It's with great eagerness that I jumped right into this seventh Malazan volume! Understandably, I could do no less! Many thanks are owed to the kind folks at Transworld for allowing me to get an early read of Reaper's Gale. I'll be eternally grateful!
If I could sum it all up in two words, it would have to be "hot damn!"
As Malazan fans, we all know how Steven Erikson enjoys using misdirection to fool us. Every single thread of this convoluted, multilayered plot seems to be twisted upon itself, and nowhere is it more apparent then in this novel. One piece of advice: Expect the unexpected. You think you know where the tale is headed? The author will rapidly disabuse you of that notion! There are more surprises in Reaper's Gale than in the rest of the series, it seems. On several occasions, I found myself closing the book, shaking my head, unable to believe that this had just happened.
I don't normally include a plot summary in my reviews, but I feel that one is needed in this instance, if only to give you a taste of the story. Spoiler-free, that goes without saying. Some plotlines in Reaper's Gale will shock you and blow your mind, and I will not spoil all the fun for you!
While it's well nigh impossible to put everything that a Malazan installment encompasses in a nutshell, it's even more difficult with Reaper's Gale. For starters, it's the biggest volume yet, a little bigger than both Memories of Ice and The Bonehunters. In the sixth volume we began to glean how various disparate plotlines from different books were related. Indeed, in The Bonehunters we saw a panoply of storylines converge, and for the first time we were granted a peek at the enormous tapestry that serves as the backdrop for the Malazan "greater scheme of things." Revelations contained within the pages of Reaper's Gale demonstrate just how many characters/events are tied to one another. None of its predecessors have moved the story forward as much as Erikson's latest. As a matter of course, the author somehow manages to do just that with an ease that continues to baffle me.
Reaper's Gale takes us back to Lether, where much as occurred since Midnight Tides. Rhulad Sengar, the Emperor of a Thousand Deaths, has been driven insane by his countless resurrections. Fearing betrayal, he sent the most powerful Edur and those closest to him with the fleets. Thus, although literally immortal, Rhulad finds himself completely isolated from the other Tiste Edur by "enterprising" Letherii. The Edur conquest has had little repercussions among the Letherii. The Chancellor now rules the empire all but in name, aided by the Invigilator and his secret police, the Patriotists. The Liberty Consign, an association of the Letherii Empire's wealthiest families, begins to realize that someone is trying to orchestrate economic sabotage on a scale that defies comprehension. Whoever is behind those machinations must be found, or the economy could well collapse, bringing everything down with it.
The Factor of the city of Drene is leading a campaign of extermination against the Awl'dan. The man wishes to seize their herds and their lands to increase his own wealth. The Awl'dan are being decimated by the Letherii forces, as the clans are slowly but irrevocably being wiped out. But an Awl warrior known as Redmask will return from exile bearing ancient weapons from the Awl's distant past, weapons that were devised to battle the legendary Kercha. Accompanied by two strange companions, Redmask will lead the Awl'dan against the Letherii forces, seeking revenge and the redemption of the Awl for a betrayal that cost the lives of an army of foreigners.
Fear Sengar, Udinaas, Seren Pedac, Kettle and Silchas Ruin are traveling through the Bluerose Mountains, searching for the soul of Scabandari Bloodeye. Little do they know that the three Sisters -- Menadore, Sheltatha Lore and Sukul Ankhadu -- are plotting together and against one another to lay claim the Finnest which contains the spirit of Father Shadow. Yet all are aware that, should he be the first to find the Finnest, Silchas Ruin will not permit the Tiste Edur who betrayed him and ordered the slaughter of the Tiste Andii forces, and who forced him to spend millennia trapped inside an Azath, to live again. The Onyx Wizards will grant them a guide who will take them on a journey through the most extraordinary places, at the end of which Scabandari's soul will hopefully be found.
Tehol Beddict, wearing his trademark blanket and still living on that rooftop in the company of his loyal manservant Bugg, schemes like he is prone to do. Fate will reunite him with a former tutor he was infatuated with at a younger age.
Shurq and her pirate crew come across two badly damaged Edur ships. Aboard, she discovers that the crew has been slaughtered and the captain tortured. It suddenly dawns upon her that there are strangers at sea.
The K'risnan monitor the progress of Silchas Ruin and the others, yet they appear reticent to get involved. Hannan Mosag knows that the Crippled God wants to use Father Shadow's Finnest before destroying it. Unbeknownst to all, the Warlock King seeks to sever himself from the Fallen One's influence.
After disastrous encounters around the distant Malazan Empire, the two Edur fleets finally return to Letheras. Each fleet is transporting an assortment of Champions, all of whom are scheduled to face the Emperor in combat. Among that elite group, two Champions nevertheless stand out from the others: Icarium Lifstealer and Karsa Orlong, slayer of the Emperor's own brother. Destiny seems to have led them to Lether, where Rhulad's accursed sword awaits. But the Jhag is aware that he's been on this continent before, and he realizes that the truth he's been searching for for all eternity might well be found on these shores. As for the Toblakai, he plans to kill the Emperor of a Thousand Deaths -- once.
Following the near catastrophe at the First Throne of the T'lan Imass, Quick Ben, Trull Sengar and Onrack the Broken are recuperating in the Shadow Realm. Cotillion will send them on a new mission, a quest that will take them somewhere that should not exist.
The Errant reclaims the title of Master of the Tiles. Unexpectedly, he issues a most unusual challenge, which may well shatter alliances among the gods.
Following the Malaz City debacle, Adjunct Tavore gave the order for the 14th Army and their allies to set sail after the departing Tiste Edur fleets. For the slaughter of the island of Sepik, there must be a reckoning. But a tactical error on the Adjunct's part will put the lives of most of the Bonehunters in jeopardy. It will be up to Fiddler, Gesler, Hellian, and the other marines to somehow stay alive on these foreign shores.
Part of the Malazan fleet, Nimander Golit, son of Anomander Rake, abandoned for so long on the island of Drift Avalii, tries to give a meaning to his life. A prophecy proclaims that he must find the one who will open the gate and take them home to Mother Dark.
And as the economy of the empire is about to crumble, as the Letherii forces much face the Awl'dan to the north and the Malazans to the west, as the soul of Scbandari Bloodeye remains undiscovered, as the Adjunct leads her fleet toward Letheras, Rhulad Sengar must face Champion after Champion, until he can finally step into the arena to meet his brother's murderer.
Although titanic in size (910 pages), the pace throughout Reaper's Gale keeps you turning those pages, eager to discover more and more. There is no sluggish plotline akin to the Mhybe in Memories of Ice, making this one a veritable page-turner. Still, a few storylines at the very end were, at least in my opinion, a little rushed. It doesn't take anything away from the tale, mind you, yet I would have liked for Erikson to maintain the same rhythm from start to finish, as the pace in this one was more or less perfect. After all, when a book weighs in at over 900 pages, what's 10 or 20 extra pages thrown into the mix!?!
The worldbuilding is, once more, grandiose. No other fantasy series, past or present, can match The Malazan Book of the Fallen in vision, ambition and scope. Steven Erikson seems to delight in making us squirm, offering us tantalizing glimpses that make us beg for more. In a series that already resounds with more depth than anything ever written in the genre, the author still raises the bar even higher. New revelations include secrets about the K'Chain Che'Malle, Icarium's past, K'rul and the Warrens, Anomander Rake and Silchas Ruin's pasts, the dragons and Starvald Demelain, the massacre in Aren, the first time Kellanved summoned the T'lan Imass to conquer Li Heng, the repercussions of the Ritual of Tellan on the land, and much, much more!
Most storylines grab hold of you and won't let go. From the first few lines of the prologue, as we witness Kilmandaros beating the crap out of Scabandari Bloodeye, all the way to the end, when Rhulad faces the last Champion, Reaper's Gale is a fantastic read! In addition, I felt that many scenes bring a new emotional level that had yet to be seen in the series.
Much like The Bonehunters, this novel contains its share of cliffhangers. With so many different threads interwoven together, I don't believe that it's humanly possible for Erikson to write self-contained installments anymore, not with the action occurring on various continents and realms of existence. Having said that, even though the ending doesn't offer resolution of every single plotline, Reaper's Gale is brought to a satisfying conclusion. Unlike The Bonehunters, which ended with a series of cliffhangers, this one does provide readers with closure.
The characterizations play a major role in this one. Erikson has the damnable ability to introduce us to characters on which very little is known and who somehow become fan favorites. Redmask and Silchas Ruin are two such characters. As for the rest of this immense cast, I must admit that character development made me like Quick Ben, Seren Pedac and Trull Sengar even more. A lot has already been said about the bodycount. As the title implies (Hood is the Reaper of Souls), no on is safe in this novel. There are a lot of casualties in Reaper's Gale, especially toward the end, when several important characters die. I think even George R. R. Martin would be impressed by the number of deaths! Now, everyone is dying (no pun intended) to discover who will live and who will die. Please don't ask me, for I won't say. I'll tell you that one death in particular is as important -- at least to me -- as the one that shocked readers in Memories of Ice. For the rest, you'll have to find out for yourself!
Steven Erikson's broadness of vision fills me with awe. Reaper's Gale is one of the best Malazan volumes, second only to Memories of Ice and Deadhouse Gates. It is definitely one of the fantasy books to read this year. If you only have money to buy a single book this spring, this is the one to purchase!
Call me crazy, but for my money The Malazan Book of the Fallen is the best fantasy series around! I know it's early yet, but unless Jordan and/or Martin release something before the end of 2007, Reaper's Gale could well be the fantasy book of the year.
Impossible to put down! Roll on Toll the Hounds! By the way, paying the Hounds' Toll is a Gadrobi saying referring to the butcher's bill after a slaughter. Methinks that the proverbial shit will likely hit the fan in the next Malazan book!