I’ve been into sci-fi and fantasy series since middle school, when I read all the Pern books and lots of the Ender books and all those other series, but I started hitting the heavy fantasy (Tolkien withstanding) in the later 2000s, when I picked up A Song of Ice and Fire one summer. After finishing that series I realized that I had a Wheel of Time sized hole in my fantasy cannon, so I spent about a year reading through that and learning about how Nynaeve likes to tug her braid and how Elayne likes to smooth her skirts and, really, is that series going to be done anytime soon?
I picked up these long, epic fantasy series because I was pretty unhappy with my job situation at the time, and if I don’t do something useful I go into a huge, existential funk. These series enabled me to escape into a fantasy world that I could live comfortably in for months at a time–I hated finishing the series, and saying goodbye to the books, their worlds, and the characters within them was fairly distressing. So, I was always on the look out for the next unbelievably long epic fantasy series in which to invest.
And then several friends of mine told me to pick up the Malazan books, and I’ve been living in them ever since. Since November of 2010 I have been working my way through Steven Erikson and Ian Esslemont‘s Malazan series, starting with Erikson’s incredible Malazan Book of the Fallen and branching off into Esslemont’s parallel stories from the Malazan world (Yes I have taken breaks to read other things, such as The Hunger Games Trilogy, Tina Fey‘s memoir, and a few autobiographies of women who were raised in and then escaped the scary Satmar Orthodox Jewish enclave in Brooklyn, but mostly it has been all Malazan all the time!).
The main core of the Malazan books is Erikson’s ten volume Malazan Book of the Fallen. I can’t really summarize it for you–telling you too much information would give the incredible scope and breadth of the series away. It is nominally about soldiers and their brotherhood, it is about trust and friendship, it is about gods who walk around as men and it is about alien beings from other planets who may or may not be gods. It is about how one can become a god, if mere mortals believe strongly enough. It is about magic, nominally, but also how that magic can be corrupted, or how that magic corrupts. It is about broken things. It is some of the most devastating, beautiful fiction I have ever read.
Erikson, like George R.R. Martin, isn’t afraid to kill his darlings. People die, good people die, and that is no fun. Erikson also trusts his readers, which I love. Mid-series, I think it is book four or five, Erikson jumps us to an entirely new continent with an entirely new race of people and just trusts us to pick up his thread and go along with what he is doing. And, because we trust him, we do, and it is great, and we are rewarded for our patience.
The Malazan books are a dense read–there is a reason why it took me forever to get through the core ten. Erikson’s prose is quite good, and you can see that he has fun with language. I’m also a fan of Erikson because of his discipline–he produced one book a year for ten years until the series was done. None of this playing with our hearts (like certain authors we know and love).
Ian Esslemont’s writing isn’t as good as Erikson’s, but his stories are solid, and they expand upon the world. It isn’t necessary to read his books to understand the core story of the Malazan Book of the Fallen, but they do supplement some character backstory and general world history, and it is nice to be able to fall into Esslemont’s books when you are done reading the Erikson novels. I’m currently on Esslemont’s most recently published book–I’m happy to report that his writing has gotten much better and I am thoroughly enjoying the book (one of Esslemont’s books, The Return of the Crimson Guard, was so torturous to get through, oi). However, this is the last published Malazan book, eeee!!! When I finish this I’m going to have to wait awhile until Erikson or Esslemont produce something new–lucky for me, those plans are in the works!
In the meantime, I plan on starting The Kingkiller Chroncle. And you should totally get a start on the Malazan books!