Sunday, December 16, 2007

He's gonna be your number one

Midnight Tides, book five of Steven Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen, is another excellent volume in what may be the best fantasy series being written today. Although it is not categorically superior to Memories of Ice or House of Chains, it improves the series in a number of ways.

Firstly it successfully balances the series bleak tone with effective uses of humor, in particular the relationship between the oddly broke financial genius Tehol Beddict and his oddly knowledgeable manservant Bugg. Their schemes and manipulations are truly amusing, a feat Erikson hasn't really managed before. The humor is appreciated as Erikson continues to serve capital-E-epic tales of the destruction of nations and families.

In this case, a family of Tiste Edur, including a character who appears chronologically later in House of Chains, and a family of human Letherii tragically interact with each other. This being Erikson you know some of them are going to die, but the varieties of magic allow for peculiar fates. He weaves the small scale personal stories quite well into the overall political struggle between the Edur and the Letherii, again an improvement. In some of his other novels, many of the plotlines have been either tangential or set-ups for future volumes. This is probably the best integrated plot yet.

This is the second book in a row where Erikson moves the overarching narrative to an entirely new set of characters. At first this is frustrating, as you miss the earlier characters and have to work to learn new countries, religions and so on. This switching is one way Erikson keeps the books so fresh. He does create new characters, but eventually weaves them back into the major plotline involving the battle amongst the gods.

Also new is the political context of this book. At a certain point, I was wondering if I was reading a fictionalized account of Cullen Murphy's Are We Rome? The nation of Letherii is clearly meant to depict the flaws of 21st century America, notably hubris, an addiction to military power as a tool, an overemphasis on firepower, expanding inequality and a crushing load of debt. The treatment of native Americans is also figures importantly. This might get the fantasy haters interested, but they stopped reading this in the first sentence.

No comments: