It has taken me three years–three full years in which I also read plenty in between each book–to finish all ten books in Steven Erikson’s gargantuan fantasy series: The Malazan Book of the Fallen.
Being the longest series I’ve ever read, and possibly the longest series of epic fantasy (Jordan’s is thirteen books, but at least 6 out of Erikson’s 10 are well over 1000 pages), I feel that this is a momentous occasion. It’s an accomplishment that leaves me stunned when I think about actually writing that much. But to quote from Erikson’s forward in the tenth book: “What’s three and half million words between friends?”
Well–a lot of time, I suppose. And, as volumes this size go, quite a lot of those words were absolutely worth it. On occasion a book would drag on–get wrapped up in itself and set out on unnecessary detours. But mostly I just couldn’t get enough. And now that it’s all over I’m feeling…nostalgic.
Sure, I’m ready for other authors, other worlds, other characters and voices; but take a moment (if you have never read something this large) to imagine what it could be like to be invited into someone’s imagination for such an intense, sustained period of time. Imagine also, what that could be like when the world you’re invited into is as heartfelt, as sorrowful, as horrific, and as lovely as you can…um, imagine.
Footnote (for the sake of scale…and to impress you): The Malazan story arc calls to mind similarities with a Greek tragedy. It follows the rise and fall of the great Malazan Empire that reminds me more of the Romans than the Greeks, but whatever. In the series of campaigns and wars that span across at least three continents (to say nothing of countries and people groups), each book is drawn inextricably toward a climactic convergence at the end. The reasons for each war often involves about 30,000 years of relevant history that interacts with nine or ten different races of beings apart from human. And then there are the god’s own schemes and the different dimensions they inhabit (a lot like Greek mythology here).
Steven Erikson studied anthropology in school, and it shows. The interactions with different peoples and the details carefully giving to cultures never stopped amazing me. The author’s compassion for groups of people practically rivals his attention given to individual characters.
So now perhaps you understand how this series can stand up under its sheer length and still have purpose. Could it have been shorter? Certainly. Would that have made it better? Possibly.
Would it have the same purpose?
The Malazan tales do what few other books do. Call it self-absorbed and indulgent, but Erikson gives us something that we can immerse ourselves in. And that’s what he set out to do from the beginning because the plot tangles in the first two books don’t even start to get wrapped up until the third, and that one only opens more doors for exploration.
This was always about exploration, and I’m ready for something succinct, but I never regretted a moment of what I found here. It’s like reading a history book that gives you way more information than you need, but it’s all delicious for that same reason. Sometimes looking down all possible avenues is exactly what we need, and I’m not saying Erikson wraps everything up with a tidy literary bow. He still leaves much to the adventures in our heads, and that’s why I couldn’t get enough.
He creates an epic that slowly defines a world and gives reflections into our own, many times exaggerating both the darkly cynical and the redemptive sides of human nature.
So if you want a fascinating and heartfelt safari of a new world, this will keep you busy, possibly until you die. If you want brevity you’re probably in the wrong genera anyway.