Malazan: I require inspiration

I’m not even into the second chapter of book 1, Gardens of the Moon, and already I’m scratching my head, wondering why I should continue. With the Ice & Fire series among most of the books I’ve recently read, I’m used to the fluid and elegant writing style of George RR Martin, not to mention his interesting characters.

I know it’s early in book 1, but why do I have almost no interest in continuing Gardens of the Moon? Erikson’s writing style seems simple and unexciting, and I can’t say the story is drawing me in. Heck, all I can recall is some non-nonsensical prolog on history and simple conversation between random characters.

I’ve heard great things about this series, but so far the writing alone is making me wince. I suppose I’ll continue on, but man, I’d be long gone had it not been for great praise on here.


Some internet problem ate my last post, so I’ll keep this one short. I think the books are a worthy read, but the first is really tough because they drop you into the middle of it and ou have no sense of what’s going on.

Unfortunately, that’s only partially alleviated as the series goes on. You get a lot more background, but you still get the sense that there are layers and layers of hidden history that can suddenly jump to the forefront and change the story. I think the books (especially the poems and prophecies) will support a fairly deep reading, but I’m too lazy to piece together all but the most obvious parts.

The best parts of the series, to me, are the humorous interludes and some really kick-ass imagery and scenes in each book. They also tend to get better after the first one.

The first one starts out very rough, but it definitely gets much better midway through and then doesn’t stop through the next 6.

Erikson is not popular because the first book is the least accessible. Even bad reviews agree that the second book improves every aspect of the first, but at the end it’s still not an easy read. Not easy to get into, not easy to enjoy and appreciate.

With Martin is the opposite. Wonderful first book, then the second slightly worse, the third tops the first and then the fourth that is considered the worst of the series.

Erikson delivers something that you can’t find somewhere else, and I actually never read someone complaining about the way he writes (after the first book, that was written 15 years before the rest).

Not everyone gets into Erikson, those who do become huge fan, those who don’t are still probably the majority.

LOTS of people who started reading that book never arrived to the end. Many of them appreciated it after reading the second and then going back for a re-read. It’s a bit of a job.

Thanks folks, that’s what I wanted to hear. With the exception of Wheel of Time and Harry Potter, I’ve kept with every series I started. I do read for fun, not minding a bit of work, but prefer not to go through another Silmarillion type book again.

Just as background, Erikson wrote Gardens of the Moon about ten years before the rest of the series and went on to write a couple of non-fantasy novels under his real name in the meantime.

By the way, I had collected this huge page of compiled positive comments about Erikson, no spoilers for the most part. Maybe be useful to figure out what’s the point about Erikson and if you see him delivering it (and enjoying it).

Enjoy :)

Ian Cameron Esslemont: I (and Steve) both believe that Malaz is vastly different from the general popular fantasy series of the genre. We deliberately set out to achieve this goal of convention challenge, contravention, and reversal. It is deliberately anti-heroic in a genre heretofore reserved for heroic indulgences all this because we have faith in the intelligence and discrimination of genre readers to recognize when they are not being talked (or written) down to. In many ways the entire series is an extended critical study of the genre itself how it works, why it works, how far can it be pushed to evolve? But all that is sub-textual and academic; foremost the books must and do remain a damn hair-raising read. If that falls down then it will all fall down (and deservedly so)

Erikson: The Malazan Book of the Fallen is a compiled history, warts and all. It's not above brazen manipulation of events and facts, because, well, that's the nature of the beast. By this, do I mean it as a way of squirming out of things? No, you'd all never let me get off that easily. I just love the feel of an uncertain history, as all histories are. If none of you had any questions, then I'd be worried.

Erikson: The second question: oh the sparks were all negative things, frustrations at the genre's confounding predictability. Wanting to write something in fantasy I myself would like to read (and not just me, but Cam as well -- the one reader who stays in my head as I write). Wanting to kick the tropes around, wanting to get rid of that endless quasi-medieval class-conscious blueblood crap. Wanting a fantasy world as multicultural as this one (the preponderance of white-skinned heroes and blonde princesses ... man, what century is this?). Wanting a fantasy world with a history beyond the Dark Lord of three hundred years ago who's found a rock that will help him rise again and do, oh, bad things; a world with geology and geography, etc.

Sure, there's some good stuff out there, but it wasn't enough. Maybe still isn't.

Erikson: I probably play around with subtext a lot more than your run of the mill fantasy novel (at least those I've slogged through out of boredom or some similar reason); but the better ones out there do that as well. I was told, long ago, that the stranger the world you're writing about, the clearer and cleaner the language must be -- 'windexed language' as it used to be called (and maybe still is). But I found a way around that, by making certain characters players of language -- in dialogue and monologue, and with those I can let loose on the linguistic games, puns, etc I can play with self-consciousness and metaphor and deliberately twisted analogy and simile. Messing around with voice is one of things that has always interested me as a writer. Multiple points of view unleash that like the hounds of hell. Also allows for plenty of misdirection, which is even more fun. Of course, every bit of writing, every sentence, every paragraph should function to serve more than one purpose. If there's just one (advancing action) it should probably be short and precise; otherwise if it's establishing setting, or if it's dialogue/monologue/characterisation, it should carry more than one level of intent and communication. That's a rule I follow, any way.

His first fantasy novel, Gardens of the Moon (1999), constitutes the first of ten projected volumes of the Malazan Book of the Fallen. His style of writing tends towards complex plots with multiple point-of-view characters.

It is an epic fantasy, wide in scope and encompassing the stories of a very large cast of characters. Each book tells a different chapter in the ongoing saga of the Malazan Empire and its wars. For the first five books, each volume is self-contained, in that the primary conflict of each novel is resolved within that novel.

However, many underlying characters and events are interwoven throughout the works of the series, binding it together.

HRose: Erikson's series should be under 'epic' in the dictionary. With timelines spanning 100000 years and more, and tons and tons of characters, many of which who are ancient themselves.

If any work is truly deserving of the accolade epic, it is the writing of Steven Erikson. Vast in scope and imagination, spanning continents and cultures as diverse and multifaceted as any to be found in fantasy, Erikson readily towers over every other author writing military fantasy today, or for that matter, from the past.

Possessing in a single volume the equivalent storylines and action found elsewhere within a trilogy or three, events happen here with such kinetic energy, so compellingly and dramatically rendered, that the senses threaten to become overloaded with a surfeit of vivid imagery and deed.

Gardens of the Moon is epic both in its planned bulk and scope, and one doesn’t have to read too far into the novel to realize Erikson is not settling for offering a series intent on rehashing traditional ideas. Erikson is not settling for archetypical characters, nor completely linear storylines, as he creates a massive setting full of differing factions, races, and deities, and unlike the other few (too few) superior examples of epic fantasy available to us, he is not increasing the reality of his world at the cost of lessening the fantastic elements in his series.

A reflection of the colossal scale in which the author works, Erikson fashions fantasy as nature would sculpt a mountain, in rifts and tectonic upheaval, crafting monumental edifices that in the hands of another, less gifted author would surely topple beneath the sheer weight of their own invention. And, in terms of mythos, not since Tolkien have we seen the conversion of legend into fabulous history become as powerfully or richly rendered.

Read and expect to be overpowered, not only by a story that never fails to thrill and entertain, but by a saga that lives up to its name, both intellectually and in its dramatic, visually rich and lavish storytelling.

My personal favorite. I love the expansive and interesting world Erikson has built. That being one of your criteria I don't think you can go wrong.

The other bonus of Erikson is that he's fantasy of his own devising, and isn't Tolkienesque. His take on gods and magic is pretty awesome, and unique to boot. He turns the idea of undead on its head, there is no ultimate good or ultimate evil, and there's startlingly few stereotypes. Even when he delves in to a plot involving a young kid being caught up in things above him, he manages to take it in places that you just wouldn't expect.

I do like Erikson too, but the far-flung epic feel drags in parts. That could just be me in that I only have time to read sporadically. The Malazan books are certainly not ones you skip merrily through. You have to pay attention and invest yourself in them. You are definitely paid off, though, because the detailed world he creates is nothing short of amazing.

This is the seventh novel in the Malazan Book of the Fallen series. It is everything you hoped for if you have been following this story from the beginning. The sheer scale and grandeur of this tale is breathtaking. Again you will question who are the "good guys" and who are the "bad guys".

Erikson wins hands down for complexity of plot, level of intrigue, sense of history in the created world, and depth of story. He also offers some very memorable characters, each of whom has complexity enough (with the frequently resulting moral ambivalence Erikson strives for) to make them real people.

Martin and Erikson are absolutely the giants of the genre at this point.

One huge plus between Martin and Erikson though- Erikson is putting these out on an almost annual basis. There is a very real possibility that his entire ten book series will be released before Martin gets his sixth book out.

Erikson commonly gets compared to George RR Martin thought the two really aren't that similar IMO other than the scale of the work and, in most opinions, relative quality. Both authors tell a fairly gritty tale but Erikson seems more concerned with history and magic while Martin seems focused mainly on characters.

There is a quality in Steven Erikson’s writing that is difficult to pin-point, but that I find to be both extremely rare and exquisitely important to epic fantasy: It is the feeling that the world is steeped in myth, in ancient history and secrets, magic and mystery…it is an atmospheric context, really. Tolkien is, of course, the example par excellence of this, but Erikson is the best contemporary example. It seems to be what separates “true fantasy” from what could be called “fantasized historical fiction” ala George R.R. Martin and Guy Gavriel Kay, both of whom are among my favorite authors, but neither of whom capture the same quality.

Erikson instead drops you directly into the aftermath of horrific battle with thousands of casualties – we get almost no character introduction or explanation of the world. Confusing bits of terrifying sorcery and deep history abound.

Not over:

Erikson's strength is in his world detail. The world of the Malazan Empire has an incredibly detailed backstory and its the primary focus of the series. His books take the "in media res" concept very much to heart- there is no true beginning and most readers find themselves fairly confused with the first half of his first novel, Gardens of the Moon. He doesn't slow for explanations or introductions- the world is already in the midst of a major continents-spanning war and most of the characters already have histories with one another that is only hinted at. You just have to accept that you'll be confused and trust that you haven't missed anything. By the second half of the book things start to click and you get a pretty good idea of the scope of what Erikson is trying to get across.
His best asset, IMO, is the sheer scale of the events. He also has some relatively interesting characters. One huge plus is that each book is relatively self-contained- there is a genuine finale and following books often take place in different times and places than previous ones with a few overlapping characters. Consequently each book is relatively satisfying without engaging in cheap cliffhangers.
Erikson other folks have described. Huge time scale, lots of gods and other major powers futzing with things. Enormous, dramatic conflicts. I've found every book so far to be rough getting into (he sometimes spends 5/6ths of a book building tension and weaving threads before the big shit goes down.) but increasingly compelling to the point of obsession the deeper into them I get. There's nagging things that keep popping up and back down again before I can entirely identify them. But he's telling much too good a story for me to really care.
Another big hell yeah for Malazan. There is just nothing else quite like it out there.

A world where the mortals stick it to Ascendants and Gods who meddle in their affairs, a world crawling with at burglars, assassins, Ascendants, munitions experts, engineers, historians, seers, Empresses, priests, high mages, squad mages, shape changers, mortals possessed by deities, warlords, where there are beings who walk the land that not merely can, but HAVE destroyed civilizations, soul shifters, hammers that stir the slumber of gods, necromancy, demons and a chained god.

Tearing into 'Memories of Ice' by Erikson. Gotta love a book that has a 300 thousand person army of starving cannibalistic peasants laying siege to a city.
And another reason it deserves the "epic" title (which I didn't see anyone else mentioning in this thread but they may have and I missed it) - the depth of character and location interaction is so broad it's almost silly. You meet what look like minor throw-away characters in one book only to find they are the major player three books later.
Or you find a bizarre scene that is visited by many different groups of characters at different times, but the scenes don't appear in order in the sequence of the books. You may find the gruesome mysterious aftermath of a battle in book 2, then read about the battle itself in book 5. I found myself constantly going "WAIT! Is that how that got there?" and shuffling through earlier books to remind myself of how things were connected.
And my last bit of fanboy praise - the characters are freaking GREAT. Erikson is not afraid to kill of major characters, and he creates new major characters in just about every book, and yet almost all of them are clearly drawn with distinct personalities and are quite memorable.

Erikson creates an impressive dark world of brutality and sudden beauty in which dizzying vistas of times past suddenly open; his work repays the concentration needed to follow his complex plotting and sentences.

I think Erikson is the most complete fantasy writer out there today. Some authors are good at world building, some are good at characterization, but Erikson isn't just good at both, he excels at both.
Erikson also does some really unique stuff with structure and narrative that I haven't seen a lot in the genre. It's not straightforward in any way. For example, the first book takes place on a certain continent with certain characters then Book 2 moves to a completely different continent with mainly new characters. Book 3 then acts as a sequel to Book 1, and Book 4 to Book 2.
Then there is an all new continent and characters in Book 5 and now Erikson is drawing all of those threads together in the latter half of the series.
The result is that the whole enterprise is basically a puzzle where the reader is making the connections between these seeming disparate storylines.
Especially since Erikson abhors any type of exposition describing the world and it's history. It's left to the reader to put together so readers of the first book often feel like they are missing something and starting a series in the middle. Another cool technique Erikson uses is that he hides some secrets and twists in plain sight which can makes re-reads quite enjoyable when you see how much he had laid out in advance.
Highly original. Very little of his world-building even reminds me of things I've read before.
I agree they're an acquired taste, and not the easiest reads, but the chaotic insanity and excess of the whole concept is sort of exhilarating.
And the plotting is pretty extraordinary. By the time you get to book four and see how the throwaway random comment in book two was actually a reference to an event which was experienced in book three and had been foreshadowed in book one it can boggle the mind nicely.
Martin isn't really high fantasy- it's all very realistic with minimal magic. Erikson, on the other hand, really excels when it comes to epic, magic heavy battles.
Erikson's world can probably be compared to the mythology of Ancient Greece but set in a medieval period- Gods and Ascendants (basically demi-gods) are main characters and frequently interact with mortals.
Erikson is a master of lost and forgotten epochs, a weaver of ancient epics on a scale that would approach absurdity if it wasn't so much fun.
The sheer scale of the author's vision is nothing less than astonishing. And the ease with which he seems to navigate through this grand epic of mortals and gods never ceases to astound me.
If you are not reading A Tale of the Malazan Book of the Fallen, you are missing out on what is possibly the most ambitious fantasy series to ever see the light.
War is a constant -- from continent to continent, century upon century. Erikson's universe is a violent one, Gothic in intensity, without clear demarcation between good and evil. It's perhaps more like the real world, then, than most fantasy, which so clearly differentiates between light and dark. Not the kind of story I would read to my son before bed -- death and pain abound, along with magic and wonder.
Gods are always messing with mortals in Erikson's work, but the mortals also, by their patterns of belief, create their own gods, their own greater powers.
Give me, instead, the evocation of a rich, complex and yet ultimately unknowable other world, with a compelling suggestion of intricate history and mythology and lore. Give me mystery amid the grand narrative. There's no need to spell it all out; no prefaces, please, elucidating the history of Middle Earth as if to students in a lecture hall. Instead, give me a world in which every sea hides a crumbled Atlantis, every ruin has a tale to tell, every mattock blade is a silent legacy of struggles unknown.
Give me, in other words, the fantasy work of Steven Erikson.
Genabeckis Continent & campaign as main arc: books 1 & 3
Seven Cities subcontinent & rebellion as main arc: books 2, 4, & 6
Lether Continent and Tiste Edur: books 5 & 7
The problem is that each book fills or offers a different interpretation of the backstory, along with advancing the series arc. You also have groups of characters take off from one continent and show up in another.
Fairly important characters are introduced in book 1, that then have a subplot in book 2, one of whom pops up in most of the other books.
Book 5 is almost entirely standalone, with a new continent and entirely new characters (except for one guy introduced in book 4) but it's set as 5 years back in the timeline.
Sometimes people recommend starting with book 2, Deadhouse Gates, because it's gripping and has the least background requirements, but then other people say that's a bad idea.
Quon Tali, the continent that the Malazan Empire comes from, periodicly shows up throughout the books.

Erikson can also be laugh-out-loud funny at times. There are great comedic bits sprinkled though the books.

Wow, HRose, thanks. Good insight.

I started Malazan two days ago and I’m liking a lot. For years I had it on my “pending” list, but I always read comments here and there how the first book was a big obstacle, a slog, super confusing to read, but that the series was awesome once you could overcome that obstacle.

Uh, I find it’s very engaging. In the starting chapters already it’s clear there is a gods fighting and manipulating humankind from the shadows, spymasters following a trail, people in a two-sided conspiration, weird magic, several asymmetric sides in the conflict each with their own interests, I dig all of that. It’s the contrary of a “slog”.

I feel like the Wheel of Time have prepared me to be able to follow like two dozen different characters and several sides in just the first book :P. And the Spanish translation has, maybe, a easier to follow writing, as I don’t see any particular problems with it. There are a few confusing areas here and there but nothing to make me drop the book.

I’ve been listening to the audio version on the way to/from work at times - much much easier for me than reading as picking up one of the books kept putting me instantly to sleep. Just be prepared for the big switch in book 2 to completely different characters. And again in book 3.

And again in Book 5!

It’s a great series. One I really need to push through and finish. I’ll do it–someday!

I’ve given up twice in book four (House of Chains). There are just too many similar characters, and I don’t give a hoot about most of them.

The first three books are great, though.

I dropped out like… five and a half books into it. I’m sure I’ll pick it up again eventually, but the prose and the Mary Sue characters can start to wear on you after a while, even if the world building is excellent. There are just a few characters I can’t bring myself to give a crap about their incessant whining and the books seem to like to focus on them.

What is a Mary Sue character?

Anyway, I’m on book 8 and I just love being in this world, so fun. I really enjoy his writing style, it really pushes me to pay attention and I’m always rewarded for doing so, too. Such fantastic work.

I loved his books, until I read his latest, Forge of Darkness, which was most absurdly sickeningly violent book I ever had the misfortune to read. I put it down halfway through in disgust.

Mary Sue - It’s got a few shades of meaning to it, but basically: a character the author loves so much that they warp the whole story around them–for the worse. Typical examples include too-perfect-to-be-real author stand-ins, characters that everyone loves and adores without any in-story justification, or–harder to suss out–authorial wish fulfillment. Major examples in popular fiction are Bella in Twilight (a mopey, self-loathing, personality-less waste of a person who everyone in the books loves immediately, willing to fight for her honor/affection to a ludicrous degree) and James Bond (although, to be fair, he’s more an overly perfected version of Fleming’s relative, Christopher Lee, than Fleming himself).

Re: the depth/reward of paying attention. Are you following along with the Malazan Re-Read of the Fallen as you go through (or perhaps waiting till afterward)? It’s an amazing resource on Tor’s website that breaks down some of the most amazing insights and subtleties you would easily miss the first time through.

I was unfamiliar with this. A quick glance shows that this might help me break back into the series. Thanks!

For those that hate Googling ;)

It really is just phenomenal stuff. I think I bogged down in my re-read of the first 5.5 books (to get back into shape to finish 6 and then the rest of the series) a couple of months back just because I was spending so much time scrolling through the old comment threads, etc. on the Re-Read.