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Review of Malazan Book of the Fallen


Note: The content immediately below is a quick spoiler-free review of Malazan that I’ve written up today. Further below is the content I originally wrote a few months back immediately after finishing Malazan; as well as being tainted by my emotions after the finale, it also has HUGE spoilers for the series!

Review (Spoiler-Free)

I completely understand how these books would rate very poorly from a large swath of people; I think most people (myself included) enjoy following a set of characters intimately, watching them grow and mature, face tribulations, etc. Erikson does give us a peer into the personal lives of a few characters, but this is largely overshadowed by the absolutely enormous cast and ludicrous amount of setting- and character-hopping, as any previous reader can attest.
Someone on Reddit said that Lord of the Rings is less concerned with the development of the characters and is much more focused on world building; fleshing out eons of existence and the power struggles that have taken place, shaping Middle Earth until its current state. I think Malazan does this as well, and it makes perfect sense; considering Erikson and Esslemont originally created the Malazan world for their GURPS roleplaying campaign, and thus such an emphasis on fleshing out a world and it’s history 1.

Malazan certainly isn’t for everyone and it certainly isn’t perfect as the rambling review below would suggest. My calling it leaps and bounds ahead of Lord of the Rings is also likely hyperbole. There are large sections that can be tedious and new characters are introduced at a relentless pace; I spent a good chunk of my time on the Malazan Wiki reviewing who is who to ensure my understanding. That said, the large cast is manageable (thanks wiki!) and the ending of each book absolutely absolves the meandering sections. If you enjoy in-depth and complete worlds, epic large-scale conflicts, politics and martial affairs, humor, tragedy and more than a little philosophy, I can wholeheartedly recommend Malazan. It’ll take a while to get through, but it is so so worth the time.

There are some excellent reviews out there that are more articulate and detailed without spoiling the story; I’ve linked a few below. I highly recommend reading them if you’re still unsure about Malazan.

Watch out below for major spoilers!

Post-Finale Thoughts

Wow. This book series blew my mind. It’s definitely my number one now. The ending was so perfect (minus not understanding the layout of the battle of Bolkando+Letherii vs Kolansii and Forkrul Assail). It’s amazing how much of a Red Herring The Crippled God was and it made perfect sense that they’d try to save him in the end. It was brilliant how the entire name of the series came from him in the end, and it is his documentation of their stories. The theme of compassion and mercy was definitely strong in this book. By my count, I cried 12 times in the last couple hundred pages. Absolutely beautifully written. Tavore finally breaking down, her regrets for sending Felesin to her death, the regulars finally getting the love they deserve, Whiskeyjack and Korlat.

I love how Tavore recognized that the Bonehunter Regulars are neglected compared to the Heavies and Marines (both in writing and combat), how naturally the switch from fighting the Crippled God to saving him, how once a character becomes “powerful enough” (in many senses), Erikson moves away from their perspective to bring us back to the downtrodden (and thus explaining why Ganoes becomes a side character in the end, Tavore is never given her perspective, Karsa takes a backseat, the Shake instead of the Tiste Andii and many many more).

The theme of power and what role it plays comes back again and again. Ultimately, players die not because they are not strong enough, but because of arrogance and disregard for the world around them. The gods consistently underestimate humans and other species, and pay for it.

The ending was absolutely beautiful, from Korlat and Whiskeyjack to Fiddler sitting on a dock in Malaz City with Mock’s Vane squealing and rust, bringing us right back to the beginning of the series.

I love how the series sets itself up for so much more. Sulkit, the drone from Kaste Rooted, will become a matron, likely to rise up as a future villain. The existence of Lightfall to be explained in the prequels with Kharkanas. The Crimson Guard, the Stormwall, where Silverfox brought the T’lan Imass, Assail, Draconus’s return. Erikson has set up a beautifully complicated, layered and nuanced world with millenia of history to unpack, and countless plot lines open to the future.

The books have been long and sometimes seemingly dull, but in the end I think even the dullness and agony of certain sections serve their purpose (after all, would an army not spend months crossing a continent? Why do most books neglect this entire period of time and skip to the main engagement? Erikson does an excellent job of presenting the life of the characters in their entirety).

The end of books is always explosive and emotional. I don’t think a series has ever made me cry so much before. I don’t think any have made me quite so horrified, or angry, or emotionally exhausted. None have tried to bring this much scale and depth and detail to an entire world. Even Lord of the Rings falls flat on its face in contrast (still a great series). I’ve heard people complain that fantasy authors make up too many names and races, and that the only one that has truly earned the right to it is Lord of the Rings. I would argue Malazan goes many steps further and does it better. K’Chain Che’Malle, Jaghut, T’lan Imass, Forkrul Assail, En’karal, Emlava, Eleint, and then the multitude of races of humans alone is staggering.

I’m not sure I want to read Eriksons other books. I don’t know if I want to stay in this universe. I think I like the idea of keeping my view of the world, characters and writing preserved like a mosquito in amber. I can’t express my satisfaction with Malazan Book of the Fallen enough. An absolute masterpiece.

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malazan_Book_of_the_Fallen↩︎