Forge of Darkness displayed Erikson at the top of his prose but unfortunately, the book was bogged down by too much too much too much TOO MUCH philosophies.
Before I get to that though, let me just say that it’s quite baffling that there’s a list that recommends starting Malazan from Forge of Darkness instead of Gardens of the Moon. I’ve read and loved the main series but this novel took the cake for being the most difficult to get into. If I haven’t read the main series, this would be at best a 2 stars read. I’m not kidding, the saving grace of this novel was Erikson’s prose and the knowledge on what the characters will do in the future, this is only possible if the reader has read the main series, Malazan Book of the Fallen.
Philosophy Darkness is the first book in Steven Erikson’s Kharkanas trilogy. It’s a prequel trilogy to Malazan Book of the Fallen. The main series is one of my top three favorite series of all time, knowing that I’ll get to learn more about the background of the Tiste Andii truly excited me. But honestly? I’m disappointed with this one. Forge of Darkness is so different than what I thought it would be. I truly thought we’re going to learn about the Tiste race more than anything but this seems to be a book about Draconus more than anything else.
Don’t get me wrong, Draconus and Arathan’s storyline were easily the best perspectives to read out of the entire novel. Their storyline was full of meaningful philosophical discussions, engaging dialogues, well-paced, and most of all crucial in giving even more insight into the main series. The last quarter of the book (chapter 16 and 20 being my favorite chapters) in particular was amazing because we get to see more familiar faces from the main series appearing. It was a joy to read more out of these characters and see some revelations on how they meet and what drove their motivations unfolds.
“We are all interludes in history, a drawn breath to make pause in the rush, and when we are gone, those breaths join the chorus of the wind. But who listens to the wind?”
However, I do wish that we get to see more of Anomander Rake and the Tiste Andii more. Instead, readers are forced to read—again—new characters that totally felt like fillers. I don’t give a damn about most of the new characters, not only they’re not interesting, I’m reading this trilogy to learn more about the characters I have come to love in the main series.
Erikson’s inclusion of philosophies and social commentaries were some of the factors I loved the most about Malazan Book of the Fallen. Sure it can get a bit too much at times but the majority of the times, they were there to add value to the narrative or characters. In here though? Nope, remember that anything that’s too much is never good and Erikson really went out of control with philosophical content and rambling here. The eight book in the main series, Toll the Hounds is very well known for its colossal philosophical content; the reception towards it was quite divisive among the fans, but for me, that book somehow managed to become one of my favorite installment from the main series. Forge of Darkness philosophical content is at least twice more than the one I found in Toll the Hounds. I started this book highlighting some brilliant passage because my brain was still fresh from starting the book. By the 26% sections of the novel, I was often sick and dizzy by the barrage of philosophical rambling and just couldn’t care less by how smart Erikson was as an anthropologist.
Look, I LOVE reading philosophies and social commentaries in my fantasy read, often times they are some of the aspects that make the book memorable to me. But this was simply too much that most of the times the book felt like reading Erikson giving a speech to me directly about civilization, faith, and how cruel humanity are rather than actually reading a novel. The sense of escapism was gone, characters lose their distinctive voice, and to make things even worse, there were a lot of times where no main POV character’s name was used in five-ten pages of philosophical rambling that it was very easy to forget who was actually talking. The quality and advancement of the main story got lost in the flood of contemplation that doesn’t add any value other than to preach and the pacing also ended up moving at an extremely slow pace.
“There is but one god, and its name is beauty. There is but one kind of worship, and that is love. There is for us but one world, and we have scarred it beyond recognition.”
Erikson has mentioned that Kharkanas trilogy has been selling really poorly, after reading this book I’m really not surprised at all. If it weren’t due to the reasons that Malazan Book of the Fallen is one of my favorite series of all time and I have a strong attachment towards the series and characters, I would’ve rated this book at best a 2 stars. In my opinion, this is Erikson’s weakest work in the entire Malazan world after Dust of Dreams. As I mentioned above though, it’s not all bad. Some of the revelations on how the characters met and how some pivotal events occurred were awesome. I also think that prose-wise, this was Erikson at his top. It’s just a shame that his prose wasn’t implemented into things that actually matter like advancing the main plot, better characterizations, engaging dialogues, action sequences; Erikson channeled all the best of his prose into one thing: philosophical content, and there was simply too much of it that it ends up bringing the quality of the entire book down for me.
Although I sounded more negative than positive within this review, I did enjoy reading the book and the last chapter concluded the book brilliantly. Everything in this novel seems more like a prelude and because of this, I feel like there’s still hope that the sequel, Fall of Light to be superior. With that notion in mind, I will proceed to the sequel immediately with the right expectation.
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