Across the sea from Genabackis lies the continent of Seven Cities, occupied by the Malazan Empire. But within the heart of the Holy Desert Raraku, the seer Sha’ik and her followers prepare for the Whirlwind, a prophesied uprising that will come out the desert, raze Seven Cities, and eliminate the Malazan occupation.
With some old favorites returning and plenty of new characters introduced, Erikson once again succeeds in crafting an amazing novel that explores and dissects the horrors of war, the strength of humanity, and the dark and wonderful world that is the second book of The Malazan Book of the Fallen: Deadhouse Gates.
Whole new world
Probably the most interesting and jarring aspect of this novel is that it takes place on an entirely different continent than the last novel. Yes, I said continent. As this book opens, the reader truly starts to understand the kind of scope Erikson is going for in this series.
Seven Cities is an entirely new beast, replacing Genabackis’s plains and mountains with dead, dry wastes and deadly, scorching deserts. Not only is the reader introduced to an entirely different landscape, but also to dozens of new cultures. New sects of priests, gods, soldiers, mercenary groups, foods, cities, magic, and characters are but one large aspect of this novel to digest. It’s thrilling to jump into Seven Cities with the knowledge of Gardens of the Moon because that knowledge makes everything more vivid and engrossing.
Deeper, smoother story
In Deadhouse Gates, Erikson treats the reader differently. Erikson knows that if the reader has made it to Deadhouse Gates, then they’ll be used to his style. He can trust the reader to follow the story, confusing as it may sometimes become. As such, the story seems a lot smoother; Erikson keeps the story lean and the prose beautifully succinct. The reader is rewarded with a tighter story that treats them as equals.
But that’s not to say Erikson gives any hand-outs. Gardens of the Moon was a rich, interesting story that raised plenty of questions. Most of those questions are never actually answered until Deadhouse Gates; and as expected, there are even more questions raised at the end of that, questions which won’t be answered until Memories of Ice, the third book. It can be frustrating at times, but only because it’s such a compelling read: you want to know the answers right away. But Erikson is pulling back the curtain slowly, and you need to savor it. Patience is a virtue that Erikson teaches well.
New and old characters
One of Erikson’s greatest strengths is in his characters. He develops a story, a mind, a real soul behind the characters he writes, whether it’s an undead soldier thousands of years old or a sixteen-year-old female assassin. And, as is usually the case with Erikson, that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to constructing amazing, defined, and tragic people.
There are plenty of new characters in this, from the Empire’s Historian Duiker to the tragic couple Icarium and Mappo. However, just because we’re on a new continent doesn’t mean we don’t follow our former companions, too. Expect a return of a few choice Bridgeburners and some of our favorite Ascendants, Shadowthrone and Cotillion. One of the great things about The Malazan Book of the Fallen is that everyone always comes out with a favorite character. Believe me, you’ll have plenty to choose from.
The horrors of war
In Gardens of the Moon, Erikson introduced a very complicated, very amazing world. To me, it acted as a vehicle for both very human stories as well as large, earth-shattering epics. Gardens of the Moon ended on a somewhat optimistic tone, and although it was a book about war, it still never dove into overwhelming violence.
But in Deadhouse Gates, Erikson doesn’t pull his punches. He goes for the gut.
Opening with the cull of nobility with men, women, and children awaiting execution or exile, Deadhouse Gates told me right away that Erikson wouldn’t hold back. This book is a brutal look at the horrors of war: how dangerous and cunning cornered men become; how people try fight through pain to find purpose; and how friendship can empower, or in other cases, poison.
This is not to say that it is all doom and gloom. Erikson finds moments of grim levity and sometimes good intentions triumph. It is a brutal journey, and not everyone makes it. But every smile you crack at reading this, every tear you shed, every time you jump up in your seat, is earned and worth it.
So why should you read this?
This book represents Erikson’s real test. Gardens of the Moon was complicated but engrossing, and, ultimately, rewarding. Deadhouse Gates is his true test for the reader: Can you follow what he’s hoping to accomplish? Can you stay with him as he mucks through all the horror and grief of war?
I cannot answer these questions for you. But I will say this: If you can stay with him, what you will find at the end is a wonderful novel full of amazing characters, deep history, and an enticing story that will have you coming back for more. After this novel, there’s no way I’m not going to finish The Malazan Book of the Fallen series. I’m hooked.