The Malazan Book of the Fallen is the greatest fantasy work of our time, and in this post I’ll tell you why. Yet no one is talking about it.

It’s unique, subversive, epic, and jaw-droppingly intimate. I’m worried about why no one ever seems to talk about it.Imagine a world without sexism or racism. Erikson did.

NOT SPOILERS. JUST IMPRESSIONS.

The Setup

The series starts off with the rather forgettable Gardens of the Moon. A middling intro into speculative fiction that reads more like fan fiction than a published work. It’s very in media res and you should not look for lengthy exposition or info dumps anywhere, Erickson clearly had no intention of making this series easily accessible to a casual reader. It’s confusing but delivers in some great ways. It introduces characters you will ponder well after you’re done reading.

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But once you delve into that first book, you begin to catch sight of an incredible world built on high concepts that you question, but never doubt. You glimpse dragons invading the world of men from another dimension, and undead cro-magnon warriors who paid a terrible price to see that humans could shape the world without the interference of long dead atrocities. It’s quite awesome.

Once you move on into Deadhouse Gates (Book 2) the series is thumping to a fine beat: one that never stops until the impenetrable Midnight Tides (Book 5), which takes the reader to new conflicts and characters, only to unite them all in Reapers Gale (Book 7).

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There’s a clear master plan at work here. For the mildly patient, such as myself, it turned out to be a terrific payoff.

The Series As A Whole

9 books later, Erikson turns the entire thing into a giant act of compassion by the struggling yet noble human race. He defied the accurate expectations of greed and avarice to tell one of the most heartbreaking stories I’ve ever read. In the end, this series wasn’t about gods or dragons or destiny. It was about decent human beings bloodying the noses of greedy cosmic powers in an effort of compassion. And damn, it’s one hell of a ride.

For example:

  • You get an army of undead dinosaurs with swords for arms aiding an army of cannibal humans (psychically enslaved by an angry philosophical orc, basically) in a move to wipe out humankind.
  • There’s various magical schools with powers that are pretty well-defined vying for control of the greatest human empire in their time.
  • Said empire is currently ruled by a usurper who may or may not be a villainess who was just trying to do the right thing.
  • There’s lots of gods with crazy (but limited) powers all trying to kill each other (and sometimes succeeding).
  • A god in another dimension has been involuntarily pulled to this realm, brutally enchained, and leached of his power just so the other gods could keep on going.
  • And there’s a fantastic deconstruction of elves- light, dark, and neutral- who kinda want to rule the world but are really just people, trying to make their way in the cosmos.
  • There’s sacrifice, depth, and pathos in every book. Admittedly, much of that sacrifice is made by a dragon who wanted no part in this whole thing.

 The Final impression

If you’re a sci/fantasy reader who has somehow overlooked this incredible series, check it out. Erickson once said in a foreword that he wanted to create a world without sexism. Damn, did he succeed.

Women are not lackeys to men, slaves rise above their status, and even the lowest beings take their chance to make the world better... sometimes tragically.

I cast a lot of shade on the first entry because of its style, but all my friends who have read it say it’s a damn entertaining book. Don’t balk at the length of the series. As Erickson himself says in the foreword of the last book, “what’s a few million words between friends?”

Once you get into it, you won’t want to stop.