It is clear that Empress Laseen can’t hold the Malazan Empire together as well as her predecessor did. In an attempt to appease the people, nobles are being enslaved as workers in the Otaratal mines, but one of these victims is the sister of the current Adjunct. To make things worse, there is rebellion in Seven Cities and the 7th army is sent to quench it. The Fist and a bulk of this army are Wickans, a people “absorbed” into the Empire by the previous Emperor. Close by, there is a different struggle: Soletaken and D’ivers, shapeshifters with the power to veer into one or multiple animal forms respectively, are searching for a throne that is supposed to give them power above all others. However, inadvertently on their path, is Icarium, a kind and powerful but amnesiac half-Jaghut with a dark past that he does not remember – although his companion Mappo does…
In the 1st book, of the on the Malazan Book of the Fallen series, the action followed the Malazan army on the move to Darujhistan, but in this 2nd book there are three main story threads that eventually “tie up” together in a masterful way that is one of Erikson’s best skills.
As on other Malazan books, there is a clash between armies, in this case the Malazan 7th with the rebellious army of Seven Cities. Now although the ending of this story thread is very well thought out (and very unexpected!), I find it to be the least interesting of the book, as there are lots of unlikely close calls, and there isn’t much individual action for Erikson’s standards. I also didn’t find Duiker, the Imperial Historian with the army, to be a very interesting main character, as I never favor “perfect characters”.
In the other two main threads, following smaller groups, Erikson gives us the quality of character description that makes these series excel: in the Otaratal mines, Felisin Tavore’s suffering makes the thirst for revenge very palpable for the reader – the mysteries following her two companions augmenting the need to know what will happen next. On the other thread, the character of Icarium unravels slowly giving us an insight over is amnesia and the periods of rage… As mentioned above, both threads eventually merge together (even though Felisin’s will only become totally clear on the next book) in yet another very good ending – although surely not what I was expecting.
I have to say the setting for this book isn’t one of my favorites in the series but it’s still a very good book by any fantasy standards. The introduction to important characters in the series like Icarium, Heboric or Iskaral Pust make it a very important book to potentially re-read later in the series, even though only the story of Icarium is even linked to the past story/mythos of this fantasy world.
Final score: 7.5
Best character: In my opinion, it is Heboric Ghost-Hands, fallen priest of Fener, who is depicted more brilliantly in this book – even though my favorite character was Icarium and I assume Erikson’s intention was to make both Imperial Historian Duiker and Fist Coltaine of the 7th Army the “central” characters of the book.
(To whet the appetite for the next review, I’ll just mention that “Memories of Ice” is one of the best books of the series and that we get at last a deeper view over the history of the world and powers and Gods. Stay tuned!)