I've been a fan of Steve Erickson, the literary author, for a long while now, which means that, in my earlier days, my snobbier days, not infrequently would I come across Steven Erikson in my searches for new Steve Erickson books and get briefly excited before realizing Steven Erikson was some, yuck, clown-town fantasy author, ugh god as if, at which point I'd raise my nose so far up that tiny bears would crawl into it to hibernate for the winter, and then I'd quickly move on with my snobby, superior, literary life.
Flash forward a bit and I am an old now and the world is horrible and so badly needs to be escaped from at every possible turn and I am so all in on Steven Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen series.
For context, I've been looking for my place in the fantasy genre for a while now. Like, I wrote a little bit in the newsletter a while back about how I really struggled with the first book of the Wheel of Time series. It was "the least fun I've had with a book in years" and I can safely say amnesia about that experience has not kicked in yet; when it does I expect to feel some temptation to go back and try to make it through another book of that series to, like, get to the good bits, at which point I expect the amnesia curtain to drop and the horrid tedium of book one will flush back into every fiber of my being like some unlocked core memory from my brief stint in Hell.
Which I reiterate just to draw the contrast with the Malazan series, which is a notoriously difficult fantasy series, so I've read, and which series I've spent quite a bit of time as I've been starting to read it not entirely knowing what was going on, and yet nonetheless I've just rolled directly from book two into book three, entirely to the detriment to the entirety of the rest of my TBR pile, as the books in this series only seem to get longer with each new volume. There's an event horizon waiting for me somewhere down this road, I just know it.
It is fun. I am having fun.
It has the quality of being deeply immersive, in the sense that there is a lot of world and a lot of lore to be discovered and combed through and picked at here, none of which is ever exactly clearly laid out; there's a lot of hinting and a lot of dribbling out of information and if I'm feeling less kind it can feel a bit gimmicky, a little bit difficult for the sake of it, but for whatever reason it is working for me a lot. Like, I really would not typically read series books back-to-back like this, because of fatigue creep, because of all the other books I need to get to right now, wasn't this the year I was supposed to read Proust straight through ACK, but the vibe is right and it is fun and I am having fun.
Books two and three are probably the right choices for this kind of thing anyway as book two splits off from where book one ended to tell this whole other story in the world and then book three returns back to the setting of the first book, more or less, to pick up threads concurrent to book two but back on more familiar ground; I'm about 200 pages in and for as much of a challenge as book two could sometimes feel like (where am I? who are these people?) book three has been a lot of fun in a sort of "ah, hello old friends" way. And a "oh, hello new friends, too" way. And also in a "oh, the prologue introduces some business that's set literally 200,000-plus years before the main action of the series, cool cool cool, what am I doing with my life right now" way. It's great.
Or to put it another way, book two, that one took most of the book for me to understand the shape of the book I was reading, either because the book is complex in shape with numerous disparate threads winding through it or because I'm a mild dummy, whereas book three has a very clear shape and direction from the start, and it works off established territory and characters, which has made it surprisingly easy to sink into. I'm really looking forward to seeing where all this is going and I guess there's always next year for reading everything else in the world, right?