1] Sure, it can happen in the first book of a series of any duration, if the post-apocalyptic is what the goal was all along. But not four-fifths of the way through anything, is my point. Later or earlier, okay.

Reaper’s Gale

If you’re wondering where I’ve been all this time, it’s a fair question. I mean, I’ve been wondering too, and this is speaking as someone who knows! But to answer you, no, I don’t have an incredible backlog of stuff that I need to get out in a rush, before I forget every little remaining detail of all those books. This is because, quite simply, I don’t have any backlog at all. I’ve been behind this one Malazan book the entire time. And after all this time, the better part of a month, I don’t have a lot I can really say. Reaper’s Gale is the seventh book of a ten book series, and it’s not just that I’d be worried about spoilers (although I would), it’s that it’s really no longer possible to describe the plot in meaningful terms to people who aren’t fellow readers, and I know there are not very many yet.

What I can talk about is the gamut of emotions each new book brings.[1] First of all, there’s the vividness of it all. I can cackle at one scene, cringe at the next, and feel terrible at the (almost never overblown) pathos of the random vagaries of life in a third. I can watch a genocidal war prosecuted and not really hate any of the characters involved in it even while feeling the horror, not just at the fact of it but at the separate fact that the characters know what they’re doing. It’s not just that almost every character is likeable in his or her own way, it’s that the entire series is most heavily concerned with redemption, and it’s available to everyone who really wants it. Happiness is often fleeting and never guaranteed, victory is as changeable as the sands of the desert, and justice, well, it turns out that justice is out there, but since I would link it with redemption, that just makes sense.

At the end of each of these books, I am torn between wanting to dive ahead and knowing that I have to move on to something else, and frankly wanting that pretty badly too. But sometime in the next few years after I’ve finished the series and let it settle, I’m going to have to go back and read the whole thing in a row, even though it will take me half a year or better. Not because I don’t remember what happened, but because I want to see how things look in development when I know how they will end. If you had asked me, I think I would not have predicted being this attached to a doorstop fantasy series that defines itself by who has died.

[1] Or at least what this one brings; after all, it’s been a while since I read any of the others.

The Bonehunters

It’s true, I’ve been reading the same book for the past month. Which, wow, this is not traditionally my way. I guess I’ve been actually that busy, on top of, of course, how very long the book is. And make no mistake, The Bonehunters is yet another extremely long book in Steven Erikson’s extremely long fantasy series, The Malazan Book of the Fallen. Despite the apparent lessons of the ’90s, this is not a warning. For one thing, he has consistently released a new book every year, and now has only two left to complete. For another, this is pretty much better than any of the doorstop series you may be thinking of right now. It feels like it might be objectively better than any of them, but I’m not quite prepared to go that far.

The Bonehunters wraps up a lot of the plotlines from the first two books of the series in order to clear the way for the rapidly approaching confrontation between the Crippled God and those who oppose him. Of course, the sides aren’t as clear as that sounds; there are a lot of people whose side is still unclear or undecided, and many more whose side is unclear to them as characters although not to me as a reader. And sure, that’s part of what makes the series continue to be dense at best and actively confusing in its ever rarer worst moments; but at the same time, it’s one of the series’ greatest strengths. There are almost no unlikeable characters! Writers talk about the fact that there are no people who consider themselves to be “the bad guy”, but these are among the only books I’ve read that really manage that self-image over such a large cast, and also among the only books that manage to make almost every character compelling, whether noble or base, ascendant or tragic.

I’ve said before that I want to reread the series because it has been so dense and so long, which together conspire to make me think I’m missing things. And I probably am, but not enough to take away from my exceptional regard for each book as I read it. All that said, though, I found a new reason to want to reread the series: it’s pretty much my favorite story-arc being published today, and maybe period. (I have pretty high regard for a couple of episodic series too, but that really is a different genre entirely, in terms of commitment.)

The Gardens of the Moon. Pick it up. Trust me on this one, even if it seems implausible as you read it. You’ll thank me later.