One of the most heavily-mapped of recent epic fantasy worlds is that featured in the Malazan Book of the Fallen and its numerous spin-offs. Like several of the more iconic fantasy worlds, it has its roots in tabletop gaming. Starting in 1981 using Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (later switching to GURPS), Canadian authors Ian Cameron Esslemont and Steven Erikson began creating a fantasy world both like and unlike any seen before.
It took a long time to finally see print. Esslemont wrote two novels in the late 1980s, Night of Knives and Return of the Crimson Guard, but they were not published until (heavily revised) almost twenty years later. Erikson wrote a film script called Gardens of the Moon, but when no-one showed any interest he recast this as a novel, completing it in 1991. Again, no-one was interested. It wasn’t until Erikson had published a literary novel, This River Awakens, in 1998 and then moved to the UK that he finally got some attention. A fierce bidding war between Bantam Transworld and Gollancz saw Bantam secure the rights to Gardens of the Moon and no less than nine sequels for a startling £675,000. That was a record for an author’s first fantasy series. Gardens of the Moon was published to strong critical acclaim in 1999.
Erikson had already started work on the first sequel, Memories of Ice, but the hard drive on his computer blew up when he was more than half-finished with it. Lacking backups and unwilling to start again, he started writing a completely different novel instead, taking place on a different continent. This novel became Deadhouse Gates (2000). This happy accident saw the series adopt its familiar structure of swapping casts and locations with each book in the series, keeping things fresh. Erikson worked on the series almost without surcease for the next decade: the remounted Memories of Ice was finally published in 2001. It was followed by House of Chains (2002), Midnight Tides (2004), The Bonehunters (2006), Reaper’s Gale (2007), Toll the Hounds (2008), Dust of Dreams (2009) and The Crippled God (2011), completing the core Malazan Book of the Fallen sequence.
Meanwhile, Esslemont was contracted to write the complementary Tales of the Malazan Empire sequence, comprising six volumes: Night of Knives (2004), Return of the Crimson Guard (2007), Stonewielder (2010), Orb Sceptre Throne (2012), Blood and Bone (2012) and Assail (2014). Esslemont’s novels mostly follow what happens back in the Malazan Empire when Erikson’s core sequence moves away from it to follow events on the other side of the world (following The Bonehunters).
Following completion of the main series, Erikson began writing The Kharkanas Trilogy, a prequel series set over 300,000 years before the main Malazan series. This series comprises Forge of Darkness (2012), Fall of Light (2016) and the forthcoming Walk in Shadow. Esslemont also followed suit with a prequel series, Path to Ascendancy, but this time set only a century or so before the main series and charting the founding of the Malazan Empire. This series opened with Dancer’s Lament (2016) and will continue with a novel provisionally entitled Deadhouse Landing, hopefully next year.
The world the Malazan series is set on has no unified name. Erikson jokingly called it “Wu” for a while, but the introduction of a character with that name in Dancer’s Lament has seen that informal name dropped due to confusion. The world is believed to be approximately the same size as Earth – possibly slightly larger – and contains a number of substantial landmasses.
The largest continent is located mainly in the northern hemisphere, although its western-most parts may extend southwards into the equatorial zone. This continent is known as Seven Cities, although more accurately that name applies only to its eastern-most third, the region conquered by the Malazan Empire. The central region, west of the Jhag Odhan, is home to a kingdom called Nemil. There is a peninsular in the north-west controlled by a kingdom called Perish and the western and south-western parts of the continent are dominated by the utterly formidable Shal-Morzinn Empire. This hostile nation is controlled by three powerful god-mages. Fortunately, the nation is not expansionist and is easy to avoid.
South-east of Seven Cities lies the Falari Islands and the continent of Quon Tali. Semi-equatorial Quon Tali is one of the smallest continents on the planet but it is also the most densely populated, with numerous cities straddling its wide rivers and vast amounts of farmland eating into the once-extensive jungles. The Malazan Empire was born on a small island off Quon Tali’s south-eastern coast before it eventually conquered all of Quon Tali and then extended north-west, into Seven Cities, and north-east, into Genabackis.
East of Seven Cities, across Seeker’s Deep (also called the Meningalle Ocean), lies the continent of Genabackis. This was once home to numerous feuding city-states and small kingdoms before it was invaded by the Malazan Empire, which conquered a wide swathe of the northern and western coasts. The Empire’s conquest of the continent was halted by the bruising Battle of Pale, the failed attempt to conquer Darujhistan and then the devastating war against the Pannion Domin. The formidable isle of the Seguleh lies off the south-western coast of Genabackis, whilst Elingarth is the largest city in the south-east of the continent.
South of Quon Tali lies a rather confusing landmass. The once-great continent of Korelri was smashed asunder in the Fall of the Crippled God, leaving the northern half of the continent a shattered land of islands, inland seas, crater lakes and rugged mountains. The natives have a bewildering assortment of names for the entire region, each island and individual cities. In general usage, the northern half is usually called Korel or Fist. The string of islands and reefs along the northern approaches to Korel have been fortified by a colossal wall, the Stormwall, which is designed to hold back the enigmatic Stormriders who pligh the Strait of Storms between Korel and Quon Tali.
The southern half of the continent, belong the continent-spanning Aurgatt Range, is known as Stratem, a vast and sparsely-populated land of mountains, thick forests, rivers and an enormous peninsula covered in artificial flagstones. Stratem is the home of the exiled Crimson Guard, who dwell in a fortress-redoubt known as Haven, located on the inland Sea of Chimes.
West of Stratem, south-west of Quon Tali and south of western Seven Cities, in the middle of the huge White Spires Ocean, lies the jungle continent of Jacuruku. Jacuruku straddles the dividing line between large island and small continent, being smaller even than Quon Tali. The landmass is split in half by a towering central mountain range, with temperate plains lying to the west and thick, barely-traversable jungle to the east. Jacuruku is the homeland of the ancient Kallorian Empire, which brought about the Fall of the Crippled God. For its temerity, the gods strove forth to destroy the Empire’s psychotic ruler, only to find that he had already put the population of his empire to death to deny them their victory. Furious, they cursed Kallor with life undying. They also took the destroyed, shattered surface layer of Jacuruku and transformed it into a magical warren (later the Imperial Warren). The bedrock left behind was, over the course of more than 110,000 years, able to heal and give rise the later jungle.
East of Korel and Stratem, and somewhat south-east of Genabackis, lies the continent of Assail. For most of recorded history Assail has been a name of hostility and dread, a land of unrelenting hostility and warfare. Even the Malazans have given it a wide berth due to the fear of its Wrecker’s Coast and the lethal Forkrul Assail, who are believed to still be extant somewhere on the continent. The southern-most part of the landmass, a subcontinent known as Bael, is somewhat more hospitable.
Last, but certainly not least, lies the continent of Lether. The second-largest continent on the planet, this continent is located south and south-west of Seven Cities, west of Jacuruku and, across a vast stretch of ocean, east of Assail and south-east of Genabackis. Although not located a colossal distance west of Quon Tali, the approaches to Lether have been blocked off by the sorcerous ice fields around Jacuruku and the continent was mostly unknown until recently. The eastern part of the continent was dominated by a mercantile kingdom called Kolanse, although the immense distance between it and the far more densely-populated nations at the western-most end of the continent, across the hostile Glass Desert, made trade difficult. The western kingdoms were dominated by the Kingdom (and later Empire) of Lether, an expansionist nation based on a ultra-exploitative form of trade and slavery. The north-western part of the continent was home to a remote but powerful tribe of Tiste Edur. Recently, empowered by the Crippled God, the Edur invaded and conquered the Empire of Lether. In turn they were defeated by a detached Malazan army which marched across the Glass Desert to destroy a rogue band of Forkrul Assail that had laid waste to Kolanse.
Maps for all the Malazan novels so far been provided by the excellent Neil Gower, although the original, hand-drawn map of Malaz City by Erikson and Esslemont themselves can be found in the limited edition version of Night of Knives. So far no unified world map has been created, although rough versions exist created by Steven Erikson. He shared one with a fan, who in turn provided the very rough layout which allowed D’Rek and myself at the Malazanempire forum to create the world map seen at the top of the article. Although certainly not canon or official, it is the closest thing we have until Erikson and Esslemont reveal their own world map.
Through the nineteen published novels (so far) set in the Malazan world, Gower has provided numerous maps of continents, regions and cities. A full list of maps follows:
- Genabackis: The Malazan Campaign: Map showing most of Genabackis (excepting the southern coast), featured in Gardens of the Moon.
- Darujhistan: City map of Darujhistan, featured in Gardens of the Moon, Toll the Hounds and Orb Sceptre Throne.
- Seven Cities: The Malazan Empire: Map showing the Seven Cities subcontinent, featured in Deadhouse Gates.
- Chain of Dogs: Coltaine’s March: Detailed map (in two parts) showing the route of the 7th Army. Featured in Deadhouse Gates.
- Genabackis: The Pannion War: Essentially the same map as in Gardens of the Moon, but with some errors fixed and borders changed. Featured in Memories of Ice.
- Capustan: Eastern Genabackis: City map of Capustan. Featured in Memories of Ice.
- Central Malazan Empire: A map showing the entirety of Quon Tali and the Falari Isles, as well as the coast of southern Seven Cities. Featured in House of Chains.
- Northwest Genabackis: A detailed map of the Malyn and Owndos Sea regions of Genabackis. Featured in House of Chains.
- Pan’arak Oasis: Raraku’s Heart: Detailed map of the Pan’arak Oasis in Seven Cities. Featured in House of Chains.
- Tiste Edur Lands and North Lether Frontier: Detailed map of the north-western part of Lether. Featured in Midnight Tides.
- Central Letheras: City map of Letheras. Featured in Midnight Tides.
- Central Malazan Empire: Quon Tali: A substantially more detailed version of the map in House of Chains, featuring only the southern part of Quon Tali. Featured in The Bonehunters, Return of the Crimson Guard, and Dancer’s Lament.
- Seven Cities: The Malazan Empire: A redrawn and revised version of the map of the same name from Deadhouse Gates. Featured in The Bonehunters.
- Malaz City: City map of Malaz City, featured in the PS Publishing version of Night of Knives. Notable as it is a hand-drawn map by Steven Erikson and Ian Cameron Esslemont.
- Malaz City: The same as the above, redrawn by Neil Gower. Featured in The Bonehunters and the Transworld and Tor versions of Night of Knives.
- The Empire of Lether: A map showing most of the western half of Lether. Featured in Reaper’s Gale and Dust of Dreams.
- Black Coral and Environs: City map of Black Corel. Featured in Toll the Hounds.
- Kolanse: A map of eastern Lether, focusing on the kingdom of Kolanse. Featured in The Crippled God.
- Malaz Isle: A map of Malaz Island, featured in Night of Knives.
- The Lands of Fist: A map of the Korel-Fist subcontinent, featured in Stonewielder.
- Main Installations of the Stormwall: A detailed map of the Stormwall. Featured in Stonewielder.
- South Genabackis and Environs: A map of the south coast of Genabackis, featured in Orb Sceptre Throne.
- The Isle of Jacuruku: A map of the island-continent of Jacuruku, featured in Blood and Bone.
- Assail and Environs: A map of the northern part of Assail, featured in Assail.
- The Blood Range: A detailed map of the Blood Range in Assail, featured in Assail.
- Thal Akai, Jaghut, Tiste Realms: A map of the lands in Forge of Darkness and Fall of Light. Note that these lands may not reside on the Malazan world.
- Kurald Galain: A map of the lands of Kurald Galain in Forge of Darkness and Fall of Light. Note that these lands may not reside on the Malazan world.
- Kharkanas (central): City map of Kharkanas in Forge of Darkness and Fall of Light. Note that these lands may not reside on the Malazan world.
- City of Li Heng: City map of Li Heng in Quon Tali. Featured in Dancer’s Lament.