Ranking the Malazan Books of the Fallen
What’s the Best Malazan Book?
(Spoilers for Steven Erikson’s Malazan Books of the Fallen are below, do not read if you want to avoid spoilers).
What’s the best individual Malazan Book of the Fallen?
We rank the ten books in Steven Erikson’s epic series by subtracting the significance of their flaws from the significance of their strengths. At the bottom there is a poll for people to vote on their favorite Malazan book, so please vote.
Let the ranking begin.
10. Dust of Dreams (Malazan Book Nine)
Dust of Dreams has too many new characters. As this book is the first part of the two part conclusion of a ten book series; this really takes away from time that could have been spent telling the stories of other characters that were more pertinent to the central plot. Additionally, there is no major convergence to redeem the excesses of Dust of Dreams, and the detail Erikson went into the hobbling of Hetan left a bitter taste in my mouth.
The books sympathetic look at the K’Chain Che’Malle and The Crippled God were nice twists. Returning characters like Bugg, Tehol, Tavore and the rest of the Malazans are a welcome sight, but they don’t save this from being the weakest Malazan Book of the Fallen.
9. The Crippled God (Malazan Book Ten)
The Crippled God is a strong book individually. Unfortunately it’s the final book in a ten book series, and has the responsibility to bring that series to a successful conclusion … something The Crippled God really doesn’t do. The strong points of this book center around Tavore – who is the most sympathetic her character has ever been – and the rest of the Malazan led forces as they try to free the Crippled God.
The book has a number of weak points though. The Kharkanas subplot just feels like filler and the extended amount of time this gets in the Crippled God was aggravating. The resolution to the Apsalar and Crokus plot was insulting, and the lack of Kruppe and Karsa – at the expense of seeing a whole host of new characters who’s contributions to the entire ten book series was barely consequential. The long awaited Tavore and Ganoes reunion didn’t garner an emotional reaction from me at all, which was a huge let down.
8. Reaper’s Gale (Malazan Book Seven)
If there was a point where I felt the Malazan series started to plummet, it was right here. Reaper’s Gale has some great moments – Karsa’s battles with Rhulad and the Crippled God, and Trull Sengar’s unexpected death were high points. The long awaited moment of seeing the Tiste Edur led Letherii Empire clash with the Malazan Empire was unique – compared to other battles at that point – but it was not as strong as other military engagements that Erikson had written.
This is where the constant addition of extra characters really started to bug me for the first time. Other problems in this book surfaced when characters like Karsa and Icarium are delegated the tasks of doing nothing and waiting until there characters are needed in the fourth act. Reaper’s Gale was bloated, and a lot of material felt like it could have been left out.
7. Toll The Hounds (Malazan Book Eight)
The return of the Phoenix Inn regulars, especially Kruppe plus the retired Malazans at K’ruls helps keep a lot of the story before the convergence exciting. Then there’s the boring story lines taking place in Coral (with the exception of Anomander Rake’s) and the plot following Nimander and his friends.
The convergence that takes place in Darujhistan in Toll The Hounds has some of the most momentous events in the Malazan series – Rake killing Hood, Rake being killed by Daseem Ultor, and the breaking of Dragnipur. The parts of the convergence that don’t take place in Darujhistan – cough Nimander cough – could only illicit a shrug. Toll The Hounds has a lot of back and forth between what I liked and what I didn’t like. Needless to say the epic moments that do occur in this book are truly epic.
6. The Bonehunters (Malazan Book Six)
The Bonehunters is the best book in the back half of the Malazan series. It does this by starting to bring the rest of Genabackis characters into the Seven Cities story, and it also featured the first significant clashes between the Tiste Edur and the Malazans and the Tiste Edur and Karsa Orlong.
The Bonehunters has two convergences – the one at Y’Ghatan and the other at Malaz City. Leoman of the Flails’ burning his army alive at Y’Ghatan was unexpected, but produced one hell of a moment. The second convergence was thrilling to say the least, but the melancholy aura that surrounded it was what really made such a standout. Tavore’s tough decision, T’amber’s and Kalam’s personal sacrifices, Apsalar’s dismantling of Laseen’s Claws, and Fiddler’s song really helped to make the second convergence one of the most memorable.
5. House of Chains (Malazan Book Four)
House of Chains had the greatest conflict set up at the beginning of any individual Malazan Book: The hated Tavore leading the beloved Malazan Army against the loved Felisin and her hated Army of the Apocalypse. Tavore’s defeat of Felisin’s army was unfortunately a little underwhelming, as was the moment when Tavore killed Felisin… although I have to admit it was a great plot twist.
The first couple hundred pages of House of Chains that are spent following Karsa Orlong – gasp only one central character – are unique considering the format of the rest of the series. Karsa is one of Erikson’s greatest character creations – his simple minded approach to life and his arrogance make for some of the series’ funniest one-liners. His tragic relationship with his friends, family, and culture help turn his hostile personality in the minds of readers.
4. Gardens of the Moon (Malazan Book One)
Gardens of the Moon was a great introduction to the Malazan series. Erikson’s unique writing style, his vicious treatment of his characters, and the lack of explanation treated many readers to a unique reading experience for the first time.
Nearly every character introduced is complicated and as morally confused as the plot. Readers would be hard pressed to choose which fighting side to support. Whether it be the invading Malazans or the corrupt powers of Darujhistan – this book really captures the apathy that can be found in choosing sides during war time.
Gardens of the Moon had a number of great moments – the death of Tattersail and Lorn, Annomander’s Rakes interference in Darujhistan and his killing of two Hounds of Shadow, and the siege of Pale. The biggest impact this book had on me was through the introduction of Kruppe – Erikson’s most amusing character personality.
3. Memories of Ice (Malazan Book Three)
Memories of Ice, overall, had to be the most violent book in the Malazan series. The K’Chain Che’Malle’s vicious attacks on the caravans, cannibals eating and raping everyone in the city of Capustan, and Toc the Younger’s time spent with Pannion Seer are horrifying. The death of Whiskeyjack – virtually out of nowhere – was one of the most surprising moments in the series. As far as shock value is concerned, Whiskeyjack’s sudden demise was really only replicated by Trull Sengar’s death in Reaper’s Gale.
Memories of Ice has Erikson’s best written military battles – the fantasy inspired military tactics are easiest to visualize. The first meetings between the important leaders of Darujhistan, the Malazans, and the Tiste Andii leaders sets up a classic battle of huge egos. Watching Kruppe confound all of these great leaders is even more amusing, as his character has his funniest moments in the series.
2. Midnight Tides (Malazan Book Five)
After four books of switching between two different major character groups, Steven Erikson decides to add a third, completely new, group of characters. When I got to this book, I thought to myself this is where the series falls apart.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Midnight Tides tells one of Malazan’s darkest stories, and unlike the previous Malazan books, it’s not primarily dark because of the warfare. This book is so dark because of what happens to the two warring cultures, the Tiste Edur and the Letherii, and because of what happens to some of the prominent families from each of those warring sides.
One of the most memorable scenes in all ten books occurs when, the young arrogant Rhulad Sengar rises from the dead, and reclaims the Crippled God’s sword, subjugates his people into accepting his rule, and forces his elder brother to surrender his soon-to-be wife to him. The fact that the sword resurrects him every time he dies just adds to the – this is utterly messed up – aura that dominates this novel.
The Tiste Edur’s opposition, the Letherii, have a society that spoofs modern day capitalism – complete with a stock market. This culture is the most shallow and greedy of Erikson’s introduced peoples. Their war with the Tiste Edur, who are led by a lunatic, makes for one of the most morally confusing Malazan books as readers want each side to lose.
1. Deadhouse Gates (Malazan Book Two)
In Gardens of the Moon readers are given a brief glimpse at Felisin Paran as being the loving poster child of the Paran family. Cut to the prologue of Deadhouse Gates – Felisin’s in chains being led into a life of slavery, sold out by her own sister Tavore.
It’s a dark beginning and from there it only gets worse. Apsalar’s attempts at trying to find her father or figure out her past are wrought with sadness and tragedy. Felisin’s emergence as the doomed tyrant Sha’ik after being raped countless times is horrifying. Kalam’s failed attempt to assassinate Laseen questions the pointlessness of trying to eliminate powerful figures. As horrible as all of these things are, none of them compare to Coltaine and Duiker’s epic march with the Malazan 7th – which in my opinion is the single most memorable event from this 10 book series.
Over a course of 800 pages readers are treated to watching the harsh, but honorable Coltaine, leading and protecting thousands of refugees to Aren a distance of 500 leagues. The refugees hate him because he is the leader of a tribe that once opposed the Malazan Empire, but the Malazan soldiers grow to respect him. As Coltaine leads these people his army is continuously harassed by the growing Army of the Apocalypse and made vulnerable by the refugees, who affectionately become known as the Chain of Dogs.
Coltaine gets the refugees safely to Aren but not before losing all of his Wickans and most of the Malazan soldiers. To top it all off the last remnants of his army and Coltaine himself reach the gates of Aren only to have them shut on him. His remaining forces are promptly slaughtered outside the gates, while Coltaine himself is hoisted up on a crucifix to die a torturous death while thousands of able Malazan soldiers and refugees are forced to watch from the safety of Aren’s walls.
The incompetent Malazan commander who shuts the gates on Coltaine then leads his entire army outside the city to where they are caught in a trap and promptly forced to surrender to an overwhelming Army of the Apocalypse. All of these soldiers, and Duiker who was with them, are then crucified in a line that resembles the real life death of Spartacus in Ancient Rome.
Not surprisingly, Erikson is never really able to top this book. Deadhouse Gates will seriously challenge its readers to keep its faith in humanity. This is the most tightly constructed, and emotionally engaging of any of the individual Malazan books, and that is simply why it is the best.