Well, I told you on Monday I was going to do this. And I am not one to go back on my word, so it’s happening. Today, I’m going to tell you exactly why you need to read Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen. And then I’m going to suggest absolutely no alcohol, going against the whole purpose of this blog. Why, you may ask, would you have a Boozy Books with no booze?
Because you need your faculties to read a series like this.
Oh yeah, for those of you who didn’t read Monday’s rambling mess of a blog on World Building, this is not just one book. This is ten. Ten books that start at average length (for fantasy, anyway, at 200k words a book) and, over the series, turn into door stops (almost 400k words). Maybe not to Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive status (which I’d recommend here in a post if it were more than 20% done), but certainly long. And, unlike Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, this is a series that punches you in the brain at least as much as the heart and gut, if not more. Martin’s series is relatively easy to read, no matter how hard it can be to keep reading when your favorites just keep dying.
And then the showrunners force you to wait another year to find out the fate of your favorite character because they’re evil. Super, super evil.
Anyway, on to the recommendation. *takes a deep breath*
OK. The first thing I have to tell you is that Steven Erikson is an anthropologist. This means he is a student of humanity. Literally. And culture in particular. He is also a trained archaeologist, which means he knows all about physical remains and what they say about a culture. What does that mean for you, the reader? It means that this is a world that has seen civilizations rise and fall over…eons. And it makes sense how those civilizations behaved. Why did the Jaghut mostly disappear from the world? And what does it say about the T’lann Imass that they were willing to do what they did (no spoilers here) to win a war? As a student of history myself (and someone whose first great heartbreak was finding out I couldn’t actually be Indiana Jones), this is drool-inducing. There are so few worlds that have this scope and this…natural evolution. Things don’t happen in this world in order to suit the story–the story is the way things happen in this world.
We enter the narrative at the heart of the Malazan Empire in the last year of the Emperor Kellanved and, from the beginning, are simply thrown into this world with absolutely nothing with which to orient ourselves. People do not explain things to the reader. Why should they, after all? This is their world and there’s no reason for the infamous info dump. This is your only warning: you will be confused. You will turn back to earlier pages wondering if you missed something and realize that you haven’t; the story just hasn’t explained it to you. Get used to being lost for a little while; eventually, the story will explain what needs to be explained. It’s like you’ve just been dropped into events already in progress and you missed the orientation.
It is amazing. OK, so it might not sound like it, but it is amazing. Why? Because of that feeling you get in your head when things finally click. It’s actually rather like accomplishment, that feeling, because it feels like you’ve earned it rather than had it spoon fed to you. This series takes you from Malaz City to a massive desert; the remains of at least two great human empires; into magical warrens that are literally the veins of a god; and to a part of the world that is almost literally frozen in time, where the magic has not evolved and the old gods have maintained their power. Oh yeah…there are gods. There are also ascendants, who are like gods, but aren’t worshiped. There’s a deck of cards that are like tarot, but change as the world changes, reflecting the rise and fall of the entities who fulfill the roles within. It’s alive. And it is wonderful.
Like Game of Thrones, this series will kill people you love. Unlike Game of Thrones, there is very rarely the sense that something big has been building. It seems almost impossible to tell which characters Erikson loves because he’ll just toss people aside like so much refuge. Their stories might be incomplete; secrets you wanted to learn about them might never be revealed. Characters leave the series and you wonder what the hell they were doing and where they went, but you never see them again. This goes back to the fact that things just aren’t explained. It’s almost like you were transported back in time and are watching events without any context and things that you don’t see aren’t going to be shown to you. A brief, limited view of this world. With characters that are awesome. And a story that makes sense and builds to something. This is the definition of epic. It makes even Middle Earth seem small and neat. And I love it.
Anomander Rake is my forever hero. And he can turn into a dragon. Oh yeah…there are dragons. Did I mention? And they’re one of the only recognizable fantasy species in this world, though you’ll definitely understand the way evolution works and should be able to grasp a sort of real-world corollary if you really wanted to. You probably won’t, though, because you’ll be too busy feeling your brain explode. I know I did.
So…my recommendations. I’ve changed my mind during the course of this and I am definitely going to give you a couple of alcoholic options, if only because most of the beverages mentioned in the books are alcohol-based. Even the milk is alcoholic…though it’s made of whale sperm, so there’s that. It’s only in Lether, though, so no worries. There’s also a drink made from the blood of a dying god…but I think I’ll skip that. No…I’m going to go with rum and light beer, one of which is to be had in Lether and the other in Seven Cities, which represent two sides of this world. A nice, dark rum for when you need to dull your sorrows (which will be many) or maybe take a break from the onslaught. My father’s family are from Bermuda, a lovely island (just like Malaz City), so I’m recommending Gosling’s Black Seal Rum (which has a great history of being bottled in old Champagne bottles because that’s what the people had). Now, if you want something with some alcohol in it while reading…I’m going to give you the Seven Cities option of a pale lager. They drink a light beer called Sawr’ak, which is served cold. I love a good Helles because it’s slightly sweet, but it’s up to you. If, however, you want to keep your wits about you…stick with water. You spend a lot of time traveling with armies and wandering through deserts, so water becomes an important commodity. Enjoy the liquid of life and keep your wits about you. At least until you need the dulling effect of rum, of course.
Well, I ended up sticking to my word AND giving you some booze! What a wonderful day! I sincerely recommend this series to anyone who loves scope, scale, and EPIC storytelling. Pick up Ian Esslemont’s companion series and then Erikson’s prequel series (only one book out so far) about the Tiste Andii, which means…ANOMANDER! (I really do love him). The first book in Malazan is called Gardens of the Moon, of Esslemont’s series is Night of Knives, and Forge of Darkness for the prequel series. Do it. You will thank me.
I also love Cotillion. And Ganoes. I was fortunate that most of my favorites lived…I hope you are also so fortunate. Until tomorrow with some Shakespeare!