This post is part of an ongoing series about Steven Erikson‘s Malazan Book of the Fallen. In each post I discuss and review one of the books in the series. These posts will contain spoilers for the book discussed as well as the entire series, so consider yourself warned.
Before I get too in depth in this post, I’m just going to come right out and say it: Deadhouse Gates is probably my favorite book of all time. It follows Gardens of the Moon and precedes Memories of Ice. I’m writing about these books because I love them, but Deadhouse Gates is on another level for me. Not only is it the book where I really “got” Steven Erikson, it kind of ruined a lot of the stereotypical fantasy books I had read up to this point. A lot of people online point to the duology of Deadhouse Gates and Memories of Ice as the highlights of the Malazan series. While I agree with that statement, Deadhouse Gates is the clear winner for me.
Deadhouse Gates follows many character POV’s, both new characters and returning characters from the previous books. Some of the characters at the end of the last book left on a ship to go to a separate continent. This continent turns out to be Seven Cities, a desert continent that has recently been conquered by the Malazan empire. This setting is very interesting for multiple reasons. The desert is not a typical setting for a sword and sorcery fantasy book. I know that some books have desert settings, but Erikson absolutely commits to it. Throughout the book the desert is a constant, and it plays into the story and the action constantly. Seven cities also has an interesting political situation. It’s comprised of multiple city states that up until recently were all free. Some factions feel the Malazans are decent rulers, while others want their independence back. It isn’t the focus of this story, but it is interesting background noise that helps make the Malazan universe feel like a truly living world that you could actually visit.
There are many great characters in this book. Fiddler is arguably the main character of the entire series and he is center stage throughout this book. Kalam, Cutter, Apsalar, Duiker, Iskaral and Mogora Pust, Icarium and Mappo, and more very important characters are all either POV characters or present in this book. Kulp is a mage on a mission, and on my first read through I immediately identified with him. Halfway through the book he is shockingly killed unceremoniously. I was absolutely floored by his death, the scene he is killed in seemed so innocuous. It really affected me, and cemented Kulp as one of my favorite Malazan characters. If you get far enough along in Malazan, you realize that dead is almost never really dead. But Kulp never came back. I always hoped he’d come back in some capacity. The fact that he had so little screen time and I felt such a strong connection to him so quickly made it hard to see him die, but the fact that he never came back made him all the more special to me. In fact, pretty much any time I’m playing a video game and need to create a name for my character, I use Kulp.
There are many important plot threads throughout the book, but the plot that has the most impact for me is the Chain of Dogs. This story is about an army fighting it’s way across a continent while protecting a caravan of innocent people. The Chain is constantly under attack from more powerful armies, and every battle feels like a hail mary to just survive and keep the caravan moving. The battle scenes and their resolutions are breathtaking. I’ve read many fantasy books over the years, so I’m well accustomed to the stereotypes and tropes authors use for battle scenes. Erikson himself falls victim to some of them later on. But this scenario of a running retreat across a whole continent feels fresh still, and the way these scenes are written is superb. It all culminates in a Jesus Christ analog, right down to a cross and immaculate conception. It’s thrilling and heartbreaking at the same time.
The other stories and character arcs are great as well. Anything involving the Bridgeburners is Malazan gold. Iskaral Pust is hilariously funny, and he has interactions with many other characters in this book and throughout the series. Icarium is one of the most unique characters in the Malazan universe, itself one of the most interesting and unique fantasy series around, so that’s saying something. All of these stories can stand alone just fine in this book, but they also build into each other and set things up for future books in a way I’ve never seen another author achieve. Erikson is truly a master at foreshadowing. He does so many things well as an author, but his use of foreshadowing is second to none. It’s absolutely arguable that the Malazan Book of the Fallen is more enjoyable a second time around, because there is so much foreshadowing and hinting in the early books. I’ve seen this sentiment a lot online, and I’m inclined to agree.
I could go on and on about this book, but I feel like I’m already starting to ramble. If you had a hard time with Gardens of the Moon, please do yourself a favor and read through Deadhouse Gates. I had a hard time with Gardens myself, I stopped part way through the first time. If you find the will to push through you’re going to see why Erikson has such a cult following, and why he receives so much critical acclaim. His writing is interesting on so many levels, and this book is Erikson in top form. Go read it right now.