I’m enjoying Deadhouse Gates a lot. Its predecessor was a bit rough around the edges, but this book is where it all really comes alive. There was simply too much stuff in Gardens of the Moon for the reader to just sit down to enjoy. When you’re spending half of the time thinking “have I missed something vital?” then you are not having as much fun as you should be having.
It is for this reason that I am making this quick and to-the-point guide to Malazan. In it I will list and elaborate the concepts, cosmology, races, and main players of the setting, both for my easier reference, and yours.
Let’s begin. Malazan: Book of the Fallen takes place in a universe (technically a multiverse but let’s keep things simple) where intelligent races have existed long before humans, and the wonders they created tend to outshine what we’ve made in the comparatively short time our civilizations have existed.
Magic is a big, powerful factor here, and it is accessed by tapping into an alternate dimension For example, in order to cast Death magic, one needs to access the world of Death. Same with Shadow, Healing, etc. These alternate dimensions are called Warrens, and to access a Warren in order to cast a spell is referred to as opening a Warren.
Some Warrens are home to gods. A god is a powerful entity who has grasped a position of power within a particular Warren. So there is, say, a King of Shadow, a Knight of Shadow, etc. But not just anyone can become a god. In order to qualify for godhood, one first needs to ascend.
Ascendants are basically heroes; individuals with larger-than-life skills and abilities, who are immune to natural death. Most can use magic of some sort, and all can become gods by (among other ways) getting a large enough cult. The means by which one can attain ascendancy are vague early on, so let’s keep it mysterious.
Most humans who can use magic are born with the talent, then hone it through various means (depending on where they are born) in order to become mages. Most can access only one Warren, though some (Quick Ben for instance) can access more.
But enough about the metaphysics. Basically, Malazan chronicles a series of military conflicts centered around the (surprise surprise) Malazan Empire. This Empire is kind of antagonistic early on, though it’s difficult to say in a series with so many shades of grey. It is definitely a utilitarian, expansionist regime that aims to dominate the mortal world. Too bad it can barely hold itself together.
The Empire is actually quite young. Some time before the start of the series, a man called Kellanved led a group of capable individuals and forged the Empire out of basically nothing. He didn’t rule for long, though, as his spymistress (hilariously known as Surly) had him assassinated and took the title of Empress. Having renamed herself Laseen (meaning Thronemaster), she now struggles to maintain her grasp on power.
Bit by bit, the world Kellanved conquered is starting to reject Laseen, who now has the unenviable task of preventing the Empire from disintegrating. And how does she do that, you ask? Why, by conquering and looting new territories. This always works. Ask the Romans.
Early on in the series, Laseen sets her sights on fully claiming a continent called Genabackis. There used to be something called the Alliance of Free Cities there, most of which have been conquered. As of the start of Gardens of the Moon, only Pale and Darujhistan remain free. She would change that. But some big names have decided to put a stop to Laseen’s expansion right then and there, and this is where it all begins.
I won’t spoil the books, at least not on purpose, so let’s leave it at that. Next time, I think I will talk about races.
M. T. Miller