The title of the third novel in Steven Erikson's Malazan -series hints at a historical ice age within the realms of the book. Said ice age was a time of the Jaghut, a powerfully magical race, with an affinity to ice, among whom arose tyrants to rule those they deemed lesser. The tyrants were opposed by a people of Imass, who went as far as undergo a ritual to be able to hunt down the Jaghut for all eternity, Tyrant or otherwise. The book begins when such a hunt is ongoing and an Imass warrior takes pity on a Jaghut woman's children and sends them through a rent in space, unknowing that said rent is not a gateway to the Jaghut warren, as she believed, but a wound within which a monster has been sealed away... This is a backstory, which becomes clearer and clearer the more you read the novel in question as well the series as a whole, and it is the event that sets in motion most everything that happens within Memories of Ice.
On the surface of things the reader follows the story of who two armies, once opposed on the battlefield, now join forces to battle a common enemy. On the continent of Genabackis where we left High Fist Dujek Onearm and Sergeant Whiskeyjack along with his Bridgeburners, a cult of sorts has arisen, which has begun to devour the lands and people around it. To battle this new threat, the Genabackan mercenary forces led by warlord Caladan Brood and former high king Kallor take Dujek and his Host as allies after they've been outlawed by Empress Laseen of Malazan Empire. Dujek and Whiskeyjack decide to become mercenaries and come to the aid of the Genabackan forces. The behind the scenes stories involve yet again the struggle between the gods and the ascendants, the ancient races and the newcomer humans.
In the armies of Genabackis there is also Silverfox, a mysterious child who is growing up way faster than is natural. Hers is a strange power and those around her are more or less rattled by it - not knowing whether her power will be for their benefit or not. Silverfox has a link to Captain Ganoes Paran of the Bridgeburners and thus acts as a mediator of sorts between the two armies, even if Captain Paran himself avoids her company.
Another part in the stories that unfold is played by Toc the Younger, who has been thrown all across Genabackis, to the other side of Pannion Domin. He is joined by an undead warrior, Onos T'oolan and the sorceress Envy with her formidable companions. Their trek through Pannion Domin describes the enemy's territory and forces from the inside, as Toc tries to rejoin his command in the Malazan army. Their journey is marked not only of travelling, but also of storytelling and investigation and throughout all that a background history starts to emerge.
And if there aren't enough main characters to go along with already, there's an ex-caravan guard / mercenary Gruntle, whose name describes the man himself rather spot on. A reluctant warrior-turned-hero, his role in the course of the tale is rather similar to that of everyone else's: tell the gods to stop messing around and let the mortals mind their own business.
Other minor characters are introduced as well, who have their roles to play within the events of the novel. It is also the first time Erikson shows the readers how a god's mortal army is structured; something that becomes a recurring theme throughout the series later on. There are barbaric tribes, civilized city people, necromancers, herders and scaly monsters to take into account and for the first time it starts to feel that the world Erikson paints up is rather more complex than one could surmise from the two earlier books to the series. Each installment of the story is told from the point of view of someone or the other, usually one in a low status or in a difficult situation, at least. The whole book centers around a military campaign, after all, and the desperation of it slips through the pages almost constantly, even when not actually centering upon the actual warfare.
In another sense, the book is all about pain, brooding, resentment, anger and hate, and how those can be dealt with once they run over. Pain suffered usually leads to causing pain to others, which then leads onwards to more pain. Within this all, however, there is love, caring, nurturing and forgiveness, which one should hope wins out in the end... However, Erikson doesn't settle for anything that simplistic, but has a much more cunning twist to the ending of the novel. The Memories of Ice can be said to lay down some pretty heavy foundations for the main story arch of the series. The fall and rise of the Crippled God has thus far been only hinted at, but now begins to take on a more definitive form. Some of the characters become more familiar and new ones are introduced who will appear again later. The world is also expanded a little more, almost like in expectation of the fourth novel that takes the story not only to a different place, but also to a different time. And thus the series has finally begun.