Thursday, August 28, 2014

Setting Sail for Assail

Back in late 2009, about the same time I started this blog actually, I gave Steven Erikson's Gardens of the Moon a third and final try. Something about the work appealed to me, but I just couldn't get a hang of it. Reading online that the best thing was to persevere and get through it, I managed to finish it and I was wondering what the heck I had just read - in the sense that while I could envision a lot of the scenes and understood most of it, I still found it difficult to come to grips with Erikson's obtuse, almost excluding style in this first novel. It was like watching a painting but some parts were smudged. Or something like that. 
Still, it left me with enough motivation to continue the ride with the second book, Deadhouse Gates, which right off the bat hooked me with a sinister, dramatic, twisted prologue that I still re-read now and then for the thrill of it. Erikson had improved dramatically between these two titles as well (there's a ten year or so gap in real time between them); and somewhere in the third book, Memories of Ice, the hooks were finally in me, and while I still didn't understand it all, it became more and more captivating. I am glad I listened to those who told me to continue. Ironically, the friend who recommended A Game of Thrones to me nine years earlier, and who in that sense is kind of responsible for me falling headlong into the exploration of fantasy literature, never finished Gardens of the Moon despite me trying to sell it to him. 

The best thing about it all was that I had found something to admire while waiting for George to finish A Dance with Dragons. Not just that, Erikson had at the time only one out of ten volumes left to complete, and the man was pushing out books so fast I could hardly believe it. So only a month later, The Crippled God was published (early in 2010 if I recall correctly) and I had a complete ten-volume series to indulge myself with; and for each volume I became more and more impressed with Erikson's mastery of the language, his quirky humor (which really came to the fore in book five, Midnight Tides), the deep themes and the harsh lessons learned, and eventually I knew I just had to get into the companion series as well. 

Ian C. Esslemont, then, is Erikson's long-time friend and he is as much a power behind the Malazan epic as Steven himself, and his complementary series, The Malazan Empire, fit into the Book of the Fallen cycle and both series feed on/off each other. So as I came close to the end with The Crippled God, I knew I had even more goodies to devour: and like Steven, Ian is a pretty fast writer too (I guess the excruciating wait for Martin to deliver made everyone seem like Speedy Gonzales), and so I spent a long time not having to wait for more Malazan adventures - all the way until last year actually. By then, I had devoured everything, including the absolutely insanely brilliant Bauchelain & Korbal Broach novellas - do yourself a favor and read Crack'd Pot Trail - if not for the setting, for the beautiful and sinister writing. Such a gem. Anyway - Erikson published Forge of Darkness, a prequel to the Books of the Fallen, and Ian Blood & Bone, his fifth, and then, all of a sudden, I was without a Malazan fix. Until now, and Assail.

Starting the novel has been a bit rough, with constant interruptions, but now I'm into it, back in the world of the Malazan Empire, and I love being there. The prologue of this book is such a visual pleaser (in the sense that it feels cinematic, and I can imagine how great it would look on the screen, with a character being hunted through pine forests covering mountainous slopes, the pursuers...well I won't spoil anything). The same prologue also highlights why I rate Esslemont lower than Erikson, even though they share the world: The writing just isn't as excellent as Erikson's can be. While the "visuals" of the prologue are fantastic, the way Esslemont narrates leaves something to be desired. 

I noticed while reading how staccato the text was (it improves by the first chapter, though). Every sentence of the chase. In the mountains. Is written something. Like this. Lots of stop-start-stops. What I guess I am trying to say, then, is that Esslemont's prose is far from the superb quality Erikson began to deliver about halfway through his 3-million-word cycle. But now, after what, sixteen? seventeen? fat volumes of Malazan Empire, the setting itself draws me in, and the writing becomes but the window into this fascinating, continually mysterious and wildly epic setting. Now, I am looking forward to that quiet half hour I have before sleeping, just to get back there and see what Assail will be all about. 

Looks like I'm going to push out another A Storm of Swords post tomorrow, if luck holds. Until then, I'll leave you with this little piece from Steven Erikson, from aforementioned novella Crack'd Pot Trail. 

My tales, let it be known, sweep the breadth of the world.
I have sat with the Toblai in their mountain fastnesses, with the snows drifitng to bury the peeks of the longhouses.
I have stood on the high broken shores of the Perish, watching as a floundering ship struggled to reach shelter.
I have walked the streets of Malaz City, beneath Mock's brooding shadow, and set eyes upon the Deadhouse itself.
Years alone assail a mortal wanderer, for the world is round and to witness it all is to journey without end.
But now see me in this refuge, cooled by the trickling fountain, and the tales I recount upon these crackling sheets of papyrus, they are the heavy fruits awaiting the weary traveler in yonder oasis. 
Feed then or perish.
Life is but a search for gardens and gentle refuge, and here I sit waging the sweetest war, for I shall not die while a single tale remains to be told.
Even the gods must wait spellbound.

Oh man, now I realize there's one Steven Erikson novella I still have to read. The Wurms of Blearmouth. I had all forgotten about that one. TOR published an excerpt, even. *Smacks head, says d'oh*


  1. I am looking forward to reading these - all off them. Erikson's 10 core books. Esslemont's six book 'side' series...the prequel trilogy...and another series by Erikson I may be forgetting. From what I hear, vastly under rated and what people should have been reading instead of The Wheel of Time.

  2. You have a lot to look forward to :-)
    Did I mention that The Malazan Book of the Fallen is even more eminently re-readable than A Song of Ice and Fire? :-D