Malazan Series: Why You Should Read It

Movies, Books, and TV
I'm wondering if anyone has read from the shared series of the Malazan books? There is Steven Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen - derived from Napoleon's Book of the Fallen - and his four novellas, and Ian Cameron Esslemont's Novels of the Malazan Empire? Many reviews and explanations go into great detail about the plot, but that defeats the purpose because the magic of the series comes from the sense of discovery. This might be a bad analogy, but I'll compare it to the video game Dark Souls - you are not spoonfed information. The author doesn't talk to the reader, the character talks to himself, at least to some degree. It isn't written in first person, but if the character doesn't know a name of a character, a city, a creature, or whatever, you won't know either. Another character that knows the name of said creature or character will call them by name and its up to the reader to figure out that the other character was detailing the same, just unnamed.

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.
Question do the books of malazan follow the same characters like say wheel of time or fire and ice? I really like epic series that follow a set amount of characters throughout multiple books this is the only reason i haven't decieved to read malazan yet.
Yes, in some ways, but its a bit more complicated than that. There are three major plot lines that converge later in the series. The first book of the series, Gardens of the Moon, mainly follows the Bridgeburners. The third book starts off where the first ended, while the second is set on a different continent and introduces a new plot - with some of the main characters from Gardens moving on to this plot, leaving their companions, whose story is continued in the third book.

The fifth book is where the third plot is introduced, with a brand new continent unveiled, along with some new races. All the time however all the major gods are seen throughout all three stories. Eventually all three plots converge due to something that could end their entire existence. While this problem isn't like the end-all type of things you might see in Wheel of Time, you could say its just as big a problem.

So it does follow characters throughout the series, but with something like Band of Brothers, is constantly adding new characters while loosing others. What I mean, just like in Band of Brothers, Easy Company could be said to be the main character while in the Malazan series one of the driving characters would be the Bridgeburners more than any single soldier of that group. That isn't to say there are individual main characters, because there are, but new plots and characters are continually introduced while the major plot continues forward.

An example would be like when Rand Al'Thor and company travel into the Waste and Aiel territory and thus a new set of characters and plots emerges. In the Malazan series, considering the main antagonist effects the entire world, this is simply realistic and necessary.

So if you like the Epic Fantasy genre, as well as the Dark Fantasy type like a Song of Ice and Fire, you should like this as well. I wont mince words though, just like any fantasy series of this type, its not for everyone. Also don't look at the entire series just from the perspective of the first book, because you would be doing yourself a disservice. You will know if its for you or not by the end of the second or third, for sure. This isn't to say the first is bad - I thoroughly enjoyed it, in fact - but its probably safe to say its not up there with how good of start the Wheel of Time had with Eye of the World or A Song of Ice and Fire had. However, unlike Wheel of Time I believe it never gets worse.

Unlike the Wheel of Time - which I do enjoy, just not as much - each book tells an entire story.
Cool I will have to check them out I do not dislike having new characters introduced but I prefer them to stay relevant in each book.
I bought the new Esslemont novel yesterday, and when I finish the book I'm reading now plan to start that. If I remember I'll let you know how it turns out. Feel free to ask any other questions.
My absolute favorite series. I have to add you as a friend for sure hah!
The first book I bought in the series was Memories of Ice, just never got around to reading it until I was able to order the other ones through Amazon. It was a couple years after buying it that I got to it and was glad I went through the trouble of ordering the UK versions, since they weren't published in America yet: the only two that had been was Gardens and Deadhouse Gates.
My only regret is first reading the whole of Erikson's 10 books, should have inserted Esslemont's in between, because chronologically they belong there. Also some characters would be better understood. Greymane, the fate of the many things explained after the fact.
I see why that would be frustrating. However, another way and the safest bet for new readers, is to simply read by publication date. The original, UK date, that is.
06/05/2012 02:41 AMPosted by Krunchie
My only regret is first reading the whole of Erikson's 10 books, should have inserted Esslemont's in between, because chronologically they belong there. Also some characters would be better understood. Greymane, the fate of the many things explained after the fact.

I've never really thought of that since I've been reading them as they came out after Malazan book 3, picking up each Esslemont novel as it came out, but you're definitely right. Missing Return of the Crimson Guard's events specifically seems like it could add a lot of confusion.
Anyone who has been reading this thread and are Malazan fans, please feel free to add me to your Diablo 3 friend list. I'm looking for more people to go through the game with. Especially those who share similar tastes in books or games.
I've been sorely tempted to pick up Gardens of the Moon but I'm self-obliged to at least finish my ever growing unread book collection of Known Space, Dune, Hyperion Cantos, Bolo, Pip & Flinx, Gene Wolfe, Heinlein, Pohl, Tolkien, Elric of Melniboné, Warhammer etc.

Whenever that'll be, who knows... but Malazan will be next big series I'll pick up soon.
You'd be right to go about it that way. Reading multiple series at once, especially those in the Epic Fantasy genre is a big mistake. You can easily forget information and it can ruin the feel of continuity of reading a series.

Thanks for helping me out in Melancholy's thread in the Horadric Archives, as well.
I have read the entire series and the books published by Esslemont's. One of my most favorite series of all time. If you haven't read Wheel of Time, you really should give it a go. By the way, Cook's Black Compay is the inspiration. I can't remember but I saw in an interview they acknowledged him.
I've managed a bookstore for nearly 4 years now, and I read a ton of Fantasy and I just can't get into the series.

I started with Gardens of the Moon and I gave up half way through the book because nothing happens... (and RARELY do I ever give up on a book)

Many of the people I work with have tried it as well and just can't seem to get into it, and whenever I see a customer pick up a book in the series I ask them if it's worth reading , the standard answer among them is "some of the books are really good, and some of the books just aren't".

I can't see myself devoting so much time to a series where I am forced to plow through "not good" books to get to the good ones.

im very behind on this based on the date but I am currently reading the malazan series have read all the wheel of time books and all of the Lotr. read 1-9 and on book 10 (crippled god) now. got all but Esslemont's last book. only read his first 1. after reading this it makes me wish i've read the second 1 with guards to get some of the holes filled. book 2 (deadhouse gates, has to be my all time favorite. as well as the ending to book 3. if you've read it then you'll know why lol) if you still play diablo 3 feel free to add me. or I'll request an add once I can get on later. always nice to see a malazan fan
This is one of those series where it takes a little time to become invested in the characters. When i first started I was pretty meh up until House of Chains that book pretty much made me a fan and gave me the motivation to keep reading.

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