How does one review a book like Memories of Ice? A book with so many plot lines that are so effortlessly integrated that the book presents itself as a...moreHow does one review a book like Memories of Ice? A book with so many plot lines that are so effortlessly integrated that the book presents itself as a gordian knot of story and narrative? I could try to carefully tease out the various overlapping agendas, plots, and schemes different factions in this world have. I could try to paint a complex tableau that encompasses the many nuances of the characters that are encountered and how they grow and evolve over the course of the story. I sing the praises of its highly detailed and heart breaking battle scenes, which encompassed most of this book :-), while noting how the action drove characters to make tough, consequential decisions.
Or I could give it a cursory review and then list lots of fun things about the book.
Since many others have said some much more, so much better than I could hope to achieve, I am going with the last option.
So Memories of Ice returns us to the characters from the first book in the series, Gardens of the Moon while at the same time introducing us to a whole new slew of characters because Steven Erikson is physically incapable of of writing a book without introducing a bunch of new major characters. We see some absolutely AMAZING battle scenes, learn more about the series's universe and its many players, and see several tragic, unexpected, and major deaths. The writing and imagery is superb and the world building is top notch. I had immense difficulty putting the book down. Thanks to two transatlantic flights I was able to get in some solid reading time. I thought it was much better than Deadhouse Gates, but that could be due to me just knowing more about the world this story takes place in. In any event this is an excellent addition to the series and I highly anticipate the next book!
Now on to the things I found fun about this book:
Great insights into the human condition: For all the fantasy and magic and clashing armies, this series is very much about the mortal experience (albeit one where immortal being use us puny mortals as play things). Erikson has some really nice turns of phrase about the nature of human existence that I thought were worth highlighting.
We each survive as we must, and when time comes to die, we find our places of solitude...
Death and dying makes us into children again, in truth, one last time, there in our final wailing cries.
Expedience always comes arm-in-arm with discomfort.
Forces of nature are indifferent to justice... Thus it falls to us sentient beings, no matter how unworthy, to impose the moral divide.
War is not a natural state. It is an imposition, nd a dmaned unhealthy one. With its rules, we willingly yield our humanity. Speak not of just causes, worthy goals. We are takers of like. Servants of Hood, one and all.
"Diversity is worth celebrating... for it is the birthplace of wisdom."
Kruppe: Possibly the greatest character of the series, this rotund, loquacious gentleman always has fantastic lines and physical comedy (not to mention his... associates as you will see below):
"Kruppe is suitably honoured by your formal, nay, respectful welcome - what a vast display, Kruppe wonders, will you formidable warriors unveil when greeting the Council of Darujhistan's official representatives? The sheer escalation now imminent has Kruppe's heart all a apatter with anticipation!"
"Dear boon companion Coll! Your lack of faith crushes frail Kruppe to his very toes which are themselves wriggling in anguish!"
Ah, yes! Truths, squirming like puppies around Kruppe, upon which he laid patting hand on each one and all in turn, as would any kind master."
"Nonsense, Wizard! Hold to your unassailable self-confidence - aye, some might call it megalomania, but not Kruppe, for he too is in possession of unassailable self-confidence, such as only mortals are capable of and then rightfully but a mere handful the world over. You've singular company, Kruppe assures you!
"Kruppe assures deadly wizard that silence is as Kruppe's closest mistress, lover unseen and unseeable, unsuspected and unmitigatigable."
"Kruppe and the truth are lifelong partners, friend Coll! Indeed, wedded bliss - we only yesterday celebrated our fortieth anniversary."
"Kruppe denies the existence of elusive complexity regarding self, worrisome wizard. Simplicity is Kruppe's mistress - in joyful conspiracy with his dear wife, Truth, of course. Long and loyal in allegiance, this happy threesome."
"Kruppe sees beyond the wrinkled veil, my dear. In all things. Thus his midnight mistress is Faith - a loyal aid whose loving touch Kruppe deeply appreciates."
"Wisdom, after all, is Kruppe's blood brother."
"Not in the least, but perseverance is Kruppe's closest cousin..."
I could seriously read a book that was nothing but Kruppe traveling around frustrating important people. He even gets the better of Quick Ben and that is no easy task!
Gender Politics: It is refreshing to see an author put men and women on the same footing in a fantasy series. All too often women are relegated to support parts or window dressing. Erikson does a wonderful job putting females right into the mix of things be it as foot soldiers in an army or a coniving ascendent women play just as big of a role in this series as the men do. One character even states how foolish it is for a city to NOT recruit the women in the population for its defesnse, seeing it as a major waste of potential.
What we have here is... a failure to communicate: The speed (or lack there of) of communication in sword and sorcery settings can lead to some painfully ironic statements. Point in fact, the following quote from Paran about his family: No matter what, Tavore [his sister] will take care of Felisin [their youngest sister]. That, at least, I can take comfort from.
My guess is the next family reunion will be REEEEEEAAAAALLLLLLYYYYYY awkward.
Realism in Warfare: It is very easy for a writer to sacrifice accuracy for spinning a tale about clashing armies. I think Erikson does a great job getting a lot of details right. Napoleon is right when he says an army marches on its stomach and Erikson uses the importance of logistics to influence how his characters behave.
Erikson also recognizes the importance of paying troops. He quite accurately states that without gold coming from Darujhistan, Dujek's army would be suffering from starvation and desertion. Concurrent to this read I was reading a book about the Thirty Years War and a major problem all armies faced was keeping armies paid and deployed in the field.
All in all I was very pleased by the realistic approach Erikson took to military matters.
World Flavor: While I am not entirely convinced chapters are strictly necessary for Erikson's writing style (seriously, some chapters were 20 minutes long, others an hour and twenty minutes long), I did like the flavor texts new chapters and sections provided. No doubt they will make a lot more sense after I finish the series but for now they are enjoyable nuggets about the greater world and history.
One liners: It shouldn't be lost amidst the crunch of massive armies and the machinations of ascended gods that there are some damn spiffy one liners in this book (by people other than Kruppe that is). Among my favorites:
"Thank you. I'll not deny I am impressed by your mastery of six warrens, Quick Ben. In retrospect, you should have held back on at least half of what you command." The man made to rise. "But, Bauchelain," the wizard replied, "I did." The divan, and the man on it, fared little better when struck by the power of a half-dozen bound warrens than had the wall and Korbal Broach moments earlier." Shades of Watchmen anyone?
The fallen trees - wood and branches liberally drenched in lantern oil - lit up in a conflagration as the first of the burners exploded. Within the span of a heartbeat, the trail and the entire company trapped upon it were in flames. Abyss below, we're [the Bridgeburners]not a friendly bunch are we.
[A paragraph of Kallor monologuing as all villains do] "Enough," Draconus growled. "Your prattling grows wearisome, Kallor."
"If you refuse to go further, then... nothing. Apart from irritating me, that is. The Azath is patient. You will make the journey, though the privilege of my escort occurs but once, and that once is now." "Meaning I won't have your cheery company next time? How will I cope?" "Miserably, if there was justice in the world."
I cannot recommend this book enough and, if you are having doubts about this series after the second book let me assure you that this book is spectacular and really kicks the series into a higher gear.(less)