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Reaper's Gale
Steven Erikson
Bantam UK / Tor, 1280 / 832 pages

Reaper's Gale
Reaper's Gale
Steven Erikson
Steven Erikson was born in Toronto, grew up in Winnipeg, and worked in the UK for several years until returning to Winnipeg a few years ago, where he now lives with his wife and son. He is an anthropologist and archaeologist by training, as well as being a graduate of the Iowa Writer's Workshop. Gardens of the Moon (1999), his first fantasy novel, was nominated for a World Fantasy Award.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Bonehunters
SF Site Review: Midnight Tides
SF Site Review: The Healthy Dead
SF Site Review: House of Chains
SF Site Review: Blood Follows
SF Site Review: Memories of Ice
SF Site Review: Deadhouse Gates
SF Site Interview: Steven Erikson
SF Site Review: Gardens of the Moon

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Greg L. Johnson

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Time to check back in on that epic work in progress, Steven Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen. Reaper's Gale is the seventh book in the projected ten volume series, and with the recent publication of Toll the Hounds, number eight in the series, it's becoming fair to say that Erikson's story of a world filled with drama, intrigue, magic and violence will actually reach a conclusion. In the meantime, those of us who have been captivated by this tale from its beginning can only trust that when that conclusion is finally reached, final answers to the mysteries that have been built up along the way will be solved, and long-suffering characters from mere mortal human beings to Elder Gods will find peace.

But in the meantime, Reaper's Gale takes us back into a story full of the suffering caused by tyranny and war. One method Erikson has used to keep his story fresh is the introduction, every two or three volumes or so, of a new setting and cast of characters. Reaper's Gale returns to the Empire of Lether and the characters first introduced in Midnight Tides. In that volume, the Tiste Edur led a successful rebellion against the Letherii and actually took over the Empire. Now, although the Tiste Edur Emperor Rhulad still sits on the throne, the institutions of Lether have remained intact. And while the Tiste Edur hold a privileged place in society, the Letheri secret police are terrorizing the populace, there are revolts along the border, and the Chancellor plots to overthrow the Emperor. With all this going on, it's no big surprise that members of the Emperor's court are not paying much attention when another momentous event takes place. A Malazan army has just arrived and landed on their shores.

One of the characteristics that distinguishes The Malazan Book of the Fallen from many similar works of epic fantasy is the immense history that lies behind the people and places of this world. Events that happened hundreds of thousands of years earlier still have great meaning and importance in people's lives, and one of Erikson's great themes is what happens to people who become divorced from that history. In the case of the Tiste Edur, their great tragedy is not that they've forgotten the seminal events that shaped them as a people, it's that they remember them wrong. The Letherii on the other hand, have forgotten their history, and replaced it with a no-holds-barred form of capitalism that cares only for what wealth can be earned or captured in the coming days. In Lether, the greatest sin is falling into debt, and the sins of the Indebted carry on to the next generation in the form of inherited slavery.

That is, of course, a perfect recipe for breeding envy, hatred, and rebellion, and the Empire of Lether has plenty of that. All that remains for a complete collapse is a few shoves from the right people at the right time and place, and the story of Reaper's Gale is very much the story of those who are doing the shoving.

While this all sounds very dark and gloomy, Erikson livens things up by mixing in unexpected flashes of humor. Much of the humor in his writing comes in the dialogue. Long time readers will recognize it in the discussions of the Malazan marines as they make their way into Lether, and in the delightful banter between Tehol Eddict, the Letheriann financial genius who paradoxically lives in a state of abject poverty, and his manservant Bugg, who doubles as an Elder God on the side.

There is no way in a short review to seriously convey the complexity of the plot and world-building on display in Reaper's Gale. Like all the other volumes in the series, there are references and events that the reader simply has to take on the faith that they will eventually be explained or tied into the history as a whole. By this time, so many of those events have built up in the series that there's almost no way a reader could jump in at this point and have anything near a full understanding of what's going on. Although the complexity and mystery is a large part of what makes this series so compelling, in order to read and understand the Malazan Book of the Fallen, a new reader will need to do what the Letherii and the Tiste Edur have forgotten how to do. Start at the beginning.

Copyright © 2008 by Greg L. Johnson

Reviewer Greg L Johnson sometimes wonders if any human civilization on Earth will ever have a hundred thousand year history to look back on. His reviews also appear in the The New York Review of Science Fiction. And, for something different, Greg blogs about news and politics relating to outdoors issues and the environment at Thinking Outside.


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