Deadhouse Gates is the second book in the dark military epic fantasy known as the Malazan Tale of the Fallen.
Finishing this massive tome feels like you have lived through the war along with the characters. You're exhausted... yet filled with a feeling of accomplishment, and no small sense of awe. The sheer scope of the story that Erikson is weaving is simply MASSIVE beyond anything I've ever read.
This book is the story of a rebellion breaking out in a land controlled by the Malazan Empire, and the brewing war that ensues. It takes about 300 pages to set up, so until then you'll feel like you did in Gardens of the Moon - "What the heck is going on, and why is _____ happening?"
I can see where people say that you need to get to this point before the story really grabs you. That's the nature of this tale, I think. The question is whether you're willing to put this much effort into it, and whether you judge the rewards worth the effort. For me, this was leaps and bounds better than "Gardens of the Moon".
The narration was excellent. The voices matched the dark, hard and gritty tone of the novel.
If you're interested in reading this series, you need to get some notions out of your head. This is a broad canvas that Erikson is painting. This is a milieu story. It is not so much a character story. Yes, there are good characters, and they grow on you, but if you let yourself invest too much into them, you may get hurt.
Every major character will suffer in this book, and some will die. Brutality reigns in this medieval world, and last-minute rescues are so rare that you should never expect them. Innocents suffer. There is some redemption, but I found some scenes hard to stomach. Heroic struggles end in horrid death, and at those times it made me want to scream "WHY DID YOU EVEN WRITE THIS?!" yet it is remarkably well-written. This story is an epic tale of empires.
There is a LOT of war in this book, more than any book I've ever read, up there with "A Memory of Light", and that war took 13 books to set up. I can only imagine what's coming in the rest of this series!
The main drawbacks I found were in the nature of the storytelling - the high learning curve, and at times, the seeming randomness in which plot-pivotal events occur. It's hard to believe that characters just happens to be on the right road, in the right place at the right time, for his/her destiny to suddenly be unveiled, or to witness some ancient prophecy come to pass. Nevertheless, when viewed among the vastness of this tome, such events don't cripple the story itself.
I've got Memories of Ice next, and I'm expecting that to be a turning point. They say you get hooked after that one. I guess we will see!
This is yet another independent e-book that through sheer momentum got noticed and picked up by a publisher. I had seen huge ravings about this book and had to check it out. So does this one live up to the hype?
This is possibly the strongest fantasy debut I've ever read. It's better than Elantris, it's better than Name of the Wind, and it's a lot better than Promise of Blood. He gets right what those books didn't, and I can't really find a single complaint about it. I have no idea where this author came out of, but this guy has the total package when it comes to writing.
The first of the book starts with modern-day Vaelin, condemned prisoner and living legend. Setting out on a voyage where he must fight to the death in gladiatorial combat, he begins relating the story of his life to a skeptical scribe. The book continues on this pattern of long-flashbacks, interspersed with short interludes back in the modern day. It really reminded me of The Name of the Wind, only this book was a lot better. There was never really a dull or boring moment in the book; in fact, this is one of those rare books that I actually didn't want to end. Usually I'm hurrying it up near the end, already thinking about what I want to start next. But this one had me hooked all the way through.
This author writes like someone who's done it for years and years. I simply can't believe how well-written it is for a new author. The characters come alive. They feel so much more real and sophisticated than those books mentioned above. The plot carries you along, and you can feel the complexities and undercurrents even as they are revealed a bit at a time, with many more mysteries yet unsolved. The elegance of the writing is at times astounding; there are moments that blew me away or made me laugh in delight simply because of HOW they were written. The prose and dialogue are top-notch. This is a genius of storytelling.
And the action? Absolutely second-to-none. It's intense, it's bloody, and it feels like you're actually THERE. Usually authors slack off in this category, but so much of this book revolves around a life of violence and combat. The fights never feel cheap or stereotyped. The main character is awesome and he lays down the law with his blade. There's no random goof-ups that authors use to try and be different or "realistic". This guy is bred to fight, and everything he does is purposeful and effectual. And the magic system, revealing itself slowly one bit at a time through the lore of the world, adds that extra element that brings it all together.
I didn't think it would happen, but this book really blew me away. I can't wait to see what comes next.
This may go down as one of the great epic fantasies of our time.
Truly, this series redefines the word "epic" in fantasy. Compared to this, I don't think we would consider most other fantasies as in the same category - they certainly don't have the same scope at all. This series kind of stands apart, maybe going TOO far... The sheer scale of the undertaking - the twisted, overarching plots that far transcend even this massive volume; an immense cast of characters, both immortal and mortal; a history of over 300,000 years, and characters who have lived out all of those years; myriad races, cultures, and multiple worlds - it's almost impossible to imagine that an author could actually pull this off and make it work. Yet Erikson, somehow, does.
And Ralph Lister doesn't just narrate this book - he PERFORMS it.
This book definitely hits the high point of the series so far - the sophistication of the plot and the elegance of the writing both establish that clearly. In this book, the investment that the reader is asked to make in the first two books finally reaches its pay-off, and it is a massive one. There are heroic moments of awesome, and tragic, heart-wrenching losses. This is not a story for the faint of heart.
The first book was a jumble of unfamiliar names and concepts, a tangled web of plots and events that happen without much context. The second was an epic journey through a hopeless war, a tragedy a thousand pages in the making. The third book is where everything comes together, closing a major chapter arc begun in book one. By now you know the players, and many of the rules. The battles are epic, but not as exhausting as the total war-mentality of Deadhouse Gates.
For me, with this book I believe I have finally gotten a grasp on what the series is. I wish someone had written it out like this to me earlier, so I could understand. Nevertheless, I will try and fill that role for those like me who come after.
When approaching the series, think of Greek Mythology - an endless struggle between gods, demigods and mortals. The gods used to be mortals themselves, and are rife with all the desires, shortcomings, and temperaments that mortals are. There are also ascendants - who were mortal champions, kings, or what have you - who for whatever reason have ascended into a demigod-like state of power and life. Then there are many races - and most of these are humanoid - and with race comes an endless, spiraling cycle of conflict, with each side at times playing brutal aggressor, at others hapless victim. In fact, racism seems to be the initial cause for most of the conflict in this world, and that one would expect. Only the mistakes that are made take tens or hundreds of thousands of years to rectify, before both sides finally admit their faults and ask forgiveness.
Also realize this was borne out of a role-playing game devised by Erikson and Ian Esslemont. Some events probably occur because they just happened in the game. Does this make the plots overly complex? It's a matter of opinion, probably. Some things feel like they get ret-conned in, but it's hard to tell. Many characters' names may strike you as odd, as the Bridgeburners seem to often go by nicknames. Again, sounds like they just came up with some on the fly while gaming, then added backstory and explanation later.
The characters, goals, and motivations are not simple. This is a gray world. Good characters turn evil and evil characters become good, and sometimes justice is not seen. Despite this, death is usually not the final word, as characters ascend, return, or are reborn.
This series requires a lot of investment, more than any I have ever read. It's not perfect, and it's not my favorite fantasy ever. But if it sounds like this is something you're interested in, and you're willing to be patient, then there are some pretty enjoyable pay-offs.
Note: If you read this series and get confused or impatient, and if you don't mind some spoilers, I highly recommend keeping a link to the Malazan Wiki handy - it helped me keep track of who's who and what's what immensely, and the spoilers are few - barring a few major ones you need to be careful of. In fact, for me, the spoilers as they boosted my understanding (and therefore enjoyment) of the book significantly, because I was asking less "what" and "why" and could focus on the "how".
It's hard to believe all that has happened in only THREE books. And there are SEVEN more books in this series...