Whenever I read a book by Steven Erickson, I do so with the awareness that he is an anthropologist by training and I always worry that his books are going to contain extremely rich but extremely dry history that I'll have to fight through. I'm always happy to find his world's history and the depth of the cultures to be very full, with mysteries unexplained and a seemingly-never-ending parade of peoples as diverse (and more) as the cultures of our own world. It comes, however, without the history lesson. It comes, in fact, without any lesson whatsoever.
What I perceived as a weakness in Erikson's writing has come to be a bonus, now that I'm not faced with the headlong plunge into confusion that came with the first 150, no 200 pages - well, actually, all of the first book. Like my old Computer Science professor, Stephen Wismath, used to say, "Let's just assume it all works by magic and move on." Not a very satisfying answer for a reader used to having explanations spoon-fed to him, any more than it is to a bright-eyed university student. However, I persevered, and now, I get impatient wading through redundant explanations that are offered in all but a very few fantasy series. Some authors, it seems, use this method to get their word-count to an acceptable level.
Not so with Erikson, whose pages are filled, each and every one of them, with tensions, battles, senseless gore, realistic horror as a reaction to that senseless gore and characters which feel like they not only could fit on the page, but also feel like they could fit in our world. Book 4 deals with the aftermath of book 2, both the Chain of Dogs and Felisin storylines. The pacing is slow, at first, dealing with a new character, but as usual, that character draws you in and soon, you realize you you're 200 pages in and the main story isn't even started. There aren't a lot of surprises in this volume, nothing that will make you gasp and worry that nothing will ever be right again, but things continue to resolve themselves and you begin to understand a little more about the Malazan Empire. I'm looking forward to Midnight Tides but I need a bit of a break from Erikson's epic-ness.
Next up, Voyage of the Dawn Treader.