Book Review 2007 #13: House of Chains

I’ve been housesitting, which is why my posts have been few and far between the last week and change. But we are back with our thirteenth book of the year, another of the fat fantasy series by Steven Erikson, House of Chains, the fourth of the Malazan Book of the Fallen.

It’s getting difficult to review these books as one goes deeper in the series. How does one review a fourth book in a series that the reader of the review hasn’t read the third, the second or even the first?
I will try anyway.
This fourth book starts off in a departure for Erikson. The rest of his big fantasy novels so far have had a lot of intercutting between characters, scenes, and locations. Its a style that some authors like to use, and some readers find offputting.
Those readers who find the method offputting, and wanted to see Erikson’s style, should read the first part of this book, because Erikson throws that idea out of the window. He narrows and focuses on the backstory of *one* character, Karsa Oorlong, and shows his origin and how he gets to the continent of Seven Cities and the councils of the Whirlwind Goddess. Its a completely new technique for Erikson, and he shows his writing ability by managing to keep the focus and develop Karsa and his world completely and believably without looking away at new shiny things.
The rest of the novel follows the usual format, as the rebellion on the Seven Cities continent continues, and the two sisters, one unknowing that the other is her mortal enemy, array their forces against each other. There aren’t as many set piece battles as the previous novels, but there are engagements, encounters, high magic, and lots of action. Unlike Robert Jordan, things happen in these novels. Erikson is highly willing and shows it to kill characters, to have events change his worlds, and make big things occur, things set up, and things you never see coming.
On the SOA board, I called this novel “The Best Epic Fantasy series you aren’t reading”. I still stand by that. But, again, start with “Gardens of the Moon” and try Erikson for yourself. Read it for the characters, stay for the World in subsequent novels.