is the fifth book in Steven Erikson
's immense fantasy sequence The Malazan Book of the Fallen
, which began in 1999 with the much-praised Gardens of the Moon
. In successive volumes the action moves around the world of the Malazan Empire, linked by a back-story as ancient and complex as Tolkien's. Here a prologue in "The Time of the Elder Gods" shows clashes and betrayals of gods, dragon shape shifters, demons, ice mages and more. In modern times, some very old characters survive under other names, and history has been seriously misremembered...
Now there's an impending clash between the recently-united barbaric tribes of the Tiste Edur and the adjoining Kingdom of Lether, whose capitalistic decadence would make it quite sympathetic if not for policies of ruthless expansionism and slavery.
We come to know people on both sides: the Tiste Edur are driven by fierce honour and have strange, fascinating customs (Erikson is an anthropologist). But their Warlock King has, so to speak, switched gods in midstream and allied with a distinctly dark power while seeking a potent "gift" from another unreliable deity. Ironically, despite the provocation of Letheran seal-poachers on his coast, the Warlock King wants a safe, unassailable peace. His supernatural allies have other plans, and the tribes find themselves following a fearsome but also pitiable new Emperor into war.
Oddly enough, an old, ambiguous Letheran prophecy about an emperor is about to fall due. Meanwhile this kingdom has internal enemies, including a master financier plotting ruin while living in abject poverty with his resourceful manservant: this double act provides a vein of Jeeves-and-Wooster comic relief. There are complex manoeuvres in court circles. The undead walk--but that's normal in Lether. Restless stirring is felt in the ancient Hold where dark magic has long been confined. Then comes the clash with the Tiste Edur, and sorcerers' weapons of mass destruction are unleashed on both sides.
It's a big, complex, satisfying blockbuster, crammed with horrors, humour, spectacular effects and devious twists. Loose ends will presumably be picked up in later volumes. --David Langford
"Everything we have come to expect from this most excellent of fantasy writers; huge in scope, vast in implication and immensely, utterly entertaining.""-Alienonline"