Posted by: markfender | January 21, 2015

Memories of Ice

I am not yet done.

moiMemories of Ice is one of the better books in this series. It rambles around a bit in the beginning, but the climax is suitably epic and tragic, checking off all the fantasy epic requirements. Ultimately, MoI is about motherhood and compassion, which seems like some odd subject matter when the plot itself is about waging war upon a crazed cult, but it works.

We return to the characters of Gardens of the Moon. The Malazan army is now outlawed and working with their former enemies, the armies of Caladan Brood and Anomander Rake, to destroy the Pannion Domin. I never really got the outlaw part. It turns out that they’re not really outlawed – it was all a feint by the Empire to crush the Pannion Domin…which feels a little too…altruistic for me. There’s also a bit where the events of Gardens are reinterpreted that also didn’t really work for me. It felt too much like an episode of Lost where, in search of another plot twist, they radically change everything you knew before, and not in a satisfactory way.

As is typical in these books, there’s tons of subplots, all playing with their own themes. Most come together in the end for a rousing finale, but some don’t. For some reason, Erickson decided to insert Kaubelain and Korbal Broach into the proceedings. These are characters he’s written short stories about (published separately and probably not included in this re-read). The short stories are actually pretty funny, if you enjoy really, really black humor. Here, their inclusion is odd. They don’t actually do anything, except get beaten up by people. Eventually, their caravan wanders off-page, never to be seen again.

Ultimately, this book is about the T’lan Imass and their unending war against the Jaghut. The T’lan Imass performed a ritual in the mists of time to turn their entire race into an undead force with one singular goal – to kill all the Jaghut. Now, their war is coming to an end and they seek release from the ritual, through their new living Bonecaster, Silverfox. Silverfox is the character formed from Tattersail, Nightchill, and Bellurdan in Gardens of the Moon (It’s kind of weird). While this plotline plays into the whole motherhood and compassion theme running throughout the book, it has several disappointing elements. For one, it doesn’t end. This plotline is continued in an Esselmont book…in fact, it’s the last Esselmont book (that I haven’t read). So, yeah, 12 books later. It also really confuses me on some points in a later book, which I’ll probably talk about then (but suffice it so say, Silverfox specifically mentions that Tattersail, Nightchill, and Bellurdan are within her, which is seemingly contradicted by a later book).

One thing that’s been evident in these books is how RPG they are. Most of the tropes of RPGs are explored, but in innovative twists. Anomander Rake is a badass dark elf with a Stormbringer-esque sword, but reading the books portrays a depth to the character (and the sword) that far outlives its origins in tropes. Erickson is usually successful in these trope-twists, but not always. For instance, Otatral (which I probably should have talked about with the last book, as it’s more prevalent there) is the anti-magic dust. But, did you know it also accelerates healing? There’s not a good reason I can think of for this weird side effect, unless you play D&D. If you weren’t able to be affected by magic in D&D, you also couldn’t be healed by the cleric. Thus, the accelerated healing properties. Likewise, the Trygalle Trade Guild feels like too much of a deus ex machina to ever sit comfortably with me (They’ve shown up in two books so far, and will be in more). The magical teleporting merchant caravan doesn’t work for me, either as a fun D&Dism or a plot mechanic.

However, there are times when Erickson takes the tropes of D&D and completely owns them. For instance, with Itkovian.

Itkovian is one of my favorite characters from the entire series and he first shows up in this book. He’s the Shield Anvil of the Grey Swords, essentially a mercenary paladin company. Dedicated to a god of war, they’re all religious fighters – as close as you can get to the traditional paladin D&D archetype. As Shield Anvil, Itkovian is responsible for bearing the spiritual burdens of the company. Unlike most paladins in D&D games, however, Itkovian is not a dick. His “power” is the power to forgive. That seems kind of lame on the face of it, but Erickson makes that matter. The first person Itkovian tries to forgive, to accept his guilt, is the leader of the Pannion Domin’s cannibal army, a man who feels that everything he’s done is unforgivable. Forgiveness, in this form, actually becomes a weapon, forcing him to retreat from Itkovian’s raw acceptance and compassion. And Itkovian is not yet done. He bears the sins of countless others throughout the book in increasing displays of raw, unfettered compassion. It’s very New Testament, which is typically the least used of all religious ideas in fantasy (even though paladins are ostensibly based on Christianity). Another aspect of his character I really liked is how he’s very active in pursuing compassion. He seeks out those who need succor, committing himself far beyond his abilities in order to provide acceptance and forgiveness. After seeing hundreds of D&D paladins use their morals to browbeat entire groups, Itkovian is a breath of fresh air. Ultimately, Itkovian cares and is able to minister to others through that caring. He’s a martyr in the most self-sacrificing way possible and is singularly awesome because of it. And he is not yet done.

Itkovian is best paladin.

By the end of this book, Erickson has practically wiped the slate clean. Entire armies are destroyed and important characters we’ve been with for three books are dead. After the purge at the end of Deadhouse Gates, it almost seems like there isn’t much Malazan Empire left, and yet there’s at least six more books. What the hell is in those other books? Good thing one of the chapters in Memories of Ice does nothing but provide foreshadowing for books 4-6 and 8 (If I’m remembering correctly, and I’m not guaranteeing that I am). At times, Memories of Ice feels too scattered for its own good. And yet, it’s one of the more emotionally affecting books in the entire series. The themes it explores are universal and not-oft explored in fantasy literature.

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