Catching up with the Kharkhanas tragedy

Can’t believe I’m so late to the party. It seems that a year ago, Steven Erikson put the Kharkhanas Trilogy on hold, delaying the publication of the third book. The second book, Fall of Light, came out two years ago and was a difficult read in many ways. More than anything else, it contained way more plots than did the first book, Forge of Darkness, while simultaneously leaving the last book with lots left to explain.

It was like Erikson had lost his way. If he was feeling unsure of himself as a result, I’m glad he’s temporarily shelving the project. It’s not good for readers if books in a series are going to be released with many years in between each instalment but that’s already happened: Forge of Darkness was published in 2012 and Fall of Light, in 2016. Right now, it’s more important for fans like me that Erikson find his mojo and just complete the canon before he dies.

Erikson has also announced (in October 2017) that said mojo quest will take the form of writing the first book in the more-awaited Toblakai (a.k.a. Witness) Trilogy. This is good news because Malazan fans have been more eager to read about the exploits of Karsa Orlong than those of the Tiste races, at least in hindsight and with the hope that the Toblakai story isn’t as frowzy and joyless.

I personally find Karsa to be a dolt and not among my top 50 favourite characters from the series. However, I do find him entertaining and expect the Toblakai Trilogy to be even more so given that the premise is that Karsa is going to rouse the Toblakai in a war against civilisation. Very like the Jaghut story but with less sneering, more cockiness. Hopefully it will prove to be the cure Erikson needs.

Erikson also mentioned that he had been demotivated by the fact that Fall of Light‘s sales were lower than that of Forge of Darkness. Though he initially attributed this to readers waiting for Erikson to finish writing the series so they could read it one go, he found he couldn’t explain the success of Ian Esslemont’s Dancer’s Lament with the same logic: Lament is the first book in the unfinished Path of Ascendancy series. He concluded readers were simply being fatigued by reading Fall of Light. I wouldn’t blame them: it was even more difficult to read than the midsection of Deadhouse Gates.

I’m also starting to dislike his tendency to include overly garrulous characters whose loquaciousness the author seems to want to use to voice his every thought. After a point (which is quickly reached), it just feels like Erikson is bragging. The Malazan series had the intolerable gas-bags Kruppe and Iskaral Pust. Fall of Light was only made worse by Prazek and Dathenar and their completely unnecessary chapter-long soliloquies; at least Kruppe and Pust did things.

This is another thing I’m wary of in the Toblakai Trilogy, although I doubt my prayers will be answered, because you could see Erikson had fun with Karsa in the Malazan series. In fact, more broadly speaking, I’m wary of any new Erikson epic fantasy book because though I know the world and the stories are going to be fantastic, his writing is tiring and his storytelling is more flawed than it otherwise tends to be when he feels compelled to expose, or soliloquise, rather than narrate.

Actually, forget wary – I’ve almost given up on it. Shortly before the release of Forge of Darkness, Erikson had written for Tor that he’s going to keep the trilogy more traditional and make it less of a critique of the epic fantasy subgenre than he did with the Malazan series. Look what it turned out to be. And I only say I’ve almost given up because I hope Erikson attributes Fall of Light‘s tragedy to a different mistake, but then why should he? I found the fencing metaphor from his Tor piece to be instructive in this regard:

As a long-time fencer I occasionally fight a bout against a beginner. They are all enthusiasm, and often wield their foil like a whip, or a broadsword. Very hard to spar with. Enthusiasm without subtlety is often a painful encounter for yours truly, and I have constant ache in hands from fractured fingers and the like, all injured by a wailing foil or epee. A few of those injuries go back to my own beginning days, when I did plenty of my own flailing about. Believe it or not, that wild style can be effective against an old veteran like me. It’s hard to stay subtle with your weapon’s point when facing an armed Dervish seeking to chop down a tree. The Malazan series wailed and whirled on occasion. But those three million words are behind me now. And hopefully, when looking at my fans, they are more than willing to engage in a more subtle duel, a game of finer points. If not, well, I’m screwed.

On the other hand, I’ve really enjoyed Esslemont’s writing, which thankfully has only improved since Night of Knives. I hope Dancer’s Lament continues this trend. I purchased it this morning and hope I can complete it and the next book, as well as a reread of some of Esslemont’s other books, by the time Erikson’s The God is Not Willing is published.