Late last year I set myself a goal to read the entire, as of yet published, Malazan series. This includes three sub-series. Malazan: Book of the Fallen, totaling 10 volumes and thousands of pages, by Steven Erikson. The Tales of Bauchalain and Korbel Broach, a series of short novellas, also by Steven Erikson, and lastly Tales of the Malazan Empire, a much shorter series of novels by Ian C. Esslemont.
This massive series, as of this post totals 17 (soon to be 19) volumes published by Tor, or 19 (soon to be 21) by Subterranean Press. This curious publishing scheme has given me no end of fits. As I am a book collector as well as a reader, I first sought to collect all of the books in Hardcover. This proved to be prohibitively expensive, Tor published the series in hardcover sporadically, and many of the volumes are not in print any longer in that format. Subterranean Press has begun issuing high quality hardcovers as part of a subscription series but they are extremely expensive for some one on my budget. I settled for Trade Paperbacks instead. Tor, as is their wont, changed cover design with volume 9, reprinting to my knowledge only volume 1, Gardens of the Moon, in the new style, and further allowing volume 3, Midnight Tides, to slip out of print in that format totally. The Bauchalain and Korbel Broach novellas are only available in hardcover through Subterranean press, and anyone who is familiar with them know they tend to publish in limited quantities and to be very expensive, usually about 25-30$ for a 100-150page Novella. Thankfully Tor has reprinted these novellas in trade-paperback, something which not every author who releases stories through Subterranean gets, much to the chagrin of a many a K.J. Parker fan.
Having settled on the Trade-paperback format, I spent December collecting all of the volumes then published, leaving me with a total of 13 novels and 4 novellas to read before the 4th of Ian C. Esslemont's Tales series, Orb, Sceptre, and Throne, is published.
To say that the going has been slow is an understatement. Though these books are enormous in length, none of the novels being shorter than 400 pages, they don't seem to suffer from the needless padding that other door stopper fantasy series do. Where as other series fill their pages with moralizing philosophical tirades (Goodkind), endless repetition of neurotic behavior, pointless side-quests, and obnoxious platitudes (Jordan), or discussions on economics, religion, technology, sociological observations, and ocean travel (Drake, Elliot, and others.), this series simply piles on more and more onion like layers to the over all story. I began reading the series in January, and have thus far only completed about half of the series. Granted I've had, arguably more important, school work to finish which has held me up. That being said, depth of the storytelling present in these books has also created it's own series of roadblocks to my typical pace. To say it is dense is to compare a poundcake to a black hole.
For one, this is a shared universe, though in very narrow terms, being as I'm only about 50-60% finished with the series as it currently stands means I've not even uncovered the full story yet, but as it stands it is about the return of a Prometheus like god, who is orchestrating various power grabs all over the world in a bid to awaken another god which will free him and destroy the world in the process.. or something like that..
The series is dark (Volume 3, Memories of Ice, has as it's protagonist a migratory empire of cannibals who also rape you to death while eating you..) but it is tempered with such a variety of characters and archetypes it never feels completely hopeless even at it's darkest.. for every dastardly evil-doer, or corrupt anti-hero there is a truly heroic character, or especially a conflicted character who rises to be a hero when the need calls. It is very, very, reminiscent of Glen Cook's "The Black Company" in that regard. The other series which it frequently reminds me of is Roger Zelazny's "Chronicles of Amber". This is frequently repeated, and for very good reason, the mark of these two series on Erikson and Esslemont is immediately, and persistently present, almost from the very beginning. If I had to compare it to another current series though, the only one I can really think of would be A Game of Thrones, but imagine the happenings of Westeros except on a global scale and stripped of the lush descriptive language down to bare bones sentence structure, which conveys only the minimum of what the reader needs leaving maximum amounts of questions unanswered.
It's effectively impossible to try and sum the series as a whole up, but I think out of all the big door stopper series, if you are a fan of Sword & Sorcery, you will find a lot to love in this world. I really really recommend the series to anyone who loves Fantasy fiction, but if you are looking for a lot of scenes of women smoothing their skirts, tugging their braids, and sipping tea while pontificating on the philosophy of free market capitalism.. then the series probably isn't for you.