Reaper’s Gale by Steven Erikson
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars.
Series: Malazan Book of the Fallen (Book 7 of 10)
Genre: Epic fantasy, grimdark fantasy
First published: 2007 by Bantam (UK) and 2008 by Tor (US)
I will not be the first to extoll the astounding breadth and depth of the Malazan world with its extensive history, a multitude of races, richly diverse cultures and a huge cast of characters. I may also not be the first to admit how lost I sometimes feel, wandering through this labyrinth of intricate worldbuilding.
Reaper’s Gale was the first volume in the Malazan Book of the Fallen which, to my delight, continued directly from the previous book. There was no whiplash from the sudden change in plot lines from one book to the other in the past six books. Almost all the subplots from the previous novels led into this one with a lot of known main characters showing up one way or another, all of which descended upon the Letherii Empire.
The very same empire we visited in the fifth book, one which was corrupted to the core, enthralled by coin and in the grip of a financial meltdown, engineered by a genius who was hell-bent on breaking the chains the wealthy few held over the larger citizenry of Letheras. Within this story lies a compelling commentary on the evil of greed and power perpetrated by the garnering of wealth.
“Where is the virtue in any of it? Is possession a virtue? Is a lifetime working for some rich toad a virtue? Is loyal employment in some merchant house a virtue? Loyal to what? To whom? Oh, have they paid for that loyalty with a hundred docks a week? Like any other commodity? But then, which version is truer – the virtue of self-serving acquisitiveness or the virtue of loyalty to one’s employer?”
As grimdark served to portray the greyness of humanity, many of the characters we have come across do fit that description very well. These are not bad people, but those who were driven to dubious choices and actions arising from circumstances, rightly or wrongly. However, arising from this aspect of greed for coin and power was where I truly found blackness. Here we find despicable characters which were borne from the vicious cycle of money ever rising to the top, in a society where the rich gets richer, and the poor get poorer. In this respect, Reaper’s Gale was one of the darker instalments in this series thus far.
In spite of the many familiar faces, the reader was yet again greeted by another cast of new names, tribes and cultures, such as the Awl and the Shake. The Malazan marines were made up of the most diverse group of hardened soldiers, with nicknames which were either quite apt or hilarious or sometimes both. The way in which Erikson switched points-of-view between a significant number of the Malazan marines was masterful. Instead of the more common way of seeing a battle or fight sequence through the eyes of a few main characters, Erikson employed a method where we moved from one squad to another, usually in quick succession, through the individual perspectives of a large cast of characters. This in effect created both a more immersive experience as well as getting into the heads of soldiers as they face possible death. It can also get confusing when names you’ve never seen before suddenly popped up and you found yourself introduced to the sergeant of the 5th Squad, 10th Company, etc.
As compared to most of the earlier ones, the numerous threads and plotlines in this book did appear to be more interconnected. Perhaps this could be due to the larger picture being more apparent as the tale slowly progressed towards its denouement. It also goes without saying that each Malazan Book of The Fallen had always been emotionally powerful, and this volume was possibly one of the most at this point of the series.
Subterranean Press Limited Edition Cover
As much as I would love to gush about the characters again, I feel that I’ve reached a point in this series where I should refrain from saying too much. Safe to say that this instalment had some of the most awesome and badass characters reappearing and doing what they do best. Aside from the Malazan marines, we have the walking legend, a mage who is much more than what he seemed, my favourite duo of the series and that superlative warrior from a gigantic race thought long extinct.
“Not overconfident. Not indifferent. Not even contemptuous. No easy explanations for this Toblakai warrior. He would be within himself, entirely within himself, until it was time…. to witness.”
My initial impression of the finale herein was that it was strangely anticlimactic after the build-up which started all the way from the previous book. Upon rereading this though, I appreciated that what was needed to be told for now was wrapped up as satisfactorily as possible. The tale hence will continue.
“So in these our last days
The end of what we see is inside
Where it all began and begins never again
A moment’s reprieve, then darkness falls.”
Review originally written in 2017
You can purchase the book from Book Depository (Free Shipping).