By Jonny_Anonymous 26 Comments
Now saying that the Malazan series is the best high fantasy in the last 20 years is a pretty big claim considering the amount of praise series like A Song of Ice and Fire and The Wheel of Time have gotten but I'm going to outline some of the reasons why I (and many others) consider this to be the best fantasy series in recent years in the hope that some of you people decide to give them a read. But first a description:
The Malazan series of novels is a shared universe of High Fantasy books written by Canadian authors Steven Erikson (Malazan Books of the Fallen) and Ian Cameron Esslemont (The Malazan Empire). Erikson and Esslemont are archaeologists and anthropologists who originally created the Malazan world (unofficially called Wu) in the early 80's as a back drop to their GURPS roleplaying game that they played when not in the field. Eventually Erikson would publish a novel set in this world called Gardens of the Moon. This was the first novel in a series that would eventually consist of 10 Books of the Fallen novels, 6 Malazan Empire novels and 5 novellas with one spin-off series underway and another planed after that as well as a Malazan Encyclopaedia. This is the very definition of Epic Fantasy.
Malazan may be High Fantasy but there isn't a Elf, Dwarf or Orc in sight instead they have there own unique races like the Tiste (separated into sub groups of Andii, Edur and Liosan), the Jaghut and k'Chain Che'Malle. Erikson and Esslemont take all the tropes you would come to expect from fantasy and puts them in a blender and just when you think they are about to fall into the same old fantasy tropes they suddenly take an about turn as if writers just like to mess with your expectations. Too many fantasy books ride on the coat tales of Tolkein by largely sticking to the same formula of having fake Europeans hanging around with elves and dwarves fighting orcs, what the writers of Malazan do instead is give their series a much more global feel. The massive Malazan Empire consists of many races that range from white skinned and ginger haired to black skinned and even the Napan whose skin is tinted blue, even Quon Tali the continent that the Malazan Empire belongs to is vaguely Eastern with the pepole that live there resembling Chinese, Japanese, Indian and Mongolian also a great portion of the action takes place on continents called the Seven Cities which is very much middle eastern and Lether which takes it's inspiration from North America.
Tall woman, small woman, fat woman, skinny woman, good woman, bad woman, warriors, mages, thieves, assassins, gods and even an empress. One pit a lot of fantasy writers fall into is the lesser spotted female. When this strange and exotic creature is featured she's usually confined to the roles of dainty princess or wife of the hero that "must stay strong" Malazan instead have females be apart of the bigger picture just as much as the males do but the writers never put them on a pedestal, they are always written just as "human" as everybody else. One of the very first PoV characters you meet in the series is a soldier and a mage in the Malazan army called Tattersail, she is a badass but deeply flawed character that is central throughout the entrie series.
After reading through just the first novel I was extremely attached to these characters and that only makes it so much worse when Erikson and Esslemont decide to take them away. This series isn't called the Books of the Fallen for nothing you know People. Will. Die. But unlike A Song of Ice and Fire where R.R. Martin has freely admitted to adding characters, letting the readers fall in love and then killing them off with no plot advancement just for the sake of shock value and padding out the books some, the character deaths in Malazan are organic and mean something. There is a scene at the end of Deadhouse Gates that has become known as The Fall and it is one of the most emotional and poignant scenes I have ever read in a fantasy book.
Reading the Books of the Fallen can be compared to playing Dark Souls or The Witcher, not in any stylistic way but rather both those games can be hard to get into at first and it's only after you get over the steep learning curve can you truly appreciate them. Erikson does not use much exposition in his books, he drops you into unknown world without any explanation as to who anybody is so instead a reader needs to pay attention to what the characters are saying to follow on or they may get confused. For instance if you are halfway through the book and your current PoV character meets someone they do not know they will describe his/her appearance and it's up to the reader to work out if they have actually seen this character before. Don't let any of this scare you off tho, Malazan fans have a meme called ROTFO aka Read On To Find Out. If you find yourself really confused, don't worry because that's they way you are meant to feel but everything will be explained in due time.
The authors have said two of Malazans biggest influences are A Song of Ice and Fire and The Black Company (Erikson's 7th book is dedicated to it) so you know that these books are going to have a lot of grit but to stop itself from getting bogged down in the grimdark there is also a healthy dose of humor but not in the Jim Carrey ridiculous style but real human wit. A lot of the main characters throughout the series are soldiers in various armies and everybody knows that that means a heavy dollop of gallows humor and you just can't help but snort with laughter at one of the characters sarcastic remarks while the sit in the middle of a battlefield . One character I LOVED was Corabb, an incredibly earnest soldier in the Apocalypse Rebellion who manages to get himself in to the most dangerous situations possible but through sheer luck and bumbling manages to scrape his way through it every time to hilarious effects.
The two series of Malazan can be read as chronically as a whole since they are designed to complement each other or you can read them both separate OR you might only read one series and that's fine to. I very much recommend these books to anybody that loves fantasy, military or even mystery books, they take you on such a emotional and unique saga and I hope some people decide to give them a shot.