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This may go down as one of the great epic fantasies of our time.
Truly, this series redefines the word "epic" in fantasy. Compared to this, I don't think we would consider most other fantasies as in the same category - they certainly don't have the same scope at all. This series kind of stands apart, maybe going TOO far... The sheer scale of the undertaking - the twisted, overarching plots that far transcend even this massive volume; an immense cast of characters, both immortal and mortal; a history of over 300,000 years, and characters who have lived out all of those years; myriad races, cultures, and multiple worlds - it's almost impossible to imagine that an author could actually pull this off and make it work. Yet Erikson, somehow, does.
And Ralph Lister doesn't just narrate this book - he PERFORMS it.
This book definitely hits the high point of the series so far - the sophistication of the plot and the elegance of the writing both establish that clearly. In this book, the investment that the reader is asked to make in the first two books finally reaches its pay-off, and it is a massive one. There are heroic moments of awesome, and tragic, heart-wrenching losses. This is not a story for the faint of heart.
The first book was a jumble of unfamiliar names and concepts, a tangled web of plots and events that happen without much context. The second was an epic journey through a hopeless war, a tragedy a thousand pages in the making. The third book is where everything comes together, closing a major chapter arc begun in book one. By now you know the players, and many of the rules. The battles are epic, but not as exhausting as the total war-mentality of Deadhouse Gates.
For me, with this book I believe I have finally gotten a grasp on what the series is. I wish someone had written it out like this to me earlier, so I could understand. Nevertheless, I will try and fill that role for those like me who come after.
When approaching the series, think of Greek Mythology - an endless struggle between gods, demigods and mortals. The gods used to be mortals themselves, and are rife with all the desires, shortcomings, and temperaments that mortals are. There are also ascendants - who were mortal champions, kings, or what have you - who for whatever reason have ascended into a demigod-like state of power and life. Then there are many races - and most of these are humanoid - and with race comes an endless, spiraling cycle of conflict, with each side at times playing brutal aggressor, at others hapless victim. In fact, racism seems to be the initial cause for most of the conflict in this world, and that one would expect. Only the mistakes that are made take tens or hundreds of thousands of years to rectify, before both sides finally admit their faults and ask forgiveness.
Also realize this was borne out of a role-playing game devised by Erikson and Ian Esslemont. Some events probably occur because they just happened in the game. Does this make the plots overly complex? It's a matter of opinion, probably. Some things feel like they get ret-conned in, but it's hard to tell. Many characters' names may strike you as odd, as the Bridgeburners seem to often go by nicknames. Again, sounds like they just came up with some on the fly while gaming, then added backstory and explanation later.
The characters, goals, and motivations are not simple. This is a gray world. Good characters turn evil and evil characters become good, and sometimes justice is not seen. Despite this, death is usually not the final word, as characters ascend, return, or are reborn.
This series requires a lot of investment, more than any I have ever read. It's not perfect, and it's not my favorite fantasy ever. But if it sounds like this is something you're interested in, and you're willing to be patient, then there are some pretty enjoyable pay-offs.
Note: If you read this series and get confused or impatient, and if you don't mind some spoilers, I highly recommend keeping a link to the Malazan Wiki handy - it helped me keep track of who's who and what's what immensely, and the spoilers are few - barring a few major ones you need to be careful of. In fact, for me, the spoilers as they boosted my understanding (and therefore enjoyment) of the book significantly, because I was asking less "what" and "why" and could focus on the "how".
It's hard to believe all that has happened in only THREE books. And there are SEVEN more books in this series...
10 of 10 people found this review helpful
Erikson's Mythology is as deep, perhaps deeper than Jordan's or Tolkien's. So deep, that I didn't feel any sort of grasp on it until halfway through the book. The characters from the first book are all but forgotten for this tale. Erikson again spins 4 storylines bound for a collision at the end of the book. New, vibrant, and complex characters abound as we again see both sides of warring parties. I find myself rooting for morally bankrupt individuals and trying to figure out if this is a story of futility or hope in the face of desperate odds. Erikson takes on a journey of retribution and sacrifice--balance past criminal behavior versus wisdom gained from experience or tenderness brought on by ignorance.
The story is action packed and abhorrently violent. I was entertained and thought provoked throughout, but too depressed at times to take on long stretches of listening.
Ralph is a solid reader--clear and dynamic, however he does not have the vocal range or accents to cover the shear number of characters presented. I would really love to hear a female reader take on the female characters, much like Michael Kramer and Kate Reading in Jordan's Wheel of Time.
9 of 9 people found this review helpful