Sunday, May 15, 2011

Memories of Ice - Steven Erikson

I've reread Memories of Ice, the third book in Steven Erikson's Tales of the Malazan Book of the Fallen this week. And it did indeed take most of the week, it's a massive tome. Although probably not the largest book in the series my mass market paperback weighs in at 1194 pages. This novel has been my favourite throughout the series. Erikson has gone on to write a number of very good additions to the series but I don't think he ever quite manages to pull of such a brilliant and multi-faceted climax as in Memories of Ice. In fact, there is so much going on, I was amazed at how much I missed during my first read and how much hints to future books Erikson drops. It's definitely a book that is even better the second time around.

Memories of Ice takes us back the continent of Genebackis, where the remnants of Dujek Onearm's army have been outlawed by the Malazan Empress Laseen in order to make a joint operation with their former enemies under the command of the formidable Caladan Brood possible. A new empire has risen in the south and it makes everybody distinctly uncomfortable. In fact, this Pannion Domin is considered such a threat that the two former enemies are willing to break off their nasty, decade old war and forge an unlikely alliance. Their first objective is the city of Capustan, a small city with limited defences that is about to be overrun by the Pannion's hordes. Defended by a mix of local militias and the Greysword mercenary company, the city will not hold out for long. It is highly unlikely their joint forces will reach the city in time to prevent if from being razed. They will need new allies to save it. On top of that, there is an additional challenge: they will need to keep their own shaky coalition intact long enough to push the Pannions all the way back to their capital and crush it once and for all.

In the second book in the series, Deadhouse Gates, Erikson opens up a whole new story, set on a different continent. Over the course of the series, these far flung events will coalesce into one huge overarching story but this early on in the series it is quite a challenge to let go of the characters from Gardens of the Moon and dive into a whole new, seemingly unrelated novel. A return to Onearm's host feels almost familiar after Deadhouse Gates. Familiar but not quite the same. The first novel in the series was written years before the others and it shows. Erikson has developed a slightly different view on some of the characters in the mean time. It is especially apparent in Tayschrenn, who is considered the villain and betrayer of the Bridgeburners in Gardens of the Moon. His return to the scene as a misunderstood hero is a bit awkward in my opinion. It's only a minor part of the story though. We gain a new perspective on Whiskeyjack as well. His story includes a bit of romance, showing us a side not may would have guessed the gruff, cynical former general possessed.

One other character that grows tremendously in this novel is Ganoes Paran. In Gardens of the Moon he has a number of ghastly things happen to him. Things that scar him, shape him and prepare him for the role his is to play in the rest of the series. All of that is gradually becoming clear to him. Paran clearly senses he is not meant to be a military commander. His command of the Bridgeburners remains problematic throughout the novel. A grudging respect between Paran and his soldiers does develop but fighting has little to do with it. Paran steps up to the plate as new Master of the Deck in this novel. Journeying into the realms of gods, the warrens of the Deck of Dragons. His decisions will ultimately shape the conflict between the gods that is rapidly approaching. Like his sisters Felisin and Tavore (notice how Erikson likes the number three), Ganoes is not satisfied with being a pawn in someone else's game, which I think is a definity improvement over his actions in Gardens of the Moon.

Despite the very emotional tone of much of the novel, it doesn't lack a great deal of violence. Some of the things done during the Chain of Dogs pale in comparison to what the Pannions are capable of. Erikson describes an army (and empire) that quite literally devours itself. It's this kind of irrational tactics that betray the hand of the gods, ascendants and elder races in the story. More than in previous books the soldiers seem to be aware of the game that is played over their head. The rise of the Crippled God is dreaded by many and most of them are not going to sit around and wait for him to break free. The cost is simply too high. Although Memories of Ice could be seen as another story of an impressive Malazan military campaign, the struggles of the gods are much closer to the surface than in other books. Erikson makes sure the reader understand that gods are not safe, even from mortals.

The very violent and sometimes grotesque scenes in Capustan are carefully balanced by more humorous episodes in the novel. The perpetually running two necromancers Bauchelain and Korbal Broach make their first appearance in this novel. Erikson went on to write four novellas, set well before the main series, with plans for a bunch more. Erikson probably pays too much attention to them in this novel, they don't seem to be all that important to the overall story and don't return in any of the other novels. Personally I can forgive Erikson for getting sidetracked, the scene in which the two necromancers are confronted by Quick Ben is absolutely brilliant. On top of that there is the banter between the soldiers of Onearm's host, the antics of Lady Envy and her servants (keep an eye on that one, she has quite an interesting family) and the Mott irregulars, who for some reason are all ranked High Marshall. Erikson has a decidedly dark sense of humour but it does keep the novel from spiralling down into lengthy descriptions of battles and slaughter.

Reading Memories of Ice for the second time was quite a different experience than my first pass through this story. More so than in it's direct sequel Gardens of the Moon, Erikson lays the foundation of the larger series. We won't return to Genebackis until Toll of the Hounds, the eighth book in the series, but so much of what is going on in this novel is important to the rest of the series that I think this book is the key to the series. Once you've made it to this point, things will start falling into place. I've found even more to like about this book than during my first read. If Memories of Ice doesn't convince you to stick with this series, nothing will. Next up is House of Chains, which I considered one of the weaker books during my first read. Let's see if my opinion of that book survives a second read intact as well.

Book Details
Title: Memories of Ice
Author: Steven Erikson
Publisher: Bantam Books
Pages: 1194
Year: 2002
Language: English
Format: Mass Market Paperback
ISBN: 0-553-81312-9
First published: 2001


  1. Excellent post Val. I just re-read Gardens of the Moon and things are beginning to slot into place and have now started Midnight Tides. I have to agree that so far, Deadhouse Gates and Memories of Ice have had the biggest impact on me. In some ways, I can't wait to re-read the whole series just to see what I've missed (once I've finished all ten books, of course!)

  2. Have you met Tehol and Bug yet? Those two are the highlight of Midnight Tides if you ask me ;)

  3. I've stalled a little as I'm trying to finish some other books, but I'm still at the beginning, so hopefully when I give my proper attention to it, I'll meet Tehol and Bug:)

  4. Good, you'll never see capitalism though the same eyes again! ;)