Books

Forge of Darkness

While working my way through Steven Erikson’s ten-book fantasy series, The Malazan Book of the Fallen, I’d heard that he was also writing a prequel trilogy. I remember wondering how much more of this world Erikson possibly had to explore that ten books didn’t already cover.

Well, it turns out there’s a lot more.

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After I finished the tenth and final book of the main series, I immediately began reading the first of the prequels, Forge of Darkness, which takes place several hundred thousand years before the events of The Malazan Book of the Fallen.

Prequels by their very nature are tricky beasts. We already know how the story ends, so what’s the point in telling it? If we’ve seen where these characters end up, then the journey to get there must either be entertaining enough on its own, or there must be new information revealed that changes our perspective on the original story. And Forge of Darkness does exactly that. Since the events of this novel have become myths and legends by the time the main series takes place, we’re given a new perspective on characters who appear later on as well as learning what really happened with certain storylines. One of the major themes in Erikson’s work is how history changes over time and that’s certainly played with here. In fact, the structure of the novel is set up as one poet telling a story to another poet, who in the prologue wonders at the natures of truth and stories.

This structure allows Erikson not only to experiment with themes of storytelling and history, but to write some of the most beautiful prose I’ve ever read. Characters speak as if reciting Shakespeare, battles are described with the epic, larger-than-life feeling found in classics like The Iliad. Every word carries weight, the kind of writing that you can’t rush through.

“We are all interludes in history, a drawn breath to make pause in the rush, and when we are gone, those breaths join the chorus of the wind. But who listens to the wind?”

This also leads to a much darker tone. In Malazan, we meet the Tiste Andii, an ancient and powerful race (Erikson’s twisted take on elves) whose home has been destroyed and whose goddess has abandoned them. We know this story ends in tragedy and Erikson revels in every ounce of it. The entire book is shrouded in gloom and an uneasy sense of foreboding as their civilization heads to civil war. And although this is trademark Erikson, in Malazan there were enough breaks of humour that he allowed us to smile and laugh in between breaking our hearts, but that’s hardly the case here. This is a Shakespearean tragedy written with the grittiness of A Song of Ice and Fire and the grandeur and myth of The Silmarillion.

And it’s beyond brilliant.

“There is but one god, and its name is beauty. There is but one kind of worship, and that is love. There is for us but one world, and we have scarred it beyond recognition.”

It was incredible seeing the forging of swords we see in later novels and meeting characters we only know as myths and legends being shown as moody, immature teenagers. And as always, Erikson balances intricate and expansive worldbuilding with intimate character development.

However, I can’t recommend this book to everyone. I’ve written before about why Erikson’s style isn’t for everyone on The 400 Project and the same applies to this novel. And I’m not even sure this novel would have the same impact being read before the main series, so if I were to recommend Forge of Darkness to casual fantasy readers, they’d have to read ten books first.

But in my opinion, it’s worth it. No other author is writing like Steven Erikson and no other fantasy series compares to the scope and intensity of his world. If you’ve already read The Malazan Book of the Fallen, don’t discount this prequel trilogy like I almost did.

Supporting Artists

This will be more of a rant in response to the news that the third book of a trilogy by my favourite author, Steven Erikson, being delayed. Because of low sales of the first two novels, he’s focusing on a new series, presumably for these new books to gain momentum and drive interest back to the other trilogy. This is frustrating not only because the first book of the delayed trilogy might be my favourite book of Erikson’s, but also because it’s part of a bigger problem of fans not supporting artists.

I’ve heard many huge fans of Erikson explain why they didn’t enjoy the first two books of this trilogy as much as the main ten-book series and I can understand that (for reasons I don’t need to get into here) – the books definitely aren’t for everyone. But I’ve also heard many other fans say they’ve been waiting for the third book to come out so they can read the entire trilogy at once. Now I’m no publishing expert but it would make sense that if the first two books of a trilogy aren’t selling, then the publishing company isn’t going to be very eager to spend money on marketing the third book, since they won’t get enough of a return. And if there isn’t already a three-book deal signed, then they may not even move forward with publishing the final book at all. It’s clear that a reader choosing not to invest in a series before it’s finished affects the finished series itself. So to those waiting fans: if you know you’re going to read all three books anyways, there’s nothing to lose by buying the books as they come out – no one is forcing you to read a book the second you buy it. Or think of it this way: you’re spreading out the purchase of the trilogy over three years instead of paying it all at once.

That advice is fine for fans willing to pay for art. But there’s another camp of fans who most likely haven’t given a single dollar towards authors and artists they love. Buying used books, borrowing from friends, or downloading movies and music have their place – sometimes money is an issue and sharing art is important (and most major Hollywood blockbusters don’t need your few dollars). But if you really love the art someone makes – books, music or movies – you shouldn’t feel entitled to receive it for free. The money you give these artists allows them to continue making that art. And I don’t know about you, but I think art is worth a small investment. So consider buying that new book from that author you like or buying merch from that band you only ever stream on Spotify – I guarantee it will make a difference to the artist.

Past is Prologue

My sister is getting married later this year and, with her and her fiancé being just as much book nerds as I am, are going with a vintage book theme for their wedding. With some connections to Dutch family members, they’ve been collecting some vintage Dutch books to use as decor for the big event (which they gave me permission to keep afterwards). The oldest book I found was printed in 1908 and the most recent from 1929. Take a look:

This cover features some pretty intricate linen patterning.

This cover features some pretty intricate linen patterning.

Translation: “Death and the Afterlife” (I told my sister this one might not be wedding-appropriate).

Translation: “Death and the Afterlife” (I told my sister this one might not be wedding-appropriate).

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The Shining Girls

Really enjoyed this strange and brilliant thriller about a time-travelling serial killer and the girl who'd survived his murder attempt trying to hunt him down. The cover designed by Keith Hayes is equally fantastic.

Top Books of 2014

In no particular order, these are the best books I've read that have been published this year:

  • Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
  • What We See When We Read by Peter Mendelsund
  • Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer
  • Red Rising by Pierce Brown
  • A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride
  • Silence Once Begun by Jesse Ball