Book Review: House of Chains (Malazan Book 4)
Updated: Jun 6, 2020
As I continue the journey down the rabbit hole that is the Malazan Book of the Fallen, I find that I am at odds with my self at times. Why is that? Well, its because despite the many little quirks and gripes that I find with these books & writing style—I cannot help but still love it. The depth and richness of the many, many tales that are woven together are simply too good to walk away from. This is a classic case of the sum being greater than the parts. So House of Chains is a little bit different than the other books in the series so far, because it has this kinda weird super long prologue of sorts. I am not even sure that it is called a prologue or anything, but we are left with a strangely foreign single narrative with a brand new character (or so we think). The first portion of the book introduces us to the Teblor warrior known as Karsa Orlong. He is our main character, so we see the world through his eyes—which is admittedly quite a different world. This is fantastic, because Erikson gives readers a whole new perspective for a time.
There's one kinda massive problem though—Karsa is detestable (understatement of the century). Steven Erikson wrote a detailed essay on his most controversial character, and it is a fantastic read (may contain spoilers). In a nut shell, Erikson explains that when he created Karsa Orlong, he wanted to create a true barbarian in every sense of the word. He didn't want to pull on the cliches, but rather be more true to the nature of one who rejects civilization and all its trappings (Get it? Trappings. House of Chains. Trappings). Anyways, moving along. Karsa is a legitly bad mofo. He might not be from the hood, but he will straight cut you! I don't want to say that he is a classic anti-hero or anything, but he is definitely a character that you will feel guilty about rooting for—and yes, you will be rooting for him in the end. There is a whole host of other story-lines that are playing out in the rest of the book, and it makes it a full, rich story—but Karsa steals the show. His character is so perfectly developed and executed by Erikson, that you just have to sit back and appreciate him—even if he brings about the end of the world.
I find it interesting that in the beginning of the book, I couldn't wait for the story to shift back to familiar characters. However by the middle of the book, I just wanted to focus on our Teblor warrior. As is common with these books, in House of Chains you will follow a few familiar faces, while other story-lines are left, presumably, for other books. That means that some of the characters that you really enjoyed from Memories of Ice may not even make an appearance.
That leads me to one of my largest gripes of this particular book. While we did see some familiar faces—Fiddler, Kalam, Felisin, and Heboric—some of it didn't feel quite the same. Especially Felisin. Now this is due largely in part to me reading the audiobooks, because it is a different narrator than the first three books. If you have ever listened to a series of audiobooks, then you know what I mean. In short, Felisin and Fiddler just didn't seem the same to me. Felisin was the most problematic for me, because she had become far too likeable. Wait, what? Yeah, I know. I hated her guts previously, but she comes across as a whole different person in this book. With everything that is happening to her, I found that hard to swallow.
The last significant issue that I had was that the climax wasn't. The book had a great lead-up, but the majority of the resolution to the major conflict was actually disappointing, and a few other story-lines didn't even have an end point, they were just left open ended. It didn't ruin the book or anything, but it left me wanting. The saving grace of it all was Karsa's encore performance as he exits stage left. Not my favorite book in the series, but enough awesomeness to still warrant 4/5 stars.