My all time favourite fantasy series (so far) is Steven Erikson's colossal Tale of the Malazan, Book of the Fallen series. The series is comprised of ten books, which in order of publication are: Gardens of the Moon (1999), Deadhouse Gates (2000), Memories of Ice (2001), House of Chains (2002), Midnight Tides (2004), The Bonehunters (2006), Reaper's Gale (2007), Toll the Hounds (2008), Dust of Dreams (2009) and The Crippled God (2011).
Apart from these books there also exists a collection of short stories written by Erikson, a series of five books set in the same world by Erikson's friend Ian C. Esslemont and a new trilogy by Erikson that begins with a book titled The Forge of Darkness published in 2012. It was for a long time been my intention to write a review of the series and/or the books and possibly encourage other fantasy-minded friends of mine to read them too, as I would very much like to talk about the series with someone else who has also read them. As I've quite recently read the two first books from the original series and will soon begin reading the fifth and final installment of Esslemont's novels and will after that probably return to the original series yet again, I don't think it would be too prudent to promise a review of the books and the world I've come to love so much.
Here then, I will discuss the series as a whole, rather briefly (I should hope).
The novels are all set in a secondary world and they follow for the most part the exploits and fall of an imperialistic empire that originated from an island called Malaz and has later conquered continents, all the time spreading its influence over the world. The Malazan Empire is known for its superb military, the cornerstone of which is the Malazan infantry unit. Magic also plays a role in warfare and life in general, as affliated people are able to access warrens of different sort of magic - usually a person is able to access only one type of warren, but there are naturally some characters who dance around the edge of these limitations. I have actually written an essay based on the first book about the different types of soldiers in the Malazan army: the leaders, the infantry, the assassin and the mage - I might add that text here if I deem it appropriate.
Religion also plays an important role in the course of the books, and it is very tightly intertwined with the notion of magic: the warrens mages access or even travel through for their power are actually all aspected to some sort of gods, deities or ascendants. Each of these is represented by a House, which is represented in a deck of cards - the deck of Dragons, which is used in Tarot-like readings throughout the books. As the stories unfold, it is revealed there are old gods, new gods and human-become gods, some even against their will, all warring over power, control and life of the warrens and the essence of the world. An alien entity is corrupting the fabric of the world, which causes all sorts of problems, and to some extent it creates, forces or even in same cases, subsides some of the conflicts on the immortal planes of the world.
The average character in any given novel is a human, who all have a race according to their specific birthplace - in the world, there are at least three or four major continents, as well as several islands and smaller areas of population, which creatures inhabit. With as massive world as this, the variety of characters present in the novels is also huge. This is not a series I would recommend to people who cannot stand having hundreds of named characters. Apart from humans there exist also other races: Jaghut, who seem to resemble beasts with their tusks and high stature, undead T'lan Imass, dark elf-like Tiste Andii and their cousins Tiste Edur and Tiste Liosan, Forkrul Assail who seem to be some sort of monstrous half-gods, as well as giant-related races of Teblor. And naturally, dragons of different sort, beasts, shadows, demons and at least the one meteor-riding alien - as well as some things that seem to be living houses. Go figure.
The story follows, as mentioned, the Malazan empire, which has a big role in affecting the events of the world. The most important and fascinating thing about these novels is that the events are always unfolded from the point of view of single characters - there are many of them and sometimes they perceive things differently, but it is only very rarely that events are described on the larger scale of the world, removed from the daily thoughts of its people. Rather the reader will get a description of a battle and its consequences through the eyes of a squad healer, or a description of a fight between a demi-god and a demon with a street urchin hurrying out of the way or hear the dealings between gods sitting on the shoulder of an eccentric master thief.
It also transpires that nothing is as simple as it first seems when reading the Books of the Fallen. The stories and links and references are all very intelligent, well thought of and complex, which require the reader to think, to remember and sometimes to make the connections very far apart from each other book-wise; this is in great part the reason I have myself fallen in love with the Malazans. It might be that a character is somewhere doing something and meets someone they did not previously know - but the reader does. From previous novels. This gives us the impression of being in on the secret with the author, the knowledge of this or that person and their nature, goals and desires, which are as of yet unknown to the character who is in the spotlight of the event. And very often, who remain in the dark even after the encounter.
The first four books are connected, so that novel three follows novel one and novel four follows novel two, with overlapping in each of them with some same and very many new characters. Novel five moves into a new direction, novel six joins together three and four, novel seven continues five, eight continues six and nine and ten which are a single book but in two parts join everything together again. The short stories are set between the events, Esslemont's books happen some before and some after everything and the new trilogy describes events before everything. So, time-wise the series is also very complex and requires a good concentration and an excellent memory. Making a single timeline would be a nightmare, as some events span centuries and some happen in the course of a few hours.
So, in brief, Malazan Book of the Fallen. Reviews of the individual books to follow.