REVIEW: Deadhouse Gates by Steven Erikson
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A synopsis is difficult to do as Deadhouse Gates has several different threads running through. The genesis of the events, however, is a rebellion in the land of the Seven Cities against the ruling Malazan Empire.
PROS: Vivid descriptions, lots of action, terrific world building, interesting characters and complex story lines.
CONS: Complexity, lots of new words and tons of characters and place names slow down the reading process.
BOTTOM LINE: Another excellent entry in Erikson’s Malazan series.
Those of you who’ve read this blog much, or who know me (lucky you), know that I typically dislike fantasy. However, George R.R. Martin and now Steven Erikson are making me rethink that position, at least as far as their sub-genre of fantasy, which I’ll call realistic fantasy. They focus more on realism, even in their magic systems, than traditional fantasy and they do away with the typical denizens of fantasy worlds like dwarves, elves, orcs and such. Erikson, with his attention to detail and large scale battles is like a fantasy equivalent to David Drake.
Deadhouse Gates is the second book in the proposed 10 (yes, 10) volume Malazan Book of the Fallen series. And like the size of the series, the book is also big. It clocks in at over 600 pages, in large paperback form, and the font is rather small. However, the size is needed to tell the stories involved in Deadhouse Gates. Erikson tells 4 different narratives throughout the book, each one dealing with several characters whose actions were set in motion by the popular uprising against the occupying Malazan Empire by the inhabitants of the Seven Cities area. One involves a long march to safety by the Malazan refugees displaced by the revolution, another is a young woman’s journey to become the ‘resurrected’ leader of the rebellion, another details the efforts of an ex-Claw (the empire’s elite assassin group) to assassinate the current Empress, and the last details the story of two non-humans as they try to discover why one has lost his memory. Erikson has obviously done a bang up job on his world building. There is a lot of history here that is only hinted at during the story. This gives the story and characters an amount of heft that is missing from many fantasy stories. Erikson has also done a good job with his characters. Each are different, and while not all are sympathetic (by design), they are at least interesting, and many are beset by personal problems that must be overcome. The stories themselves are also interesting, although I did find the military-style march thread to be most interesting, even if Erikson does rely on mini deus ex machinas (mini machinas?) to get the group out of immediate problems as they near their destination. That’s not to say the others aren’t interesting. They are, they just don’t have as much bone crunching action as this one. Erikson interweaves the stories, usually stopping one thread at a crucial moment to move on to the next. This leaves the reader always wanting to move forward to find out what happens next. And at its size, that’s a good thing.
The only negatives I have with Deadhouse Gates is in the speed with which I could read it. Because of its size, Erikson has a long list of characters to keep track of. Even with a Dramatis Personae, I found it difficult to keep up with them. Also, Erikson’s world is new and contains a lot of new place names and character names that aren’t based on english. I continually had to refer back to the map or glossary to keep up with what was going on. And, while Erikson’s prose is clear, he stuffs a lot of detail into his story lines, which adds the heft mentioned before, but also slows the reading down. Erikson is at his best detailing the large scale battles and has a knack for showing the personal side of each battle. I will admit that I usually have only time to read at night, after the kids are asleep and after any World of Warcraft gaming I want to get in, so usually, I would read Deadhouse Gates while quite tired. This lead to me nodding off quite often throughout the almost month it took me to read it. I found when I did have the time to devote to the story, it was quite engrossing.
If you’re looking for a new fantasy world to invest in, you won’t go wrong with Deadhouse Gates. Be sure to read Gardens of the Moon also. First if possible, but not necessary as Deadhouse Gates is almost a complete standalone book and don’t forget to bring some time to read it.
Filed under: Book Review
Like this post? Subscribe to my RSS feed and get loads more!