Thu
Jul 26 2012 12:00pm

An Introduction to Forge of Darkness For Readers Old and New Alike

An introduction to Forge of Darkness, the new Malazan book by Steven Erikson

Steven Erikson entered the pantheon of great fantasy writers with his debut Gardens of the Moon. Now he returns with the first novel in a trilogy, Forge of Darkness, that takes place millennia before the events of the Malazan Book of the Fallen and introduces readers to Kurald Galain, the warren of Darkness. It is the epic story of a realm whose fate plays a crucial role in shaping the world of the Malazan Empire.

Consider this ramble something of an introduction to the Kharkanas Trilogy and the first novel in it, which is due out in a short time. Already on the fan-based site, advance readers are weighing in (beware spoilers) on Forge of Darkness, with emphasis on perceived inconsistencies, none of which I was unaware. But as is often the case with only the first book of a series to arrive, and one drawing elements from a previous series (the Malazan Book of the Fallen), questions will arise, especially when salient details seem at first glance to be at odds. To be honest, a part of me wants to reach through the inter-ether, close hands on neck, and shout TRUST ME!

While another part of me, railing even louder in my mind, wants to add a brain-rattling shake and say IT’S NOT AS IMPORTANT AS YOU THINK!

But more to the point, these particular issues are not ones I will get into here, but in some respects what I will talk about in this little essay will, obliquely, address some of them.

One of the main drives behind the ten-volume Malazan series, was a desire on my part to subvert the traditional tropes of epic fantasy. While some of the impetus behind that desire was born of frustration, or a sense of stultification in the genre (with a few notable exceptions, in Glen Cook and Steve Donaldson), this was not wholly negative in flavour. I grew up reading fantasy, and I adored it, and many of the invitations into an invented world being offered up did what they intended – they stirred my imagination, and awakened possibilities I had not previously considered. So, even as I kicked at tropes, I was also, in my mind, paying homage to what had gone before (with the caveat that it needed, not reiteration or mimicry, but stretching – how else to give free rein to an awakened imagination?).

The series divided and continues to divide fantasy readers. Some jump on board and join in the fun (even as I eventually undermine the ‘fun’ and twist it into tragedy), while others reject the implicit criticism of the genre they love (let’s face it, most epic fantasy is easy to read. In style it follows the dictum that the stranger the world being described, the simpler and more direct the language must be, thereby easing the reader into that world – one of the reasons that we discovered these works so readily in our early teens or at an even younger age, and I have no truck with that at all).

I can hardly resent that divide. While it would have been nice to pull in all the readers of epic fantasy for that ten-volume tale, I soon learned to mitigate such fancies, and assume a more reasonable, more realistic outcome.

Thus bringing me, at last, to the Kharkanas trilogy, and Forge of Darkness.

Every writer, at some point in her or his career, becomes aware (like a creeping doom) of a growing burden of expectation on them. Based on previous works, with fans identifying themselves and defining themselves around those previous works, we become aware of a pressure to conform. And in the lauding of those ‘favourite’ elements of our canon, fans often express, whether directly or indirectly, a desire for more of the same. To compound matters, there is something both simple and inviting to the writer in question, to acquiesce to those expectations, and to deliver just that: more of the same, each and every time, and many do so, and occasionally with great (continued) success, and as a consequence they find contentment in their efforts.

Lucky them.

Alas my contrary inclinations. To simply repeat the style and approach of the Malazan Book of the Fallen, with every subsequent fantasy novel that I write, is for me simply unthinkable. Look at it this way: I said what I wanted to say with the big series, with respect to the genre and its tropes, and with respect to my exploration of the seminal roots of storytelling. Why say it again (cue Talking Heads)? Worse, at what point would I end up beating a dead horse, fighting a fight long over with, ranting and raving at already dismantled traditions of the genre? At what point does it all become pastiche?

No no no, I can hear a few of those fans say, it’s not the themes we want to see again! It’s the action! The huge climactic conclusions! Not to mention the (fill in the blank)!

To which I can only reply, you’ll get your action, friends, but if you expect me to somehow condense what I did through ten books and three million words, into three volumes totaling, say, seven hundred fifty thousand words, well … let me say a few words about structure.

But wait, let me go back a bit. Theme, style and structure are not as separable as one might think. Each feeds and is in turn dependent upon the others. They are fused in ways that defy parsing. So, while we can articulate certain details for each, the relationship between them is kind of secret, a thing of hidden currents, and it is that ephemeral quality that hides whatever strength or unity a tale achieves.

The Kharkanas Trilogy is a different beast from the Malazan series. But perhaps many of those defining distinctions are to be found in those hidden currents, the way in which theme, style and structure are bound together. As with the first book of any trilogy, the comprehension of all of that is problematic. Well, it’s virtually impossible, and so it falls to the reader trusting the writer, and taking things on faith. There are reasons for everything.

If the Malazan series emphasized a postmodern critique of the subgenre of epic fantasy, paying subtle homage all the while, the Kharkanas Trilogy subsumes the critical aspects and focuses instead on the homage. Early on, somewhere in the writing of the eighth or ninth novel in Malazan series, I decided on making the upcoming trilogy traditional in form. The trilogy is a dominant story structure in fantasy (yes yes, it’s been stretched many a time, never mind that). For the epic fantasy, it begins with Lord of the Rings, which was always envisioned (by the author) as a single work, but one deemed unmanageable by the publishers at the time (and for profit reasons, this is now entrenched). But set aside, for the moment, that three-volume book-seller side of things, and go back to the original desire of the author – the telling of a story of such length and substance as to require the equivalent of three books. This is the tradition I wanted to return to.

Needless to say, I gave it a lot of thought, and mused long on two elements in particular: the expectations of my established fan-base, and the prospect of inviting new readers to my works, through a more traditional, immediately recognizable form, and on how to satisfy both sets. At which point I realised that I had reached an impasse of sorts. Those two groups of readers are already at odds with respect to my canon; and the ones bearing the most expectation (of the same as what came before) are of course to be found in my pre-existing fan-base, while the other side might well have already written me off no matter what I wrote next.

So … it was time to gamble, time to try and offer up a peace branch, and voice a modest invitation. As for my fan-base, well, once again I was going to have to ask a lot of them. Beg forbearance, in fact.

Bringing me back, at last, to those notions of theme, style and structure. The Malazan series used a two-handed mallet when delivering the necessity of ‘read this carefully!’ And I am not quite as unapologetic about that as I used to be (ah, the bravado of youth, you fade fast from my mind’s eye!). Maybe I’ve learned something, after all those books. So, mallet set aside, broken up and used for kindling … and there is a suitable metaphor for what I’m trying to say to you about Forge of Darkness. Imagine that kindling, the shreds and splinters of that old battered mallet, gathered now in a small heap, and page by page see me striking sparks, seeking the slow smoulder, the first tendrils of smoke. Hmm, this takes time, and great care to keep the sparks on target, rather than waywardly scattering – to glow bright then wink out to no purpose…

Oh, you still need to read with care. Actually, perhaps more than ever, to actually see what I’m doing. But honestly, this time it’s different. If I could do it any other way … or not.

Then, once the fire is lit … surprise! Warmth! Blessed warmth!

The traditional form of the trilogy in epic fantasy, is a slow-building fire. The above metaphor is the fusing of theme and structure. Now, to style. The Malazan series displayed, on many occasions, an almost cavalier dismissal of tropes, or even a cruel casting away, and with each of those deliberate gestures, there was more than a little glee in my heart.

Another analogy comes to mind. As a long-time fencer (thirty-plus years) I occasionally fight a bout against a beginner. They are all enthusiasm, and often wield their foil like a whip, or a broadsword. Very hard to spar with. Enthusiasm without subtlety is often a painful encounter for yours truly, and I have constant ache in (both!) hands from fractured fingers and the like, all injured by a wailing foil or epee. A few of those injuries go back to my own beginning days, when I did plenty of my own flailing about. Believe it or not, that wild style can be effective against an old veteran like me. It’s hard to stay subtle with your weapon’s point when facing an armed Dervish seeking to chop down a tree.

The Malazan series wailed and whirled on occasion. But those three million words are behind me now. And hopefully, when looking at my fans, they are more than willing to engage in a more subtle duel, a game of finer points. If not, well, I’m screwed.

So much for style.

The Kharkanas trilogy is a self-contained entity. It can act (I hope) as an introduction to the mythos behind the Malazan world. It possesses elements that existing fans will recognize and with luck find satisfaction with (in the long run ‘cause who am I kidding? The trilogy needs to be completed before any real wash-back), while at the same time adhering to a traditional form. It is a precursor tale, but the manner in which it is bound to the Malazan series is not always direct, or even subservient.

With the excerpts being offered here on Tor.com, I hope something of the tale’s style will show through, offering my existing fan-base a flavour slightly different from the Malazan series (if you read with care!) (; ) while inviting new readers to this modest campfire. You’ll get warmth, folks, to counter the tragic story being told. And I hope, in all humility, that you’ll join me.

Steven Erikson

Optaija, Croatia, 2012

 

Begin reading Forge of Darkness

32 comments
Tufty
1. Tufty
Already on the fan-based site, advance readers are weighing in (beware spoilers) on Forge of Darkness, with emphasis on perceived inconsistencies, none of which I was unaware. But as is often the case with only the first book of a series to arrive, and one drawing elements from a previous series (the Malazan Book of the Fallen), questions will arise, especially when salient details seem at first glance to be at odds. To be honest, a part of me wants to reach through the inter-ether, close hands on neck, and shout TRUST ME!

While another part of me, railing even louder in my mind, wants to add a brain-rattling shake and say IT’S NOT AS IMPORTANT AS YOU THINK!
Wahahahaha, well said Mr. Erikson!

It's been 10 novels so far... At this point we really all aught to be used to mumbling our "SE is good. SE is great. Trust in SE." mantra over and over whenever a new book comes out. Everything even remotely important always makes sense in the end, it's just a matter of waiting!
Tufty
2. I can't think of an alias
To paraphrase Neil Gaiman - "Steven Erikson is not our bitch". Although I often despaired of reading the Book of the Fallen with the care it deserved, that is my problem, not yours. Can't wait to read Forge of Darkness.
Tricia Irish
3. Tektonica
Thanks for this treat on Tor, Mr. Ericson. I'm in.
I really don't think I could not read it.
Michelle Simpson
4. MSimpsonPhotos
Looking forward to seeing where you go with a more "traditional" trilogy :) And like the others above said, it never crossed my mind that you didn't know what you were doing. Thanks for sharing!
Tufty
6. zBard
> it was time to gamble, time to try and offer up a peace branch, and voice a modest invitation

and

>
let’s face it, most epic fantasy is easy to read. ... one of the reasons that we discovered these works so readily in our early teens or at an even younger age, and I have no truck with that at all).

The man really does not know how to sue for peace :)
Tufty
5. champooon
I cannot wait to tuck into the prelude and chapter 1, book reserved too!

As to your existing fanbase, trust us too, we've been with you for 3 million words, what's another 750k ha. I know I'll lap up anything Malazan connected you throw this way, heck you could write about flowers and rainbows, as long as QB is hiding somewhere in there am game!
Thomas Jeffries
7. thomstel
In Steven Erikson I trust.

Seriously. That it will be a trilogy. That it will be great (it has Rake in it...cmon). That the timeline won't matter. :)
Mordicai Knode
8. mordicai
I'm about five-hundred pages in, right now. I'm...interested! This is my first dip in the "Malazan" waters. Basically, so far, I am Team Jaghut.
Thomas Jeffries
9. thomstel
No fair! First-timers get to see non-Tyrant Jaghut right off the bat!

:)
Mordicai Knode
10. mordicai
9. thomstel

If it makes it better, I have no idea what is up with the Azathanai-- are they just nascent proto-demigods?
Kimani Rogers
11. KiManiak
This right here.

This post is why Steven Erikson isn’t just the author of one of my favorite fantasy series; he’s one of my favorite authors.

For those who get a chance to follow along with the Malazan reread, I strongly encourage it. At the end of each novel, the readers are able to post questions to Erikson, and his answers are so thorough and thoughtful and go above and beyond what you would expect from an author (kind of like his post above) responding to part of his fan base.

I eagerly await Forge of Darkness.
Thomas Jeffries
12. thomstel
mordecai@10:

No idea about the Azathanai! They're new (I think) to the trilogy, so I'm salivating to learn more about them too.

Given how SE likes to name things in relative terms (hence, the "Elder Gods" from MBotF don't even exist as such in this tale), and is well-versed in educating his readers about how the past shapes the present, you can color me skeptical that the Azathanai have no predecessors. Too much of Malazan is about what came before, and how what came before is important to the here-and-now.
Chris Hawks
13. SaltManZ
@12: A quick Google Books search shows that the name "Azathanai" appears in DoD and TCG. I thought it sounded familiar. (More familiar than just having "Azath" as the root. Heh. Azath. Root. Pardon me.)
Mordicai Knode
14. mordicai
13. SaltManZ

As I understand it, "Azath" means something like...stone houses? & they are..."from the Azath"?

So they aren't around in Malazan? Interesting. Maybe they are or become the Elder Gods? I know...literally nothing about Malazan, so I'm curious how it all fits together.
Chris Hawks
15. SaltManZ
@14: The Azath are prominent and mysterious...let's say structures in the Malazan world. The Azathanai, mentioned in passing late in the series, are obviously related. How, I don't know. Presumably this trilogy will shed some light thereon, but with SE, you never know. :D
Steven Halter
16. stevenhalter
mordicai@14:In the Malazan books, there are (things) called the Azath houses. What the Azathani are, few of us can guess, having only read chapter 1 to date. We'll see if we have a better guess in a week or so when it comes out.
karl oswald
17. Toster
awesome, awesome, awesome.

love getting an intro straight from the horses mouth. only wish i'd seen this before i read the prelude and ch. 1!

re: azathanai (TtH spoiler)

i've always wondered if that being called Elder that Gothos sent Nimander to was an Azathanai.
M D
18. Abalieno
What the hell is he doing in Croatia?
Tufty
20. Marty Cahill
For those who are new to the Malazan world, it is well worth your time investing in this immense and quite fantastic story.

Give him a chance, and Steven Erikson will change the way you think about fantasy and literature. Enjoy!

Steve, lead on, to the gates of Kharkanas!
Tufty
21. Nameless One
Team Jaghut?
Count me in.

That aside, I'm so excited that I want to read the excerpt now. Back to work, back to work...
Tufty
22. Akvarijs
the horror that whas the first 2/3 of the crippled god, i'm really really happy that Eriksons didn't choose to start with Karsa books and his existential whining. So i have to say i'm looking forward to this one
Tufty
23. mrglum
Hey I liked the first 2/3 of Crippled God... well I did the second time /snark.

Looking forward to this one though.
Steven Halter
24. stevenhalter
Toster@17:That thought certainly crossed my mind also.
Mordicai Knode
25. mordicai
15. SaltManZ
&
16. shalter

Ah, then I fear I may be treading close to spoilers & I will say no more about my suspicions or theories-- though I will say that the previous stated theory is one I came to rather early in my reading so I don't think I've overstepped the sacred trust of No Spoilers.
Steven Halter
26. stevenhalter
mordicai@25:Yeah, you're good so far. You haven't instilled any spoilers, just jealousy :-).
Tufty
27. Raker
I 'd like to "TRUST" S. Erikson, but so far it seems that "IT’S NOT AS IMPORTANT AS YOU THINK!" is only a poor excuse for all these
inconsistencies in FoD.
Thomas Jeffries
28. thomstel
I wouldn't expect there to NOT be inconsistencies in FoD, especially after he a) takes the time in this post to tell us about them, and b) after reading the Prelude that frames the whole shebang as a telling of a Tale by Gallan to Fisher.

Unreliable narrators? Incomplete history/memory/knowledge from the characters? The whim of a storyteller to invent details as the story is told? Sound like an SE story to me.

(Granted, I still want to know the definitive version of the Enfilade at Pale...yeah, I know, it's not as important as I think, but...)
Steven Halter
29. stevenhalter
I haven't read FoD yet (except ch1). But, for anyone worried about inconsistencies, ask yourself how well our current understanding of events here on Earth reflect events just a few years (pick your range 1, 10, 50, 100, .. all have problems) let alone 300,000+ years.
Sydo Zandstra
30. Fiddler
Steven,

I've been with you from the start, and you never failed me. You have written some books that keep working my emotions in rereads, with brilliant prose.

Having read the Chapter 1 excerpt, I already know you will keep on going delivering.

Can't wait until I get this book.

Thank you :)
Tufty
31. Noman
I'm laughing as I read this and now (not that I wasn't) so looking forward to this, and thank you, most sincerely...
This is key for me...
So, while we can articulate certain details for each, the relationship between them is kind of secret, a thing of hidden currents, and it is that ephemeral quality that hides whatever strength or unity a tale achieves.
Make the buggers work for it, never compromise, ride the currents, there is no burden...
Tufty
37. Daisy B
I am not even done with the Malazan (I'm on The Bonehunters) and I'm already so excited to read this trilogy omg.

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