Sunday, February 16, 2014

Book Review: Reaper's Gale by Steven Erikson (The Malazan Book of the Fallen book 7)

“Maybe when the wilful blindness runs its inevitable course, there will be born wilful wisdom, the revelation of seeing things as they are.
Things? To which things are you referring. Old man?
Why, that everything of true value is, in fact, free.”

  • Steven Erikson, Reaper's Gale

I just finished reading Reaper's Gale, the 7th book to The Malazan Book of the Fallen series. The page count of this massive book is more than 1000 pages, and it is also a direct sequel to Midnight Tides, the 5th book in the series. Reaper's Gale brought satisfactory conclusions to several story arcs, which started in book 5. Let's have a deeper look:


In Midnight Tides, the Tistiue Endur warrior Rhulad Sengar came to possess a cursed sword by accident. This cursed sword cam bring Rhulad back to life whenever he is slayed, making him immortal. By the power of the sword, Rhulad led his fellow Tistie Endur tribes to conquer the Letherii Empire. Now, he sits on the throne as an emperor. However, Rhulad's immortality comes at the cost of his sanity. Eventually, the sword drove Rhulad into madness. In his paranoia, Rhulad accepted his chancellor's advise, and established secret polices and agents, conducting campaigns of tyranny against Letherii citizens.

On the Endur fleet travelling to the city of Lether, are countless champions selected to cross blades with Rhulad in the arena. Among them are Karsa Orlong and Icarium Lifestealer, these two warriors possess immense martial prowess, but is their prowess enough to defeat Rhulad and his cursed sword?

In the meantime, adjunct Tavore Paran led the outlawed Malazan army, the Bonehunters, to land on the continent of Letherii. Their goal, to conquer the the empire of Letherii and bring down the reign of Rhulad. The Bonehunters are greatly outnumbered, can they succeed in their mission?

What I think about this book:

The short synopsis above doesn't even being to describe the epic scope of story in Reaper's Gale. In this book, there are at least 5 story arcs developing simultaneously. The cast of characters is massive, and Reaper's Gale is probably the most epic book in this series yet.

I found The Bonehunters hard to read, because the story lacked cohesion, and it felt like a book containing too much filler information. This is because The Bonehunter is a middle book to bring all 3 major story arcs from previous books together. Fortunately, Reaper's Gale doesn't have this problem.

However, this does not mean Reaper's Gale is an easy read. There are too many characters and too
many story arcs, and it is difficult to keep track of everything happening in the book. As a reader, I had to pay very close attention to every sentence, and constantly tried to recap the different story arcs. I could compare my experience of reading Reaper's Gale to doing a memory test.

This does not mean Reaper's Gale is a bad book. On the contrary, I really liked Reaper's Gale, and found it to be a much stronger book than The Bonehunters. While Reaper's Gale does make its reader work very hard to read it, but it is also immensely rewarding. This book brings satisfactory conclusions to some story arcs that started from previous books, so if you have read the previous 6 books, you don't want to miss this one.

I found the main theme in Reaper's Gale captivating. There are 5 story arcs in this book, but they are all focused on the theme of materialism and the corruption it brings. When I was reading this book, I found the Letherii Empire can be compared to our world, where the economy is driven by greed, and constantly goes through the boom and bust cycles. In this book, the Letherii Empire has a culture that is obsessed with accumulating and consuming material goods, in excess and in indulgence. It is a system that heavily punishes those who are not good at the money-making game, while the rich have resources to become richer, the poor became poorer. This culture of materialism worship eventually made the empire weak, and they were easily conquered by the Tistie Endur invaders. However, after the Tistie Endur took control over the empire, they were soon corrupted by the same culture of greed and indulgence, and the Tistie Endur gradually became weak, and chained to the Letherii's way of life.

This is why the story in Reaper's Gale became even more interesting, when two of my favorite characters in this series, Tehol and his manservent Bugg, both financial geniuses, brewing a scheme to bring down the Letherii economic system to a total collapse, thus rebooting their society. As readers, we examine the materialistic culture of the Letherii Empire through the eyes of Tehol and Bugg. As they look through the problem of greed and materialism, then turned around and ask the readers a question: 

Are things only valuable if they can be measured by material standard?

Reaper's Gale also concluded the story of Rhulad, as Karsa Orlong and Icarium finally arrived at the city of Lether to challenge Rhulad. As these 3 powerhouses finally collide, I won't spoil how the story ended, but let me just say, it ended in a very satisfying way.

Like George R.R Martin, Steven Erikson is not shy when it comes to killing main characters. I will not spoil the story here, but several characters met their demises in this book in the most unexpectedly ways. However, I really appreciate this aspect of Erikson's writings, because it creates a real sense of danger for these characters, providing elements of surprise.

Like all other books in the Malazan series, Reaper's Gale is a huge book, it is also a very dense, and complex book that demand the reader to work hard to understand it, but reading this book is also a rewarding experience. If you are a fan of fantasy fictions, and looking for books that are different to the traditional Tolkien style stories, then give The Malazan Book of the Fallen a try. In the meantime, I am about to start reading the next installment in this series, Toll the Hounds.

Thank you for reading this review.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Book Review: The Bonehunters by Steven Erikson (The Malazan Book of the Fallen book 6)

When you've burned the bridges behind you, don't go starting a fire on the one in front of you.”

  • Steven Erikson, The Bonehunters

People do all sorts of marathons; running marathons, eating marathons, swimming marathons etc.. Currently, I am doing a reading marathon. The challenge? Read all 10 books from an epic fantasy series called, The Malazan book of the Fallen. I am reading them back to back.

When I finally finish reading this series, I would have read 11,000 pages = 3.3 million words. Don't know about you, but I consider this an epic feat. If the author of this series, Steven Erikson, was committed to write 10 books, each 1000+ pages long, then as a fan of epic fantasy fictions, I am also prepared to commit myself to read all 10 of his books, and write a review for each individual book.

Does this reading marathon become a chore? Not for me. So far, I am enjoying these books tremendously, and I enjoy writing reviews for these books. It is with great pleasure, that I announce that I have finally finished reading the sixth book, The Bonehunters. Without further delay, let me start reviewing this book.


The story in The Bonehunters follows directly after the events in the fourth book, The House of Chains.

The Malazan army has triumphed over the Whirlwind Rebellion in the Seven Cities. Led by Adjunt Tavore Paran, the Malazan 14th army is on a warpath to eliminate the fleeing forces of the Whirlwind Rebellion. The remaining forces of the rebellion is led by Leoman of the Flails, and they fled westward, seeking refuge in the city of Y'Ghatan. In the meantime, following the aftermath in book 3, Memories of Ice, Onearm Dujeck's force has been restored, and they were charged by Empress Laseen to aid Tavore on her mission to eliminate the remaining rebellion forces. As Onearm's host marched, a deadly plague of mysterious origin met them, killing many and greatly reduced the fighting power of Onearm's army. In order to deal with this deadly plague, Ganoes Paran, the new master for Deck of Dragons, was summoned to the Seven Cities. These events will not only determine the fate of the Seven Cities, but will also bring about a shift of power all the way back on the imperial throne at the Malaz city.

In the meantime, Icarium the Lifestealer and Karsa Orlong of the Toblakai, are about to be recruited and travel to the kingdom of Lether, to face Rhulad, the emperor of thousand deaths...

What I think about this book:

There is this thing called the “middle book syndrome”. This problem plagued many great book series. The Malazan Book of the Fallen is not immune to this unfortunate phenomenon. It was going to happen sooner or later, and the middle book syndrome occurred at The Bonehunters.

I really enjoy the previous 5 books, but for some reason, I found the story in The Bonehunters scatters all over the place, and lacks coherence in terms of storytelling. There are too many story arcs here, the cast of characters too large, the philosophical reflections too many... this is a very dense book, and it is not an easy read.

Granted, the Malazan books were never easy to read. Every book in the past had large cast of characters, multiple story arcs, and plenty of philosophical reflections, but in The Bonehunters, these complexities are multiplied to the magnitude where, it is really difficult to keep track of the stories, and it is downright confusing. Made worse by the fact that most story arcs in this book are trying to connect previous books to the next instalment. This means most story arcs have characters travelling from one place to the next, with much “filler” information bridging the gaps.

This is not to say that The Bonehunters is a bad book. While this book is weaker compared to the previous book, Midnight Tides, Steven Erikson's writing is still excellent, revealing important information crucial to the future books in this series. In The Bonehunters, there are 2 truly memorable moments, one occurred at the siege of Y'Ghatan, the second memorable moment occurred in the last 100 pages of the book. These 2 moments are brilliantly written, the story told with vivid descriptions of sceneries, and full of heart pounding actions and thrills.

In my reviews for previous books, I wrote that each book in the Malazan series has a theme. The Bonehunters carries this tradition. In this book, the story explored the theme of religious fanaticism. This is a thought provoking, fascinating and most relevant topic, especially in an era post the tragedy of 911, where the general public is exposed to the reality of religious fundamentalism, brining more awareness to it, because we have all witnessed the tragedy it can bring.

I am really happy I have finished reading The Bonehunters. This book brought the multiple story arcs from previous books to a converging point, setting up for the inevitable, monumental clashes which are bound to take place in the next book, Reaper's Gale. I can't wait to start reading Reaper's Gale and find out the fates of my favourite characters in this series.

Until next time, thank you for reading my review.