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Deadhouse Gates: Book Two of The Malazan Book of the Fallen    by Steven Erikson order for
Deadhouse Gates
by Steven Erikson
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2005 (2000)

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Deadhouse Gates follows Gardens of the Moon as 2nd in The Malazan Book of the Fallen, a series stocked with human and non-human peoples, Warrens of sorcery, and powerful Ascendants. Don't try to jump into this world in the middle. It's complex with very many plot threads to follow, and there's no summary to give context (which I could have used to jog my memory, even after reading the first book). Malazan Empress Laseen extends her power through acolytes of the cult of the Claw. She's been trying to eliminate all whom she suspects of lingering loyalties to the past regime including the elite Bridgeburners army unit, led by Sergeant Whiskeyjack. At the end of the first episode, his team loosely included young captain Ganoes Paran, sorceror Quick Ben, sorceress Tattersail, assassin Kalam, and young thief Crokus of 'the last free city', Darujhistan. The Bridgeburners were outlawed by the Empress.

Only some of these characters are involved in this episode, which spotlights rebellion, and war against impossible odds. Teenaged noblewoman Felisin, sister of the Empress's new Adjunct Tavore, is enslaved and sent to the Skullcup mining pit in a 'Cull' of the nobility (engineered by Laseen) that makes the French Revolution look tame. Chained beside Felisin are tattooed ex-priest Heboric (a historian with stumps instead of hands), and a thug named Baudin. They become her companions in debasement, escape and a series of dark adventures, in which she only strives to 'Survive each hour, the next hour'. We see another group of protagonists - assassin Kalam, saboteur Fiddler, Crokus, and Apsalar, a young fishergirl who was possessed by gods in the first volume - disembark from a fisherboat, and begin their own set of separate trials. One group attempts to take Apsalar home, while Kalam is intent on assassination.

In the Seven Cities, we meet Imperial historian Duiker, and new Fist, warleader Coltaine of the Crow Clan. Steven Erikson's archaeological background shines through descriptions like this one of the Seven Cities, 'It was said that each city rose on the backs of ghosts, the substance of spirits thick like layers of crushed bone; that each city forever wept beneath the streets, forever laughed, shouted, hawked wares and bartered and prayed'. Out in the desert, Sha'ik plans a long-awaited apocalypse, while two powers, Mappo and Icarium, pursue their own mysterious goals, in search of Tremorlor, which is said to hold a gate for instantaneous access to Malaz City. A major uprising begins against the Empire, and we observe, from Duiker's perspective, as Coltaine lead a small army, encumbered by a growing, ungrateful train of refugees on an epic journey, pursued by an 'entire continent' of enemies. His shrinking forces survive a series of brilliant, heroic battles against consistently impossible odds - this forms the core of the story.

Along the way, ex-soldier Duiker muses that 'The lesson of history is that no one learns', and 'Name none of the fallen, for they stand in our place, and stand there still in each moment of our lives.' Like its predecessor, Deadhouse Gates is not an easy read, but the series rewards those who are up to its challenge with a richly detailed world, multi-layered characters, and dark exploits. If you enjoyed George R. R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire, then you must read Erikson.

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