Literature: Malazan Book of the Fallen
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
, 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 takes 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.
in which the story takes place is a shared creation of Steven Erikson and Ian Cameron Esslemont, with Malazan Book of the Fallen
considered to be the main sequence. The following books have been written in the setting:
Malazan Book of the Fallen
The Kharkanas Trilogy (prequels focusing on the three Tiste races)
- Forge of Darkness (2012)
- Fall of Light (2015)
- Walk in Shadow (TBA)
Bauchelain and Korbal Broach novellas
- Blood Follows (2002)
- The Healthy Dead (2004)
- The Lees of Laughter's End (2007)
- Crack'd Pot Trail (2010)
- The Wurms of Blearmouth (2012)
Malazan Empire (by setting co-creator Ian Cameron Esslemont)
This series provides examples of the following tropes:
- Absurdly Sharp Blade:
- It seems that all Hust Swords were like this, but most, if not all of them were lost. Yedan Derryg wielding one of them in TCG can decapitate A DRAGON in two hits, and just the fact of owning the sword changes him into an One-Man Army.
- The Whiteblade is made from chaos and will cut through most things like butter. If you do not know how to properly handle it, just touching the blade will cost you fingers or even a hand.
- Abusive Precursors: Pretty much everyone at some point or another. The Forkrul Assail get a special mention for their deliberate slaying of their god.
- Achey Scars: Borne by Toc the Younger, whose eye keeps scratching.
- Action Girl: Apsalar; most of the women, in fact, as the primary focus is on armies and Gender Is No Object.
- All Amazons Want Hercules: Played for laughs with Ublala Pung. All the amazonian women want him for his... physical assets, but poor Ublala just can't deal with being used and not getting any emotional support out of it.
- Aloof Big Brother: Fear Sengar and Tavore Parran as a Gender Flip
- Amnesiac Dissonance: Apsalar is an odd case. She has most of her old memories, but she got some of Cotillion's memories and skills from when he possessed her.
- Ancient Conspiracy: The Nameless Ones, whose goal is to keep Icarium out from destroying civilization while simultaneously using him as a weapon. Much to their chagrin, the conspiracy is wiped out in the prologue of The Bonehunters.
- And I Must Scream: Both Bidthal and Sirryn get afterlives full of suffering, for crippling young girls and backstabbing Trull, respectively.
- Anguished Declaration of Love: Urb professes his love for Sergeant Hellian right before the ultimate end battle in The Crippled God.
- Animal Eye Spy: Bottle, the mage of Fiddler's squad, was taught how to access all of the various Warrens (schools of magic), but his most important skill is his ability to control animals in his vicinity, something he insists is not actually a form of magic. This proves instrumental in keeping his squad alive while they're crossing hostile territory, as he can spread out over a large number of creatures at the same time if all he wants is their sensory input.
- Animorphism: Soletaken and D'ivers are people with shapeshifting abilities. Soletaken can shift into another form — typically a dragon, but some shift into bears or other shapes — while D'ivers split into multiple copies of the same animal, such as a swarm of rats. Each shapeshifter has only one alternative form, and in the case of the D'ivers, the number of copies depends on their power.
- Cotillion at first, until he regains his humanity.
- Felisin Paran, who in the end is just a mind slave of an insane goddess.
- The Crippled God falls in here too, as all he wants is be made whole and go home.
- Ascended Fanfic: The setting began as a homebrewed Dungeons & Dragons campaign, then switched over to GURPS when the system limitations became too strict. According to Word of God, about a fifth of Fallen was gamed beforehand.
- Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: Pretty much the most important aspect of setting - to keep it short, if you do something extraordinare, you can become an Ascendant, which grants some nice magic powers and immortal life... if no one will kill you, as Ascendants often fight beetwen themselves. Ascendants who have worshipers can then become gods, but some characters in books don't want that to happen, and are actively discouraging others from worshiping them - for example, Anomander Rake. Sometimes, one can Ascend involuntarily, as when Ganoes Paran becomes Master of the Deck of Dragons or the Crippled God makes Karsa Orlong Knight of Chains. One can also ascend temporarily, as when Thordy becomes Mason of Death for a day or two in Toll the Hounds.
- 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 Abnormal:
- Ascendants in a nutshell, who are nearly immortal, get more power than before ascending, and can even become gods, if will get worshipers.
- The Avowed of the Crimson Guard were already formidable fighters and mages but the Vow seems to have turned them into something beyond that. In Assail it is revealed that they accidentally recreated the T'lan Imass ritual and became undead as a consequence. They do not posses all the T'lan Imass abilities but are highly resistant to magic.
- 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?' To which Caladan Brood replies. "Yes. You never learn."
- Badass Grandpa: Kallor. Several hundred thousand years old, looks like he's in his eighties, fights as well or better than many of the established Badasses.
- Badass Normal: Notably Kalam. Also, Crokus, Rallick Nom, and probably any (non-Bridgeburner) Malazan soldier.
- Barbarian Tribe: Teblors, who are really Thelomen Tartheno Toblakai.
- Belligerent Sexual Tension: Lostara keeps rejecting Pearl's advances, yet is attracted to him nonetheless. Eventually she gives in and admits to herself her feelings for him near the end of House of Chains.
- Big Bad: The Crippled God, although he is not introduced as such until Memories of Ice. In the final novel his plans are hijacked by the Forkrul Assail, and he becomes the Big Good. In the end, there is no Big Bad, but rather Big Bad Ensemble: an alliance of K'Chain Nah'Ruk, Tiste Liosan and Forkrul Assail, with support of Errant, Kilimandros, Sechul Lath, and propably more minor gods feeding themselves on Kaminsod power.
- Bigger Bad: The Crippled God is a power behind Pannion Seer and Emperor Rhulad, and is trying to hijack Goddess of Tornado in Seven Cities.
- 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.
- Blood Knight: Karsa is the barbarian Up to Eleven, and likes nothing more than a good fight... At least before his characterDevelopment.
- 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(which is known to be full of sharks) to hunt for more liquor. Whether this 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.
- Braids of Barbarism: Many of the Proud Warrior Race Guys (e.g. the Barghast, the Tiste Edur, the Awl) sport variations of Barbarian Longhair, Braids of Barbarism and dreadlocks. Among the Tiste Edur, when a warrior is cast out from their tribe, his head gets shaved completely and treated magically so that the hair will never grow back again.
- Break His Heart to Save Him: Apsalar's status as a super-powered human means that she deliberately distances herself from Cutter so that she can perform what she sees as her duty — carrying out difficult assassinations and the like.
- Break the Cutie: Felisin Paran is forced into a life of slavery and prostitution by her own sister, enduring an epic journey across oceans and desert, being possessed and finally impaled by her own unwitting sister.
- Break the Haughty: the Queen of Lether is introduced as a powerful, gorgeous woman who's political influence is somewhat greater than her much older husband. After helping start a war with the artiste Edur for her own amusement, she and her son are defeated, captured and exposed to chaos magic that literally twists her into a hideous snake thing that is kept alive as a demonstration of the King in Chains power. To top it off, due to her near immobility she grows obese.
- Butt Monkey: 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.
- Central Theme: Per Word of God, the decline and collapse of civilizations is one of the central themes of the books, which at least one character seeks to achieve in order to save the world.
- Character Filibuster: Kruppe and Iskaral Pust are both very long-winded in their speech, and the other characters are usually too flabbergasted to interrupt them when they open their mouths. In some cases, their speeches can go on for several pages.
- 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. Karsa Urlong is introduced as a very minor character in Deadhouse Gates. The most significant is the crucified dragon found in House Of Chains.
- Colony Drop: Moon's Spawn, a levitating piece of rock described as a small mountain, gets dropped on the Pannon Domin army in Memories of Ice.
- Conservation of Ninjutsu: Despite the Claw being played up as elite assassins and mages, Kalam manages to tear through the best of them in both Deadhouse Gates and again in The Bonehunters. However, he ends both occasions badly wounded and is Not Quite Dead at the end of Bonehunters.
- Somewhat justified by him being a Clawmaster and a match for the patron god of assassins, pre-ascension.
- 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.
- Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: As a general rule, if you meet someone who's weak, unassuming, and/or downright wacky, the appropriate response is to run away screaming, and don't look back. Ceda Kuru Quan is a good example. He spends most of Midnight Tides acting out of his mind, but is actually preparing a spell to wipe out an entire invading army — and nearly succeeds.
- 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.
- Death World: It's a wonder there's anybody NOT in the military given how many things can and will try to kill off anything else.
- Deity of Human Origin: Ascendants can become gods if they have worshipers. Itkovian starts as mere human, but after his Heroic Sacrifice becomes A Redeemer, god of, well, redemption and forgiveness. Even Shadowthrone and Cotillon were a humans once.
- Deliberate Values Dissonance: Karsa, whose tribal culture considers rape and pillage as a Rite of Passage.
- 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.
- Ganoes Paran kills Poliel, the goddess of plague, without breaking much of a sweat.
- High King Kallor finds himself cursed by three Elder Gods for his misdeeds. He curses them back — and it sticks.
- In Dust of Dreams, Ublala Pung cold-cocks The Errant.
- 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..
- 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.
- Doorstopper: All the books (aside from Night of Knives and the novellas) are at least 700 pages, and top out at 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).
- Dual Wielding: Knives, swords, cutlasses, flails...
- Earn Your Happy Ending: A lot of people die, most characters go to hell and back, yet in the end an ancient crime is repaired, a threat to the world is dealt with, and those that survived find a new will to live, and, most importantly, hope.
- 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 is an 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 and Travelernote 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: 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.
- Functional Magic: The Warrens
- Gambit Pileup: Every god, Ascendant, and major human leader has some sort of long-range plan
- Gaia's Vengeance: Subverted - it's Poliel, goddess of Disease, who thinks, that Burn would want that done in her name.
- Genius Loci: The Mockra Warren and Azath Houses
- Genocide Backfire: Subverted — the Jaghut survivors aren't interested in revenge against T'lan Imasses, they just want to be left alone.
- The Ghost: Plenty of characters are namechecked but never appear in the main story — the most prominent being Admiral Nok and High Fist Greymane.
- God Emperor: Jaghut Tyrants. Also Shadowthrone/Kellanved, although he was never both at the same time
- 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.
- Her Heart Will Go On: Seren Pedac, after the death of Trull Sengar in Reapers Gale.
- 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.
- I'm a Humanitarian: The Pannion Domin is an empire completely based on this.
- Implacable Man: The Forkul Assail and T'lan Imass are races composed of implacable men. Most Jaghut are as well
- 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.
- King Bob the Nth: King Tehol the Only serves as a parody of the typical naming-system for kings.
- Knight Templar:
- 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 or they will stumble out.
- 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, arrogant and isolationist.
- Lizard Folk: The K'Chain Che'Malle, and their short-tailed creation, the K'Chain Nah'ruk, are very lizard-like in appearance, although their biological structure is closer to that of communal insects, such as ants or bees. 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.
- Loads and Loads of Characters: Reapers Gale has seventy-two named Malazan soldiers, and that's only a part of the Dramatis Personae.
- Mad Scientist: Korbal Broach kills and disembowels people so he can do creepy experiments on them. He even collects bottles of blood.
- Mask Power:
- 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.
- The Masochism Tango: Iskaral Pust and Mogora, Karsa Orlong and Samar Dev.
- 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 aged) and Korlat (millennia) in Memories of Ice, Spinnock Durav (also millennia) and Salind (teenager) in Toll the Hounds, Sandalath Drukorlat (also millennia) and Withal (human middle aged).
- 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.
- Monster Is a Mommy: The emlava in Reaper's Gale
- MS T3k Mantra: Don't try to make sense of the timeline; really, don't.
- Mushroom Samba: The hallucinogenic honey in The Bonehunters
- 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 Namesake: Memories of Ice, The Bonehunters and Toll The Hounds all refer to important events; the first example is also used as a Title Drop and the third as Arc Words.
- Names to Run Away From Really Fast:
- "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 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 may be the real reason why he does it.
- Only Known by Their Nickname: Most professional soldiers, especially the Malazan ones.
- 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 Elves Are Better: Tiste races, especially the Liosan, who are a massive deconstruction of the elves in other fantasy sagas.
- Our Giants Are Bigger: The Thelomen Toblaki and their almost innumerable related species.
- Our Orcs Are Different: The Jaghuts; with the exception of the Tyrantsnote 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.
- 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.
- Revenge Before Reason: Dassem Ultor starts a fight with Rake because he killed Hood, the god of death, first.
- Roaring Rampageof Revenge: Dassem Ultor, also known as Traveller, only goal in life is killing Hood, god of death.
- 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.
- Series Continuity Error: Some of them seem to be intentional or the result of an Unreliable Narrator, but there are still quite a lot:
- 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.
- Orfantal changes genders from female to male between Gardens of the Moon and Memories of Ice.
- Servile Snarker: Bugg, Tehol Beddict's manservant, never really takes his master seriously.
- Shout-Out: The Jaghut are based on the Green Martians from John Carter of Mars.
- Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Just a little bit cynical
- Smug Snake: Triban Gnol, Karos Invictad
- Stop Worshipping Me: Anomander Rake actively denies any cults that spring up around him. Same goes for Fiddler, who absolutely does not want to be worshipped by other sappers; not that those care for his opinion. And it's not like Dessembrae asked to become Lord of Tragedy, either.
- Stupid Neutral: The Forkrul Assail are now functionally extinct, in no small part due to their randomly switching sides during the war between Jaghut and T'lam Imass to ensure balance.
- Teleporters and Transporters: The Warrens are often used this way.
- The Power of Friendship: What allows the T'Lan Imass Tool and Onrack to start feeling emotions again. This also motivates the squad mage Beak's Heroic Sacrifice.
- 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.
- This Is Your Brain on Evil: About half of the Crippled God's followers get screwed over because they allied with him.
- Those Two Bad Guys: Bauchelain and Korbal Broach.
- Those Two Guys: Fiddler and Hedge, Quick Ben and Kalam, Scorch and Leff, Telorast and Curdle, Deadsmell and Throatslitter.
- Title Drop: At the very end of the series, Kaminsod resolves in his thoughts to write down the sacrifices the Malazans made to free him, entitling the work Malazan Book of the Fallen.
- Tykebomb: Apsalar and Rud Elalle.
- 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.
- Viewers Are Geniuses: Constantly switching viewpoints, innumerable characters, deliberate use of Lost in Medias Res, oblique dialogue, philosophical digressions, Purple Prose... The series is quite infamous for being unfriendly to casual readers.
- War Is Hell: Erikson, being an anthropologist and archaeologist, does not shy from showing all the various facets of war.
- With Great Power Comes Great Insanity: Icarium, Sinn, Feather Witch, Hannan Mosag and lots of the followers of the Crippled God.
- Who Wants to Live Forever?: The "naturally immortal species are immune to this" angle is subverted with the Tiste Andii; also, the Emperor of a Thousand Deaths is an example of the Blessed with Suck variety.
- Living Forever Is Awesome: Onrack, a T'lan Imass, doesn't really mind his immortality because "there's always something else to see".
- Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds:
- 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...
- Women's Mysteries: Among the Tiste Edur, the women are the keepers of their race's history, the truth of it, while the men tend to get watered-down versions handed to them to keep things simple. The women are also the ones who learn healing magic among the Edur.
- You Shall Not Pass:
- At the climax of The Bonehunters, Trull Sengar fights Icarium to a standstill to protect the child army of House Shadow.
- In Reaper's Gale, Trull beats Silchas Ruin and Clip in order to protect the Finnest. Neither make it past him.
- In Toll The Hounds, Spinnock Durav holds Kallor at bay for an entire night.