This first installment of the Kharkanas Trilogy introduces the realm of Kurald Galain as it was long before the advent of the Malazan Empire. Told from various characters' points of view, it relates the events leading to the schism of its old and recent inhabitants, particularly the Tiste. Readers will be able to deduce how the Tiste broke up into what are now known as the Andii, Liosan, and Edur.
There are familiar characters from the Malazan Book of the Fallen series, notably a younger and more emotional Anomander, as well as new characters including those that are mentioned only in passing in the other books. Readers will be reintroduced to the Vitr, Azath, Shake, Hust Swords, and the Warrens or Houses. Several clues are given to the origins and functions of those mentioned, but new questions will come to mind.
Unlike the Malazan series however, the story is told in a direct manner, seldom steering away from the main story; that's if the long character ramblings are not taken into consideration. The pace at the beginning of the book is slow but the tension is already established at the mention of Mother Dark's uncertain position and power. Events that seem unrelated at first will fall into place near the end of the book creating an explosive ending.
Throughout the book there is a recurring theme. Book One explored the idea of gifts as probable curses and a faith that grants empty platitudes and an end to thinking. Book Two talks about how the acquisition of power can be used to challenge fear. Yet power doesn't work for long and therefore "power is meaningless and delusional." Meanwhile Book Three states that "what is given away for free comes back wounded" because its value is not always the same for those who receive it. Book Four sums up all these ideas about the gift by describing the consequences of K'rul's actions, the birth and sharing of new sorceries (the warrens. It will be recalled that in the previous series it has been stated that K'rul "bled" to create these new so-called pathways). The book puts forward the idea that whether a gift is for a good cause or done out of love, its effect to the receiver will not necessarily bring happiness and contentment.
All of the characters, even the supporting characters, have long portions of ramblings or introspection. It's tedious but the depth of Erikson's writing is what makes his books so enjoyable. There are surprising revelations in this book that fans of the Malazan books will be delighted (or horrified) to know about. I'm looking forward to more of those in the next book.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10