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Deadhouse Gates by Steven Erikson
Review by Drew Bittner
Tor Books Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 0765310023
Date: 01 February, 2005 List Price $25.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

In Deadhouse Gates, Book Two of the Malazan Book of the Fallen, the rebellious Bridgeburners are scattered to the four winds as a larger rebellion grows against the tyrannical Empress Laseen. Now is perhaps a bad time for the Malazan Empire?s conquest, however, desert leader Sha'ik, in the Holy Desert Raraku, prepares a prophesied jihad known as the Whirlwind.

Steven Erikson continues his vast, multi-tiered epic fantasy in this volume. Characters move into an uncertain future, where the gods themselves cannot foresee the outcome.

Felisin, sister of the Empress? ruthless Adjunct Tavore, is cast into slavery with rough companions, including a handless mage and a savage with unsuspected depths. She does what she must to survive, but will her degradation prepare her to do what must be done? And can others who depend on her for their own survival trust her?

At the same time, Crokus and Apsalar (once possessed by the Rope, god of assassins) go with Bridgeburners Fiddler and Kalam. With chaos swirling around them on their way back to the Seven Cities, their goal is nothing less than the assassination of Laseen. But there are many obstacles in their path, not the least of them their lingering suspicion of Apsalar.

Apsalar is the least of their problems, however, as the Whirlwind gears up and Malazan citizens are harried from Hissar, one of the Seven Cities. Coltaine, the Malazan military governor, struggles to save as many refugees as he can, but taking 45,000 people across hostile terrain under constant attack is a heroic undertaking to say the least. Though he is a good commanding officer, there are limits to what even the best can achieve.

Meanwhile, Imperial historian Duiker and Kulp, last surviving cadre mage of the 7th Army, work to free Heboric (the aforementioned handless mage imprisoned with Felisin). Unfortunately, their efforts leave them stranded inside a magical mini-world, vulnerable to mages and the gods they often serve (or oppose).

Interspersed with these are the travels and travails of Icarium (a Jaghut) and Mappo (a Trell), a pair of nonhumans who want to restore Icarium?s memories. This involves even more nonhumans, including shape shifters and spirit-beings with agendas that conflict with Icarium?s? and even Mappo?s goals may not align with his old friend?s.

Finally, the Whirlwind itself represents an epic war on the horizon, moving toward the fracturing Empire with the relentless fury of a hurricane. Whether the Empire can withstand this challenge is anybody?s guess? but as old enemies settle scores and newcomers puzzle out their roles, this is a time of great change, heroism and villainy. And none will emerge unscathed.

Erikson?s prose is so dense, his storytelling so intricate, that it is difficult to summarize the events of the story in a coherent fashion. There are many characters, many races, and many agendas at work. It is a masterpiece of world building, easily on a par with the epic fantasies of Robert Jordan or Tad Williams.

Since this is only the second book of ten, there is much more for readers to savor in years to come.

Highly recommended.

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