Top critical review
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I admired it more than I enjoyed it.
on 10 April 2012
The Malazan Empire seeks to conclude its long campaign to conquer the continent of Genabaris. At the front-line of this struggle we find a general close to rebelling, a legendary squad of sappers, a sprinkling of gods, a handful of warring mages, an ancient lord who flies his own moon around, a rag-bag gang of low-lifes, and a rich, gas-lit city where mandarins and alchemists prepare to meet the onslaught.
I was a little irked by Erikson's disdain for the genre convention of avoiding anachronistic language: too-contemporary words like 'migraine', 'paranoia' and even the dreaded 'okay' jar this reader's suspension of disbelief. Occasionally too his background in role-play gaming intrudes, as when he speaks of a demon being banished 'when enough damage has been inflicted'. But mostly his prose is crisp and effective. Here the Empress's Adjunct quizzes her ancient companion:
"Tell me, Tool, what dominates your thoughts?"
The Imass shrugged before replying. "I think of futility, Adjunct."
"Do all Imass think about futility?"
"No. Few think at all."
"Why is that?"
The Imass leaned his head to one side and regarded her. "Because, Adjunct, it is futile."
Is this then the first volume in a major work of fantasy? Undoubtedly. Is it well written, with economy of prose, bold imagination, well-delineated characters, concise yet colourful dialogue? Yes to all of this. Is it impressive in scale and scope, deftly detailing a complex world and history, telling all it needs to tell while hinting at much greater things? Is it elegantly structured, advancing steadily towards an exciting and action-packed climax, yet packed with incident and intrigue from the first page? Yes. Absolutely.
Odd then that I could hardly be bothered to pick it up: it took me months to get through. If this novel and I registered on a dating site, the algorithm would match us up immediately; but when we actually met there was no spark. I think a problem for me was that I couldn't see what the bouncing ball was following: no one character or cause carries the reader through this bewildering story; instead, we jump ceaselessly from faction to faction, place to place, in a drunkard's walk with no sense of destination. Whilst it's flattering that the author deems me capable of holding this intricate narrative balanced in my head, it often seemed like just one damned thing after another. Still, I entirely accept all the reasons to admire this work, and you may have a better time with it than I did. Just be prepared to work for your supper. :)