Anomander Rake, from the Gardens of the Moon collectors edition.
“Now these ashes gave grown cold, we open the old book. These oil-stained pages recount the tales of the Fallen, a frayed empire, words without warmth. The hearth has ebbed, its gleam and life's sparks are but memories against dimming eyes - what cast my mind, what hue my thoughts as I open the Book of the Fallen and breathe deep the scent of history? Listen, then, to these words carried on that breath. These tales are the tales of us all, again yet again. We are history relived and that is all, without end that is all.”
Malazan Book of the Fallen is an epic fantasy series by Canadian author Steven Erikson. The series is famous for its Doorstopper tendencies, for having Loads and Loads of Charactersnote the Dramatis Personae usually contains several hundred characters, and even then does not include numerous incidental ones, its deliberate use of Lost in Medias Res and for introducing an anthropological and geological perspective to the Fantasy genre. The series' main influence is Black Company by Glen Cook.The Malazan Empire is yet in its infancy, and it has already seen its first betrayal. Surly, Master of the Claw, has assassinated Emperor Kellanved and his closest companion, Dancer. She ascends the throne as Laseen, continuing the Empire’s policy of ruthless expansionism, though she is continually mistrusted.On remote Genabackis, Imperial armies struggle to bring the continent to heel, as they face enemies both ancient and internal. The Bridgeburners are decimated, the Old Guard assassinated, and Laseen wants more. On the other end of the Empire, the Seven Cities subcontinent is gathering for a religiously mandated uprising known as the Whirlwind, and undermanned Imperial garrisons prepare for the inevitable bloodbath to come. Throughout it all, rumours of peoples thought extinct or myth returning with armies and allied with a broken god seeking vengeance can be heard.The universe in which the story takes place is a shared creation of Steven Erikson and Ian Cameron Esslemont; Malazan Book of the Fallen is the main sequence in the setting. The following books have been written in the setting:
Army of the Dead: When the Bridgeburners ascend, they rise as undead but are unfettered to Hood's realm—the Warren of Death and the local afterlife. In Toll The Hounds, everyone who ever died is marched out of the Warren of Death, although most of them are too long dead to feel anything but apathy.
Artifact of Doom: Rhulad Sengar's sword, which is a gift of the Crippled God. The person bound to the sword will be tortured and forcibly resurrected each time they die.
Badass: Most obvious examples are Anomander Rake, Karsa Orlong and Silchas Ruin. Many Bridgeburners also qualify.
Badass Boast: Kallor has one of the best boasts in the history of boasts:'I 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?'
Black and Gray Morality: Generally, both sides will be at fault in any particular conflict in the series, albeit the audience is encouraged to take the side of the one with the least destructive goals. Rarely, a straight-up villain will be thrown into the mix, such as the Pannion Domin in Memories of Ice.
Born Lucky: Oponn, the Twin Jesters of Chance, are two gods whose portfolio has to do with luck. The female Oponn, the Lady, will sometimes give mortals what is referred to as the Lady's Pull, making them lucky. These include:
Corabb Bhilan Thenu'alas. He has nearly every form of cancer on the planet, yet will never sicken. Multiple Arrows fired into his back all strike the same spear shaft hanging on his back, and such. On the other hand, everything he tries results in a lucky fumble—he will drop his weapon if he swings it, but it will probably trip up his foe. This is exploited at one point when his squad needs to take down an officer but can't get close enough for a clear shot: Corabb is made to fire the crossbow, which predictably causes the shot to go wildly off-mark, but the ricochet causes it to impale the target's neck perfectly.
Sergeant Hellian, the constantly drunk watchwoman-turned-soldier, is quite formidable a Drunken Master without any help, but at the climax of The Bonehunters, she receives the Lady's Pull when she drunkenly decides to swim through the harbor of Malaz City to hunt for more liquor. Whether she is a permanent investment or not is left unclear.
Crokus Younghand unwittingly receives the Lady's Pull in Gardens of the Moon, which saves his life multiple times. The Twins mostly use him as an unwitting Spanner in the Works for the local plans. The luck seemingly wears off at the end of the book, when the Twins decide his role is played out.
Break the Cutie: Felisin Paran. Forced into a life of slavery and prostitution by her own sisternote Though Tavore planned to grab her and spirit her off long before she actually got sold off. An ill-timed slave revolt trashed that plan, enduring an epic journey across oceans and desert, being possessed and finally impaled by her own sister
Bus Crash: Empress Laseen. She's alive and well when last we see her in Reaper's Gale. Come The Crippled God, she's dead and apparently has been for a while.
Chekhov's Armory: For a series this long, there obviously have to be a few of these. Most come to naught, but then there are obvious ones like Dragnipur in Gardens of the Moon, and Stormy and Gesler being casually named Shield Anvil and Mortal Sword in The Bonehunters.
Chekhov's Gunman: This series is in love with this trope. First mentions about Icarium and Gothos are in the first novel, but they appear in story in the second. The most significant is the crucified dragon found in House Of Chains.
Cool Sword: Dragnipur, which swallows the souls of those slain by it. Mention also goes out to Karsa's bloodwood swords, made of wood and harder than stone, and Karsa's stone sword, an eight foot length of flint containing the souls of his best friends.
Cool Old Guy: Ceda Kuru Qan, who damn near killed the whole Tiste Edur species on his own.
Ceda Kuru Quan is a good example. Everyone thinks, that he lost his mind - he was just preparing himself to create powerful spell. This spell was designed to wipe out entire army of Tiste Edur, and he nearly succeeded.
Dance Battler: Some Shadow Dancers. You don't want to mess with them
Death Is Cheap: Very, though at least there's a healthy dose of Came Back Wrong going around to balance things out. Whilst there are a few permanent demises here and there, death is usually not to be feared in this series because of immediate, guaranteed Cessation of Existence, but because it's anyone's guess what's going to emerge from your grave once someone or something inevitably resurrects you.
List of characters who have come back from the dead in some fashion at least once as of book 4: Crust, Hawl, Tattersail, Bellurdan, Nightchill, Hairlock, Ganoes Paran, Baudin, Duiker, Coltaine, Toc the Younger, Truth, Trake, Bairoth Gild, Delum Thord, Apsalar's father, two Hounds of Shadow, the T'lan Imass as a race, the K'chain Che'Malle as a race, and all of the Bridgeburners. That's not counting Fiddler, Kalam, Corabb, and others who narrowly escape death on a regular basis.
Depraved Bisexual: Turudal Brizad, who even slept with his own son, Tribal Gnol, who is also example of this trope.
Deus ex Machina: This is the primary purpose of the Houses of Azath. In addition, the Trygalle Trading Guild in Deadhouse Gates, the army of Bridgeburner ghosts in House of Chains. Justified in that all three of these are discussed at length in the book they're used, and others. There were rules for all three. And there were consequences for them all as well.
Diabolus Ex Machina: It would a separate page to list them all (and two to list them all AND put them in context)
Disproportionate Retribution: A long time ago, an Imass cheated on his wife. Her reaction? She became a mad goddess of war dedicated to wiping out the human species she saw as descended from his tryst..
Doorstopper: All the books are over 700 pages, some up to 1200.
Drop the Hammer: Caladan Brood wields a great hammer so badass that it has the power to awaken the sleeping earth goddess Burn (whose body is apparently the earth itself).
Elemental Powers: More than the traditional four. Also, the Lost Elementals that are mentioned by Cotillion in House of Chains
The Empire: Averted with the Malazan Empire in that many of the protagonists work for it and in that maybe it isn't as evil as it seems at first glance. Its fairly egalitarian and its subjects enjoy generally competent administration and have religious and economic freedom. Often forcibly. The Lether Empire on the other hand is a straight example, with its extreme class divisions and fixation on wealth and conquest for its own sake.
Enfant Terrible: Kettle — undead girl and serial killer feeding a dying Azath tower.
Empowered Badass Normal: Ascendants, for the most part. Badass normals one moment, immortal demi-gods the next. Exactly what an Ascendant is is never explained, nor does anyone seem to quite know, but being badass and being very difficult to kill seems to be at the core of the concept.
Et Tu, Brute?: Rhulad finally snaps when Udinaas, the closest thing he had to a friend, leaves him. Not that Udinaas had a choice in the matter...)
Eunuchs Are Evil: Korbal Broach. He actually became a necromancer because as an eunuch he couldn't create life anymore.
Everybody Knew Already: Sgt. Stringsnote Fiddler, one of the few (known) surviving Bridgeburners and Travelernote Daseem Ultor, First Hero of the Malazan Empire don't seem to be fooling anyone who's even heard of them, pre-name change
Evil Albino: Silchas Ruin, described as "the most cruel of the three sons of Mother Dark".
Fantastic Racism: Both subverted and played straight. Humans are racist towards other humans just like in real life, but the Tiste races hate each other. The T'Lann Imass make themselves undead so they can kill off the Jaghut.
Fate Worse Than Death: Getting killed by Dragnipur equals spending eternity chained to the gates of the Warren of Darkness.
Floating Continent: Moon's Spawn. And the island of Drift Avalii floats literally in the ocean.
Gondor Calls for Aid: The siege of Capustan in Memories of Ice, although the besieged are strangers to the heroes
Grey and Gray Morality: Very few villains in the series are downright evil. Even the most heinous of antagonists do what they do without a thought-out reason. Conversely, the protagonists are not free from blame, either, for the most part. In a few books, the major conflict lacks a side with any kind of moral high ground.
Guttural Growler: Count how many times "growled" or "grunted" is used as a dialogue tag.
Hard-Drinking Party Girl: Sergeant Helian is an oddly competent bottle fairy, managing to lead the most successful part of an invasion force across Lether, performing better drunk than the other sober commanders.
Hegemonic Empire: The titular Malazan Empire may have been assembled mostly by military conquest, but the constituent nations are by and large satisfied with being part of it, as the alternative is reverting to constant bickering with neighbours.
Hellhounds: The Hounds of Shadow, and later, the Deragoth (Hounds of Darkness) and Hounds of Light. They are roughly horse-sized, terrifyingly quick and strong, and very difficult to kill. It is later learned that they are D'ivers — a shapeshifter capable of splitting into multiple animal forms. Whether the Hounds are capable of shifting back, or even want to, is never addressed.
Hellish Horse: Karsa's horse, Havok, which is a carnivorous half-breed created by the Jaghut.
Heterosexual Life-Partners: Icarium and Mappo; Fiddler and Hedge; Quick Ben and Kalam; Gesler and Stormy; Tehol and Bugg... It seems to be a reccuring trope in this series.
Hidden Depths: Bugg. Not only a Servile Snarker, but also The Elder God Mael in disguise, hanging out with Tehol because "he hadn't so much fun for centuries".
How Do I Shot Web?: After becoming the Master of the Deck of Dragons, Ganoes Paran spends quite a while not knowing what his abilities (or responsibilities) actually are, let alone how to use them. By The Crippled God he has become a full-blown Space Master capable of opening portals between or within dimensions and can go to or summon to himself anyone represented by the Deck. Since he is also commanding a Badass Army this is terrifyingly effective in terms of logistics and maneuvers.
Karmic Death: Most of the antagonists that don't die in direct battle get one of these.
Kill 'em All: 75% of the Loads and Loads of Characters will not be breathing by the end of their third book. A good third won't make it to the end of their debut book. It's called Book of the Fallen for a reason.
The Tiste Liosan, near-mythical cousins of the Tiste Andii whose aspect is Light. As a rule, they keep to themselves, but every so often someone will stumble into their realms.
The T'lan Imass, the Neanderthals of the setting, who almost to a man underwent a magical ritual 320,000 years ago to ensure the Jaghut were made completely extinct. As a result, they rendered their own species functionally extinct.
Kudzu Plot: Each book typically shifts between dozens—if not hundreds—of distinct, and often unimportant, viewpoints. Plot lines are set up on seemingly every page, and only a few are followed through. Per Word of God, this is very much deliberate, as the series was conceived as a high-brow work to begin with.
Lighter and Softer: Not thematically, but Erikson has announced that the Kharkanas Trilogy will have a slightly more traditional and less complex structure.
Light Is Not Good: The Tiste Liosan, a species of Tiste (elves) whose aspect is Light, but who over the many millennia since the split of the Tiste have become more and more extreme and isolationistic.
Lizard Folk: The K'Chain Che'Malle, and their short-tailed creation, the K'Chain Nah'ruk. Both are extremely ancient—the history of the K'Chain Che'Malle can be traced at least six million years back—but are now functionally extinct, and are considered little more than myth.
Redmask, a man wearing a mask seemingly made from the hide of a creature with red scales. He is a hero of the Awl.
The Seguleh are a society who consider martial prowess to be the foremost of religious virtues. Their ruling caste, the warriors, all wear masks with different numbers of stripes indicating their current position, with fewer stripes being desirable.
Master Swordsman: Aside from the Seguleh, to whom martial prowess is a religious virtue, plenty abound. Brys Beddict, Anomander Rake, High King Kallor and Karsa Orlong are just a few of the more visible ones.
Mauve Shirt: Most Malazan soldiers who are even tangentially involved in the story get at least some characterization; it is possible that the Bridgeburners' burgundy uniforms are a Lampshade Hanging on the whole Red Shirt thing
Mayfly-December Romance: Whiskeyjack (human middle age) and Korlat (millennia) in Memories of Ice, Spinnock Durav (also millennia) and Salind (teenager) in Toll the Hounds
Messianic Archetype: Anomander Rake in Toll the Hounds. Don't forget Coltaine in Deadhouse Gates, the guy ends up being crucified on a hill top then is reborn, not to mention the devotion and worship that surrounds him both before and after his 'death' the author actually seems to go out of his way to add parallels between him and good old JC
Mind Rape: Cotillion's possession of Sorry, Sha'ik's possession of Felisin.
Mind Screw: The series' vague explanations and complex style of plotting tend to cause this for many readers.
Medieval Stasis: Not a pure example. While the world is truly ancient, different civilizations, some of which not even human, have risen and fallen many times. Also, the K'Chain Che'Malle and Nah'Ruk reached higher technological levels. Lether also has magical reasons for being kept in a permanently primitive status.
Mytharc: Although there are three rough story arcs spread between the three books — commonly called the Genabackis, Seven Cities and Letheras (or Tiste Edur) arcs, after their respective primary geographical settings — they all interweave and connect to the arc of the Crippled God.
"The Emperor Of A Thousand Deaths" refers to an emperor who, no matter how often he is killed, always returns to life again, allowing him to wear down even the most skilled foe.
Icarium Lifestealer is a seemingly immortal half-breed whose memory is reset each time he suffers a bad enough injury. Although seemingly harmless, as he is an extremely meek person, riling him up will cause him to enter a nearly unstoppable rage which will cause him to destroy everything around him, and makes him even nearly impervious to attack.
"The Son Of Darkness" is the appellation given to Anomander Rake, the leader of the Tiste Andii. Their native Warren (magical realm which they can access and have a special affinity for) is Kurald Galain, the Realm of Darkness, and his title is closely tied to their vanished matriarch slash goddess, Mother Dark. The title marks him as one of the rulers of the realm, and he is one of the most dangerous beings of the Malazan universe — although as a ruler, he is quite benign.
Obfuscating Stupidity: Tehol Beddict and Bugg; possibly also Iskaral Pust, although he might just be genuinely mad. Then there's Kruppe, who uses all the standard Obfuscating Stupidity techniques, but never seems to actually fool anyone; the other characters all know he's smart, and his acting like an idiot all the time usually ticks them off . . . which is probably the real reason why he does it.
Our Demons Are Different: "Demon" is a blanket term for beings from other worlds. This goes both ways; Word of God has it that each side in a summoning considers the other to be monstrous, and neither cares to actually investigate how true this is.
Our Dragons Are Different: Dragons, known as Eleint, are very magical in nature, and don't really care about other species as a rule. Mostly they keep to their Warren, the extremely hostile Starvald Demelain. There are numerous Soletaken with a dragon form, however.
Our Orcs Are Different: The Jaghuts; with the exception of the Tyrantsnote powerful warlocks who, despite the specie's natural disinterest for social interaction, have tried their hands at empire-building they are actually peaceful in nature.
Our Zombies Are Different: The T'lan Imass. Shurq Elalle is another example—she is cursed, and even after death by drowning her soul is still connected with body. The setting does have normal zombies, however—necromancers use them as beasts of labour or as scarecrows for civilians, and other mages and magical beings can raise them if sufficiently motivated.
Overshadowed by Awesome: Crokus is an absolutely lethal assassin and knife fighter, whose skills surpass people who were Badass in the first book. He just keeps ending up in fights with immortals, demigods and monsters.
He finally gets to take on opponents in his weight class in Toll The Hounds, and shines.
Pet the Dog: Rhulad is a half insane emperor wielding cursed sword, but he really wants to be a good ruler, has sort of friendship with Udinaas, and gives his brother Fear Mayen back.
Pieces of God: The Warrens are literally the body and blood of the Elder God K'rul.
Purple Prose: While most of the text is just right in terms of wordiness, Erikson has a fondness for letting characters reflect at length on philosophy, using a more complex and out-of-place vocabulary. These segments take up quite a bit of room, and are largely responsible for the length of the individual books.
Put on a Bus: Silverfox disappears without a trace at the end of Memories of Ice. In a series with this many characters, it is inevitable that some of the characters will have an open ending, but Silverfox especially stands out.
Random Events Plot: Viewpoints shift constantly and often show events which have little to do with each other; piecing together the narrative is part of the charm of the series. Nevertheless, many scenes are seemingly unimportant to the overall story, and seem to serve little purpose. Word of God has it that the idea is to show just a slice of the events going on in the world; if something seems unrelated to the rest of the story, it's probably there to remind the reader that the world doesn't revolve around the main narrative.
Rotating Arcs: The series rotates between the Genabackis arc, which depicts the current Malazan attempt at expansion, the Seven Cities arc, which depicts a rebellion against the Malazan Empire, and the Lether arc, which depicts what is happening in the Big Bad's home turf.
Sealed Evil in a Can: Or buried in a barrow. Or chained to a monolith. Or captured by a House of the Azath. Grave robbing and amateur archeology are dangerous indeed in this world. Played straight, but also subverted at least once, in that the big, unstoppable evil gods rose... to be dispatched within minutes by the new Badasses who have arisen to replace them
Tattersail's account of the Siege of Pale in Gardens of the Moon differs quite substantially from the one Tayschrenn gives in Memories of Ice. In particular, Tayschrenn states that Nightchill killed A'Karonys, but in Tattersail's account, Nightchill died first. For storyline purposes, Tayschrenn's account is the correct one.
In Gardens of the Moon, Tool states that the battle in the Jhag Odhan was the end of the Twenty-Eighth Jaghut War, but in the prologue of Memories of Ice, which takes place thousands of years before Gardens, the T'lan Imass declare the end of the Thirty-Third Jaghut War.
The Chew Toy: Toc the Younger. He loses an eye, is sucked into a magic black hole, is thrown out a half year later, killed, resurrected in a new body, loses the same eye at least twice more, is betrayed, dies again, is made to serve Hood, god of Death, and forced to make his best friend his enemy.
The Messiah: Systematized in the setting. The circumstances are vague, but a god or even a species can have a mortal known as a Shield Anvil whose purpose is to draw psychic pain into himself on battlefields, thus allowing the spirits of the dead to rest. Depending on the scale, this may in fact be harmful to the Shield Anvil. The Shield Anvil also acts as a moral guide, and typically ensures that compassion is not forgotten by those around him.
Third-Person Person: Kruppe is a man whose greatness is only surpassed by Kruppe's humility—a greatness, Kruppe hastens to add lest his good friends misjudge him most grievously, which refers more to his girth than the many skills Kruppe has shown his unmatched talent at—and as such refers to himself in the third person lest Kruppe's presence smother his attentive and handsome audience.
The Undead: Although necromancy exists in the setting, it is not necessarily frowned upon, although typical undead are fairly rare.
The T'lan Imass, a now-extinct species who nearly one and all enacted a ritual 320,000 years earlier to keep themselves alive in order to ensure that the Jaghut were truly hunted to extinction. The appear as dried, desiccated corpses, and can travel across long distances by turning into dust. They can not reappear or even maintain themselves in large volumes of water, however, and as such individuals sometimes commit what is effectively suicide by jumping into a lake or sea.
Everyone in Hood's realm—meaning most people who ever died—appears as a half-rotten corpse. Generally, this is a moot point, as they can not leave by themselves, but occasionally Hood will want to attend to matters in the living world, or a mage will want to pass through the realm, and it becomes clear that the dead have actual, physical bodies.
Unstoppable Rage: Icarium, whose rage, if it is not contained in some way, can potentially destroy the world.
Rhulad Sengar. It's hard to not to sympathise with him, after his mind starts to slowly break apart because of his deaths... and deaths of his loved ones. Also Udinaas, his only friend, betrays him — or so he thinks...
The Dog Bites Back: The war between the Imass and the Jaghut is a species-wide example. The Imass rebelled against the Jaghut Tyrant warlocks, and drove the Jaghut to near extinction. To ensure they were thorough, almost the entire species enacted a ritual to turn them into undead, and the T'lan Imass have spent the last 320,000 years hunting the Jaghut.