The Bonehunters by Steven Erikson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars.
Series: Malazan Book of the Fallen (Book 6 of 10)
Genre: Epic fantasy, grimdark fantasy
First published: 2006 by Bantam (UK) and 2007 by Tor (US)
Malazan Book of the Fallen really hit its stride coming into its sixth chapter of this massive tale. However, now that we have moved past the midway point of the series, it will get more and more difficult to compose a review without giving away too much. As such, you may see the length of these reviews getting shorter as I progress towards the finale.
Firstly, I have to say that in The Bonehunters, Erikson started to reveal a larger picture of the intricate tapestry that he has so masterfully woven. Almost every character that we have met from the beginning and their respective arcs or subplots were coming together to form a more cohesive narrative across all the volumes of the series so far. While the prose maintained its dense philosophical slant, the books were progressively getting easier to read. Easier being solely relative to its predecessors.
The return of familiar and favourite faces was definitely a welcomed change after being taken off tangent in Midnight Tides. However, I do recognise that the confluence of all the various seemingly disconnected plots would not be appreciated as much without the lengthy and periodically disjointed journey a reader of this series had to undertake.
As long as the book was, the pacing was almost spot on. The multiple switches between POVs in a single book chapter (which can be very long in itself) worked really well, conveying a tension of what’s happening ‘on-screen’ in a cinematic manner. As much as Erikson excelled at internalisation of the mind and soul, albeit a bit too much sometimes, he was also superbly adept at visualisation and crafting landscapes or scenes that befit its grimdark tag. One can also call the level of sorcery in this series to be ridiculously OP but in the course of this reread, I found it somewhat appropriate.
So. Much. Power!
Art by Noah Bradley
With the numerous characters, both familiar and new, and almost too many individual arcs or subplots to bother counting, I will only mention the highlights of this book for me. Without a doubt, character development continued to shine. The novel was mainly for me an empathetic story about soldiers. The Adjunct and her Fourteenth Army took up a significant chunk of the book and I am ever glad for it. While we were given glimpses of how the Bridgeburners were created, all that happened in the past. The forging of the Bonehunters was portrayed with much conviction. The interactions between these soldiers are both hilarious and heart-warming at the same time; hope, faith and friendship with lots of black humour and sarcasm. And to quote an in-world poem titled Soldier Dying:
“When the day knew only darkness
the wind a mute beggar stirring ashes and stars
in the discarded pools beneath the old
retaining wall, down where the white rivers of
sand slip grain by grain into the unseen,
and every foundation is but a moment
from a horizon’s stagger, I found myself
among friends and so was made at ease
with my modest list of farewells.”
The Master of Deck taking control was a joy to behold. It was infinitely fascinating to gain some understanding of what powers or capabilities were availed to him. As he slotted himself into the war between gods, all hidden and not-so-hidden hands moving pieces on a massive chessboard, it was heartening to see how he finally embraced his role.
“Mess with mortals, and you pay.”
Then we have the shadowy ones. Cotillion furthered his conquest up my favourite character list with his empathy and compassion. Shadowthrone had been an enigma and still remained more or less as such. As such, his direct intervention in the matters at hand was intriguing and pretty cool to witness. What endgame was these two ultimately working towards? At this point, I have no idea.
“The webs are set. And the traps, in their elaborate elegance, were never empty for long.”
A testament to Erikson’s ability to draw a climax, each volume’s had so far been epic and this one was no less so. A night of betrayal under a sorrowful refrain of a fiddle, a befitting soundtrack to the hatred, violence and vengeance unleashed within a fateful city. The action scenes were bloody in a manner that only assassins can muster from gruesome killing tempered with finesse and skills which boggle the mind. The book then ended with closing threads that point to a greater convergence of powers that have yet to come.
“And so we weep for the fallen. We weep for those yet to fall, and in war the screams are loud and harsh and in peace the wail is so drawn-out we tell ourselves we hear nothing.
And so this music is a lament, and I am doomed to hear its bittersweet notes for a lifetime.”
Review originally written in 2017
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