Series: Malazan Book of the Fallen
The infamous series consists of the 10 main books by Steven Erikson, and supplemental works by Ian Esslemont - in all about 20 works of fiction. Why do I say it is "infamous"? Because the first book in the series "Gardens of the Moon" is notoriously difficult to get to grips with. The first book has been described as "Like all of Erikson's Malazan books, Gardens of the Moon has multiple layered storylines that weave together. At the lower level is an eclectic group of Darujhistanies who are trying to solve their own problems while the expansionist Malazan Empire and their allies the Moranth are trying to conquer the last remaining Free Cities of Genabackis: Pale and Darujhistan. Pale falls eventually to a massive sorcerous enfilade, but at the cost of many of Empire's best. The Malazans then turn to Darujhistan, which proves much harder to conquer. A power-struggle at the top level of the Empire churns as the Empress tries to consolidate her reign, all while gods and Ascendants apply their own machinations." which might seem fine and easily grasped. However, this is (for most) not the case. The main stumbling point is that we are literally dropped in the middle of battle - into a vast array of characters of which we know nothing at all. Which might be fine, if we get to know them in a little while, but this is not the case. The authors seem to assume that we already know these characters - who they are, what their motivations are, where they come from, etc. But we don't, we are not really given the opportunity to get to know them either for the first few hundred pages as the cast of characters are ever expanded with new faces - gods, people, living, dead, mythic and real. Combined with a relatively slow pace and long dialogues make reading and enjoying the book hard work rather than a relaxing experience. This, then, continues throughout the first book of the Malazan epic leading to what many perceive as an impenetrable mess.
Even I was in this crowd but didn't give up. And reading reviews and comments on the series was given hope that things were getting better further along the story. And this is also true. "Already" in book 2, "Deadhouse Gates" we are given time to get to know various parts of the vast character array in more depths. Which makes the series much more enjoyable to this reader. It is still not an easy read (compared to e.g. Game of Thrones) by any stretch of the imagination, but once you get into the course of things you actually start enjoying the enormous world Erikson (and Esslemont) have built.
I like to consider some episodes from the Deadhouse Gates where readers have become divided and there is some controversy considering the character Felisin. Felisin is the younger sister of Trevore, from the Noble family Paran. She is witness to hideous crimes against her family and thrown into the "Pits" by her sister after which we rapidly deteriorate
What did everybody think of Felisin? I tried real hard to feel sorry for her but she was just so
harsh and mean spirited that I began to hate her.
It's interesting, because you really want to like her at the beginning because she's related to Paran,
and seems so sympathetic, but the further it goes along the more I disliked her because while she makes
understandable decisions, they're all the selfish or otherwise 'wrong' decisions. I mean, the drug abuse
and essentially becoming the pit master's sex slave are at the level of 'unpalatable,' but the fact she
blames everyone else for her problems, especially her hatred for Heboric and Baudin who are trying to
help her the entire time, is what pushes it over the edge.
To which I replied:
My personal background makes me want to hug Felisin all the way to the end. She is so totally broken, and just to stay alive in her twisted circumstances she does what she feels she needs to do, trusting the "wrong" people, lashing out at the "right" people. Indifferent to casually helpful people. Personally, I think Erikson did a wonderful job portraying this thoroughly broken woman. It would take a lot of patience in nurturing her back to a mended person, but then things happened.
The ambition and scope of the Malazan Book of the Fallen series dwarves anything comparable that I have read, including the series by Tolkien, Donaldson, and Martin. For those with perseverance and stamina, and those who enjoyed Homer's "The Illiad" - this will turn out to be a marvelous experience. But many will fall along the warrens of the books.