It is the Age of Darkness and the realm called Kuruld Galain - home of the Tiste Andii and ruled over by Mother Dark from her citadel in Kharkanas - is in a perilous state. For the commoners' great warrior hero, Vatha Urusander, is being championed by his followers to take Mother Dark's hand in marriage but her Consort, Lord Draconus, stands in the way of such arrogant ambition.
As the impending clash between these two rival powers sends fissures rippling across the land and rumours of civil war flare and take hold amongst the people, so an ancient power emerges from seas once thought to be long dead. None can fathom its true purpose nor comprehend its potential. And caught in the middle of this seemingly inevitable conflagration are the First Sons of Darkness - Anomander, Andarist and Silchas Ruin of the Purake Hold - and they are about reshape the world...
Reading Steven Erikson has often been compared with reading history. Some people throw this as an accusation while others of us deem it a virtue. There is a breadth of scope that belittles many other works of fiction, and the author treats the reader as would a historian a prized pupil – as a fellow devotee and acolyte of this particular aspect of history. This can be a good thing, but also sometimes leaves the reader reeling with the wealth of information and assumed knowledge.
Set however-many-millennia prior to his ‘Malazan Book of the Fallen’, Steven Erikson’s latest work – ‘Forge of Darkness’, the first book in the Kharkanas Trilogy – similarly hopes the reader has memorised all the nooks and crannies of the original masterpiece in an effort to expand upon a fragment of history.
How much of what I don’t know will be explained in the remaining two volumes? I don’t know. How much of what I don’t know is the result of an author teasing his audience? I don’t know. No doubt each reader will find something new that others may miss, but I often reach the end of Erikson’s books feeling as if I’ve missed a great deal.
Another characteristic of a Steven Erikson-written novel is the wealth of philosophical wandering the author allows his characters, and by extension, himself.
Many books we read reveal only the barest details of a character’s thoughts. This is not a flaw, but rather a streamlining of the storytelling; a desire to keep the attention of the reader through each chapter, drawing them into the next act or scene having read every word and understood the direction they trod. On the other hand we have authors like Steven Erikson who use their books as a sort of Bible – expounding on the mysteries of life, death, and future. Entire segments of chapters are given over to teasing loose the fringes of our understanding, with little to no bearing on the story as a whole; unless the author’s intention was to simply create fuller characters, more three-dimensional and real, despite the impact it might have on the intended story.
These two characteristics of Steven Erikson’s fiction – similarities to historical and philosophical treatises – are laid out here, not as criticisms or condemnations of the work, but rather as warnings to the unwary.
As to the particulars of Forge of Darkness, they are much the same as any Erikson book you might pick up. The aforementioned ‘scope and breadth’ of the book is astonishing, boggling, and contains therein a dozen or more fantastic stories that interweave in the most intriguing and – more often than not – grievous ways. Characters jump off the page, their loves and sorrows all the more vital for the depth of their minds we are exposed to.
Specifically being introduced to some of the beginning stories of Anomander, Silchas Ruin, Andarist, Orfantal, Osserc, and Draconus are fascinating. The underlying gift made by K’rul is never witnessed but always felt, throughout this book, and gives a tantalising link to the future that we’ve already read.
All in all, for fans of Steven Erikson you will love Forge of Darkness. Having come to this book from the completed Malazan Book of the Fallen, I have no way to gauge how enjoyable this book would be to newcomers, though I imagine that it will sit well as it is a pre-history, rather than a sequel, and therefore anything we know from the Book of the Fallen preceding the reading only links the two, rather than spoiling one or the other.
Joshua S Hill, 9/10
And here we are in the second phase of the Malazan world, The Histories. I’ve been anticipating something like this happening since the Books of the Fallen ended and I have to say it, I was disappointed. Not from the content or style. It was good solid Erikson, but I just kept waiting to get caught up in things. It was like I was watching an episode of Mad Men and thinking something is going to happen soon to make this interesting and I will be able to forgive the slow build-up and won’t call AMC Studios and ask for that hour of my life back. Unfortunately I was never really satisfied. But unlike Mad Men, I will be reading the next books of this trilogy. I was satisfied enough from the history lesson and origins of the Tiste groups and factions, but that’s what it seemed to be to me, a history text book. I don’t know the reason and I am disappointed in myself because I have been on the Malazan ride from the beginning and counting the days until the next book came out. But this book failed to grab me and hold me tight. For the first time in years, and never in the Malazan series, I found myself looking at the page numbers and saying in my best 5 year old voice, Are we there yet?
George Roesch, 7.5/10
Steven Erikson's ongoing fantasy series, the Malazan Book of the Fallen has brought new life and originality into the fantasy genre. Steven Erikson kindly spoke to Fantasy Book Review in September 2009, shortly after the [...]
Alan from USA
This is the first Steven Erikson book I have read. It was a gift from my sister and she chose this one instead of the Malazan Book of the Fallen series because she found a suggested reading order somewhere by the the author that put this one as first. So I went into it knowing nothing at all about the world of Malazan. When I began reading it, I was struck by how poetic it is. Much of the style of dialogue reminded me of Shakespeare, though I don't know if others would get this impression, or even think it's a positive characteristic. But I most certainly did. The most powerful aspect of this book for me was the atmosphere, which was created so beautifully by Erikson. It is dark, brooding, and kind of forlorn. There is this weight of the world feeling, as if all of the characters have experienced great pain, or foresee pain in the future. And this is very compelling for me. As the characters are introduced, there is such a vast number of them that I felt I was losing track of them. But after the story circles back to them, that unease faded away. It does take a long time for anything to really happen in the story, and I know some readers wouldn't enjoy that very much. Normally I wouldn't either, but the atmosphere of the writing was so good that it didn't matter. Erikson also gets into some profound philosophizing, which again I know some people don't like - but I love that sort of thing. I will definitely be reading the next book in this series, The Fall of Light, and I've already got my hands on the first four books or The Malazan Book of the Fallen. If they are written with the same depth as Forge of Darkness, I will be very happy. I have been a fantasy reader for a long time, and have heard of Erikson for years. Now I feel like I've been missing out all this time. I would recommend this book to people that like philosophy and a more poetic writing style. And again, it is a rather dark book. It is not easy reading, though, and it requires you to pay attention and to be patient as the story develops. But it is one of those books that stays with you when you are not reading, when you are at work or driving. It was often on my mind in my idle moments. I will probably read this again within the next year. I've never read a book before that I wanted to reread right as I was finishing it.
9.2/10 from 2 reviews