Fantasy Series In the Mold of Erickson's Malazan

When the Heavens Fall: The Chronicles of the Exile, Book One - Marc Turner

I’m one of those readers who let this novel slip by when it was first released. A fact which seems odd, because – with its huge world, multi-thread narrative, and grimdark tinged story – it is exactly the sort of fantasy I tend to look for. And I never would have had a second thought about passing it up if I had not begun seeing reviews about it. Not all of those were five star reviews, truth be told, and some of the reviewers were not glowingly complimentary of the story, but I heard enough to know I had to get my hands on it and give it a try.

Out of the gate, When the Heavens Fall didn’t seem different than many traditional quest story I’d experienced. Maybe a bit more dark and brooding, but otherwise very familiar. Basically, we have a former Guardian (think kickass magical warrior-type) named Luker returning to a city he had left long ago. Once there he immediately finds that the reason he left (think political machinations of a ruler) have grown worse during his self-imposed exile, resulting in the Guardians’ numbers and power waning dangerously. But that really doesn’t concern Luker. What he has come back for is to head up a search party for his mentor (think father figure) who disappeared trying to apprehend a rogue mage named Mayot Mencada and retrieve a powerful artifact – a relic ominously dubbed the Book of Lost Souls.


Okay, I have to admit this sounded really interesting. Guess, I’m a sucker for quest fantasy. And as Mr. Turner began getting his quest group together and sending them out into this huge world I was really excited. Then Mr. Turner pulled the rug out from under me. The story shifting focus to three different characters, who have nothing to do with Luker’s group, or its quest, as well as being in three totally different part of the world.


The first locale is a small kingdom on the edge of the Forest of Sighs. This land fights constantly against the intrusion of the ferocious forest tribes and the wood’s haunted spirits, and as the heir to its throne, Ebon is on the front lines protecting his people – even as he waits for the reigns of rulership to pass into his hands. But though he presents a brave face to the world, our young lord is haunted by fear – a deep seated fear that the forest spirits will once again take over his mind, driving him back into the state of insanity that he only too recently emerged from. And this apprehension is beginning to grow as the realization sets in that there is a power stirring in the forest that might be even worse than the spirits themselves.


Across the continent, Parolla is a young woman driven by a seemingly impossible quest. Her dearest desire to uncover a portal to the Lord of Death’s realm and pass through to confront Shroud himself. For this god took someone or something important to her, and she will not rest until she uncovers a way to get it back. And it is this desire that eventually draws her to the Forest of Sighs far to the east, where she senses that death magic itself is being released into the world, drawing with it Shroud’s own servants from across the multiple dimensions.


Lastly, there is the rather pompous, pleasure loving priestess named Romany, follower of the Spider goddess. And when this crafty divinity shows up unexpectedly telling Romany she must go forth on an important and dangerous mission to the Forest of Sighs, the priestess is very happy, mainly because she will not be able to take her daily bubble bath or sample her gourmet chefs meals. But one cannot turn down a god, so off Romany goes to aid a rogue wizard who has a strange artifact that the Spider goddess does not want Shroud to retrieve.


From this multi-threaded story, Mr. Turner weaves an intricate plot which slowly brings Luker, Ebon, Parolla, and Romany to life, unveils more than a few behind-the-scenes power players, and carefully crafts a vivid world in which all these events take place. Naturally, the story eventually draws everyone together for a rousing conclusions. All of it done in a style that other reviewers have compared to Steven Erikson. Not having had the pleasure to sample Mr. Erickson (He is on my to-be-read list) I can’t say with certain if the comparisons are true, but from what I have heard about the Malazan series, it seems very similar to When the Heavens Fall, which might or might not be a good thing according to your perspective.


As for me, I have to admit finding the beginning of the novel slow; the constant shifts between characters halting any reading momentum I’d built up and keeping me from fully investing in each person’s story. The fact that so much background, geography, and lore was also interwoven into those initial chapters really made me feel like I was drowning in a fantasy information ocean. But as the tale moved along and I became familiar with everyone and everything, those problems mostly disappeared -- though, obviously, I did have my favorite characters and wished more of my time was spent with them as opposed to others.


All in all, I enjoyed When the Heavens Fall. Sure, it was a difficult story to get into, but the payoff was very rewarding. This is a dark, epic novel. One filled with complex necromancy, dark sorcery and more than a few monsters and gods. There are heroes and villains, intrigue and combat, mystery and magic; all of it set in a very intricately detailed world with a living history that springs to life before your eyes. And the four main characters who carry you through this initial foray into Mr. Turner’s fantasy land each see this struggle in very different ways, forcing you to recall everything you’ve read and make choices regarding who is right and who is wrong in it all. Yes, the web Mr. Turner weaves her is large and complex, but if you have the patience to stay with it, everything slowly clicks into place like a huge jigsaw puzzle being solved and ends with a truly mesmerizing conclusion.


Tor provided this book to me for free in return for an honest review. The review above was not paid for or influenced in any way by any person, entity or organization, but is my own personal opinions.