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Project Malazan: The Lees of Laughter’s End by Steven Erikson

Title: The Lees of Laughter’s End

Author: Steven Erikson

Series: Bachelain & Korbal Broach #3

Malazan Ultimate Reading Order: #4

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Overview: In the wake of their blissful sojourn in the city of Lamentable Moll, the intrepid sorcerors Bauchelain and Korbal Broach — along with their newly hired manservant, Emancipor Reese — have set out on the wide open seas aboard the sturdy Suncurl. Alas, there’s more baggage in the hold than meets the beady eyes of Suncurl’s hapless crew, and once on the cursed sea-lane known as Laughter’s End — the Red Road in which flows the blood of an Elder God — unseemly terrors are prodded awake, to the understated dismay of all. It is said that it is not the destination that counts, but the journey itself. Such a noble, worthy sentiment. Aye, it is the journey that counts, especially when what counts is horror, murder, mischance and mayhem. For Bauchelain, Korbal Broach and Emancipor Reese, it is of course just one more night on the high seas, on a journey without end — and that counts for a lot. -Goodreads

The Review:

Having just read and loved the introduction to Balchelain and Korbal Broach in Blood Follows, Erikson had me hooked and I was eager to continue. This installment took a little of the enthusiasm out of my sails, but I still enjoyed it.

The setting for Lees at Laughter’s End was my favorite element of the novella. Or rather, the atmosphere the author created using a combination of interesting setting, great characters, spooky magickings, and a splash of dark humor. The thing I’m starting to appreciate most from Erikson is his ability to create a totally immersive experience.

What struck me was how curious I still was about the characters at this point. They’re still enigmas and I was absolutely fascinated with some of the things they did in this story. They’re truly unlike any characters I’ve read before, and the combination and execution are downright dazzling.

…but the story was also weird.

I’ll admit I didn’t enjoy this novella quite as much as Blood Follows because it danced on the edge of ridiculous a few times (which is not to my personal taste). It never quite went over the edge, but it was close. The unexpected happenings, while far-fetched, did add a good bit of suspense to the novel (because when anything is possible, no one is safe). And so I can appreciate it for what it was even though it got just a tad wild for me.

Recommendations: this novella would be perfect for Malazan fans who love the fantasy/horror sub-genre. I haven’t read Lovecraft (too creepy), but this reminded me of some elements I’ve heard are prominent in his Cthulhu works. As a completionist, I’d say read all the things. But if you’re trying to determine which to leave out, Blood Follows was a stronger Bachelain/Korbal Broach snippet. That pains me to say though – you should just read all the things too – why make hard decisions?

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Project Malazan: Blood Follows by Steven Erikson

Title: Blood Follows

Author: Steven Erikson

Series: Bachelain & Korbal Broach #1

Malazan Ultimate Reading Order: #3

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: All is not well in Lamentable Moll. A sinister, diabolical killer stalks the port city’s narrow, barrow-humped streets, and panic grips the citizens like a fever. Emancipor Reese is no exception, and indeed, with his legendary ill luck, it’s worse for him than for most. Not only was his previous employer the unknown killer’s latest victim, but Emancipor is out of work. And, with his dearest wife terminally comfortable with the manner of life to which she asserts she has become accustomed (or at least to which she aspires) — for her and their two whelps — all other terrors grow limp and pale for poor Emancipor. But perhaps his luck has finally changed, for two strangers have come to Lamentable Moll… and they have nailed to the centre post in Fishmonger’s Round a note requesting the services of a manservant. This is surely a remarkable opportunity for the hapless Emancipor Reese… no matter that the note reeks with death-warded magic; no matter that the barrow ghosts themselves howl with fear every night; and certainly no matter that Lamentable Moll itself is about to erupt in a frenzy of terror-inspired anarchy…. -Goodreads

The Review:

Before beginning my Project Malazan: The Ultimate Reading Order, I’d heard these Bachelain and Korbal Broach novellas weren’t worth the effort. As reading just the main Malazan saga is a colossal commitment within itself, I can see why taking precious time away from that undertaking would put one at risk of losing momentum. Personally, I figured if I was willing to take the time to read the little stuff, then I was definitely more committed to seeing this venture through. Good or not, the completionist in me was going to pick them up regardless.

That said, I believe Blood Follows is a very enriching accompaniment to the main series.

It’s a fantastic short story that introduced these characters brilliantly. I figured I knew about what I was getting into with this novella and made some predictions early on. None of them were correct. Erikson isn’t afraid to take risks and “go there” with his stories – something that makes them both difficult to read and so worth the effort at the same time. This short was just a tiny snipped into the lives of these characters, but I felt a depth and robustness in their presentation that frankly I can’t remember experiencing with any other author. He always offers complete immersion into his tales.

So, one of the main complaints people have about the Malazan series is that it takes a ton of concentration to read. Erikson throws you straight into the fire without offering one iota of context or explanation. A lot of what he writes feels ambiguous, even when read carefully. I’d wondered if it were a deliberate style choice or if his brain was just on a different wavelength. Probably both are true, but after reading this novella, which was so much more accessibly written and easy to follow, I’ve come to the conclusion that at least the former is accurate and what he’s been doing to us in the Malazan series is deliberate and calculated. At this I am both wildly impressed at his skills and sufficiently irritated haha.

Recommendations: if you want to read Malazan, Blood Follows will enhance the main series. The novellas that come after are a little more difficult to endorse, but I’m confident about the appeal of this one.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Deadhouse Gates by Steven Erikson

Deadhouse Gates by Steven Erikson

Title: Deadhouse Gates

Author: Steven Erickson

Series:  Malazan #2

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: In the vast dominion of Seven Cities, in the Holy Desert Raraku, the seer Sha’ik and her followers prepare for the long-prophesied uprising known as the Whirlwind. Unprecedented in size and savagery, this maelstrom of fanaticism and bloodlust will embroil the Malazan Empire in one of the bloodiest conflicts it has ever known, shaping destinies and giving birth to legends. -Goodreads

The Review:

I started Deadhouse Gates in January… Of 2019.

The writing is dense, no bout a doubt it, but it took a lot longer than it probably should have to get through the book considering how good it is. Part of my problem is that I’m a perfectionist and a completionist, so if I was going to tackle a series like Malazan, I wanted to make sure I got the full experience from it. There are so many characters and places referenced that it really does take a lot of extra concentration to keep it all straight. And I don’t know about you, but as soon as I start to lose focus and get confused on which character I’m reading about, my level of engagement and investment in the story drops significantly. So I read this at a snail’s pace, utilizing kindle’s X-ray feature what seemed like every freaking page to make sure I knew who or where or what was being referenced. Not to mention that the writing itself is very abrupt and succinct, especially surrounding revelations and epiphanies, so I constantly had to reread passages to make sure I understood all of its implications. All in all, a very slow process. And one that is not conducive to dragging out the reading over several, uh, years. I kept putting it down in favor of things that took less effort and eventually, this past January 2021, decided to lay everything else aside and commit fully to Malazan. I restarted the book and overall, with my full attention devoted, it took about three months to read.

It was soooooo worth the effort!

There’s no doubt in my mind that this book and series (as far as I’ve gotten) are masterpieces brilliant in their originality, expansiveness, and execution. The reading experience is unlike anything I’ve come across before (clearly) and the total immersion required almost guarantees you’re going to take a few gut punches. I can see why so many proficient fantasy readers hold Malazan on a pedestal – it’s truly an amazing story.

Believe it or not, DG was actually a little easier to follow than Gardens of the Moon. There were fewer new characters to follow and it seemed like we circled back to them more frequently. I particularly loved the elegant plot construction. It was an intertwined, unfolding “dance” of information and convergence of characters that built to an amazing peak that left my brain wheeling. It was so thoughtful and so well-executed. I truly can’t wait to see what the author has in store for me next. Now that I think I’ve gotten the hang of reading this series, I’m hoping I’ll be able to clip along a bit faster.

So how do I rate something like this? If I’m applying based on merit alone, it’s a solid 5 stars. However I think it’s important to also consider my actual reading experience with the book, and the fact that it took so much time and effort should be represented (even though that’s just as much on me as it is the writing). 4.5 stars it is.

Recommendations: this is one of the most remarkable books I’ve ever read and I consider the series a must-try for fans of the fantasy genre. It’s not for everyone and will require a lot more concentration than most novels, but the payoff is well worth the effort. Maybe try not to be as anal-retentive as I was in keeping the details straight and just enjoy the process (after all, if an element is truly important the author will most assuredly highlight it again at some point). If you can get into the swing of it, get ready for one of the coolest reading experiences you’ll ever have!

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson

Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson

Title: Gardens of the Moon

Author: Steven Erikson

Series: Malazan Book of the Fallen #1

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: The Malazan Empire simmers with discontent, bled dry by interminable warfare, bitter infighting and bloody confrontations with the formidable Anomander Rake and his Tiste Andii, ancient and implacable sorcerers. Even the imperial legions, long inured to the bloodshed, yearn for some respite. Yet Empress Laseen’s rule remains absolute, enforced by her dread Claw assassins. For Sergeant Whiskeyjack and his squad of Bridgeburners, and for Tattersail, surviving cadre mage of the Second Legion, the aftermath of the siege of Pale should have been a time to mourn the many dead. But Darujhistan, last of the Free Cities of Genabackis, yet holds out. It is to this ancient citadel that Laseen turns her predatory gaze. However, it would appear that the Empire is not alone in this great game. Sinister, shadowbound forces are gathering as the gods themselves prepare to play their hand… Conceived and written on a panoramic scale, Gardens of the Moon is epic fantasy of the highest order–an enthralling adventure by an outstanding new voice. -Goodreads

The Review:

Gardens of the Moon was fantastic… aside from the fact that it took me a whole year to read it.

From countless discussions with book friends, it’s clear to me that Malazan is not just a casual read, it’s a commitment of time, mental energy, and emotion. It stands on a pedestal as one of the most all-encompassing series on the market and I would be doing my passion an injustice not exploring it to the fullest. I genuinely wanted to see what all the hype is about, and GotM book made a strong first impression.

But this isn’t the first time I’ve picked up this book….

Back in 2002 when I first became a bookseller, I was dazzled by the idea that I could check out hardcovers from the store for free. So I snagged a sparkling new copy of Gardens of the Moon off the shelf and started reading. I have to say, I was NOT prepared for this type of unconventional storytelling back then. I expected to meet a handful of characters and stick with them throughout the book. Erikson threw so many characters at me all at once, I quickly lost track of them all and ended up skimming for a while to see if I could find anybody familiar in the text. You know how when you’re disengaged from a book, your eyes can read for days but your mind doesn’t actually absorb anything? That was me. I was in it enough to appreciate the atmosphere of the story, but everything else was a blur.

Oh, how I wish I knew what to expect back then so that I could be standing her today saying “Malazan? I read that years ago.” But alas, I wasn’t ready.

… I still don’t know if I am.

The book requires a ton of concentration if, like me, you want to get as much out of the experience as possible. Perfectionists will have a more difficult time with this series than those who are able to go with the flow. However, the vast majority of people I’ve talked to say it’s well worth the effort (there’s practically an army of Malazan enthusiasts in my Goodreads group, Fantasy Buddy Reads. Even mention Malazan casually there and half a dozen impassioned readers will bombard you with their feels. It’s kind of inspiring). It definitely won’t take most people an entire year to get through it, but it will help considerably if you venture in knowing what you’re signing up for.

In my read, I managed to keep track of all the characters, which in itself is a miracle. The presentation is so unconventional – you’re thrust in the middle of a robust world and meant to navigate it without explanation. You just get a front row seat for all the happenings. This format is partly why I think the book makes you feel like you’re a part of the story, gets you so worked up about the characters, and sticks in your brain long after you put it down. Compound that with world-building that feels almost unrivaled, and you have a guaranteed escape. Everything disappeared around me when I picked it up. GotM is more than just a good read, it’s an EXPERIENCE.

But because of how much of a commitment it required compared to the output of just this first book, I’m saving my 5 stars for upcoming books I’ve been assured are going to rip out my soul. I can’t wait.

Thanks, FBR peeps for encouraging my initial exploration of the series (and for teasing/cheering me on as it took so long to get through… I think Petrik finished the entire series by the time I made it through the first book) and Miche, for the recent conversation that reignited me back into it. Y’all rock. <3

Recommendations: GotM is not for the faint of heart. It’s evoking in every sense of the word and a clear masterpiece of the genre. I’d recommend it highly to hard-core fantasy fans who don’t mind books that require more concentration.

Other books you might like: 

by Niki Hawkes

Notes: comments are welcome, but please be mindful that spoilers can’t be marked in the comment sections and there are still a few of us stragglers who also want the full experience of the series. Thank you!