So, you want to read the Malazan Book of the Fallen. Maybe you’re intrigued by the “obligatory Malazan comment” on every post. Maybe you’ve started the series in the past and couldn’t get into it, yet still hope to start it again someday. Maybe you’ve already read it. Maybe you’ve never heard of it. Regardless of who you are, this post is for you.
The Malazan Book of the Fallen (referred to as MBotF for the rest of this post) is a 10-book long, high fantasy series written by Steven Erickson from 1999 to 2011. The idea of Malazan first came from the background world of the role-playing games Erickson and his friend, Ian C. Esslemont, used to play. Over time, both Erickson and Esslemont developed this idea into a world with thousands of characters across six different continents. Erickson alone wrote over 3.3 Million words in just the main book series.
MBotF and its subsequent novels are as epic as high-fantasy can get. The series spans separate but interweaving storylines on three continents. It’s difficult to describe the complexity of the plot without giving too much away, but let it be known that there is something for everyone. Politics. War. Romance. No stone goes unturned. T
he first book, Gardens of the Moon, is set in the city of Darujhistan, as the Malazan army attempts to conquer the city. The story takes places both from the perspective of characters in the Malazan ranks, as well as characters hunkered down in the besieged city. I’m not going to lie that the book is complex, but it is not a book that is unintelligible to a dedicated reader. After Gardens, there’s still nine more books to go. These are, in order:
Memories of Ice (my personal favorite)
House of Chains
Toll the Hounds
Dust of DreamsT
he Crippled God
As said, this series takes place with three largely distinct storylines on three separate continents. And so, each book takes focuses on a different area. Books 1,3 and 8 focus on the continent of Genabackis. Books 2, 4, and 6 are on the Seven Cities continent. Books 5 and 7 are on the continent of Lether. The rest are a combination of the three. Other than the main series, there is an assortment of novels and short stories set in the same world. None of these are necessary for enjoyment of the main series, but they are still well worth the read. All listed in order of publication:
Bauchelain & Korbal Broach Novels:
The Healthy Dead
The Lees of Laughter’s End
Crack’d Pot Trail
The Wurms of Blearmouth
The Fiends of Nightmaria
The Kharkanas Trilogy:
Forge of Darkness
Fall of Light
Walk in Shadow (to be released)
The Witness Trilogy:
The God is Not Willing
Not only did Steven Erickson publish in the Malazan universe, so did Ian C. Esslemont. Esslemont jumped into the writing world when he published the first book in his own Malazan Empire series. Later, after that was finished, he continued writing in the world with his Path to Ascendancy Trilogy. Below are Esslemont’s publications:
Night of Knives
Return of the Crimson Guard
Orb Sceptre Throne
Blood and Bone
Path to Ascendancy:
Given the extensive nature of the series, with 28 books currently in publication, it is difficult to know what the correct reading order is. First, it is most wise to beginning at the beginning, with Gardens of the Moon. This is for two reasons. First, because it is one of the least complex points of entry, therefore some of the easiest material to get accustomed to. Second, Gardens is the perfect place to start because it truly is the beginning. Not in terms of chronology, but in terms of where the book stands in relation to the rest of the series. All future novels from Erickson builds on the lessons that he learned about writing, character, structure, from this book. That is to say, his books only get better from there on out.
In terms of what happens after the beginning? There are many ways to tread. Some interweave the Malazan Empire books into the MBotF series, whereas others wait until the end of one to start the other. I’ll link a much more exoplanetary post here.
But what about the content? Will I like it?
You’ll like this series if:
· You like expansive, epic fantasy
· You appreciate complex female, LGBT+, and non-white characters
· You reading about military campaigns
· You like 3-dimensional characters
· You want your books to have moments of painful tragedy mixed with moments of pure joy
You won’t like this series if:
· You want your fantasy to stay on a small-scale
· You like short series· You like single-POV stories
· You prefer low levels of fantastical elements in your stories, like limited levels of magic
Lastly, I want to touch on the idea of complexity. I’ve briefly mentioned it throughout the post, but I think it is important to discuss. The books are complex. At times, they are hard to read, and can make the reader feel as if they are missing a key element. Reading the first book feels like being strung along through scenes without having the ability to grasp the bigger picture.
Soon, the complexity is diminished; you start to understand the words once non-sensical to you. You start to love the difficult, underlying themes that permeate through the books. By the end, all the struggle is worth it.
For me, I didn’t truly understand MBotF until the end of the third book. I forced myself through three books I perceived as mediocre, albeit with potential. At the end of the third book and the beginning of the fourth book, I broke a wall. I loved it, and couldn’t put it down. I don’t know what the wall will be broken if you ever decided to try Malazan. Maybe the first book, maybe the third, maybe never. But if you want to try to dive into Malazan, for the love of god, try. You may just find your favorite series.