Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Book-A-Day #142 (12/5): Midnight Tides by Steven Erikson

{heaves large sigh}

I do enjoy these books immensely, but they take forever to read. It took me six days to get through the first third of this one (I always seem to dawdle through the first couple of hundred pages of a Malazan novel, looking things up on websites and referring to the glossary and cast of characters every half-page), then the afterburners kicked in: I read the middle third over the weekend and the last 270 pages yesterday and today. (And, as usual with a book like this, I hit the end at a pace that could easily have knocked off another fifty to a hundred pages today.)

This is book five of the absolutely gigantic "Malazan Book of the Fallen" epic fantasy series, which manages the rare trick of having doorstop-sized books (900 pages or more in paperback) that each tell a complete, semi-independent story with a cast of thousands. The Malazan books are not the story of the adventures of a pig-boy and his buddies across a strange and wonderful land; they're the tales of hordes of people (about half of them from various non-human races -- though Erikson tends to describe all those non-humans as a similar mixture of: tall, slim, has too many joints, nearly indestructible, uses immensely powerful sorcery, deadly in combat) across an entire world, on all sides of several major and minor wars. There will be ten books -- Erikson announced all ten titles some time ago -- so this is the half-way point.

Oh, before I forget: above is what the book I was reading looked like. Down here is what the US edition will look like, in April.

Anyway, I'm very fond of these books. They read a little bit like the bastard child of Moorcock's world-weariness and ambition and Glen Cook's military fatalism. Each book does take a bit of work to get into, since there are so many plot threads going on, but -- for a reader who can stand any kind of epic fantasy -- they're definitely worth it. (In my SFBC blurb for the last book, House of Chains, I said that the Malazan books are what you move up to when you're tired of regular epic fantasy -- or that normal epic fantasy is what you train on to get yourself in shape for Malazan.)

Midnight Tides starts a completely new plot; it's set on the other side of the world from the previous books, several years before the previous earliest book, and only has a few obvious ties (some Crimson Guard show up late in the book, and a viewpoint character here had already appeared in House of Chains; that kind of minor thing) to the earlier books. If you have read the earlier books, it's not a complete departure, but it's still mostly new stuff. (And this after the first four books ranged over big swaths of two continents and nearby islands!)

This is epic fantasy in the big-stakes sense, but no one is on a quest for plot tokens here; Erikson organizes his plots, as usual, around a war. We have viewpoint characters on both sides (loyalists and traitors), as well as plenty of characters who are only on their own sides. And he's perfectly willing to kill characters -- though it's sometimes hard to stay dead on this world.

If you're going to do epic fantasy, this is the way to do it.

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Anonymous said...

I read the first two Erikson books back in 2001 and have been itching to get back into them since (picked them up on business trip to Canad).

I liked what I read then, but when I found out the books were picked up by TOR I figured I'd wait. Unlike most folks, I like the Tor covers. Well, except for Gardens of the Moon.

Andrew Wheeler said...

Tor's cover for Gardens of the Moon isn'll all that wonderful, but you should have seen what they were originally going to put on Deadhouse Gates -- that was not good at all. Luckily, they changed their minds and re-used the great UK cover (by Steve Stone, I think).

And since then, they've gotten some great epic fantasy covers out of Todd Lockwood -- I tend to think they're not quite as gritty as I'd like for Erikson, but they're great covers and they seem to be working to sell the books, so that's all good.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I saw Youll's original idea for the cover, didn't think it was a bad image, just not appropriate.

I like most of Lockwood's covers - he's done two great covers Tobias Buckell's novels

Patrick said...

Midnight Tides was a great story in and of itself. Look for what comes after in the upcoming Reaper's Gale!

Can't wait!;-)

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