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Memories of Ice:
A Tale of the Malazan Book of the Fallen

Steven Erikson
Transworld Publishers/Bantam UK, 898 pages

Steve Stone
Memories of Ice
Steven Erikson
Steven Erikson was born in Toronto, grew up in Winnipeg, and worked in the UK for several years until returning to Winnipeg a few years ago where he now lives with his wife and son. He is an anthropologist and archaeologist by training, as well as being a graduate of the Iowa Writer's Workshop. Gardens of the Moon (1999) was his first fantasy novel.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Deadhouse Gates
SF Site Interview: Steven Erikson
SF Site Review: Gardens of the Moon

Past Feature Reviews
A review by William Thompson

If any work is truly deserving of the accolade epic, it is the writing of Steven Erikson.  Vast in scope and imagination, spanning continents and cultures as diverse and multifaceted as any to be found in fantasy, Erikson readily towers over every other author writing military fantasy today, or for that matter, from the past.  Possessing in a single volume the equivalent storylines and action found elsewhere within a trilogy or three, events happen here with such kinetic energy, so compellingly and dramatically rendered, that the senses threaten to become overloaded with a surfeit of vivid imagery and deed.  Nor is this simply superbly written drama or gripping conflict told through a cast of likeable if often deadly combatants, but also an allegorical hunt through themes as large and sweeping as Erikson's panoramic and painterly vistas, complex as the winding labyrinths of The Warrens, or alternatively as secretive as the portal House of Azath. This is a world where gods walk at times among men and the past, no matter how remotely fragile or forgotten, stalks and haunts the memory of both the present and future's imagining, a realm of horror and wonder where a simple act of kindness can result in devastation thousands of years after or a redemption entirely unexpected.  A reflection of the colossal scale in which the author works, Erikson fashions fantasy as nature would sculpt a mountain, in rifts and tectonic upheaval, crafting monumental edifices that in the hands of another, less gifted author would surely topple beneath the sheer weight of their own invention.  And, in terms of mythos, not since Tolkien have we seen the conversion of legend into fabulous history become as powerfully or richly rendered.

Memories of Ice is a return to the war-torn continent of Genabackis, last left in Gardens of the Moon.  Out of the ashes of Pale and the abortive conflicts culminating in the deadly and confused sorcery on the streets of Darujhistan, the remnants of the Bridgeburners have rejoined the now outlawed army of Dujek Onearm.  Former foes have formed an uneasy and often mistrusting alliance against a new and sinister menace emerging from the South: the religious state of the Pannion Domin.  Spreading a new and ardent faith with fire and sword that threatens to consume everything in its wake -- its followers literally feeding upon all who oppose it as well as their own people; salvation an act of immolation; purification of the soul attained through destruction and suffering; rebirth accompanying the moment of death -- the new religion and its army of fanatical followers pose a threat of physical annihilation not only to the free city states and various races and civilizations of Genebackis, but a monotheistic threat to the established and ancient pantheon of gods and ascendants represented by the Fatid, the High Houses, and the Deck of Dragons.  And the conflict which threatens to destroy an entire continent will unite not only the various races of man against a common enemy, but the diverse tribes of the pastoral Rhivi, warrior Barghast and arthropodal Moranth in a struggle that will ultimately involve all the Elder Races -- T'lan Imass, K'Chain Che'Malle, Jaghut, and Tiste Andii -- as well as the elder gods and ascendants against a mysterious Seer and the hidden schemes of an even more ancient adversary, the chained and alien deity known alternately as the Fallen or Crippled God

Homeric in scope and vision, Erikson interweaves stories and characters upon a grand stage that not only captures but competes for the reader's attention.  The description of the assault upon Capustan is reminiscent of the blind poet's siege of Troy, with figures equally bold and tragic, and struggles Herculean in task.  Gods are Olympian in character, if playing quite dissimilar roles. And the final battle before Coral is cataclysmic, leaving both heroes and foes fallen (like Martin, Erikson is not one to pull his punches). But what really sets the author's writing apart, aside from his rich and vivid use of language and description, his unparalleled management of action and gripping combat, his compassion towards his characters, or the sheer scale of his imagination and mythic vision, is the secondary and thematic elements running well beneath all the action and apparent fantasy, metaphors and allegory that speak, if one is listening, to deeper intellectual and existential issues easily lost amidst the toil and turmoil of the author's animated and cyclopean plots. Themes of loss and redemption, religion and the sacrifice of love, identity, heroism and what it means to be human, are woven through mirroring imagery of beasts, men and gods blinded by a single eye, or a mother's love which can both nurture and destroy.  The body can become crippled, though deformity need not disfigure the spirit or the heart.  And through the entire story there exists a deep and abiding humanity that refuses easy simplification or categorization into dichotomies of good and evil, right and wrong, even when identified. Each and every character struggles with their personal burdens, losses and joys, some to be resolved, others to be carried, and in ways as unique and varied as the characters portrayed.   Finally, despite the tragedy and heroism expected of a work that consciously embraces the epic form, and does so in a way that truly captures this genre's original intention, rather than merely mimicking its style and content, the author has also infused his narrative with a great amount of humour that, just as in real life, alleviates and offers counterpoint to the great tragedy, pathos and at times brutality of this ambitious and prodigious tale.

Easily one of the best books of the year. Steven Erikson has infused new life into one of the oldest traditions of fiction, and has done so in a manner that genuinely captures and reinterprets the spirit of the original Greek and Norse sagas. By comparison, almost every other work making similar claims appears almost diminutive in stature, if not having misconstrued the meaning of the noun and adjective. If, as a reader, you have been looking for a book whose content is more than a match for its page count, or for fantasy that goes beyond a simple if compellingly told story, your search is over. Along with Gardens of the Moon and Deadhouse Gates, Memories of Ice offers all the rewards the word epic so often conjures and fails to deliver. Read and expect to be overpowered, not only by a story that never fails to thrill and entertain, but by a saga that lives up to its name, both intellectually and in its dramatic, visually rich and lavish storytelling.

Copyright © 2002 William Thompson

William Thompson is a writer of speculative fiction, as yet unpublished, although he remains hopeful. In addition to pursuing his writing, he is in the degree program in information science at Indiana University.

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