[By Nic Lindh on Monday, 29 August 2016]
The Malazan Book of the Fallen series consists of 10 brick-sized novels that according to Wikipedia make up 3.2 million words. Yup, 3.2 million words. That’s a lot of words.
Fortunately, it’s fantastic.
What we’re looking at here is a massive series, not just in terms of word count, but also in terms of world building—it spans thousands of years, several continents, several cultures, a multitude of races, several systems of magic, and a sprawling host of characters. Massive.
But what’s most impressive to me is that despite the insane word count, Malazan is tight. Unlike most high fantasy with 100-pages-to-walk-around-a-bush sections, there are no draggy bits—every word reveals character, builds the world, or moves the story forward. It’s written like a series of interconnecting short storys or novellas that snap together to create a story arc. I get a headache just thinking about creating something like this. Massive respect to Steven Erikson for even undertaking such a massive job, no less pulling it off.
Erikson also trusts his readers—there is no coddling. If a character disappears for three novels and then comes back, there’s no reintroduction or reminder of who that character is. They just show up and it’s up to the reader to remember who they are. The same thing goes for character introductions: There’s no signaling to let you know if this will be a major or minor character. It might be a major character the series will turn on, or the character might die four pages later. You don’t know. You have to pay attention at all times. No coasting.
The same thing goes for the systems of magic. Wizards do magic stuff from the get-go, but the reader has no idea how it works—there are systems, but it’ll take the reader a while to figure them out. In the meantime, you just have to roll with it.
So what’s the Malazan Book of the Fallen about? There’s obviously a lot—a lot—of high fantasy plot happening, but at its heart it’s a meditation on mortality and the choices we make.
If you’re the kind of reader who enjoys being challenged and you like fantasy, definitely give the first book in the series, Gardens of the Moon, a shot. Just be prepared to be both awed and confused.