#CBR4 Maneuver #40 – Memories of Ice

Target: Steven Erikson’s Memories of Ice (Malazan Book of the Fallen #3)

Profile: Epic Fantasy

Summary: Taken from the Malazan Wikia, “The ravaged continent of Genabackis has given birth to a terrifying new empire: the Pannion Domin. Like a fanatical tide of corrupted blood, it seethes across the land, devouring all who fail to heed the Word of its elusive prophet, the Pannion Seer. In its path stands an uneasy alliance: Dujek Onearm’s Host and the Bridgeburners – each now outlawed by the Empress – alongside their enemies of old including the grim forces of Warlord Caladan Brood, Anomander Rake, Son of Darkness, and his Tiste Andii, and the Rhivi people of the Plains. But more ancient clans too are gathering. As if in answer to some primal summons, the massed ranks of the undead T’lan Imass have risen. For it would seem something altogether darker and more malign threatens the very substance of this world. The Warrens are poisoned and rumours abound of the Crippled God, now unchained and intent on a terrible revenge…”

After Action Report:

I really shouldn’t have started the Malazan Book of the Fallen.  Every book sets me another two weeks behind my reading quota and now I’m in a situation where I have to read 10 books in 6 weeks.  It’s not just that the books are long, though they are.  It’s the nearly insane level of detail that Erikson puts into every single protagonist.  Where Neil Stephenson fills with exposition, Erikson stuffs to the brim with personal narrative.  I do really enjoy the level of detail that he puts into all of these fascinating characters, but it takes me forever to work through the chapters and gods help me if I try to read before bed.

Memories of Ice draws heavily upon the established continuity of the series, picking up a few months after the concluding events of Gardens of the Moon and following the other pack of protagonists that were spun off to fight the growing threat of the Pannion Domin.  It is almost easier to look at the protagonists in terms of the factions they belong to.  The Malazan Empire is represented by Dujek Onearm, exiled commander and former leader of the Genabackis Invasion.  Under him are the Bridgeburners, who we were introduced to in Gardens and a small collection of incredibly powerful supernatural… people.  The armies of Caladan Brood, who had been the Malazan’s most dangerous enemies on Genabackis, make unlikely allies against the Pannion armies, and the Tiste Andii reappear as the third leg of this somewhat unstable alliance.

But as in Deadhouse Gates the main protagonist emerges from an unexpected direction.  Itkovian is the second (or maybe third) in command of the mercenary group, the Grey Swords.  His army has been hired to defend the city of Capustan from the oncoming Pannion forces, and while the Pannions boast immense numerical superiority, Iktovian is confident that the Grey Swords can hold the city until the coalition forces arrive.  The siege itself takes up most of the first five hundred pages and is emotionally wrenching enough to warrant its own book.

Erikson doesn’t shy away from the horrors of war in a fantasy setting.  The Malazans’ signature explosives are devastating to read about, and the effects of magic can be just as unnerving.  But as bad as the everyday horrors are, the Pannion armies are guilty of some of the worst war crimes ever committed.  Among their number are the Tenescrowri, an army made up of starving peasants who murder, rape and eat their victims as they pull cities to the ground and slowly starve to death.  Depictions of the Tenescrowri are thankfully brief, but are deeply disturbing.  In spite of the ick factor, these terrible images never feel out of place in the battle against what is effectively pure evil.

Memories has a few of the problems that Gardens had.  There are more protagonists this time around and while the action is more centralized, there are enough side stories being told that it becomes very easy to get lost.  The was probably a symptom of reading it on an e-reader, but there were times when I would turn the page, the scene would shift with practically no preamble and I would end up with no idea where I was any more.  This isn’t helped by Erikson’s desire to explore everyone’s psychology or internal monologue.  There are clearly primary and secondary protagonists in the book, but everyone seems to get equal time for personal reflection or just musing on the horrors of the war.

Thankfully, Erikson does finally take some time to explain the fantastical mechanics of his world.  The nature of the magical Warrens, the role of the gods and ascended beings and the probable endgame of the series are all revealed and discussed for pretty much the first time.  The much needed exposition goes a long way to unravel some of the mysteries that have been cropping up since the first book, including radically redefining the entire first battle at the gates of Pearl back in Gardens of the Moon.  If you go back and look at my reviews of the first two books, the lack of term explanation was a major problem, so it’s nice to see it getting addressed.

When you add it all together, Memories of Ice is a slight step down from the fantastic Deadhouse Gates, but it does a good job of moving the series forward, rather than just exploring another side story.  Principal antagonists are established and I felt, for the first time, like I knew what was going on in the larger world.  The series continues to be great, if not entirely excellent, and will probably continue to suck up ENORMOUS amounts of my time, but not until the next Cannonball.

Posted on November 15, 2012, in Cannonball Reviews and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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