In my previous entry, I mentioned that I’m currently reading the eighth book in the “Malazan Book of the Fallen” series, “Toll the Hounds”. Even if you like fantasy novels, you may have looked at this series and felt daunted by the density of these books. They’re not just long, they are packed with epic awesome, and that can cause some folks, including me, a bit of indigestion. Here are some of the things that I like about them that might persuade you to give them a substantial slot in your reading list. If you’re of the old school and like paper, I hope your bookshelf is sturdy, since the whole series may easily weigh 100 pounds.
I love to read about a world that is created with extreme attention to detail and obvious effort. Maybe it’s my love of writing and role-playing games, but I think anyone can appreciate the sheer work and creativity Erikson has tapped for his final result. He has created a world populated by a multitude of unique races, cultures and creatures I’ve never seen duplicated with such detail. There are civilizations built atop those of extinct cultures, and at some point the reader learns something about the present and the past. Foods, clothing, weapons, livestock, languages, wildlife, currencies, academics… you can’t ask for a more rich environment to experience. Erikson has mastered the construction of a fantasy world. If this doesn’t get you salivating, then this might not be the rabbit hole for you to descend. If it does, leap with abandon!
Erikson’s cast of characters must number in the thousands, and I still have more books to read where new folks will likely be introduced. The diversity among them is truly impressive, and none of them seems irrelevant. From the rulers of empires to the lamentable denizens of the urban slums, Erikson uses them all to earn sympathy, generate awe or humanize the face of an army other characters curse with their dying breaths. Between chapters, Erikson includes bits of poetry and scholarly writing from yet other characters. A cast this large can certainly be confusing, and there’s not much help from the index. To me, it has been worth the time to seek out online resources for help in keeping them straight.
Magic is often the ingredient that makes or breaks a fantasy novel for me. Sometimes it’s difficult for me to explain this to people when I say that magic needs to seem real. How can something magical be real? It needs consistency, rules of a sort. Some authors use very minimal magic, such as the world of “Game of Thrones”. Others restrict the use of magic to a tiny group of the most powerful characters and creatures. In the Malazan books, Erikson shows magic used across his multitude of characters, somehow making it still seem awe-inspiring and unique from one situation to the next.
Intrigue abounds in these books. People, from lowly pickpockets to military commanders and scheming politicians, are all working some angle. Many are quick to change sides when it’s advantageous. The gods war with each other, many using intricate plots carried out by their mortal worshipers. Mortals even attempt to gain the upper hand and ascend to godhood themselves. It can be a handful to keep track of all the twists and turns. If I’m honest, I probably haven’t caught half of it. It seems like the more confused I am, the better the payoff when I find out what’s going on. I think it’s all part of Erikson’s plan. I will probably have to, whew, re-read the whole series to do it justice. He took so much care to write them, the least I can do is commit to fully understanding them.
These books are work of the most enjoyable kind. I wish I had more time to dedicate to them. That said, I think any fan of fantasy should treat themselves to this series.