Those who have been following me since I started blogging on here will know that I am currently working my way through Steven Erikson’s ten part epic “The Malazan Book of the Fallen”. Well I have just finished book five, Midnight Tides and have cracked open book six, The Bonehunters. Not going to give a review of book five as I don’t think I have the expertise to really critique the work of someone like Erikson. That and I don’t want to give spoilers to those who may be interested enough in my posts to start reading Erikson themselves. With that in mind I would say that what follows contains some minor spoilers, although nothing that would in any way affect your enjoyment of the series. Now onto the point of this blog. That points is to discuss what Erikson chose to do in book 5, namely to move away almost completely from the story so far.
The first four books in the series are all set in the same two locations. There are common characters between all of the books. In short the first four books feel like one large story. It’s not a straight forward tale by any means and the books do cover different, as well as on occasions, the same time periods. However, it is one coherent story. You definitely feel that one continuous epic tale is being woven. The fourth book, House of Chains, ends at a point where you are definitely thinking “I wonder what will happen next?”. Well what happens next is Midnight Tides. The fifth instalment in the Malazan series moves location to a part of our world as of yet untouched by the Malazan empire. Hence we have new characters, new landscapes and new concepts. More importantly we have almost none of anything which was covered in the first four books.
Having completed Midnight Tides I have now read the first 50 or so pages of the The Bonehunters. This book takes off a matter of days after the end of House of Chains and thus continues the story we seem to have taken a one book time out from. Truth is I enjoyed Midnight Tides. However, I enjoyed it as I might any other piece of stand alone fantasy fiction. Of course there were tie ins to the other books in the series but so few of consequence that you could have easily read it at any point amongst the previous four. On reflection Erikson did something similar when he dedicated the first 200 pages of House of Chains to the back story of one relatively minor character. At the time this seemed excessive to me and still does. Question is even in a ten part epic can an author afford to move the focus away from the central plot line for so long ? For me the jury is still out.
Problem I had with Midnight Tides is that over the course of the first four books I had bought in to the characters, their issues, their world, their story. To then leave that behind for 700 pages seemed a risky strategy. Perhaps after four books Steven Erikson thought that his readers were already along for the ride. Thus a change of location and the start of what was in essence a completely new arc would be be accepted. Well, I am still reading so maybe he was right. That said I am glad to be back in the world of the first four books again.
From what I have read the characters and locations of Midnight Tides will return. By then they too will feel familiar. Hopefully though when they do return they mix in with the other characters and parts of the Malazan empire we already know. With only four books left after the one I am reading I don’t think we can afford to leave the central story again for too long without potentially losing readers with only a few laps to go. Just my opinion. I’m sure some Malazan aficionados will be scoffing at what I’ve written. No, I am not an expert on fiction and writing styles. I’m just a reader who thought what an author did was a bit strange! Yes, bring us new characters and new parts of your world but maybe do so while not leaving those we have come to know, love and hate out of our thoughts for so long.