Thursday, February 11, 2010

Review: Deadhouse Gates by Steven Erikson

Title: Deadhouse Gates
Author: Steven Erikson
Copyright: 2005
Publisher: Tor Books
ISBN: 0765348799

Notes: Second book in The Malazan Book of the Fallen series.


Getting Better, but Still an Unsatisfying Return on Investment - 3 stars - a book review

Having been utterly amazed by the world building and utterly disappointed in the story telling of Gardens of the Moon, I started Deadhouse Gates. Had it not been for the epic world building and the positive opinions of people whose reading tastes and preferences generally aligns with my own I would have stopped right there with the Malazan Book of the Fallen. All over the internet almost everyone agrees that Gardens of the Moon is the weakest of the series, and that after you read Deadhouse Gates or (in some opinions) the third book, Memories of Ice, you will be hooked. Generally speaking, upwards of three thousand pages is a hefty undertaking, especially considering the return on investment is not so apparent. I have to say that Deadhouse Gates was a considerably better told story than its predecessor; but I'm not sure at this point if the time and energy spent was equivalent to the output received from Deadhouse Gates.

The first (and most obvious) thing to note is that this book starts a whole new storyline on an entirely different continent than the events that occur in Gardens of the Moon. This tactic works well because it establishes how epic and vast the worldly struggle is. The problem, of course, is with Erikson's writing style it is a huge personal struggle to get engaged with the new characters and the background of the area. If you enjoyed the confusion from Gardens of the Moon of being dropped in the middle of a sweeping landscape of political turmoil and magical/metaphysical trouble then you have that to look forward to again; although Erikson has definitely improved in area of character introductions. Some might be frustrated that it took 650+ pages to finally understand who the characters were in Gardens of the Moon and now they aren't in the second volume. If the third volume really plants me into this series (as it supposedly will) then having the multiple plotlines spanning multiple books will be a solid victory in establishing this series as an epic wartime dark fantasy series.

I thought the plotting of Deadhouse Gates was better than Gardens of the Moon and the storyline/character motivations were much more real and believable. In fact, I believe that Coltaine, the commander of the 7th army, is the most fascinating character of the series thus far. I was engaged with his hard nosed, duty stricken nature, cursed by both his objective of saving 30,000 refugees and his location in the heart of a savage desert. In addition to the plotting, the writing is so heavy and almost cumbersome to read at points. It takes a lot of focus and energy to read Erikson's writing.

I think the most significant struggle with Erikson's series is not that the book is not descriptive; it is ripe with description; the struggle is that it is descriptive in the wrong areas. There is still too many random occurrences and/or knowledge of the world, magic, culture, and army hierarchy that feels like it should be basic knowledge to the reader; but it isn't. I find that overall the sheer lack of information (that supposedly all comes to light in later volumes) is simply more frustrating than the benefit I received from the epic world building and the few extremely fascinating characters. A reader should not have to read seven massive tomes and over 5,000 pages to fully appreciate the first 650 pages of the series; and if a reader doesn't mind doing that or being confused, lost, or overwhelmed more power to him or her; but, I still cannot in good faith recommend this series to anyone outside the die hard fantasy junkies.

The cover art is wonderful and the maps, Dramatis Personae, and glossary are welcome additions to the overall purchase.

Am I planning on reading the third installment, Memories of Ice? Yes, although at this point I feel it would have to be an unbelievably spectacular experience in order to make the return on this reading investment worthwhile.

Good reading,

Plants and Books

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