OK, not really. It would be kind of funny, but I’m pretty sure Erikson would own Martin. He’s younger and probably in better shape.
So, ages ago when the Game of Thrones series was in its relative youth, Mr. Geek Girl What Rules got hooked. And, as is our want, when one of us gets really interested in books, the other one will eventually pick them up and give them a try. So I pick up the first book and start reading. About a quarter of the way through it I gave up. Honestly, with the exception of Arya (the younger daughter) I couldn’t give two shits whether any of those characters lived or died. Seriously, I just didn’t care, and when you don’t care what happens to the characters it’s hard to maintain interest in a book regardless of how clever the plot may be. I mean, even the villains were so over-the-top characatured that I just didn’t buy them. Seriously, how long am I supposed to sit around watching what’s-his-butt (Tyrion) twirl his metaphorical mustache? Not to mention, with the exception of the aforementioned Arya, all of the female characters had less depth than your average teaspoon, and were either completely useless (Sansa) or manipulative and conniving (everyone else) or a combination of both (the mom).
When the Mister picked up the Malazan books at the urging of a club regular, I was dubious at best. I had been burned by Mr. Martin, and was not eager to pick up another, ultimately, disappointing book. However, the Mister was so enthusiastic about it, gushing about it constantly, even more than with the Martin books. So I caved.
I loved Gardens of the Moon. I could not get enough. Erikson does not rely on the cheap tactic of cliffhangers to keep you interested, but you WANT to know more about what happens to these people. You care. I finished Gardens of the Moon and immediately went in search of the next books in the series. He even has fully realized female characters who are actors in fate, not just its victims, as well as male characters who get to act. The first two books made me sniffle and cry a little, but the end of book three made me sob openly while I finished it. Since then, I find myself sobbing more often than not during the climaxes of Erikson’s books. Last night, finishing up Toll the Hounds was no exception. I stayed up past my bedtime, sniffling, snuffling and sobbing on the couch wiping my eyes with one hand and turning pages with the other.
See, Erikson kills characters as often as Martin, well, nearly as often. But in my opinion he does it better. You even care when the rat bastards die. And he kills a lot of characters that you love. A lot. The Chain of Dogs in books two and three (edited to fix because I should not rely on Wikipedia entries instead of going back and figuring it out myself) springs readily to mind here. But let me get back to the rat bastards. See, villains who have no redeeming features whatsoever are A. unrealistic and B. boring. And Martin’s work is full of them. Shit, even Hitler loved children and dogs. I’m sure Idi Amin loved his mother or something. Granted, there are a couple of just plain evil characters in the Erikson books, but they tend to die quickly. Gorlas Vidikas springs readily to mind, as does Venaz. But for the most part Erikson’s villains are just as nuanced as his heroes, and his everyman characters who want to be neither but wind up sucked into the machinations of the gods.
Both men have very lushly realized and described worlds. Martin’s falls into the “pseudo-Medieval Europe” trap of most conventional fantasy. Erikson’s has many, many worlds reflecting different types of societies and stages of civilization, from the stone/bronze age barbarity of the Toblakai, to the Middle Eastern flavor of Darujhistan and the Seven Cities to the alien culture of the K’Chain Che Malle and the Byzantine society of Letheras.
Ok, I realize… I’m gushing. A lot. I’m a total gribbling fangirl for Steven Erikson, and when I met him at his Seattle book signing in September, it was all I could do not to squeal like an idiot. The Mister didn’t trust himself to not become a drooling fanboy, and so left me to get the books signed. Sigh. However, it was nice that when I told him that we appreciated his scope of history and the way his societies were built, us being history majors, HE got excited about that, asking if we’d figured out which battles were based on historical battles of our world. The Boy and I frequently, once he finished books, discuss which battles remind us of which historical battles, so it was just cool. EEEEEEEE!!!
So as far as I’m concerned, that steel cage death match? Erikson wins hands down. I realize Martin has the sales, but popular does not necessarily mean good. Hell, Dan Brown was on the best seller list for how long with The DaVinci Code? (Speaking of poorly crafted characters.)
I highly recommend the Malazan books to anyone who loves epic fantasy.