Friday, December 4, 2015

Midnight Tides Book Review

by The Wanderer

Author: Steven Erikson
Publisher: Tor Books
Genre: Military Fantasy
Series: Malazan Book of the Fallen Book Five
Pages: 940

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

Taking place before any of the events of the previous four Malazan books, Midnight Tides looks to explain the origin of the Tiste Edur and their relationship with the Tiste Andii and a race of humans called the Letherii.

Like the previous books though, this installment follows the same structure – which means this is a book that builds to an epic clash between two armies where both sides are narrated from equal standpoints.  Despite the structural repetitions, the book still manages to be exciting.  This is done by Erikson bringing in a fresh new set of characters, most of which bring forward exciting and dramatic stories, and there are finally some explanations for the machinations of Erikson’s world.

Midnight Tides is a sort of prequel, at least chronologically speaking, but it is necessary to read in order to understand the whole story, it’s in this sense where the book doesn’t feel like a prequel at all. Overall this is one of Erikson’s stronger installments in the series at this point.

Taking place on the continent of Lether, an alliance of Tiste Edur tribes has been united under the Warlock King, Hannan Mosag.  The Tiste Edur alliance is set to meet with a host of Letherii negotiators, the relationship between the two groups is strained and this meeting and the relationship between the two groups serves as the backdrop for the entire book.  The various plots within this backdrop are bullet pointed below.
  • Trull Sengar discovers an illegal harvest of Tiste Edur seals shortly before the planned negotiations with the Letherii.
  • Rhulad Sengar, the youngest Sengar brother is an arrogant warrior in training who has strong feelings for his older brother, Fear’s betrothed, Mayen.
  • Enslaved Letherii’s working for the Sengar family named Udinaas and Feather Witch are attacked by a Wyval.
  • Brys Beddict is the Letherii King Diskanar’s champion whom provides insight in the Letherii’s motives while also trying to protect his troublesome brothers.
  • Hull Beddict is the excommunicated Beddict brother that has been looking to exercise his revenge on the Letherii for there past transgressions.
  • Tehol Beddict pretends to be an idiot but in reality is a genius.  He conspires, with his manservant Bugg, to bring down the Letherii economy.
The traditionalist and magical Tiste Edur and their rival neighbors the capitalist inspired Letherii creates a conflict between the realities of today’s world with some of the more strongly characterized elements of fantasy.

The Letherii culture seems to have been inspired by Wall Street, the United States, and a lot capitalist based ideas.  Their culture worships increasing their wealth at all costs; they aggressively move into other peoples lands in order to secure more wealth for private citizens; and they have a similar equivalent to a modern day stock market.

Midnight Tides frequently critiques this cultural setup and for those out their who have a bone to pick with capitalism then this book should be highly entertaining..  Creating this cultural analogy is a first in the Malazan series for Erikson, surprisingly its very effective as it is able to critique our modern world without ever sounding too preachy or without losing the story’s magical element.

Tehol and Brys’s pattering through Letheras brings forward a number of subplots that are engaging and provide a complex look at the society they have been a part of. Through each of these characters readers can see the good and bad of this new world, which helps to make the inevitable conflict with the Tiste Edur all the more morally ambiguous.

The Tiste Edur and their sentiment for tradition and their magical based society makes for a beautiful world on the surface.  However, they own slaves, and as you’ll read in the prologue they have a history mired in betrayal and cowardice.

Trull Sengar, the only character from a previous Malazan book to make his way into this story, is the level headed narrator that is trying to keep his family and society together.  He frequently tries to mentor Rhulad, while also trying to come in between him and his lust for Mayen.

Rhulad’s arc in this book turns out to be the most dramatic, and as a result a lot of the most intense scenes feature his character in them.  Rhulad is a character that invites a myriad of emotions and judgments – both good and bad – and by the story’s end he should make a lasting impact on readers.

Tides of Midnight also takes time out of its story to begin explaining how warrens work and what some of their properties are.  This aspect of the story is interesting, and surprisingly it bares a lot of resemblance to the plot devices found in science fiction, rather than fantasy.  Either way, the explanation clues readers in to some great possibilities in the series’ expansion.

Like the previous Malazan books before it, and perhaps more so, readers will have to deal with learning the names of many new characters.  Fortunately the stories that these new characters make the effort worth it, and the book itself delivers one of Erikson’s strongest individual Malazan stories.

Score: 9.7

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