Book pre-review: “Malazan Book of the Fallen”, a saga by Steven Erikson

March 4, 2009

I’ve been wanting to review Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen series for some time but I haven’t yet gotten along to it. You see, this series goes a bit out of normal fantasy parameters, so I feel an introduction, or pre-review, is necessary.

The mythos for this series was created over the years by Steven and Ian Cameron Esslemont (Steven’s friend and also a fantasy author) as a RPG setting. Now these two gentlemen seem to have an awesome imagination and have included little to no stock fantasy in this mythos.

First, this series doesn’t include the usual elves, dwarves, orcs or evil undead hordes. The races are original from physical details to social behaviours. For example, the antisocial Jaghut have too many joints on their arms, greenish skin and tusks. Imass, from which humans are descendant, underwent an undeath ritual to exterminate all Jaghut. Then there’s the K’Chain Che’malle, lizards with hive-mind organization who are adepts of technology and the Tiste, divided in Andii, Edur and Liosan, children of Dark, Shadow and Light respectively.  I could go on and on, but there’s already an entire 17 page wikipedia page on the races alone which is interesting enough.

There is, naturally, magic, in this series. Casters tap their magical energy from warrens. These warrens are not only sources of magic, but they are like parallel dimensions where the characters occasionally travel. These warrens are aspected: there’s the warren of fire, of shadow, of ice, etc etc.

Even the way deities work is unusual. There are Gods without power, Gods that were killed and replaced, Gods that have fallen and have no access to their warren. There’s also ascendants, who are powerful beings who, for some reason or other, have “ascended” to a demi-God status.

There are particularly special characters in these series, and now that I’ve put the mythos on the table, I’ll be able to focus more on them during the book reviews.

Another interesting aspect of the book is the lack of a clear “hero” or “good” or “evil” – even though a few characters are close to the definition. It often happens in the series that, for example, one character is portrayed in a very negative way, and then on the next one, from a different point of view, the character’s actions will seem justified. This is not as sharply noticeable as in George R. R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series, but it occasionally occurs.

I shall soon (yes soon, I promise!) write the review for the first book of the series, “Gardens of the Moon”.


  1. I really like this series, but I’m two books behind because they’re so massive that I feel like I can’t start one unless I have a lot of free time available (I hate it when a book drags on for weeks on end). Also, I enjoyed the first few books more than the middle books (haven’t gotten to the latest, of course, so no idea if that pattern continues). Anyway, looking forward to the review. It’s a fascinating series.

  2. This sounds really interesting, especially if it evolved from a RPG. What was the game’s name? The races sound pretty unconventional (“antisocial Jaghut have too many joints on their arms” made me very, very curious), and it sounds like the characters are well developed. Looking forward to the reviews – been looking for a decent fantasy series to read for a while 🙂

  3. Rob, indeed there are a few books in the series not as good as the others. I don’t want to say too much as I don’t want to spoil your enjoyment of the series, but I’ll just mention that “Toll the Hounds”, 8th book, is so far my favorite in the series.

    Chris, the RPG was something they made up and played when they were younger – it was never published. They just transformed their RPG system into a book later on – Ian C. E. writes novellas in the same world, often filling the gaps left by Steven.

  4. […] Thus starts “Gardens of the Moon”, first book of the “Malazan Book of the Fallen” series, pre-reviewed here.  […]

  5. Interesting, I didn’t find any of the books to be less interesting than another. The characters are all developed very well in each volume, plot progression is wonderful – did you see the thing on Wikipedia that said they don’t have to be read in any particular order, before? What a load of crap, if you don’t read them in the order they were released, there’s a lot you’ll be missing out on, certain references won’t make sense, etc.

    I’m not a big fan of most reviews I’ve read, though. People seem to focus too much on the events that occur, and in general, the big picture. But it’s the character development that’s really gotten me hooked on the series. ASOIAF too, for the same reason, though Erikson is a superior writer to R.R. Martin, in my opinion – nothing against his writing, it’s just very… how do I explain it… Erikson just has a way with language, I suppose.

    But I digress. The point is, it’s the minor details, those that cannot be explained in a review (for they require knowledge of the events that occurred each step of the way), that make the Malazan Book of the Fallen series *more* than a bunch of fantasy novels. To really start understanding the characters, to witness their emotions and relationships, to see their confusion and their struggles. To look on as an outsider, and be witness to injustice, and what is deemed justice, an answer, to the offenses by the victims or those who would defend them. To see the joy and sadness in our own world paralleled, the very same archetypes we know appearing in this different yet similar universe.

    I could go on for hours. It’s an amazing series, and I have yet to see a review do it justice. I doubt I ever will. Read the series, it’s the only way to take it all in.

  6. Hi Will,

    There are indeed a few tomes that can be read in a different order (House of Chains and Midnight Tides, for example) but mostly they should be read in order.

    I do not agree that Erikson is a superior writer to Martin – in fact in my opinion it’s the opposite. Erikson displays a wonderful imagination, and ideas that are unique in the fantasy literature world, but in terms of literary skill and attention to detail, Martin is absolutely fantastic.

    I do however agree that it’s the characters that give this story a special flavor. The huge amount and variety of them, and the struggles between them (that become more visible from the Memories of Ice onwards).

    Thanks for dropping by, I intend to review the 2nd book this weekend!

  7. It took me a while to read Gardens of the Moon. I can’t say I loved it. I definitely can’t say I didn’t like it. With literally dozens of chars with minor and major plot loops just about anyone could find something to enjoy. I’m actually suprised I made it through the book to be honest. All of the charater developement was kind of burtal IMO. The last few hundred pages were some of the best reading I’ve done in a while though.
    ?? do the following books introduce and develope 20 new chars, or does he just the ones he’s already created and just add around them? I haven’t really made the decision to read on or not, sigh, I’ll probably give book 2 a try though.


  8. I was a devoted D&D player back in the day (1st edition), and as I read the first book in the Malazan series, I kept thinking “this feels like and epic scene from an RPG setting”. So, today, I finally googled: “Steven Erikson Malazan books based on RPG?”

    I knew it! thanks for blogging this factiod.

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