Weekend Respite: Good Book Review – House of Chains by Steven Erikson

Yay, it’s the weekend! That means we’re back to our weekly good book review series. As usual, I’m working my way through the entire Malazan Book of the Fallen series, so now we’re on book #4, House of Chains. From the publisher’s summary:


In Northern Genabackis, a raiding party of savage tribal warriors descends from the mountains into the southern flat lands. Their intention is to wreak havoc amongst the despised lowlanders, but for the one named Karsa Orlong it marks the beginning of what will prove an extraordinary destiny.

Some years later, it is the aftermath of the Chain of Dogs. Tavore, the new Adjunct to the Empress, has arrived in the last remaining Malazan stronghold on Seven Cities. New to command, she must hone twelve thousand soldiers, mostly raw recruits but for a handful of veterans of Coltaine’s legendary march, into a force capable of challenging the massed hordes of Sha’ik’s Whirlwind who lie in wait at the heart of the Holy Desert.

But waiting is never easy. The seer’s warlords are locked in a power struggle that threatens the very soul of the rebellion, while Sha’ik herself suffers, haunted by the knowledge of her nemesis: her own sister, Tavore.

And so begins this awesome new chapter in Steven Erikson’s acclaimed Malazan Book of the Fallen..

House of Chains starts out by introducing us to Trull Sengar as he is being cast out of his kin, the Tiste Edur. Wait, you say, another race of Tiste? Oh yes. The Edur are the grey-skinned relatives of the Tiste Andii. And they sure do hate each other. The Edur chain Trull to the wall of the Nascent (which is a flooded fragment of Kurald Emurlahn, in the warren of Shadow), leaving Trull to be drowned as the sea rises. We’ll come back to Trull later…

“One day, perhaps, you will see for yourself that regrets are as nothing. The value lies in how they are answered.” 

We then skip into the introduction of my personal favorite character of the series, Karsa Orlong. Oh Karsa. There’s so much I can say about Karsa that will make him your favorite as well, but you will definitely start out hating this motherfucker. Karsa is an arrogant prick. I mean, that’s one of his defining traits and eventually becomes quite endearing, however the first third of this book is our introduction to Karsa and wow did it make me dislike him at first.


Whenever I picture Karsa in my mind, I picture this image, but with Jason Momoa portraying him. That might make me love Karsa just a teeny bit more…

Karsa sets off with two companions to basically wreck havoc all over northern Genebackis, raping and raiding and pillaging as they go. He does this all to bring pride and honor back to the tribe of Teblor, feeling shame that his father never did the same. Karsa is a warrior and war-leader, through and through. He and his companions, Bairoth and Delum, eventually come across a Forkrul Assail (one of the ancient founding races) who is trapped underneath a large boulder. They free her and she immediately lashes out, attacking and injuring Delum.


The Forkrul Assail are real weird. Most of the founding races are. 

Eventually Karsa is captured and taken via sea to the continent of Seven Cities. During his captivity, he meets another slave, Torvald Nom. They also get lost in the realm of the Nascent, where they come across the ship Silandra, which is powered by a team of headless Tiste Edur rowers. Yeah, the ship’s real freaky. Eventually Karsa and Torvald escape, part ways, and Karsa makes his way to Sha’ik’s Whirlwind, becoming part of her guard.

Karsa’s expression soured. ‘When I began this journey, I was young. I believed in one thing. I believed in glory. I know now, Siballe, that glory is nothing. Nothing. This is what I now understand.’
‘What else do you now understand, Karsa Orlong?’
‘Not much. Just one other thing. The same cannot be said for mercy.’ 

During the entire first third of the book, while you’re working your way through Karsa’s backstory, your feelings towards him as a character should shift pretty hard. When he’s first introduced, he’s pretty fucking despicable. This was another moment where I thought about just putting the book down and not continuing, because he’s just such an unlikable character at the beginning. His growth as a character, however, is just immense. As you follow along with all he encounters from the time he leaves his homeland to the time he arrives at Sha’ik’s camp, you start to love him. You see him grow so much, both in maturity and power. It is seriously the start of one of the best character arcs in the entire series. I just fucking love Karsa so much.

“You have learned much, Karsa Orlong.”
“I have, T’lan Imass. As you shall witness.” 

And that’s just the first third of the book!

We then meet up with the Malazans remaining in Aren on Seven Cities after Coltaine’s death. They’re basically trying to figure out wtf just happened with the Chain of Dogs, and trying to recover as much semblance of normalcy as possible. We meet up again with Lostara Yil and Pearl. They’re sent off on yet another secret mission, this time from the Adjunct Tavore. We start meeting a whole new slew of Malazans in Tavore’s 14th army, including a sergeant named Strings (who everyone knows is actually Fiddler, but they somewhat indulge his desire for a new identity).

God, there’s just so much that happens in this book. I’m not even anywhere close to introducing all the new important characters that come about in this story. Let’s just say, every single character you meet in this story is important, how about that? Here you go, read the Dramatis Personae and just memorize everyone.

“The heart is neither given nor stolen. The heart surrenders.” 

We eventually head back to poor Trull Sengar, who is pretty close to drowning in the sea of the Nascent. Wandering along the top of the wall is the T’lan Imass Onrack, who eventually comes across Trull and decides to save him.

We head back to Sha’ik’s camp where Felesin Paran, who has become Sha’ik Reborn, has taken to her rule… somewhat. She is having trouble controlling both her mages and her warriors, led by Korbolo Dom. She has also adopted a daughter and named her Felesin the Younger. They’re preparing for war with the coming Malazan army, led by Tavore. Also, spoiler alert: Tavore has no idea Sha’ik is now her sister.

‘There’s little value in seeking to find reasons for why people do what they do, or feel the way they feel. Hatred is a most pernicious weed, finding root in any kind of soil. It feeds on itself.’
‘With words.’
‘Indeed, with words. Form an opinion, say it often enough and pretty soon everyone’s saying it right back at you, and then it becomes a conviction, fed by unreasoning anger and defended with weapons of fear. At which point, words become useless and you’re left with a fight to the death.’

Oh man, also I forgot that Karsa eventually meets up with Icarium and Mappo Runt and basically almost causes the destruction of the world, but thankfully both Icarium and Karsa are knocked unconscious before anything could happen. Maybe don’t put two insanely physically powerful beings together when one of them will challenge anyone he thinks could beat him.

‘The man flinched. Quiet! my wife!’
‘Is she sleeping?’
Iskaral Pust’s face small face was so like a Bhok’aral’s that the assassin was wondering at the man’s bloodline – no, Kalam, don’t be ridiculous – ‘Sleeping?’ the priest sputtered. ‘She never sleeps! No, you fool, she hunts!’
‘Hunts? What does she hunt?’
‘Not what. Who. She hunts for me, of course.’ His eyes glittered as he stared at Kalam. ‘ But has she found me? No! We’ve not seen each other for months! Hee he!’ He jutted his head closer. ‘It’s a perfect marriage. I’ve never been happier. You should try it.’ 

There’s just so much intense stuff that happens in this book that it’s hard to write a very concise review. That’s one of the major problems with the Malazan series… so much happens, so many characters have important arcs, there’s just so much to keep track of. It can become overwhelming if you’re not focused. When I read, I tend to skim as much as possible, which means I tend to miss what I would normally consider minor details. The problem with that in this series is that there ARE NO minor details. Everything seems to have significance. Everything is important.

‘Is that all we mortals are? The victims of tortured irony to amuse an insane murder of gods?’
‘A murder of crows, a murder of gods-I like that, lass.’ 

Each chapter typically begins with a piece of poetry or song that was created for this universe. I am a terrible reader and typically skip these. DON’T DO IT. Again, these tend to be chock full of details that explain so much about the world, or the history, or the backstories of characters. You could probably put them all together as a “Collective Works of the Malazan World” and wind up learning so much about the universe this series is set in.

House of Chains isn’t my favorite book in the series, however it’s one of the most important, plot and character-wise. Because so much goes on, it’s honestly quite a quick read (well, in comparison to other Malazan novels). I typically read only about an hour before bed every night, and this one took me about 3 weeks to get through, but it’s also 1,021 pages of awesome. And I think I’ve said this about nearly every book in the series so far, but it really does help to set the stage for the later novels.

There’s nothing unimportant in this series, and House of Chains does a great job showing just how much everything ties into everything else.

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