While I was reading Erikson's magnum opus, The Malazan Book of the Fallen, even though there were more than enough incredible storylines, my favorite parts were always the prologues offering flashbacks from the tale's distant past. Hence, when the author revealed that he would write an entire trilogy chronicling the story of Anomander Rake and the Tiste people, I was giddy with excitement.
I was looking forward to reading Forge of Darkness, for I knew that it would be a different reading experience. As was the case when we watched the second Star Wars trilogy, we already know how it's going to end. So in a way, we're along for the ride to finally discover how Anakin will turn to the Dark Side and become Darth Vader. And yet, as is Steven Erikson's wont, the novel raises a lot more questions than it answers. . .
The Malazan Book of the Fallen was so vast in depth, scope, and vision, my only true concern was that this new trilogy wouldn't live up to the lofty expectations created by the original book cycle. And although Forge of Darkness may not be as sprawling a novel as the other Malazan installments, it remains an epic and multilayered tale.
Here's the blurb:
Forge of Darkness: Now is the time to tell the story of an ancient realm, a tragic tale that sets the stage for all the tales yet to come and all those already told...
It's a conflicted time in Kurald Galain, the realm of Darkness, where Mother Dark reigns. But this ancient land was once home to many a power… and even death is not quite eternal. The commoners' great hero, Vatha Urusander, is being promoted by his followers to take Mother Dark's hand in marriage, but her Consort, Lord Draconus, stands in the way of such ambitions. The impending clash sends fissures throughout the realm, and as the rumors of civil war burn through the masses, an ancient power emerges from the long dead seas. Caught in the middle of it all are the First Sons of Darkness, Anomander, Andarist, and Silchas Ruin of the Purake Hold...
Steven Erikson entered the pantheon of great fantasy writers with his debut Gardens of the Moon. Now he returns with the first novel in a trilogy that takes place millennia before the events of the Malazan Book of the Fallen and introduces readers to Kurald Galain, the warren of Darkness. It is the epic story of a realm whose fate plays a crucial role in shaping the world of the Malazan Empire.
Forge of Darkness takes us back millennia into the past. The earliest flashback from The Malazan Book of the Fallen takes us back nearly 300,000 years and Forge of Darkness occurs centuries or millennia before that. As the tale begins, dragons are just a legend. It is a time before the Elder Gods, before the Holds, before the Warrens. After a bitter and hard-fought war against a previous incarnation of the Forkrul Assail (or so it seems), there is finally peace in Kurald Galain. The cult of Mother Dark cult is growing in Kharkanas and the Tiste people have grown hedonistic and decadent, and now civil war is looming.
As always, Erikson's worldbuilding is top notch. As Warrens don't exist just yet, Kurald Galain is a land situated in a "real" world. It is unclear if this country and the realms beyond it -- the Thel Akai, the Jaghut, the Jheck, and the Dog-Runners' realms to the west beyond the Bareth Solitude, as well as the Forulkan realm to the south -- existed at one point on Wu or if they exist in another dimension or something similar. It is ambiguous, for there are mentions of the High Kingdom and its High King, and Malazan fans are well aware that before he was cursed by three Elder Gods, Kallor ruled over an empire on the continent of Jacuruku. Then again, it might be a different High King, or it might be that he ruled in another dimension. As far as the Malazan canon is concerned, unless Kallor reached Wu first, the Tiste Invasion took place long before the evolution of humans when the Tiste Andii and the Tiste Edur faced the K'Chain Che'Malle on the continent of Lether. Thus, a lot of questions remain unanswered.
Though Forge of Darkness raises a panoply of new questions and provides very few answers, discovering more and more regarding that distant and mysterious past is utterly fascinating. One thing to remember is that as the tale begins, even though there are factions and dissension among them, the Tiste are a united people. At this point, there is no such thing as the Tiste Andii, the Tiste Edur, or the Tiste Liosan. It's interesting to see and learn things about the previous incarnations of races that populate The Malazan Book of the Fallen. Like the Jaghut, who have put an end to their civilization. Or the Azathanai, the people that were never born. Or the Dog-Runners, the Imass' ancestors.
The characterization is probably the aspect that will disappoint some readers. Sadly, the narrative doesn't feature POVs from Anomander Rake, Silchas Ruin, or Andarist. Forge of Darkness unfolds through the eyes of a great many disparate characters, a lot more than I felt was necessary. But since this is the first volume, only time will tell if such a high number of POV protagonists was required. As was the case with the last few Malazan installments, Erikson's characters go through a lot of introspection. Which at times, it's true, can bog down the narrative.
One would have thought that familiar faces such as the Sons of Darkness, Draconus, and Scara Bandaris would have been the principal POV characters, but the better part of the novel is made up of the POV from new protagonists. Although most of the scenes featuring Draconus are told from his bastard son Arathan's perspective, finding out more about this enigmativ man was great. We are aware that he's at the heart of what's to come, so it's nice to see Draconus feature so prominently in Forge of Darkness. Another factor that readers might find off-putting is that, not only don't we get POVs from Anomander Rake, Silchas Ruin, and Andarist, but the three brothers don't get much "air time" in this book. Still, it is intriguing to follow younger versions of characters such as Osserc, Spinnock Durav, Sandalath Drukorlat, Orfantal, and others.
Although we were told that Steven Erikson's style would be a bit different in this new series, I haven't perceived any difference in style and tone. But it does feel that Erikson writes with a tighter focus. Though epic in scope, it's not as sprawling as The Malazan Book of the Fallen. More structured, also, which at times feels a bit odd, given the style of the 10-book cycle (where everything could happen at any given moment). Having said that, the plot is as convoluted as that of any other Malazan offering.
The pace of the novel is a bit uneven and much different from what we are used to from Erikson. Habitually, the author starts slow, gradually building up the plotlines, and then going all out for a mind-blowing finale. Virtually all the Malazan installments were like that, so fans have come to expect such structure. With Forge of Darkness, it's the complete opposite. The book features a strong beginning, and then an even stronger middle portion. Yet instead of the exciting ending that we have come to love, Erikson came up with a somewhat weaker and anticlimactic ending for Forge of Darkness. I have a feeling that it has a lot to do with the structure of a trilogy. In and of itself, Forge of Darkness is a set-up book. Steven Erikson is laying A LOT of groundwork for the rest of the series. And though it may be a little lackluster, it looks as though Forge of Darkness ends just the way it should, setting the stage for what should be an amazing sequel. Only time will tell if Fall of Light will live up to that potential. As things stand, it appears that Forge of Darkness is a vast introduction that will serve as the opening chapter for what is to come, and as such I'm wondering how well it will stand on its own.
Even with the absence of the sort of convergence that always allowed Erikson to cap all of his novels off with style, there is more than enough secrets, questions, and revelations to satisfy Malazan fans. Forge of Darkness will have you begging for more, which is all we can ask for!
What would be a new Malazan offering without a timeline issue, right!?! And yes, Forge of Darkness features a couple of glaring timeline errors. The first: Sukul Ankhadu was a soletaken Eleint goddess of the Tiste Edur. She was sister to Menandore, and half-sister to Sheltatha Lore. She was the daughter of Tiam and Osserc. At least, that's what we learned in The Malazan Book of the Fallen. Problem is, at the beginning of Forge of Darkness Sukul Ankhadu is already a young woman held as a noble hostage. It is a problem because she appears to be older than Osserc (who could be anywhere between late teenage years and young adulthood). So as things stand, Osserc could not have fathered Sukul Ankhadu. Moreover, at this juncture dragons are just a legend and Tiam remains unknown to the Tiste. The second time issue has to do with Sheltatha Lore. But I can't provide more details without including spoilers, so I'll refrain from doing so.
I brought it up on malazanempire.com and we were told that Steven Erikson is aware of these apparent errors and remains unmoved. Hence, we have to trust the author and see how he will reconcile these errors with the established Malazan canon.
For all of its flaws, Forge of Darkness is a "must read" for all Malazan fans out there!