“Kallor shrugged. ‘[…] I have walked this land when the T’lan Imass were but children. I have commanded armies a hundred thousand strong. I have spread the fire of my wrath across entire continents, and sat alone upon tall thrones. Do you grasp the meaning of this?’
‘Yes,’ [said Caladan Brood.] ‘You never learn.”
“Memories of Ice”, Book Three in Steven Erikson’s “Malazan Tales of the Fallen” epic saga, sees old familiar faces return, a slew of new ones introduced, horrific but thrilling battle-field action, magic, humour, and the heartbreaking loss a favourite character.
With the action of the book occurring conjointly with what happened in Book Two of the series, “Deadhouse Gates”, Erikson takes us back to the war-torn continent of Genabackis, a few months following the events in Book One, “Gardens of the Moon”.
The multifaceted plot pivots around four main threads, which I have tried to outline below.
First, an unlikely alliance has formed between the supposedly renegade Malazan 2nd Army, the forces of Warlord Caladan Brood and the Lord of Moon’s Spawn, the enigmatic Tiste Andii leader Anomander Rake.
What has prompted these once enemies to unite? A common foe. A new, terrifying, and formidable power has arisen in the south, known as the Pannion Empire, led by a Jaghut prophet known as the Pannion Seer. Amongst the Pannion hordes are one hundred thousand Tenescowri peasants. Starved through famine and whipped into a frenzy of bloodlust by the Seer, the Tenescowri rabble practice both cannibalism and necrophilia. This rabid, ruinous group are bent on wreaking havoc on the continent.
The first major strike of the war against the Pannion will fall in the costal city of Capustan. Still, the 2nd Army, led by High Fist Dujek, second-in-command former Sargent Whiskeyjack, Captain Ganoes Paran and the elite Bridgeburner company, don’t plan to fail in their mission to save Capustan, no matter the personal cost.
For we learn that the Pannion conflict is just a small part of a larger war, involving a chained and Crippled God, who is part of the reason magical warrens are poisoned, and the entire world is in grave danger. Another key figure here is the wounded Burn, another elder goddess, who has the Crippled God bound to her wound, infecting it, and endangering all.
While all this is transpiring, Paran seems to be on the verge of ascendancy, and becoming the Master of the Deck, a new, unaffiliated wildcard in the Deck of Dragons. Silverfox, the child containing the reborn souls of former Malazan mages Tattersail and Nightchill, is mustering through her powers a summoning of undead T’lan Imass race, to aid in the war against the Pannions.
But Caladan Brood’s second-in-command, the bitter, self-proclaimed High King Kallor, wants Silverfox killed before she becomes too powerful and a threat to everyone. This causes major conflict which will have devastating consequences.
Second, the situation in Capustan looks utterly hopeless. The occupants leadership includes Prince Jelarkan, the Mask Council (a collaboration of clergy who don the faces of ascendants and gods), with Karnadas the Destriant, Brukhalian the Mortal Sword, and Itkovian the Shield Anvil as the chief military commanders responsible from keeping the ravaging multitude of the Pannions at bay.
Heroism and sacrifice will be required to save the city, and these leaders will bear the not only the horrible decisions that must be made, but also personally face the terror that is the Pannion empire.
Third, Toc the Younger, who vanished in Book One, emerges from a warren, and meets Onos T’oolan, sorceress Lady Envy one of the daughters of the Elder god Draconus, the three formidable who protect her, known as Seguleh, Envy’s dog named Garath, an Ay (dire wolf) called Baaljagg. Their journey together will lead Toc into the heart of darkness and despair, as Toc will confront the evil of the Pannion Seer himself.
Finally, Daru caravan guard commander Gruntle, and his comrades Harllo and Stonny provide bodyguard services for the mysterious trader Keruli to Capustan. Enroute to the besieged city, the group encounter the sorcerers Bauchelain and Korbal Broach. This pair are also journeying to Capustan. Buke believes Bauchelain and Bach have been murdering citizens in Darujhistan, and believes that the pair are bound for the same mission in Capustan. Buke plans to assassinate the two sorcerers.
Another addition to the group arrives in the form of three Barghast warriors, Hetan, Cafal, and Netok. The Barghast, from the White Face clan, are on a demon hunt, and warn Gruntle’s party about demons prowling the land. It is soon learned that the demons in question are undead creatures called K’Chain Che’Malle not seen in millennia, and presumed extinct.
I found Erikson’s characterization to be superb in this book. Part of my love of “Memories of Ice” is that we are reunited with the core of the cast from “Gardens of the Moon” and the Darujhistan plot, including Bridgeburners such as Whiskeyjack, Quick Ben, and their former foes like Crone, Rake, Brood, plus the council members like Coll, Murillio, Estraysian D’Arle, and the incomparable, cherubic Kruppe.
We are also treated to a plethora of new characters, yet for me it was a comforting feeling to get to be reacquainted with the old ones, who did not appear in “Deadhouse Gates”, more than the nostalgia of reuniting with my favs that makes me praise what the author did in this third book. Erikson has added layers of dimension and complexity to the Bridgeburners in particular in this novel, especially Whiskeyjack, who finds an odd yet firm friendship with Rake and love with Rake’s second-in-command, Korlat.
We get very close to our heroes in this story. We learn more of the origins of the Bridgeburners, for example. We are treated to some very tender and funny moments of camaraderie, dark humour, and immense heroism. Paran was still the standout for me, as the noble-born captain struggles with the responsibilities of leadership, possible ascension, and the weight of grief, loss, and uncertainty in all he does, while still displaying incredible strength, bravery and compassion.
The colossal scope of Erikson’s fertile worldbuilding and magical elements continues to be displayed, as in “Memories of Ice” we see for the first time the devastating K’Chain Che’Malle, which are highly intelligent, raptor-like, with deadly blades like claws as part of their anatomy, and the nomadic Rhivi tribe who inhabit Genabackis’ plains.
These already added to the vast array of human and non-human species and gods, such as the warrior-like Barghast, the highly disciplined Moranth, the undead T’lan Imass, the elder races of the Jaghut and the Tiste Andii, and of course the Malazan Imperialists. Combined with the various gods, ascendants, and the intricate and sometimes confusing Deck of Dragons and all its implications for steering the course of the universe, I am still marginally bewildered at times by the sheer density of worldbuilding at times, still, after now my third book in the series, but I seem to be adapting better to Erickson’s style.
Like other incredible authors such as Janny Wurts, you simply can’t turn off your brain and not pay attention to the ALL words in front of you, if you truly want to appreciate the beauty of the overall work. I especially found the insights into the long-standing (centuries) feud between the Jaghut and the T’lan Imass.
The battle scenes in “Memories of Ice” were blistering, stunning in terms of visual imagery, colossal in terms of spectacle, brutal, and devastating in terms of the aftermath. Erickson’s prose continues to shine, and there were some particularly beautiful passages that really resonated with me in this book.
Erickson continues to weave an uncompromisingly detailed and brilliant military fantasy series, with superlative storytelling, where he demands the reader push themselves to the brink of capacity in terms of absorbing the world he has created, and then pushes them some more.
This was the pivotal book for me in the series, where after reading it I was to decide if the writing was too overwhelming to press forward, or worth the effort irrespective of the density. I have definitely decided to press on, and am very much looking forward to House of Chains. I consider myself now officially a fan of “Malazan Tales of the Fallen”, and writer Steven Erikson.