Friday, December 4, 2015

Deadhouse Gates Book Review

by The Wanderer

Author: Steven Erikson
Publisher: Tor Books
Genre: Military Fantasy
Series: Malazan Book of the Fallen Book Two
Pages: 844

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(Spoilers for Gardens of the Moon are below).

As a reader if you ever feel like you want to challenge yourself to lose faith in humanity, then I suggest you read Deadhouse Gates.  This book is packed to the brim with acts of cruelty and human suffering. Erikson is absolutely merciless in the treatment of his major characters in this book – every single one of the major narrators endures some sort of Hell-on Earth type of experience.

Cynicism aside, the book is interspersed with moments of great triumph and perseverance. I became very attached to this book emotionally because of all that has to be overcome by the major characters.  The fact that Erikson manages to do all this without 90% of the characters from the previous novel, Gardens of the Moon, makes this book even more impressive.

For those readers who can stomach the violence and maintain the focus (which is absolutely necessary to comprehend these Malazan books) then those readers who choose to read Deadhouse Gates will be rewarded with one of greatest installments in a fantasy series.

Deadhouse Gates primarily takes place in the Seven Cities, a subcontinent that is occupied by the Malazan Empire that is in a state of unrest.  Most of the Bridgeburners, Brood and Rake’s forces, the people in Darujhistan – basically everyone on Genabackis is not in this novel. This means that a lot of new characters are introduced, and/or characters that were briefly mentioned in Gardens of the Moon get a lot more book time.  The major plot threads are bullet-pointed below.
  • Apsalar, Crokus, Fiddler, and Kalam begin their quest to find Apslar’s father and home, while Kalam begins to prepare to assassinate Laseen.
  • Icarium and Mappo are two travelers that have been living for tens of thousands of years.  Icarium suffers from serious memory lapses, while Mappo remembers his darkest secrets.
  • Felisin Paran is betrayed and sold into slavery during a purge of the nobility by her sister Tavore, the newly appointed Adjunct for Laseen.  She works with the hand-less historian Heboric and the deadly killer Baudin as she attempts to survive the otataral pits.
  • Imperial Historian Duiker is in Hissar. There, he follows and chronicles the new Fist Coltaine, and his efforts to save the Malazan refugees and his army from complete destruction by the rebellious forces fighting in the name of Sha’ik – the seer from Seven Cities that is supposed to bring about the apocalypse and end the Malazan Empire.

More than once while I was reading Deadhouse Gates did the idea occur to me that Steven Erikson might be able to offer some pointers to George R.R. Martin in regards to treating your characters with unmitigated cruelty.  To be honest they’re about equal in being unforgiving to their characters, but where Martin gives his readers breaks from the violence with politics and family struggles for power, Erikson does not.  Instead, with Deadhouse Gates specifically, he is relentless with his depictions of violence and suffering.  No Kruppe means no humor – or at least very little humor – as Deadhouse Gates tells one the fantasy genre’s darkest stories.

I believe the prologue has scarred my brain; I cannot get it out of my head.  It’s depiction of the nobility purge along with Felisin being led away into slavery is one of the single most appalling openings to a book that I have read.  The prologue sets the tone for the rest of the story, and lets the reader know that this will be a book that chronicles that absolute worst humans have to offer.

Felisin may be my favorite character in this book.  Her story bears a lot of resemblances to Martin’s Daenerys Targaryen, which may be the reason why I like her so much.  Felisin’s actions span back and forth on the spectrum of like and dislike; one minute you love her the next she has you absolutely frustrated, but it makes her character’s journey fascinating.

Her companion Heboric provides a lot of historical insight into the Malazan world. His anti-Empire views are what land him in the otataral pits in the first place and it makes his viewpoint of the Malazans somewhat different from his contemporary, Duiker.

Not only does Duiker provide more historical background, albeit from a Malazan perspective, but he ends up describing a lot of the most action intensive sequences in the book.  Coltaine, a Wickan warlord, was one of the Malazan Empire’s greatest adversaries until Laseen worked out a deal with him to make him a Fist for Hissar in the Seven Cities.  A lot of internal tension between the Malazan 7th Army and Coltaine’s Wickans serves as a great source of internal military conflict due to the fact that they were once bitter enemies.

Coltaine’s previous relationship with the Malazan Empire is more ironic now that he has to fight the enemies of Seven Cities, while leading Malazan refugees that hate him to safety.  His armies are burdened by these refugees, and they make his army vulnerable.  Their retreat is perhaps the most iconic part of this story, and these sections are packed with numerous large scale battles and military related drama.

Erikson adds a lot of twists to this book with many of the expected plot points.  This is an aspect of his writing that was largely not present in Gardens of the Moon, which relied on shocking the audience by not explaining the rules to the magic system or by introducing a new unexplained magical element.  In regards to people doubting Erikson’s ability to structure a story, Deadhouse Gates should put those worries to rest.

All of the major story arcs had me intrigued from start to finish, and Erikson’s new characters may even have me more emotionally attached to them than the characters that were previously introduced to readers in the last book.  Either way if you’re a reader that enjoys an astoundingly bleak story then you should definitely look into Deadhouse Gates.

Score: 10

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