Reading Challenge #81: The Malazan Book of the Fallen Series by Steven Erikson

It’s time for another book challenge entry, because I read most of this on my flight home from the west coast a few weeks back. The next book on the list is the Malazan Book of the Fallen Series by Steven Erikson. As usual with series on the list, I’m just reading the first book, Gardens of the Moon (published 1999).

As you may know by now, and will surely know if you keep reading these reviews until I finish my challenge, I have a bias against sprawling epic fantasy novels. It’s not that I don’t like them at all, but given the choice between fantasy war and political intrigue, and the exact same story but in space with lasers and spaceships, I’ll choose the spaceships every time. I also put off writing this review for a little while after I finished reading, so my recollection will be slightly fuzzier than usual.

Even with all that said, this book was a solid read. This book follows the expansion of an empire, through the eyes of the people on the ground on several sides. There are more than two sides, because in addition to the loyal imperial forces and those of the territories they seek to annex, there are also outside forces with treaties or vested interest in slowing the expansion, and forces within the empire working against it for their own reasons.

Oh and did I mention the gods? They keep getting involved too. This book has a theme of people losing themselves in service to something bigger, whether by their own choice or not. The loyal hand of the empress has given up her own identity to act as a more pure proxy for the empress. A young fisherman’s daughter is possessed by a god of assassins and also the spirit of a murdered witch. Several different characters are possessed or influenced by the god(s) of luck. It began to feel like nobody in the world was acting under their own volition. Maybe that was the point.

There were a few things that helped me get over my dislike of this style of novel and actually enjoy it. For one thing, unlike many fantasy novels that focus on war and politics, there was still plenty of magic in this world. Not just gods walking on earth like legends, but actual battles with wizards flinging spells at each other. I approve. The other thing that made this novel stand out was the characters. Although one was a bit more of a trope than I could take, on the whole the characters in this book were well-written and well motivated. This was good because there were a lot of characters, and the plot occasionally bounced around between them.

Much of the style and characters seem to build directly off of themes from the Elric stories. It made me very glad I had read those before this one. There are a range of characters here, but they all have their personal baggage that defines their personalities and their actions. This book ends with a few crises averted, and more still looming on the horizon. Overall I enjoyed it but probably not enough to keep reading the series.

TL;DR: A fantasy epic with some interesting thoughts on the nature of fate, chance, and personal responsibility.

The Malazan Book of the Fallen Series by Steven Erikson

Rating: 3/5 stars

Next up: Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, by Gregory Maguire.

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