Short review, because, super busy.
Super short summary: Two young girls are being pushed by forces outside their control, to very different destinies although both end up in the holy desert Raraku. And Raraku is also the source of an uprising against the Malazan Empire, leading to a desperate chase across the land, as a charismatic warrior struggles to hold together a tiny force escorting an enormous march of refugees to something approaching safety. (And another two I think, major storylines which I'm not even going to mention.) Also, horse tribes, shapeshifters who are far from cuddly, and a running gag about bossy lapdogs.
I can still see the definite inheritance of Glen Cook here, and still loving it, but the writing is even tighter than in the first (not surprising with several years between the writing of them). Erikson is still the master of show, don't tell, but if you read closely he tells you a lot of stuff too, it's just so unobtrusive and often in throwaway dialogue, that you don't realise. And this is the only series in a long time where I've found reading the short poem or other snippets at the beginning of chapters is often a huge help in understanding what the heck is going on.
Still, it's a little jarring to find that in book 2 we're following a whole new cast of characters, because I did so fall in love with the bridgeburners in book 1. My grandfather was a sapper in WW2, so I completely get that "everything can be fixed by either blowing it up or building a new one out of sticks and twine" attitude and deadpan humour they have going on. Once you settle in though, the occasional cameo or rumour (misheard or not) about what the first book's characters are up to, despite making me miss them all over again, helps cement that this is an enormous world and we can necessarily only follow a little bit of it. I love that half the time the characters are operating with even less information than we the reader has, and they act like it, making decisions that look terrible in hindsight, but make sense.
I am loving these books, and although they do require a little more active close reading than most, I'm still not feeling that they are difficult. Rather I suspect these are books I will continue to re-read for years to come, and still pick up more and more every time.