I gave up on House of Chains last night. My annoyance with various flaws grew to a head, and eventually there came a (minor) 'jump the shark' moment which made me decide to put the book away and never pick it up again. I was about 200 pages from the end of the 1000, but oddly I feel no compunction to carry on. I don't care what happens.
This is a first for me. I fairly often start books but don't finish; usually this is because due to general business I have no time to read for a few days and lose the thread of the story. (I'm sure this happens to everyone.) But on this occasion it was pure and simple dislike for the book. More specifically, the characters.
I've read and enjoyed plenty of books which have unlikeable characters. Many characters in A Song of Ice and Fire are unlikeable, for instance. However, with George R. R. Martin this is clearly by design - and in their very unlikeableness there is a kind of charm and charisma in the characters which makes you interested in them all the same. They're three-dimensional, is why.
Erikson's characters, however, are unlikeable by accident - by which I mean that I think the author is trying to present us with sympathetic and 'cool' people, but they almost universally turn out to be pretentious, insufferable bores - spouting cod philosophy, navel gazing endlessly, uttering supposed profundities, and using words and phrasing which no human being ever uses in conversation if they aren't a precocious teenager trying to impress their English teacher. That would perhaps have been forgiveable if the characters weren't also such ciphers. At almost no stage does the behaviour of any of the cast seem credible as a description of how a human being would behave in the given circumstances. (There are I think two exceptions to this - i.e. two characters who do seem like real people.) Rather, they seem to behave as if totally aware that they are in a fantasy novel and must advance the plot according to the author's predetermined plan.
Erikson's politics also seem to permeate the story to its detriment, in my opinion, which is a cardinal sin. I don't believe this is overt, but it is certainly noticeable if (like me) you don't share his politics. I don't want to have a political debate in the blog, but I'll note that with many of the best fantasy/sf authors whose political views are well known (Gibson, Wolfe, Martin, Kim Stanley Robinson, Le Guin, Heinlein etc.), you could read the books and either not notice the political subtexts (either because the craftsmanship is so good or because the writer is trying their damnest not to express them) or not care (because the story is so gripping and the characters so engaging). The first of these is true of A Song of Ice and Fire - Martin never allows his story to be about anything other than the characters; the second is true of for instance Starship Troopers - the politics are overt but hey, it's still a rip-roaring read whether you agree with them or not. Neither of these things are true of 'The Malazan Book of the Fallen'.
Finally, I have issues with Erikson's tone, which continually seems to be groping for the profound, the weighty, the important. This becomes grating very quickly if you're a fan of writers like Carver, Chandler and Hemingway, like I am.
Nevertheless, my quest for a Good Fantasy Series continues. Yesterday I bought something called Acacia: The War with the Mein on impulse. It's new (2007) but I understand there are to be plenty of sequels. I'll let you know how it goes.