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Deadhouse Gates:
A Tale of the Malazan Book of the Fallen

Steven Erikson
Bantam UK, 684 pages

Deadhouse Gates
Steven Erikson
Steven Erikson was born in Toronto, grew up in Winnipeg, and now lives in the UK 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. It is currently available in North America from Bantam Spectra. The sequel, Deadhouse Gates is available in the UK from September 2000.

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

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Neil Walsh

If you're looking for a low-calorie dish of light fantasy, this ain't it. If you're looking for a nine-course riot of taste and texture, exotically spiced to make your eyes water, your heart pump faster and your brain do cartwheels inside your cranium, I know a great little Thai place downtown. Or, if you want something analogous to that in your reading, stop at the 'E's and pick up the latest from Steven Erikson.

For those who read and enjoyed Gardens of the Moon, Erikson's first novel, you certainly won't want to miss Deadhouse Gates. For those who found Gardens to be too complex, too vast and following too many characters, you'll have the same experience with Deadhouse Gates. Yes, it's a sequel; yes, it picks up where the first one left off; and yes, having read the first one will make easier going of the second. A familiarity with events in the first one will flesh out some character motivation and some backstory for this volume, but it's not essential. And, in fact, you might feel for the first several chapters that having read the first book hasn't given you any real advantage at all. Deadhouse Gates is a complete story in its own right, although a complicated one that is anything but light reading. It is, however, well worth the effort.

To give you a sense of how complex a tale it is, I'll try to summarize the plot as succinctly as I can:
After the decision of Empress Laseen to outlaw the elite Bridgeburners and the whole of the 9th Army on the Genabackis campaign, Kalam, Fiddler and Sorry (now going by the name of Apsalar) of the Bridgeburners, and the streetwise Crokus from Darujhistan, have journeyed from the continent of Genabackis to the Seven Cities with a secret mission. Kalam, once a member of the Claw, the Empire's loyal assassins, has sworn to kill the evil Laseen, Empress of the Malazan Empire. Kalam and his friends, however, soon realize they've just wandered into a religious uprising of Seven Cities natives, a jihad-like ethnic purge known as the Whirlwind. When it hits, Malazan citizens are targets for torture and murder. Coltaine, military governor of Hissar, one of the Seven Cities, takes it in hand to escort an ever-growing number of Malazan citizens and nobles to Aren, the only city on the continent still under the Empire's control. Trouble is, it's several hundred miles away, across deserts, across rivers, across ghost-haunted wastelands. Coltaine is trying to move 45,000 refugees all that way, with what's left of the Empire's 7th Army and a few clans of his own Wickan horse-warriors, while a huge army of Whirlwind fanatics -- including the rebel Malazan armies that have joined the cause -- harry and pick at them all the way, standing for pitched battles whenever Coltaine is in a particularly vulnerable position (such as attempting to ford a tricky river).

Just before the Whirlwind hits, Duiker, the imperial historian, and Kulp, the last surviving cadre mage of the 7th Army, are about to set off from Hissar to rescue Heboric (who has no hands), an exiled historian and former priest of Fenner, the Boar God. Heboric, along with Felisin Paran (youngest sister to Ganoes Paran, from Gardens of the Moon) and Baudin, a hulking brute who is obviously more than he appears -- are all exiled to an island that is anathema to magic. While Duiker returns to try to join up with Coltaine and his "chain of dogs," as the exodus of refugees becomes known, Kulp, the wizard, sails off with a small band of marines, only to end up trapped inside one of the Elder Warrens (a Warren being a sort of parallel magical plane from which magic is channelled).

Meanwhile, Icarium (of the immortal Jaghut race) and his companion Mappo (a Trell) -- both non-human humanoids -- are wandering the Seven Cities continent on Icarium's eternal quest to regain his past, his memory. Mappo, however, has another agenda: he is secretly trying to prevent his friend from attaining that lifelong goal. But something about the Whirlwind is luring Icarium ever closer to what he thinks he wants to find. And it's also luring the Soletaken (shape-shifters) and D'ivers (shape-shifters capable of assuming multi-form, such as a whole pack of wolves, a horde of rats, a plague of spiders).

Ok, I realize now that I'm only just getting into it and to give you the whole picture would take a lot longer that I thought. But I think you get the idea. There's an awful lot going on, and there are many players involved. It's a convoluted tale, with complex characters and a depth of scope that some readers will no doubt find overwhelming. Like Gardens of the Moon, and indeed like the whole concept for the 10-volume Malazan series, Deadhouse Gates is an ambitious work that is sometimes in danger of over-reaching itself. But if you can buckle down for the ride, it sure is a fun one. The writing is of a quality to provoke a whole spectrum of emotions in the reader, and although you may find yourself at times wondering what's really going on, there isn't a dull moment.

Even with a few months left to go, I think I can safely say: Deadhouse Gates is one of the best fantasy novels of 2000. It's on my personal top three list (along with Guy Gavriel Kay's Lord of Emperors, Book 2 of The Sarantine Mosaic, and Paul Kearney's The Second Empire, Book 4 of The Monarchies of God). Erikson wins hands down for complexity of plot, level of intrigue, sense of history in the created world, and depth of story. He also offers some very memorable characters, each of whom has complexity enough (with the frequently resulting moral ambivalence Erikson strives for) to make them real people.

The conclusion to Deadhouse Gates is unexpected (or so I found it to be). It is also sufficient to make this novel stand on its own -- this stage of the story, in its various plot threads, is satisfyingly completed by the end of the book. However, I'm sure I'm not alone in very much looking forward to the continuation of the series and the return to events in Genabackis with the next Tale of the Malazan Book of the Fallen.

Copyright © 2000 by Neil Walsh

Neil Walsh is the Reviews Editor for the SF Site. He lives in contentment, surrounded by books, in Ottawa, Canada.

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