Friday, May 21, 2010

Review: Reaper's Gale

Reaper's Gale By Steven Erikson

Two and a half weeks ago, with a giant intake of breath, I embarked on the seventh Malazan Book of the Fallen. Reading a Malazan novel is unlike most any other reading experience. It takes a heightened sense of attention, a large degree of dedication, and some patience as well.

As usual in this series, Reaper's Gale drops down into the middle of things with little or no explanation. At the start of this one, Erikson introduces a new group of people, the Awl. Then, in a matter of pages, he flits around between multiple story threads, with a huge cast of characters; some new and some familiar. All of this requires the reader to stay focused, and be patient, as Erikson slowly reveals just what the hell is going on since the last time the series visited the continent of Lether.

This is also a flippin' huge book, weighing in at over 800 pages. I always need to steel myself for a visit to Erikson's world, knowing that it will take me the better part of a month to read one of his books. Reaper's Gale could have been a bit shorter. There were many parts that I skimmed simply because nothing important was happening, with characters I cared nothing about, or could not remember who the hell they were.

Perhaps more so than other Malazan books, this one suffered from a truly massive cast of characters, and multiple story threads. I particularly had a hard time keeping some of the Letherii characters straight, as some had similar names, and little character development to help tell them apart. I find that after each double paragraph break, when Erikson switches to to new point of view, that I spend a minute or so placing the proper characters in my brain and figuring out where exactly shit is taking place. This is often a pain in the ass.

All that being said, like all Malazan books I've read so far, Reaper's Gale rewards the reader with some absolutely spectacular moments that live long in the memory. This book includes some of the most iconic characters from the entire series, (Karsa, Tehol, and Fiddler being favorites of mine), and does great things with them.

While I thought that maybe I had a good grip on where the series was headed after reading the 6th book, Reaper's Gale actually seemed to broaden the focus, instead of the narrowing that I expected. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but reading this book, I felt a sense that Erikson was carefully placing dominoes in preparation for the series finale, which is only three books away. In that sense, I felt slightly disappointed by the end of the book, and the outcomes felt slightly predictable, and lackluster.

I realize this may sound harsh, but while I did enjoy parts of it, this is far from a great book. I noticed dozens of grammatical errors, which is annoying as hell and break up my reading flow. It is a common complaint that the reader has to put up with certain annoyances when reading a Malazan book, but they felt more overt in this one.

There was just enough interesting things going on, and enough characters that I love to keep me going through this book. It is one of, if not my least favorite Malazan book so far. However, the end is now firmly in sight for this series, only three more books to go, and I'm excited to see where it takes me. This is a series that is massive in scope unlike any other fantasy series that has come before. The end should be a spectacle.

Grade: C-

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