Deadhouse Gates by Steven Erikson (Book Thoughts)

Hey guys, I took my time and finally finished Deadhouse Gates. It seems like a crime to rush through these books. It’s hard to know where to start and how to talk about Malazan because the scope is so huge, so this review is going to include my general impressions and then a bunch of specific random thoughts, as well as a few favorite quotes.

There will definitely be spoilers past a certain point, which I will CLEARLY MARK WITH A DIVIDING LINE. TRUST ME I’M NOT SOMEONE WHO IS GOING TO SPOIL THIS FOR ANYONE. If anybody has read this I would definitely love to talk about it with you. This is some of the best fantasy I’ve ever read and I’ll stand by that!

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Deadhouse Gates
  • Series: Malazan Book of the Fallen #2
  • Author: Steven Erikson
  • Publisher & Release: Tor Fantasy, February 2005 (American) – originally September 2000, UK, Bantam Books
  • Length: 844 (MMPB), 
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ ♥️

Here’s the synopsis via GoodReads:

In the vast dominion of Seven Cities, in the Holy Desert Raraku, the seer Sha’ik and her followers prepare for the long-prophesied uprising known as the Whirlwind. Unprecedented in size and savagery, this maelstrom of fanaticism and bloodlust will embroil the Malazan Empire in one of the bloodiest conflicts it has ever known, shaping destinies and giving birth to legends.

This is with no doubt one of my top 3 favorite fantasy books ever. I’m still reeling from the end. What betrayal and loss and hints at new beginnings. The book had a hard and confusing start as I realized we weren’t following book one’s characters and events, but the new set of characters grew on me quickly and by the end I was reeling for them.  The ending was simply devastating. I was inwardly screaming and crying as those 10 thousand soldiers created a new Hood’s Gate 😭

This book was a lot more introspective than the first one, and it added that aspect of personality that some of the characters in book one were missing. In general, this was exceptionally better than book one. It was darker, It was better written, and I could just feel the hope of ebbing away as it did so for the characters as well

Speaking of characters, this is one of the rare books where a place is given so much characterization that it practically becomes a character itself. Enter the holy Raraku Desert for themes of rebirth, remaking, and so much more

So book one, Gardens of the Moon, focused on the Bridgeburners and Genabackis campaign.  We had hints of the Seven Cities and Kalam’s interest in returning home at the end to see the rebellion.  We also had hints of the Pannion Seer and the threat.  Deadhouse Gates followed Kalam, Fiddler, Crokus, and Apsalar over to the other side of the world where they ended up tangled in a priest of Shadow’s web.

The main storyline was fist Coltaine and his Wickans leading the 7th army on a brutal, devastating escort of some 40thousand Malazan refugees from the seven cities to Aren. This is an unbelievable feat.  I never expected to love Coltaine but my respect grew and grew as did that of the soldiers.  The wounded, the refugees, the nobles, the sappers, the child warlocks, the other clans, everyone had to pull every last stop to beat the odds and attacks and get these people to some kind of safety.

Then the end… 😭

The main focus was Coltaine’s Chain of Dogs, the name given to the march, but there was also a Kalam vs. the empress storyline. I wasn’t expecting to be in Kalam’s head but it was an interesting place to be.  Another storyline was Mappo and Icarium, sad, and served to add even more mysticism to the world and the Azath houses.

Felisin also showed up in the most brutal way possible, teamed up with a priest of Fener, a mage, and eventually Sha’ik and the apocalypse.  The prologue set the tone for the darkness of this book and I found it wonderfully dark and disorienting. I can’t say I was expecting all three Paran siblings to have a role in this thing and I can’t wait to see what the Captain thinks when he sees his sisters so … …involved

When these storylines come together, it’s something else. I think book three is going to introduce the third major storyline: the Seer.  I’m so curious to see where we go forward from here.

Another thing that I respect Erikson for is keeping the language and slang immersive.  A lot of modern fantasy authors seem to think that you can’t tell a story without putting in modern English swear words, and I will argue until the day that I die that it affects immersion. Read this book and tell me that slang with purely in-world context is not effective!

One last thing before I jump into spoilers: for a hint at the kind of epic sorcery in these books, there is an episode where a slightly crazy Marine makes a stack of heads, alive, and the bodies are rowing a ship. It’s epic and grizzly and the whole thing is a construct of the magic of a mage gone insane, who is spiraling through the sky spraying blood everywhere. There’s also an undead dragon involved in all of this. There’s also epically done military engagements and a running gag where a clan of cattle dogs adopts a yappy little lap dog and if you miss it, you do yourself a huge disservice.

There’s the summary of the storylines, here are my occasionally spoilery thoughts:

One more time, while it was jarring at first to have different characters, these new ones just grew on me so quickly.  Duiker, Kalam, Mappo and Icarium, and even Felisin were all solid.

It’s so utterly sad that the ghost had to come witness Duiker’s crucifixion at the end. He deserved the benediction after watching the other 10,000 soldiers go. I’m just shocked and odd that the soldiers listened to Pormqual and allowed that travesty to occur. It was beyond painful to read

The freaking cattle dog and the lap dog thing that was running throughout the text was amazing.  Hilarious. Incredible. Things like this add so much to these books. I’m so glad Mappo found them at the end. I was blinking through teary eyes at the end of the story and managed a laugh when Mappo admitted to saving the dogs.

That said, the whole story alternated between horrifying and comic relief so that while it was dark, there was also a banter and lighter moments and it kept me off the edge of true horror while reading.

Kind of like to see where the sibling rivalry goes. This could be something truly epic between Tavore and Sha’ik

R.I.P Sormo, List, Coltaine, Bult, Lull, the sappers, Duiker, 10 thousand soldiers, all those refugees, especially those who sat down within slight of the city, The not so nameless Marine, mare … So many others.  Are the hounds dead? I feel like that would be sad too at this point

Chapter 13 was probably my favorite in the whole book. It had the most amazing military conflict, sorcery, that terribly heartbreaking scene with the child warlocks and the horse, the sappers, so many highlights.  Truly epic.

With the corpse at the end that Kalam was speaking to, does that mean that Laseen is dead? Or was that a farce?

Kulp ended up being a surprisingly fun character too, there was some amazing banter between him and Duiker. And the coastal Marines. I was so entirely glad when the Marines came through alive because their wild black humor was absolutely everything

Okay the entire scene with the ship in the warren and the headless rowers. And the undead dragon. And even the bloody mage in the sky. That whole episode was unbelievable

I don’t think there was anything bad in this book, even if it took a while to get started. It minced devastation with black humor and I was on board the whole way. I never expected to really like Coltaine either but he was something else, leading that train of refugees through desert hell to safety. I’m having a really hard time believing that Pormqual ever became a leader since he is obviously just awful. No idea how he became a military leader.

The mappo and Icarium storyline was interesting too. The culmination at the Deadhouse Gates was sad, and while I had a pretty good understanding of what happened, I can’t believe that race of nameless ones just wants to imprison him after so long. Or who wanted him imprisoned? I don’t quite understand Cotillion’s involvement in that whole thing, what would he care? It also seems like the hounds are gone now 😦

Another odd storyline that I liked was the aptorian demon that adopted that maimed child. I think cotillion kind of adopted him too. There’s just so much happening in these books and so much of it is low-key amazing.

Another cool thing was how we finally learn what happened to Kellenved and Dancer.  It explained a bit more about the Deck of Dragons too. Pust and his spider-soletaken may continue to be players too.

And Moby!! Little Moby was a Soletaken too – what!!? Or a demon? He saved their lives fighting off others in the desert! The Azath House storyline admittedly lost me at the end but I am sure we will see these people again. No

The book got off to a slow start but once they started it just never stopped. 800 something pages of awesome reading. I see a lot of reviews that seem to think that the series goes downhill after this one, and I truly hope that is not the case because I am so excited to read the next one 

Some Favorite Lines:

In his lap, Moby yawned, revealing a mouth bristling with needlelike fangs. Fiddler blanched. “Cuddle up whenever you want, pup,” he said, shivering.
– Fiddler is amazing too. I loved his Gral horse and surprised to see how much I liked both him and Kalam

We have to get out of here!” Duiker said. “Pull us out, Kulp—now!” The mage hissed in rage. “How? This is Sormo’s ritual, you damned book-grub!”

– The Duiker & Kulp banter was brief but hilarious

Trembling, Apsalar prepared to lift her veil, announcing the intention to voice her curse. The Araks flinched back.

– the cultural glimpses into the tribes added a lot to the story too.

We ain’t just a Malazan army any more. We’re Coltaine’s.” “But he’s a Fist.” “He’s a cold-blooded lizard.” The man then grinned. “But he’s all ours.”

“Save me a patch of grass when you go down, gentlemen.” 

The cattle-dogs ringed them at a wary distance. Duiker winced at a sudden yapping bark. Gods below, I didn’t imagine it!

Gesler’s smile did not waver. “Yes, sir. And Hood take me, I’ll give the Fist’s crack-thong a yank too, if you ask sweetly.” There was a moment of dead silence. Coltaine burst out laughing. The shock of it brought Duiker and the others around to stare at the Wickan.

– Gesler was probably my favorite side character

The crow standard wavered, leaned to one side, then pitched down, vanishing in the press. Duiker stood unmoving, disbelieving. Coltaine. 

-List was a hero in this scene, I think he got what he wanted though, to go down swinging

All right I think I’ve spewed more than enough random thoughts about this book. I can’t recommend it enough and as I said, I would really love to talk about it with anyone who has read it!


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