Friday, January 23, 2009

Memories of Ice by Steven Erikson

Outside the city's west wall, close to the shoreline's broken, jagged edge, a lazy swirl of dust rose from the ground, took form. Tool slowly settled the flint sword into its shoulder hook, his depthless gaze ignoring the abandoned shacks to either side and fixing on the massive stone barrier before him.

Dust on the wind could rise and sweep high over this wall. Dust could run in the streams through the rubble fill beneath the foundation stones. The T'lan Imass could make his arrival unknown.

But the Pannion Seer had taken Aral Fayle. Toc the Younger. A mortal man... who had called Tool
friend. He strode forward, hide-wrapped feet kicking through scattered bones.

The time had come for the First Sword of the T'lan Imass to announce himself.

Holy crap, this book was awesome. One of the most exciting, action packed stories I've ever come across. This is the third tale of the Malazan Book of the Fallen and each story has been better than the last. It hasn't yet knocked "A Song of Ice and Fire" off its perch as my favorite series, but with 7 stories left, it's got a chance.

A bare-bones summary: A Malazan army, commanded by Dujek Onearm (guess how many arms he has), has been outlawed by the Empress herself for sedition. Finding themselves outside the imperial embrace, Onearm's host joins forces with former foes to face a new evil, the Pannion Domin. The Pannion Domin is a newly formed regime rebelling against the Malazan's imperial yoke. Ruled by a man known simply as the Seer, the Domin is essentially a band of religious zealots. Each citizen of the Domin worships the Seer above all else and would give their life to exercise his will. The Seer has an elite army comprised of professional soldiers and skilled mages, much like any other army in the Malazan universe. However, the Seer holds an ace up his sleeve... the Tenescowri.

Let me say now that I think the story of the Tenescowri is one of the most novel and horrific I've ever read. Novel because I've never before seen its like, horrific because of its cold practicality. The Tenescowri is a huge, unarmed peasant army. The Seer and his forces are a swarm, sieging one city after the next. At each city, all inhabitants are forced to convert to the Pannion faith or be executed. Men, women, or children... it makes no matter. From this tactic, the Tenescowri ranks have swollen to the hundreds of thousands. The Seer uses this huge force in the initial attacks on his targets, throwing wave after wave of Tenescowri to break the ranks of defending armies. Such a huge, peasant army is a great asset, but it should also be a great burden to supply. Therein lies the genius of the Tenescowri. The Seer doesn't supply his peasant forces. They receive no rations whatsover, besides the flesh of all those they conquer. The Seer has produced a seemingly endless supply of soldiers who fight ravenously at every turn... to feed themselves.

Oh yeah, did I mention the Tenescowri are led by a small band of elites known as Children of the Dead Seed? These "children" come to be when the female Pannions rape those defending soldiers they find dying or dead on the battlefield.

I love this book.

Okay, so aside from the unbelievable badassery that is the Tenescowri, just about everything in this book was well executed. The role of the Gods and the turmoil in their pantheon reaches a fever pitch, further complicating events of the mortal realm. The new characters are masterfully developed, sometimes heartbreakingly so. In fact, Memories of Ice, managed to form a bond between its characters and the reader that Gardens of the Moon and Deadhouse Gates did not. This was my main criticism about the first two books. I really enjoyed what I was reading... But I never really cared about any of the players as I do about the principals of "A Song of Ice and Fire," for example. This book changed that. There are 2-3 deaths in Memories that really struck home with me, as I'd finally come to feel a connection with Erikson's characters.

I could write about 10 more pages on how much I love this book, but I'll leave it at that. This series is god-damned excellent and I think if you like this genre in the slightest you need to check it out. Memories of Ice was enthralling, ensuring that I will be finishing the journey and the remaining seven books.

Oh yeah! - I've completely forgotten to mention a character from Memories of Ice and Gardens of the Moon who needs to be noted. Anomander Rake, aside from a laughable name, is one bad mother &*%$er. He's a couple thousand years old, essentially immortal, can shapeshift into a huge dragon, and he carries a sword called Dragnipur. Not only does this sword kill you so dead, but it then traps your soul inside itself, where you spend the rest of eternity in chains, dragging an inconceivably huge wagon burdened with Chaos itself. So yeah, that sucks.

Highlights: The Tenescowri, Toc the Younger, The Mortal Swords, The Sword Anvil, Quick Ben, the Crippled God.
Lowlights: Overuse of the following words: Countenance, preternatural, bells. Also this book used the tiniest typeface I've ever seen. Miniscule.


Brent Waggoner said...

You're a beast, Jim.

The bigget advantage this series has over ASOIAF is that it might actually get finished before the author dies.

Nathan said...

Holy shit. Tenescowri? Children of the Dead Seed?? I miss you, man.

Jim said...

Yeah Erikson is absolutely workmanlike in his output. There's never been more than 2 years before subsequent releases.

All GRRM does is blog about all the things he's doing instead of GIVING ME MORE MOTHA FLIPPIN JON SNOW