I continue my reread of Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen with Memories of Ice. During my first run-through of the series, I counted this novel as being one of my 3 favourites and I am glad that my enjoyment did not diminish on the reread. In fact, my reading experience was heightened because of the fact I have become more proficient in understanding this deep and complicated fantasy world. Memories of Ice is close to a 10/10 reading experience, however, that is not to say that every aspect of the book gelled perfectly with me.
The 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 looking to ally with former adversaries such as Annomander Rake, his Tiste Andii and the warlord Caladan Brood. This potential alliance has a common purpose, to investigate the new threat that has presented itself in the form of the Pannion Seer. This prophet has an extremely sizeable force that comprises religious zealots, cannibals, mages, supernatural beings, and the Women of the Dead Seed. The seer’s empire is enveloping the surrounding nations and, to coincide, the warrens are becoming poisoned and deadly to those that would normally access their magics. The gods and ascendants are as imposing, powerful, and important as they were in the series’ previous entries yet there is an alien entity that seeks prominence, is unforgiving, and may be aligning with or supporting the Pannion Seer’s ambitions.
“Kallor shrugged. ‘[…] I have walked this land when the T’lan Imass were but children. I have commanded armies a hundred thousand strong. I have spread the fire of my wrath across entire continents, and sat alone upon tall thrones. Do you grasp the meaning of this?’
‘Yes,’ [said Caladan Brood.] ‘You never learn.”
The dramatis personae contains around 150 characters and it was strangely comforting to rejoin some of my favourite players from Gardens of the Moon. Most notably, the Bridgeburners, such as Captain Paran and Quick Ben, and the Knight of Darkness, Anomander Rake. Paran, again, finds himself wrapped up in happenings that should be overwhelming yet his uncompromising nature and actions rightly lead to him gaining the respect of others; often formidable peers. Quick Ben showcases more magical prowess, and the intrigue around who he is and how he possesses such powers is always fascinating. Finally, Anomander Rake just oozes scene-stealing coolness, which Erikson uses to full effect during the infrequent moments when he frequents the pages. There are some fine new additions too, including Gruntle, Stonny, and Itkovian. Furthermore, Silverfox’s amalgamation of souls creates some excellent drama and causes divides amongst the alliance, and this novel is the first time, in the main series, that Erikson introduces the nightmarish yet often darkly humorous necromancers, Bauchelian and Korbal Broach.
Memories of Ice works in fine fashion as a standalone structured narrative. It includes so many excellent moments, gripping sieges, peculiar yet awesome fellowships and groups travelling with often unsynced motives in mind, romances and bromances, age-old rivalries and bitterness, and, not forgetting, dinosaurs that have swords for arms! Another neat addition that Erikson delivers is moments when the characters here are informed of, or do something that impacts the events as they are unfolding in Deadhouse Gates.
Incorporating all of these elements, Memories of Ice is beautifully written and was the moment when Erikson cemented his position as a master weaver of tales that pluck the heartstrings. Everything was more purposeful and precise in this entry, however, that is not to deny the power of some phenomenal scenes that he has presented prior. A minor criticism that I do have is that the dream sequences seemed laborious. The payoff was well worked regarding what it could equate to in future entries yet it felt hard-earned when we finally got there. This small misstep aside, Memories of Ice is one of my top ten fantasy novels of all time. It is fantastic.