Recently, I finished reading Steven Erikson’s Memories of Ice, the third book in his Malazan Book of the Fallen series. It was, I think, the most moving fantasy novel I’ve read in years.
The previous two books, Gardens of the Moon and Deadhouse Gates, do a lot of setup. Sure, they have their own narratives, but they’re hidden behind layers of meta-narrative and unexplained information. Erikson quite simply throws you into the deep end, smack dab in the middle of one war, which is smack dab in the middle of an even larger war, which is happening at the tail end or beginning of any number of other conflicts.
Conflicts that are on a scale in the hundreds of thousands of years in their duration.
The narrative groundwork laid by these first two novels–which center on the duration of a single event, with several ancillary characters related to said plot going through their own stories–can feel slightly scattered and unfocused. In some respects, the first two books do sort of trail off, with a whimpering ending, and a few new plot points to set up the next installment.
Granted, that’s not to say they’re bad–on the contrary. Erkison is a confident writer, trusting us to keep up, using a surprisingly small amount of exposition (something easy to do in fantasy), and giving us CHARACTER. In the first three books, we are introduced to well-rounded characters navigating a cruel and uncaring world, getting by in whatever way they can.
They are books filled with the themes of love, loss, suffering, triumphs big and small, the futility of warfare, honor, treachery, mercy, and, most of all, compassion. These books dive into the human spirit, unafraid of what might reside there, and he writes it with abandon.
And there are several laugh out loud funny moments, particularly involving Hetan in MOI.
Overall, I just think these are wonderful books. Memories of Ice had me crying several times at the end–a testament to how thoroughly Erikson had made me care about these characters. Go check them out.