Now if you read my review for the first book in the series, you'd probably be surprised that I gave Gardens of the Moon 4 stars, considering the many faults I found with the book. That first book was a struggle for me, but I saw so much potential that I couldn't justify giving it a rating any lower until I read more of the series. Now that I have read the second book in the series, I am confident that was a wise decision. This series is EPIC.
Deadhouse Gates is an excellent story, but I will be completely honest, I struggled with it at first too. I originally started the audiobook a few months ago and only got about an hour (out of 27 hours) into it before putting it down for a while. The part that I struggled with, was that unlike most series that you read, Deadhouse Gates did not really pick up in familiar territory. Yes there were a few familiar faces, but the book did not have very many characters carried over from the first story. Without spoiling it, the only real characters that we journey with are Fiddler, Kalam, Apsalar, and Crokus (and Moby of course). The rest of the storylines focus on entirely new characters, which can be confusing since we already met a littany of them in the first book. This turned me off initially, but it really shouldn't have.
See despite the addition of several new characters in Deadhouse Gates, Erikson did a good job of really just focusing on four distinct storylines. Now those storylines get deep and rather complex in some places, but it is so well written that it is fairly easy to follow. The only issue I had with following along is the lack of a quality map, and that the audiobook narrators don't always do a good job when the narrative switches to an alternate storyline. Were I actually reading the book, this would not have been an issue.
Now again if you had read my review for Gardens of the Moon, you would notice that another one of my gripes with that book was that I felt that Erikson did not have well developed, distinct characters (despite a few gems). I can honestly say that is NOT a problem in Deadhouse Gates. Erikson has done an absolutely fantastic job creating a diverse host of unique characters and personalities that make the book a joy to read. While I absolutely detested Felisin Paran, I fell in love with Fiddler, Kalam, Icarium, Mappo, Duiker, Coltaine, and yes even Iskaral Pust!
Among other improvements from the first book, Erikson also was markedly improved in his use of dialogue and overall character development in terms of their motivations and decision making. It felt less of a predetermined deathmarch narrative, because it felt like you were actually watching the characters make decisions, rather than plodding along some pre-ordained path. In this book, Erikson also does a slightly better job building relationships between characters—to an extent. In my opinion he does a phenomenal job creating and sharing the heart-breaking relationship between Icarium and Mappo, and he also does a fair job establishing friendships, and he does a good job creating the broken and abusive relationship that Felisin finds herself in, but when it comes to romantic relationships—Erikson falls flat. It's not that they don't exist, it's just that they once again feel cheap and contrived. While some characters do fall into love with someone, it is still never well developed, and instead feels more like "I'm a boy and you're a girl...so yeah." This flaw is certainly not enough to diminish my appreciation for the book.
Overall what you have is a series of four epic, sometimes heartbreaking stories that are all set in a world that is far grander in scope that probably anything you have every read, and the more you read the more you realize that you are only scratching the surface. Erikson (and his co-creator) have created something so epic, that it makes me sometimes wonder if I know anything about writing & worldbuilding.