When I bought this book, I was dreading having to look up stuff in the index at every page, or not being able to understand what was going on in one great long, 700 page battle. That was the impression I had got of the series from its critics. However, others, whilst admitting that it was complex, could not praise it enough. I thought I'd give it a try.
Well, I'm simply blown away. What an amazing start to what promises to be an enormous project that will be soon seen as one of the top fantasy series ever!
Yes, Steven Erikson (and Ian Cameron Esslemont, the co-creator of the world of the Malazan empire) have imagined a world far beyond anything that's ever been written about before. Yes, sometimes it can be hard to remember exactly which Ascendant Cotillion is (though perhaps if you're confused over that one, you've skipped a few pages!) but generally if there is a point when you think, "Hang on, who's Apsalar again?" there is a very useful list of characters at the start which helped me get a few things straight - but I never needed to do this with anything important. If there was something I was unsure about, it would be a minor God, whose name was mentioned in passing. Erikson writes so skillfully about this complex world that I had next to no difficulty remembering what was what.
The pace is fast throughout the book, helped by the style of the book. You see events from many different characters points of view, from both 'sides' (similar to George RR Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire) and you come to care for the characters.
You do NOT get spoon fed the story and details of the world. You get dropped into the story, and you pick up stuff as you go along. The way the reader has to work some things out and wonder about others is deliberate, and I feel one of the book's strengths - instead of spending a few hundred pages introducing you to the world, there is a few pages of prologue, which give you some idea of the start of the Malazan Empire, and introduce you to some of the main characters - and then the pace immediately picks up, dragging you into the story straight away.
As you can see, I feel that this will be an astounding series, and I've heard that the sequel is even better that the first book (doesn't seem possible!)
If you want a nice, easy read, where you don't really have to think too much to understand whats happening, don't chose this book. But if you want an epic, original and unbelievably engrossing new series, what are you waiting for?