Well, here I am once more and I finally made it through the 1000 pages that is Stephen Erikson’s fourth installment of his Malazan series, House of Chains. And though the last book left me a little disappointed (and resulted in a very slow read), this time around I was pleasantly surprised. Although he still insists on having a half-million characters running around at once, in House of Chains they all seem to have some purpose to them and the reader is hardly ever left to wade through a mire of seemingly pointless scenes while waiting to get to the good stuff.
This time around, we get whisked back to the scene of Book II, the subcontinent of Seven Cities. After the disastrous events of Deadhouse Gates, the Empire is left with a rebellion to deal with and only a handful of veteran soldiers to put things straight. And so Felisin’s (now Sha’ik the prophetess) sister Tavore is given charge of what remains of the Malazan army and sent out to retrace the path of the Chain of Dogs into the heart of the unforgiving desert of Raraku. There, she must confront Sha’ik and defeat the rebellion, all the while remaining ignorant of the fact that her enemy is her sister.
That is the main story of the book, but there’s another one, one that was, in my opinion, more interesting. That arc has to deal with a character by the name of Karsa Orlong. Karsa is a Teblor (basically a giant) who through circumstance ends up in Raraku. He first showed up in Book II as Toblakai, though little was said about him. The first 200 or so pages of House of Chains is all about Karsa and it is his story that shines through above all else. You can tell Erikson put extra effort into making sure that his readers really knew who Karsa was and where he came from. His path is traced from his homeland to Raraku, detailing most of the adventures he has along the way and how they shape him. Though claimed by the Crippled God as his Knight of Chains, Karsa is anything but cooperative. He also happens to be extremely powerful, which may end up biting the Crippled God in a butt in the future.
The rest of the events follow some already familiar characters, including Fiddler, Gesler, Stormy, Crokus/Cutter, Apsalar and Kalam, as they undergo their own tasks. The book also follows all the politics going down in Raraku, introducing many new characters (or rather fleshing out ones that were very briefly introduced in Book II) and showing the struggles of Sha’ik in her newfound seat of power.
The best thing about this book was, as I’ve already said, the attention that Erikson gave to telling Karsa’s story. He is, thus far, the most detailed character that has been written for the book. Instead of being an interesting yet still 2-dimensional character as most of Erikson’s creations are, we see his changes and learn to appreciate him, the good and the bad. Other than Karsa, Erikson takes a good look at Fiddler and Sha’ik and the two new characters of Onrack and Trull Sengar, but most everyone else is glazed over. Once again, Erikson’s rich world suffers due to having just too much damn stuff going on. I do have to say that he did a much better job of winding everything up this time. The rebellion of Seven Cities (mostly) comes to an end and several people’s stories are resolved.
This installment makes me want to jump into the next one, though I’m afraid Erikson will just drift away from the characters I like again and start talking about someone new. All-in-all, there’s a definite improvement in his writing and I’m hoping that it continues to get better as it makes the long stretch to Book X.