I did not want to read this book.
Allow me to explain.
Years ago a friend and I went on a cruise together. Whenever I go on vacation I always bring with me a number of books to read. Continuing this tradition I stopped at the little bookstore in San Jose International Airport and cruised the racks looking for something that I might find entertaining.
What I found looked like, honestly, just another trashy fantasy novel. On the cover was a tough-looking, armored man holding two bloody swords in his hands, his hair caught on the wind. Behind and to the right of him is a woman, also armored, holding her own sword, and they stand on the roof of a building with a city-scape in the background. Above them, small and distant, a bird flies, maybe a crow, maybe an eagle. It was written by an author I’d never heard before. I had my doubt.
It looked like fantasy pap and even though it was the third book in the series according to the list on the inside of the cover, I picked it up anyway. The book was Memories of Ice by Steven Erikson, third book in the series The Mazalan Book of the Fallen.
What I read knocked me on my ass.
To talk about the last book I have to talk about the series. Erikson has a way with his writing that is simply incredible. He weaves plot threads in a way I haven’t seen in a long time, drawing together characters through his books so that even though it is a series, each book stands on its own. And what threads he does, little is missed, so that each story is tied up neatly. One thing that I definitely appreciate about this series is that even minor characters (such as two dogs) get their own thread but these threads don’t feel contrived or shoe-horned in. They might not even have that great of an impact or pull on the over-all narrative of the book they take place in, but they still feel real and well done.
The series is essentially high fantasy/military fiction, following several different armies and people from the Malazan empire. Occasionally the books will focus on other characters but, most often, it is the Malazans that are the focus. Erikson’s battle scenes are incredibly visceral and detailed, allowing you to see both the battle as a whole as well as the fates and struggles of the individual soldiers. And with it being military fiction there is death. Lots of death, almost enough to beggar GRRM, but it is done effectively and the reason for that effectiveness is the characters.
I fell in love with this series because of the characters. Each one is richly flushed out, detailed and complete. Some characters, the secondary or tertiary characters, may not have so many details associated with them, but each has their own personality, each one feels unique. Erikson’s writing drew me in and actually made me care about them, about their lives and struggles, their pain and, in some cases, death. Their relationships are complex and unique and entertaining (the banter between many of them is hilarious) . Often times the characters have so much smarm they could drown in it. But I can’t remember a series that made me feel this much for these characters. Mira Grant’s Feed did a good job of drawing me in and making empathize with the main character George, and while I was impacted by what happened at the end of Feed (which I won’t spoil here) I didn’t tear up. Erikson’s series, occasionally, caught me by surprise emotionally several times.
I didn’t want to read this book because it is the last in the series and I didn’t want it to end. So many authors these days seem to write unending series. Laurel K. Hamilton, I’m convinced, will keep pumping out Anita Blake novel after Anita Blake novel, same with Jim Baker and the Dresden series, until they either die or sales have dropped off so much that their publishers drop them. And while I look forward to more Dresden, and don’t really care for Blake anymore, these are not series in the sense there is a greater, over-arching narrative to them, simply that they are episodes in a continuing story, unlike The Malazan Book of the Fallen. To put it in TV sci-fi terms, Dresden and Blake are the ST:TNG to the Book of the Fallen’s Babylon 5, which meant that eventually the story would have to have its conclusion, something I dreaded as much as I looked forward to.
The latest, and last, book, The Crippled God, is the culmination of the series in so many ways. Erikson’s thread weaving is masterfully shown here, drawing in characters you haven’t seen in quite some time as far as the series is concerned but whose contribution to this book not only makes sense but feels right. He touches on most of his major characters, bringing about conclusions for all who ever shared the spotlight and no few of them die unfortunately (that’s not a spoiler; it’s a military fiction series, people are going to die).
I find I really can’t write that much more about this book, or the series, other than to say that the ending was, in so many ways, perfect. The Song of Ice and Fire has been usurped from the position of “Favorite Fantasy Series” IMO; Erikson blew it away.
And in many ways the ending is bitter-sweet because, for as awesome as it is, there will not be another. Erikson, I’m sure, will not be walking away from this world (which he shares with another author who is doing his own work in it); it’s too rich in history and detail and there’s too much potential. So while he may come back to it, may even touch on a character or two from this series, it will not be a part of The Malazan Book of the Fallen and that makes me sad. But, as the saying goes, all good things…
I cannot recommend this series highly enough. Read it.