The Forge of Darkness - Steven Erikson If you’re a fan of the Malazan Book of the Fallen, forget everything you ever thought you knew about the Tiste, the Jaghut, or anything or anyone else you encountered in that series. Better yet – since Erikson here and other authors in my recent reading have emphasized that the stories we tell ourselves are but simplifications, rationalizations and justifications to force the world to make sense – do remember what you’ve learned about the author’s world and weigh it against what you learn and what’s hinted at in Forge of Darkness.

Forge is typically Erikson – a sprawling, multi-POV tour de force where several stories play out at once. The author is getting better at keeping his tale focused, however. Many reviewers of The Fallen remark that things only begin to come together around book three, and – for my money – Erikson doesn’t really begin to tell the story he wants to until book five (at least). Here, though, Erikson has better control. There are three foci: Anomander, the First Son of Mother Dark, and the people in his orbit; Draconus, Mother Dark’s Consort, and those swept up in his wake; and Urusander, retired leader of Urusander’s Legion, one of the defenders of Kurald Galain in a recent war with the Forulkan (aka, the Forkrul Assail). And it’s all to the better that these three principals rarely take center stage; the story is told from the point of view of their followers and allies.

Erikson is also getting better at writing scenes with emotional impact. I’ve put what follows in a “spoiler” tag because (1) it’s an extreme example of my assertion about Erikson’s growth as a writer, and (2) it involves rape, and I know that will turn many people off of reading the book. You have to trust me that it’s not gratuitous, it’s not voyeuristic, and it’s not in any way pleasant to read (it’s reminiscent of Hetan’s mutilation and ordeal). In The Fallen, Stonny’s rape at the hands of a Pannion Domin soldier happens off-stage. We see the outward consequences of the crime but scant attempt to get into her head. In Forge, the gloves come off and we witness a brutal – and fatal – gang rape and do get into the head of one of the rapists, Narad, a man who fell into soldiering with Urusander’s Legion by chance. He’s a potentially interesting character as Erikson appears to be exploring how a person can do what he did and how can a person deal with the consequences – does he become the monster he’s afraid he might be, does the crime break him, or does he salvage something from the wreck he’s made? I feel a bit uncomfortable suggesting a rapist can find atonement but this is a theme that Erikson has played with before – the brutalizing effect of violence and how people deal with it. I’m interested to see how Narad’s story is going to play out in the next two books.

Of less ominously fraught interest are Arathan, Draconus’ bastard son, and Korya Delath, a Tiste hostage of the Jaghut Haut, who reminds me of Kruppe in his interactions with Korya and others. I like both because I see reflections of myself in their characters so there’s a natural affinity, and both promise to be major factors in subsequent events. At the end of Forge, Arathan is left in the hands of Gothos (who readers of The Fallen will be familiar with) along with Korya in the abandoned Jaghut city of whose existence we got a glimpse in the final volumes of The Fallen. There are several others who’ve peaked my interest: Feren of the Borderswords, Faror Hend and Finarra Stone of the Wardens who watch the Vitr, and Sandalath (another character familiar to readers of the previous series).

I am looking forward to what’s going to happen to them. (I think; Erikson is not above having very unpleasant things happen to his characters. I may not enjoy getting what I’ve wished for.)

For fans of the Malazan novels, there’s a wealth of revelations and hints about the origins and natures of old acquaintances: the Sons of Mother Dark, Mother Dark herself, Father Light, Sandalath and Orfantal, the Shake, the eldest gods, Draconus and Hood (our favorite god of death), to name but a few. The best developed in this respect (at the moment) is Draconus. He’s not evil except in a relative sense since his actions – blinded by ego and confused motives – have disastrous consequences. It’s from his gift, for example, that Mother Dark flees Kurald Galain, and it’s in quest of that gift that Hood loses his mate and subsequently vows to defeat death.

As readers should expect, there’re the usual philosophical concerns that Erikson wrestles with – among them, the nature of faith and worship, the paradox of power and its use, the price of civilization, the brutalizing nature of violence, and the need to learn humility.

This is not the place to begin one’s experience with Steven Erikson. Forge of Darkness assumes that its readers have read the Malazan Book of the Fallen, and woe betide those who haven’t. So if you’re an Erikson tyro, start with that saga, and pay attention. If you’re already a fan, this is a very solid entry in the author’s oeuvre and promises good things to come in books two and three.