It’s hard to know what to say about Steven Erikson’s superb ten-volume Malazan Book of the Fallen that hasn’t already been said. Phenomenal? Epic? Absolutely. Complex, funny, tragic, deep? Without a doubt. The greatest work of fantasy yet written? In my opinion, yes.
Perhaps I can put it best by saying that the Malazan series is the most complete work of fiction I have ever encountered. Somehow, Erikson has managed to combine an astonishing breadth of scope with a no less astonishing depth of insight and theme. His plotting is brilliant. His exploration of character is second to none, for both variety and depth. His setting is as epic as you’re ever likely to see. His prose is masterful. Erikson never pulls his punches, but neither are the books unremittingly grim. Over the course of the series, just about every facet of human existence is explored, questioned, and put into new perspective. Yet the emotional payoff at the end of each volume is always compelling and frequently devastating.
This is a series which changes its readers. Is there any higher compliment for a work of fiction than that?
And for people like me who are scratching out their own stories, the Malazan series shows just how much you can do with words. Erikson himself has deconstructed this aspect of his work in a series of essays which I’d recommend to anyone with an interest in the craft of writing.
No work of fiction stands alone, of course. Without Tolkien, without others along the way, the Malazan series would never have come into being. All the same, if I was asked to name the single greatest achievement in the field of fantasy, I wouldn’t have to think about it for even a moment. The Malazan Book of the Fallen stands head and shoulders above every other work of fantasy I’ve ever read.