Search This Blog

Sunday, 8 May 2016

Midnight Tides by Steven Erikson

Midnight Tides is the fifth book, and thus the half-way point, in the Malazan series of epic fantasy novels. It is also unusual in the series in that it is set before the first four novels, and focuses on a new continent and a new conflict. Given that Erikson’s first book, Gardens of the Moon, jumps in part of the way through the story of the Empire, I suppose we shouldn’t be too surprised!

Midnight Tides gives us the back story to the Tiste Edur, one of the three Tiste races we have been gradually introduced to over the last four books. The Edur, unlike their more sophisticated Andii and Liosan cousins, live a more tribal life in the cold north of the continent of Lether. We’d met them previously as washed up bodies in Memories of Ice, and in more detail in House of Chains both through Trull Sengar and also during the attempt to reclaim the Throne of Shadow from the mobile island, Drift Avali.
Trull Sengar by Slaine69

At the start of House of Chains, Trull Sengar was ‘shorn’, exiled from his race in the fragment warren The Nascent, by his brothers. One of the key plot threads in Midnight Tides tells of Trull’s background and his relationship with his three brothers, all of which pop up live and dead in the rest of the series. Trull is a likable character, more pensive and ethical than most of his kin, and an uneasy participant in the escalation of war between the Edur and their capitalist neighbors, the Letheri. The Edur become ruled by Trull’s brother following a mission to retrieve a mystical sword forged by the Crippled God. Rhulad is a fabulous creation, an impetuous youth corrupted by sorcery and ultimately insanity—and the image of him with gold coins soldered to his flesh is one of the most evocative in the book.

 Rhulad by artist Puck

Running parallel to the Edur story line we have several others. Amongst the Letheri we have three brothers who provide the opposite viewpoint on both the war and the Letheri Empire. That at least two are seeking its ruin gives us an idea about its inevitable decline. I loved the detail that Erikson throws into the society, almost as a caricature of the materialist nature of the First World. The Letheri measure value by debt, and that debt may be inherited for generations creating strata within their greed dominated culture.  The most fascinating of the characters is Tehol, a business genius with deep running morality, and a very  amusing man-servant, Bugg.  The interplay between the pair provides the main comedy in a book deep in tragedy.

Naturally, as is Erikson’s style, the main plotline (of war between Edur and Letheri, creation of an Empire, the machinations of the Crippled God, and the effects on two sets of brothers) is underpinned by other racial sub-plots and more fleshing out of his intricate milieu. It can become distracting, not least during the often confused finales to his books but afterwards I often reflect upon the richness and complexity. So in Midnight Tides we have ascendants trapped from ancient days trying to get free, demons and tribal gods, another Forkrul Assail popping up (as one did in House of Chains), and the mention of Holds—a precursor version of Houses.

Art by Laurent Saint Onge

It all creates a very readable story with strong bold characterisation in places. The downside of Erikson is that the characters often feel diluted by their number, and although I loved the key characters of Trull, Rhulad, Tehol and Bugg, they came at the expense of a number of others. Some of the supporting characters were fun, notably the undead Shurq, Udinaas  the possessed slave, and both the Crimson Guard and the Ratchatchers’ Guild. But with such a vast selection the inevitable fatalities at the end of the novel don’t seem to carry the same weight.

Art by Laurent Saint Onge

Finally, and this is a minor quibble, Erikson has a bit of a habit of sneaking gods amongst men. In the earlier books, where the Ascendants were characters (like Anomander Rake, or Caladan Brood, Shadowthrone etc) it felt okay. But in this book we have a few gods sneaking around as humans and abruptly revealing powers at opportune moments. As funny as it seems, I do worry it is a little lazy and hope he doesn’t overuse the tool through the rest of the series.

Art by Laurent Saint Onge

So, all in all, a good book in an excellent series and I look forward to getting back to the main plot with book 6, the Bonehunters.

No comments:

Post a Comment