[By Nic Lindh on Sunday, 03 September 2017]
It might be that with the state of the world these days you want to take your mind off things. A great way to accomplish that is with epic fantasy. And there’s no fantasy series more epic than the awesome Malazan Book of the Fallen series.
But if you’ve already read all 3.2 million words—yes, 3.2 million words spread out into ten novels, which is a lot of words—of the Malazan Book of the Fallen series and are jonesing for more, I bring you good news!
If you’re not familiar with it, the Malazan Book of the Fallen is a high fantasy series that spans a world and a history of a world and ultimately is a haunting meditation on the meaning of mortality. The sheer scope of Malazan is mind-blowing and that Steven Erikson pulled it off is incredible.
The series starts with Gardens of the Moon, which will leave you utterly confused and enthralled. It’s not an easy read, but magnificent.
But if you’ve already read Malazan and want more—and why wouldn’t you want more, the world of Malazan is so rich and deep—Erikson’s co-creator of the universe, Ian C. Esslemont, has written a six-series cycle called Novels of the Malazan Empire that take place in the same time frame but with different characters—though there is some overlap—and tells a different set of stories that tie in to the main stories of the Malazan Book of the Fallen.
As an aside here, I’m not a Dungeons and Dragons guy, mostly because we were not aware of it in the small Swedish town where I grew up. If I had only known, I’m sure I would have been one of those guys, but I wasn’t introduced to D&D until I went to college in the States, at which point in my life I was much more interested in hanging around night clubs making feeble attempts at dating women.
My biggest frustration with a lot of fantasy is that it feels like some guy—it’s usually a guy—wrote down his awesome D&D campaign and unless you’re that guy, it actually isn’t that interesting because the characters came out of a D&D campaign and are one-dimensional and boring to everybody but you.
Not so Erikson and Esselmont. They have myriad—perhaps too many, even—characters, and a lot of those characters are quite interesting.
However, Erikson and Esselmont have, to put it mildly, different writing styles. Erikson has found the elusive Epic knob on his keyboard and turned it to 11, while Esselmont writes more prosaically. Not that Esselmont is a bad writer by any means, but he hasn’t found that Epic knob Erikson did.
But Esselmont does grow as a writer as Novels of the Malazan Empire goes on.
Night of Knives is frustrating, as it’s told through the viewpoints of characters who have no idea what’s going on and thus you as the reader have very little idea what’s going on, and Esselmont’s prose in this novel is pretty rough. If it was a stand-alone there’s no way I could recommend it.
But then he finds his stride and the series picks up steam. So don’t let Night of Knives put you off—it gets much better.
As a whole, Novels of the Malazan Empire is satisfying and a worthy inclusion in the canon. And despite being less Epic than Erikson, Esselmont does use much fewer words, so these are more normal-length novels instead of the bricks that make up the Malazan Book of the Fallen.
Obviously, this series is not where you should start, but if like me you find yourself jonesing for another shot of Malazan, dive in to Novels of the Malazan Empire to find out more about the Forkrul, the Stormguard and the Crimson Guard.