Publisher: Bantam Press (7 May 2007)
Hardcover: 910 pages
Nobody does it better than Erikson. This is the conclusion I have come to after the heartbreaking, awe-inspiring journey that is Reaper’s Gale. At an extensive 900+ pages in hardback, Reaper’s Gale is the largest volume of the series to date and makes full use of that space, drawing together multiple threads into a dramatic ending that will take several reads to fully fathom all of the implications.
I will begin by saying if you haven’t read all of the books preceding Reaper’s Gale in the Malazan series, then this isn’t the book for you. Perhaps more than any of the previous titles, Reaper’s Gale draws heavily on the mountains of information Erikson has divested onto the reader at this point, offering revelations relating to every part of the world and its pantheons. For those avidly following the series, Reaper’s Gale is a huge pay-off for the slower paced Bonehunters, perhaps too huge.
There are no intentional spoilers in this review, but having read all seven books in the last month I cannot guarantee I haven’t got a little confused.
Following on from events in Bonehunters and Midnight Tides, as well as a few loose threads from other books in the series, Reaper’s Gale becomes one large convergence as the crumbling empire of Lether falls prey to a gathering of events and powers yet to be matched in the Malazan series. The complexity of this series to date; the chronology of events, the interaction of so many characters and the necessity to remember small details in such a big picture, makes Erikson’s tale difficult to fully grasp but greatly satisfying, and no more clearly is this demonstrated than with the seventh book. The various threads revolving around the Letherii Empire are used as the core of the book; Rhulad and the Sengar family, Tehol and Bugg, the Errant, Udinaas and Seren Pedac, over which several important character journeys extend. The interaction of these characters, such as Icarium, Karsa, Silchas Ruin and of course the Bonehunters (Malazan 14th Army) with the Letherii empire, forge the conflict that converges on Letheras with brutal results.
Despite the whirlwind of events, Reaper’s Gale starts at a sedate pace, introducing several new characters all involved with the governance of Lether under the power of Chancellor Tribal Gnol and his Patriotists, a group similar in function to the SS used as law enforcement to root out ‘traitors’ and swell the Letherii coffers. Another new set of characters is the Liberty Consign of Merchants, whose power and influence in Lether, whilst substantial, is being undermined by Tehol’s ongoing plan of economic ruin. Through these new characters we are granted a wider view of the Letherii Empire as the story progresses out toward the subjugated nations brought under the empire’s banner, in particular the Awl’dan. Once these groups and their functions are established, pieces of the puzzle start fitting together at a rapidly increasing pace, as the Malazans and Awl’dan begin to cause mayhem.
Given the title of Reaper’s Gale it would be disappointing if there weren’t a few deaths in this book, which thankfully there are in abundance. I won’t give away any specifics, except to say the butcher’s bill is long and that there are a few smaller characters, some introduced in Reaper’s Gale only, that hurt every bit as much as the significant deaths. For the series it appears to be a purging, a temporary conclusion that balances death and rebirth, paving the way for the final three books to take us, one assumes, towards a brutal climax. With a few notable exceptions though, the Malazan series has avoided killing many of its main characters in a Barclay-esque fashion and although this book does redress that issue to a small extent, it is interesting how Erikson has been able to maintain a consistent central cast list without too many complaints.
So are there any negatives? Unfortunately yes. With a book so large, bringing together elements from several of the previous books and some characters that haven’t been spotted in a good while, there are a few continuity errors and puzzling moments that don’t detract necessarily from the story but do involve some head-scratching. There is also the question of size, with a series of revealing events culminating in a breath-taking crescendo it is hard to place the events in context. Several very important moments occur that can be lost amongst the bombardment on your overall understanding of the series to date and it is hard to dissect, assimilate and then care about every single thing going on. Which makes a case for the plotting being a little too grandiose in bringing so many elements together in such a short space of time. On the other hand, life is never so convenient and structured, thus reading the book again to gain a better understanding is hardly a tragedy.
Also as mentioned above, with the odd exception, we still have the same cast list after multiple wars, battles and skirmishes. As much as I like many of the characters there is a strong case that a culling, beyond this book, is due. Although after events in Reaper’s Gale it is possible that the empire of Lether and many of its characters may not play any further part in the series, negating the need for an outright bloodbath.
The only other concern then is a small one for the future, which is that Steven Erikson doesn’t leave himself too much to do in bringing the series to a conclusion. Although three books away there does appear to be a substantial amount of story yet to be told and hopefully most, if not all, of it can be resolved in The Crippled God.
I could go on and on, suffice to say Reaper’s Gale is another fantastic addition to the best fantasy series around. Fans will not be disappointed and the number of new questions created from the ending means even if Toll the Hounds appeared tomorrow it would be too long a wait. Let the time-killing begin.
Owen Jones © 2007