Saturday, 23 November 2013

"And now the page before us blurs..."

I was asked several days ago to try and quantify why above all the other fantasy literature I get excited about The Malazan Book of the Fallen by Steven Erikson is so special to me. As it is all very much bound up in the story of my diagnosis I thought where better to do so than here, on the blog the books inspired the naming of? I’m also currently reading through the companion Novels of the Malazan Empire by Ian Cameron Esslemont, the co-creator with Erikson of the world in which both series take place so this seems as good a time as any to write the post.

The first thing to say is that “special” does not begin to even scratch the surface. Bearing in mind I’m the girl who grew up with her nose in Tolkien and is still hugely in love with it, for me to say something beats it is a big thing. I want you to understand just how high the praise is when I say Malazan is utterly unparalleled. I’m wholly confident I’ll never find anything else like it. Although I consider it superbly well written the standard of the writing isn’t really what lifts it above all others. It’s not even really the fact that it sets about wonderfully deconstructing and running against the grain of the standard fantasy tropes which have become the dwelling place of so many mediocre series in the last two decades or so. About time too.

It’s the themes and the characters and the raw and unbridled emotion, coupled with the fact that when I finally sat down with Gardens of the Moon for the first time, I was mere weeks away from the first burgeoning of illness. By the time I read the second book Deadhouse Gates, I’d been in hospital for the first time. Timing as they say is often everything.

I was unsure about the first book, truth be told. It captured my interest just enough to continue onward, and from about half way through book two I was hooked for good. As time went on I was always reading one of the series each time I went to hospital, including my somewhat disastrous colonoscopy procedure in which I spent my two days of recovery buried in book nine, Dust of Dreams. Without me realising at the time it became the world I immersed myself in whenever I was at a loss for how to deal with my own. All that rage of emotion was in some ways cathartic because (stubborn creature that I am) I wasn't allowing myself a proper release in terms of my own situation. I just kept gritting my teeth and telling myself it would be fine when in reality all I needed was to kick and scream a bit and shed a few tears.

Possibly just as important was the further I went into the series the more I started to sense a sort of kindred spirit within it. Here was evidence on a page (lots of them in fact) that someone looked at the world the same way I did. I kept recognising things I’ve thought and near enough said in the past, ideas incredibly similar to my own about people and how they interact in various situations. Here was contempt for the same things of which I am contemptuous, and here was unbridled celebration of things I found joy in.

More than anything else, someone else wasn't ashamed or frightened of the power of emotion and passion.

I’m a very sensitive and highly emotional individual. There, I said it. Laugh all you like, because frankly I pity those who are coldly cynical and sneering of any genuine emotion because they’re mistaken in believing it’s the “adult” way to think. When I was younger it was something which worried me – constantly mocked and branded as “soft” I did begin to wonder if there was something wrong. Thankfully I can say that now it’s something I completely embrace. I've never understood why emotion is seen as something to be ashamed of - it's a part of passion, and what could be more liberating or more beautiful than that?

So, I cry at films and books. Particularly books.

(Heh, painfully true. Image from

Honestly? The people who claim to never feel anything from any form of art and hide behind cynicism are the people I feel sorry for, because they’re missing out on something very special. There's nothing wrong with them (the world would be boring if we were all the same), but I do feel that having an emotional connection to whatever medium you're partaking in opens up a different experience. 

Erikson puts it better than me:

“There are forces in history that rise and fall, and the factors contributing to both are complex and varied to be sure. Others have made the observation that escapist literature thrives most when reality sucks. As for the proliferation of nihilist fiction, I would think that is but a lazy extension of what we have seen a lot of in film and television (the psychopathic, jaded, non-reactive hero who kills and kills and kills and doesn’t give a fuck beyond the memorable tag-line concluding the mayhem—yippee kay-ay). So, there on the screen, all the cool dudes with the craggy faces and the fawning women hanging off one arm. Nothing phases them. They sleep well at night (after the perfect sex with the perfect woman), and get up the next day, gun in hand, to do it all over again. Cynicism is cool, didn’t you know? It’s the mature way to be.
Fuck all that.
Well, see what happens when you get me started on this?”, August 2012.

So, having reached the end of the series (and wept solidly for the last thirty pages or so, because it is so heart-breakingly beautiful) I acted on a seemingly out of nowhere impulse and wrote a letter to Mr Erikson. Essentially, I said thank you. The thought occurred to me that if I’d written something that touched someone's life quite so profoundly then I think I’d want to be told. I didn't write in any expectation of a reply*, just a genuine desire to thank someone for having done something unique for me. I said in my letter that as I had opened the books on becoming ill, I’d hope to close them one day with a diagnosis.

As far too neat and precise as it sounds, I was re-reading Deadhouse Gates when my GP finally diagnosed me with Fibromyalgia. The poignancy wasn't lost on me.

It’s hard to explain why the books have become so tangled up in my head with that time period aside from coincidence, and even less easy to opine on why they’re as close to my heart as they are, but I watched the speeches from the premiere of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 recently and J.K. Rowling said something quite pertinent in this regard. “The stories we love best live in us forever.”

Long live The Malazan Book of the Fallen.

And now the page before us blurs.
An age is done. The book must close.
We are abandoned to history.
Raise high one more time the tattered standard
Of the Fallen. See through the drifting smoke
To the dark stains upon the fabric.
This is the blood of our lives, this is the
Payment of our deeds, all soon to be
We were never what people could be.
We were only what we were.

Remember us.”

Untitled – The Crippled God, Steven Erikson

So there you have it, though not an entirely successful attempt to demystify my attachment to the series, I hope it explained a little bit. I'm not trying to convince you to go and read the books - you can make that decision for yourself. I don't expect anyone to come back to me and say "I totally agree with everything you said" either, because that's part of the beauty of literature and all other forms of art. You take from it what you wish, and I always enjoy hearing other interpretations of something I enjoy.

Do I need to get out more? Probably, but I'm quite happy as I am!

Wishing you all many spoons xx

*To my surprise, I received one.


  1. I've never heard of that series, but I love the excerpt from The Crippled God. I can see how it appeals to you. Maybe it's a series I'll try out sometime. I've got my hands full with Daylight War by Peter Brett (currently waiting for book 4 *very impatiently*) and Eye of the World by Robert Jordan. I'm REALLY enjoying Eye of the World for some of the very reasons you list-- escapism. I suppose that in comparison to being hunted by the very source of evil, having fibromyalgia really isn't that bad. At least I get regular meals and get to sleep in a bed... though I could really dig getting to wear a cloak even a third as much as those guys do.

    1. Hope you're still enjoying Wheel of Time Cassandra :) what is Daylight War about? I'm not familiar x

  2. Hey, could relate with your blog in many ways and thoroughly enjoyed reading it! Hope you get well soon!
    Just finished Memories of Ice and totally hooked with the series! :)

    1. Hi Anand, thank you for reading and commenting! I hope you enjoy the rest of the series :) x

  3. I can totally understand the fact that you really enjoy the series that you were reading when you became ill. On that day when I got the high fever, muscle and joint pain, migraine headache, brain fog and pervasive fatigue all at once - when I first began to develop fibromyalgia - I started reading The Hythrun Chronicles by Jennifer Fallon and the Harry Potter series by JK Rowling. Those series (16 books) helped to carry me through that first 5 months of bedridden agony and the next few months of slowly learning to manage my conditions. I will always be grateful to those authors for making life with fibromyalgia bearable and for giving me inspiration and hope. Reading is a great distraction from the pain. (When my brain was too fogged for reading, I watched the old-time comedies.)

    Just a note: I am no longer bedridden :) In fact, I can do many things now (but not too much too close together!) thanks to occupational therapy!

    1. Jasmine that's wonderful to hear! I hope things continue to improve for you! :D it's good to hear someone else feels the same attachment due to the timing of picking up a given series too. Thank you for reading and commenting! :) x