House of Chains, by Steven Erikson
Paperback: 1036 pages
Series: The Malazan Book of the Fallen (book 4)
Coltaine is dead. The 7th Army of the Malazan Empire has been crushed. Sha’ik has retreated all her forces in the heart of the Holy Desert Raraku, under the protection of the Whirlwind. Tavore Paran, adjunct to the Empress and High Fist of the 14th Army lands on the subcontinent of Seven Cities with the express purpose of crushing Sha’ik’s rebellion, her mission made that much harder by the newly formed 14th Army’s inexperience. Meanwhile, The Crippled God is gathering recruits for his newly-sanctioned House of Chains, fierce battles for the control of the Throne of Shadow are being fought, and much more.
The first part of this book was a surprise, as it didn’t seem to have anything in common with the rest of the series at first. Using a single point of view (which in itself was unexpected coming from Erikson) throughout an entire quarter of the massive book, we follow Karsa Orlong, a (seemingly) unknown barbarian that sets off on a raid seeking glory and slaughter. This first part resembles a more classic fantasy adventure and also serves as a gentler introduction to the novel. Also, Karsa Orlong became one of my favorite characters by the end of the book, so I appreciated the extended introduction.
After Karsa’s introduction, we are mercilessly thrown back into the usual panoply of subplots that seem disparate at first but converge by the end of the book in a climactic finale, the immense scope of which made me reconsider my own definition of epic. Old questions are answered, even more arise, and numerous new characters are introduced. And when I say numerous, I mean it – here is a huge list of characters for the entire series.
As usual, the characters are all larger than life, although it’s becoming clearer that Erikson has a hard time giving each character his/her own voice. As fascinating as all the distinct peoples of the world of Malaz are, there is little to distinguish them when it comes to speech patterns, beliefs, etc – the most scholarly of scholars uses the same phrases and words as the most uneducated of barbarians.
If there’s one thing that Erikson’s characters have plenty of though, it’s power. Whether magic skills or martial prowess, there is no room for mediocrity among Erikson’s characters, which always makes confrontations exciting.
Reading one of Erikson’s books always leaves me with a feeling of both tiredness and great accomplishment. The slow and extremely concentrated reading that is needed to follow and comprehend the numerous interwoven threads is tiresome but more that worth it in the end..