REVIEW: Deadhouse Gates by Steven Erikson

Last Updated on February 14, 2024

My Malazan Book of the Fallen re-read continues with Deadhouse Gates. I was looking forward to revisiting this novel, remembering that it contained great characters, memorable journeys, and soul-wrenching heartache.

Deadhouse Gates by Steven EriksonAfter getting to know the characters that were featured throughout Gardens of the Moon, Erikson introduces a mostly new ensemble in Deadhouse Gates. The events of this book take place throughout the Seven Cities, including the Holy Desert Raraku. This continent is currently occupied by the Malazan Empire however, driven by the prophetess Sha’ik and the Whirlwind, a rebellion is gaining traction.

Throughout this tale, we follow half a dozen varied characters and groups, focusing on their journeys, agendas, or sorrow. One such band features some returning players from the previous entry, Bridgeburners Fiddler (sapper), Kalam (assassin), Apsalar (assassin), and Darujhistan resident Crokus. Elsewhere, we have the wanderings of two friends, Icarium and Mappo, both formidable warriors, one of whom is dangerously overpowered and has obliterated entire cities. Another main focus is that of Felisin Paran who has been betrayed by her elder sister following the Malazan Empire’s culling of certain noble houses. The most notable perspective in Deadhouse Gates and one that is hugely influential to the entire series is the Imperial Historian Duiker’s account of the Malazan’s 7th army during the uprising. The 7th is commanded by Fist, Wickan Crow Clan leader, war-veteran, and former enemy of the Malazan Empire, Coltaine. The narratives in Deadhouse Gates feel more focused and palatable to what was presented previously in Gardens of the Moon, with each group having duties and motives that we follow, some of which are more obvious than others.

‘No-one who’s grown up amidst scrolls and books can write of the world,’ Kellanved had told him once, ‘which is why I’m appointing you Imperial Historian, soldier.’
‘Emperor, I cannot read or write.’
‘An unsullied mind. Good. Toc the Elder will be teaching you over the next six months – he’s another soldier with a brain. Six months, mind. No more than that.’
‘Emperor, it seems to me that he would be better suited than I—’
‘I’ve something else in store for him. Do as I say or I’ll have you spiked on the city wall.’

Although I enjoyed following every perspective, there is a lot of travelling and wandering and this led to some segments dragging, therefore, being not that fun to read. With the 7th army, some of the action from the skirmishes blurred and seemed repetitive. This may have all been intentional by the author with the chaos and confusion presented not being crystal clear or easy to follow, it highlights the desperation and ups the stakes as this storyline approaches its devastating conclusion. This all being said, there are frequent moments of camaraderie and wit, in addition to heightened set-piece spectacles. One scene that stands out is a moment where Coltaine wishes to reward a soldier for bravery, yet, without intending to, demotes his rank, leading to awkward and comic results. These subtle moments of humanity, confusion, and events not always going a set way, however well-intentioned, add to the dramatic impact of this storyline.

If how grimdark a book is was solely rated by the levels of violence and tragedy then Deadhouse Gates would feature highly on such a scale. Lots of awful things happen, such as the unpleasant and dark horrors presented to Felisin throughout her fall from grace and the resulting journey. I will also note that I clearly remembered a character death that features in Deadhouse Gates from my first read 8 years ago. It shocked me then and was no less impactful on a second visit. What made this moment stand out is that it was an absolutely unpredictable and underserved death for a likeable, important cast member. This defied my expectations and changed the way I followed and cared for characters in later entries because everyone is expendable and even if a character is a fan-favourite, they will probably not get the spectacular death that their deeds warrant.

Who in the Abyss has such power? He could think of but two: Anomander Rake, the Son of Darkness, and Osric. Both Soletaken, both supremely arrogant. If there were others, the tales of their activities would have reached him, he was certain. Warriors talk about heroes. Mages talk about Ascendants. He would have heard.

We are presented with more insight into the magic scheme of warrens, mages, ascendants and gods in Deadhouse Gates. I adored the sense of dread, uncertainty, and powerlessness that players faced when finding themselves lost in a warren or fighting against extremely capable magic users. Following on from some of his exchanges in this book, I am already remembering why the ascendant Cotillion went on to become one of my favourite characters in the series

With the conflicts and revolution showcased in this novel, living in this world is difficult enough, and that is before you add into the mix shapeshifters, demons, undead dragons, deadhouses, and a spider-despising priest whose sanity is questionable. These high stakes and immense risks are probably one of the main reasons that I enjoy following and rooting for characters like Fiddler. He is not an overpowered mage or god-possessed assassin, he is a witty and honourable veteran soldier in an extremely dangerous environment.

I had a great time returning to Seven Cities and having the Malazan Empire expanded again to me as a reader. The world showcased here feels gritty, deadly, and dark, making some of the locations and set pieces in Gardens of the Moon seem almost cartoony by comparison. The novel’s finale is epic and intense, a tear-jerker that has stayed with me ever since I read it the first time. It does not get any easier to bear the second time. To conclude, quite simply, I consider Deadhouse Gates to be an incredible and impactful epic fantasy read. 9/10.

Lull nodded. ‘That’s a succinct summary of humankind, I’d say. Who needs tomes and volumes of history? Children are dying. The injustices of the world hide in those three words. Quote me, Duiker, and your work’s done.’

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James Tivendale

James Tivendale

Reviewer. Sober. Runner. Peer Mentor. Pool Player. Poker Player. Fitness. Metal. Rap. Mario Kart. Zelda.

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[…] events of Memories of Ice run concurrently with those that readers witnessed in Deadhouse Gates. Here we are following the Malazan Empire outlaws Whiskeyjack and Onearm’s army, as they are […]

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