Steven, you are a fucking genius! Firstly, for conceiving the astounding world of Malaz, secondly for bringing into life a host of characters who’ve helped me forget some of the hardest bits of my little life, and finally but most importantly for writing some of the epicest dialogues (that’s right, epicest!) and conversations I’ve ever come across in high fantasy or elsewhere. Now, I’ve never written a book review before, so let me break it down into a few questions and answers, telling you how I ended up reading around 10000 pages of pure delight.
How did I begin reading the tales of the Malazan Book of the Fallen?
Oh well, it was one of those darned phases of uncertainty! I was going through the motions, and when all else fails, books are the sole recourse to solace. Pages and pages of undiluted vicarious pleasure! Although RJ’s “The Wheel of Time” helped some, it didn’t get me as involved as I’d have wanted to, enough to drown away all the worries and sorrows of the time. I needed another reading project, a massive one, that would both appeal to me and keep me occupied at least for the next few months. Steven’s first book of the Malazan series “Gardens of the Moon” had been nominated for a World fantasy award, it was a short one and seemed reasonable enough for a quick try. More importantly, his series was also finished unlike Martin’s “ASoIaF”, meaning no agonizing waits midway. A hundred or so pages into the book and I was hooked, Whiskeyjack & co (you’ll know who they are) had me ensnared, and I knew I was in for some of the best reading I’d ever done all thanks to Steven.
How is the storyline and the pace?
The storyline is vast and multifaceted, revolving for the most part around certain factions of the Malazan army (yes, this one is about soldiers!), and like most long-drawn-out epic fantasy plots brings into the fold an assortment of characters ranging from mages, assassins, gods, witches, priests, thieves to sailors etc., picked from races both human and otherwise. What really struck me is the colossal timeframe of the story, spanning over hundreds of thousands of years giving my rusty skills at imagination some much-needed polishing. I also liked the fact that there weren’t any singular protagonists (the usual good vs evil crap), thus drawing perspectives from several angles and giving me the freedom in choosing my own favourite characters. The story is well-paced until “The Bonehunters”, after which it kind of takes a detour during which Steven introduces a parallel world, slowing down quite a bit especially in “Toll the hounds”, and then picking up pace towards the last two books. Now, I must also tell you that Steven is quite the miser when it comes to revealing the grand scheme of things, he does throw a few hints here and there but it’s mostly up to you as the reader to put everything together. For someone like me, who doesn’t place much importance in the plot, this is acceptable, but if you’re a meticulous reader who doesn’t like loose ends to the story, it becomes quite the task in gleaning all the minute details, let alone making sense of it all!
How was the series and what stood out?
What really made this series for me was the dialogue! Like I mentioned before, unpredictable twists or roller coaster plots aren’t exactly my cup of tea (if there’s one, great! If not, that’s still okay). The narrative style deployed, the amount of character development involved and the little conversations which make up the story are what I look at in a book, the rest of the stuff is peripheral. Steven has taken into account all 3 areas, and is quite the maestro when it comes to delivering dazzling dialogue. He infuses the lines with repartee, be it humour or despair, be it in bed or in battle, be it a lizard or a dragon, and at the same time is at ease playing the role of the philosopher, imbuing the story with aspects from a plethora of world views including pantheism, nihilism, fatalism, and even stoicism to a certain extent. Some of the friendships he forges among the characters are real tear-jerker material and will remain etched in my heart, especially these ones (Quick Ben & Kalam, Gesler and Stormy, Fiddler and Hedge, Tool and Toc the younger, Onrack and Trull Sengar, Rallick, Coll and Murillio, Picker and Blend, Whiskeyjack and Dujek, Pores and Kindly….. gosh the list goes on and on).
Who are my favourite characters?
Now this is a tough one, but yeah, I have my favourites and I’d like to list the top five, who’ve had a substantial amount of character development as well as a point of view (mind you!).
- Ganoes Paran
- Toc the younger
- Kalam Mekhar
I know what you’re probably thinking now! Agreed there are heavyweights like Anomander Rake, Dassem Ultor, Coltaine, Tavore, Whiskeyjack, Cotillion, Yedan “balls of steel” Derryg etc., who are all fucking awesome, but the fact remains that these characters do not have a point of view in the story. I am guessing Steven does this deliberately in order for the readers to hold them in awe, which is actually quite smart. I must further acknowledge that I am partial to the Malazans, which I am sure you’ve gathered on seeing my list but yeah, there are several other wonderful characters as well, for you to pick and choose as your heroes.
Final Word (8.5/10)
These tales of the Malazan book of the fallen are without doubt some of the best books I’ve read and I highly recommend them to all my fellow fantasy lovers and readers. There’s enough imagination, humour, battles, tragedies, friendships and betrayals to keep you engaged for a long time and that, at a reasonable pace too.
Now, for some of my favourite quotes (I’ll just pick 5 as I am sure I can keep going all day). Those of you who are planning to read the books can come back to this section once you’ve finished.
“Wise words are like arrows flung at your forehead. What do you do? Why, you duck of course.”
‘Pust? Back in the temple, poring through the archives of the Book of Shadows.’
‘Looking for what?’
‘Some provision, any provision, for a High Priest of Shadow having two wives.’
‘Is there one?’
‘How should I know?’
‘Well,’ Cotillion said, ‘didn’t you write it?’
Shadowthrone shifted about ‘I was busy.’
‘So who did?’
Shadowthrone would not answer.
Cotillion’s brows rose. ‘Not Pust! The Book of Shadows, where he’s proclaimed the Magus of High House Shadow?’
‘It’s called delegation.’ Shadowthrone snapped.
‘It’s called idiocy.’
‘Well hee hee I dare say he’ll find what he’s looking for, won’t he.’
‘Aye, with the ink still wet.’
“We humans do not understand compassion. In each moment of our lives, we betray it. Aye, we know of its worth, yet in knowing we then attach to it a value, we guard the giving of it, believing it must be earned, T’lan Imass. Compassion is priceless in the truest sense of the wold. It must be given freely. In abundance.”
“Armour can hide anything until the moment it falls away. Even a child. Especially a child.”
“Courting is the art of growing like mould on the one you want.”