Monday, September 24, 2012

Collapse of etiquette

I know, two posts in one day. That's not entirely the way I've been running this blog. As you may have gathered, I'm kind of semi-secretly re-reading The Malazan Book of the Fallen, Steven Erikson's love-it-or-hate-it incredibly epic fantasy saga. I have been reading something Malazan at a regular (if slow) pace since January 2010 (!) when I, after two aborted attempts, finally read Gardens of the Moon, the first book, for the first time. Since then I had to devour a staggering nine more books in the series (the tenth book, The Crippled God, was published when I started on book six), and  this crack led me to read the accompanying series by Ian C. Esslemont, and both Ian and Steven have published even more novels and short stories in the meantime, so that not until now, September 2012, do I have nothing Malazan to read that I haven't read before! That's quite crazy. However, since these books are quite unusual in many respects, and quite obtuse, and me not always reading with care - which these books require - I immediately felt the need to go back and re-read this stuff and get a proper bearing on things. And the more time I've spent with the Malazans, the more I admire this series, although it is in many respects very different from George RR Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire. The thing the two series have most obviously in common is that they are both pretty grimdark. 

ANYway, I finished Gardens of the Moon last week and, as I've already mentioned in some post downstream, it was really really really a different experience the second time around, much more so than A Game of Thrones. I remember how pleasantly surprised I was reading Thrones for the second time; how many things clicked into place, so many aha moments. Now multiply that by ten and we're talking Gardens. Everything - from locations to events to characterization to plot - everything really clicked in a way it never could do the first time around because I was thrown into the deep end. Things that I simply did not understand how to visualize I now see as clear as fresh underwear; characters have more depth, actions and reactions are more understandable. I know people say that if a book can't do you good on a first read it's not worth reading, but after having spent so much time letting the Malazan world unfold through fifteen fat books and a number of short stories, returning to the beginning was a literary revelation and I can't recommend it highly enough. 

Which brings me to the reason for this post, which is that I wanted to present a little conversation between two peculiar characters from an early chapter in the second book, Deadhouse Gates, which I'm currently enjoying before the eyes shut down (along with The Wise Man's Fear - they contrast nicely, one dense and the other light). I'm not saying it's a fantastic piece of literature I'm throwing out here, I just so enjoyed the exchange and wanted to share. The two characters in question are Mappo Trell, who is an ancient (but young in mind and body) half-orc-like character (well, not really a half-orc - he's a Trell) who has arrived at an isolated place - a temple run by the somewhat mad priest Iskaral Pust, a servant of Shadow. They are inside said temple during this early exchange between them. I love it, both for the writer's flair in description, the dialogue, and well, the zaniness. 
This being from the second book, Erikson is still to bloom into the writer I so admire these days; the early books are more about turning fantasy cliches on their head, or gently mocking some of the genre's tropes, but still, in the excerpt below there is so much to like, and think about. If you are "into" the world, you'll notice that though Iskaral is quite strange indeed, he's also giving us hints as to his role related to a powerful character not really mentioned; there is very droll humor, and characterization almost entirely through dialogue. All right, I'll shut up now. Time for a quick trip to Mount Hyjal and then bed and my two books (Brett's The Desert Spear has fallen completely by the wayside; it just can't keep my interest up anymore - more on that should I be able to finish it). 

Iskaral Pust poked the broom farther up the chimney and frantically scrubbed. Black clouds descended onto the hearthstone and settled on the High Priest's grey robes.
'You have wood?' Mappo asked from the raised stone platform he had been using as a bed and was now sitting on.
Iskaral paused. 'Wood? Wood's better than a broom?'
'For a fire,' the Trell said. 'To take out the chill of this chamber.'
'Wood! No, of course not. But dung, oh yes, plenty of dung. A fire! Excellent. Burn them into a crisp! Are Trell known for cunning? No recollection of that, none among the rare mentions of Trell this, Trell that. Finding writings on an illiterate people very difficult. Hmm.'
'Trell are quite literate,' Mappo said. 'Have been for some time. Seven, eight centuries, in fact.'
'Must update my library, an expensive proposition. Raising shadows to pillage great libraries of the world.'
He squatted down at the fireplace, frowning through the soot covering his face.
Mappo cleared his throat. 'Burn what into a crisp, High Priest?'
'Spiders, of course. This temple is rotten with spiders. Kill them on sight, Trell. Use those thick-soled feet, those leathery hands. Kill them all, do you understand?'
(...)
'Have you resided here long, High Priest?'
'No idea. Irrelevant. Importance lies solely in the deeds done, the goals achieved. Time is preparation, nothing more. One prepares for as long as it is required. To do this is to accept that planning begins at birth. You are born and before all else you are plunged into shadow, wrapped inside the holy ambivalence, there to suckle sweet sustenance. I live to prepare, Trell, and the preparations are nearly complete.'
(...)
'Servant prepares food.'
'Can he bring it to the library?'
The High Priest scowled. 'Collapse of etiquette. But if you insist.'
The Trell pushed himself upright. 'Where is the library?'
'Turn right, proceed thirty-four paces, turn right again, twelve paces, then through door on the right, thirty-five paces, through archway on right another eleven paces, turn right one last time, fifteen paces, enter the door on the right.'
Mappo stared at Iskaral Pust.
The High Priest shifted nervously.
'Or,' the Trell said, eyes narrowed, 'turn left, nineteen paces.'
'Aye,' Iskaral muttered.


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