(2016) Steven Erikson, Bantam Books, £9.99, pbk, 1,100pp, ISBN 978-0-553-82013-3
Reading the 'Kharkanas ' trilogy has been my first experience of the writing of Steven Erikson. Speaking to other fantasy fans, he is clearly a writer who divides opinion. There is an embracing of fantasy’s legacy, but also a desire to subvert accepted tropes and conventional ideas, exploring complexities that other writers might not have the inclination to attempt.
This trilogy is ostensibly set a very long time before Erikson’s Gardens of the Moon. Although, this is not as clear cut a premise as it seems and it does not really follow that these books should be read in a lineal order, unless you would be reading for a second or third time.
Fall of Light, the second of the Kharkanas trilogy, is a thick and demanding read. Erikson is known to require your full attention and engagement with his stories, but in this case, exceptionally so. The story of the first book in the series, Forge of Darkness, sets out the instigation for a coming civil war, in Fall of Light, the civil war begins in earnest as Kurald Garain is beset by different forces who would seek to rule it.
The continued story in Fall of Light is not really its main attraction and this is why the trilogy might be better suited for established Malazan and Erikson fans, rather than newcomers to his work, like me. Taken at face value, there is a sense of ponderousness and sparsity to the churn of events as Erikson indulgences himself in allegory, and answering large questions that aren’t as directly relevant to the immediate events as they might be. There is also something a little dated about the rich dialogue, making the experience an acquired taste, which probably would be easy enough to acquire through reading the author’s other work.
On finishing the novel, a new reader of Erikson is left feeling that we have not travelled very far for all the effort.
Outside of the Erikson fanbase, readers of Robert Jordan who have not discovered the Malazan series may enjoy these works as there is a similar weight and exhaustiveness of detail. At times, Jordan could become wayward with the plot and it would be my thought that Erikson can be the same, although there is a sense that the writer is packing in detail, preventing you from skimming any part of the page that you might find yourself doing with someone else. There are many sides, many agendas, many characters and many mysteries, some of which might have been cut to strengthen the priority of the book’s own story, as opposed to the author’s wish to add to the rich layers of the world of which he is writing. The gravitas of scenes is stressed and, although there is some humour present at times to subvert and highlight some of the fantasy tropes at work, this does not temper the reduced priority of the book’s plot.
Fall of Light does demonstrate the need for a writer to think about new readers when approaching an extended fantasy series and the need to consider the balance of narrative versus exposition in a new book. That said, Erikson is known to tread his own path on this and is likely to determine his own solution to any shortcomings he may find in his own work.
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