These are the dominant themes presiding over the fifth chapter of the Malazan Book of the Fallen, which opened with a Prologue dated back to the Time of the Elder Gods, providing yet another history lesson into this deeply complex world.
One would expect that progressing through the series should only get easier right? It seems though that Erikson decided to up the ante for worldbuilding by bringing the reader to a completely new far-flung continent and an entire cast of new characters. There is only ONE name that is familiar in the Dramatis Personae, one whom we met in the previous book - Trull Sengar. It turns out that Midnight Tides is dedicated to relate the story of how Trull ended up being in his position in the Prologue to the House of Chain and is a follow through from its Epilogue as his new friend proclaimed an interest in its retelling.
This is the story of a kingdom which was prophesized to be reborn as an empire at the end of what is known as the Seventh Closure. The Letherii exhibited all the evils of greed and, in its intransigent belief of their destiny to rule as an empire, had been subjugating the various lands and races in the continent of Lether. The only remaining people yet to fall were the Tiste Edur, the children of Shadow, a people which were living a lie of a betrayal so great that it shattered a land.
To approach this book without getting a whiplash, you need to be prepared to treat Midnight Tides as a completely fresh story. It is easier said than done, however. That learning all new characters and cultures again made for a rough start was a bit of an understatement. Even the basis of magical power and the gods were different here as instead of the Deck of Dragons and the Houses, we have the more antiquated form of Tiles and Holds. Thankfully, Erikson's narrative continues to improve with each and every subsequent book. The almost effortless flow of the story and the POV switching really helped to smoothen the reading experience.
As always, character development was top-notched. Through the multitude POVs between the Letherii and the Tiste Edur, the one thing that stood out most to me was how this was the story of three brothers.
The history of this decade, for our dear Letheras, can be most succinctly understood by a faithful recounting of the three Beddict brothers. And, as is clear, the tale's not done yet.
The King's Champion, the ex-Sentinel and the Diabolical Genius - three Letherii brothers with a poignant story to tell. One of these brothers, Tehol Beddict and his manservant, Bugg, make up my favourite Malazan duo of all time. It was through their perspective that one can gain some appreciation of the Letherii outside of courtly intrigue and conspiracies, which made all the more enjoyable with its dry and sarcastic humour, laced with sharp intellect, hence providing a much-needed dose of lightheartedness.
No one spoke after that, not for some time. They drank their wine, and it seemed to Trull that something was present, some part of his life he'd thought - not long gone, but non-existent in the first place. They sat, the three of them. Brothers, and nothing more.
The Sengars of the Tiste Edur were made up of four brothers to be exact, but I felt that the story was mostly told between three of them. It was every bit as empathetic as that of the Beddicts, if not more. As the Edurs embraced a deadly power that they did not understand, one filled with ravenous hunger for vengeance, the story spiralled ever further into the dark depths of madness, of greed and the poison of power.
Greed and savagery unleashed, fear and panic triggering brutality and ruthless indifference.
At risk of sounding repetitious, I cannot ignore mentioning how epic some of the battle scenes were, albeit this time it was more purely because of the OP level of sorcery unleashed than the tactical military brilliance we've seen in Deadhouse Gates (which for me were still the best ones in the series thus far because of the Chain of Dogs).
Art by Lauren Saint-Onge
In spite of the unfamiliar setting of this instalment, there were stunning revelations herein which offered a connectedness to the overarching tale that had already been told in the previous books. A couple or so subplots seemed a bit out of place though and appear to serve as an extended prologue for future books. Coupled with some strange dream sequences, which as usual, did not sit well with me, I did not have the same level of enjoyment reading Midnight Tides as I did with the first three books of the series.
Notwithstanding, this is still a very solid entry into the Malazan Book of the Fallen and only continues to demonstrate the brilliance of Erikson in creating such an immersive world and telling such compelling stories of possibility the largest cast of characters I've encountered in a series thus far.
The world has drawn breath.. and now breathes once more. As steady as ever, as unbroken in rhythm as the tides.
For such is the rhythm of these particular tides. Now, with the coming of night, when the shadows drew long, and what remained of the world turned away.
Until midnight, all is turned away, silent and motionless. Awaiting the last tide.
And with the tide, a new world unfurled.