January 30, 2011
Reviews: "Midnight Tides" and "House of Chains" By Steven Erikson
House of Chains is the fourth volume in Steven Erikson's monumental ten-volume series entitled, "The Malazan Book of the Fallen." This book follows the first three in continuing to flesh out the world and characters that Erikson has so brilliantly created.
The first quarter, or so, of the novel tells the back-story of a character that we briefly met in the second book in the series (Deadhouse Gates)--that of the 'Toblakai' or as we come to find out, the great Teblor warrior, Karsa Orlong. Again, it bears repeating that Erikson's professional training as an archaeologist and anthropologist has infused his characters and the fictional landscapes with a scent of authenticity that one rarely, if ever, encounters in fiction.
Following the fascinating recounting Karsa's story in the northern wilds of the continent of Genibackis, Erikson then focuses much of the remaining book on the Malazan 14th Army's efforts to defeat 'Sha'ik's Whirlwind' in the 'Holy Raraku Desert' on the continent of 'Seven Cities. This is some epic military fiction, told from the perspectives of the Army Commander herself down to the squad-level grunts themselves.
The last two-hundred pages, as is typical for Erikson, proceed at break-neck speed, the action and pacing just relentless. I am learning that Erikson is a big believer in 'convergence.' When s**t starts happening, more and bigger s**t starts happening; and the next thing you know there are just major events leaping off of every page. I truly defy any reader to set one these books down with anything under two-hundred pages remaining, it simply ain't possible.
Finally, one must always keep the 'First Eriksonian Law' firmly at the forefront as one reads--"Pay very close attention to every word read and event described." The 'Second Eriksonian Law' is equally applicable--"Every word read and event described has meaning that may not be initially understood." Those conversations, or actions of characters, or puzzling events that seem a little odd or inexplicable always seem to reappear as a 'light-bulb' moment later on when all then becomes clear (at least for that moment). The bottom-line is that Steven Erikson really is an enormously clever writer, and his authorial use of the craft of foreshadowing is some of the best I've run across. There just ain't anybody writing fiction like this guy! House of Chains is a very worthy addition to this magnificent series.
Midnight Tides is set on the continent of Lether and tells the story of a major war that breaks out between the Tiste Edur (The Children of Shadows) and the Letherii peoples. This is the first novel to address these peoples and this continent, and none of the characters from the previous novels, with the exception of just a few of the Elder Gods, are even present. It doesn't matter a bit though. Within 50 pages, the reader is completely enthralled with the new lands and the characters. I would be completely remiss in not mentioning just a few of my new favorite characters; including Seren Pedac, Trull Senger, Brys Beddict, Shurq Elalle, Kettle, Iron Bars, and my absolutely most favorite characters in the series to date, Tehol Beddict and his 'man-servant' Bugg. Oh Lordy, you will just salivate with joy at each and every appearance (and there are plenty, trust me) of Tehol and Bugg. Seriously, some of the funniest stuff written!
The story of the 'world war' between the Tiste Edur peoples and the Letherii Empire is loaded with pathos and drama. Tears will be shed. Also, there are some very powerful explicit and implicit moral messages within this story that have application for all of us in our lives today, regardless of what country we live in. This story does tend make the reader stop and reconsider what patriotism means, and how it should be applied.
While at first blush it might be easy to question Mr. Erikson about the relevancy of this tale within the larger arc of "The Malazan Book of the Fallen", as we are on a completely new landmass with completely new characters--none of which has the slightest thing to do with the Malazan Empire. Having said this though, the careful reader will continually ferret out clues and new information associated with issues and events that have been encountered in previous novels in the series. In other words, I am suggesting that this is not only an incredibly well-written novel and engaging story in its own right, but is a very important portion of the larger 'Malazan' canvas that Erikson is carefully painting.
And did I tell you how much I love the characters of 'Tehol Beddict' and 'Bugg'? Just thinking about these two will bring a smile to my face for the rest of my life!