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Malazan: High House Shadow edition

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Oh god, the hobbling. That was so, so, so, awful. But pretty much the whole of DoD leaves a bad taste in my mouth, from the meandering, overlong plotlines to pretentious writing to the very, very random spaceship lizard battle at the end as the "climax" (it has been a while, so I may be misremembering exactly what happened here).

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3 hours ago, Caligula_K3 said:

Oh god, the hobbling. That was so, so, so, awful. But pretty much the whole of DoD leaves a bad taste in my mouth, from the meandering, overlong plotlines to pretentious writing to the very, very random spaceship lizard battle at the end as the "climax" (it has been a while, so I may be misremembering exactly what happened here).

I remember it felt like the first 500 or so pages was mostly the Bonehunters talking about the big journey they were going to embark on but not actually starting it. I think I would agree it is probably the weakest novel in the series, while Toll The Hounds also had serious pacing issues at least it did have a strong ending. 

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Came back to the series a few months ago and have been gradually re-reading MBOTF since; at first I was not sure if I would be able to get to the finish line, especially since my opinion of the text being turgid was strengthened upon the re-read, but now I'm halfway through Dust of Dreams and I can say it has been a pleasure. 

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On 11/23/2018 at 8:47 PM, williamjm said:

I remember it felt like the first 500 or so pages was mostly the Bonehunters talking about the big journey they were going to embark on but not actually starting it. I think I would agree it is probably the weakest novel in the series, while Toll The Hounds also had serious pacing issues at least it did have a strong ending. 

I think the biggest problem with the Bonehunters plotline is the author's blatant attempt to paint Paran as some kind of genius commander with superhuman will and grit, it's bad because the reader knows it, he knows it and even the damn characters know it.  

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8 hours ago, L’Age d’or said:

I think the biggest problem with the Bonehunters plotline is the author's blatant attempt to paint Paran as some kind of genius commander with superhuman will and grit, it's bad because the reader knows it, he knows it and even the damn characters know it.  

This is a problem across the board. Lots of people talk about how tragic the Chain of Dogs was, but for me it was just authorial schmaltz, constantly telling rather than showing how EPIC and how DOOMED all of this was as shorthand for actually developing character for Coltaine or the moustache-twirling, cowardly Nobles. Whiskeyjack was another example, Erikson's shallow characterization not jiving with how much love everyone on page has for this cipher. 

Part of me wants to re-read Malazan, but then I remember stuff like that above, and how arrogant Erikson regards his series & how some of this stuff apparently gets worse after book 4, and I just. cannot. commit the time.

Edited by kuenjato

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9 hours ago, L’Age d’or said:

I think the biggest problem with the Bonehunters plotline is the author's blatant attempt to paint Paran as some kind of genius commander with superhuman will and grit, it's bad because the reader knows it, he knows it and even the damn characters know it.  

I think Erikson does have some great characters but Paran definitely wasn't one of them, despite all the time spent focusing on him.

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8 minutes ago, williamjm said:

I think Erikson does have some great characters but Paran definitely wasn't one of them, despite all the time spent focusing on him.

I was referring to the Adjunct but I agree all the same, the three Parans rank among the weakest. The youngest being the most loathsome and insufferable character in the books by far.

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15 hours ago, L’Age d’or said:

I was referring to the Adjunct but I agree all the same, the three Parans rank among the weakest. The youngest being the most loathsome and insufferable character in the books by far.

Felisin? By far, Erikson's most three-dimensional, well-developed and logical character. Given her status as the youngest, pampered daughter of a noble house who was then imprisoned and abused, it's quite logical that she wanted to inflict vengeance on the Malazans, but lost faith along the way (not helped by the Whirlwind Goddess trying to possess her). Although it starts off Erikson's increasingly problematic attitude to female characters (I'm noticing a lot more on this reread how many female characters are raped, abused or maimed), at least with Felisin the story was handled quite well.

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I quite liked Ganoes Paran in the first three novels, anyways, and I agree, Felisin was a pretty well-done story. The sister -- Tavore, right? -- was quite a cold fish and never struck me as particularly interesting, though, but I gather most of her story is in the later books I have not read.

Edited by Ran

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1 hour ago, Ran said:

I quite liked Ganoes Paran in the first three novels, anyways, and I agree, Felisin was a pretty well-done story. The sister -- Tavore, right? -- was quite a cold fish and never struck me as particularly interesting, though, but I gather most of her story is in the later books I have not read.

Most of Tavore's story happens off-page even in the books where she is physically present. I don't think we ever get a 100% clear idea on when and why she decided to use the 14th Army to resolve the Crippled God situation permanently, which is awkward given it is the driving storyline for the entire second half of the series.

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Night of Knives by Ian Cameron Esslemont

The Malazan Empire is expanding in all directions, consolidating its control of the Seven Cities subcontinent whilst its armies fight a grinding war of attrition on Genabackis against the Crimson Guard and their allies and an ugly stalemate develops on the continent of Korelri. The Empire's expansion has carried the glory and centre of attention away from the place where it was founded, the island of Malaz located off the coast of the Quon Tali continent. The empire was born on Malaz Island, but the empire has grown up and moved out of home. Yet, on the night of a mysterious convergence known as the Shadow Moon, this backwater city once again becomes the centre of attention...

Night of Knives was the first novel written by Ian Cameron Esslemont, set in the world he had co-created with his friend Steven Erikson for roleplaying. The original draft of the novel was written in 1987 but it wouldn't be published (somewhat revised) until 2004, when Erikson was already five books deep into his Malazan Book of the Fallen series. Night of Knives is therefore an odd book, with a different author's viewpoint on a complex fantasy setting. It also kicks off Esslemont's own six-volume Malazan Empire series and acts as a prequel to the entire saga, telling the story of the ill-fated night of the Shadow Moon and what happened to Kellanved and Dancer.

Although, to be honest, it doesn't really, as that momentous event takes place mostly off-stage (and I suspect we won't find out what really happened until Esslemont wraps up his Path to Ascendancy prequel series). Instead, the novel focus on a number of different characters in Malaz City on the night of an ill-omened convergence of magical forces. Our main characters are Kiska, a young thief so desperate to escape the boring island that she even courts joining the Claw, and Temper, a formidable warrior having to hide his true history from his comrades.

Night of Knives is a strange and expectation-defying book. It's strangely minimalist, with sparse descriptions and laidback prose (and a modest page count) that feels very different to Erikson's dense, multi-layered and yak-stunning doorstoppers. It's also not the best book to read without context. Back when I first read the novel, midway through the Malazan Book of the Fallen's release cycle, Night of Knives felt like a viable alternate place to start the series, being much easier to read than Gardens of the Moon. However, on this reread the book felt a lot more random and lacking in background detail. Without having read Erikson's novels first, I'm not sure it's really clear what the hell is going on at any given moment in the book. Temper's backstory also feels really meaningless without the reader knowing who his former commanding officer is.

It's also an odd book in that it sets up multiple awesome confrontations which then happen off-page: Kellanved and Dancer meeting their fate and an awe-inspiring magical battle between Tayschrenn and the Stormriders are both mighty events, but our viewpoint characters manage to miss them both.

On a character level, the book is better in that it establishes Temper and Kiska (who go on to play a role in both Erikson and Esslemont's subsequent novels, particularly The Bonehunters and Return of the Crimson Guard) well, the story is moody and atmospheric, and there's a sense of wandering into a friend's D&D campaign when it's half over and only just about following what's going on but enjoying the action and exploding magical hijinks anyway. Looking at the book from the perspective of having read all twenty published novels in the combined Erikson/Esslemont series (to date), I'm not sure it's a particularly essential read, although certainly not an offensive one.

Night of Knives (***) is a solid but somewhat random first novel which does nicely expand on many plot elements hinted at in Erikson's novels, but does work better when the reader has a more solid grounding in the world from Erikson's books.

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From a personal perspective, I found NoK to be one of the better books from ICE.  Although many of the "big events" from the overall Malazan plot may have happened out of sight of the main characters of this book, these characters had relatively clear motivations and a plot that I could follow throughout the book.  This made it a better reading experience than some of his later works in which I could not follow the plot or the players' motivations without help.

Furthermore, this book also had a better sense of scene or location than most of his other books.  The city and island and the environs that the characters inhabit were well-described and had a hand in propelling the storyline.  Some of his other books include a storyline that kind of hovers gently over a nebulous landscape, rarely giving me that sense of where the book plot takes place.

Wert is spot on when he calls this book as best read later in the process of working through the Malazan story.  It gives a little depth to the books set later in the world events, and it provides depth for some of the characters that step to the front in later books as well.

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First blurb for The God Is Not Willing (from Edelweiss catalog):

New York Times bestselling author Steven Erikson continues the beloved Malazan Book of the Fallen in a thrilling new sequel trilogy

Return to the Malazan Empire!

Picking up right after the events of 2011’s The Crippled God, this new entry in a truly epic saga continues the story of the unmatched warrior, Karsa Orlong, as he returns to his people a world away. Karsa must travel the breadth of the world and will cross paths with many of the survivors of the final cataclysmic showdown.

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The Bonehunters by Steven Erikson

The rebellion known as the Whirlwind has been defeated and now its last army is fleeing to the storied city of Y'Ghatan. The Malazan 14th Army, the Bonehunters, is in hot pursuit, keen to eradicate the last vestiges of rebellion on Seven Cities. But fate, the gods and the crafty general known as Leoman of the Flails have other ideas. Elsewhere, black ships from beyond the western oceans have set events are in motion that will engulf the greatest warriors in the world, Karsa Orlong of the Teblor and Icarium Lifestealer among them, and will see the Master of the Deck, Ganoes Paran, reluctantly take a direct hand in events.

Steven Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen series is initially made up of three interlocking story arcs: events on Genabackis, events on Seven Cities and events on the continent of Lether. For the first five books these story arcs have been broadly kept separate, but the sixth volume is when they decisively collide with one another. To put it another way, if Malazan was the Marvel Cinematic Universe, this is the first Avengers movie where you get to see characters from all the previous sub-series meet up and rub shoulders with one another.

There is undeniably a visceral thrill to this, as it represents the shape of the over-arcing Malazan storyline starting to come into focus. We start getting a better idea of what the series overall is going to be about and where the final battles will take place, although much remains murky. The feeling that the series is - at last! - starting to coalesce into one coherent, cohesive narrative is satisfying.

That said, it is also not handled entirely well. Previous Malazan books have been relatively smooth and consistent in their tone. This book feels a lot more inconsistent, a side-effect of mashing together characters from rather different previous books and storylines. There's also a slight air of contrivance to the book. Characters meet up in unlikely coincidences and mysterious new allies show up having spent two years pre-preparing a ritual which will come in handy at a key moment. Characters portentously declare things to one another that will leave the reader baffled. At one point, apropos of Douglas Adams, the moon actually explodes for no immediately discernible reason (which gets an explanation later on that still feels rather random).

The book is also a bit on the over-full side. Some Malazan novels are overlong and have a lot of filler in them; others (particularly the first three) are super-lean and bursting out of the page limit with incident, character developments and intriguing themes. The Bonehunters instead feels like the plots of three separate novels have been pushed into it and the focus careens between them with the grace of a pinball machine. So much is going on that major events and characters are given very short shrift indeed (the incidental death of one major, long-standing character is disappointing). In particular, the rise of two previous confirmed villains into positions of supreme power and influence comes out of left field and is fundamentally unconvincing, even moreso on a reread.

But this is still a Malazan novel written by Steven Erikson, so that means we still get excellent and brutally tragic set-piece events, wonderful moments of prose and dialogue and some effectively powerful reflections of the human condition. At one point the book threatens to turn into a disaster novel, which would have been interesting (fantasy disaster novels are pretty thin on the ground), although the book then shoots off in a different direction. There's also a series of phenomenal action sequences paced through the book, with the Malazans and Whirlwind soldiers clashing in a burning city, a naval face-off between two mighty powers and, most impressively, a long-running battle through the streets of a major city as Kalam and the Claw finally settle their debts. There's a lot of good stuff in this book, it just doesn't necessarily hang together as well as it should.

The Bonehunters (***½) is one of the more divisive books in the series - I've seen people lament it as the worst book in the series (which I don't agree with) and praise it as the best (which I also don't agree with) - but it's also one of the most action-packed and is the one that brings the focus and ultimate point of the series into sharper relief, which is a good thing. In order to get there, an (even for this series) unlikely number of plot twists and coincidences have to take place, which makes the book feel more artificial than almost any other Malazan novel released to date. That said, it's written so well that you may not even care. The book is available now in the UK and USA.

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Yeah, pretty much agree with the basic thrust of that review- Bonehunters has a lot of the best stuff in the series but it's got a bad pacing problem where the true climax is basically in the middle and then there's a lot of unconnected wandering about tying up loose ends and people bumping into each other so SE can leave this part of the world behind and take the characters that need to go with with, before a second climax that stands well on its own but wasn't really built up to.

I did enjoy it more on my own recent reread though because in the context of the whole series most of what seemed big pacing issues at the time are barely blips, and some stuff that doesn't have much place in this novel specifically fits more comfortably when what it leads to follows directly. That was pretty much my experience of the whole second half of the series actually; the flaws are still there, but it becomes a lot more clear that SE was writing much less self-contained books by then and when you can read them altogether as a longform it works much better.

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The enigmatic sorcerer Kellanved has seized control of Malaz Island. His cohort and ally Surly plots the conquest of her homeland, the Napan Isles. Meanwhile, the mainland of Quon Tali is wracked by war and civil war. Purge and Tali are locked in incessant conflict in the west, whilst to the east the Bloorian League is trying to crush the city of Gris. Conflict stalks the world but great changes are coming in the warrens as well, as Kellanved seeks the Throne of Shadow and also the First Throne of the T'lan Imass, the Army of Dust and Bone...


Kellanved's Reach is the third novel in Ian Esslemont's Path to Ascendancy series, which acts as a prequel to both the Malazan Book of the Fallen sequence by Steven Erikson and Esslemont's own earlier Malazan Empire series. Following on from Dancer's Lament and Deadhouse Landing, this book continues the story of Kellanved and Dancer, the founders of the Malazan Empire.

The events described in this trilogy, and in this single novel especially, are vast, epic and the stuff of myth. Kellanved's seizure of the First Throne, his alliance with the T'lan Imass and the military campaigns which saw the Malazan Empire start coming together have been referenced in hushed tones throughout the sixteen novels of both of Erikson and Esslemont's original series, so to see those events first-hand is thrilling. Or rather it should be.

If one word comes to mind when reading Kellanved's Reach it is "rushed". The book is only 330 pages long (barely a third as long as some of Erikson's books) and Esslemont tries to fit into this modest page count no less than five major military campaigns, a major subplot with Kellanved and Dancer exploring the Shadow Realm and the stories of numerous POV characters. There simply isn't enough room to do this justice and as a result we end up bouncing back and forth between characters and stories like a pinball machine. Massive, major events (like the nascent empire's capture of the strategically vital city of Cawn) take place in sentences, let along paragraphs, and the epic final battle which ends with Kellanved's crowning feels perfunctory at best.

This is a shame because the improvement in Esslemont's writing and character voice which has been building since Dancer's Lament continues apace here. The early chapters, which relax a little to focus on the military campaigns on opposite coasts of the continent, are well-written and excellent, and it's fun to see future important characters like Greymane and Skinner arise from the masses to start their own steps down the road to destiny. But around the halfway mark the pace accelerates and suddenly major plot events are whizzing by like they've been shot out of a machine gun.

There's still much to enjoy here, of course, even if the later chapters of the book do start feeling more like a plot summary than a novel. I suspect it will be even more frustrating as - if as seems possible - more books in this series follow; Path to Ascendancy was contracted for three books but the series has sold extremely well, so it may be extended. There's plenty of scope if so (the book ends with Kellanved crowned but only a very small part of Quon Tali under his control), and it'd be interesting to fill the gaps in between this book and Night of Knives (set roughly 100 years later), where Kellanved's plans are finally fully realised.

Kellanved's Reach (***½) is a reasonably solid addition to the Malazan mythos, with some genuinely exciting, myth-making moments. It also feels like the novel should have been either twice as long as it is, or its events should have been split over two books. As it stands, the brake-neck pacing means that the emotional resonance and dramatic power of some long-awaited scenes are diluted. The book is available in the UK now and next month in the USA.

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