Saturday, November 17, 2007

A spy in the house of chains

If you are debating whether to start Steven Erikson's epic ten volume Malazan Book of the Fallen (the meaning of that Fallen is not completely clear, but I now have a strong guess,) then you should know two things. The first is that these books are not cross-over fantasy novels. This is not George RR Martin. These books are only for those who place a high value on extensive world creation, often as the expense of pacing, who don't mind grim depictions of war and violence that include the deaths of many main characters and enjoy storylines that take many books to complete. The second thing to know is that as of book four, the House of Chains, the quality of the books remains high and in many ways they are improving.

One of the improvements is more attention paid to character development. As part of his keen focus on world creation, Erikson develops a wide variety of nations and races and tends to include characters from each. The dramatis personae section of his books goes on for three or four pages. In the past, this has limited the time spent on any single character. In this book, the barbarian Karsa Orlong becomes a quite interesting character.

Orlong is a victim and eventually a danger to the many gods of the Malazan world. In these books, the divine world is as active and as in flux as the mortal world. Gods can lose their roles, die or become even more powerful. They directly manipulate the mortal world, for reasons that become more clear as the novels progress.

At least one friend dislikes this book because a number of the characters are so powerful that they brush aside nearly any resistance. While there are many of these characters, they are actually less important than they seem. While their impact is huge wherever they are, they tend to act alone which limits their overall impact. It is the organized and the competent that have the greatness impact.

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