Midnight Tides - Steven Erikson : I didn't think the last book could be bettered. I was definitely wrong! Erikson is a master crafter of story telling.
Series: The Malazan Book of the Fallen #2
I'm invoking the "Life is too short and I have too many better books to read" clause.
I really wasn't a fan of Gardens of the Moon, the first book in the series, but I kept hearing from my friends that the first book isn't actually all that good and that Erikson learned how to write in the interim. Maybe. But the writing wasn't my only criticism of Gardens of the Moon. Mostly I was just bored.
The same thing happened here. The "clever" banter felt stale and I just didn't find myself interested in any of the characters. I was briefly interested in the apparent storyline to go assassinate the Empress, but honestly the plan felt so convoluted (yes, we want to go to point A but first we have to go to points B and C so that we can get further away to point D so that eventually we can get to point A and have our backup magically parachute in...ok, I admit I was probably half-skimming at that point) that I don't feel there will be enough pay off even there.
Sure, Erikson has invented a complicated fantasy world...but I just don't find it very interesting. This is the tired old fantasy in a new setting, the kind of stuff that made me swear off most fantasy (except for Pratchett) for the better part of a decade growing up.
I'll admit I decided to bail after reading the part about how Felisin is trading sex for favours, not because this is happening in the story, but because of the way it's described. It's a tired old cliché that's so impersonal it's just dull. The funny thing is that Felisin is supposed to be a protagonist and you feel absolutely nothing for her. Anyway, I basically went "Oh, so it's going to be THAT kind of story again...sigh. There are way too many pages left..." And put the book aside.
There are better books out there. Hell, there's better sword & sorcery fantasy out there. And by better I mean not clichéd and can actually hold my interest.
The way Erikson intricately weaves his plot is stunningly brilliant. I really do not want to give things away here. A mysterious flooded warren? I thought what on earth. Then later on mind blown. A floating skeletal bone dragon from book 2. Ah starting make a lot more sense, There is so much going on in these books. The series is definitely not for the faint of heart. But if you like a really intelligent good read that is thought provoking then these books are for you.
There has been some high praise for this series, and I'm willing to admit that I don't have the headspace right now to get into something so high-falutin' and epic.
Or, it could just be bad. There's no way of knowing, because I do not see myself making another go at this book. I've made a bad habit letting books sit for months lately. The thing is though, MALAZAN BOOK OF THE FALLEN, unlike A Forsyte sequel, The Familiar, or a Russian novel on Da Vinci, doesn't have a hook or characters, or a thought that I can connect to and, subsequently, remember. In Gardens of the Moon I have...I have fragments of a magic system, I have some politics, and a mage named Trellis (that's not right) and some soldiers who've had a raw deal. I read hundreds of pages, there should have been something that made a strong impression.
Erikson, you need to give me something. I will go on a long journey with authors (I did namedrop The Familiar), but you've got to give me something. There are books that are worth heroic efforts and concentration and zero parts of this book made me want to make anything like that kind of effort.
The Deadhouse Gates is an interesting book and one that is quite the dichotomy. The chain of dogs story as well as Felisin's arc was a tough slog. Then you get gem arcs revolving around two very old and odd travellers as well as a few known characters in Kalam, Apsalar, Fidd and Crokus. So please take heed of the title. Read on friend as the gold pit that awaits you will be special if you pay attention.
Much of the story will give you a few easter eggs of what is to come in the series particularly what is waiting in terms of our friends the Bidgeburners as well as the interesting Anomander Drake and the interesting fellowship in Darujhistan. These interludes can make for some complex reading.
I am not sold on how daft and unconvincing Felisin is. I think I will need to read her arc again and see how convincing she is. I do quite like some of the elements that arise from her arc though but do not want to spoil such for those who have not read the book.
Kalam's story is top shelf and my second favourite part of the book which does pertain to a fair portion of this book.
The biggest gem for me occurs toward the end of the book when the old travellers meet some interesting companions. The moment was a watershed one for me within this series. You realise just how damn big this series world is. Mind officially blown!
On top of all of this, Steven Erikson really is a wonderful writer. He and Sanderson exceed anyone else I have read in the fantasy genre. These guys are master craftsmen. The simple way in which Erikson utilises a paragraph, sentence or phrase to deliciously describe a scene is magnificent and very satisfying. A small smirk can make all the difference in reading a story. Just today whilst reading the fourth installment of this very series I came across a few examples. One simply described a dog's stature comically: "Beside Him lay the scrawny Hengese lapdog that Truth said was named Roach. The bone the creature gnawed on was bigtger than it, and had that bone teeth and appetite it would be the one doing the eating right now."
Hang in there as you will be well rewarded I assure you. I almost lost my s**t and put the series down. Do the series the service it deserves and see it out.