Friday, December 4, 2015

Memories of Ice Book Review

by The Wanderer

Author: Steven Erikson
Publisher: Tor Books
Genre: Military Fantasy
Series: Malazan Book of the Fallen Book Three
Pages: 928

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(Spoilers for the previous two Malazan books are below).

Memories of Ice brings the Malazan story back to Genabackis where the outlawed Malazans under Whiskeyjack and Dujek find themselves in an uneasy alliance with Brood and Rake, and a few familiar faces from Darujhistan. These unlikely allies face the growing threat of the emerging Pannion Domin Empire to the south.

From start to finish, Memories of Ice is non-stop fighting and war scenes.  The final battle scene is especially impressive as it moves through many different areas of the battle, while still making it possible for the reader to comprehend what is going on.  The chaos that comes from war is truly felt in this book.

Memories of Ice also spends a great deal of time exploring the ancient races that inhabited the world before the arrival of the Malazans, and thus the first significant chunks of backstory start to be revealed to readers.  In my opinion this installment is certainly an improvement over the previous Genabackis story, which took place in Gardens of the Moon, but it falls short of eclipsing Erikson’s writing in Deadhouse Gates.  However, depending on what you like in a book, it wouldn’t be too hard for anyone to argue Memories of Ice being the best installment in the series up until this point.

Memories of Ice concentrates on the on-coming conflict that will be occurring with the Pannion Seer and the emerging Pannion Empire.  The Seer starves his people, forcing them to become cannibals.  Though largely a disorganized force, when the Pannions win battles they eat their enemies in order to survive.  The alliance of Genabackis natives and Malazans is formed in order to stop the ultimate destruction of the Genabackis continent.  The different major plot points revolve around facing this empire and are bullet pointed below:
  •  The Pannion Seer begins to move his army to Capustan where the Malazan/Genabackis alliance hopes to arrive in time to stop the city from being taken.
  • The Prince of Capustan hires a group of religious mercenaries called the Grey Swords to defend the city from the Pannions.
  • Silverfox, the living reincarnation of Tattersail and Nightchill, begins to prepare for her role in gathering and leading the T’Lan Imass and the T’Lan Ay while distancing herself from her birth mother,The Mhybe.
  • The Mhybe suffers greatly from Silverfox’s quick growth, and she is largely supported by the Darujhistan ambassadors Kruppe, Coll, and Murillio.
  • A sell-sword captain named Gruntle and a few of his companions are hired to guard a rich nobleman named Keruli who has important information for Capustan
  • Toc the Younger emerges way to the south of the Pannion Empire after being sucked into a warren in Gardens of the Moon.  He strikes up an alliance with the mysterious, but very powerful, Lady Envy, Tool, and her group of elite guards as they begin to head into the Pannion Empire.

This may be the most brutal Malazan book yet.  Deadhouse Gates may see more suffering on its major characters, but Memories of Ice happens to focus more on the terrible brutalities in war.  The most violent scenes occur with the cannibalistic Pannions, some of which I know will permanently imprint their horrific images into my skull.

In regards to depicting the events of a battle Erikson truly hits his stride in this book, which is proven in the way he depicts the two large battles that take place in Memories of Ice.  Erikson manages to capture the emotional trauma of war, while explaining the tactical maneuvers of the battle.  This combination of intellect and emotion is a very difficult balance to achieve in a story, yet the author appears to make it all seem effortless.

Gruntle and Stonny Menackis, new characters and caravan guards for hire, get drawn towards the events at Capustan and at what first seemed to be a pointless story starts to take off and develop into the book’s final two parts.  I was surprised by my turn around on liking these characters, and its a testament to Erikson’s ability to sell his readers on them.

Other new characters, Brukhalian and Itkovian, commanders of the Grey Swords, prove to be increasingly dramatic as these two characters are largely in charge of defending Capustan.  As the situation grows more and more dire, the heroics of these two characters especially in the face of political opposition from Capustan’s ruling council and the brutal Pannions mark some of the highest points in the book.

If there is an area of the story where the book starts to suffer its with Toc the Younger.  His meeting with Tool and Lady Envy and his interactions with all these characters in the first half of the book are genuinely intriguing.  The second half of the book, and I’m being vague to avoid spoilers, is not.  The second half of Toc the Younger’s story in this installment resembles Theon Greyjoy’s story from Season Three of Game of Thrones in its depiction, and that quickly makes his portions of the book frustrating to read.

After wishing to see Kruppe meet the Malazan command and Genabackis warriors in Gardens of the Moon, that wish finally comes true.  Kruppe is still every bit as wily and as ridiculous as he has always been – stuffing his face with sweets and getting the best of a whole new group of unassuming characters.  Besides Kruppe, I found myself liking Whiskeyjack a lot more in this book, too.  His developing relationship with the Tiste Andii Korlat adds strong feelings of love complicates alliances and loyalties.

Going deeper than the battles and the characters is the exploration of the past and the history that can be found in this series.  Memories of Ice digs into the ancient rivalries and history between the K’Chain Che’Malle, the T’Lan Imass, and the Jaghuts.  The history between these cultures adds so much more meaning to this story, and it has great potential to add more meaning to all future stories, as these histories are wrought in tragedy and suffering.

The first bits of history about some of the major Gods are also finally revealed.  Information about Burn, Hood, and the Crippled God prove to be particularly fascinating.  At this point in the story, the Gods of Shadow, Death, and Chaos all appear to hate one another, which could make for some great rivalries between different forces that are traditionally associated with evil, and are thus known for working together and not against each other.  Mix in the other Gods, whom all seem to be upset, and this implies a lot of bigger things will be occurring in this series besides wars between nations.

Memories of Ice appears to be setting in motion larger events for the future of the story, and in this aspect the book succeeds.  Erikson also starts to sew in seeds of chaos and betrayal and when some of those seeds spout in this book they provide some of the most powerful and shocking moments seen in the story thus far.

Score: 9.6

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