Saturday, 14 January 2012

Review of Deadhouse Gates, by Steven Erikson

In the vast dominion of Seven Cities, in the Holy Desert Raraku, the seer Sha'ik and her followers prepare for the long-prophesied uprising known as the Whirlwind. Unprecedented in size and savagery, this maelstrom of fanaticism and bloodlust will embroil the Malazan Empire in one of the bloodiest conflicts it has ever known, shaping destinies and giving birth to legends . . . Set in a brilliantly realized world ravaged by dark, uncontrollable magic, this thrilling novel of war, intrigue and betrayal confirms Steven Erikson as a storyteller of breathtaking skill, imagination and originality--the author who has written the first great fantasy epic of the new millennium.
I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with Deadhouse Gates. I love the colossal improvement over Garden’s of the Moon, the depth of the world and the multiple viewpoints, but the huge problems with this book really drag it down. Maybe the hype about this series ruined it for me as I expected so much more than what it was. I’d still recommend it and it’s still an incredibly good book, but I don’t think it’s one of the best.
I can’t mention all the character viewpoints in this to avoid spoilers, but I can tell you to expect a multitude of them. The story tracks the tales of the Sapper Fiddler, the Assasin Kalam, Parin’s sister Felisin, the historian Duiker and the Trell named Mappo. There are a few viewpoints that crop up, but these, in my mind, are the main characters of this book.
Now, I like a large amount of viewpoints, but only if all of them capture my interest. In my opinion this book had something I call a “Rookie Blue” effect. A huge amount of characters are thrown at you in the hopes that you’ll empathise with a few. Personally, my favourites were Felisin (can’t resist Heboric), Duiker and Kalam. And I only really liked Duiker’s viewpoint because of the characters in his plot, not the actual viewpoint character. Also, I can’t go into details because of spoilers, but Kalam made a decision at the end of his plot which had no reasoning, was anti-climatic and underlined the lack of motivation behind any of his actions.
Another thing that annoyed me about the characters is that they have a habit of saying things that have no relation to the conversation whatsoever. You’ll probably understand this if you’ve read Gardens of the Moon, or it’s just something I imagined.
The plot was actually very, very good. There were some revelations that will cast the past books plot in a new light and other new pieces of info that add interest to the story. When the whirling begins the pacing of the ploy becomes incredible. Even if some characters are just travelling from place to place in their own isolated group.
Of course, I have a complaint with the plots. A lot of the time it feels as though the characters are going from action scene to action scene one after another. This gets tiring after a few hundred pages.
Also, I felt Duiker’s plot went on for far too long. Now, I do see the reasoning behind it as it did highlight the gruelling aspect of Duiker’s plot, but I just didn’t look forward to it towards the end.
I have to say though: the last Duiker chapter of the book is so horrifying that I am incredibly impressed with it.
The setting definitely saved this book. Well, maybe I’m taking the term setting as the total history and land of the whole world, but either definition proves this book’s setting is badass. The whole of the world is chock full of cultures, cults, artefacts and ruins. Steven Erikson has an interesting writing style that introduces a piece of lost history and either weaves it into the main storyline or drops tantalising hints to whet the appetite.
The atmosphere is, quite simply, perfectly captured. You can taste the grit of sand, feel the humid heat of a roasting climate and hear the beat of distant horses, all without describing the land directly. Seriously, I have no idea how he did it. Sure when they actually reach Raraku he describes it in deep detail, but before that he weaves an atmosphere of the desert almost subliminally.
Characters: 5/10
Plot: 6/10
Setting: 8/10
Total: 19/30
I know I have scored it pretty badly and found lots to complain about, but I really, really like this book. The world is so multilayered you can’t help but lose yourself in it and you will love some of the characters. Also, there are ten books I haven’t read, so maybe the next books are astronomically good. For those two reasons I’d recommend this book.

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