Thursday, August 16, 2012

Book review: "Forge of Darkness" by Steven Erikson

This was a bit unexpected, but after reading first two chapters of "Forge of Darkness" on (link), I just couldn't stop myself and I had to buy the book immediately. I am more of "what is done, is done" type of person and I don't like milking of a dead cow by inventing endless sequels and prequels. But "Malazan Book of the Fallen" is one of my favorite series so far (I hate saying something is best or number one, but if someone would put a gun to my head and asked me what my best series is, I would squeak out "MBotF") and I have something of respect and belief in Steven Erikson that whatever he writes, he will give the utmost of himself. Curiously, I have these same feelings for Guy Gavriel Kay's books - although I didn't like all his books, I will read any new one he writes. But anyway, I expected "Forge of Darkness" to be something of a classical prequel, explaining something already know, but in more details. Instead, we got a new series capable of rivaling even MBotF, if they weren't so intertwined.

First I would like to say that "Forge of Darkness" can be read without knowing anything about "Malazan Book of the Fallen". FoD actually has a softer introduction to this setting than it was "Gardens of the Moon". A new reader starting with GotM will be confused for most of the book, with abundance of details about characters, mythology, world and especially magic. A new reader starting with FoD will found an unique setting focused on characters and social relationships - only later will all the strangeness and uniqueness of this setting come knocking (or better said, banging) on the door.

So, to a newcomer, the plot will sound something like this: several years have passed since the wars that were imposed on Tiste people and they had enjoyed the peace and prosperity. But new troubles are brewing. Soldiers, who have given so much of their lives and futures, feel neglected and ungratefully pushed aside now that the wars are over. Ruler of Tiste, Mother Darkness has recently reached to the godhood, and this helped to unite the most of Tiste in common faith. But her stubborn insisting on keeping her Consort Draconus at her side has served to make the nobility resentful toward him. Some elements of the army recognized this as opportunity to sow turmoil and restore their own importance, but all their plans will be revered by sudden emergence of some entity from sea of Vitr on the North.

For the fans, it enough to just list a few name from Dramatis Personae: Anomander, Silchas Ruin, Andarist, Draconus, Osserc, Caladan Brood, Kilmandaros, Hood, Gothos... But don't expect this book to be full of fanservice details and treats. These characters where mysterious in MBotF, they stay mysterious here, and I don't expect you fill find much revelations about them in subsequent parts. But this is all right, because this mystery is a necessary part of them. There is a lot of new characters, and you will follow this book through their eyes and their wonder. Even though some details can be seen as contradictory compared to MBotF, they are not, really - a lot of history is changed in 300000 years. Also, Erikson never really skirted from concept of unreliable narrator. So, to me, everything here seamed plausible, convincing and consistent - feel free to think otherwise. Imagine reading MBotF after this - it has become a series to read at least thrice: first time, a reread to defeat the confusion, and then reread after "Forge of Darkness", when everything you thought you knew is set upside down (well, not everything, not even much; but this book put some characters in completely different light).

Even though he said here that "Kharkanas Trilogy" will be different from "Malazan Book of the Fallen", and be more of a traditional fantasy, this is the usual Erikson. As I said, introduction is a bit softer for the new readers - at least the first quarter of the book. But ultimately, this book proves as a much more brutal start of the series than it was Gardens of the Moon, reminding me more of the later books in the series, as "The Reaper's Gale" or "Toll the Hounds". There is a surprising amount of sexual violence in later parts of the book, and they are very explicit - didn't expect it. Sure, there was rape and torture before (e.g. "Reaper's Gale"), but not like this. Erikson is not easy to its readers; at the contrary, he makes them go through some hard experiences. As can be expected, there is a lot of tragedy - even thought I knew from MBotF about some endings, I still hoped they will not realize. And I must admit that the last POV in this book made me shed a tear.

On the happier side, I can testify that Jaghut are funny as ever. Writing is beautiful, but I expect that lots of newcomers will be rejected with typical Erikson's monologs about philosophy. This is one thing in which "Gardens of the Moon" proves to be easier for the new readers, as it consist mostly of action - this side of "Forge of Darkness" is more similar to "Toll the Hounds" and later books.

For the conclusion, I want to say that with "Forge of Darkness" Steven Erikson succeeded in making a new series great as "Malazan Book of the Fallen" in quality, but different in its substance. It definitely deserves a recommendation for all fans - but expect a new and independent series and be ready to be swept of your feet. As for the unfamiliar readers, if you expect more from your fantasy than action, and like gray morality and hard questions, give this book a try.


  1. I won this book in a FirstReads giveaway; the very first giveaway that I've won here, actually. Having no prior experience with Erikson's work, especially not the Malazan Book of the Fallen series (which I later discovered was an immense ten volumes), I wondered whether or not my experience with Forge of Darkness would be hampered, as it is advertised as the first book in a prequel trilogy.

  2. Hm, good question. You could read "Forge of Darkness" without knowing anything about "Malazan Book of Fallen". I am not sure if reverse is true, especially since there are two more books in in trilogy that nobody knows what spoilers will they bring.

    The best course would be to start with "Gardens of the Moon" if you can (and want) and this is my recommendation, especially since MBotF is one of my favorite series!

    But on the other hand, reading only "Forge of Darkness" to see if you like the style and then going to the main series... I don't think it would really hamper you much.