In the Holy Desert Raraku, the seer Sha’ik and her followers prepare for the long-prophesied uprising named the Whirlwind. Enslaved in the Otataral mines, Felisin, youngest scion of the disgraced House of Paran, dreams of freedom and vows revenge, while the outlawed Brigdeburners Fiddler and Kalam conspire to rid the world of Empress Laseen (although it seems the gods would, as always, have it otherwise). And as two ancient warriors – bearers of a devastating secret – enter this blighted land, so an untried commander of the Malaz 7th Army leads his war-weary troops in a last, valiant running battle to save the lives of thirty thousand refugees. -Goodreads
My Rating: 5/5
If you want to know what truly epic fantasy is, skip Brandon Sanderson’s The Stormlight Archive and dive into Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen. I have never read anything with such depth and scope that Gardens of the Moon and Deadhouse Gates have already shown, never mind the fact that I have another eight books to go!
I saw quite a few reviews (before reading this book) that talked about how Deadhouse Gates feels like a step backward after finishing Gardens of the Moon. The main reason often thrown up is the new characters and new setting. It supposedly doesn’t feel like the next book in the series, rather the first in a new one, so it’s a little off putting.
I would like to politely disagree – and combined with my explanation is the reason I loved every moment of this incredible book.
Firstly, the new setting. Seven Cities is a country brimming with vastly individual, yet connected, cultures. All the major plotlines that we follow include a huge amount of travel, which means we see and experience so much of the world Erikson has created. Every time we came to a new place or met a new group or individual, I was excitedly flicking through the pages wanting to learn as much as I could about them.
As for the setting being different to Gardens of the Moon, I don’t see the issue. The Malazan Empire is vast, and if Erikson is to tell this epic story then we need to see, experience, and know about the important places and events that are taking place. I’d much rather that than being told about the events of Deadhouse Gates through some dialogue that goes no further than a page or two.
Next is the characters. We follow a group of characters who we know from Gardens of the Moon, and I think this does a great job (in the first 200 pages of the book) of keeping the reader invested in the book as a whole, as there is a slither of recognition so it doesn’t feel totally unrelated to the first book. Any more than this, however, and we wouldn’t have seen the incredible stories from all these new characters – which were by far my favourite parts of the book.
The characters introduced in this book are all just as grey as in the first. Erikson crafts these individuals in such a way that in one moment we might hate them or not really care about them, and then very quickly we love them or desperately care about what happens to them. All their stories intertwine – some more subtly than others – and the payoff at the end is incredible.
The final thing I want to mention in this brief review is how much darker this book is than the first in the series. No graphic scenes are drawn out or over the top, rather they are depicted as just a fact of the violence that occurs. Erikson makes it clear with this darker tone that he does not view writing about war and bloodshed lightly – these events are horrific, not heroic fables, and are treated as such.
If you are reading this review before even starting the series, I would like to say that picking up this series – even from the point of view of someone who has only read the first two books – has changed the way I perceive the fantasy genre completely. I will never read in the same way again – and as a writer, I couldn’t be more inspired by Erikson’s control and use of language.
If you are reading this review after having read Gardens of the Moon… well, what can I say but get the hell on with reading Deadhouse Gates!
If anyone is interested in reading a spoiler-filled discussion about the events and characters in this book (and GotM) let me know and I’ll put a series of posts together!