Review: The God is Not Willing (Witness #1) by by Steven Erikson


Rating: 9/10

Synopsis

Many years have passed since three Teblor warriors brought carnage and chaos to the small lakeside settlement of Silver Lake. While the town has recovered, the legacy of that past horror remains, even if the Teblor tribes of the north no longer venture into the southlands. One of those three, Karsa Orlong, is now deemed to be a god, albeit an indifferent one. In truth, many new cults and religions have emerged across the Malazan world, including those who worship Coltaine, the Black-Winged God, and – popular among the Empire’s soldiery – followers of the cult of Iskar Jarak, Guardian of the Dead.

A legion of Malazan marines is on the march towards Silver Lake. responding to intelligence that indicates the tribes beyond the border are stirring. The marines aren’t quite sure what they’re going to be facing but, while the Malazan military has evolved and these are not the marines of old, one thing hasn’t changed: they’ll handle whatever comes at them. Or die trying

Meanwhile, in the high mountains, where dwell the tribes of the Teblor, a new warleader has risen. Scarred by the deeds of Karsa Orlong, he intends to confront his god, even if he has to cut a bloody path through the Malazan Empire to do it. Higher in the mountains, a new threat has emerged, and now the Teblor are running out of time.
The long feared invasion is about to begin. And this time it won’t be three simple warriors. This time thousands are poised to flood the lands of the south. And in their way, a single legion of Malazan marines . . .

It seems the past is about to revisit Silver Lake, and that is never a good thing . . .

Review

A superb blend of action and humor packed into a brisk moving plot introducing the next chapter of the Malazan Saga!

The book is set in Northern Genabackis about a decade after the events of the original Malazan BotF series. The Teblor tribes of the region still revere Karsa who is considered a God but has refused ascension and is in a self-imposed exile outside Darujhistan. With a massive threat facing their homeland, they seek to confront their god one way or another, even if means cutting a bloody swath through the Malazan Empire to reach him. Though the tribes have a new Warleader who seeks to usurp Karsa, the main PoV is of Rant, one of Karsa’s half-children born out of rape during events that were covered earlier on MBotF books and living quietly in the settlement of Silver Lake. His journey to confront his lineage makes up for the “heavier” aspects of SE’s philosophizing. From a naïve sone of god who doesn’t understand his strength, his learning through bitter experience is fascinating and engrossing to read. 

The other (set of) PoV is from that of a unit of Malazan Marines who are sent to reinforce the town of Silver Lake (as the rumblings amongst the Teblor) have already reached wider audience. This is where the very subtle and often understated Erikson humour takes the center stage. From the wise and weary outlook of No Bleak (Malazan Heavy) to the genuinely hilarious closed and narrow focused outlook of Stillwater, it just was a treat to read these. Her outlook of the world vs the actual world itself is so disconnected that it could only possibly work in Mazalan Marine world and her unique take on the proceedings are so enjoyable that I found myself sporting a smile everything she makes the page. She could very well be on her way to becoming my favourite characters in all of Malazan!

Like any typical SE book, we get to see a organic unravelling of history covering Teblor, Jheck, Jaghut etc with an occasional name drop from some MBotF characters. Throw in a mercenary company who have just fought the above same Marine Unit and now forced to work together with them, and we get an interesting hot pot of characters and plots in the mix simmering all the way to a delicious climax.

The book is a new beginning and there is a clear sense of detachment from the earlier books with only few threads that continue on here in detail.  The old players and Elder Gods have faded into legends and memories and mostly relegated to being name dropped at times. New gods have arisen out of the events of MBotF, Iskar Jarak , Coltaine and of course our indomitable Karsa Orlong amongst others have gained popular cult following. Not just in players, but tribes, races that played significant part of original books fade into obscurity in here. It’s a whole new world out there now!

The only major character we see from MBotF is Spindle sporting his signature hairshirt. His background with the Bridgeburners is not widely known. After the events at Pale, he’s wandered around for some time, before coming back to what he does best, soldiering for Malazan Empire, and finds himself at the forefront for the events of this book. There’s one or two other characters who make a brief appearance but to avoid spoilers they’ll remain unnamed.

The difference between the old and new worlds is subtle yet significant. What makes SE special is the amount of information he packs into the books. Not just a new story in the world, but we see progression in almost all phases of the book. For example, the components of Malazan Army, that tactics of it s Marines etc are different from what we’ve seen before, which again are driven by events that are hinted but not explained (typical, huh!). Stuff which I took for granted due to having read earlier books continue to surprise me as the new nuances serve to keep it fresh.  It’s like every other paragraph has potential for a separate book of its own! Not just the main story, but there are so many other intriguing aspects packed into the book (Rant’s dagger for example) that I’m eagerly awaiting to read in the next book.

I’m not sure if it’s fallout from SE’s experience with Kharkanas trilogy or not, bit GINW is a surprisingly streamlined and easy read, possibly among all of SE’s books in the Malazan world. We are not dropped into middle of an epic battle and left to figure our way around. The characters have introductions, hint of backstory which fills out quickly and moves along at a brisk pace. I’m almost tempted to describe this as Malazan-Lite, a diet version of the series…but that would be an injustice. It’s just a different flavour of the series. The heaviness of the Rant is balanced beautifully with the world-weary sarcasm of Malazan Marines making this one of the best books I’ve read this year!

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