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House of Chains by Steven Erikson
3.5
Book Name: House of Chains
Author: Steven Erikson
Publisher(s): Tor Fantasy (US) Bantam (UK)
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / Audiobook / eBook
Genre(s): Epic Fantasy
Release Date: March 6, 2007 (US) September 1, 2003 (UK)

Into any great company a little division must fall, for what better moment than when the rift is healed, the prodigal returns and the collective is fused anew, stronger than it was before. So it was for me with House of Chains, book 4 of The Malazan Book of the Fallen.

Upon posting my review of Memories of Ice, I was intrigued to find the variety of views about this book. Some people hated it, quitting the series right there while others gave it high praise, going so far to say it is their favourite instalment in the series. But while the same continuation of the story, read by different people, can produce such different opinions, so too can reading the same piece of the story at different times.

As a first time reader of Book 4, I was not at all impressed with the story of Karsa Orlong: too stuffy, too clichéd, too long, too “boy’s own adventure”. I could have done without the first section of the book and been the better for it.

Now that I have gotten to the end of the series I understand the first part of House of Chains in a different light. It’s still not my favourite story arc but there are learnings within it that you won’t get anywhere else in the series; such as the first glimpse of a Forkrul Assail and that being’s role in the futile war between the Jaghut and the T’lan Imass, as well as almost as much information on the Thelomen Toblakai as you’re going to get anywhere in the series. There are other things that cloud the waters too; the Nascent, for example, and the things that happen there, are ambiguities to which there are few clues to with the pages of this book, let alone in the preceding tomes in the series.

As a first time reader, my real enjoyment of House of Chains only began when we re-join Malazan forces on the continent of Seven Cities. This story picks up almost directly after the conclusion of the narrative in book 2, Deadhouse Gates.

Still reeling from the loss of the 7th Army, the Malazan Empire entrusts the retaking of the continent to the utterly novice 14th Army, comprising raw recruits, alcoholics, and motley of yokels and tribes people. How can they possibly hope to contend with Sha’ik’s fanatical, and so far successful, forces?

Thankfully, the way forward involves a handful of our favourites. When he re-enlists in the 14th Army, Fiddler is reborn as Strings and he finds himself alongside old friends, Stormy and Gesler; the three veterans showing the new recruits just how the ol’ Malazan army got things done. Let us not forget Adjunct Tavore Paran; yes, another Paran! Sister to Ganoes, and to Felisin – who herself has had a rebirth, and is now Sha’ik. With Paran progeny commanding both sides of the Seven Cities conflict, the book is set up a nicely for a wonderful showdown.

We get to know and, quite frankly, like the recruits of the 14th Army, for as this series started with the storied warriors of the Bridgeburners, it is these soldiers who will take us through to the end.

The 14th Army must finds its strength in time to take on the Whirlwind but it will not have to do it alone. The Bridgeburners, who, thanks to a little Tano Spiritwalker magic and despite the events at Coral, still have some burning to do, and the ancient legacies under the Seven Cities sands remain a potent force. And as Sha’ik and the Whirlwind’s power comes from a splinter of Shadowrealm, there are great guest roles for Kalam and Quick Ben as well. Apsalar and Crokus Younghand, now transformed into the deadly Cutter, also play an important part of the story of Shadow within this book.

In coming full circle, the 14th Army’s battle against the Whirlwind brings good old Karsa Orlong back into the picture. As one of Sha’ik’s two bodyguards, Karsa has a special role to play – yet he is more than this, for the Crippled God has plans for Karsa too, though woe be tide anyone who thinks Karsa will do as is expected.

In the camp of Sha’ik there is danger and intrigue aplenty, not least of which is the Jhistal priest, Mallick Rel.

I like House of Chains, almost in spite of itself. The ending is a moment of wonderfully written drama, rooted in a personal conflict between two family members, each of whom are riding their own tidal waves of power. Whatever strength the 14th Army has been able to muster by this point remains in abeyance; an unfulfilled promise that must await another confrontation for its closure.

In the end, House of Chains does a good job of bringing to a close some story lines that started more than 3,000 pages ago, as well as creating new ones for the following books to develop on. The Wickans, as a proxy for all who support the old empire, have now been demonised and powerful opportunists have been spread far and wide, with the spoils of the Whirlwind in their possession. The Crippled God and many of his agents are now more out in the open than they ever have been before, and the importance of all things shadow remains a focus for the story as a whole and for many of its leading characters.

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Rating: 8.7/10 (12 votes cast)
House of Chains by Steven Erikson, 8.7 out of 10 based on 12 ratings
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