Midnight Tides, the 5th book in the mega epic that is Malazan Book of the Fallen, is a bit of a departure from the series in many ways, and it's great!
Steven Erikson has said that unlike other series, the Malazan book does not always flow in a chronological order. Rather it is more of a triangle. It is disorienting at times, especially when you meet the Trull Sengar, who is the only carry over character from a previous book.
Its interesting, because we met Trull back in The House of Chains (book 4), but the events in Midnight Tides actually take place before the events of Book 4. So we are experiencing a "younger" Trull in this book. It's not much of a big deal once you realize it, but with so many characters to keep track of in this huge world, it took me a bit before the "ah-ha" moment sunk in.
This leads to my next point, which is one of the common complaints I've found with the book, is that this story seems altogether separate from much of the rest of the world we've been reading about. It isn't—but it feels that way, at least initially, which seems to be a stumbling block for many readers. The reason is that this book is essentially the beginning of a whole new series of story arcs that are being wove into the larger narrative, not unlike the previous books, but it is being told from two entirely new perspectives—primarily those of the Tiste Edur and the Letherii.
Midnight Tides serves as the tale of the convergence of two discordant cultures. Erikson lets us see the world through the lens of their cultures, and it offers a new and different perspective on many things in the world. Everything from gods, to religions, to races are seen from a different, and sometimes narrower perspective. This is particularly interesting when mention of Jaghut and T'lan Imass come up.
As always, I read with my author's cap on. In doing so, I try to pick out the things that the author has done well. For me it starts with the cast of characters. There were many very well defined figures through the book. Trull, Rhulad, The Warlock King, Shurq Elalle, Kuru Qan, Udinaas, and of course the perfect duo of Tehol & Bugg. It's a long list, and they are all offer a unique voice and feel. I also really love the impossible situations that the story throws the characters into. As heartbreaking as some of those situations might be, it is good writing. As with most of his writing, Erikson waxes philosophical a lot regarding war, greed, and economics—and while I don't agree with his points on all of these, the dialogues are actually quite fascinating. Erikson also has a scene where he deals with trauma and the recovery, which was so real and well portrayed that it sucked you in. The last bit that I REALLY enjoyed was that we finally get a little bit of insight into how the magic actually works within the Malazan universe. It was about time!
As you can gather, there is a lot that I liked about the book, enough to give it a full 5 stars, but there are some things that I just didn't care for, and at this point I think that they are probably going to continue to be in Erikson's work. First off, I don't particularly care for many female characters in these books. In my opinion, they are poorly drawn in most cases, with very few varieties. We have the militant feminists that are miserable and hateful, there are the meek ones who have no depth and usually serve as minor characters, and then their are the seductresses. Not all of the characters fall into those folds, but most do, and the depth is lacking. The romantic relationships are still very poorly developed, and most of the male-female relationships are hostile, if not outright violent. They are annoying. The book is also over-sexed in my opinion. Now sex is present in the previous books, and it is still done "off-screen", but it just seems like this book took it up a notch. It seems like there was sex or sexual tension in almost every character arc., and there were times where it just felt like overkill.
While those issues are irritating, they are in the entire series, so it doesn't lower my ranking for the book. Overall the book is still fantastic, and well worth the read for Tehol & Bugg alone.