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House of Chains:
A Tale of the Malazan Book of the Fallen

Steven Erikson
Bantam UK, 762 pages

House of Chains
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), his first fantasy novel, was nominated for a World Fantasy Award.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Blood Follows
SF Site Review: Memories of Ice
SF Site Review: Deadhouse Gates
SF Site Interview: Steven Erikson
SF Site Review: Gardens of the Moon

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Neil Walsh

As a reader of the Tales of the Malazan Book of the Fallen, I find myself in the midst of this labyrinthine epic, clutching unwieldy chains as my Ariadne's thread. When did chains first come into the picture? Didn't Gardens of the Moon begin with a chain of soldiers moving heavily down a road? I'm still haunted by the chained souls within the God-forged sword, Dragnipur, from that first book, Coltaine's heroic but doomed Chain of Dogs from the second book, and the dark machinations of the Chained God from the third book. Both as physical objects and as metaphors for all the things that bind people, that weigh them down, that link them to others or to things, chains have always been either present or just offstage in the Tales of the Malazan. Chains are even more omnipresent in the latest novel, named for the newest House in the Deck of Dragons, created in the previous novel, Memories of Ice.

House of Chains is the fourth book in Erikson's massive epic, Tales of the Malazan Book of the Fallen. Unlike the previous novels in this cycle, House of Chains begins as a clear, relatively straightforward narrative following one central character. It is so linear, in fact, that it almost reads like another author altogether -- albeit, an equally talented one. But by the second quarter of the book, we return to the multiple inter-linked story lines we have come to expect from Erikson, following many different characters, usually with multiple names (rather reminiscent of those Russian novels, where everyone has 4 or 5 different names, depending on who is addressing them). And, as usual, Erikson doesn't allow much slack in his storytelling -- keep up or get lost; those are your choices. I strongly recommend the former.

The novel begins on the continent of Genabackis (the setting for most of Gardens of the Moon and Memories of Ice, first and third books), but most of the action takes place on the Seven Cities sub-continent (setting for most of Deadhouse Gates, the second book). The time is shortly after the Chain of Dogs and the death of Coltaine, recounted in Deadhouse Gates. The city of Aren is back in the hands of loyal Malazans, headed by Adjunct Tavore Paran, and the Empire is ready to reassert its claim to Seven Cities. However, the Army of the Apocalypse, headed by the Goddess-possessed Sha'ik who was formerly Felisin Paran, is still holding strong in Raraku, the Holy Desert. And, typical of an Erikson narrative, there are, oh..., I don't know, about a million other things going on. Nevertheless, this one is tighter than his previous Malazan novels.

Like the links of a chain, the various elements of the story form neat circles -- so neat, in fact, that you can almost hear them snapping into place. And if you pull back your perspective a little, you may realize that each link, having come back on itself to complete a circle, is also connected to various other links -- so that what we have is more like a sheet of chain mail than a length of chain. The patterns are there if you look for them.

In fact, as I've already suggested, the patterns, the links in the chain, and the concept of chains as metaphor for the stories being told, have been building from the very beginning of Gardens of the Moon. Almost everything we've seen so far comes together in House of Chains, although there are still plenty of tales left tantalizingly untold... for the moment.

The highest praise I can offer House of Chains is to say that it is Erikson's best yet. Without a doubt, this is one of the best books of the year. Without a doubt, this is the best series of the past decade. I look forward to future Malazan tales from Erikson; I'm curious to see if my Ariadne's chains will lead me safely through the maze...

Copyright © 2003 by Neil Walsh

Neil Walsh has several great passions in his life: reading, and...uh, some other things that are, no doubt, equally interesting.

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