Home > Literature, Reviews > Review of Reaper’s Gale by Steven Erikson

Review of Reaper’s Gale by Steven Erikson

Wow, this was a long book, and it took me a long time to finish. However, finish I have done and I’m now ready to write my review.

So.

One of the main reasons, perhaps the main reason I like these books is their scope, complexity and ambition; I’d go so far as to say that it’s their USP (but what do I know about marketing?). However, with the previous book, The Bonehunters, and even more so with this volume I’m starting to think that Erikson may have bitten off a little more than he can chew.

In large part, this is due to the fact that a diverse array – no: arrays of characters have been drawn together into a single arena and a single narrative. In previous instalments, many of these characters had lived on separate continents and occupied separate books. The first book was about the Malazan conquest of Genabackis, the second was about Coltaine’s march in the land of the Seven Cities, and so on (I’ll stop there because my memory is far from eidetic on the following volumes (and on the first two for that matter)).

In Reaper’s Gale, the cast-off Malazan army known as the Bonehunters (including far too many characters to mention here), the unkillable emperor of Lether, an eccentric genius and his god manservant, the tyrants controlling Lether, a mysterious rebel and his two demon followers, a god whose power has withered, a trio of venomous ascendant sisters, an exiled Tiste Edur, a T’lan Imass, a resurrected Malazan sapper, a Malazan High Mage, a Letherii commander, a Letherii soldier who is also a princess of a miserable people who guard against demons, a giant warrior and his witch companion, a Jhag warrior of terrifying power and his barbarian companion, a former slave, a self-hating guide, a Tiste Edur filled with regret, a deadly albino Tiste Andii, a twisted Tiste Edur sorcerer, a Meckros swordsmith, a group of pathetic Tiste Andii, an undead female pirate … and a few others I can’t remember – all of the above are, one way or another moving towards Letheras or will have an effect on its future.

And this is the problem – with so many characters, so many plots and sub-plots, it’s difficult to really appreciate this awe-inspiring story. Not only was there a steep ‘memory curve’, as the character from previous books all carry on without any form of reminders in the text as to who they are or what they have done, but even within the one volume you find yourself thinking, Now I know they did something earlier on, but what? At one point a character from the first book, Gardens of the Moon, showed up and I thought, Didn’t he die? (Mind you, a fair few characters have died and carried on regardless.)

But.

Whether it’s because I dedicated more time to reading it or simply because the story was tightening up as it drew towards its climax, the latter part of the book is as gripping and intense and, in parts, moving as anything in any of the earlier volumes. While I don’t quite understand everyone’s motivations and exactly how they came to be where they were (again, due to my disappointing lack of total recall), the climax of the story is impressive as all these disparate elements come together in one multifacted whole.

As ever, Erikson’s writing is lean, direct and effective. His characters are by and large diverse and believable; the only place where his characterisation is a little lacking is that the non-humans – Imass (T’lan or otherwise), Tiste Edur, Jhag, even some of the gods – are all pretty samey. But apart from that, the way he portrays his cast of thousands comes across as effortless, and includes a healthy dose of humour.

So.

Overwhelming, but brilliant.

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