Two things chiefly interest me about it:
1) It's very much a product of that nameless phenomenon which we'll call for the sake of argument "Fin de XXe Siècle Bastardising Geekism". What I mean by this is the tendency for late 20th/early 21st century geek culture to grab references from genre fiction, films, comics (Western and Japanese), computer games, TV series, D&D and real-world mythology, then mash them all together into an incoherent and unholy mix, and let it loose on an unsuspecting world.
House of Chains is a classic example. The characters all sound like Conan when they talk; they fight like the far-too-big-sword-wielding waifs of the Final Fantasy series of video games; many are vaguely reminiscent of figures from Greek and Norse myth; they are all 'teh awesome' to some degree; most of the female characters are of the "I can fight just as well as a man and also I'm really hot like Buffy" variety; it has that obsession with the minutiae of the setting which categorises all geek pursuits from Star Trek to Dragon Ball Z and which sometimes feels like stamp collecting; there is no cultural coherence to the setting, but elements of European, Mesoamerican and Asian cultures seem to have been thrown together in an ad hoc manner to create something altogether mongrel; there is no real moral compass except for a vague understanding that the 'heroes' aren't quite as nasty as the villains (for example, the 'heroes' might kill innocent people at random, but hey, at least they don't perform genital mutilation on pre-teen girls).
Which isn't to say it isn't an enjoyable read - rather, I would say it is amusingly representative of a noticeable cultural trend. You can see this trend, of course, in D&D; most of the above remarks about 'The Malazan Book of the Fallen' seem like a great fit for the general ethos of 4e (though of course not all 4e campaigns), and I wasn't at all surprised to find out that the series is all based on a long-running GURPS Fantasy campaign that Erikson participated in.
2) Erikson is described in the liner notes as a man who spent "nearly" twenty years as an archaeologist and anthropologist. What he certainly doesn't seem to be is a linguist.
Mark Rosenfelder makes the interesting point in his language construction kit that:
If you don't know another language well, you're pretty much doomed to produce ciphers of English...If all you know is English, you'll tend to duplicate the structure and idioms of the English vocabulary....
Non-linguists will often start with the alphabet and add a few apostrophes and diacritical marks. The results are likely to be something that looks too much like English, has many more sounds than necessary, and which even the author doesn't know how to pronounce.
To elaborate: monolingual people by definition don't have a conception of how speakers of other languages produce sound. Their experience and knowledge of language is limited to their own. This is perfectly fine and natural, but it means that if they ever try to come up with new words and new languages, they have a dearth of knowledge from which to draw, and their creations have a consequent dearth of interest. This remark could almost have been tailor written for the world of The Malazan Book of the Fallen. Because for all of the much-trumpeted depth of its setting it is shockingly English in its vocabulary and lexicon. The place and character names just don't sound credible; they are the product of an English speaker trying to sound exotic, not of a different tongue.
Many fantasy authors are well aware of this problem and try to compensate in various ways. Erikson is no exception. In his case it has led to two things:
a) Lazy shorthand references to the real world. For example, an area of the Malazan world is called "Darujistan". It's vaguely Central Asian in flavour and a bit desert-y and exotic, so hey, stick -stan on the end and everybody gets that flavour immediately, right? Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Waziristan, Darujistan... Except here's the thing. The suffix -stan comes from a real world language or group of languages (the Indo-Aryan group). The suffix would therefore hardly exist in the world of the Malazan Book of the Fallen as a means of identifying a place or region, unless the author would have us believe that Indo-Aryan languages are spoken there. So it doesn't make any internal sense.
Now, I can hear the argument already forming on somebody's lips: Who cares? Because although this lazy shorthand (-stan = desert-y Central Asian place, so there's no need to bother coming up with a proper flavour for it) doesn't make sense, at least it works for the English-speaking reader. They get the drift, and that's all that matters. Well yes, I'd agree, except that when reading this series one gets the overriding sense that both publisher and author seem to be playing up the sheer depth and quality of the feat of world building that the books represent. If you're going to take that angle you'd damn well better follow up on it by actually producing a great feat of world building. Using "-stan" to represent generic desert-y Central Asian place doesn't cut it.
b) Abuse of the apostrophe. N'ow, th's 'is a com'mon pheno'men'n in much crappy fantasy lit, frequently encountered whenever an author is trying to make names seem exotic. But by Christ does Steven Erikson use it a lot. T'lan Imass. 'Siballe. L'oric. Sha'ik. Ah, the words just roll of the tongue don't they? Don't they? No, they fucking don't. They are a pain in the arse to read, an even worse pain in the arse to try to imagine the sound of (how in God's name does one prounounce 'Siballe and how is it different from Siballe?), and a constant annoyance which trips up the flow of the writing.
The abused apostrophe is the last resort of the English monolingual who is trying to create exotic sounds. Another lazy shorthand. I find it unusual, however, not to say astounding, that a qualified anthropologist would use it. The one thing you would expect from such a person would be a credible looking language, right?
In any case, this is not to say that the reading experience is not enjoyable. House of Chains is a genuine page-turner. It's also a cultural artefact which in a hundred years will I'm sure be seen as exemplary of certain trends within the arts during our era. What it isn't is a "a fantasy world as rich and detailed as any you're likely to encounter", which is what it says on the tin.