Posted by: markfender | February 4, 2015

Midnight Tides

What is with this cover? A box? How intriguing! I can’t wait to read this exciting looking book!

midnight tidesMidnight Tides is my favorite book in this series (I mean, unless one of these later books suddenly wins me over which, since I’ve read them before, I’m kind of doubting). It moves the story into the past and to an entirely new setting – a continent previously unexplored. This is kind of odd, considering we’re at the halfway point of the series. Not only that, but there aren’t any familiar characters here. We know Trull Sengar because the previous book featured him and this is the story of how he reached the place where he is in that book, but that’s it. Similarly, you won’t find the Deck of Dragons/warrens in this book, being replaced by Tiles/Holds, a much more ancient magic system that was eventually replaced by the Deck/warrens. In other words, this book annoys a lot of people because they’re on unfamiliar ground. But I happen to think it’s a strength.

This is also the book that ups the philosophizing to higher levels. The first quarter of the book is mostly just reflections from the principal characters on their situation. The two cultures in conflict are explored from a philosophical view primarily. The Letherii culture is probably the closest Erickson gets to preaching, seeing as how it’s based on capitalism and colonialism (which has obvious implications for us in the Western world). The Tiste Edur, on the other hand, are a tribal structure, which Erickson’s anthropology leanings fill in with extensive details. The greed and rapaciousness of the Letherii is contrasted with the staid culture of the Tiste Edur and neither get off lightly.

This book is also kind of depressing. Or, at least, it’s a downer. Most of the characters are unhappy with their situation and it reflects in how their viewpoints are written. Trull Sengar doubts, Seren Pedac critiques, Brys Beddict is skeptical, Tehol Beddict mocks, and Udinaas rails. This constant onslaught of negative emotions can make the book a bit of a slog. Again, I think it’s a strength, as these viewpoints are nuanced and contain some powerful writing. It’s not entirely perfect (there’s a speech near the end that sounds like Erickson is talking to a Anthropology 101 class) but it makes the entire book into more of a mood piece than previous books.

Not to say that there’s no humor. In fact, this book introduces Tehol Beddict and Bugg, his manservant, who are Erickson’s most successful humorous characters. They’re a great straight man team, setting each other for lots of zingers and one-liners. Their friendship is also pretty great. It also doesn’t hurt that Tehol is a master plotter and manipulates everyone and everything around him into achieving his goals, all while pulling off a disaffected demeanor that places his efficacy in question. The entire capital city has an odd tone, with even the most serious characters having a bit of humor about them. Shurq Eballe wanders the streets with a pole stuck through her head (It’s cool – she’s undead and doesn’t feel it). Harlist practices his scary undead tactics, hissing and hiding in sarcophagi. It’s a welcome distraction from the crushing depression everyone else labors under.

At its heart, this book is about two sets of brothers: the Beddict brothers of Hull, Brys, and Tehol and the Sengar brothers Fear, Trull, Rhulad, and Binidas (Although Binidas is mostly off-screen). All of them are in important roles in their respective cultures and have much to deal with throughout the book. When the war between the Letherii and the Tiste Edur begins to foment, the brothers are thrust into new roles and positions. The fight across the ice with the Sengars is a particular highlight as well as Rhulad’s “ascension” being one of the signature disturbing events in the entire series.

The mostly standalone nature of the novel may be the reason I enjoy it so much. I’d almost recommend it to new readers, as you don’t necessarily need the back story of the four previous novels to make it make sense. However, it does rely upon an understanding of some of the forces at work in the world – the prologue names specific warrens that would confuse new readers and introduces a Jaghut who’s important to the rest of the series. That and there are hints to other novels throughout the book (My favorite being the Tiste Edur who is killed near the end by depth pressure in the ocean – only because his body washes ashore in Memories of Ice…two books ago. That’s how intricately these things are plotted.)

It’s all downhill from here.

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