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Literature / Malazan Book of the Fallen

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Anomander Rake, from the Gardens of the Moon collectors edition.

"Now these ashes have 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."

The 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 Characters (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 The Black Company by Glen Cook.

The Malazan Empire is yet in its infancy, but it has already seen its first betrayal. Surly, Master of the Claw, has assassinated Emperor Kellanved and his closest companion, Dancer, and taken the throne under the name Laseen, continuing the Empire's policy of ruthless expansionism, though she is continually mistrusted. Almost immediately, the new gods of the Shadow Realm, Shadowthrone and Cotillion, launch a plot against her, but stumble into a web of far grander plans among their fellow Ascendants. So begin the Tales of the Malazan Book of the Fallen, a grand tragedy told from the perspectives of dozens if not hundreds of characters across three arcs, each beginning on a distinct continent.


On Genabackis, the decade-long Malazan campaign of conquest is slowly coming to a bloody end, but Laseen's paranoia of plots against her leads her to orchestrate the decimation of the Bridgeburners, the most famous military unit in the Empire, sending the armies to the brink of revolt. On the other end of the Empire, the Seven Cities subcontinent is gathering for a religiously mandated uprising known as the Whirlwind, and as the war unfolds, it becomes clear that the inexperienced noblewoman Laseen has inexplicably chosen to put down the rebellion is much more than she seemed at first sight, with unknown motivations and an unknown agenda she will stop at nothing to realize. Meanwhile, far away, on the continent of Lether, the six tribes of the Tiste Edur have united after millenia of internal warfare to protect themselves against the Kingdom of Lether, driven to inappeasable expansion by its radical capitalist economic system.


As events progress, these conflicts start interweaving, and throughout it all, rumours of peoples thought extinct or myth returning can be heard, as a broken god driven mad by millenia of torture launches his plan to break free from his chains and deliver vengeance.

The universe in which the story takes place is a shared creation of Steven Erikson and Ian Cameron Esslemont, with the Malazan Book of the Fallen considered to be the main sequence. The following books have been written in the setting:

    The Malazan Book of the Fallen 

    The Kharkanas Trilogy 

    The Witness Trilogy 

    Tales of Bauchelain & 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)
  • The Fiends of Nightmaria (2016)

    Novels of the Malazan Empire (by Ian Cameron Esslemont) 

    Path to Ascendancy (by Ian Cameron Esslemont) 
  • Dancer's Lament (2016)
  • Deadhouse Landing (2017)
  • Kellanved's Reach (2019)

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 The Crippled God, can decapitate a dragon in two hits, and just the fact of owning the sword changes him into a 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: There are four major races of precursors in the series, all of whom fit this to a greater or lesser degree:
    • The K'chain Che'malle, the oldest race, were lizardmen who ruled the planet with an iron fist; when Che'malle survivors show up in the last couple of books, though, they turn out to be more coldly alien than evil and end up allying with the protagonists, recognizing that humans are now the dominant race on the planet.
    • The Jaghut were mostly a race of solitary, pacifist scholars and mages, but every so often one of them would go mad and become a Jaghut Tyrant, effectively a God-Emperor to the younger races they enslaved. Suverted when more about the Jaghut is revealed. They seem like abusive precursors at first, but aside from the aforementioned occasional Tyrant they just didn't care because civilization is for wimps. And they should know, they used to have a thriving one until one of them aptly named Lord of Hate convinced them to collectively sit down and stop being social.
    • The Forkrul Assail are the most clear-cut example; a race of Knight Templars obsessed with purity, they killed their own god when it didn't live up to their standards, and come back in the last couple of books to give humanity the same treatment.
    • The T'lan Imass are an undead Neanderthal-type race who are dedicated to destroying the Jaghut to prevent any more Tyrants from arising. They don't have much to do with modern humans (except for the Logros T'lan Imass, who got recruited by Kellanved as shock troops), but historically they have been known to wipe out whole nations if they see a need.
  • Action Girl: Most of the women, in fact, as the primary focus is on armies and Gender Is No Object.
  • Adventure Duo: The series gives us Kalam, a practically-minded, matter-of-fact professional assassin, and his best friend Quick Ben, a wizard who enjoys playing with voodoo dolls, scamming gods and eldritch abominations alike and is considered completely mad and a danger to everyone involved by friends and foes alike.
  • Aerith and Bob: The characters in the series are mostly Only Known by Their Nickname, or have standard random letters mash-up fantasy name. And then the spin-off book Return of the Crimson Guard by Ian Cameron Esselmont introduced a character named Kyle, who, combining this unfortunate name and his characterization as a young tracker with a magical sword, instantly became The Scrappy to a section of the fandom.
  • Affably Evil: The necromancer Bauchelain, who can calmly explain to the woman he's just raped why he should not have raped his manservant instead.
  • Age of Reptiles: The K'Chain Che'Malle were a reptilian race that arose, flourished, ruled the world and collapsed long before the time of all other sapient species.
  • All Amazons Want Hercules:
    • Played for Laughs with the hulking 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.
    • Desra believes that eventually those with weak wills will be subjugated to those with stronger wills. That is why the only person she can imagine submitting to as a lover is Nimander, whose will has never faltered.
  • All Trolls Are Different: The Thel Akai (meaning "the People"), also called Children of the Earth, used to be stone giants who worshipped the Enchantress, also known as the Queen of Dreams. They are almost entirely gone by the time of the main series, and are the progenitors of the Tartheno Thelomen Toblakai, the Teblor and the Trell.
  • Aloof Big Brother: Fear Sengar and Tavore Parran as a Gender Flip.
  • Amazing Technicolor Population: The series has people of all colors that exist on earth, plus blue, which is mentioned very off-handedly and thus is very puzzling at first.
  • 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 Bidithal and Sirryn get afterlives full of suffering, for raping and mutilating young girls and for backstabbing Trull, respectively. The Crippled God has also been subject to excruciating torture for hundreds of thousands of years, which is a large part of why he is the way he is.
  • 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.
  • Anti-Magic: The substance known as Otataral, found only in one place in the Malazan Empire, has the effect of not only negating magic cast into its radius, but actually draining the power out of any mages standing within its area of effect. The mages do recover their powers after a period of time outside its influence. The Adjunct of the Empress is issued with an otataral sword as a symbol of her office. It's implied that Karsa Orlong's resistance to magic is due to the "blood oil" his people anoint themselves with before a battle. Otataral is what gives the stuff its red color.
  • Artifact of Doom: Rhulad Sengar's cursed sword (which he only grabbed to keep an enemy force from stealing it) grants him superhuman strength and combat ability to match the greatest swordsman. And it even allows him to resurrect, as long as the sword remains in his hand, leaving him even stronger — hence harder to kill — than before. Unfortunately, the resurrection doesn't actually heal the wound that killed him (at least not immediately, or gently) and hurts, leaving him even less sane every time he's killed. And we've also seen, in the time between his death and resurrection, the Crippled God (the sword's creator and the series Big Bad) takeing the opportunity to pound on his soul before sending him back. Did we also mention the sword is cursed so that he can't let go of it, even if he wanted to?
  • Artificial Limbs: The series features occasional appearances by the K'Chain Che'Malle. Considered the native demons of the Malazan world, they were sapient dinosaur analogues. The warrior caste had both lower arms surgically replaced with massive blades.
  • 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 extraordinary, you can become an Ascendant, which grants some nice magic powers and immortal life... if no one will kill you, as Ascendants often fight between 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.
  • Asskicking Equals Authority: The Seguleh have their social hierarchy based entirely on martial skill. They were founded by an army of the First Empire after the Empire was destroyed. It is later revealed that they have a parallel civilian hierarchy that exercises authority on all internal matters that don't pertain to the army. While the top ranks of the army act as the rulers of the nation, there seem to be other paths of advancement available to those not skilled with the sword.
  • Author Vocabulary Calendar: Steven Erikson seems to have his seasonal favourite words from book to book, though 'potsherds', 'detritus', 'must needs', 'efficacy', 'desiccated', 'burgeoning' and 'pate' (nobody has a scalp, only pates) span the entire length of his main series. 'Egregious' pops up quite a lot in Toll the Hounds, and other words of the season include 'equity', 'mien', 'sunder/asunder', 'lass', 'misshapen', 'febrile', 'billowing', 'gelid', 'crepuscular', 'singular', 'despond' and 'hoary'. And characters have the tendency to growl, drawl and scamper about instead of talking and walking.
  • Awakening the Sleeping Giant: Caladan Brood's warhammer, aptly named Burn's Hammer, is an implement she gave him, so he can awaken her, if he so wishes. Luckily, he is aware what him wielding the hammer will do and he treats his responsibility accordingly. Since Burn is the world itself, awakening this particular giant is generally a bad idea.
  • Badass Abnormal:
    • Ascendants in a nutshell, who are nearly immortal, get more power than before ascending, and can even become gods, if will they'll 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 of the T'lan Imass abilities but are highly resistant to magic.
  • Badass Army:
    • When the story begins, the Bridgeburners are the most famous army of the Malazan Empire, but because of their infamous difficulties with authority and Laseen being afraid of them, they get sent off for increasingly dangerous missions, just to get them killed. In Memories of Ice only a few Bridgeburners are left alive, and even less at the end of the series.
    • We see the birth of another Badass Army in House of Chains: The Bonehunters, who are the real heroes of the story, and under the leadership of Adjunct Tavore they survive the Raraku, Y'Ghatan, the betrayal at Malaz Island, the invasion of Lether, the ambush of the K'Chain Nah'ruk, crossing the Glass Desert and, finally, protecting Kaminsod from the Forkrul Assail army. Again, only the most badass soldiers get to see the aftermath of the campaign.
  • 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 Creed:
    • The Bridgeburners keep it simple:
      First in, last out.
    • The Bridgeburners' creed is then parodied by the Bonehunters, who self-deprecatingly repurpose it for themselves as:
      Last in, looking around.
  • 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. Karsa and Samar also develop this kind of relationship, which is finally consummated in The Crippled God.
  • Beware the Silly Ones: Curdle and Telorast, two ghosts possessing the skeletons of tiny dinosaurs, are presented as wacky comic relief for the first two books they appear in. Then Dust of Dreams hits and reveals them to be ancient dragons who almost succeeded in conquering the Throne of Shadow.
  • Big Bad: Subverted. The Crippled God is made out to be the series' Big Bad for most of its duration, although he is not introduced as such until Memories of Ice. In the final novel his plans are hijacked by the Big Bad Duumvirate of Forkrul Assail, Tiste Liosan and K'Chain Nah'ruk, and it turns out that the endgoal of the series is to see the Crippled God set free and returned to his homerealm.
  • Big Bad Duumvirate: An alliance between the Forkrul Assail and the Tiste Liosan, rooted in their common conviction of being the arbiters of justice, and joined by the K'Chain Nah'ruk.
  • Big Bad Ensemble: The Crippled God is built up to be the Big Bad, only to get his plans hijacked by the Big Bad Duumvirate of Forkrul Assail, K'Chain Nah'ruk and Tiste Liosan as well a gang of Elder Gods led by Errastas, each party planning The End of the World as We Know It in their own way.
  • Big, Screwed-Up Family: The Parans, a noble family of middling rank in Unta with business in horses and wine, led at the start of the series by a patriarch and his wife, neither of whom appear on-page but both of whom are implied to be cold and distant from their children, who haven't grown up to be the most balanced of people. Eldest is Ganoes, a boy idealizing soldiers and war who, once thrust into the military, becomes brooding and develops something of a hero complex; Tavore is ruthless, cold and ambitious, and closes herself off from everyone but her lover; and their younger sister Felisin is a stereotypical self-obsessed teenager, privileged, arrogant, quick to wound, without a sense of empathy. By the end of the fourth book, Felisin has been deported by Tavore to a gulag, escaped and made herself the leader of the Seven Cities Rebellion in order to exact revenge, and finally been killed by an unwitting Tavore.
  • Black-and-Gray Morality: Generally, both sides will be at fault in any particular conflict in the series, although 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. Although even the leader of this ends up having a Freudian Excuse and being Brainwashed and Crazy.
  • Blessed with Suck:
    • Ganoes Paran, several times (first for being fought over by the gods, for presumably obvious reasons; secondly for having himself and later his sword made a tool of Oponn, both of which get him followed by a lot of sinister forces; thirdly for becoming Master of the Deck of Dragons, although he eventually gets over seeing the last of these this way).
    • Toc the Younger also has this happen repeatedly (at the bare minimum, getting the urge to scratch his empty eye socket whenever in the presence of magic, being inhabited by Togg, and being made Mortal Sword when he really has no desire to fight anymore).
    • Korabas, the Otataral Dragon, is made of pure anti-magic. Which is a serious problem for her, because it means that wherever she flies, she brings destruction, since all other life is magic. She never asked to be made what she is, and in fact actually wants to create something. However, due to what she is, that option isn't available to her. Worse still, it means she needs to be chained for the good of everything else on the planet. She would like to be free, but for their own sake, the rest of the planet can't give her that option. It's not even a case of malice on either Korabas' part or the part of anyone keeping her chained, and there doesn't appear to be a solution that would make everyone happy.
  • Blood Magic: Blood magic is the eldest form of magic. It goes back way before the Warren system was established by Elder God K'rul, the Maker of Paths — which, ironically, was done using blood magic, and the Paths of Magic called the Warrens are technically his veins and the magic they provide is technically his blood. Additionally, K'rul himself and the other Elder Gods need prayer badly in order to continue existing, and that prayer needs to be provided in the form of blood sacrifice.
  • Born Lucky: There are Oponn, the Twin Jesters of Chance. The female Oponn, the Lady, will sometimes give mortals what is referred to as the Lady's Pull, making them lucky, with occurrences like "avoiding an assassin's crossbow bolt by picking up a coin" or "killing an enemy by tripping and falling into them with your sword". It's suggested that this eventually turns around on the poor mortal, which is known as the Lord's Push.
  • Boy Meets Girl: Crokus Younghand and Apsalar. They first meet in the Gadrobi Hills outside Darujhistan and are somewhat taken with each other in an awkward teenage fashion. After crossing continents to find Apsalar's father and return her to her home village, she decides she doesn't want to drag Crokus down into the life she is leading as a Professional Killer and pulls a Break His Heart to Save Him. A Maybe Ever After is implied when he nonetheless comes to find her at the end of The Crippled God.
  • 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 tries to keep Cutter from following her further down the road of becoming a murderer for hire and possibly getting himself killed in the process by breaking his heart. She just up and leaves, prompting him to go on a journey seeking for her that proves to be much more dangerous.
  • 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 Tiste 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.
  • Breath Weapon: The Eleint breathe chaotic magic.
  • Broken Bird: Felisin Paran has been thoroughly broken by her ordeal as a slave in the Otataral mines, which ultimately turns out to have been caused by her own sister. She is subsequently possessed by the Whirlwind Goddess and it ultimately leads to her death, again at the hands of her own sister. Ironically, her sister only did the first to prevent Felisin from being killed in the Malazan Empire's purge of noble families and intended her to be rescued much sooner than she was, and did not realise she was fighting her sister at all in the second case. Felisin is a bit of a Jerkass Woobie, but after what she's been through it's completely understandable. She's far from the only example in the series.
  • Burning the Ships: The Bridgeburners' name invokes this. They are an elite company, the Emperor's favourite one, of which every member has "burned the bridge" to his or hers past. Even their company emblem consists of a silver brooch with ruby flames.
  • Calvinball: Fiddler and the Bridgeburners will occasionally play a game akin to poker with the tarot-like Deck of Dragons, except they — but especially Fiddled who has a prophetic gift — make up the rules as they go along. Because they are playing with a deck of cards used to represent their world's pantheon, the games end up being more than a little prophetic — as well as disconcerting to onlookers, as the Deck is actually dangerous to use, and playing with it is paramount to blaspheming against the pantheon.
  • Canis Major:
    • The T'lan Ay are huge prehistoric wolves. And Undead to boot, as they've been extinct for about 320,000 years, when the T'lan Imass decided to include them in the Ritual of Tellann, which made the Imass undead.
    • The Hounds of Shadow and eventually the Hounds of Light also count. They're said to be the size of ponies, and the former can travel between realms using shadow magic as they are basically the pets of the King of High House Shadow. They are also thousands, if not hundreds of thousands years old.
    • The Deragoth, or Hounds of Darkness, are supposed to be even bigger and to reseble bears in size. They may be even older than the Hounds of Shadow, old enough, in fact, to once have domesticated early humans as their pets.
    • There is also Ryllandaras, a man/jackal shapeshifting beast that towers over everyone around it.
  • Capital Letters Are Magic: Used quite a lot, especially with magic. There are the Warrens (though mostly at the beginning of the series), Paths of Magic, High Mages, Great Ravens, all things Elder or Ancient, and so on.
  • Casting a Shadow: The series has a whole mythology built around the relationship between Dark and Light, with Shadow being their unwanted child and a separate element. It comes complete with it's own Realm (Kurald Emulahn), people (the Tiste Edur, or Children of Shadow), deity (Father Shadow), and Warrens (Paths of Magic) accessible to humans: Meanas, the Path of Shadow and Illusion, and Rashan, the Path of Darkness. While Meanas is descended from Kurald Emurlahn, the Elder Warren of Shadow, and Rashan from Kurald Galain, the Elder Warren of Darkness, the human Cult of Rashan is also known as the Cult of Shadow and teaches something called the "Shadow Dance", an all but forgotten magical assassination technique.
  • Central Theme: Compassion. Erikson has described the series as a "three and a half million word plea for compassion". It is referenced throughout, is the main dividing line between otherwise morally grey characters, and integral to the plot in several places, most notably Tavore's compassion for the suffering of the Crippled God, one of the major driving forces of the books. The series also explores its opposite, which ultimately is not so much cruelty as indifference, exemplified from acts as small as L'oric's lack of understanding of Scillara not wanting to keep her baby to as large as Leoman of the Flails burning down Y'Ghatan with both his own and the Malazan army inside, but perhaps best represented by the dehumanizing (or de-Tarthenalizing) economic system of Lether.
  • 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. While those two are more prominent examples, the series as a whole is rather notorious for having many of its many gruff soldiers suddenly philosophize for a page or two, and, unlike the above examples, fits less naturally with their characters.
  • Character Narrator: The Crippled God is the In-Universe narrator of the work, and the unorthodox style of the series is a direct result of the reasons he penned the series for. He's not quirky enough to qualify as a Lemony Narrator, but is nonetheless a pretty unconventional narrator.
  • 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 Gun: The dagger gifted by Bugg/Mael to Tavore Paran in Dust of Dreams.
  • 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 Orlong is introduced as a very minor character in Deadhouse Gates. The most significant is the crucified dragon found in House of Chains.
  • The Chessmaster: Shadowthrone, whose actions are responsible for a fairly large portion of the plot, stands out as a particularly noteworthy example, although there are several others.
  • Characterization Marches On: Cotillion appears to be practically a monster while possessing Sorry, but becomes much more sympathetic after Gardens of the Moon.
  • Child Soldiers: There's Cotillion and Shadowthrone's army of orphans. In a show of Black Humour, the children are rescued from their crosses after crucifixion, physically healed and "given" to the two, which is not appreciated due to the two gods' preference for acting from the sidelines. Most of them eventually die when they are put to the task of defending the Throne of Shadow from intruders. The only one of them shown in detail in the series is Panek, who has bonded with demon Apt and had, in a show of even more Black Humour, his eye sockets molded into one by Shadowthrone during the healing process to more resemble said demon.
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Backstabbing is part and parcel of being an Eleint or a Soletaken Eleint. The reason given is that draconic blood is chaotic by its nature and cannot abide its own proximity. As Silchas Ruin explains it, to the Eleint "any notion of community is anathema" and they see any world as a feeding ground which exists to sate their innate megalomania. To drink draconic blood and become a Soletaken Eleint means gaining a taste for betrayal and a lust for power for their own sakes and only a handful of people are said to have ever overcome this urge, most of whom were several generations removed from their draconic ancestors.
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: So, so, so many characters get this in the series proper via a No Ending, Long Bus Trip, or Put on a Bus to Hell, although sometimes they appear in the side stories.
  • Clap Your Hands If You Believe: Some gods are formed from the belief of their adherents and die if they are forgotten. Others are independently existing beings whose divine powers are powered by worship.
  • Cliffhanger: Generally averted before Dust of Dreams, as most books resolve their major plot threads while leaving some elements of the Myth Arc unresolved. This was done on purpose, because Erikson dislikes having to wait to find out what happens next. Dust of Dreams, however, plays it straight since, as Erikson points out in his author's note to that book, it would have been impossible to publish all the events of the Grand Finale in the same volume without inventing a new form of book binding.
  • Cloud Cuckoo Lander: Ceda Kuru Quan, who jumpes from thread to thread during every discussion. Tehol also has shades of this.
  • 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.
  • Colour-Coded for Your Convenience: The three Tiste peoples are easily distinguishable by their skin and hair colours. The Tiste Andii are midnight-black skinned and either black or white haired (with the occasional reddish-brown haired individual). The Tiste Liosan are porcelain-white skinned and have hair in shades of blond, gold and silver. And the Tiste Edur are grey skinned, with hair in shades of brown.
  • Conservation of Ninjutsu: Any time Kalam Mekhar goes up against other assassins, they seem to fall victim to this trope. Despite the Claw being played up as elite assassins and mages, Kalam manages to tear through several dozens of the best of them in both Deadhouse Gates and again in The Bonehunters. However, he ends both occasions badly wounded. This is justified by him being a former Clawmaster and a match for the Patron God of Assassins, pre-ascension, in skill.
  • Constructed World: One of the most expansive examples, as it was initially constructed during role-playing sessions. Since both creators are anthropologists and archaeologists, there is quite a lot of verisimilitude to the setting. It has hundreds of thousands of years of history, a multitude of cultures and spans an entire planet with seven continents which, according to Word of God, is bigger than Earth. Of course, there are also the various non-human races with their ancestor and descendant races and several who are not native to that world as well.
  • Cool Mask: 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.
  • 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.
  • Cosmic Deadline: All of the books with the exception of Gardens of the Moon become veritable blood baths near the end as the story comes full circle and doomed characters are killed off.
  • Covers Always Lie: Steve Stone's covers for The Tales of Bauchelain and Korbal Broach unfailingly leave off Bauchelain's forked beard and instead of Korbal Broach being a towering monster of a man, he's a short, squat fellow that looks like Uncle Fester.
  • Crapsack World: Seemingly everyone is at war with one another; the land is crawling with horrors that can kill people without breaking a sweat; rape, slavery, attempted genocide, and similar forms of brutality are rampant; the gods themselves are frequently jerkasses and often think of mortals as nothing more than pawns; the planet itself is being poisoned.
  • 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.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: This is pretty much how the island nation of Malaz ended up becoming an empire. Its ruler recruited very powerful mages, highly skilled assassins, traded for large quantities of powerful explosives and gained the allegiance of an army of unstoppable undead. With these resources he trained an elite army and proceeded to curbstomp all the neighbouring nations.
  • Dance Battler: There exists a cult that worships the Gods of Shadow. As part of their worship, the adherents learn something known as "the Shadow Dance". Lostara Yil, a former member of the Cult of Shadow, thinks that the Shadow Dance is merely just some ritual until she discovers that it's very effective at killing dozens of people without much problem.
  • Dark Fantasy: The series takes typical War Is Hell conventions and applies them to fictional wars in a fantasy setting. Some of the atrocities the characters bear witness to (or go through themselves) are genuinely shocking.
  • 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.
  • Decapitation Strike: This was a favorite tactic of Emperor Kellanved. When conquering small kingdoms he would send in his Talons, a cadre of magic wielding assassins, into the enemy capital. In a single night they would kill the ruling family, any prominent generals and any magic users who could be a threat to the Malazan army. The Malazans would then use the ensuing chaos to quickly take the city without a major battle or lengthy siege.
  • Deity of Human Origin: Due to the amount of gods and demigods and other powerful beings involved in the plot, there's a whole bunch of deities that used to be human or some other mortal race.
    • Ascendants, simply put, are people who have done something extraordinary and have exceeded the normal limits of the possible for their race and/or situation. Provided that enough people have witnessed the deed or heard of it, Ascendants can accumulate worshippers and become gods, making them deities of mortal origin.
    • Shield-Anvil Itkovian starts as merely human, but after his Heroic Sacrifice he becomes "the Redeemer", the god of, well, redemption and forgiveness. Toll the Hounds is partly the story of his struggles with the expectations of his followers and the question of whether forgiveness should be given without conditions or needs to be earned.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Karsa Orlong is deliberately written as a Deconstruction of the "barbarian fantasy". This entails a great amount of esoteric morals that almost one and all clash with "current" Western culture. Killing those weaker than you is seen as a good thing by the Teblor, Karsa's people, and rape is used as a social reward and Rite of Passage. This is particularly prevalent in the first quarter of House of Chains, which depicts Karsa's origins.
  • Deus ex Machina: This is the primary purpose of the Houses of the Azath, especially when one first appears in Gardens of the Moon out of nowhere and basically freezes the novel's conflict in its tracks. In addition, the Trygalle Trade Guild in Deadhouse Gates and the army of Bridgeburner ghosts in House of Chains. Justified in that all three of these are discussed at length in either the book they're used in or retroactively in the later ones. There are rules for all three. And there are consequences for them all as well.
  • Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: Really more of a rule than an exception in this series. A lot of gods go down like absolute chumps once some Badass Normal or another manages to get within arm's reach of their physical forms. What keeps most of them alive is that they hide in their personal Warrens and act as The Powers That Be. In Deadhouse Gates, God of War Fener is exiled from his realm for complicated metaphysical reasons and spends several books fleeing for his life, because the mortal realm is filled with people who's got both the means and the motive to kill him.
  • Disc-One Final Boss: The Pannion Seer is a distant character in the first two books, but his existence and the threat of his rapidly expanding empire provides the impetus for parts of the first and second books, and then he takes center stage as the main villain in the third, Memories of Ice. Then at the end of the book he's defeated and turns out to have been a pawn all along for the real Big Bad, the Crippled God, something even the Seer himself was unaware of. Of course, even the Crippled God himself has elements of this trope too, as the Abusive Precursors called the Forkrul Assail edge him out as the main threat in the last two books.
  • 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..
  • Don't Wake the Sleeper: In the series' universe, the whole world is a sleeping goddess, Burn, who dreams reality into being and whom it would be a really bad idea to wake.
  • Doorstopper: All the books (aside from Night of Knives and the novellas) are at least 700 pages, and top out at 1200. Erikson lampshades this in an author's note in the ninth book when he sarcastically notes that he is "not known for writing door-stopper tomes".
  • Dramatis Personae: The Malazan Book of the Fallen and its related side stories by both authors each open with a Dramatis Personae (explicitly labelled as such). In the later books of the series, these can stretch over many pages.
  • Dream Land: The sleeping goddess Burn is said to dream reality, so, technically speaking, all of reality in the world where the books take place is this.
  • 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).
  • Drunken Master: Sergeant Hellian of the Bonehunters is one of the most capable squad leaders of the Malazan army, despite being falling-down drunk during every living moment, leading the Malazan invasion of Lether one tavern at a time. As it turns out, if given time to go proper Cold Turkey, she becomes frighteningly competent.
  • Dual Wielding: Knives, swords, cutlasses, flails...
  • Early Installment Weirdness: The series shows marked differences between the first book, Gardens of the Moon, and the rest of the series. Examples include Tool's hundred-mile-diameter magic-deadening Tellann aura and the interaction of munitions with active magic, among many others. To Malazan fans, this is known as a GotMism. Justified because the first book was written around a decade before any of the other ones.
  • 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: Empires in general being a theme of the series, a number of them appear or are discussed:
    • Many of the implications of this trope are 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. It's 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. Lether gets worse when it officially becomes an empire when the Tiste Edur take over (previously it was "just" a kingdom) but it's still clear that a lot of the worst excesses were part of Letherii culture all along.
    • The Pannion Domin is a comparatively small but exceptionally belligerent and expansionist theocratic empire in central Genabackis. It was considered enough of a threat for Dujek Onearm's Malazan army and Caladan Brood's anti-Malazan alliance to pull an Enemy Mine to stop it. That's because in addition to aforementioned expansionism the Domin practices rampant cannibalism, is led by a Jaghut Tyrant, and is being secretly backed by the Crippled God, though the last is true of Lether too.
    • The nation of Shal-Morzinn, southwest of Seven Cities, is also described as an empire, though it is never visited on-page. It's apparently ruled by a trio of immortal sorcerers called the Three, is extremely isolationist, and when Emperor Kellanved of the Malazans visited during his reign, whatever he saw was enough to convince him to just not bother with invading there, a policy the Malazans still continue.
    • In terms of historical empires, there's the original First Empire (the civilization of the Imass before they became undead), the second First Empire (the first powerful human nation, founded by Emperor Dessimbelackis in what would become Seven Cities) and the Kallorian Empire (founded slightly after the human First Empire in Jacuruku, led by, of course, High King Kallor). Both of the early human empires fell to supernatural cataclysms long ago (Kallor's by his own hand) but their histories play a key role in the backstory.
  • 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.
  • Eunuchs Are Evil: Played straight with the necromancer Korbal Broach, whose castration has made him obsessed with procreation by creating creatures out of stolen souls and dead flesh.
  • Evil Overlord: The city-state of Darujhistan was once ruled by a succession of powerful Sorcerous Overlords called the Tyrant Kings, who made it the capital of a continent-spanning empire. The present Darujhistan threw out the last Tyrant long ago, and is now the closest thing the setting has to a republic. Orb, Scepter, Throne reveals that the Tyrant Kings were actually one Tyrant King who hopped from body to body, and in that novel he comes back for another try.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: The prequel novel Night Of Knives takes place within 24 hours, which is unusual for a series known for taking huge and epic Up to Eleven.
  • Fantastic Racism: This is a frequent theme in the series. Seven Cities and the Malazan Empire; Letherii and Tiste Edur; Letherii and Awl; Bargast and Moranth; Tiste Andii, Tiste Edur and Tiste Liosan all hate each other; Imass and Jaghut, Jaghut and K'Chain Che'Malle, K'Chain Che'Malle and K'Chain Nah'Rhuk, the Tiste races and K'Chain Che'Malle. Basically, everyone hates pretty much everyone else.
  • Fantasy Gun Control:
    • The series does not have guns, but it does have dynamite-like munitions whose outer shells are made of clay. These are quite nasty: In Reaper's Gale, a few Malazan soldiers armed with munitions manage to fight off and seriously injure Silchas Ruin, a badass Ascendant in his dragon form. They do that by using custom crossbows the bolts of which have the munitions attached instead of arrowheads.
    • These munitions are still tightly controlled since only the Moranth warrior clans are able to manufacture them on a large scale and are picky on who they trade them to. When a Malazan army recruits an alchemist to make their own versions, the final products are very effective but are essentially biological and chemical weapons rather than pure explosives.
    • The Moranth also keep the most powerful versions for their own use. While the standard munitions are extremely lethal, when an army's sappers get their hands on some stolen advanced munitions, they end up blowing an opposing army to smithereens in the opening action of a battle with a single salvo. It's no wonder that the Moranth keep such tight control over these weapons.
  • Fantasy Pantheon: The series takes the idea and runs with it. There are gods and goddesses everywhere and for everything and whatever gets worshipped in a given place depends on the people living there. While the biggest suspects have temples in the most major cities, even individual desert tribes can have their own, real and kicking, deities. There are various kinds of deities in the malazanverse:
    • The Elder Gods are rumored to be elemental forces that used to be worshipped in times gone by. Their areas of competence are kept nebulous with some exceptions like Mael (Elder God of the Seas) or Mother Dark (Elder Goddess of Darkness, duh) and their worship is said to have involved various amounts of blood sacrifice.
    • Gods in the more traditional fantasy genre sense that are worshipped at the time most of the series takes place in vary from general deities like Burn (the Sleeping Goddess of the Earth), Oponn (the Twin Gods of Chance), several (yes, several) gods of war to patrons of specific occupations like Cotillion (Patron God of Assassins). Gods, in the malazanverse, are bound to the limits that worship sets upon them.
    • Ascendants are beings that have in some way transcended the natural boundaries of their race and make for excellent god material. Many of the younger Gods used to be Ascendants.
  • Fantasy World Map: The serieshas several maps, one for most of the world's continents, although it's not always clear how the different continents relate to each other as there is no official world map. A fan (and troper) created a map showing the continents in several different configurations and Steven Erikson eventually confirmed one as mostly accurate; it can be found on various fan sites.
  • Fate Worse than Death: Getting killed by Dragnipur equals spending eternity chained to the gates of the Warren of Darkness. In Gardens of the Moon, some men who have betrayed Anomander Rake are given the choice between committing suicide and being slain by Dragnipur. They all chose suicide.
  • Floating Continent: Moon's Spawn. And the island of Drift Avalii floats literally in the ocean.
  • Foolish Sibling, Responsible Sibling: Sergeant Sinter and Kisswhere. Kisswhere is all innocent beauty and wild seduction and lives on Favors for the Sexy and Screw the Rules, I'm Beautiful!. She joined the army on a whim because she'd made too many enemies among the women of her tribe and figured she could just desert or sleep her way up should she get bored. Sinter on the other hand is the reliable and practical one with a case of Honor Before Reason as far as Kisswhere is concerned. She followed Kisswhere to the army so she could make sure her sister would not get herself into trouble. Her entire life consists of cleaning up after Kisswhere and she admits to chafing under that yoke.
  • Full-Name Basis: This happens with many characters who are not Only Known by Their Nickname, even between close friends. For example, even after spending a lot of time together Onrack still calls his friend Trull Sengar by his full name. Anomander Rake is also almost always called by his full name.
  • Functional Magic: The series has several different kinds of magic:
    • Mages work their magic by tapping various Paths of Magic called "Warrens", which for better or worse can be seen as parallel realms that mimic the planet's geography in their own way. Some races have access to their own Elder Warrens, which tend to be associated with certain elements (like Tellann being associated with Fire and Kurald Galain with Darkness) and from which the Warrens accessible to humans are derived (Telas, the Path of Fire from Tellann; Rashan, the Path of Darkness from Kurald Galain, and so on). Necromancy and demon summoning, which is considered a form of necromancy, use Hood's Path (the Path of Death) and Aral Gamelon (the realm most inhabited by demons) respectively. Healers use Denul, the Path of Healing. With the exception of Tattersail in Gardens of the Moon, mages do not generally need any spells but can do anything they can logic into working with their chosen element. Mages tend to have an inborn gift for working magic and can either fumble themselves to mastering it or be taught and usually can only truly master one Warren, two being considered very impressive. Those people whose talent is too weak to learn proper magic tend to develop exceptional talents in another area or an instintual sense of divination.
    • High-ranked priests and other adherents of gods with high standing can gain access to their deity's own pocket Warren, though that largely seems to be limited to Healing Hands or whatever element and thus Warren that deity is associated with — adherents of the God of Shadow use Meanas, the Path of Shadow and Illusion. Magic worked with the help of Elder Gods usually involves blood sacrifice.
    • Alchemy exists and is a form of magic, though more sciency than other forms. It's never explained in detail what Alchemist Baruk does exactly to work his magic, but since he's called High Alchemist, he must be good at it.
    • Shamans, witches and warlocks who call on spirits and use intuitive, primitive magic also exist. These forms are rarely practised anymore outside of certain tribes but are a remnant of what the Warrens used to be before the Elder God K'rul formed them into the Warrens to make the access to magic easier and more egalitarian rather than the exclusive domain of Gods and Bonecasters.
  • Gaia's Vengeance: Subverted - it's Poliel, goddess of Disease, who thinks that Burn would want that done in her name.
  • Gender Is No Object: Most of the cultures are largely equal-opportunity when it comes to daily life and war, especially the dominant Malazan Empire which considers itself egalitarian in all aspects. Two noted exceptions are the Tiste Edur tribes where the women rule the house and the men are warriors, and the mercenary/holy order known as the Grey Swords, who are noted as unusual for not allowing women into their ranks. That also changes when they switch patron deities from the Boar of Summer to the Wolves of Winter and take in female recruits to supplement their torn ranks.
  • The Ghost: Plenty of characters are namechecked but never appear in the main story — the most prominent being Admiral Nok and High Fist Greymane.
  • Ghost Ship: In the Novels of the Malazan Empire-book Assail, news of a massive gold find causes thousands of fortune seekers to sail for the mysterious continent of Assail. Many try to reach the gold fields by sailing through the Dread Sea, not realizing that the sea was produced when the glaciers of a magical ice age retreated north and it is still infused with enough magic to drive most people insane. Crew members feel a compulsion to jump overboard, and soon you have a lifeless ship drifting in the middle of a fog covered sea. Later arrivals discover these ghost ships and the ensuing dread and paranoia only drive them insane faster. By the end of the novel the sea has hundreds of ghost ships floating in it.
  • Giant Flyer:
    • The dragons of the series are immense. Most natural dragons have already died out by the time of the main story, but Eleint Soletaken still have the ability to transform into the massive beasts. It is noted that the Soletaken often rely on sorcery to remain airborne, especially if their wings are damaged.
    • The assassins, know as the Shi'Gal, of the K'Chain Che'Malle are giant even for the race of sentient would-be T-Rexes whose normal size puts their hips at a man's eye level. The Shi'Gal are double that height again and Shi'Gal Gu'Rull grows wings in order to better be able to accomplish his mission in the last two books of the series. He has no problem to lift a carriage, including the horses, into the air and throw it around.
  • Gods Need Prayer Badly: Gods gain strength, retain their power and influence and become even more powerful thanks to the prayers of their followers. A god who is not prayed to becomes gradually forgotten and eventually dies. Yet at the same time, accepting worship binds them to their followers, sometimes even distorting their nature and directing their actions against their own will.
  • Godzilla Threshold:
    • The Imass came to a racial consensus that after the latest in a long string of Jaghut Tyrants, the Threshold had been crossed. They transformed themselves into nigh-immortal undead and proceeded to hunt down every Jaghut they could, killing or binding them.
    • High King Kallor was so hated by a cabal of wizards that they chose to summon forth and bind a god to be used as a Fantastic Nuke against him. It destroyed an entire continent, created the Crippled God, and Kallor survived.
    • In the course of the books, there can be so many gods drawn to a nexus of power that drawing in more hostile gods becomes a viable plan because they might start countering each other. This is known in-universe as a convergence.
  • Goldfish Poop Gang: Bauchelain and Korbal Broach are quirky, eccentric villains. They don't generally present the heroes with much direct antagonism but are responsible for the deaths of plenty of unnamed characters.
  • Gondor Calls for Aid: The siege of Capustan in Memories of Ice, although the besieged are strangers to the heroes.
  • Good Is Not Nice: The series has many good-guy characters who are very disillusioned and grumpy. In fact, most of them are either this or wangsty, or both.
  • Greater-Scope Villain:
    • The Crippled God is the power behind the Pannion Seer as well as Emperor Rhulad Sengar, who are both the Big Bads of their respective books, and is trying to hijack the Apocalypse Rebellion in Seven Cities.
    • The Forkrul Assail on Kolanse. While the Crippled God presents the immediate threat and acts on his own accord, the Forkrul Assail are a step higher up by having captured his physical heart and sapping power from him, thus using him indirectly for their own means.
  • Great Offscreen War: Being a ten-volume doorstopper series with a millenia-spanning backstory, this series has a couple:
    • The so called Jaghut War on Death is said to have happened millenia ago. The only source of information on that is an undead dragon in the eighth book, who claims that it happened and brought the Jaghut — usually a solitary bunch prone to becoming hermits — together in entire armies, as well as allies from almost every race in existence at that time. High King Kallor, who's old enough to have seen the Jaghut in their prime, has never heard of that war and refuses to believe the dragon. The trope is, however, later averted in the prequel, The Kharkanas Trilogy, where it happens onscreen, but is still in play for the main series.
    • The civil war that sundered the Tiste home realm of Kurald Galain is often references but barely ever shown, and what little information there is tends to contradict itself. All that's certain is that it destroyed Kurald Galain and caused the three Tiste peoples to evacuate into other realms, and was caused by Mother Dark turning away from her children. Again, this one is averted in the prequel trilogy, but remains in play in the main series.
    • The extermination war in which the T'lan Imass decided they'd had enough of being ruled over by the Jaghut Tyrants and vowed to hunt the latter into extinction is also often referenced and important for the setting's backstory, but only bits and pieces of information are given to the reader. This one happened at least three hundred thousand years before the main story.
    • Another extermination war with even less information available is that of the Forkrul Assail against the followers of the god best known as the Errant. It reduced the Errant's power drastically and himself from the local top god to skulking the shadows. And that's pretty much all that is known about it. Other than that he is still smarting tens of thousands of years later.
    • The Forkrul Assail — they love their war mongering — invasion of the sub-continent of Kolanse is very sparsely explained, but being important to the series' backstory, it is referenced quite often once introduced. They showed up in their ships, took over, caused a famine and have been lording over Kolanse ever since. How exactly they managed to gain control over several kingdoms can only be inferred thanks to their particular style of magic.
    • The various conquests of the Malazan Empire are mostly only referenced, chiefly among them the conquest of the continents of Korelri and Genabackis (only the tail-end of which is shown) and the sub-continent of Seven Cities. The latter plays the bigger role in the backstory of the series as it provides the set-up for the Whirlwind Rebellion that happens in the second volume.
  • Grey-and-Gray Morality: Very few villains are downright evil. Even the most heinous of antagonists do what they do with 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, such as in the Malazans vs. Darujhistan conflict and the Letherii vs. Tiste Edur conflict.
  • Guttural Growler: Count how many times "growled" or "grunted" is used as a dialogue tag.
  • Hard-Drinking Party Girl: Sergeant Hellian is more or less continuously drunk but manages to be a bizarrely competent soldier and squad leader. She is clumsy and can't keep her two corporals apart, but leads her part of the Malazan invasion of the Empire of Lether from tavern to tavern, leaving behind severed heads and empty wine cellars. In fact, her squad is the most successful in co-opting all the local help needed.
  • Hegemonic Empire: The titular empire was formed mostly by way of military conquest, but its constituent states have all mostly realized that remaining in the Empire means not constantly feuding with neighbors. In Assail, a character lampshades the fact that from the perspective of the common people, the Malazan Empire is no more corrupt than the old regimes and it offers the poor opportunities they never had before. The empire is mostly a meritocracy and thus a peasant from a backwater community like him can rise up in its ranks as far as his talent and luck will allow him.
  • Hellhound:
    • The Hounds of Shadow and eventually the Hounds of Light are said to be the size of ponies, and the former can travel between realms using shadow magic as they are basically the pets of the King of High House Shadow. They are also thousands, if not hundreds of thousands years old. Shadowthrone claims confidence in the Hounds' loyalty and guarding of his Shadow keep, but his right hand man Cotillion, the Patron God of Assassins, prefers to keep a weary eye on these 'pets'.
    • The Deragoth, or Hounds of Darkness, are supposed to be even bigger than the Hounds of Shadow and to resemble bears in size. They may be even older than the Hounds of Shadow, old enough, in fact, to once have domesticated early humans as their pets. They are said to be the D'ivers form of Dessimbelackis, the Emperor of the human First Empire, who sought to teach his subjects a lesson about respecting nature by turning them in beast shapeshifters. In House of Chains, Trull Sengar and Onrack accidentally release the Deragoth from their eternal stone prison in the Nascent, leaving them to roam the realms.
  • The Hero's Journey: Word of God has it, that the entire series is supposed to be the classical Hero's Journey for the reader.
  • 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".
  • Hijacked by Ganon: In-universe example — the main threat for most of the series is the Crippled God, but in the last few books, his power is usurped by the Forkrul Assail, a Knight Templar race of Abusive Precursors, who intend to use it to scour the world of humanity, which they see as unsalvageably corrupt. While the Forkrul Assail hadn't previously appeared as villains in the books themselves, they were a threat from the world's prehistory, so many of the characters, particularly the immortals, see it as this trope.
  • Hive Mind: D'ivers are shapeshifters who split into several identical shapes (they can't choose), but maintain a single mind. This can be anything from a dozen to thousands of individual bodies, and so long as one survives so does the D'ivers.
  • Human Mom, Non-Human Dad: Inverted. Ryadd Eleis's — also known as Rud Elalle — mother is a goddess and dragon shapeshifter who raped a human man. Granted, he was unwillingly possessed by a wyval at that moment, but the point still stands.
  • Humans Are White: Averted. There are many variations within the human race alone. The people of the Malazan mainland of Quon Tali, especially in the province of Itko Kan, are clearly expies of East/Southeast Asians. The south of Quon Tali and most of the subcontinent of Seven Cities have people of various shades of dark and Middle Eastern skin tones, with Emperor Kellanved and First Sword Dassem Ultor being black and from Dal Hon, and High Mage Quick Ben and the assassin Kalam Mekhar being from Seven Cities. The Usurper of the Malazan throne at the start of the series is a dark-blue skinned woman named Laseen.
  • Ice Magic Is Water: The Stormriders are a mysterious people living in a deep ocean trench between Quon Tali and Korel. They only appear during storms, sheathed in ice armour and riding hybrid-mounts made of water and ice. In the general switcheroo of which elemental powers are accessible to which of the four Founding Races, ice seems to be taking the place of water and the Stormriders are said to be using the Warren of Omtose Phellack to manipulate water, which is the Elder Warren of Ice.
  • Inciting Incident: What kicks of the Myth Arc of the Malazan Book of the Fallen is the fall of the Crippled God, hundreds of thousand years prior to the start of the first book.
  • Jigsaw Puzzle Plot: The Malazan Book of the Fallen has three major Rotating Arcs, a larger number of subplots, no clear individual protagonist among its Loads and Loads of Characters even for most individual books, and much less the whole ten-book series, and takes place across several continents. The complexity is only increased by the fact that it starts in media res and doles out actual exposition sparingly, leaving the reader to figure most things out by context. It does, however, eventually converge into a single central Myth Arc about the Crippled God.
  • Kill All Humans: The final endgame of the Forkrul Assail is to eradicate all humans and their gods because of the wounds, pollution and death humans have brought to the world when humanity spread over it, and also because they are obsessed with their own brand of justice and balance, which they think humanity is destroying. So, clearly, the only answer is annihilation. They intend to achieve that by opening what they call the Gates of Justice to their Elder Warren of Ahkrast Korvalain.
  • Kill 'Em All: Approximately half of the characters introduced in the first book are dead by (and mostly during) book three. 75% are gone by the end of book six (including most of the Big Damn Heroes from earlier on). It's called the Malazan Book of the Fallen for a reason. However, many of those characters are either reincarnated, resurrected or continue to play an active role as ghosts.
  • 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.
  • 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. It's also Justified In-Universe as the Crippled God is presented as having penned the series so that the sacrifices of those who freed him would not be forgotten, meaning that all the details were deliberately placed there by the narrator of the series.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall:
    • In the last two books there is a storyline which many first-time readers tend to skip/skim, as it is a meandering, long-winded narration about a group of starving children fleeing through a desert, told by a girl obsessed with poetry. However, if one reads closely, one finds the girl acknowledging the presence of readers and even actively calling them cowards for wanting to skip her harrowing tale:
      'Do not flee us. Do not flee this moment, this scene. Do not confuse dislike and abhorrence with angry denial of truths you do not wish to see. I accept your horror and expect no forgiveness. But if you deny, I name you coward.
      'And I have had my fill of cowards.'
    • And at the beginning of the final book, The Crippled God, there are excerpts from an in-world poem titled "The Malazan Book of the Fallen", which are an essential Take That! to those who thougt the author could not pull the series's end off satisfactorily:
      [...] Take what you're given
      And turn away the screwed face.
      I do not deserve it,
      no matter how narrow the strand
      of your private shore.
      If you will do your best
      I'll meet your eye. [...]
  • Light/Darkness Juxtaposition: The series has a whole mythology built on light and dark. The light is represented by the Tiste Liosan, who have light-themed powers and worship Father Light, while the dark is represented by the Tiste Andii, who have dark-themed powers and worship Mother Dark. Additionally, there are the Tiste Edur who have shadow as their hat and are considered to be unwanted bastards due to their admixture of light and dark. Mythologically speaking, Mother Dark is thought of as the primordial force that brought order and the concept of existence to what was pure chaos and nonexistence before her. She may have, depending on the In-Universe source, created light which brought justice, although the series makes the point that Father Light's justice is a harsh and unforgiving thing. Light Is Not Good and Dark Is Not Evil are out in full force in this series.
  • 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 are the Children of Light, have light-themed powers and worship a deity known as Father Light. Despite that, they are isolationist, bigoted Knights Templar, to the point where nobody takes them seriously — and especially their fixation on being the arbiters of justice. For a long time in the series, the only Tiste Liosan to make an appearance are a group of four knights too self-absorbed to be of any consequence, but Beware the Silly Ones. Like their cousins, the Children of Darkness, they used to have a Warrior Prince to lead them, but even he pulled a Screw This, I'm Outta Here!.
  • Lizard Folk: The Malazan Book of the Fallen series feature the K'Chain Che'Malle. They destroyed themselves warring with the Short-tails, the K'Chain Nah'ruk, which they themselves had created as a Servant Race. Mostly a fallen and forgotten civilization by the time of the main series, they appear as powerful zombies and large ruins. A few living individuals are encountered, one having been imprisoned in an Ancient Tomb and now quite mad, two others aiding a human who encountered them "in another land". The K'Chain Che'Malle organized themselves around Matrons in a manner similar to ants or bees and lived in levitating hive cities they had carved out of mountains. A Matron could produce several kinds of breeds (workers, warriors, assassins, and so on) depending on the task they were needed for. Despite possessing their own racial Warren, the K'Chain Che'Malle also were able to manufacture what they called drones and enable them to run certain programs even thousands of years after their makers had died, creating the effect of Magic from Technology. Dust of Dreams features the last remaining functioning hive city called Kalse Rooted and reigned over by the failing and mad Matron Gunth'an Acyl. It also reveals the beliefs and morals of the K'Chain Che'Malle.
  • Loads and Loads of Characters: Each book has about four pages devoted just to listing the characters that appear in it. Book one throws at least 100 names at you to remember as well as an INCREDIBLY complicated (and intentionally not very clearly explained) backstory, and then Book two introduces a whole new cast the same size... This goes on up to and including the final book. Additionally, the list of characters in each new book is more a representative sample of important names, and in no way exhaustive. As the series goes on it leaves out more and more, since simply appearing in the character list counts as a spoiler for some events.
  • Loads and Loads of Races: The series is brimming with various different races. In addition to baseline humans, you have the Four Founding Racesthe K'Chain Che'Malle, the Forkrul Assail, the Jaghut, and the T'lan Imass who used to be that verses cavemen before becoming collectively undead. There are also the K'Chain Nah'ruk, the K'Chain Che'Malle's Servant Race which rebelled. Then you have the three Tiste races: Tiste Andii, Tiste Edur and Tiste Liosan, who are alien to the planet on which most of the series is set and who are known as the Children of Darkness, Shadow and Light, respectively. Then you have the Tartheno Thelomen Toblakai, who have splintered into various offshoot races, most notably the Teblor, and are themselves descended from the Thel Akai. Then you've got a bunch of nonhumans who are part of the same general family as humans and their actual evolutional predecessors, the Imass, including the Barghast and the Moranth. Then you've got the Great Ravens and the Eleint, both of which are sentient races. Finally, there's a whole plethora of sentient demons. This is justified, however, by the creators of the Verse both being archaeologists and anthropologists and knowing exacly what they were doing when they created the setting, and evolution is an important factor in the development of all those different races, despite having a fantastic spin to their origins which includes a bunch of Elder Gods playing creators.
  • Luke Nounverber: The series has few true examples out of the huge cast. There are lots and lots of epithets though: soldiers in the Malazan army are generally known by their nicknames (e.g. Mudslinger and Throatslitter) and some characters have heroic epithets attached to their name (e.g. Dujek Onearm, Scabandari Bloodeye).
  • Mad Bomber: Most of the sappers serving in the Malazan army have this to some degree. This is likely a pre-requisite for the job, however, as they're essentially rushing across a killing field carrying volatile explosives which they have to plant and then run away from before they explode. Fiddler lampshades it occasionally, pointing out just how crazy and dangerous using Moranth munitions can be. This is most evident during one assault when one of the sappers runs back to the lines laughing hysterically. Everyone who sees this takes cover, because a laughing sapper means they probably used all the munitions they had.
  • Mad Lib Fantasy Title: Steven Erikson tends to avoid this by using more descriptive and specific titles: Memories of Ice, The Bonehunters, Dust of Dreams (though that one falls into the mystical concepts territory). He does seem fond of the '<blank> of <blank>' construction, though.
  • Mad Scientist: Korbal Broach kills and disembowels people so he can do creepy experiments on them. He even collects bottles of blood.
  • The Masochism Tango: Iskaral Pust and Mogora, Karsa Orlong and Samar Dev.
  • 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: Sandalath Drukorlat, a millennia-old Tiste Andii, falls in love with and eventually marries Withal, a middle-aged human man. Their marriage is a bit of a Masochism Tango, but in the end they really do love each other and are just worried about each other, especially considering Sandalath's sanity is a bit on the slippery slope, and also a bit apprehensive about their differences, but somehow manage to overlook the problems eventually.
  • Meaningful Rename: Many characters choose to abandon their old names with their old lives. Among the Malazan Army, this is actually a requierement, and the soldiers' new names are usually chosen by their drill sergeant based on their personality (Tarr, Bottle, Truth), a quirk (Blend, Limp), as a joke (Kindly, who is not), or an event (Braven Tooth, who broke one off in a bar fight).
  • Medieval Stasis: The Malazan Book of the Fallen is an extreme example: the world has a history stretching back three hundred thousand (300,000) years and more, yet technology is still medieval (except for the existence of dynamite-like munitions). Lampshaded and justified by Samar Dev in The Bonehunters: She notes (laments, really) that the power of the Warrens means they will never really have a need to strive for technological solutions to their problems. If they can't magic it, they'll just buy or trade for what they need from another race.
    An additional reason is that most human empires in the Malazan world are very short-lived and humanity is thrown back culturally and technologically regularly over the millennia, due to violent upheavals. The one empire that did survive since the fall of the First Empire, Lether, has magical reasons for being put in a — literal — stasis.
    And of course ancient civilizations were more technologically advanced: the K'Chain Che'Malle had anti-gravity devices, lasers and nanobots while the Jaghut heavily dabbled with genetic manipulation.
  • Mind Rape: Sha'ik's possession of Felisin.
  • Mind Screw: The series' vague explanations and complex style of plotting tend to cause this for many readers.
  • Misery Builds Character: Averted with Felisin Paran, who is deported into a gulag, forced into prostitution and an abusive relationship with a man to whom she develops Stockholm syndrome and grieves for when he is killed, bitten all over her body by a swarm of poisonous flies, forced into a journey across two deserts filled with starvation and dehydration, almost burned to death by a sorcerous fire, and finally mind-raped by an insane goddess, all of which arguably makes her a worse person.
  • The Mole: Mallick Rel in the Malazan high command of Seven Cities. While he is nominally a Malazan, he is an informant for the Whirlwind and nearly hands the fortress city of Aren to the uprising at the end.
  • Mother of a Thousand Young:
    • The Elder Goddess T'iam is known as the Mother of All Dragons; as her title implies, she was the progenitor of every dragon in existence, and the creator of the Eleint Soletaken via her blood.
    • Matron Gunth'an Acyl of the K'Chain Che'Malle rebirthed the Che'Malle race all by herself. Where one matron would be expected to birth several hundred of their kind in a lifetime, Acyl birthed an army twenty-thousand strong within a period of months, driving herself insane in the process and saving her kind from extinction.
  • MS T3k Mantra: Don't try to make sense of the timeline; really, don't.
  • Muggles Do It Better: There are many examples throughout the series of Nigh-Invulnerable ancient beings of terrifying power coming up against a Malazan soldier with a Moranth grenado — much to the former's surprise and (often short-lived) chagrin.
  • Murder, Inc.:
    • The Guild of Assassins in Darujhistan is exactly what it calls itself. They are headed by Guild Mistress Vorcan and organized in internal clans and make it possible for noble families to settle their disputes away from the public eye.
    • The Claw doubles as the Secret Police of the Malazan Empire. They are typically trained from a young age and organized in Hands, which often include assassin mages as well. Any place facing a Malazan conquering army tends to shit its metaphorical pants at even the rumor of a Claw Hand or two having slipped in to prepare their army's arrival.
    • The Talon was the precursor of the Claw, but with less emphasis on the police and more on the secret parts. It was allegedly wiped out by the Claw to secure Empress Laseen's hold on the empire, yet rumors of a few agents still existing and operating tend to have even the Claw scamper in near panic.
    • The Kingdom of Lether has the peculiarly named Rat Catcher's Guild which purposes to do just that, catch rats and other vermin. In truth, they act as the unofficial assassins guild, the guild of thieves, a refugee smuggling ring and are conveniently contracted by the crown to investigate disappearances.
  • Mushroom Samba: The survivors crawling through the darkened subterranean ruins of Y'Ghatan find ancient Jaghut honey in a buried warehouse and use it for sustenance. The hallucinations that follow give some insights into otherwise unexplored backstories. If you can parse the truth from the insanity...
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Barely avoided with Adjunct Tavore in the finale of The Crippled God, when she almost accidentally kills her brother Ganoes, believing he is a soldier of the Forkrul Assail. Made even more jarring to the reader by the fact that in House of Chains, she killed their younger sister Felisin the same way, not realizing who she was.
  • Mystical Plague: Unleashed upon the Seven Cities subcontinent in The Bonehunters by Poliel, goddess of disease, in an effort to wipe out humanity for the greater good.
  • Myth Arc: Although there are three rough story arcs spread between the ten 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, which covers several hundred thousand years (mostly in backstory), including dragons, primitive hominids, many many gods and demigods, multiple world-spanning disasters and what ever the heck happened to Mother Dark. The histories of Dessimbelackis' First, the Imass First, the Malazan and Letherii Empires are also mysteries that carry the plot. Dang archaeologists.
  • 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. Meanwhile, The Crippled God is named for, well, the Crippled God.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast:
    • "The Emperor of a Thousand Deaths" refers to an insane dictator 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.
    • The series likes this trope a lot with characters named things like Envy, Malice, Spite, Fear Sengar, Silchas Ruin, Cutter, Shadowthrone, Throatslitter, Grave, Scorn, and so on. Many of these end up being Subverted or at least Played With due to the large number of such characters who end up as Anti-Heroes or at worst Anti-Villains (though they're almost always still badasses), but in the case of the Forkrul Assail who have such names it's almost always played straight.
    • There are also Envy, Spite and Malice. Though they give no indication of being particularly villainous, just having personalities that fit their names.
  • Narrator All Along: The narrator of the Malazan Book of the Fallen is ultimately revealed to be the Crippled God himself, who is presented as the big bad for most of the series, then hijacked by an ensemble of greater villains. This turns out to be a Justified Trope, as it's stated that he penned the series so that those who sacrificed their lives to free him from his chains would not be forgotten. The title of the series, naturally, relates to this.
  • Nigh-Invulnerability: The Forkrul Assail, simply by virtue of their bizarre biology- soldiers can't anticipate the movements of a creature that can bend its arms, hips, and legs in so many horrifying ways without harming themselves. Series badass Karsa Orlong frees one of them with other Toblakai warriors present and she wipes the floor with the lot of them. Then there's their mind control magic to also consider. When a Forkrul Assail is killed, it's a 'big' deal.
  • The Night That Never Ends: The Elder Warren of Kurald Galain.
  • No Accounting for Taste: Iskaral Pust and his wife Mogora seem to hate each other with great passion. They bicker back and forth constantly. Mogora thinks Iskaral is a mad leach, while Iskaral calls her a "month-old cream puff". He also madly hates spiders and Mogora is a D'ivers who can turn into hundreds of spiders at once. Neither can fathom how anyone would willingly stay with the other but keep coming back to each other. Eventually, Mogora asserts that the two of them are the reason that ugly people don't just die out.
  • No Biochemical Barriers: All kinds of hybrids between different intelligent species, e.g. the Watered (human and Forkrul Assail), the Jhag (Toblakai and Jaghut), the Shake and Bluerose (humans with Tiste Andii blood), etc.
  • Noble Savage: Deconstructed, quite brutally, with Karsa Orlong in Book One of House of Chains. After his character development, though, ironically, he comes quite close.
  • No One Could Survive That!: Characters routinely survive events that would have killed ordinary mortals. A great example is Kruppe surviving a blast from Caladan Brood's hammer, which is rumoured to have the power to awaken the sleeping goddess Burn and therefore end the world. He's completely unscathed, despite everyone else around him being bowled over and the surrounding landscape being irrevocably blasted. Other characters survive events assumed to have killed them, and others still are resurrected. Since this is a World of Badass, it's to be expected.
  • Not So Extinct: The series has numerous examples of species that are thought to be extinct/myth but keep popping up. Examples include:
    • Dragons, or Eleint, as they are called in the setting, and especially the pure-blooded ones are thought to have disappeared from the world. Naturally, they turn up for the big finale.
    • The so-called Four Founding Races, said to be extinct by the start of the series, all turn out to still be around in some corner of the world. The T'lan Imass, the setting's version of Neanderthals, have turned their whole species undead, the Jaghut have never been very numerous and prefer solitary existence in remote places, the Forkrul Assail have hatched plans to remake the world in their image and are working on that behind the scenes and the K'Chain Che'Malle, bipedal Lizard Folk, have retired to a remote corner of the world after a particularly nasty Civil War.
    • Among the Tiste peoples, only the Tiste Andii are more or less known to be around, but their cousins the Tiste Liosan and Tiste Edur are supposed to be lost to myth. Turns out the Liosan have retreated to their home-world and the Edur have settled on a remote continent and garbled their origin myths quite thoroughly.
    • On the besties side of things, there are the Enkar'al of Seven Sities, huge winged lizards thought to have been hunted into extinction, but Kalam Mekhar still manages to bump into one in Deadhouse Gates.
  • Not Using the "Z" Word: The series has the Tiste races and the Jaghut, who are basically elves without the pointy ears and schorlarly orcs, respectively. The K'Chain Che'Malle are the Verse's Lizard Folk. And the Imass are Neanderthals in everything but name, or were, since now they're undead Neanderthals.
  • Oh My Gods!: The series utilizes this trope, usually by invoking the name of a particular deity alongside a term that is incongruous with them. As an example, a common curse among Malazans is "Hood's breath", Hood being the King of High House Death and thus having no breath to speak of. Variations on "Hood's balls" is another common curse, eg. "Hood's balls on an anvil!" Other cultures swear by different deities, but the pattern tends to stay the same.
  • One to Million to One: D'ivers are shapeshifters who can turn and split into several animals of the same species at once, rather that just one. Some of them, like Gryllen or Mogora, can turn into hundreds of rats and spiders, respectively. Mogora in particular loves collapsing into a heap of spiders only to reassemble into her human form a short distance away and laugh.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Most professional soldiers in the series are known only by their nicknames, typically assigned during basic training. Examples include Whiskeyjack, Fiddler, Hedge, Bottle, Stormy, Halfpeck, Iron Bars and many more.
  • Only One Name: Some characters are known by only one name and don't belong in either Only Known by Their Nickname or First-Name Basis, e.g. Coltaine, Grub, Kalyth, Aranict, Gaz, Gothos, Nappet, Masarch, Mathok, etc.
  • Oracular Urchin: Subverted with Grub, an boy orphan who tags along with the Malazan army. He starts out as being uncannily good at digging up bad omens and getting along with strange creatures, and both High Mage Quick Ben and the priest Banaschar comment on how he is touched by something, so the expectation develops that he will start providing prophetic speeches as soon as he learns to speak. High Mage Sinn also is convinced that Grub is not a human child but the Anthropomorphic Personification of the suffering of the refugees during the Chain of Dogs in Deadhouse Gates. But Grub grows up an absolutely normal boy with no greater insight into anything but Sinn's annoying antics, and he feels nothing unusual about himself. Only at the very end of the series does it become clear that he is a Child Prodigy in military tactics, which stems from his potentially unnatural origin in the Chain of Dogs.
  • Our Demons Are Different: They are simply what creatures from other realms are called, whether they are sentient or not. Necromacers and mages can call them and bind them to their will, and the most common source realms are either Aral Gamelon or the Shadow Realm, although in Midnight Tides Rhulad Sengar gains many enslaved demons by negotiating with the Kenryll'ah, who are the dominant race in their realm, to allow him to enslave the Kenyll'rah, the Kenryll'ah's less warlike cousins. And in Toll the Hounds, High Alchemist Baruk manages to capture a demon who looks suspiciously human and likely stems from the Crippled God's home realm.
  • Our Dragons Are Different:
    • The Eleint, also known as Pure Bloods or Ancients, stem from Starvald Demelain, reportedly the first realm, and are descended from T'iam, the mother of dragons (also known as "the biggest whore of them all"). They seem to be a mix between western and eastern dragons, are sentient and are said to be utterly feral, and when more than a couple gather in one place, their respective blood lusts re-inforce each other and they form a Storm, each individual member having lost its identity to the hive mind. Too many in one place, and T'iam herself comes to crash the party. The Eleint fly on and breathe chaotic magic, not fire. They also tend to have their own personalities when not part of a Storm, but run mostly on selfish instinct and whatever catches their fancy, which got quite a few Eleint imprisoned for being power hungry nuissances. Additionally, due to a complicated bargain the Elder God K'rul made with the Eleint, many of them embody one of the Paths of Magic accessible to humans.
    • Soletaken Eleint (not to be confused with Eleint Soletaken, which go the other way around) are members of other races who have gained the ability the shapeshift into a dragon, usually by killing a pure blooded one and drinking its blood, although the ability can be simply inherited. They are usually smaller dragons than the pure Eleint, but gain a tendency for blood lust even if they hadn't had it before, as evidenced with Silchas Ruin.
    • The Loqui Wyval and Enkar'al are the "mongrels of the dragons", whom nobody wants and who seem to not be sentient, but rather like unwanted, clingy pets to the other two kinds — the Loqui Wyval more so than the Enkar'al, who have gone native on the world of and are considered a delicacy in the Malazan Empire. Fiddler calls them "Draconic lapdogs". They are also much, much smaller than the Eleint, only about the size of oxen.
    • The Crippled God also gives us the Otataral Dragon, Korabas, who is a Walking Wasteland (well, flying wasteland) because Otataral is Anti-Magic and life is magic, meaning that wherever she goes, destruction follows. Notably, she isn't really portrayed as particularly villainous; it's not as if she asked to be made the way she was. Indeed, she's actually portrayed as wishing to create something for once instead of destroying it. Regardless, she's required to be chained for the good of all other life, whether she likes it or not. As it is explained, she only exists because when K'rul made his bargain with the Eleint to make them into embodiments of magic, an Eleint embodying Anti-Magic was needed to preserve the balance.
  • Our Elves Are Different: The Tiste are basically elves minus the pointy ears. As a general rule, they are taller than humans, more slender, more beautiful, long-lived and can look back on an ancient civilization. They are also a massive Deconstruction of Superior Species elves, being alien to the realm of the Malazan Empire and perceived as such, not to mention that they aren't in any way wiser or more peaceful than humans, as evidenced by Scabandari Bloodeye, Hannan Mosag, Rhulad Sengar and his empire, Clip, the Tiste Liosan (especially those serving Kadagar Fant), and the entirety of the Kharkanas trilogy. Also, neither Tiste people is known for any kind of crafts or archery.
    The particular types are:
    • Tiste Andii, the Children of Darkness, or Drow Expies. Black-skinned and white-, black- or red-haired, the Andii are a clear case of Dark Is Not Evil. If not for Anomander Rake finding causes for them to fight for, they would also probably all die of ennui, as their long lives have made them apathetic to everything.
      Ironically, their main group — Anomander Rake's followers — live in a floating castle, Moon's Spawn, while the remnants of Silchas Ruin's followers, the Andii of Bluerose, do live in an Underground City, but have interbred with humans so much there are only a handful of pure Andii left.
    • The Tiste Edur, the Children of Shadow, or Wood Elves. Ruthless isolationists living in forest villages in a cold northern climate and following a rigid hierarchy, having mostly forgotten their history after the disappearance of their leader, Father Shadow. They think they are better than everyone else, but are seen as barbaric by others and looked down upon by both the Andii and the Liosan. Grey-skinned and brown- or red-haired.
    • The Tiste Liosan, the Children of Light, or High Elves. That's what they think they are, but anyone who has ever encountered one agrees that Light Is Not Good and one Can't Argue with Elves. The most isolationist of the three Tiste peoples, living in their own realm and looking down their noses at everyone else. They are also, despite their posturing, the least effective in combat. White-skinned and silver- or gold-haired.
  • Our Giants Are Bigger: The various races collectively known as the Tartheno Thelomen Toblakai and their derivatives, the Teblor, the Tarthenal and the Trell, stand over seven feet tall or more and are both wide and muscular, even the women. They are perceived as slow, not particularly smart and most of them, especially the Tarthenal on Lether, only reinforce that perception, though certain individuals greatly defy it. They are all descended from the Thel Akai, although they have acquiered a flesh and blood physique somewhere on the way, instead of the stone of the Thel Akai. Also, most of the Tartheno Thelomen Toblakai races have bodies adapted to their size by having multiple organs, such as two hearts and four lungs. They are also mostly longer-lived than humans.
  • Our Gods Are Different: The series is filled with gods of varying levels of power and influence. There are two main categories of them:
    • The Elder Gods embody primal forces of nature and vastly predate most everything else in the setting. Some are said to be responsible for the creation of various races. As of the time of the main series, most of the Elder Gods are no longer active owing to their worship having been forgotten, but a few are still around.
    • The second group is composed of deities who were once mortal; mortals can become Ascendants (superhuman immortals) through a process that is poorly-understood in-universe but typically involves proving oneself truly exceptional in some way, and Ascendants can in turn become gods by being worshipped and/or taking over a divine position that was vacant at the time. And there are at least a couple of Ascendants, like Anomander Rake, who are worshipped but voluntarily choose not to claim full godhood. The majority of the modern pantheon are Ascendants.
    • Then there's the Crippled God, an interloper from another world who doesn't follow the usual rules and makes quite a lot of trouble as a result.
  • Our Mages Are Different:
    • The ability to use magic occurs at random in all races and social classes and usually manifests in some way — if the mage hasn't been formally taught it develops into some kind of latent gimmick, like Blend's ability to remain unnoticed if she so desires (although she thinks it's a gadget thing because she once bought a stone from some hawker who told her it's magical). The direction of one's magic can be influenced by one's surroundings, though: e.g. Bottle uses shamanistic magic because his grandma taught him, High Alchemist Baruk is a scholar, and most squad mages seem self-taught warren-users. There's certainly an individual limit to how much power any mage can channel before it begins to affect him physically. Additionally, mages are limited to what warrens (Paths of Magic) they can access by personal inclination and race, with humans having access to more varied but less powerful warrens while most other races have their own racial warren.
    • High Priests and Destriants (who are somewhat interchangeable with High Priests) are more cleric-types who gain access to certain powers granted by their deities. Destriants, who are more associated with martial positions completing the trio of a deity's chosen together with the Mortal Sword and Shield-Anvil, tend to gain healing powers, while a normal High Priest's powers are closer to their deity's theme, e.g. shadow magic.
    • Necromancers seem to be almost their own cathegory as they gain their powers through a combination of inborn talent and an agreement with Hood, the Lord of Death, to play a game with him — they steal as many souls away from under his nose as they can manage and get his respect in return. Otherwise, Hood does not look favourably on those who meddle in his affairs.
  • Our Zombies Are Different: Shurq Elalle is one 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. The T'lan Imass could also be considered zombies, a race of undead and undying neanderthal-like warriors that have existed for around 320,000 years.
  • 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 a cursed sword, but he really wants to be a good ruler, has a sort of friendship with Udinaas, and gives his brother Fear his wife Mayen back.
  • Physical God: The series is chock full of these, called Elder Gods and Ascendants. All are implied to have physical forms even if they don't outright appear that way in the novels. At least two of them are humans who took over an attunement that was vacant. They are also far from omnipotent, though. In Reaper's Gale, Trull Sengar, a mortal Tiste Edur, manages to hold his own in combat against ancient Ascendant Silchas Ruin, at least for a while. Though at that point Trull Sengar is also far from mortal, having become the Knight of Shadow in The Bonehunters.
  • Pieces of God: The Warrens are literally the body and blood of the Elder God K'rul.
  • 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.
  • Psycho Serum: The "Blood Oil" used by Karsa Orlong's people induces Berserker Rage, blood lust and just plain lust. It says something about Karsa's people that they seem to consider the boost in strength the stuff confers icing on the cake.
  • Pūnct'uatìon Sh'akër:
    • The series has names like T'lan Imass, Onos T'oolan, and so on... It's worth noting that the apostrophe in T'lan Imass does represent a glottal stop, is actually mentioned in-universe as a contraction of "Tellann" and is meant to signify that something is broken. Onos T'oolan used to go without the apostrophe before becoming undead.
    • The Lizard Folk K'Chain Che'Malle and their Slave Race, the K'Chain Nah'ruk, are, well, Lizard Folk. Almost all of their names seen in the series include an apostrophe: Sag'Churok, Gu'Rull, Gunth'an Acyl, Bre'nigan, etc. And since they have no spoken language, those probably don't hinder them at communicating, anyway.
    • Also of note are the related types of demons, the Kenryll'ah, and the Kenyll'rah. Apparently one of these is the nobility of their race, while the other are the peasants. Or something like that.
  • 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.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits:
    • It seems this makes up most of the Malazan Empire's armies, especially but not limited to the Bridgeburners and the Bonehunters. It's stated that the Empire actually encourages that sort of thing, believing that allowing individual squads (and soldiers) to find their own idiosyncratic ways of fighting is more efficient than enforcing conformity in the ranks.
    • And then there's the Mott Irregulars, a bunch of insane country hicks lead by twenty warlock brothers and a sister (the meanest of them all) who are so ragtag and fit so badly that they managed to run circles around the Bridgeburners for more than a year and win at the end.
  • Raised by Wolves: Born as Stayandi, Setoc was taken in and raised by a pack of wolves when her parents died during a raid. In Reaper's Gale, she is found by the Barghast White Faces, who take her in, but their shamans proclaim her spirit-touched and the "holder of a thousand hearts" and forbid the hunting of wolves, so that her 'first' family can stay close to her. She becomes known as Setoc of the Wolves and never shakes free from the imprint the wild has left on her. She eventually becomes the Destriant (High Priestess) and the voice of the Wolves of Winter, the recently risen Beast Gods of War, who war against humanity in revenge for the pollution humans have brought upon nature. Over time, her eyes turn to a wolf's eyes, one silver and one amber, and she becomes perpetually surrounded by thousands of wolf spirits who are willing to fight for her. Setoc dies when the Wolves of Winter use her to manifest themselves in the mortal plain.
  • 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.
  • Rape as Drama: Due to the Crapsack World nature of the setting, quite a few characters have been victims of this. Examples from the first five books alone include, but are not limited to, Stonny Menackis, Felisin Younger, Scillara, Seren Pedac, Udinaas, and Mayen, not to mention numerous background characters. Unsurprisingly, different characters have different reactions, though it usually ends up causing a rather large shift in their Character Arcs. Some of them ultimately become darker characters (Mayen's abuse of Feather Witch is noted to have gotten much worse and borderline sexual in itself after her forced betrothal), while some go on entirely justified Roaring Rampages of Revenge, others end up brainwashed until someone gets them to snap out of it, and others still suffer stoically (though to be fair Udinaas doesn't have much choice as he's been raped by a goddess who is entirely beyond his capacity to deal with). Felisin Paran is a borderline example as it's doubtful that she'd have begun prostituting herself if she hadn't been Made a Slave, but she's implied to have considered her options and concluded that it was the best option for herself and her friends regardless.
  • Really Gets Around: Quite a lot of characters fall under this at some point in the series, including Lady Simtal, Felisin Paran, Hetan, Shurq Ellale, Felisin Younger, and pretty much every priestess of Mother Dark, to name a few. Most of them are presented sympathetically, but Simtal is not. Some of them also eventually end up having monogamous relationships; for example, Hetan ends up married to Onos T'oolan.
  • Required Secondary Powers: The Eleint Soletaken are able to transform into massive dragons. However, the sheer size of their new forms means that half of their flight relies on sorcery and if their wings are damaged they need to rely almost solely on it to stay airborne.
  • Retcon: The Malazan Book of the Fallen underwent significant changes in its backstory between when Gardens of the Moon was completed and the initial publication of the Malazan series almost a decade later. Especially where Steven Erikson dealt with matters relating to the Fall of the Emperor, his rise as Shadowthrone, Dancer and his rise as Shadowthrone's sidekick Cotillion, the Patron God of Assassins, and their desire for revenge on Laseen for usurping the throne of the Malazan Empire. As a result, fans of the series have a term for retcons relating to backstory discrepancies between Gardens of the Moon (short GotM) and the rest of the Malazan series: GotMism.
  • Retired Badass: For a good chunk of the main series we hear rumors that the dead 'Old Guard' loyal to the former Emperor are lying low and waiting for a chance to strike back against the Empress. This plan reaches fruition in Return Of The Crimson Guard, when literally an entire army of retired badasses — including many characters who had previously been encountered in other books and merely thought of as fishermen, farmers or guys living by themselves in some random tower — re-emerges to take some names and dish out some pain. In addition, there are a whole other bunch of retired badasses who arrive to fight on the side of the Empress. Seriously, this novel is this trope made manifest.
  • Rewatch Bonus: Throughout the main ten-book series, Steven Erikson runs with every form of rewatch bonus from subtle foreshadowing (Karsa Orlong casually destroys a small Fener statue in the fourth book, House of Chains, while the event foreshadowed does not occur until the final book in the series) to entire events, characters and subplots that will simply go right over the reader's head or utterly baffle them on a first read. Erikson himself has said that the series is written to feel entirely different on a re-read, and many fans who've undertaken the not-inconsiderable feat of re-reading have described it as a massively rewarding experience.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Dassem Ultor, also known as Traveller. His only goal in life is killing Hood, god of death.
    • Gruntle is largely unmotivated in fighting during the siege of Capustan until an unnamed Seerdomin rapes his friend Stonny. While she quickly kills her rapist, both of them end up leading the resistance.
  • Role-Playing Game Verse: The setting grew out of Steven Erikson and Ian Cameron Esslemont becoming frustrated with the strict rules of Dungeons & Dragons and turning to GURPS game mechanics to create their own world, in which they gamed extensively. A big portion of the first volume, Gardens of the Moon, as well as other key events, were gamed, up to and including the series' finale.
  • 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. The Genabackis Arc is chiefly dealt with in Gardens of the Moon, Memories of Ice, and Toll the Hounds; the Seven Cities arc in Deadhouse Gates, House of Chains, and The Bonehunters; and the Lether arc in Midnight Tides and Reaper's Gale, while Dust of Dreams and The Crippled God tie the Myth Arc together; it should be noted, however, that the elements of any given arc may show up or be foreshadowed in a book primarily concerned with a different arc, and some characters may jump from one arc to another or back again entirely.
  • Sealed Evil in a Can:
    • The T'lan Imass are notable offenders for this. During their genocidal war against the Jaghut and, off-and-on, the Forkrul Assail, they developed a ritual for binding enemies when they lacked the strength to directly kill them. Either pinned under massive stone slabs or buried in barrows, it's not uncommon for their ancient enemies to be unearthed.
    • The Azath Houses seal away both good and evil in the name of balance, the theory being that too powerful beings are bad for the world and need to be restricted. The Azath Houses cannot differentiate between good and evil, as they lack sentience, so anyone powerful enough who walks onto the Houses' grounds is quickly caught and buried alive. Scabandari Bloodeye has used that to his advantage by having his perceived rival Silchas Ruin disappear from history for a couple millennia.
    • It's not entirely clear who was doing the sealing, but there have also been cases of bound K'Chain Che'Malle who predate even the T'lan Imass.
  • 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.
  • Shapeshifter Baggage: The series has this feature for both Soletaken and D'ivers (single- and multiform shapeshifters, respectively). Depending on which one of these beings you encounter, you might be up against a grown man who can become a hawk and fly away... Or something that can become one or more dragons. At least the undead shapeshifter can't become living...
  • Shapeshifter Mode Lock:
    • Treach, the Tiger of Summer, originally a Soletaken Ascendant, is said to have been stuck in his tiger form for at least the last 500 years prior to the series and to have become little more than a crazed, mindless beast due to losing his rational thought to the tiger's instincts.
    • The unnamed god of the Forkrul Assail is seen only as a D'ivers in the present-day of the story and is broken up into every lifeform in the Glass Desert — so largely bugs and butterflies, since there is nothing to feed upon in the Glass Desert for any other animals. It is considered lost by the Forkrul Assail, but the last book reveals that they drove it to this by turning their endless hunger to judge everything onto their own god and finding it wanting.
    • The seven Deragoth, or Hounds of Darkness, are said to be the D'ivers form of Dessimbelackis, the Emperor of the human First Empire, who sought to teach his subjects a lesson about respecting nature by turning them into beast shapeshifters. He took on the forms of the seven Deragoth in order to flee the T'lan Imass retribution for the mess he had created, then lost himself and became the Hounds of Darkness for good.
  • Shared Universe: The universe of the Malazan Book of the Fallen was jointly created by Steven Erikson and Ian Cameron Esslemont, and both authors have written their own novels for the setting. This setting is home to:
    • The Malazan Book of the Fallen: Erikson. The main ten-novel sequence comprised of three major Rotating Arcs that eventually converge into a central Myth Arc dealing with the Crippled God.
    • Tales from the Malazan Empire: Esslemont. Six loosely-connected novels that deal with events not part of the Malazan Book of the Fallen's major arcs, though they are very significant to the broader world and sometimes pick up lingering threads from the other series.
    • The Tales of Bauchelain and Korbal Broach: Erikson. A series of largely satirical novellas chronicling the misadventures of a pair of eccentric, homicidal necromancers and their put-upon manservant.
    • The Kharkanas Trilogy: Erikson. A Prequel in the Lost Age trilogy primarily dealing with the Tiste and the civil war that led them to become sundered into the Tiste Andii, Tiste Edur and Tiste Liosan peoples and led them to invading the main world of the series.
    • The Path to Ascendancy: Esslemont. {Prequel}} trilogy chronicling the early adventures of Kellanved and Dancer and how they would eventually come to found the Malazan Empire.
  • Shocking Defeat Legacy:
    • The Siege of Pale at the opening of Gardens of the Moon, where most of the Bridgeburners are wiped out, has reverberations throughout the series.
    • The slaughter of the Chain of Dogs during the finale of Deadhouse Gates initially appears to be averting this, as it ends up strengthening the Malazan war effort against the Whirlwind, however, in the long run it makes both the situation on Seven Cities as well as that of the Wickans on Quon Tali worse because Laseen ends up in need of a scape goat in The Bonehunters.
  • Shown Their Work: Steven Erikson shows his work with regards to how civilizations rise, fall, and eventually pave over the remnants of each other, as well as in some of the tribal and shamanic practices. The guy is a practicing Ph.D in archaeology and it shows — he knows his civilizations and cultures. The setting co-creator, Ian C. Esslemont, has similar credentials, and it shows in his books as well.
  • Single-Target Sexuality: Starting with Reaper's Gale, we get Urb, who is strictly Hellian-sexual, though Hellian in turn is too busy getting, and staying, drunk to notice. Right at the start of the series's final battle in The Crippled God, Urb confesses his love for Hellian over the din of the beginning battle. Turns out Hellian reciprocates.
  • Slave Mooks: The K'Chain Che'Malle, the Verse's resident, supposedly extinct Lizard Folk, once tried to resurrect a previously truly extinct sister race known as the K'Chain Nah'ruk, or Short-Tails, in order to make of them a Slave Race that would serve them. Unforunately for the Che'Malle, the Nah'ruk turned out to be too independently-minded for that and rose in rebellion, setting in motion the downward spiral towards the extinction of both races. By the time of the main series, however, upon encountering the Nah'ruk in Dust of Dreams Gesler notes that they have been bred down so thoroughly in the millennia since that they've become the walking dead and lost their ability at independent thought. The Nah'ruk now are truly little more than slave mooks doing the bidding of the Forkrul Assail.
  • Sliding Scale of Gender Inequality: The Malazan Book of the Fallen has both men and women serving in the military in all kinds of positions, including leading armies, and for most of the story, the Malazan Empire is ruled by an Empress who made her way to the throne through skills and cunning. And even in more gender segregated societies like that of the Tiste Edur, who have no warrior women while men are almost exclusively warriors and have more political clout, the women on the other hand have a lot more say-so in other areas starting from familial matters and going to matters of sorcery, with only the Warlock King having more sorcerous clout than the matriarchs of the noble families (even though both genders seem to be equally likely to have magical affinities). In fact, those families have both matriarchs and patriarchs. Gender equality through most—and possibly even all—cultures in the setting is, per Word of God, intentional.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: Played With. For most of the series it is quite far to the cynical side, even though Karma Houdinis are usually avoided. However, the ninth book, Dust of Dreams, reveals many of the motivations of the major plot movers and a not insubstantial portion of those turn out to be quite idealistic. Adjunct Tavore Paran, for example, marches an army across several continents to achieve the likely fatal for all involved task of freeing the Crippled God because she considers his suffering and imprisonment unjust.
  • Sliding Scale of Silliness vs. Seriousness: Steven Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen is mostly dark and serious, even tragic, but the mood is lightened by a number of comic relief characters, such as Kruppe and Tehol Beddict and even some of the immortal demi-gods having a surprisingly silly sense of humour. For example, in Deadhouse Gates, the High Priest of Shadow sends Icarium Lifestealer and his companion Mappo Runt on a quest to find and recover his broom amids a continent-spanning rebellion and hundreds of shapeshifters trying to achieve godhood.
  • Small, Secluded World: The Refugium is a small chunk of primeval tundra that's been squirreled away from any outside influence hundreds of thousands of years ago. It is populated by the last remnants of living, flesh-and-bone Imass (Fantasy Counterpart Culture of Neanderthals) and can be reached from the outside, but only by knowing where it is or by first traversing the icy Jaghut Realm of Death. Rud Elalle, who grew up among the Imass of the Refugium, is at first eager to see more of the outside world, but changes his mind quickly when he finds out its existence is at risk and becomes just as eager to die in the Refugium's defense.
  • Smug Snake: Triban Gnol, Karos Invictad.
  • Spiritual Antithesis: Steven Erikson has stated that the impetus to fictionalize his and his friends' home brewed Tabletop RPG campaign as the Malazan Book of the Fallen came from having a very visceral reaction to opening the first Forgotten Realms boxed set, in essence saying "This is not what fantasy is supposed to be."
  • 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.
  • Theme Twin Naming: The series gives us the twins Envy and Spite, both named by their father. The prequel trilogy reveals that they're actually triplets and the third one used to be named Malice. Draconus adds that if there was a fourth one she'd be named Venom. He obviously had preconceived notions about his daughters.
  • 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.
  • Title Drop:
    • Especially in the last book, The Crippled God, there are many mentions of a Book of the Fallen, but at one point both the series' and the book's titles are dropped in one sentence:
      In that Malazan Book of the Fallen, the historians will write of our suffering, and they will speak of it as the suffering of those who served the Crippled God.
    • The last book also includes excerpts from a poem titled The Malazan Book of the Fallen by Fisher kel Tath, a poet famed in-universe.
    • In the same book, the Crippled God himself resolves in his thoughts to write down the sacrifices the Malazans made to free him from his suffering, entitling the work Malazan Book of the Fallen.
  • Traveling Landmass: The island of Drift Avalii is drifting across the ocean and one would have to know its route to find it. There used to trade between it and the Malazan Empire, but all the trade ships were lost and the island and its inhabitants were forgotten, which — as far as the latter ones are concerned — may be for the best, because Drift Avalii houses the Throne of Shadow, the possessor of which would have power over the Shadowrealm. It was put there to be out of everyone's reach in the first place, after all.
  • Two Lines, No Waiting: The individual books use this as opposed to the series' Rotating Arcs. Each volume has several storylines that run parallel to each other and often seem unconnected, but are united in the book's convergence.
  • Tyke-Bomb: 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. They 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.
    • The thief Shurq Elalle would have died in a Letherii punishment called the Drownings, but one of her victims cursed her with undeath. When Tehol Beddict first meets her she's pretty much lost her enthusiasm for doing much of anything until he provides her with a way to enjoy carnal pleasures again. There are noted to be two other undead humans in Letheras, and we soon meet both of them: Harlast Eberict, who was cursed by his sociopathic (and living) brother, and Kettle, who is Really 700 Years Old but has been stuck with the appearance of a nine-year-old girl. The latter of these is an assassin who kills to delay the release of Sealed Evils in a Can and tries only to kill deserving targets. Kettle is ultimately revealed not to be human at all but actually a child of Eres, a goddess of the people of the same name who predate even the Imass. She's also implied to have the soul of a Forkrul Assail, although it's not entirely clear how that would work, but if true it would make her a case of My Species Doth Protest Too Much if anyone had any idea what the Forkrul Assail were like at that particular point in the series.
  • 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.
  • Walking Wasteland: Korabas, the Otataral Dragon. Because all life is magic, her aspect causes any area she crosses to become a wasteland. She was chained to keep this from happening, but never got a say in whether she wanted any of it, so naturally, when she gets the chance to fly free in The Crippled God, she does.
  • War Is Hell: With the exception of Toll the Hounds (and, to a lesser extent, Gardens of the Moon), the focus of the series is on military conflicts, and Erikson, being an anthropologist and archaeologist, doesn't shy from showing their sheer horror, from physical ordeals like the Bonehunters' flight from the burning Y'Ghatan or their march across the Glass Desert to their emotional impact; guilt and self-loathing, their transformation of people into burned-out shells of their former selves like the surviving Bridgeburners or Fist Blistig, or outright insanity, as in the case of Sinn. The series is not too subtle about this, especially with Duiker's descent into cynicism during the Chain of Dogs.
  • Weird Trade Union:
    • The Rat Catcher's Guild based in Letheras purposes to catch rats and other vermin. In truth, they act as the unofficial assassins guild, the guild of thieves (although some independently minded thieves refuse to join), a refugee smuggling ring and are conveniently contracted by the crown to investigate disappearances.
    • The Darujhistan-based Trygalle Trade Guild, with offices on several continents, is a collection of would-be adventurers that sign on as shareholders and put their lives on the line to deliver whatever the client wants delivered, which usually involves crossing other dimensions full of things that want to eat and/or skin you alive.
  • With Great Power Comes Great Insanity: Icarium, Sinn, Feather Witch, Hannan Mosag and lots of the followers of the Crippled God.
  • Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: Korabas, the Otataral Dragon. She never asked to be made what she is. Due to her nature, if she isn't chained up, she will destroy life wherever she flies, because life is magic and she is Anti-Magic. Not that she wants to do this — she actually wants to create something rather than destroying it for once in her existence. Unfortunately, she doesn't really have the ability, due to what she is. As a result, she has to be chained up for the survival of essentially everything else on the planet. There's nothing malicious about this on the part of the people keeping her chained — but there's also nothing malicious in her desire to be unchained. Being chained up is boring, after all. It's simply a case of being Blessed with Suck on an extreme level.
  • 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.
  • The Worm That Walks: T'iam when she incarnates in the final book, her body composed of the dragons that were present in a battle. She's so big and powerful that the world gets in danger because of her presence.
  • 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 Toll the Hounds, Spinnock Durav holds Kallor at bay for an entire night.

Alternative Title(s): The Malazan Book Of The Fallen


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