If you are starting to get panicked that A Song of Ice and Fire (that’s Game of Thrones to the folks who only watch the series) is coming to an end, cheer up. The next big thing is here, and in fact has been here since 1999. I’ve talking about Steven Erikson’s The Malazan Book of the Fallen.
First, let me burnish my George R.R. Martin fanboy creds. I have been a fan since the early 1970’s when he was publishing short stories in Analog, Fantastic, Amazing and other SF magazines. I read A Song for Lya, Sandkings, Windhaven, and my personal favorite The Lonely Songs of Laren Dorr on their first publications. I read GoT in 1996, when it was first published as well as the other books in the series.
So, when I am touting Erikson it is with respect to Martin, and I’m not making comparisons, or for that matter rating one over the over. My point is that A Song of Ice and Fire is a complex epic fantasy with a deep fictionalized historic backdrop, and numerous supporting characters woven into a detailed tapestry. This is unlike, say the Conan or the Fafrd and Grey Mouser stories, which were one off adventures.
Like Martin, Erikson has created a richly textured world. Gardens of the Moon is the first in the 10 book series. The world was created with fellow gamer, Ian Esslemont as a backdrop for their role playing hobby. What makes their world different is that Erikson is an Anthropologist and Archaeologist, and Esslemont is an Archaeologist. Therefore, these two know a lot about history and societies. They brought their strengths to the fore in the creation of the world of Malazan.
Interestingly, Erikson did 10 books in this world and Esslemont wrote six books as well. Though they didn’t collaborate on the individual novels, they did on the overall timeline. The two series intermix the chronologies of the other.
The prologue in the Gardens of the Moon opens several years before the main events of the novel. We are introduced to the Malazan Empire, newly created and very aggressive. Paran is a young noble dreaming of being a soldier and meets one of the Emperor’s great generals, Whiskeyjack, as well the Empire’s Claw, Surly. Years later these characters’ fortunes have changed. When the main book opens, Leseen has killed the Emperor and seized the throne and, as part of the purge, has reduced Whiskeyjack to a sergeant, whom she can’t openly kill, yet. Paran has achieved his goal, and found that it is not what he hoped for.
The focus of the story involves Leseen’s desire to crush the City of Darujhistan, the last free city on the continent of Genbackis. Erikson has created a host of characters with competing and conflicting alliances and at times you need a whiteboard to sort them out. There are at least three sides, and more hinted at, in this conflict, not counting the gods who are playing their game. There is rebellion, betrayal, venality as well as loyalty, friendship and bravery.
The action shifts between the various sides and points of view, until the reader is less concerned about the big picture than the fate of the individual characters, as soon as you can figure out who to root for. Considering the background of the author this makes sense. While wars are the big events which drive history, it is made up of moments of actions of individuals. Here, there are many such moments.
Mind you, this is no light Sunday afternoon reading. Like the A Song of Ice and Fire, this is an investment of time and energy. However, if you like your fantasy rich, detailed and complex, this series will get you through your withdraw when George R.R. Martin draws down his curtain.