Memories of Ice is the third in Stephen Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen epic series. If you’ve seen my previous reviews, you know that I’m reading this one almost unwillingly, having it recommended to me by a plethora of friends as “one of the best fantasy series ever”. While it hasn’t so far measured up to being one of the best, it certainly is an interesting read, especially if you happen to enjoy incredibly complex worlds and stories of war.
As I’ve also stated before (I think), Erikson has a tendency to wander from continent to continent and tell stories about many different characters, tying them in only loosely as of yet. Each book revolves around a different campaign in a larger war and in the meanwhile other, more sinister plots are revealed as going on beneath the surface. In Memories of Ice, we are brought back to the continent of Genabackis, where Dujek, Whiskeyjack, Quick Ben and Paran are all leading their “rogue army” into yet another battle against a new deadly enemy. This time they’re fighting the Pannion Domin and have managed to secure Anomander Rake, Caladan Brood and several other former enemies as allies.
Like all of his books so far, this one introduces dozens of new characters that you’ve got to remember the names of. Some of them are interesting, such as Gruntle and Silverfox, while others come across as rather bland and seem almost alternate incarnations of other characters he’s already used. One thing I was happy about was a return of Toc the Younger, whose fate takes a strange twist as the story goes on. Also, Paran’s (another one of my favorites) fate is delved into a bit deeper and he finally gives in to the role the gods have set forth for him. Quick Ben is explored in more detail and as we find out about his history and motivations he becomes genuinely intriguing.
In this book as in the previous two, Erikson displays a talent for detailing the many aspects of war, from the brutality of battle to mundane complications such as moving an army from place to place. The atmosphere of his world is rich and he doesn’t overlook much when it comes to description. One of his biggest weaknesses is in bringing his characters to life in a way that makes them unique from his other characters. Some shine through quite easily but others only now take on a personality that defines them within the story. As the books continue, I imagine more characters will get the same treatment. For now, his constant shifting of the setting makes it hard to maintain interest sometimes.
Another great thing about Erikson’s writing is that he keeps the grand plot line deeply shrouded. Only in this third book do we start to understand what’s really going on at the root of all the warring. The Empire’s motivations become a bit clearer and all the decisions that sounded foolish in the first few books begin to make at least a measure of sense. There are more of those moments in this book as well - the ending left me particularly incredulous with some of the resolution - but I am putting my faith in Erikson that he’ll clear up the unspoken agendas at some future date.
I’m now about 100 pages into the next book, House of Chains, and will hopefully have a review to post in a few weeks (depending on how much it keeps my interest). All I can say so far about the fourth installment is that once again the cast has been changed and I recognize almost no one. I’m glad the entire series is already out for me to read. If I was forced to endure a year of waiting between each book, this format would have never kept my interest.
If you’re looking for epic war stories, check the series out. Just don’t expect a series of simple, linear arcs - you won’t get it.