Forge of Darkness review

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Forge of Darkness is the first novel in a new trilogy by Steven Erikson. The Kharnakas Trilogy is set many years in the past from the events of the Malazan Book of the Fallen at the time when the Tiste were one people and where Anomander Rake didn't wear the burden of his people. The second book in the series, Fall of Light should be out in 2014 and the final book, Walk in Shadows some years later. Erikson is also said to be working on another trilogy catching up with Karsa's storyline.
Now is the time to tell the story of an ancient realm, a tragic tale that sets the stage for all the tales yet to come and all those already told...It's a conflicted time in Kurald Galain, the realm of Darkness, where Mother Dark reigns. But this ancient land was once home to many a power...and even death is not quite eternal. The commoners' great hero, Vatha Urusander, is being promoted by his followers to take Mother Dark's hand in marriage, but her Consort, Lord Draconus, stands in the way of such ambitions. The impending clash sends fissures throughout the realm, and as the rumors of civil war burn through the masses, an ancient power emerges from the long dead seas. Caught in the middle of it all are the First Sons of Darkness, Anomander, Andarist, and Silchas Ruin of the Purake Hold...
For the Malazan Book of the Fallen readers, it would be easy to assume that Erikson's new book would follow the same kind of structure as the gargantuan series.  However, as you can gather by reading Steven Erikson's introduction to the book, it's clearly not what he aimed at.  That doesn't mean that MBotF fans won't enjoy the book but it means that it can't be considered a prequel in the same essence as the series and it clearly doesn't follow the convergence arrangement we are used to see.  Moreover, if you consider the timeline and historical imperfections between this book and the MBotF, it ought to frustrate some scrutinous readers.

Anomander Rake and the whole Tiste race stand among the most interesting characters in the MBotF.  Since he his supposedly 300 000 years old and was present when Mother Dark decided to turn her back on her Tiste Andii children, it was only fitting to give him the origin treatment.  However, that focus on Anomander alone is a misconception, meaning that I probably wasn't the only one to think so but it's The Kharkanas Trilogy and not strictly Anomander's trilogy. His importance isn't questioned, he's just not at the center of the tale, as I was lead to believe.

From the outset, several elements of the book surfaced, leaving a distinctive mark throughout the reading. I could summarize them with "Why so serious?", "A rhetoric feast", "Perspective galore" and "Nice, he's here!".

You might consider one or all of these elements as inherent to the author's previous writing but the dosage is quite different for the first two.  MBotF was grim, emotional and forbidding at its core but it was counter balanced by lighter elements.  You'll find no marines, necromancer duos or contrasting dialogues relating to funny workings of the human mind.  There may be a slight exception with one of the godlike Azathanai, Grizzin Farl but with a civil war looming on the horizon for the Tiste and the schism of their religion, grave times are coming and everyone can feel it. The tone accompanying that is sorrowful but emotional moments are aplenty.

Forge of Darkness is not really the Malazan Silmarillion, but it tries to recount, with a story seen through the eyes of so many protagonist, the genesis but mostly the unfolding of the Tiste races, the warrens, the elder gods, dragon soletakens, Jaghut individuality and more without focusing on any of these particular features. Several quite different introspections take place, occasionally too much of them, but at the end of the day, it's the story of war veterans would can't find purpose in peace and the usual reach for power. Although in this story, we already know that the consequences are world shattering. Lots of fascinating prospects are created for the follow-up with the Azathanai actions and Urusander legion re-establishment.

If you have read Malazan books, the characters and the lore presented in Forge of Darkness will feel satisfying but also troublesome. The pleasure of reading about Draconus, Caladan Brood, Osserc, Spinnock, Malice or Gothos in the time period Erikson put them in is amazing but for quite a few of them, history seem to have twisted their origin. New readers won't mind and Steven said to have keep faith in him.  We will see with the next two books if he's right but simply putting the narration in the hands of poets who have their own interpretation of the events is somewhat perplexing. Anyway, if the tale and characters are compelling, is rectitude really necessary?

If you ask yourself if you should pick up the book, the answer will be simple.  Do you really want to miss on a good plot with action set in a distinct setting where the cast is the cream of the Malazan history and they are jousting for their place in Kurald Galain, reveal secrets and create myths? Certainly not but as is the case with Erikson previous writing, there may be times when the choice of point of view is arguable, philosophical tirades are within the reach of every character and the well-versed prose can be complicated at times. Still,  Forge of Darkness is rich Epic Fantasy, less wide in scope than its predecessor but ambitious, loaded with insightful wit.

Technically, I'm not a fan of the cover art for the the Bantam Press hardcover edition (although the color scheme is nice). Several maps are present, from Kurald Galain to the city of Kharkanas and you can also find a Tiste family tree and a dramatis personae as usual. The hardcover edition stands at 760 pages.

Forge of Darkness review score :

World building
Magic system 

Overall (not an average)


Malazan empire page
Toll the Hounds review


Tom Lloyd said...

not being a fan Kharkanas and rather underwhelmed with the basic idea here, plus not liking prequels much, you've not really sold this to me!

As much as I like Rake, it was him getting involved in the world events that was interesting, not the Tiste Andii introspection and historical disputes that would never really be resolved.

Phil said...

I understand the feeling, I was also underwhelmed by the lack of Rake's involvement but I think that the pieces are now standing at the right places to make him a key player in Fall of Light. Let's hope so. Anyway, there's enough interesting characters to minimize that feeling and I think that Erikson's writing and the story he chose to tell more than makes up for it.

Ipe Decking said...

Great review! A question: how demanding is this book, compared to, say, the book of the new sun by Gene Wolfe? I found the latter demanding but very rewarding, as most of Wolfe's work.

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