Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Toll the Hounds?

I began reading the Malazan Book of the Fallen series with initial delight at the scope of the world, at the characters, at the raw creativity Steven Erikson brought to the table.

I remained impressed through the first four volumes. The introduction of the world and the Bridgeburners in Gardens of the Moon remains a highlight for me. Coltaine, Duiker, and the tragic betrayal of the Chain of Dogs in Deadhouse Gates was brutal and beautiful. Whiskeyjack in Memories of Ice. The Karsa Orlong story in House of Chains, and the heartbreaking resolution to the Sha’ik storyline. The scale was grand and the storytelling top notch. Sure, each volume changed the focus of the series, but it all still appeared to tie together.

Then we got to Midnight Tides and Erikson brought in the Letherii. That was a tough book to get through. It was a whole new setting that made little sense for everything that came before. Completely divergent.

My problem now, with Toll the Hounds (book 8), is that I have no idea what the hell is going on anymore. I’ve no objection to Erikson killing off major and beloved characters with a gusto that would shock even George R. R. Martin. Hell, I applaud it.

But you would think by the eighth book in a ten volume series I would have a clue as to what the overall arc is to this series. You’d think, but you’d be wrong. I don’t.

Oh, there are glimmers that this is a confrontation with the Crippled God and that Ganoes Paran will have a role to play as Master of the Deck, and that there will be this great war of Gods and men who are more than men…the clues are there as to what Erikson might be up to. Assuming that I’m even reading the clues correctly.


By book eight of ten, shouldn’t we know where this is going? At this point I’m still trying to figure out who some of the characters are and how they connect.

Basically, I’m wading through pages and pages of sludge to get to the next major action piece that be a signpost of advancing story.

Steven Erikson confuses me.

I’ve invested this much time that I want to finish the series, and Erikson has been popping out new volumes like clockwork, but this has ceased to be simple pleasure or a series I could ever recommend. After House of Chains I would have said that this is a big, bold, complicated series that gets better with each volume and is worth the time investment.

I no longer feel that way. Oh, sure Kalam’s extended fight near the end of The Bonehunters was everything I ever wanted from the series, and I did rather enjoy the March of Hood in this book, but that sort of goodness is few and far between. I don’t feel that Erikson has lost his way, but I do feel that he is over-indulgent as a writer.

This Snickers fails to satisfy.


V said...

See, this is kind of how I felt about that whole Alvin Maker thing, where he talked about building his crystal city for what felt like 20 or 30 books, but never actually made any progress in getting that done.

And I know people love the Gunslinger series, but I read a couple of volumes of that way back in the day when King hadn't finished it yet, and all I ever thought was "... what?"

Marcin said...


I’m glad that You wrote that. Right now I am 100% sure that I am not going to waste my time reading this series. I am a huge Glen Cook fan and His Black Company series and I know that he endorses in some way Erikson books (and vice versa). After reading many reviews even on the first couple of the Malazan books I felt that it is not what I would truly enjoy. Right now a am sure.

By the way: I created a blog about Glen Cook and his books. Right now I am just starting, but hopefully it will grow in time. I want to review all his books I have read (about 20 right now) but I want to do it without any summaries of the plots. I’d rather focus on some main style characteristics, typical for his books. If You want to check it out it’s

One more thing. For some time I am bugging You about David Gemmell and his book Legend. So one more time: I think You should read Legend by David Gemmell. It’s a little different kind of fantasy than Glen Cook’s, but almost as enjoyable.

ThRiNiDiR said...

You're dead on Joe. I was awed by the time I finished the fourth book, nonplused by the time I read the fifth and outright bored at time during the sixth book...after a year I'm conteplating about reading the seventh that is sitting on my shelf. Hope dies last :)

Joe said...

Etoile: Yep. I never got past book 3 of Alvin Maker but from everything I've heard Card takes way too long to get to the Crystal City.

Marcin: I don't know about Cook recommending Erikson, but Erikson has definitely noted the influence of Glen Cook on his own work. There is a definite parallel in Cook's Black Company with Erikson's Bridgeburners - and also in how Cook handles POV (you get the soldier's perspective, seldom the rulers).

Thrinidir: The thing is, when he wants to, Erikson can write some outstandingly awesome scenes. I wrote most of this post before I finished Toll the Hounds. The novel ends on a very strong note. I had to remove something I said about Anomander Rake not doing anything because OMG.

But you have to wade through 650 pages to get there. There is some good, good stuff there...but damn can it be torturous to find it.

And I still don't know what the hell this series is leading to.