Our meet on Friday (8th August) marked one year of the DWL Karachi Readers’ Club. We founded the club with the intention of starting a reading revolution in Pakistan. Little did we know that our modest venture would grow so quickly into an international book club spanning three countries!
One of the most exciting things about this meet was its amazing new venue – the Liberty Books store at Bilawal Chowrangi. It was the perfect ambiance for our Readers’ Club – discussing a good book while sipping coffee and munching on delicious cookies. A big shout-out to Liberty Books, especially Sameer and Haya, for having us there.
The DWL Readers’ Club’s motto was to read more and to read widely. In the past year, we’ve stepped out of our reading comfort zones and covered all sorts of genres that many of us wouldn’t have touched with a barge pole earlier. Our latest selection was proof of this: hardcore fantasy fiction, a massive 900-plus pages, and the second novel of a ten-part epic saga – ‘Deadhouse Gates’ by Steven Erikson.
It is difficult to sum ‘Deadhouse Gates’ up in a nutshell. The Malazan Empire is in a state of war, and its Empress knows that a revolution is prophesized. In a violent cull, a lot of the nobility are sent off as prisoners to the Otataral Island off the coast of the subcontinent of Seven Cities. Among these prisoners is the daughter of the noble house of Paran, Felisin who befriends (so it seems in the beginning) an old historian, Heboric Light Touch, and Baudin, a thug with a mysterious past. At the same time, a rebellion known as the Whirlwind is starting in the Holy Desert of Raruku, led by the prophetess Sha’ik, which threatens to consume and destroy Seven Cities. With this threat looming over their heads, the Malazan 7th Army led by Coltaine of the Crow Clans of the Wickans is assigned the task of taking thousands of refugees from Hissar to the city of Aren, which is a regional capital for the Malazan Empire. This journey comes to be known as the Chain of Dogs and becomes a legend in the Seven Cities. Add to that an assassin by the name of Kalam who’s on a quest to kill the Empress herself, and you have a quite a story in the making.
And this is just a mere snapshot of the book.
The novel is riddled with characters, both human and a dozen other species. And what characters! The Imperial historian Duiker, who has to record everything while fighting alongside the Malazan army as they march towards Aren, against all odds. The shortsighted and weak Felisin, who takes on a challenge that might destroy many lives just so she can take revenge from her sister, Tavore. Coltaine, the strong and mysterious leader of the Wickans, the impressive Bridgeburner Kalam, the evil Mallick Rell, and so many others. There are no lengthy descriptions of the attire, physical attributes, gender, lineage or past. As an author, Erikson does not insult the intelligence of his reader by going into extensive, and sometimes unnecessary, details. This is an action-driven story and what he reveals about a character is through what he/she/it does in a particular situation. And because the pace of the narrative is very fast, all the reader can do is keep up!
There is a lot of gruesome military action in the book and the number and scale of massacres is disturbing, especially for the weak hearted. But there is so much going on underneath the action that came as a surprise to some of us non-fantasy readers. We think fantasy fiction is a form of cult writing and that it is difficult to relate to it as compared to literary fiction but reading this book made us realise that fantasy, if written well, has just as much ability to stir something inside us as literary fiction. How could one not be moved when one character says to the Imperial Historian, Duiker, “Children are dying. The injustices of the world hide in those three words. Quote me, Duiker, and your work’s done”?
The verdict: Everyone enjoyed the book, which was a big surprise. Another big surprise was the grand appearance by Waqas Naeem, DWL’s new Director who is based in Islamabad. But I digress. Afia loved the book and found it gripping but the military warfare and massacres were a bit too much for her. Also she felt that the author became lazy in some portions, which was surprising as he had imagined such a rich and detailed world in Seven Cities. Rahedeen found the plot engaging but also found it easy to skip portions. According to Jalal and Wasio (who have read all of the ten novels in the series) the book was good but nowhere close to what Erikson achieves in his later books.
On an endnote, we are hoping that someone out there might have the courage to make a movie or mini-series out of this saga. If Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones can happen, why not Malazan, House of the Fallen? We wait, anxiously.
Afia – 4.5/5.0
Farheen – 4.5/5.0
Jalal – 4.5/5.0
Rahedeen – 3.5/5.0
Waqas – 3.5/5.0
Wasio – 4.0/5.0