Weekend Respite – Good Book Review: Midnight Tides by Steven Erikson

Happy weekend, everyone! Welcome back our Weekend Respite series where I actually get to talk about books I enjoy reading! If you’ve stuck with me so far, you can take a guess what I’ll be talking about. It’s another Malazan Book of the Fallen book! This time, I’m going to talk about Midnight Tides, which is book 5 in the series. From the publisher’s summary:


After decades of internecine warfare, the tribes of the Tiste Edur have at last united under the Warlock King of the Hiroth. There is peace – but it has been exacted at a terrible price: a pact made with a hidden power whose motives are at best suspect, at worst deadly.

To the south, the expansionist kingdom of Lether, eager to fulfil its long-prophesied renaissance as an Empire reborn, has enslaved all its less-civilised neighbours with rapacious hunger. All, that is, save one – the Tiste Edur. And it must be only a matter of time before they too fall – either beneath the suffocating weight of gold, or by slaughter at the edge of a sword. Or so Destiny has decreed.

Yet, as the two sides gather for a pivotal treaty neither truly wants, ancient forces are awakening. For the impending struggle between these two peoples is but a pale reflection of a far more profound, primal battle – a confrontation with the still-raw wound of an old betrayal and the craving for vengeance at its seething heart…

Midnight Tides is that book in a series that completely throws everything you’ve grown to love about the series out the window. Well, maybe not that extreme, but in the first four books of the series, we’ve mostly stuck with the same general regions and same cast of characters. Midnight Tides rips us from the safety of our Seven Cities/Genebackis/Malazan plot (lol safety, nothing is safe in this series) and instead tosses us into the continent of Lether, which we haven’t heard much about up til now. We also get a huge new cast of characters with only one familiar name: Trull Sengar.

“Destiny is a lie. Destiny is justification for atrocity. It is the means by which murderers armour themselves against reprimand. It is a word intended to stand in place of ethics, denying all moral context.”

I honestly didn’t want to read this book the first time I came to it. The end of House of Chains nearly destroyed me, and I had no desire to learn new characters or bother with a bunch of new plot threads. BUT I picked it up, and very quickly learned it’s one of the best of the series. You are introduced more to the Tiste Edur, who we saw in House of Chains shorn Trull. You learn Trull’s backstory. You meet the citizens of Letheras.

You meet Tehol and Bugg.

“As they walked, Tehol spoke. ‘…the assumption is the foundation stone of Letherii society, perhaps all societies the world over. The notion of inequity, my friends. For from inequity derives the concept of value, whether measured by money or the countless other means of gauging human worth. Simply put, there resides in all of us the unchallenged belief that the poor and the starving are in some way deserving of their fate. In other words, there will always be poor people. A truism to grant structure to the continual task of comparison, the establishment through observation of not our mutual similarities, but our essential differences. ‘I know what you’re thinking, to which I have no choice but to challenge you both. Like this. Imagine walking down this street, doling out coins by the thousands. Until everyone here is in possession of vast wealth. A solution? No, you say, because among these suddenly rich folk there will be perhaps a majority who will prove wasteful, profligate and foolish, and before long they will be poor once again. Besides, if wealth were distributed in such a fashion, the coins themselves would lose all value—they would cease being useful. And without such utility, the entire social structure we love so dearly would collapse. ‘Ah, but to that I say, so what? There are other ways of measuring self-worth. To which you both heatedly reply: with no value applicable to labour, all sense of worth vanishes! And in answer to that I simply smile and shake my head. Labour and its product become the negotiable commodities. But wait, you object, then value sneaks in after all! Because a man who makes bricks cannot be equated with, say, a man who paints portraits. Material is inherently value-laden, on the basis of our need to assert comparison—but ah, was I not challenging the very assumption that one must proceed with such intricate structures of value? ‘And so you ask, what’s your point, Tehol? To which I reply with a shrug. Did I say my discourse was a valuable means of using this time? I did not. No, you assumed it was. Thus proving my point!’ ‘I’m sorry, master,’ Bugg said, ‘but what was that point again?’ ‘I forget. But we’ve arrived. Behold, gentlemen, the poor.” 

Speak to any fan of the Malazan series, and they’ll likely tell how how Tehol and Bugg are their favorite characters of the entire series, and how much they enjoyed reading any of Tehol and Bugg’s scenes. I don’t want to explain them much further than that, just know that Tehol and Bugg are fantastic, and their part of the story unfolds in the most majestic fashion.

“Tehol collected his cup and carefully sniffed. Then he frowned at his manservant.
Who shrugged. “We don’t have no herbs, master. I had to improvise.”
“With what? Sheep hide?”
Bugg’s brows rose. “Very close indeed. I had some leftover wool.”
“The yellow or the grey?”
“The grey.”
“Well, that’s alright, then.” He sipped. “Smooth.”
“Yes, it would be.”
“We’re not poisoning ourselves, are we?”

This book introduced a ton of new characters whose stories you see unfold throughout the next ten books in the series. Along with the Tiste Edur and Tehol and Bugg, we meet Shurq Elalle, an undead thief who has a craving for flesh, but not to eat. We meet Ublala Pung, who is just a joy throughout the rest of the series.

We meet Seren Pedac, an Acquitor who works as a liason between the Edur and the Letherii. We meet Yan Tovis, otherwise known as Twilight, who starts as a mere Atri-Preda (commander) in the Letherii army but evolves into so much more.

“Why not worship money? At least its rewards are obvious and immediate . But no, that was simplistic. Letherii worship was more subtle, its ethics bound to those traits and habits that well served the acquisition of wealth. Diligence, discipline, hard work, optimism, the personalization of glory. And the corresponding evils: sloth, despair and the anonymity of failure. The world was brutal enough to winnow one from the other and leave no room for doubt or mealy equivocation.” 

One of my favorite new characters is Iron Bars. He is one of the Avowed from the Crimson Guard – basically he’s an immortal badass. The Crimson Guard are elaborated on more in Ian Cameron Esslemont’s side series, which I’m currently finishing up on now. I don’t want to get into the I.C.E. books yet, but there’s a lot of debate if they’re even worth reading, because the quality differs from Erikson’s super strong, tight prose. I’d argue that yeah, they absolutely need to be read. Esslemont’s Orb Sceptre Throne was my favorite book in ALL of the Malazan universe for a while, so that’s saying something.

“You are frowning. Why?’
‘Well, I’ve already killed a god today,’ Iron Bars said. ‘If I’d known this was going to be a day for killing gods, I might have paced myself better.”

There’s a lot that happens in this book, but there is also a ton of social commentary. I’d actually say that this book has more commentary than any in the series so far. Betrayal, greed, corruption, etc, they’re all explored in depth in this book.

“We have a talent for disguising greed under the cloak of freedom. As for past acts of depravity, we prefer to ignore those. Progress, after all, means to look ever forward, and whatever we have trampled in our wake is best forgotten.” 

Where the first 4 books of the Malazan series set up the universe for the reader, Midnight Tides sets up the events that lead to the finale of the series, which makes it a must read. But it also ends up being one of the best books in the entire series.

“Do not seek to find hope among your leaders. They are the repositories of poison. Their interest in you extends only so far as their ability to control you. From you, they seek duty and obedience, and they will ply you with the language of stirring faith. They seek followers, and woe to those who question, or voice challenge. ‘Civilization after civilization, it is the same. The world falls to tyranny with a whisper. The frightened are ever keen to bow to a perceived necessity, in the belief that necessity forces conformity, and conformity a certain stability. In a world shaped into conformity, dissidents stand out, are easily branded and dealt with. There is no multitude of perspectives, no dialogue. The victim assumes the face of the tyrant, self-righteous and intransigent, and wars breed like vermin. And people die.”


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