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Thursday, November 03, 2005

Really Big Fantasy Novels: Malazan

I've sort of lost my fascination for these now, but I picked up Steven Erikson’s Gardens of the Moon last week (part one of the Malazan series). Decent at best.

The prose is sloppy, characters that should be 3d are cardboard (though really cool-looking cardboard), and the tropes are mostly familiar chestnuts, right down to a giant soul-sucking sword. Elric, anyone?

But Erikson fails to follow the most important rule of Moorcockian/Cookian fantasy: give your characters noticeable weaknesses or flaws. Everyone in this book has hidden power or has been touched by a god or is a god. It makes for great spectacle, but it weakens a reader’s bond with the characters and it can destroy a plot. Indeed, the plot holds only by tenuous ties in this first book (and nearly comes unravelled in the last few chapters), and who knows if he can keep it up for the planned ten(!) volumes.

This is all sounding like I hated the book. Not true. Erikson is a gifted storyteller (if not a writer), and his background in anthropology gives this book a flavor that others in the genre don’t have: the weird and ancient races feel weird and ancient. The history of Erikson’s world is brought alive by this feeling, and soon I was more interested in what secret would be uncovered next than what was happening to any of the characters. Which is maybe a complaint again. Ahh, well.

Erikson is a welcome addition to the field, despite my concerns. I’ve heard the story really takes off in book two (and the prose tightens), so I’ll have to track it down.

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