SELECT * FROM uv_BookReviewRollup WHERE recordnum = 1173 House of Chains, by Steven Erikson Book Review |

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House of Chains, by Steven Erikson
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Tor
Published: 2007
Review Posted: 4/24/2008
Reviewer Rating:
Reader Rating: 8 out of 10

House of Chains, by Steven Erikson

Book Review by Howard von Darkmoor

Have you read this book?

House of Chains, fourth in the mighty epic that is A Tale of the Malazan, Book of the Fallen, finally begins to show us the meat of the ten-book saga. If you consider that every story (no matter how long it may be) must have a beginning, a middle, and an end, Erikson has entered his mid-story with this novel. This has dutifully slowed the pace down and brought us the least of the first four books.

I struggled with that word least. I didn't like other choices -- worst, slowest, weakest. Neither is the book the least important, the least informative, the least well-written. It's none of those, and yet a bit of each must be present, for it is the least exciting of the quartet. The least desirable. And that is what I mean by placing least there as my adjective of choice.

This is a 1,021 page paperback, for goodness' sakes! At about 300 words per page, that's 306,000 plus words! Many trilogies don't even reach 300,000. And this is the fourth of ten similar-length books. At some point the series was bound to slow down, even drag a bit -- the beginning of this book is that point. The novel is broken into four books, each roughly the length of 'normal' novels. Book One "Faces in the Rock" is a 230-page character introduction. An introduction, actually, to a character we'd met in "Deadhouse Gates" -- two novels ago. At the point in time we finally catch up to where we had originally met this individual, Book One ends and we move on to Book Two, where we reunite with the Malazans and a few other characters we already know. This is the point at which House of Chains kicks it into gear.

Don't get me wrong -- "Faces in the Rock" is quite interesting and could make a good novel all on its own -- in any other series, by any other author. But here? Here, it felt like Erikson was including all his character notes on this one individual. No other character in all of his books thus far has received such a quantity of description as this one, yet several others are still more three-dimensional and have deeper personalities. In addition, there is almost nothing to like about this character for the vast majority of these 230 pages, resulting in an unbridged distancing between the reader and him. Though the remaining three sections are filled with action and story progressions of characters readers have already connected with, I don't think the rest of the novel recovers from its slow and somewhat disparate start.

I must also comment on some writing inconsistencies throughout this novel. First, the use of character size. I'm rather unsure as to how tall this first character is, as he is repeatedly described in giant-like ways, rides 26-hand horses, fights giant dogs on equal footing -- yet enters human establishments with only the duck of his head and even fits into the attics of human households without difficulty. This inconsistency troubled me in several parts, further removing me from the story. Then there is the repeated use of some descriptors, such as the many 'hooded' or 'lidded' eyes and looks scattered around the pages until almost everyone was doing it. And thirdly, there was a lot of expositional expounding on a multitude of topics through the useful but never-ending prattling of a primary character. It really began to grate on me after repeated use.

So this was by far the most difficult of the Malazan books for me to get into -- yet not a bad book by any means. There are several very interesting interactions with Cotillion that I especially liked and, as usual, new characters and new information and further twists to entice any reader. Of course, readers will also find Erikson's astute observations garnered by his vast archaeological and anthropological experiences, such as the beautiful statement about 'civilized' peoples amidst a discussion between two members of different elder races on page 331:

"With ever greater frequency [humans] annihilate themselves, for success breeds contempt for those very qualities that purchased it."

In my opinion, though, this is the first book in A Tale of the Malazan Book of the Fallen that cannot be read as a standalone novel and definitely should not be anyone's introduction to the series. I would recommend House of Chains by Steven Erikson to the Malazan faithful; if you're not one of these yet, I highly recommend you begin the series soon!
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