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Fall of Light is the second novel in the Kharkanas Trilogy by Canadian fantasy author Steven Erikson, the sequel to Forge of Darkness, prequels that help explain the incredibly deep history of the excellent series The Malazan Book of the Fallen. Dealing with the origins of the Tiste Andii, Tiste Edur and Tiste Liosan, as well as several pieces of backstory and history for a number of major characters in the series, and even the fundamental underpinnings of the magic system that permeates the various worlds of Malazan, Fall of Light continues a fascinating glimpse into the history of this amazing setting.

The winter is bitter. Civil war threatens Kurald Galain for the warrior Urusander’s army has begun its march on the city of Kharkanas. Led by the ruthless Hunn Raal, it intends to cast aside Mother Dark’s consort, Draconus, and set Urusander himself on the throne beside the Living Goddess. Those who would stand in the way of the rebels lie scattered and weakened – leaderless since Anomander went in search of an estranged brother. In his stead, Silchas Ruin seeks to gather the Houseblades of the Highborn families to him, and to resurrect the legendary Hust Legion, but time is not on his side.

Far to the west, an unlikely army musters. It seeks an enemy without form, in a place none can find. And yet Hood’s call has been heard and the long-abandoned city of Omtose Phellack is now home to a rabble of new arrivals: Dog-Runners from the south, Jheck warriors, and blue-skinned strangers from across the Western Sea have come to offer Hood their swords. From the distant mountains and isolated valleys of the North, Thel Akai arrive to pledge themselves in this seemingly impossible war. Soon, they will set forth with weapons drawn under the banners of the living in pursuit of Death itself.

Such events presage chaos, and now magic bleeds into this realm. Unconstrained, mysterious and savage, it begins to run loose and wild and following its scent, seeking the places of wounding and hurt – new and ancient entities gather.

In a world becoming rotten with sorcery, can honour truly exist?

As anybody who has read the rest of the Malazan series can attest, Erikson and Esslemont have created a -very- large and -very- old world. The 10-book series contains a frankly ridiculous amount of content and a cast of characters that is easily in the hundreds. In a setting like that there simply is not time to actually cover all of the exposition necessary for a full understanding of the setting and characters. That may sound like a problem, and I’ve read several reviews of this and other books in the series that criticize them for leaving so much unanswered and unexplained, but to be honest, it’s a refreshing change. Our world is too big for us to fully know and understand everything about how it works, why should a fantasy world be any different? The stories are great, we get enough exposition and information to follow the story, and the sense that the world is even larger than what we see makes it feel more real, not impossible to follow. Leaving some things to wonder is a plus as far as I’m concerned.

That said, the whole point of this trilogy and a number of other novels published by both Erikson and Esslemont is to start to fill in some of those large gaps in history and I’m very glad they exist. The story of the Tiste being told in this trilogy is fascinating. Going back to a time before the actual split of the Tiste people into the three distinct races we find in the Malazan series really helps inform so many scenes from the chronologically later series. The interactions between Anomander and his brothers, and the role played by Mother Dark were things it is both very helpful to know when looking back over other events, and that could not possibly have been shoehorned into the other books with everything else that was going on. I feel like, as these ancillary novels are published, we’re going to develop some arcane version of the Star Wars Machete Order as the ideal way to process the whole series by ducking out of the main story to read some background at certain key points before going back to it. Of course, given how much they already jump around characters and settings, it would be more like “after chapter 6 of book 4, read chapters 1 through 12 of this other book, then go back for chapter 7, 8 and 9, then read chapter 13-18 of the other book” but you know what? If you sign up for 20 books you should expect a little effort!

I’m certainly biased when it comes to reviewing these novels. I am bought so far into the Malazan scene, that I have a list of subjects I would like additional novels to be written on, and I evangelize this series as being superior to any other long-form fantasy series every written to pretty much everybody who’ll listen. This means I’m probably blind to any minor flaws this series has to some people. I do know a lot of people have tried to jump into this series and floundered because it pulls so few punches in terms of following what’s going on. That said, I really am enjoying this trilogy. Not quite as much as the main series, but definitely these are enjoyable books.

If you’ve read and enjoyed the Malazan series, you should absolutely be picking these up. You can read them more in order of which setting/characters you liked best and won’t lose anything from doing so. Aside from the benefits of learning more about this incredibly deep and well-constructed world, Erikson continues his top-notch writing of both scene and dialogue. His ability to handle even very serious scenes with exactly the right type of humour and wit make Fall of Light a pleasure to read.

Dan received an advanced review copy of this book from Random House UK via NetGalley

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