House of Chains is the fourth book in The Malazan Book of the Fallen series, of which I have currently reviewed the previous three books. The fourth book continues where the others left off but first takes the time to introduce a new character named Karsa Orlong, a member of a bloodthirsty race known as the Teblor. He is introduced in a flashback segment of the book which takes place prior to the main events of the series. Then the novel flashes forward back to the aftermath of the Chain of Dogs, which occurred during the events of the second novel Deadhouse Gates. Thus the novel returns to Felisin, who now leads the Whirlwind rebellion as the new Sha’ik but internal conflicts threaten her rebellion. Meanwhile her sister and Adjunct to the Empress, Tavore, leads a force of mostly untrained Malazan soldiers into the desert to wipe out Sha’ik and her rebellion once and for all, unaware that she is fighting her own sister.
The story is very interesting. The irony of Felisin’s battle hardened sister not knowing that she is fighting her own blood was one that had my spine tingling. Tavore was admirable as a character in part because of her strength of character from the get go, as opposed to the gradual development Felisin went through during the second book. The ironic tragedy is one that had me feeling sorry for both characters in the end and made worse with the climax. Like the death of certain characters in Memories of Ice the climax of this story arc shocked me since while it seemed inevitable in hindsight, initially it came as a shock.
Karsa Orlong was a character whom I read about prior to reading the book and was excited to finally see him introduced. He didn’t disappoint, though like most times the book goes off on a tangent I initially found his little introduction story arc at the beginning difficult to follow. I found it clever how they tied him in with the main plot in the present due to how they hid him in plain sight the entire time. The thing I liked the most about him was how he and his culture as a whole seemed to deconstruct the barbarian fantasy, both the Conan the Barbarian archetype and the kind of environment they live in. He comes from a culture which, to put it bluntly, glorify raping and pillaging places. Karsa is no ray of sunshine either and would probably be the villain in any other novel. This was interesting since I always thought Conan inspired barbarian fantasy novels seemed a bit unrealistic portrayal of a ‘barbarian’ culture in my opinion so it was interesting for this novel to put its own little riff on the genre during the earlier parts of the book.
In terms of prose the novel is still the same. A bit too long and drawn out in places and it still suffers from the snail pace that a lot of doorstoppers suffer from. I complain about this a lot in part because I am not a particularly patient reader despite my love for long novels such as this. To me though it isn’t so much that the novel is long but rather feels like it is long. Long paragraphs of description and wordy dialogue. Another thing I have noticed, which I have not commented on in previous reviews is the effect the chapter lengths have on my reading experience. The book has long chapters, with only twenty-six chapters over the course of a thousand page books. As a result some of these chapters get long, especially toward the climax. The point of view frequently shifts during these long chapters, which makes things confusing. I wonder if the novel would be improved more if rather than shift point of view frequently during a single chapter they instead made it so they divided these shifts of point of view into single shorter chapters instead.
The series is certainly strong as ever, despite me becoming aware more of the technical limitations brought about by Steven Erikson’s shaky prose and chapter lengths. I love this series and I feel as though there is great potential for a strong work of fantasy. As I’ve mentioned before the novel overcomes it’s shortcomings to provide a compelling narrative. Once more I can safely say I’m looking forward to reviewing the next novel. This work challenges a lot of the conventions in fantasy and provides a compelling family drama as one of its key plots and as a result I can’t help but admire it.
IN A WORD: DRAMATIC