Thursday 9 October 2008

The Confounding Nature of the Malazan Series

There are few authors out there as divisive as Steven Erikson. The author of the Malazan Book of the Fallen series has a substantial number of admiring fans who are quick to point out how his work is cutting-edge and original, how he explores important themes and ideas in the context of a huge fantasy series, and how he doesn't spoonfeed information to the audience but lets them figure things out for themselves. However, the critics claim that he is long-winded, unnecessarily obtuse (important plot points from Book 1 are still being explained and expanded on nine years and nine books later), his world is little more original than a Dungeons and Dragons campaign setting (complete with characters levelling-up between novels) and his series is too long, especially given the recent announcements of sequel and prequel series, as well as the books being written by Erikson's friend Ian Cameron Esslemont. When it is complete, the Malazan saga will stand at a huge twenty-two books in length, which makes even the lengthy Wheel of Time series look modest and authors like Scott Bakker and Scott Lynch (eight and seven books apiece planned in their series) positively unambitious.

It's an interesting situation. Even among his fans Erikson is divisive. Some fans think that Midnight Tides is the best book in the series, others loathe it. Some think Esslemont is as good as Erikson, others think he's poor. Some loved Toll the Hounds for its in-depth exploration of ideas, others hated its lack of action and incident, not to mention an apparently bewildering conclusion and unnecessary inclusion of extraneous characters (as my review indicated, I thought it was fine, although with greater hindsight it's difficult to see how exactly the book ties into the storyline of the actual series itself, but this will probably be addressed in the final two volumes).

Part of the issue is to do with what people expect from an epic fantasy series. There are elements that seem to go with the genre, such as magic, huge battles and a vivid secondary world (and reams of maps), all of which Erikson delivers with aplomb. However, an epic fantasy series, particularly a long one, requires some kind of central narrative drive or ultimate goal to the series, which is usually revealed in the first two or three books. Every time it looks like Erikson is giving us this, he suddenly reveals it's not the case at all. The Crippled God is apparently the main antagonist of the series (and the planned final novel of the original ten is named after him), but his motives are murky and he plays next to no role at all in several books. Erikson has suggested in interviews that his intent instead was that the reader would feel like they'd had opened a window at random on the Malazan Empire and, ten books later (or twenty-two now), would simply close it again. Whilst that is interesting as a literary device and technique, I think there needs to be more than just that for the reader after ten, maybe closer to twenty, thousand pages. There needs to be some kind of narrative arc and direction, and that lack of direction after eight books by Erikson and two by Esslemont seems to be a problem for some readers.

A big plus in some people's books is Erikson's worldbuilding. Erikson and Esslemont have created an enormous world with a dozen continents and subcontinents and thousands of islands, plus the dozens of races (past and present) that inhabit them, and different ethnicities and factions within those races. Each race usually has a different form of magic, a different history and motivating force. There are also the gods, dozens of them as well, and their conflicting goals and abilities. It's huge stuff. But on the minus side the worldbuilding is extremely broad but feels shallow. Whilst I am certain that the authors have bulging folders packed full of notes on the history of the races, cities and nations, very little of it gets into the books. Whilst a Robert Jordan fan could probably write ten thousand words on the history, people, customs and geography of Andor, for example, or a George RR Martin fan could pen an entire dissertation on the Targaryen royal lineage, a Steven Erikson fan would be hard-pressed to write more than a few hundred words about, say, Darujhistan or even Lether. I could also mention the timeline and chronology of events in Steven Erikson's work, but that path leads to insanity, so I'll pass on that for now.

Another problem is Erikson's method of explaining things. Essentially, he doesn't bother. For the first few books, this was fine. Rereading the first three to five books reveals a lot of hidden details and information concealed in plain sight, giving the world greater texture and the story greater resonance. The comparison may be dubious, but it's a bit like rereading Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun and uncovering further layers of meaning, spotting Severian's lies more easily a second or third time around, and realising the story on the surface isn't the real story at all. However, Malazan doesn't go as deep as this, and is far too long for it to work effectively (Wolfe's completed series is actually shorter than any of Books 2-8 of Erikson's main Malazan sequence by themselves). It's difficult to keep the details straight over such an enormous span of time, especially as there hasn't really been much in the way of moments of clarification or revelation. The Jade Statue storyline has taken up many chapters in at least four of the novels (starting as early as the second), yet the real story of what is going on there is still confusing and bemusing, as I found out when I asked on Malazanempire what people thought the real story was and got several different replies. Six thousand pages after that story began, we are not much closer to any kind of explanation for that mystery, and I think that that can be called bad storytelling. There's keeping an air of mystery about certain plotlines and being unnecessarily obtuse, and Malazan frequently crosses the line onto the obtuse side of things, even to the point of providing highly-detailed maps for areas that aren't actually being covered in the book and resolutely refusing to provide maps for the areas that are.

In a sense, it is the Lost of epic fantasy series, with characters often refusing to explain things for absolutely no reason other than to be mysterious, and it gets old rather quickly. Of course, Lost pulled it together in its third and fourth seasons and did come clean on some of what was going on, but even if Malazan followed suit in its next book, Dust of Dreams, it would still be rather late in the day.

Although this commentary has been critical, I have to emphasise that I do like Erikson's books a lot, feel that the Malazan series is structurally ingenious, and that Memories of Ice is one of the three or four best fantasy novels of the last decade, with Gardens of the Moon and Deadhouse Gates not far behind. However, the law of diminishing returns is setting in and Erikson is suffering from severe 'epic fantasy creep' (how did we go from having to read 10 books to understand what is going on to 22?). His 'deep meaningful themes' are interesting, but are neither as challenging nor original as are often claimed, and do not make up for deficiencies elsewhere in characterisation, worldbuilding and pacing. What is annoying is that Erikson really could have done something truly amazing with this series, but the rush to get each book out every year (meaning minimal editing) and the apparent requirement for each book to be a thousand pages long regardless of the story requirements has compromised its overall quality. I will continue to read and hopefully enjoy the series, but I have no doubt it will continue to confound, confuse and divided fans of the genre for many decades to come.


Salt-Man Z said...

Excellent article. I'm a huge Malazan fan myself, but starting with "Reaper's Gale" I've started to doubt that Erikson knows exactly what he's doing -- a point I've been using to defend Erikson since I got into the series.

22 books?! I hadn't heard about that yet (where can I read the details?) I still love the world, so I'll be reading everything that comes out, but I really do hope future books take a more coherent approach to storytelling.

Adam Whitehead said...

10 books in the main sequence, 3 prequels (focusing on Anomander Rake), 3 sequels and Esslemont's 6-book side-series.

I'm sure that Erikson would say the main sequence stands by itself and you don't need to read anything else, but after seeing what an integeral part Return of the Crimson Guard played in the whole, I suspect that this isn't the case. There's some links to the news on the Malazanempire forum.

Anonymous said...

Wert, this is excellent and right on the money. My frustration with this series has been growing with every book. For every great thing (Tehol and Bugg) we have to endure hundreds of pages of things like the jade statues, the Myhbe, random new characters. I regret now being such an Erikson evangelist based on the first three books because I think the series has grown incomprehensible. I'll still read Toll the Hounds when it gets to the US but I'll no longer be jonesing for new SE.

Anonymous said...

Isn't a point of Erikson's work the fragmentary nature of history?

We've been given glimpses of Icarium throughout millennia and have gone through some of those periods in detail through other characters, yet the reader has to piece together an incomplete picture to understand Icarium.

I view this as a strength, while you do not. Martin lays out the entire history of the Targaeryns because it's integral to the story - succession to the Iron Throne.

Erikson's story is that of the current Malazan Empire and its struggle. I believe we've gotten plenty of that and enormous amounts of background too.

I think these are valid criticisms you're raising, but until I've read The Crippled God, I'm not prepared to jump onto the fence from my side.

Anonymous said...

While I understand where you're coming from I don't necessarily accept some of your premises. The basis of Malazan was to take sword an sorcery and make it more meaningful, more real, with deeper consequences for any actions. If you look at each book, there are threads that deal with the story of that book alone, as well as bits that deal with the arc as a whole. The main storylines can be said to be the Crippled God, K'Rul and the warrens (their nature, the connections to dragons, etc), and the Old Gods vs New Gods (power, those who had it, those who are gaining it, and all who want it). Central are the POV's in the Malazans and their armies,a nd their "tales of the fallen".

As Tree Frog mentioned, the Targaeryans and the mysteries surrounding them are central to the plot, yet how much detail do you require? With any world, you can explore as wide as you like and not really propel the central storylines (see A Feast for Crows, Path of Daggers, Winter's Heart, etc). How much of this is integral, and how much of this is fan service? Does SE do enought to propel the story and his themes forward? I'd say so.

You question the themes and their unoriginality, but fail to mention those works that trump SE's ambition. Exploring deep themes (sisterhood in DG, motherhood in MoI, brothers/fmaily in MT, etc) with the format of sword and sorcery. Throughout the whole, from first to last is the theme of chains, the ones you keep or break, knowingly or otherwise.

As stated in MoI, there are several layers of truth - skin, muscle and bone. The series can be enjoyed on all those levels - from guys looking for serious uber fighters and mages battling it out, warfare, etc to the complexity of politics, allegiances and shifting (?) goals, to the themes that SE attempts to explore within each book.

The cliffhangers or lack of info on certain things could simply be answered by saying that they are too cerntral to future stories. The same can be siad if you look at aSoIaF - what is Jon's parentage? Why is their so little info on Rhaegar when he was so central a figure a generation prior? The answers would simply give too much away, me thinks.

Addressing you point about prequels, well after reading RotCG, ther are only very few revelations from there that I can see directly affect SE's arc, and I fail to see how those could not be explained in a couple of pages/paragraphs. While huge in the local, I'm not sure how big they would be in the global. Refer to the Bauchalain, Korlbal Broach and Emacipoor Reese tales - very dark humour that do not affect the novels. I think we can look at the Rake prequels and assume that the content will be more flushing out of the character and his companions used to perhaps add more to the backgrounds of the characters in the current novels without really impacting on the enjoyment of them. As you said, the scope is vast, and these novels would probably focus more on missing details that fans would enjoy, details not necessarily required for the main arc.

Gardens of the Moon is a small picture of the whole, it seems. You're dropped in the middle, pick things up as you go along, learn a lot and end with stories being tied up, but the world keeps moving, and when one thing finishes another starts. A glimpse, if you would. Happily ever afters are boring, and people can't help themselves. Lessons learnt can be forgotten, and greed and ambition will always exist.

Not sure how coherent the whole reply was, but the gist of it is that with what SE is trying there will be great things and frustrations. As long as he holds the coarse, we will be able to judge the whole and decise if the exercise for him and us was worth it. So far so good for me, and I'm really looking forward to more.

Adam Whitehead said...

What is interesting is that K'rul and the Warrens aren't really interesting enough or given enough screentime to be 'the main story'. Since Erikson essentially stopped reporting on events in the Malazan Empire after Book 6 and handed it over to Esslemont, the series can't really be said to be about the Empire either (although Malazan POVs play a major role in all the books bar the fifth). Karsa's odyssey isn't a central arc either, as again Erikson has handed him over to Esslemont after spending a large chunk of four thousand pages on him, which feels like a bit of a cheat.

The central problem with the Malazan series is that it is too diffuse. It sprawls in a thousand different directions simultaneously with nothing really unifying the whole together. I think the idea of making the books part of a unified series was perhaps a mistake. Perhaps making each book stand alone within the same world (as with Pratchett's Discworld books) would have been the better path to take.

Certainly the most notable rising complaint among readers is that they are tired of spending hundreds or thousands of pages following one storyline or character, only for them to vanish with no guarantee that the storyline or character would ever be heard from again, or if they are then it might be ten years later and written by someone else; and the lack of explanation for things. The 'figuring things out' approach is valid but Erikson is ham-fisted compared to Wolfe in this regard. And we are 80% through the core series, which is way, way past the point that we should have been getting answers to some of the series' mysteries (this is where the Lost comparison coms in).

Anonymous said...

Glad its not just me, though I've only tried reading Gardens of the Moon 3 times and have given up each time.

I so desperately WANT to like this series though. I'll be embarking on my fourth attempt to get through book 1 soon...wish me luck. I'm going in.

Anonymous said...

I read Gardens of the Moon about 3 years ago, and I thought it was almost pure chaos; it had many things that I liked, but there was also a lot that just didn't gel with me, rushed plotlines, central characters that I didn't feel had been fleshed out in the slightest, etc etc.

In the last few weeks, I've found myself wanting to give the rest of the series a try (my mum's a big fan, so I've got access to them all if I want to), but I'm in that terrible position where I feel I'll probably have to reread GotM in its entirety to even have a hope of understanding Deadhouse Gates, due to my memory of the first book having faded; however, that is an intimidating proposition, especially when I'm just not sure I liked it enough the first time round.

Anyone have any advice on this? Will I enjoy DG and MoI more than GoTM, and will it be worth continuing, especially given the criticisms that are currently being levelled against it?

Adam Whitehead said...

I think DHG is much more cohesive and focused as a novel, although there's still a big problem with story elements not being explained and so on. I'd say give it a go, but you probably do need to read the first book to fully appreciate the third.

Anonymous said...

Excellent, spot-on article that captures at least some of the major problems of the books ( I would certainly add shallow characterization as my main problem with the series, whilst acknowledging that the issues you mentioned are also present). I would have loved for this to have been more coherent, and I think the idea of having each book be a sort of semi-standalone is very good.

Anonymous said...


Well Adam, I suppose I understand your issue with some of the characters, but to be honest it's never really been much of an issue with me. I've seen both SE and ICE handle Traveller, and both seem to work. I admit I will be disappointed not to see Karsa in the rest of SE's work, but there are still plenty of other characters there to love - Fiddler, Quick Ben, Cotillion, Udinaas, etc. Even though SE's tale has moved away from the empire, the Malazans themselves are still noted characters and POV's. I don't doubt that the Paran siblings and their armies (malazan armies) will have a central role in events to come.

I never expected to see Itkovian again, but he was used well in TotH for the themes explored. Even if some of these characters do not show up later, there are plenty of new characters in each book to enjoy. And the other bonus is that he is very fast in delivering his books, so that if it is 3 novels between characters, it's still less than the 5 years waiting for more Snow ;).

And for those who can't get into it, well, maybe it's not for you. DG is a far more cohesive book, but it is not soo different from GotM.

Adam Whitehead said...

The problem with delivering the books very fast is that there is little or no editing done on them. Erikson has admitted not doing drafts, and that he is able to overrule many of his editor's decisions by saying, "It all gets explained later, relax." This is not good writing or publishing practice (which seems to be borne out of the series' modest sales), and the series' many resulting rough patches will hurt its overall quality in the long run.

That Erikson is able to get such vast, complex books written so fast is highly impressive, and the quality is high compared to many writers of the same or slower speed (Goodkind, Feist, Eddings, Brooks), but with more time for writing, editing and polishing this series could have been far better than it is.

Jebus said...

Hmmm, I think at the core level I agree with you - Erikson has maybe lost the plot a little or at the very least needs another 6 months in between novels for editing and story cohesiveness.

But I think that all of what you sid is also one of the major reasons I love this series so much. I absolutely love the fact that some things don't get explained, that story elements are forgotten or lost or what we were made to think was important was actually just so much thin air.

I dunno, I guess i just like the sprawling nature of the series and th fact that so often I have absolutely no idea WTF is going on. It may all be explained int he next two books or it may not, either way so long as I enjoy the novels along the way I don't much care. I can't wait until The Crippled God where I'll have a massive re-read of the whole series just before it is released (much like I plan to do with Wheel of Time).

Have yet to read RotCG but have ordered it even though Night of Knives was reasonably ordinary.

Oh and comparing Malazan to Lost is spot on.

Anonymous said...

Excellent article! It sums up my own feelings about the series very well. I enjoy the series, and have recommended it, but I do find it has a distinct 'dungeons and dragons' feel to it and maybe could have benefitted from being smaller in scale. You descibe all the best points and worst points very aptly. I will say this though - Erikson's output is very impressive because I don't feel that quality has been comprimised to any real extent. He is, and will be, one of the most noted names in fantasy.

TyrLoran said...

Very well written article. I'm new to this series having just finished Gardens of the Moon and starting Deadhouse Gates. I think I'm lucky in that I've come to this series with 8 of the 10 books already in print. I can read this intricate, detailed, amusing, exciting and annoying story for the next few weeks and really get lost in it. Then I will do what I did with Robert Jordan's series of books....put them away until the LAST book has been written. My memory is good but I must admit to having difficulty trying to keep over 100 characters and umpteen dozen storylines fresh in my head for over a year until the release of the next book and after the 5th or 6th book is released, it's a pain having to re-read the series again in order to refresh one's memory. My personal library is over 5,000 books, which I do re-read again and again over the years. I'm looking forward to this journey through Malazan. It's gonna be a fun trip!

Aaron said...

I'm sorry, but saying fans of Jordan's Wheel of Time can write reams of pages on the history of Andor is ludicrous. I've read every book in the series and the only difference I can see between the many nationalities in his books is that they have different patterns and colors on their surcoats. SERIOUSLY. Excuse me while I go smooth my skirts in frustration...

As for the Malazan series, I enjoy every book immensely. THINGS actually HAPPEN, unlike Jordan's series. I may not understand every bit of minutae but I'm entralled by the world and the characters and the humor and the tragedy. Call me a fanboy if you will, but I wouldn't have even commented if not for your ridiculous assertion about Jordan's descriptive skills when it comes to world building. Lether is an infinitely more realized nation than Andor ever was. And I LOVED Jordans books up until the point where Rand cleansed the male half of the source and NOTHING HAPPENED. What a joke. It was like Frodo reaching the fires of Mordor only to discover that he had the wrong ring.

I bluster, but you certainly are entitled to your view of the Malazan series. I definitely see how some can be turned off by the rambling immensity of it. Differing opinions don't affect my enjoyment of the books however.

great_o'rety said...

Well, it's kinda late to comment now I guess and I only was able to stomach Gardens of the Moon this couple of years ago as the sole example of Erikson's work, still I have to note that comparing him, a glorified d&d dungeon master with numerous hints of megalomania at best, with Martin or Wolfe is ridiculous. Seriously, these folks can write. Real masters of word-crafting. As to Martin, in my case with every new book in the series went an eager re-read of the previous stuff. Often times I find myself grabbing one of them, at the complete random, choosing one chapter, not caring at all which, and submerging myself in his incredible craft. It never failed me, you know, this guy just delivers. I guess it's as close to wizardry in our world as it gets. And Wolfe? Don't even get me started. He's what? The Dostoyevsky of the genre? And here I read about SE's fans dreading the fought of possible necessity of re-read.

I guess the hard truth is that after this level of commitment the Erikson's books require on the ordinary basis, those who carelessly choose to make this commitment find oneselves in a trap of having either sugar-coat him and his more and more evident ineptness or admit they've been fooled.

Anonymous said...

I agree with everything Adam said. The Malazan series has many great strength - the scope of the world-building, foremost, perhaps - but the story arc from book to book, and even within books has been bewildering. I don't know much about Ian Cameron Esslemont, but if it's true that story threads like Karsa Orlong's have been passed over to him, it provokes mixed emotions in me. I'm a loyal reader - so I always want to read the next book in a series that I love - whether it's Sanderson's completion of the Wheel of Time, or the awful, awful Dune books of Brian Herbert and Kevin Anderson. I'm still loyal to Erikson and the Malazan series, but the closer we get to the 'final' volume, the less I think it's going to provide a satisfactory ending - and the less I remember and understand about all that went before.

Anonymous said...

I don't like to consider myself particularly daft, but Gardens of the Moon made literally no sense. I read through about half of it before giving up in frustration. Not a single thing was explained or connected. What in the world is a warren? Who ARE these people? I should be able to have some sort of connection to the characters after reading a couple hundred pages about them, but there was -nothing- holding me in. As someone earlier said, I WANT to like the book, but it's just so infuriating.

Anonymous said...

Mentioning Erikson (sp?) in the same breath as Gene Wolfe is a sacrilege. I did, however, manage to read the first five or so books before I dropped the whole thing as pointless. That puts Erikson right up there with what's-his-name Jordan.

gord warford said...

honestly...? I really had no trouble following any of the books thus far... I'm only on reaper's gale, seeing as I've only been reading this series for a month, but if you just accept that you have to look for the clues in casual conversation, rather than being outright told, everything falls into place. at first I had no idea what a warren was, but maged are stepping into them , "drawing from them", and such, so it seems pretty obvious that they are elemental realms that supply magic to those able to channel them. erikson shouldn't be compared to authors like Jordan, because rather than providing a story about a hero and his heroic friends, each glowing in their own shining armour, (I mean, seriously, the most reprehensible thing a ""good guy" does is swear or gamble) SE provides a set of "real" people. I mean, Icarium's a walking tradgedy, Fiddler doesn't know what to do with himself, Karsa's gone from lunatic to zen-warrior, and Cutter's a starcrossed lover in the worst way. Each of these characters are fleshed out because they're not fleshed out. They seem more real because they don't constantly flash back to their one driving force. They're dealt with as people, not plot device. Quick Ben's story was glazed over for a while, but I bet you still liked him, because he acted acertain way, and then, when his story was first told, he still acted that way, and finally, you begin to realize that if you know everything about a character, they become just that: nothing more than a character. SE makes his books more real by not spoon feeding the audience. In real life, do you hear everyone's story as soon as you meet them? NO! It is this very detail that places Erikson above many other authors. Oh, and this really has nothing to d with this topic, but all the lord of the rings had that other fantasies don't is alarge amount of words you might as well not read. I'm speaking of course of elvish. unnessacary, and annoying.

Creox said...

I agree with most of the posters here in that I found the series (done the last book yesterday) amazing and incredibly frustrating at times. It is overreach done spectacularly! :) I think the one moment when I was thinking "wtf" was when Toll the Hounds came out. It felt like a different series/author. No connection at all. I realize now that the series three arcs pick up with alternate books but this is not done very well imo. I shouldn't have to "study" a work of fiction like it was a school text book to get the gist of it. That being said there are incredible characters and battles to be found and I like the series overall....cheers

Vehemence said...

There are some frustrating passages in the series, I agree. However, nothing I have read in my 30+ years of avid reading comes close to this series. Many times I had difficulty reading past my tears in the final book. SE made it terribly easy to transport myself there, standing on the hill, covered in dust, thirty, exhausted, ready to die for my brothers and sisters in our last stand. The message of compassion, the search for meaning in life, all of it...just breathtaking. I wonder if many of you are even reading the same series. The only regret I have after reading the series...I now cannot find a fantasy work whatsoever that fills me with comparable joy and sorrow.

Corran Horn said...

As a fan of the Malazan series, I do have to say you make some great points. I hadn't known about Karsa being moved from Erickson to Esslemont, but I do feel cheated by that. I also agree that taking more time for editing would help. I also echo the remarks made by others regarding Toll the Hounds. While still a good read, I must confess that I had a lot of trouble seeing how it fit in with everything else because, aside from Cutter and Karsa, the book picked up with characters not seen in five books. That's not to say I didn't enjoy seeing Rake, Brood, and the others again, but five books is far too long. Plus, as you said, it disrupts the story's flow. I also have to say that Gardens of the Moon, while good, is a very flawed start for the reasons Adam mentioned.

Having said all that, Erickson was, IMO, on a really hot streak beginning with Deadhouse Gates and ending with Reaper's Gale. Besides the Bridgeburners, we had Fiddler and Kalam, Tehol and Bugg (easily one of my favorite fantasy duos), Trull, Karsa Orlong (my personal favorite), Onrack, and a whole bunch of other awesome characters. I also have to say that I enjoyed Dust of Dreams almost as much as those 7. I'm a sucker for anything with Icarium and Mappo, the Barghast, the Imass, and basically any giant-like race. By the way, this is one thing that Erickson does better than almost any fantasy writer. Instead of making giants/trolls lumbering, mindless monsters, he makes them into realized characters with their own civilizations.

IggyFuzz said...

Different strokes for different folks... Personally I find SE's books marvelous pieces of art. ICE's books are much more mainstream and plain. But for me the whole series is breath of fresh air in a very stale genre.
There are certain conventions in the epic fantasy genre that date all the way back to Tolkien... and they are seriously boring. SE breaks with many of them and that is the source of this famous "divide" between fans of the genre. This makes his work all the more relevant.
Yes, it is massive, chaotic, confusing and it does not provide you with easy answers or gives you a denouement for each and every character or story arc you encounter.
Neither does life. Just enjoy the ride!

Anonymous said...

Obviously, I am very late to this party and probably very few will scroll down this far and read my comments. But, as, admittedly, an unabashed believer that the Malazan Book of the Fallen is the best series I've ever read, I would like to say a few things.
First, it is the Book of the Fallen, and as such to miss the fact that loss, either through death, forgetfulness, distance, or even the laying down of story arcs that may seem incomplete, is fundamental to Erikson's purposes is to miss the point of the series. At the end of the Crippled God, to realize that like the Bonehunters, we still do not know Tavore and never will, and to know the pain that causes all involved, is to feel EXACTLY what Erikson wants you to feel. Or, at least, one of the many emotions he recognizes are possible responses to life.
Second, to be critical of the numerous storylines and characters is again to fail to recognize the point that tragedy, and life, touch on all equally. The shining knight with the magical sword is not fundamentally more important than the poor, ignorant footsoldier. The footsoldier may be forgotten, but his hopes, fears, successes and failures are no less real and also no less worthy of our attention and appreciation. Is this an easy place to come to, no, and do I appreciate Barathol or Kyle's storylines as much as Tehol's and Anomander's? No as well, but I think I should, and that lesson is one of the reasons why I so adore the series.
I could go on, but I will finish with this: I think most of the problems people have with Erikson's writing isn't that he fails in some regards, but that he succeeds too well, and in doing so makes us uncomfortable because he calls for us to recognize aspects of life that we typically enjoy passing over.

Anonymous said...

Great post, interesting comments. Everyone has such a strong opinion about about this series, seems like SE has achieved what he desired.

At the end of the day we are all discussing it.

Great series. Has its weakness but which fantasy book doesn't?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the post - a very interesting read, as have been the comments.

Maybe reverse psychology worked on me. I bought Gardens of the Moon having read a lot of negativity towards it, and loved it from the first page. After reading the rest of the series and returning to it, I found it a revelation, and I can't wait to read it again. I often pick one or other of the books up and read passages, and it just reminds me why I liked it so much. As someone else said, this series has ruined a lot of other fantasy series for me.

I have found that this is a series that rewards re-reads like no other I have read. I have re-read A Song of Ice & Fire and didn't feel like I gained anything new from the process. George RR Martin may be a better wordsmith than Erikson, but I don't find his world or his characters or, yes, his story anywhere near as enthralling (especially seeing as his story seems to have stalled since the end of the third book).

Although the Malazan books are not stand alone, I did like that many of them had their own self-contained narrative with a beginning, middle and end. Sure, questions were left unanswered, threads were picked up later down the line etc, but few of the books ended on cliffhangers. Erikson gives good ending.

Regarding the padding, or lack of editing, I believe this applies to practically every major fantasy series out there. WoT, check. Ice & Fire, check. Yep, Erikson's books are over-long, but I can handle padding if the pay-off is worth it and, invariably, I found the pay-off more than worth the effort in each of the ten books of the main sequence (Forge of Darkness is another matter entirely).

I could go on and on. I acknowledge that there are problems with the series, but are they dealbreakers? Is it sugar-coating to say otherwise? Of course not. I had far too much fun with the series to worry about that.

I am unsure about the books to come, and I'm not much of a fan of ICE's books that I have read to date, but I can deal with that. Nobody's forcing me to read them, after all.

I've read the first of Gene Wolfe's series. I didn't like it much. Perhaps I should have another go at it :-)

Anonymous said...

Have you read Rothfuss?

Korakys said...

I wouldn't mind seeing an updated, post-Assail version of your thoughts on this Wert.

I started having problems with the series when I got to Toll the Hounds, but for me Forge of Darkness was a real eye-opener and then reaching the end of Assail left me with a sense of emptiness.

Forge of Darkness really exposed the undeniable truth that Erikson himself doesn't keep detailed notes or remember a lot of what he has previously written. Neither does he seem particularly troubled by this so I can expect no improvement unfortunately.

To me internal consistency of a world is very important and the Malazan series is clearly lacking that. This is not a problem of unreliable narrator, sadly it is a problem of unreliable author.

Anonymous said...

I have so much love for the Mazalan series, reading through the comments a lot of people that haven't read them seem to feel that people dreading re-reading the series is because they are not very good, I'm personally dreading re-reading them because I'm fully aware that once I start re-reading them I wont be able to read anything else until I'm done and I will once again start obsessing over the series and trying to work out the massive complexities in the story for months after I'm finished

Also I hated Karsa Orlong and was greatly pleased when despite being a beast throughout his sections of the books and swaggering around like hes unstoppable proceeds to unexpectedly shit the bed when he meets the actual powerhouses of the story, though I cant remember who it was (Andomander, Icarium, Dassem Ultor?)

I'm not a massive Fan of Ian C Esslemont (who I count as official fan fiction)or the Kharkanas books (at this point) but the Mazalan Book of the fallen series I can and do rant about for hours if someone brings them up

Thermal Pants Bellow Dam said...

Towards the end of Deadhouse Gates Squint mercy kills Coltain from a half a thousand feet.

It's a cringeworthy ending to a dull, overblown read, because standing right next to Coltain are Korbolo Dom and his sorcerer... Yet nobody thinks to snipe them.

This is a small example of the giant gaping plot hole that is Malazan in it's entirety. Where characters do dumb things so that supposedly epic things can happen, which in turn lead only to more dumb things and more supposedly epic things that just feel cringeworthy and meaningless.

Anonymous said...

Thermal Pants Bellow Dam you must be kidding me.

Anonymous said...

Great series I was a fan of more than one genre of books until malazan which left me starving for more epic fantasy. I read and watched got but they don't even compare to the feelings I was left with after Malazan. Was I confused hell yes and nothing since then has grabbed my attention like that. Reread I would and have never reread anything till mbof and you folks that don't like it just shouldn't read it buy dont bash it people may be looking for a new series read what you are saying and miss out. In conclusion .not is not for everyone but if its your style then hold on for one hella ride. Anythingbthat leaves you thinking for no this is great

Unknown said...

Adam, you know I love long dense series, tons of world building, & deep fantasy. But how far into this do I have to get before I find a relatable female character or anything besides misery and warfare? I'm masochistic enough to love ASOIAF, but is there ever any balance in Malazan because I'm about to give up but people I respect love it so much.

Kimber said...

I'm very late to be commenting here but I just felt I needed to say that I've read all SE's Malazan books- twice, and listened to all of them on audible 3 times. I don't find them confusing and I believe they could stand alone (most of them). I love the broad world building and the many races, the time travel element with Icarium and Trell - the deep history that comes with so many of the characters and the mysteries and surprises from bridgeburners you thought were just regular soldiers. I imagine being taught world history- real world history would be much like these books, with everything happening at the same time and no time to dig deep at the moment - just get the word out.

I loved that SE got the series out fast (I felt there could have been some editing but nothing that made me crazy) because after waiting 25 years for Robert Jordon to finish, he had the unmitigated gall to DIE lol!! And to add insult to injury, he picked Sanderson to finish this beloved series. Sanderson had absolutely no feel for Wheel, he had the talent and the notes but he had no heart or soul for WOT and it was such a disappointment. I never worried about that with SE. I've loved the whole series and was never afraid he wouldn't get me over the finish line. I dropped in here tonight because I've been ill and I can't read anymore so I was on audible looking for a new book and I noticed Malazan books by ICE! My internal, possibly verbal, response to that was WTF? So I came here to see if I could find out what's going on. Reading your comments has helped but I'm still not quite sure I understand why SE is passing the flame to ICE. I bought the first of ICE's books tonight, with my last credit so I hope he as good as you say he is. I have almost 1000 audio books and I frequently re-listen to books, and long, long series. I've loved to read since I was 7, it was my escape, my travel, my way out of the place I had to live in and it still serves that purpose. Having lost my sight almost entirely - audible is my miracle! But the point I was trying to make about loving to read was that I used to tell people that I bought my books by the pound! Same with audible. Give me 50 hours and I'm in heaven. SE did that and I loved every word. I hope ICE is the same.
Thanks for letting me ramble on. Be well everyone!