Without talking about the plot, this is why you should read these books:
In 1982 best friends Steven Erikson and Ian Cameron Esslemont teamed up to create a campaign for a modified version of the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons system. Four years they switched to the GURPS system and as a result the depth and complexity of the world grew in scale and size, much more of a fully realized world and reality. You might be thinking that this makes comparable to the Forgotten Realm universe, created by Ed Greenwood. Well, you'd be dead wrong. Both authors have degrees in archaeology and anthropology, and its apparent they used their knowledge and experience in creating and developing this unique world.
For those that aren't completely sure about the defenition of the two, let me explain why this is so important. Archaeology is the study of human activity and people, usally by recovering environmental data and material culture - an example of material culture is studying an artifact to discover its relationship to its culture - that has been left behind by said peoples and cultures. Artifacts and architecture are most well known examples of things they archaeologists study, as well as biofacts - an excavated and important object that has left by a previous human; an example would a seed to find out what type of food might have been grown or other items that can help realize what the humans might have worn or buildt with.
Anthropology is closely related in some aspects, while differing in others. While archaeology might not be defined as academic - not primarily defined as practical or useful - anthropology is. It is the academic study of the humanity. It concerns the understanding of humanity's experience throughout the ages, dealing with everything about ourselves both physical, social and cultural and how those all have evolved from their origins to now and all the time between. One of the primary focuses is to discover where we came from and how our evolution shapes and influences ourselves and our social relationships and cultures - what we do, how we act, and how we think.
Sorry if that took long to explain, but emphasis is important here. These books are set in a completely original and unique world, not our own universe. This isn't a big deal in fantasy novels or games; its pretty much garunteed. However, a lot are stale because they base themselves on cliches which might've been revolutionary when the first authors of the genre invented them, be it Tolkien, Lewis, or Peake. Another reason is that along with the fantastical and improbable or impossible setting the characters are written unrealistic, or there isn't a sense of their kind and places having history and culture. Because of their knowledge, whenever I read these Malazan books it feels like I'm seeing through the both the authors' and the characters' eyes, as well as smelling what the characters' smell and see what they see. I feel like I'm breathing in that world, feeling their culture and history all around me.
There are so many instances the authors point out dirt mounds, old roads grown over by nature, and many more examples. What makes this idea unique is they manage, by making the world so realized, that each of these has a past or story, ones that the authors might actually know and have fully developed in their heads and how they chronologicaly fit into that world. There are cities built over old, lost cities, ruins over ruins, and this concept never manages to feel like like the fantasy cliche of a ruin under a city for they build these areas by following the rules of archaeology and anthropology. For those who didn't like the longwinded and heavy prose of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings - talking about the history of a place they pass or come across - don't be turned off because they manage to stay away from that problem. All this mainly deals with the archaeology experience they have, but now on to anthropology.
This is where they put all other creations and their races and cultures' to shame. The series is made up of plentiful amount of different races, all has complex as our own and some larger in scope, with plenty of variation between them as well as remaining unique compared to other fantasy races and beings. The other thing to mention about these races is their personalities and philosophies. The authors are unapologetic when it comes to realism. The peoples found throughout the series act in a way believable to their cirmumstances, war and violence are detailed but unglorified, there's political intrigues, backstabbers, and everything that makes people evil and stupid. Nowhere is there to be found a race and culture pure like the elves of Middle-Earth. They might think they are, but alas pride and arrogance are one of those evils that abound in humanity. And lastly, characters die both unexpectedly and expectedly, not following a pattern but what would really happen in such an instance.
Yes, your favorite character is most likely going to die. Get over it.
The series is compared to such great reads and George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire books, Glen !@#$'s The Black Company - which arguably could be the Malazan and Martin's books inspirations in terms of mood and nitty, gritty, realism - as well as Stephen R. Donaldson's Thomas Convenant novels - where the hero is definitely and truly flawed, like we all are. It doesn't matter what you say is better, it really comes down to whats your favorite type of tea argument. There are main commonalities are realism, but other such things are different, like a key thing that you find in Martin's books is how he goes to extreme detail on the banners, flags, sigils, ect. For those curious, when it comes to tea I prefer Earl Grey only because Jean Luc Picard does.
Oh, and for those tired of cliches in how magic works in the genre, this is another reason to read. All I will say is that Warrens are - in my humble opinion - the single greatest concept to the idea of magic in the genre in the last decade or two. That is probably going to be scoffed at off the bat, but when other layers of ideas - the Ascendants, the Deck of Dragons, the Tiles of the Holds - it makes the argument much more easy to agree with. Which you'd be right to do so. Doesn't mean I'll tell you what those three concepts are, that would ruin the magic when you read the series.
Thanks for indulging in reading this topic. I need to stop before I actually spoil things. There is two warning I have, however. Some of the biggest fans I know aren't afraid to acknolwedge that the first book published, Gardens of the Moon, isn't of the highest quality when compared to to the others. The reason for this is Erikson wrote it in 1991-92, but it published in 1999 and his style and skill developed over that expanse. Another warning is some might be put off by the two author's style or theme of "convergence". While the books are filled with exciting cirmustances, when compared to the "endgame" of each book, the other parts are slow - but only when compared to the end. This is because they follow the idea of the plotlines heading for a joint conclusion, so the tension rises throughout the entire book until the climax that unfolds over around anywhere from 100 to 200 plus pages - to quote Stephen R. Donaldson:
"Steven Erikson is an extraordinary writer. I read Gardens of the Moon with great pleasure. And now that I have read it, I would be hard pressed to decide what I enjoyed more: the richly and ominously magical world of Malaz and Genabackis; the large cast of sympathetically-rendered characters; or the way the story accumulates to a climax that hits like machinegun fire. My advice to anyone who might listen to me is, Treat yourself to Gardens of the Moon. And my entirely selfish advice to Steven Erikson is, write faster."
With that I come to a close. Once again, thanks.