The first of a series of three prequels, Forge of Darkness purports to be a new beginning for The Malazan Book of the Fallen, but as ever with the work of Steven Erikson, it is not so simple — an assertion acknowledged by the cult Canadian novelist:
"What I would speak of this morning is but the beginning of a tale. It is without borders, and its players are far from dead, and the story is far from finished. To make matters even worse, word by word I weave truth and untruths. I posit a goal to events, when such goals were not understood at the time, nor even considered. I am expected to offer a resolution, to ease the conscience of the listener, or earn a moment or two of false comfort, with the belief that proper sense is to be made of living. Just as in a tale." (p.513)
A tale such as this tale of tales. But where else are we to begin, if not at the beginning?
Even then, one can only wonder: which beginning?
Because you could say The Malazan Book of the Fallen began in 1982, when a couple of archaeologists endeavoured, in their off-hours, to excavate a history of their own creation. They did this, according to the old wives' tale they each tell, by playing Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. So the story goes.
Several years into these sessions, their campaigns had become so complex - and so compelling in their eyes - that Steve Lundin and Ian Cameron Esslemont resolved to share them in some way with the wider world. Together, then, nearly a decade on from the fiction's first informal flush, these friends collaborated on a film script. The movie would have been called Gardens of the Moon... if it had ever been made.
But it wasn't. The co-written script didn't sell. And if you'll permit me a side-note, perhaps that's just as well. Given Erikson's comments on the matter, Gardens of the Moon the movie would have played the affairs of this death-drenched empire in large part for laughs — an unconscionable thought, is it not?
Of course, the story was far from over, for soon after the screenplay's failure, Lundin and Esslemont drew a line in the sand and went their separate ways with the canon they had created. The latter author was to take his time developing his share of the saga, but almost immediately the former composed a novel based on the ill-fated film script.
Still, it took another age for anything to materialise from this. Finally, in 1999, Bantam Books published Lundin's first work of fantasy, under the pseudonym most of us know him by today. Gardens of the Moon garnered Steven Erikson a modest yet immodestly devoted following, and if not a win then a nomination for the World Fantasy Award. It was seen as self-contained at the time, but the book soon sparked a bidding war for further adventures in and of its empire. Thus, The Malazan Book of the Fallen - at least as we understand it - was born.
Twelve years, nine additional novels, seven to ten thousand pages (depending upon your preference for paperbacks) and approximately three million words later, Erikson's saga drew to a close with The Crippled God in 2011. The outspoken author lately allowed that he would die a happy man, knowing that the tale has been told to completion... however I'd really rather he hang on a little longer — not least because Forge of Darkness is, quite frankly, remarkable.
Stay tuned for my full review on The Speculative Scotsman tomorrow!