Everything that Gardens of the Moon promised, this book delivers. Stronger and more focussed than the first volume, Deadhouse Gates adds a few 'quest' threads to the militaristic fantasy tapestry, taking us into a part of the world that is even more sordid and violent than anything we've enountered before.
The epic quest of Felisin, Baudin, Hedoric, and Kulp drags us into physical, moral, and philosophical depths that are as uncomfortable for the reader as they are for the characters. It's not often that a storyline so deftly involves you with its characters than you become infected by the same sense of utter hopelessness. It's also been a long time since I was as thoroughly engaged by a setting as I was with the haunted ship Silanda, manned by the headless undead, adrift in a magical warren, and under siege by an insane wizard.
Meanwhile, there's the quest of Crokus, Apsalar, and Fiddler. While not as dark or as hopeless as that of the others, it's still presents the reader with an intense journey through some of the strangest, oddest, most alienating points of interest in the series so far. Iskaral Pust, his cliff-side temple, and its demonic little winged monkeys offer some much-needed lighter (albeit twisted) moments, although their significance to the story is key.
Finally, we come to the story of Duiker (the soldier-historian), Coltraine (the barbarian-commander), and the Malaz 7th Army. We enter the story already on the edge of a revolution, and it doesn't take long for the worst to happen. Much of the story follows the flight of the 7th Army and the refugees under its protection through a harsh, hostile desert where every possible safe haven is taken away before they can get there. The battles are brutal and intense, and there is nothing chivalric or noble about them. This is realism - survival of the fittest, and the sacrifice of the few for the many. The penultimate battle, beneath a cloud of brightly coloured butterflies, has to be one of the most chilling, haunting experiences in fantasy literature.
Once again, if you're into epic fantasy and don't mind the moral shades of grey, dive in an experience Erikson's world.