Thursday, 23 November 2017

A Better Malazan Reading Order

This week, published a recommended reading order to Steven Erikson and Ian Esslemont's Malazan series, apparently approved by the authors themselves. It's a curious list because, well, it's really not very good. If you use the Tor reading list, I suspect a lot of readers would run screaming for the hills. To this end, I have updated my old Malazan reading list with the latest releases:

The Wertzone Recommended Malazan Reading Order: 

  1. Gardens of the Moon
  2. Deadhouse Gates
  3. Memories of Ice
  4. House of Chains
  5. Midnight Tides
  6. Night of Knives
  7. The Bonehunters
  8. Return of the Crimson Guard
  9. Reaper's Gale
  10. Stonewielder
  11. Toll the Hounds
  12. Orb Sceptre Throne
  13. Dust of Dreams
  14. The Crippled God
  15. Blood and Bone
  16. Assail
  17. Dancer's Lament
  18. Deadhouse Landing
  19. Kellanved's Reach
  20. Forge of Darkness
  21. Fall of Light
Standing outside the list for the time being: the six Bauchelain and Korbal Broach novellas are mostly self-contained stories exploring the backstory of three minor characters from Memories of Ice. They are fun but inessential. They can be read after Memories of Ice or whenever.

The Path to Ascendancy series (Dancer's Lament, Deadhouse Landing, the forthcoming Kellanved's Reach, possibly more books beyond that) are prequels. They may be read before the main series, but as they are incomplete I would put them later.

As for the Kharkanas Trilogy (so far, Forge of Darkness and Fall of Light), you can read that right at the end or you can hold off until we know when the final book, Walk in Shadow, is coming out. I would, under no circumstances, put it first.

Rationale for the order:

The order is mostly in order of publishing, although with a couple of caveats. Night of Knives is both the oldest novel in the series (it was written circa 1987, but not published until 2004) and chronologically takes place before Gardens of the Moon. However, the events of Night of Knives are not particularly germane to Gardens (the "big event" takes place off-page). Instead, Night of Knives is more important for the characters it establishes on Malaz Island. These characters do not recur in the series until The Bonehunters, over 4,000 pages later. It therefore makes more sense to read Night of Knives immediately before The Bonehunters.

House of Chains should be read before Midnight Tides: the events of Midnight Tides are actually being told in flashback by one character to another at the end of HoC. I know some people like to move Midnight Tides up because if you read in publishing order it "spoils" the fate of that character in Midnight Tides, but that's a bit weird as a reason. Plus moving Midnight Tides up disrupts the expertly-paced flow of the first four novels with the alternating between Genabackis and Seven Cities. Dumping Lether in the middle, although chronologically correct, throws off the pacing. Plus it also means you have to wait several thousand pages before catching up to the Lether crew in Reaper's Gale (which has to be read after The Bonehunters).

Return of the Crimson Guard should be read after The Bonehunters. In terms of publication order this is correct but also in terms of internal chronology. More than a year passes between The Bonehunters and Reaper's Gale and Return of the Crimson Guard explores what happens during that year. In addition, Return has a major, game-changing ending which the later novels (by both Erikson and Esslemont) spoil. Delaying Return also means delaying the later Esslemont novels, which is a bad idea because of the way the later books interface with one another.

On different lists I place Stonewielder in different orders: it can be read immediately after Return of the Crimson Guard as this is chronologically correct (the two books are separated by a few weeks, and chronologically Reaper's Gale takes place after both books) or you can put Stonewielder after Reaper's Gale to mix things up a bit more between Erikson and Esslemont. However, Reaper's Gale ends with our heroes ready to go kick some backside in Kolanse. Putting Stonewielder after Gale means this storyline hangs for three full novels before we get back to it, whilst putting Stonewielder before Gale reduces this to two books.

The order is important because it places Toll the Hounds and Orb Sceptre Throne next to one another. Orb Sceptre Throne is the direct sequel to Toll the Hounds and Toll the Hounds does a lot of setup work for Orb Sceptre Throne which otherwise goes to waste or might be forgotten. Also, although Toll the Hounds is probably Erikson's best-written book it is almost the most obtusely weird in terms of plot movement and events (it's the longest book in the series but arguably has the least amount of actual important events taking place in it). It's a huge amount of set-up with only one bit of pay-off at the end. Orb Sceptre Throne actually has the rest of the pay-off.

Dust of Dreams and The Crippled God are one extra-long novel split in two for length, so they should definitely be read together.

Blood and Bone takes place chronologically at the same time as The Crippled God (literally, our heroes in B&B see and sense the world-changing events at the end of The Crippled God three-quarters of the way through the book) and extends beyond it, so should be read after The Crippled God. Assail then picks up and resolves some storyline left dangling from Blood and Bone so they work well together.

So, what's wrong with the Tor list?

The Tor list suggests starting with the Kharkanas Trilogy novels Forge of Darkness and Fall of Light. This is really not a good idea. The Kharkanas Trilogy is a prequel in the purest form, working better when you have knowledge of the characters from chronologically later on. In addition, whilst Forge of Darkness is divisive, Fall of Light is easily the worst-regarded Erikson novel published to date. Having it as the second book in the series I think would be a major mistake, as I've seen that novel drive off eighteen-year veterans of the series who've been with it since Gardens of the Moon was published eighteen years ago.

Can you just read the series sequentially and not bother mixing up Erikson and Esslemont?

You can, but I would strongly recommend against it. Although some readers are less keen on Esslemont as a writer than Erikson, it is inarguable that Esslemont's books are fully canon and Erikson does refer to them in his later novels. This is particularly egregious with regard to major events that happen in Return of the Crimson Guard; having them spoiled by later Erikson books is very lame compared to seeing the events happen as they should. In addition, Esslemont and Erikson paced their books and the events within them on the basis of their publication dates being mixed up, so it is more effective to read them with that in mind.

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ssgorik said...

"Blood and Bone takes place chronologically at the same time as The Crippled God (literally, our heroes in B&B see and sense the world-changing events at the end of The Crippled God three-quarters of the way through the book) and extends beyond it, so should be read after The Crippled God."

I read the books up to finishing Dust of Dreams in that order (except I read Stonewielder after Reaper's Gale), very slowly sometimes with a year between books. I especially like how that order once Esslemont appears breaks up reading one author all the time. I haven't felt like reading The Crippled God since I finished Dust of Dreams back in I think March. You wrote about the characters in Blood and Bone seeing and sensing the world changing events of The Crippled God. How badly does it spoil it and could I get away with reading Blood and Bone first? Is it just a vague something's happening or an outright bwahaha it sucks that you didn't read the other book first? I've read other posts on reading orders that say Stonewielder spoils something in Toll the Hounds and Return of the Crimson Guard spoils something in Reaper's Gale yet I don't remember anything I felt spoiled about reading those.

Adam Whitehead said...

Mostly it would give away the fact that the planet and everything on it isn't completely destroyed by the Big Bad in Crippled God. But then the fact there's more books to come probably already spoiled that, so it's not the end of the world. It's just a bit narratively more coherent to read Crippled God first.

Crippled God, btw, is a much stronger book than Dust of Dreams if that's what's holding you back.

Anonymous said...

Dont remember "Return of The Crimson Guard" spoiling anything in "Reapers Gale", nor "Stonewielder" spoiling anything in "Toll the Hounds". I read "Return of the Crimson Guard" right after "The Bonehunters", and that feels like the right order in hindsight as well. I allso think it would be a huge mistake to not read "Orb, Sceptre, Throne" right after "Toll The Hounds". It really does feel like the climax to "Toll the Hounds". Definetley think Adams list is the right way to go.

Certainly dont think one should read "Blood and Bone" untill after "TCG", since it spoils the ending of "TCG".

Abalieno said...

"easily the worst-regarded Erikson novel"

A trip to Goodreads would show the two books are 0.01 apart from each other.

Jens said...

Adam, I'm sure you're familiar with the suggested reading order over at the Malazan Empire forum. Actually, your order (aside from the novellas) differs only in placement of three ICE novels.

I value your judgment a lot and I'm wondering what you think of Stonewielder supposedly spoiling Toll the Hounds?
I haven't read these books yet and don't want to read in the spoiler discussion but from what I've seen in the non-spoiler discussion there seem to be different opinions about the gravity of this spoiler.
From what I understand, your argumentation is that Orb Sceptre Throne works best as a coda to Toll the Hounds. Placing SW after TtH would either break this two-book set or reverse the order of SW and OST.
Do I get this right?

I'm looking forward to eventually dive into the Malazan reading adventure and I'd like to get the best experience on first read, avoiding unnecessary spoilers if possible.
So, I'm very grateful for these recommended reading order.
Thanks so much, Wert!

nikoskap said...

Dancer's Lament is an excellent book,Esslemont has grown a lot as a writer.

blackzoid said...


Sorry Wert, I dont agree with your list at all. I think you are too caught up with continuing relevant storylines in the crossover from a SE book to a ICE book as well as the time/date chronology.
You are however less concerned with maintaining a spoiler-free experiance for new readers. Putting Return of the Crimson Guard before Reapers'Gale spoils the fact that the position of King of House Chain will soon be empty.
Putting Stonewielder before Toll the Hounds spoils the reveal of the Hounds of Light. I prefer this list as suggested on the Tor Comments.

Gardens of the Moon
Deadhouse Gates
Memories of Ice
House of Chains
Midnight Tides
Night of Knives
The Bonehunters
Reaper's Gale
Return of the Crimson Guard
Toll the Hounds
Dust of Dreams
Orb Sceptre Throne
The Crippled God
Blood and Bone

(I have always thought that SE's point that his last two books to be read as one suspect. TCG doesnt feel like a seemless continuation of DoD to me. So putting in O,S,T between is fine. Especially since it occurs around the same time as the last 2. And it breaks up the slog a little)

Adam Whitehead said...

Splitting DoD and TCG is a big no-no. I disagree with SE splitting the two books - they could have been one novel, easily, if he'd pulled the second third of DoD (which was mostly pointless) and reduced the opening third or so of TCG - but DoD has the only real cliffhanger ending in the entire series (leading right into the next volume).

From what I remember, the Hounds of Light aren't a spoiler because, well, if there are Hounds of Shadow and everything else is rooted in that duality then their existence can be inferred form Book 1. Also, they do jack that's really important to the plot from what I remember.

I don't recall Stonewielder spoiling TTH, but given that TTH has a pretty major plot event in the ending, it would be useful to avoid that spoiling if it's there. Technically you could move Stonewielder to after OST (there is no character overlap) but that'd be weird.

Having TTH and OST separated by so many books I think is a major mistake. TTH had a problem when it came out that it spent the whole book building up the Tyrant and he never shows up, so having OST afterwards makes the most amount of sense.

blackzoid said...

Wert, I would feel that its unfair to a new reader for us to assume that their experiance of the Hounds of Light reveal should be so downgraded. Erikson does devote a section in TTH to their reveal after all. In Stonewielder its just a given that they are there. Spoilers should always trump chronology in my view. Another case for putting RoTCG after Repears Gale is that Toc the Elder hasnt died yet in RG. It does make Hood look pretty silly to not know that when talking to Toc the Younger when he arrives at Hood's Gate in RG. Though of course there are still Tiste Edur ships attacking Stratem in RoTCG but you could chalk that up to a small fleet that as yet to come home.

How about this then. 2 ICE books in a row. The end of TTH, doesnt imply that the Tyrants return is going to happen right away. After all, there is a book between GoTM and MoI after all as well.

Gardens of the Moon
Deadhouse Gates
Memories of Ice
House of Chains
Midnight Tides
Night of Knives
The Bonehunters
Reaper's Gale
Return of the Crimson Guard
Toll the Hounds
Orb Sceptre Throne
Dust of Dreams
The Crippled God
Blood and Bone

Anonymous said...

Hi, could anyone who has read Path to Ascendancy tell me were it would fit in in this list or the updated reading list:
Can I save them for the end or do I need to read them in between the books in the updated list.

Adam Whitehead said...

Good point. Path to Ascendancy I think can work in one of two ways: as an alternate new way into the series for new readers (especially as it sets up major characters in Gardens of the Moon, esp. Nightchill, Tayschrenn and Tattersail) or later on. I'm waiting for Book 3, Kellanved's Reach (out next February) to make a firmer decision on that.

messy said...

i haven't read the series, but all reviews are utterly intriguing, but also intimidating. a few questions about the core series:

1. for those of us who aren't terribly strong readers and want a less confusing reading experience, how about starting with the seven cities duo (deadhouse gates and house of chains), followed by the genabackis duo (gardens of the moon and memories of ice), then continuing with the rest of the main series in publication order?

2. my understanding is that midnight tides takes place prior to books 1-4, so how about starting with it to maintain chronological order?

3. unrelated to this post, where's your review of the bonehunters, wert? can't seem to find it...

Adam Whitehead said...

1. You can start with DHG, but I think you have to double back and then read GotM and MoI. There's some timeline funkiness if you do otherwise. HoC starts bringing in characters from the GotM/MoI storyline and also acts as an immediate set-up book for Book 5, so you really need to leave that where it is.

2. You can start with Midnight Tides but you'd then take another 5 books until you find out what happens with the Midnight Tides characters, which is a long time. Midnight Tides is also arguably when Erikson's slight tendency to purple prose kicks in, which isn't present in the earlier four books. Midnight Tides is certainly much more narratively conventional than Books 1-4 though.

3. I'm re-reading The Bonehunters now. On a go-slow as I decided to rewatch the entirety of Game of Thrones before the new season starts, but that's nearly finished (on Season 7, Episode 4 tonight) so I can then bring the reading up to speed again. I still got the third Earthsea book review to put up as well.

Scott Dalane said...

Can you update the list now that Kellanved's Reach is out?

T. said...

Not that my authority matters lol, but I agree 100% with your list for every single reason you outlined.

It's the smoothest read order while maintaining ICE story threads moving forward.

Kharkanas works as an awful entry point.

Path to Ascendancy is best read after, too, due to the tons of cameos being thrown in those books that work much better if you've encountered the characters before.

Mind you, this is what I would recommend as a list for a new reader.
For a reread one's mileage may vary, and in the past mine certainly did.

Anonymous said...

My list involves a lot of skipping around, but from a purely chronological standpoint this is the way to go. However, I’ve read the series through twice at this point.

1. Midnight Tides
2. Prologue and book 1 of house of chains
3. Prologue of Gardens of the moon
4. Night of Knives
5. Rest of Gardens of the moon
6. Memories of Ice
7. Deadhouse Gates
8. Rest of House of Chains
9. Bone hunters
10. ROTCG ( through book 4)
11. Reapers Gale
13. Rest of ROTCG
14. SW
15. Toll the Hounds
16. Orb Sceptre Throne
17. Dust of Dreams
18. Crippled God
19. Blood & Bone
20. Assail

Jake HL said...

Any update on this or is this still the way to go?

Adam Whitehead said...

Yes, I'd still say this was the way to go.

Anonymous said...

I started with gardens of the moon and was really intrigued by Anomander Rake so I then went back to forge of darkness and fall of light to get more of him, and i really really enjoyed my time reading those books. I don't understand the hate on them at all. Maybe because it's like history building and tying the knots of the past together to make a good narrative. But having no knowledge of the upcoming events I was still very interested and enjoyed the prequel trilogy. I didn't read a lot before maybe thats why i still found them epic and cool as fuck.

Bombadilio said...

Thanks For this going to start with this and got gifted for the first 3 books on this list. Will start there then decide if I am buying the whole thing :).

Love L.E. Modesitt J.R, Jordan, Sanderson (and others)and have not read a new series in a long time.

Anonymous said...

I am working my way through the Malazan books in this order, currently in Night of Knives and noticed a throwaway reference in this book that could have been a spoiler for a somewhat import plotline in Deadhouse Gates. I won't mention it here, but I am glad I am following this reading order.