Forge of Darkness (The Kharkanas Trilogy #1) by Steven Erikson
It’ll rip your heart out and leave you wanting more.
Synopsis from GoodReads:
It’s a conflicted time in Kurald Galain, the realm of Darkness, where Mother Dark reigns. But this ancient land was once home to many a power. and even death is not quite eternal. The commoners’ great hero, Vatha Urusander, is being promoted by his followers to take Mother Dark’s hand in marriage, but her Consort, Lord Draconus, stands in the way of such ambitions. The impending clash sends fissures throughout the realm, and as the rumors of civil war burn through the masses, an ancient power emerges from the long dead seas. Caught in the middle of it all are the First Sons of Darkness, Anomander, Andarist, and Silchas Ruin of the Purake Hold…
Yes, I know, it took me forever to read this novel. But there are three reasons for that: 1, it is dense, with long chapters and a lot to pay attention to; 2, the Tor read-along/reread thread thing ended partway through, taking some of my motivation because I used those threads to help me keep track of and understand what was going on; and 3, this book is dark and takes you to a dark place and I was not mentally in a good place for that sort of thing until fairly recently, when I zipped through a decent chunk of it.
So don’t take my reading speed as a sign that you should avoid this novel.
Although I highly recommend reading it AFTER the Malazan Book of the Fallen series by the same author, as this is a prequel (by a few thousand or hundred thousand or so years) and reveals details about characters that spoil some things in the main books. Also, I think your enjoyment will be higher to come to it later – I know mine was.
Forge of Darkness is a dense book about dark topics. There are moments of humor and lightness, but overall it is a downward spiral. Things start bad and slowly get worse for everyone in the novel, regardless of their personal opinions (as a reader, I have a better view than they do, trust me). As the synopsis says, there are rumors of civil war and an impending clash. The synopsis does not lie.
A part of me wishes there had been more happy moments in this novel because I needed them. But I think it does much better without them. This is a look at a land that, if it ever had a ‘golden age’, is long past its time of glory. There is a lot of dissolution imagery alongside death, waste, ruin, and dissipation. Humor might help a reader but it would not help the story Erikson is telling.
As someone who has read the MBotF series, I appreciated getting to see characters I ‘know well’ only younger. Some of them are more innocent or less twisted/jaded and others are exactly what I expected to see. Most of them will, of course, change – thousands upon thousands of years will do that to you – but it is nice to seem them younger and in some cases kinder. Even knowing what a lot of them will become. Of course, that means there is a lot of irony inherent in this novel for someone who knows what’s coming, but… *shrug*
And, of course, that weight of history allows Erikson to tell anyone pointing out differences, “this character saw things differently than that one” or “time messes with your memory”. Also, the framing device for this novel is one poet (Gallan) telling another (Fisher) about what happened, allowing for even more unreliable narrators. Erikson’s very good at that and I applaud him for that just as I applaud him for putting philosophy into his novels.
Yes, it slows down my reading still more and it can be difficult to keep track of everyone plus what they think, whose side they’re on, and who they’re currently betraying/arguing with, but that doesn’t mean I dislike it. I wouldn’t want every book I read to do this but it’s nice to sometimes read things that directly engage the reader to think just like sometimes it’s nice to read things that teach you something, even if it’s something you might never need/use (IMHO).
Overall, in case you can’t tell, I loved this one, but it’s not my favorite in this world and it’s not one I particularly want to go back to for a long time, if ever. Heavy stuff present in large quantities and all that.
4 out of 5 stars.