Following up on my previous review of the first in Stephen Erikson’s ‘Malazan Book of the Fallen’ series comes Deadhouse Gates. I’ve made a deal with myself that I shall finish each and every one of this ten-book series and this marks the second. I had been told that his writing gets better as he goes along in the series, though after reading Deadhouse Gates I have to wonder at how much better his writing actually gets.
Not to sound too critical, but there was little difference in writing style from the first book to the second. He does seems to clean up a bit, his words becoming more poetic and the concepts he tries to convey are clearer, but it’s still a meandering journey that feels like it has little focus. I’ve yet to discover any overlying plot to the series, each story being connected without having an obvious conclusion in mind.
This installment in the series revolves around a rebellion against the empire on a continent different from what served as the setting for the first book. A prophesized leader begins an uprising that brings death and destruction to the land. One army manages to survive the rebellion and, lead by a general named Coltaine, must make their way across the entire continent to find safe-haven within the only remaining Empire city.
Meanwhile, Fiddler, Crokus, Apsalar and Kalam (from the first book) have their own missions. A duo by the names of Icarium and Mappo are introduced in a tragedy-filled storyline that takes them into the company of many of the other characters. And finally, a group of prisoners tossed into an Empire work camp make an escape and travel across the continent, trying to escape but inevitably ending up being drawn into the heart of the conflict.
Deadhouse Gates follows some of the characters from the first book while bringing in new characters as well. Those who return get more interesting and the new people he introduces us to come into the story strong, instantly capturing the reader’s attention. Erikson’s morally ambiguous portrayal of his characters in the second book is similar to the first, with each giving the reader excuses to both love and hate them. They are real people (as far as that can be within a fantasy setting) and don’t always adhere to the cliché heroic mindset that rules a lot of other epic fantasies.
As far as atmosphere goes, Erikson does a brilliant job. In fact, if I had to choose one thing that Erikson excels in it would be his world-building. His attention to detail regarding cultures, terrain, weather and all those other elements that make up the “real” world is amazing. I’ve rarely read an author that has as much of a handle on his world as Erikson does.
And though Erikson does a good job building and populating his world, I still have trouble getting past the convoluted approach he uses to introduce new elements and plot lines. I did notice a marked improvement from the first book, so he is narrowing down the way he presents information to the reader, but it can still be very hard to follow sometimes. I found myself drifting out of the book on more than one occasion, scanning lines to get to the next part - the one that seemed more interesting to me.
As with the first, I would recommend it to those that enjoy a more serious and darker approach to epic fantasy. People with an interest in history and the military would also likely find Erikson’s books appealing, since he concentrates most of the plot lines around those elements. As I move on to the third book, I hope that the journey through the first two will prove to be worth it and he will finally begin to reveal to the readers what his purpose in writing such a long story is.