The Malazan Books Ranked - The Fantasy Review

The Malazan Books Ranked

Here is our list of The Malazan Books Ranked! Do you agree with our rankings?

So you’ve heard of or recently started the Malazan Book of the Fallen and you’re curious about which books are the best in the series? I’ve got you covered. But for those of you who don’t know, the Malazan Book of the Fallen by Steven Erikson is an epic 10 book fantasy series set in a world unparalleled in scope. It has a massive amount of worldbuilding and history and is among many hardcore fantasy fans’ favorite series. Today we’re going to be ranking the main ten books from worst to best. And don’t worry, none of the books are actually bad. They’re all at least 4 star reads if you ask me. Without further ado, here is a list I came up with to let you know exactly which books you should be the most excited for. Note: this is spoiler free, I only mention what can be found in the descriptions on the back of each book.

10. Gardens of the Moon

malazan books ranked

The weakest book in the series has to be its first entry. Between being a tabletop RPG campaign adapted into a screenplay which was then adapted into a book ten years later, it’s easy to see why writing in such a complex work of fiction isn’t an easy job. Set over a century into imperial history and a decade into a devastating military campaign to subjugate the continent of Genabackis, Erikson has a lot to do in setting up the world, its history and who the main players are in such a vast story. Gardens of the Moon follows the story of the Bridgeburners, an elite unit within the Malazan military tasked with infiltrating the last Free City and sabotaging Darujhistan from the inside. You’re mainly introduced to the Bridgeburners via Ganoes Paran, an Untan noble attached to Adjunct Lorn (the right hand of the Empress) as they follow the trail of a mysterious supernatural massacre. It’s a trail that leads across oceans all the way to the military campaign in Genabackis. While this entry is very impressive and makes for an incredible introduction to a new world, Erikson’s ambition is just slightly above his ability in this first book. The first chunk of the book can be quite confusing to new fantasy readers, the writing isn’t flawless, and there are some small worldbuilding details in this book that are later retconned.

9. Dust of Dreams

malazan books ranked

This is the penultimate book in the series, however you could just as well say it’s the final part. You see, both Dust of Dreams and The Crippled God were initially conceived of as one book, however due to the length, it had to be split in half. Thus the ninth book is weakened in the same way that Dennis Villeneuve’s Dune (2021) is: its 2nd act was cut in two and had to be reworked into the third act of a shorter tale. Both Dust of Dreams and Dune (2021) are still incredible pieces of media, but they’re stronger when considered together with their second half.

8. Toll the Hounds

malazan books ranked

This is a very divisive book within the Malazan community. Stylistically, it’s quite a large left turn from the prose we’ve come to expect from Erikson, and it can be jarring for readers. Along with that, considering book 7 finally wove together all three of the major story arcs onto one continent in preparation for the series’ endgame, the eighth entry jumps back to Genabackis and is only partly spent doing some necessary legwork in setting up the finale. There are slice-of-life parts in book 8 that drag and feel extra superfluous to the plot. That being said, I will say it was nice to get reacquainted with many familiar faces that we hadn’t seen in a long time! Plus even I have to admit, the Hound’s Toll, the night that acts as the climax to this story is one of the most incredible endings of any Malazan book. It’s truly wild, and if adapted, would have you jumping up and yelling at the TV.

7. House of Chains

House of Chains is quite the journey! A negative reviewer asserted that Steven Erikson couldn’t write a single-perspective story to save his life. Erikson’s response? A mic drop. The fourth book in the series changes things up by spending the first 250 pages following a single character on a remarkable journey of transformation. Karsa Orlong is a legendary character in Malazan. He’s a brutal warrior steeped in the oppressive attitudes of his clan who unleashes devastation everywhere he goes. But over the first section of this book, he goes through a lot of hardship and changes from a hated character to a beloved one. That section of the book telling his history is great, but when we jump back to present day and current events, that’s where the book runs into some problems. The story is about a Malazan army hunting down a rebellious army, but in actuality much of the book is spent with Malazan soldiers on the march and with the rebel leadership in their camp. The end has also been called anticlimactic, but I disagree with that personally. I think it was definitely the right choice.

6. Midnight Tides

The fifth entry in the series, Midnight Tides is an incredible book. I absolutely love it for its themes, its characters, and its brand new setting. Midnight Tides is set on the continent of Lether, a continent locked in time where magic is older and stranger. The main conflict of the series is between the Letherii and the Tiste Edur, shadowy cousins of Anomander Rake’s Tiste Andii. The conflict is so hilariously apt, as I could absolutely see this happening in the real world. It’s a trade dispute over seal hunting that escalates to a full scale war. This book goes back to Erikson’s typical multi-POV structure, but is actually set before the events of the first book, and it tells the backstory of a character we met in House of Chains! Midnight Tides feels perfectly self contained in a way that Erikson’s other work doesn’t. Considering the continent has been stuck in isolation for millenia, its story has no real connection to the broader context of the Malazan world. This book felt to me like a fresh and exciting surprise when I first started it, however I could understand how some readers may be frustrated having to get to know an entirely new cast of characters, so that’s why I placed it where I did.

5. The Crippled God

This is the conclusion to the main ten books, and it delivers everything I ever could have imagined. The Crippled God blew me away and when I read that final “This ends the tenth book of the Malazan Book of the Fallen” I almost wept from how empty I felt having finished such a masterfully crafted odyssey. This book is so action packed and devastating. It satisfyingly wrapped up the vast majority of threads that needed to come to an end, while also leaving the series open for more exploration in the future. Though with such a big world, it would be nigh impossible to run out of compelling stories to tell. If you go into Malazan withdrawals after finishing the series, just know there are more books out there from both Erikson himself, and his friend Ian C Esslemont.

4. The Bonehunters

The sixth book in the series is one of the best. The Bonehunters follows the Adjunct’s army as she mops up the scattered mess of rebels left behind after House of Chains. This book contains one of the coolest setpieces in the whole series, and it’s a tableau I desperately want to see depicted on screen. Sadly I can’t get into spoilers, but if you know, you know. What’s interesting about this book is its structure. One climax happens in the second act, and then a smaller climax happens at the very end of the book. Both are incredible and deliver a hefty gut punch to the reader. This book also introduces one of my favorite characters: Sergeant Hellian, a hilariously off-color soldier who somehow manages to drunkenly stumble her way through battles.

3. Deadhouse Gates

The second entry in the series can be a bit of a shock. You just spent 712 pages getting to know a huge cast of characters in Gardens of the Moon, and now suddenly you’re transported to an entirely new continent with only 4 familiar faces amid an even larger cast of characters than book one? Yes, that’s exactly what happens. The Malazans are a massive empire spanning several continents, and trying to tell the history of such a behemoth necessitates you cover multiple conflicts. The book follows the 4 familiar faces I mentioned on their journey across the subcontinent of Seven Cities to bring a character home, and the book also follows Ganoes Paran’s younger sister who endures hell when she’s sent to a prison colony. But the main draw of book two is following Coltaine of the Crow Clan, a once-rebel turned Malazan commander, as he and his army lead a desperate flight of +30000 Malazans across a continent in violent rebellion. This refugee train being led approximately the distance of Miami to Montreal becomes known as the Chain of Dogs, and it’s one of the craziest, most cathartic stories I’ve ever read. I initially loved Gardens of the Moon, but it wasn’t until the end of Deadhouse Gates that I realized I had stumbled upon a fantasy series truly unlike anything else out there. 

2. Memories of Ice

malazan books ranked

The third book in the series is a fan favorite, and for good reason. After finishing Deadhouse Gates, this book returns you back to Genabackis and leaves you with the political aftermath of Gardens of the Moon, and introduces you to the Big Bad of the Malazan books. The Crippled God is a festering wound on the world and his influence has led to the rise of a land of depravity: the Pannion Domin. In response, the Malazan army who have just been cut loose have to team up with their erstwhile enemies and take on the looming threat of the Pannion Seer. Memories of Ice has some of the most incredible battle sequences of the entire series. It’s filled with moments that will give you chills or make you gasp aloud. Itkovian is a fan favorite you’ll come to love. The Siege of Capustan is one of Malazan’s most memorable moments, and the battles in this book really make you understand why the series is called the Malazan Book of the Fallen.

1. Reaper’s Gale

malazan books ranked

The seventh novel in the Malazan series is my favorite for a number of reasons. But what I like most about it is that Reaper’s Gale finally combines the three main arcs from Genabackis, Seven Cities and Lether into one. All three casts of characters combine into one story as we see the renegade Malazans sail to Lether and get involved waging a guerilla war against a complicated police-state being occupied and reigned over by the Edur and an unkillable madman named “the Emperor of a Thousand Deaths”. This is really Malazan at its best! The themes in this book are handled spectacularly, and for such a dark story, it’s balanced out with a lot of humor. Also, Erikson really flexes his writing chops again with a brand new character who appears for only 25 pages, yet still manages to emotionally destroy me—even upon numerous rereads. Reaper’s Gale really has it all. It’s all the best parts of Malazan concentrated into one incredible book!

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