The Malazan book of the fallen epic fantasy series has been looked upon as one of the juggernauts of the genre. Not only are the books in this ten book series massive, but the scope, world building, and sheer volume of characters will make this a daunting task for even the most experienced fantasy reader. My post today is to suggest an alternative entry point into the Malazan universe as well as a recommendation to veterans of the ten book epic. Ian Esslemont does an amazing job of bringing the characters we know and love from the main series to life and even has a few twists up his sleeve. You will not feel overwhelmed with this prequel trilogy and it will just make you what to read more.
Let me give you some background into how the Malazan world was created. The Malazan world was originally created in 1982 by Erikson and Esslemont as a role playing alternative to Dungeons and Dragons. When they both realized that the world had become much larger and more complex, they both decides to each write a book series in their shared world. Erikson went on to write Gardens of the Moon and the ten book epic was born. Esslemont went on to write his own six books in the Malazan universe, but not a part of the main story line. From there the world has expanded to gigantic proportions with much more left to explore.
Back to Ian Esslemont, even though his six book entries into the Malazan world aren’t directly involved in the main story line, the characters and events are very impactful to the world and history. In fact, his second book Return of the Crimson Guard depicts a crucial event to the main series in great detail that is basically glossed over by Erikson. For the record, I have read all of Esslemont’s books except for Assail and I can say definitively that his writing, characterization, plot, and pacing get better with each and every book with Path to Ascendancy trilogy being his best work yet. What makes this series so accessible to readers both new and old includes: The length of the books are much shorter and not the one thousand page door stoppers, fewer characters to follow so the story feels more tightly packed, Esslemont doesn’t shift perspectives nearly as much as Erikson so we get to become attached to our characters, and the plot is a lot easier to follow but with the same types of twists we love from the main series.
Path to Ascendancy is a prequel trilogy to the Malazan book of the fallen series. The main characters we follow from the beginning are Dorin and Wu. Dorin is a youth out of Tali with amazing skills with a blade and Wu is a young Don Hon mage looking for his place in the world. Malazan veterans will know these characters from the get go and the impact they will have on the main series while new readers will get to enjoy the mystery and wonder Esslemont weaves into his world. These two will face many challenges along this three book series, but they will gather a band and shape the Malazan world for generations to come.
I would like to state that you do not need to have read Erikson’s ten book series to enjoy this prequel trilogy. Esslemont’s work is reader friendly to new readers and this trilogy may make digesting Erikson’s work a little easier in the future. However, Esslemont will reward veteran readers with several hints and Easter eggs that will make you want to pick up Gardens of the Moon again. Several characters from the main series make appearances in this trilogy such as the Elder Gods, Dassem, Dancer, and Kellanved. Seeing the origins of these characters is what made me excited about revisiting this world again and I plan to do it for many years to come.
If you feel overwhelmed by Malazan book of the fallen but are looking to give it another try, this series will be right for you. Even veterans to Erikson’s series will find plenty to enjoy in Esslemont’s trilogy and it will spark your memory with tidbits you may have forgotten. As well as now facts you may have not seen coming. For Erikson and Esslemont, the Malazan world is their oyster and Path to Ascendancy is like it being delivered on a silver platter. It is delicous!