Book Review 2007 #28: Midnight Tides

Mostly read while on my vacation was the fifth book of Steven Erikson’s Malazan novels, Midnight Tides.

Erikson has matured as a writer since the first of the Malazan novels. That one dropped the reader into an unfamiliar world which was daunting and challenging to get into. A lack of familiar “Tolkien” like elder races, unusual sorcery, lots of characters and jump cutting. Certainly Gardens of the Moon is an excellent book, but its clearly a first novel.
Midnight Tides shows Erikson as a much smoother writer, especially since he breaks virgin territory in terms of the location of the action. The previous novels focused on three continents of the Malazan world which he jumped the action back and forth on during those books.
Here, he goes to an isolated continent with (with a couple of very minor exceptions) all brand new characters. In addition, many of the concepts are new to the series and are detailed and explained in a much more straightforward manner than previous books. You could actually make a go of starting the series with Midnight Tides, and then heading back to Gardens and the rest.
The plot itself involves the conflict between the remnants of an elder race, the Tiste Edur, and the human, burgeoning empire to south, the Letheras. Both seek to expand their power…and come into terrible conflict, terrible to the land, people, and to the lives of its characters. While this is not as dark and relentless as some of what he is written, Erikson is not afraid to do bad things to his characters, and kill them, if necessary.
On the other hand, unlike his other novels, he has strands of humor here which are different than previous things he has done. Bugg, the servant of one of the Letherii, is a comic character who made me chuckle and laugh outloud at his antics–even as we slowly learn he is more than just a manservant. Throw in honor bound warriors, an undead thief, elder gods, and lots of other things, and mix well.
This may be my favorite novel of Erikson’s yet and reinforces the Malazan series in my mind as “The Best Epic Fantasy series you are not reading”.
Do you want to avoid Elves, Dwarves and anything Tolkienish in your nonhumans? Want strange and unusual sub worlds, magic systems, a variety of characters, epic conflicts, and strange locales? Then I urge you to try Steven Erikson’s Malazan novels.