Life in general continues to suck in Deadhouse Gates, Steven Erikson’s second Malazan Book of the Fallen. As a civilian living in or nearby the Malazan Empire, caught between forces whose ambitions leave no room for pity, you can expect torture, starvation, rape, slavery, crucifixion and death. It has always been that way, and always will.
As a protagonist of Erikson’s novels, you can, in addition to all of the above, expect horrors on a larger and more metaphysical scale: Possession and/or being eaten alive by spirits, being made the unwitting puppet of dark gods, and various advanced forms of suffering available on the higher planes of reality you may stumble into.
Bleak, then. Yes. There are no particularly good sides here, just victims and perpetrators, and the story does not so much climax as let the threads converge and fade away, leaving the world better only in some abstract realpolitikal sense. Evil, here, is not imposed by outside supernatural forces. It springs naturally from human nature. The supernatural merely extends this evil to a higher plane. Even the mostly sympathetic protagonists play the game of destruction like everyone else, for their own understandable but tragic reasons.
If the bleakness doesn’t grind you down, you’ll find this a perfect novel. Remarkably, with so many plot lines, the end is particularly good, and, since Erikson’s novels are mostly self-contained, you can read Deadhouse Gates by itself.
I wasn’t sure after Gardens of the Moon if I’d read more Steven Erikson. Now I am.