This is going to be another long one
The Malazan book of the fallen is an epic fantasy series comprising ten main volumes, a related trilogy, another lengthy series by Ian Esslemont, and a series of highly entertaining novellas. (If I’ve missed anything, let me know). In a manner not totally dissimilar from the Dragonlance series, the Malazan books are heavily influenced by the authors’s tabletop role-playing game experience. Unlike the Dragonlance series, the Malazan books have one of the more unique settings in the epic fantasy genre.
Erikson, like O’Brian, refuses to patronize, assuming that his readers will be able to piece together the “rules” of the world and its surprisingly intricate history without lengthy explanations from the author. As a result, the series can be a bit daunting as the reader has to rely heavily on context to figure out what is actually going on. Erikson is an anthropologist by training, and that expertise heavily informs the series, making the world full of vibrant, diverse cultures that can’t be easily reduced to comparisons with real-world groups (à la Robert Jordan, David Eddings, Brent Weeks, or virtually any major epic fantasy author). Erikson is not above using his fictional cultures to make subtle jabs at popular anthropological theories, which provides extra fun for readers who enjoy that kind of poking.
Full admission: I haven’t finished the series yet. I got distracted most of the way through and set it aside for too long. I’ve started re-reading it but considering the length it’ll be a while. I’ve read the first 8 books of the main series and most of the Bauchelain & Korbal Broach novellas (to be reviewed separately). I feel like I’ve got a good enough handle on the series to review it collectively, especially since it’d be nearly impossible to examine the plot of Gardens of the moon without giving away way too many details.
Brief plot summary
Gardens of the moon opens with the aftermath of the apparent assassination of the emperor of the Malazan empire and his second-in-command by the head of their secret police, Surly. Seven years later, Surly is now the empress Laseen and the rapid expansion of the Malazan empire has caused the military to be overextended. The situation is further complicated by Laseen’s apparent attempts to purge the government and military of those loyal to the old emperor, as well as interference by the quasi-divine Ascendants, all of whom have their own agendas.
The series has three major plotlines that eventually converge and approximately 100,000 major characters. The first plotline takes place on the continent of Genabackis, where the Malazan military is attempting to conquer a group of massively wealthy city-states. The second major plotline focuses on a religion-fueled rebellion on a subcontinent that was (mostly) already under Malazan control. The third plotline, which connects to the first two significantly later in the series, involves the conflict between a capitalist empire and a tribal society.
If it sounds complicated, well, it is. But it’s also great and it’s not that hard to keep track of what’s going on. There are enough characters common to most of the books that it’s relatively easy to find an anchor.