2.3.12

The Readers End: Malazan Tales of the Fallen

There is no good time to reach the end of a book. If the book was bad you should not have finished it. If the book was good you will wish it had not ended.

If there is no good time to finish a book there are even fewer good times to finish a series. And woe to he who reaches the end of a ten book series which has been years in the reading and re-reading. Indeed, one mourns. I do. 

For some people the quality of the writing ceases to matter somewhere between the 3rd and 5th book of any series. The flawed gamblers logic of "I've already invested so much" takes over and momentum alone carries us through to the end. I have never been such a one and so, in agony, I have left behind me a ragged trail of unfinished series. Yet when a series is good enough to hold my interest the agony I experience, through my own foolishness, has often been no less. I keep starting series before they are completely written and so I face the specter of uncertainty as I await with eagerness and dread the next installment. Thus it was that years ago I formed a policy: I shall begin no series until it has been ended. 

I have held to this policy from that day until this with but one fatal exception. I received a book (dare I call it a snare?) as a gift (and a curse). Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson. With the innocuous subtitle "A Tale of the Malazan Book of the Fallen" I falsely assumed that here was a story found within a common universe, rather than part one of a projected ten part series, and I dove in. Gardens of the Moon was amazing so I looked up the author. At that point, in 2004, four books in the series were published, the fifth was effectively moments away, and so the series was half finished. Now, 8 years later, I have re-read the first 5 books of this series 4 times, the next two 3 times, the 8th book I have read twice, and the last two only once. As I closed the last page of the last book I was at a loss. Post-book mourning multiplied to be nigh unbearable.

Allow me a few words about the series. They are, to put it mildly, not for the faint of heart. Nor are they for everyone. They are gritty fantasy books which are purposefully subversive in ways that anyone not well versed in fantasy literature (of all sorts:the so called 'high' and 'low', good and bad, new and old, and the many shifts which the genre has undergone over the years) may miss. They are adult in that they cut away many fantasy tropes designed to make worlds more acceptable and escapist, as well as for their content; barbarians are both noble and barbaric, war is glorious and gruesome, and people are virtuous and sinful. Though each book tops 1000 pages (in pocket book format) they are written like short stories. What I mean is that they are dense, packed with meaning and connections, and do not do well if read with the speed and attention one might give a normal novel. Starting this series before it was finished has been a blessing in disguise; the numerous rereads allowed me to glean and understand so much more within the series. Still, many readers do not get through, or past, the first book. Rightly so. From the word 'go' the reader is dropped into a world, a story, and a set of characters which are all fully formed and in motion. I, myself, actually received Gardens of the Moon a few years before I read it through. The first time I tried to read it I was young (18) and found the sheer number of characters too daunting to be worth the effort. When I finally did read it, it was because I had ran out of books and didn't feel I should spend money on a new work of fiction when I had a few stragglers lying around my shelves which I had never gotten around to reading. Gardens of the Moon just happened to be the one I picked up.

That said, this series is certainly one of the best works of fantasy I have ever read. The number of characters for which I cared, the new perspectives I was given, the questions I was asked, and the stories which I was told were well worth it. As I finished it, a new kind of agony, filled with eagerness and doubt, set upon me. Will I read its like again?

There are no more appropriate words to end this post than those with which  Steven Erikson ended this series:

"And now the page before us blurs.
An age is done, the book must close. 
We are abandoned to history. 
Raise high one more time the tattered standard
of the fallen. See through the drifting smoke
to the dark stains upon the fabric. 
This is the blood of our lives, this is the
payment of our deeds, all soon to be 
forgotten.
We were never what people could be. 
We were only what we were. 
Remember us." 

3 comments:

Philip A. said...

I have not actually read or even heard of that novel and its' series. Sounds like it is well worth the read. I, like yourself, have my cautions about starting into a series that has not already been completed. However, only a month ago, I got lost in a book, not knowing that it was part of a series and what makes matters worse is that it still ongoing.
I enjoyed your thoughts on the matter. Thanks

Andrew said...

I'm glad you enjoyed it. I might regret this, but which is the series you recently stumbled upon?

Andrew said...

Also, I tried to send you a message through blogger, but it's not working. What I wanted to say was thank you for following my blog and welcome. Always feel free to make requests, suggestions, criticisms, etc. And I hope you find following "Against Nothingness" worth your time :)