2/7/11 - Erikson begins by treating us to a 200 page prelude about a new character named Karsa, who also starts out as one of the most purely despicab...more2/7/11 - Erikson begins by treating us to a 200 page prelude about a new character named Karsa, who also starts out as one of the most purely despicable characters I've ever read. He starts out on his quest for glory, which basically means slaughter and rape. He gets captured, and grows into one of the best and most interesting characters in the series. Erikson is always audacious, and never more so than with this prelude. It's probably the best writing so far in the series, and the remainder of the book doesn't quite live up to it.
On their own terms, the other parts of the book stand up very well. The gradual building to a showdown between Tavore and Felisin, the two sisters who lead opposing armies, is very good. And because of that sort of thing, this book is easily the most personal, and the least political of the books so far. On top of that, there were times when I had a sense of what was going on, and what the grand scheme of this world. Of course, Erikson is still as capable as ever of leaving me wondering what just happened, or what some new development or revelation might mean or might have to say about everything else.
Not only is this world difficult on its own terms, but the playing field and the alliances keep shifting. it's hard to know which characters are really aligned with each other. Of course, that's one of the main themes of this book. Felisin is holding together a rebel alliance, while it seems every faction leader is conspiring against her and against each other. The web of conspiracies and betrayals is so deep and complex that it becomes very hard to keep it all straight. I sometimes think that a re-reading from the beginning would help me make sense of things, and to an extent it probably would. But I also think that many things in this series are just deliberately opaque. Sometimes that's frustrating, but I think its also one of the things that makes the series so compelling. You never know where you stand, with anyone -- and most of the time, they don't know either.
Reread (with Spoilers ahead)- The Karsa Orlong story was even better the second go round. On the first read, I mostly focused on the personal confrontation between Felesin and Tavore, but that was largely because so many connections in other stories went completely over my head on the first reading. And also, I had little appreciation for the depth of what I was reading, because I didn't know what was coming. I know that seems strange, and I can understand why some people might consider it unsatisfactory writing. But let's face it, really good literature gets better on re-reading mostly because there is true substance to what's going on. And Erikson has things play out, rather than explain every detail.
This time around, I had a much deeper appreciation for several characters that didn't mean much to me the first time around: Trull and Onrack, Pearl and Lostara, the interplay between Gesler and Fiddler. And I was, if anything, even more moved by the tragedy of Felesin, and the parallel tragedy of the Whirlwind goddess (which went completely over my head before).
Also, I absolutely love a passage toward the end of the book, where Quick Ben and Kalam are working out what has happened. Ben comes to the realization that the Bridgeburners have ascended!. Kalam asks: What does that mean? And Ben, one of the smartest characters in all of fantasy fiction, says: I have no diea. It's marvelous stuff. On our reading lest here on Goodreads (called The Malazan Fallen if you are interested), we have been discussing what it means to "ascend." It turns out that its a word that some people use in this world, but even the most knowledgable people don't really understand it.(less)
First read - 7/10/10 This was easily my favorite so far in the series. There was easily enough in this book for two shorter books, and I sometimes won...moreFirst read - 7/10/10 This was easily my favorite so far in the series. There was easily enough in this book for two shorter books, and I sometimes wonder why Erikson doesn't break up his books into shorter chunks. As it is, the books are enormous, and in the previous books, I've sometimes felt either lost or weighed down. That didn't happen here. But I guess the trend of epic fantasy has been longer books and longer series, and if that's so, then Erikson is right up there with the longest and the longest.
What sets this book apart is that it had emotionally satisfying endings. Here, not only at the end, but there was also a point in the middle of the book that could have acted as the same (after the amazing siege). Not only that, but after 3000 pages, I feel like I'm really getting to understand some of the characters, and also feel like I have some grounding in the way this fantasy world works.
There's still an annoying tendency to hide information and/or motivations, for what simply seems the sake of hiding it. But I felt that there was less of that here than elsewhere. And in some parts, it became clear that part of the reason for the "hiding" was because the characters themselves don't understand what's going on. One great example was towards the end (Minor Spoiler Coming) when one new "Mortal Sword" has a conversation with another more experienced "Mortal Sword". Part of the conversation is about what it means to be a "Mortal Sword," and ultimately neither one of them have a clue. It was a great conversation, and one of my favorite moments in the book.
Overall, Erikson shows here that he not only has a good sense of tragedy (which was on display in the previous books), but he can also carry off elegy in a very satisfying way. This book has at least four resolutions that I found to be very, very satisfying. The satisfaction came because Erikson seems to be getting better and better at writing characters and making me care for them.
I have some other books to attend to before I turn to the next mammoth volume in this series. But I'm now pretty confident that I will be sticking with this series all the way through.
On Reread: This book was the turning point for me the first time through the series (or I should say the first eight books - I still haven't read the last two). After reading it, I finally became convinced that Erikson had a masterful command of what he was doing. On re-reading, the most I can manage to say is that I'm even more amazed at what Erikson has done. When all is said and done, this series is over 3 million words long. The confusion that I had at the beginning stems mostly from the book being so tightly written. Just imagine what it takes to envision a work that's over 3 million words long and have the main problem for readers be that the writing may be too concise. The mind boggles.