Nov 2 2012 3:00pm

Malazan Re-read of the Fallen: Reaper’s Gale, Book Wrap-Up

The Malazan Reread on Reaper’s Gale book wrap-upWelcome to the Malazan Re-read of the Fallen! Every post will start off with a summary of events, followed by reaction and commentary by your hosts Bill and Amanda (with Amanda, new to the series, going first), and finally comments from readers. In this article, we’ll do a book wrap-up of Reaper’s Gale by Steven Erikson (RG).

A fair warning before we get started: We’ll be discussing both novel and whole-series themes, narrative arcs that run across the entire series, and foreshadowing. Note: The summary of events will be free of major spoilers and we’re going to try keeping the reader comments the same. A spoiler thread has been set up for outright Malazan spoiler discussion.


Amanda’s Book Wrap-up

And that’s another book down! We’re marching our way towards the final endgame (albeit with a break to visit Esslemont’s novels), and Reaper’s Gale felt very much like a novel where Erikson was moving various storylines forward to get to a point where he could enter that endgame. The Bonehunters are now showing themselves to be separate and distinct from the Malazan Empire; Karsa has turned down the Crippled God and shown himself to be a major player; Icarium is recalling his memories and taking actions.

Lots happened in this novel, but I must confess that a few of these storylines didn’t feel necessary and important in Reaper’s Gale. From comments I have realised that these might come to fruition at a later stage but it meant that I approached some parts of this novel with reluctance, which hasn’t happened before now. I’m thinking particularly about the Redmask storyline. I also wondered at the arrival on the page of the three Sisters, and their just as swift departure. Was the point really just to show us that Quick Ben has increased in power? I didn’t understand its inclusion.

Reaper’s Gale was also a very dark novel. Not just because of the sheer amount of death, which did seem to surpass the previous books in this series, but also because of some of the scenes. I found them very difficult to read—here, my example is the scenes involving Janath. Too hard. I don’t mind facing the reality and darkness of war and difficult experiences, but for me this overstepped the line I am usually willing to cross.

So what did work for me? I loved the interplay between Samar Dev and Karsa—there were some exceptional pieces of dialogue, and his continued growth from a barbarian that I, frankly, hated is just astonishing.

I enjoyed the mystery of Silchas Ruin. Knowing that he is brother to Anomander Rake, and seeing a whole other side to the Tiste Andii through his cold, draconean actions. In Gardens of the Moon and Deadhouse Gates, we saw Anomander Rake as someone who, though distant, had a comprehension of mortal actions and motivations. Silchas Ruin was just a whole different type of character—the darkness of his actions towards Kettle was frightening.

Although there was no climax to the storyline, I am deeply curious about Icarium and where his path has now taken him. His links to K’rul are something that leaves me with some foreboding. I’ve always liked K’rul and felt he has compassion and strength. Icarium doesn’t give me that same feeling. He’s more of a loose cannon, and it gives me no peace of mind that he has now stepped onto a new path with no guidance or companion.

Beak was tremendous. Over the course of just one book, Erikson made me feel deeply about this childlike mage, this character who just wanted to find friendship and respect. When his death came, and we discovered the manner in which he was going to die, I just felt so much sympathy for him. I was delighted that Hood came to meet him personally, it really marked his sacrifice. They were beautifully written passages as Beak lit all his candles and protected those who he felt were his friends. Just fantastic.

I still found way more to like in Reaper’s Gale than to dislike. This series is still, in my opinion, the strongest and most rewarding fantasy series in existence. I’m looking forward to the next!


Bill’s Book Wrap-up

So, Reaper’s Gale. A few scattered thoughts on the book as a whole. (Apologies in advance if this is a bit short—I’m in final paper grading mode for one school and that pile isn’t getting any smaller....)

Well, we can certainly see where the title applies. A, not exhaustive, list of those killed off (in no particular order):

  • Trull
  • Fear
  • Rhulad
  • Ma and Pa Sengar
  • Toc
  • Feather Witch
  • Hannan Mosag
  • Veed
  • Senior Assessor
  • Rautos Hivanar
  • Gnol
  • Nisall
  • Menandore
  • Sukul Ankhadu
  • Sheltatha Lore
  • Beak (oh Beak)
  • Phaed
  • Old Hunch
  • Bruthel Trana
  • Redmask
  • Brohl Handar (presumed)
  • Bivatt (presumed)
  • Karos Invictad
  • Tanal Yathvanar
  • Kettle

That is some wind sweeping through. Some major series characters in there, some point-of-view characters. Hood’s breath indeed. I mentioned this earlier, but I’ll note again some of the interesting choices we get with the endings of some of these characters as well regarding the “big close.” We have the confounding of expectations or readerly desires by having so many characters die either off-stage (such as the Sengar parents) or die in wholly disconnected-from-the-main-plot-line fashion. Gnol, for instance, who is killed not because of anything he’s actually done or doing or by anyone who even knows him—just the itchy trigger finger of a Malazan grunt. Or Trull, who dies not in awesome-spear-wielding-against-overwhelming-odds fashion, as when we see him hold off at least for a while Icarium and then Ruin, but stabbed in the back (Cough cough. Edur. Backstabbed.) by a minor, trivial, despicable character. Admit it, we want our big guys to go out, if they have to, in a blaze of glory, some huge sacrifice. Instead, sometimes, they get knocked off by the little guys. And sometimes, those going out in a blaze of glory or in sacrifice are the quiet, hardly noticed ones like Beak or Old Hunch. I like how Erikson plays with our expectations in many of these moments.

The same is true for the big convergence and/or big battled scenes we’ve grown to expect in fantasy. But as a I mentioned in our recap of Chapter 24, Erikson mostly ignores the big convergence here—the big battles have no fighting, the Big Bads (Ruin with his blood red eyes and thoughts of death) don’t get to play the Big Bad. The big one-on-one duel becomes a dull wait and watch until Karsa does one thing and one thing only.

As with the deaths, I like a lot of these choices. Partly because it’s a more full conveyance of how the world works. Sometimes it ends with a bang, sometimes a whimper. I also like them because they keep us on our toes. Any character might die anytime—it doesn’t need to have a “big moment” sign attached to the death scene. The predictable confrontation with the villain may or may not take place. That minor character may or may not play an integral role. It makes for a richer reading experience I’d say, and in a kind of contrary fashion, in some ways a more exciting one (in the big picture) despite the apparent lessening of excitement (no big fight, no big battle).

Since I’m on this topic, though it’s been mentioned before, may as well point out again the undermining of the usual quest storyline. In this case our band of disparate folks heading off to find Scabandari. But instead of having a singular purpose, they all have their own personal motivations. Instead of overcoming early suspicion or even dislike, they bicker and fight all the way to the very end, where some eventually kill or try to kill each other. The object the quest seeks to “retrieve” stays right there rather than get brought back (or tossed into a volcano). The “magic-user” uses her magic to mind-rape a fellow quester. The leader (Ruin), the most powerful of them all, acts like the most powerful of them all, mostly ignoring them and doing whatever the hell he wants. The coming-of-age young girl ends up dead (and not even, in some respects, a girl). There’s even some question as to whether there long quest needed to be a long quest. Clearly not your typical quest story.

Sacrifice is an important theme/occurrence in this book. Beak sacrifices himself for his fellow marines. Toc for the Awl children. The three T’lan Imass for the Bentract. What is more interesting to me than the sacrifice themselves is the way the sacrifices continue to push the theme of compassion and empathy. Toc dies to protect people not only different from himself but people who betrayed him. The three T’lan Imass die to protect what they considered ghosts of memories, people that scorned—they learned to care, were shamed by the friendship and loyalty of Trull and Onrack. Beak sacrifices himself for his own kind, but he had always felt an outlier, a stranger among people. It was the small moments of reaching out to him, the little moments where people showed they were aware of him, that made him able to make that sacrifice, and so it was driven again by empathy, by connection. Still in the um, “vein” of sacrifice, we’re also left wondering if Icarium sacrificed himself for something akin to what K’rul did. More to come on this obviously....

Other examples are far too numerous, but empathy and compassion remain the major themes of this long series.

Criticism of unfettered capitalism and the self-destructive effects (though it takes a while, sadly) of inequity continues via the Lether storyline, as we see the Empire implode thanks to Tehol’s machinations. I’m wondering how people felt about this topic throughout the several books it covered. Personally, I’m a big fan of being made to think like this. And of course, since I mostly agree with a lot of the apparent criticism, I liked it all the more. I also like how Erikson didn’t shy away from showing the downside of what Tehol was doing. This was no bloodless coup or non-violent transformation and it isn’t presented as some simple taking down of just the bad guys. It’s an ethically complex event and presented as such.

Speaking of complexity, it’s interesting how often Erikson presents our villains in a different light at the end. The Pannion, for instance, is presented as a victim toward the end. Mosag is presented in a much more complex light here—his desire to have kept his Edur from the corrupting poison of Letherii culture. Rhulad—presented as young, as desiring of forgiveness. The Whirlwind Goddess. It’s something to keep in mind as we keep dealing with the Big Bad of the Crippled God.

There’s a lot of lost and found in this book. Trull loses Fear and Rhulad. Seren loses Trull. Tool loses Toc. Rud loses his mother. Among others. On the other hand, Udinaas is united with a son. Onrack is reunited with Kilava. Hedge with Fiddler. Bryss with Tehol. The universe in balance?

Once again, the past refuses to stay past, the dead refuse to quit playing, in Erikson’s work. We’ve got the long-lived and seemingly ageless having great impact throughout (Mael, Errant, etc.). We’ve got folks literally crawling out of the ground and returning from the “buried past” (Ruin, Sheltatha, etc.) We’ve got lots of dead influencing events (Hedge, Seren and Karsa’s ghosts/spirits, the Ceda). And we’ve got an entire realm and people who are seemingly ghosts/memories in the Refugium. I’ve said it before, Faulkner would have loved this series.

I’m curious what folks think about Redmask’s storyline now that it’s ended. It certainly sticks out like a sore thumb in many ways from the other plot lines.

While things clearly have to settle in Lether, one gets the sense that storyline is mostly done and so the question becomes where does the tale go from here. We’ve had the Pannion storyline, the Whirlwind rebellion storyline, the Bridgeburners storyline, the Lether storyline, etc. If this one is coming to a close, what is next? We’ve had a few hints—another campaign, Tavore seemingly has a sense of where she’s going, the Perish have been sent somewhere. Clearly the Crippled God is still around so that overarching storyline remains. But we’ve cleaned out some characters, met some new important ones, transformed an Empire and put some “good guys” at the helm of its resources, honed the Malazan army, and landed it on a continent where it has some work still to do.

Other points of discussion?

Amanda Rutter is the editor of Strange Chemistry books, sister imprint to Angry Robot.

Bill Capossere writes short stories and essays, plays ultimate frisbee, teaches as an adjunct English instructor at several local colleges, and writes SF/F reviews for

The Gunslinger
1. The Gunslinger
In regards to Redmask's story, I agree that it does stick out. While it's not completely pointless, in retrospect it does seem to be quite a bit longer than it needs to be. While I enjoy reading about it, its contribution to the overall narrative is questionable - while the inclusion of some bits are definitely needed for future plots, I think that the Awl storyline might have served better as a novella (or even a short novel) than as part of MBotF.

In fact, this (writing more novellas) is something that I hope Erikson will consider doing in the future. While he is doing B&KB which are fun, I would love to see him explore some of the other less-seen cultures in this form.

Anyway, great job as always.
Chris Hawks
2. SaltManZ
The Redmask arc does a number of things: It shows the trouble on the Letherii Empire's borders. It gives a sense of how the Letherii and Edur work with each other. It reintroduces the K'Chain, Toc, Tool and the Barghast, and shows us the fate of the Grey Swords, most of which will become very important later on. Could it have been shorter? Probably, but then it might have gotten lost within the rest of the book. Dunno. I enjoyed it.
Tricia Irish
3. Tektonica
I agree about the Redmask story line. While I enjoyed some of the characters and interactions, I do think it could've been much shorter. Other than fleshing out the general attitudes of the Letherii culture, and to finish up Toc, I don't get it. Every time a chapter would appear with Redmask, I wanted to skip ahead and get back to the meat of the book....Tehol and Janath, Karsa and Rhulad, Malazans, Evil Dudes running Letheras....things that were moving forward.

Thank you for your dissection of the Quest storyline too. Thinking about it as a twisted quest helps me stand it. Not my favorite part....such rancor! So many unpleasant people!

Amanda....I totally agree with you about Karsa! I couldn't stand him when he was introduced, taking up 1/3 of a book! And now....a very strong, moral (in his own black and white way) man. Quite the transformation!

To respond to your query Bill, about SE's political and philosophical discussions.... I do enjoy them. They give this series a gravitas that you don't often find in Fantasy, even between the lines. I don't always agree with him, but it's abundant food for thought. For instance, I posted this at the end of Part 1 of Chptr.24, as a response to SE's seeming criticisms of Capitolism.....

I think almost any large political power structure would fit the bill here.Look at Russia. No longer "communist", but "socialist", reluctantly giving freedom to the "satellite" countries they had "annexed" by force. The Soviet political and contolling mechanisms are still operative, with a clear class hierarchy firmly in place, ie: the oil barons, billionaire developers, and buisnessmen, and the proletariat. Power just loves power. Ug.

I hadn't really thought of the similarities between these two disparate political systems before, but thanks to SE, I made that connection.

All in all....not my favorite book of the series, but it has some great moments and characters.
Julian Augustus
4. Alisonwonderland
In later books we will learn who sent Redmask, what that entity was trying to achieve with Redmask, and how the failure of the Redmask mission precipitated events that would have a direct bearing on the resolution of the final conflict. Further, the Redmask story shows the relationships between the empire of Lether and its bordering tribes, as well as the arrival of the Barghast into the mix. All of this will play an important part in the last two books.
Steven Halter
5. stevenhalter
Yes, the Redmask story is primarily a set-up for later events. And it gives us more Toc pain. Toc was clearly very bad in a previous life.
@Amanda:I was really intrigued with what became of Icarium after this one also. Became a god?, blown up?, one with the force? ...
@Bill:Good summary--I concur.
Julian Augustus
6. Alisonwonderland
Speaking of complexity, it’s interesting how often Erikson presents our villains in a different light at the end. The Pannion, for instance, is presented as a victim toward the end. Mosag is presented in a much more complex light here—his desire to have kept his Edur from the corrupting poison of Letherii culture. Rhulad—presented as young, as desiring of forgiveness. The Whirlwind Goddess. It’s something to keep in mind as we keep dealing with the Big Bad of the Crippled God.
While I agree for the most part with the examples you give here, I couldn't disagree more about the Whirlwind Goddess. This is a creature whose actions over the last 100000 years or so have been motivated entirely by hatred (because her husband lay with another woman). We didn't see any act of repentence or anything on her part to cast her in a different light. The last we saw of her, she was coming out to take possession of Felisin Paran when Korbolo Dom's assassins cornered her and finished her off. Could you expand further on why she could be cast in the same light as, say, the Pannion or Mosag?
Thomas Jeffries
7. thomstel
For Redmask's portion, the big takeaways are:
- The introduction of live K'Chain Che'maille characters.
- Toc's storyline and his (most recent) death.
- A backstory for Torrent.
- Reinforcement of the mentalities of the Letherii and Edur, even far from the capital.

All of those things feel secondary to the plot itself, and I agree that they could have been covered in more succinct ways while retaining their message.
The Gunslinger
8. Tufty
I like the Redmask storyline, and with it the Drene and Bluerose events. With these we get to see a lot more of the Letheri empire and what its farther areas are like. It's a nice bit of world-building mixed in with the setup for future plot-lines. Kinda like Banaschar throughout tBH, who's pseudo-plotline gives us a great view of Kartool and Malaz City.
Dustin George-Miller
9. dustingm
Hi, gang.

It's time for my updated mind-map of the 14th Army disposition. Plenty of new characters to keep me occupied, a few deaths, and quite a bit of "squad-hopping."

As always, I've tried to be as accurate as possible, but I'm sure I've missed things. Please let me know of any corrections or updates.

I have the PDF file set up in my public Dropbox. (Hopefully this doesn't get flagged for spam like last time.)
Brian R
10. Mayhem
Redmask's story is a curious one. When I first read it I considered it a complete waste of time, but as others have said above, it turns out it is a lengthy setup for events to come, and much more involved that you would think from what we see here.
It is also a stark inversion of the traditional trope of the Hero returning to his tribe and Saving the Day against the Invader. At the end of the day, what does Redmask really accomplish?
Nothing more than the complete destruction of all he allegedly held dear, for no gain whatsoever. Betrayal, disillusionment and wasted sacrifice ... complete futility.
Having just finished Joe Abercrombie's First Law series, I can see similar themes going on there ... the idea that people can change their ways but usually don't, and the idea of the problems of the past coming back to haunt the future.

The three Sisters on the other hand were a little odd, almost wasted. I wonder however if they in turn were a resolution to something being set up in the Forge of Darkness trilogy, rather than the Book of the Fallen. In that case they fit in well with the idea of events being larger than the portion of the tapestry we can see. Certainly there are a lot of little titbits all the way through the text that are clear pointers to events in FoD and the first real hints that what we know is true ... may not be quite as we thought.

And now after the whirlwind of Death passes overhead, the series turns our thoughts more inward, to the subtler, more introspective Toll the Hounds.
But wait, there's still time for a little more whirlwind. Bring on the Crimson Guard!
Bill Capossere
11. Billcap

While I wouldn't say she is cast in the same exact light as the others, I know what you mean about millenia of rage and bitterness, but I do think her story and our reaction to the Whirlwind Goddess is made more complicated by learning that she was betrayed by Onrack and Kilava. We get a least a sense of sympathy for what she was, if not what she became in the revelation:

‘She is destroyed. The woman who gave Onrack her heart in the time before the Ritual. The woman to whom he avowed his own heart . . . only to steal it back. In many ways, she was destroyed then, already begun on her long journey to oblivion. Do you deny that, Onrack?’
‘Bonecaster, I do not.’
‘Madness, of such ferocity as to defeat the Vow itself. Like a camp dog that awakens one day with fever in its brain. That snarls and kills in a frenzy. Of course, we had no choice but to track her down, corner her. And so shatter her, imprison her within eternal darkness. Or so we thought. Madness, then, to defy even us. But now, oblivion has claimed her soul at last. A violent, painful demise, but none the less .
karl oswald
12. Toster
i think the whirlwind goddess links to people like pannion and hannan mosag in how they were ultimately being used by the crippled god. he wanted that fragment of shadow after all, and bidithal was going to give it to him. the whirlwind goddess was used, and i don't think she was meant to be too sympathetic, though she is a little, for the reasons bill states. her hatred was on another level though. i don't have much sympathy for her.

while i too was highly confused by the redmask storyline, it was a fun read the first time around, because i knew there had to be some reason it was in the book, and even if i felt just as confused after it was over, well, i knew there were more books in the series. i just like the idea of dinosaurs with swords for arms i think.

i would really like for udinaas' question of "What did you all do to each other back then?" to be answered in the kharkanas trilogy. i bet it would make the motivations of the three sisters much clearer. what did scabby and silch do to earn such hate? i really, REALLY, want to know : D
The Gunslinger
13. Erwa
Re: Karsa
His is perhaps the most well-crafted character arc within tMBotF. He starts of as a barbarian and ends as one but at the same time his increasing wisdom and knowledge of the world colours his point of view beautifully. One might dislike him in earlier books, but to do so, solely, from moral reasons is just wrong. His earlier immoralities stem from ignorance but his later, and therefore greater, exists dispite an evident understanding of civilazation and its virtues.
Iris Creemers
14. SamarDev
@ Stevenhalter
Toc was clearly very bad in a previous life.
lol, which of his lives?
shirley thistlewood
15. twoodmom
@ Mayhem
The Redmask story line in the series so far also balances the "noble savages" trope of the Wiccans.
The Gunslinger
16. Jordanes
Not a single mention of Trull in Amanda's wrap-up! For shame, for shame!! :D
Keel Curtis
17. captaink
The three sisters are in Forge of Darkness, but only a tiny bit. We'll have to wait for books 2 & 3 to see what really happened between them.
The Gunslinger
18. JBM
Just wanted to say your summary of the "Quest" and how it goes totally against convention was perfect.
Bill Capossere
19. Billcap
JBM--thanks for the kind words

We're still waiting to hear re Steven folks, so no post tomorrow. We'll let you know when we know . . .
The Gunslinger
20. Innad
First time reader, and into the third chapter of The Crippled God. So my opinion may be biased.

Oh let's face it, it is.
I would like to start off and say that Reaper's Gale (the level of the English language is still too limited to fully comprehend the title) is my favorite book so far. I have to admit I haven't read any of the Esslemont's novels, so I'm just commenting on TMBOTF.
Amanda, I share your sentiment on some of the sections. Reading about the patriotists was horrific in so many ways. But the storyline and humor - and the place where both Midnight tides and the other books joined. I loved where they came together, it was such a joy.

Regarding Redmask - I loved his storyline. How he came to into the story - reading how powerful he became... Towards the end I didn't want him to win butI expected he would. Seeing he didn't and then also assuming the Letherii army was wiped away - a surprise. This is what I really 'really' love about Erikison: you expect the unexpected - but it is never what you expect or 'non-suspect'.
In the end, it all falls within the story.

I have probably said this before - and I will again: I am really looking forward to the reread. I find myself almost flying through some parts, just to know the storyline. On a reread I imagine enjoying and taking in the rest of the story.
Kartik Nagar
21. BloodRaven
First time reader here as well, but have only read upto Reaper's Gale. I think this novel pales as compared to the awesomeness that is the Chain of Dogs in DG, or the intricate plot of MoI, or Y'Ghatan and Malaz island in tBH.

I am also simultaneously doing a reread of the earlier novels(re-reading MoI now), and it is amazing how many revelations are already present in those novels, which we would probably just gloss over during the first read. For example, very early in MoI, Korlat talks about all dragons moving into Starvald Demelain to be one of the most important events(comparing it with the fall of the CG), and finally, in this novel, we see a large number of dead dragons in Starvald Demelain, seemingly waiting for something.
Gerd K
22. Kah-thurak
I remember that I had similar feelings on my first read through of the series and while Reaper's Gale still isnt my favourite book it did get better for me on later Re-Reads. I guess if you follow this blog you "get" a lot more of what happens in these books without reading them multiple times, but I still think that to fully appreciate the series you need 2 or more read throughs.
Steven Erikson
23. StevenErikson
I am on the road at the moment, but I return home today and should be able to start answering questions by the weekend. So, start 'em up.
The Gunslinger
24. BDG91
My question would have to be about Redmask, because a) it was always a storyline I identified a lot with (being a Cree man) and b) because I've always thought the books in Lether were always more direct commentary on modern day. Anyways my question is what was ultimately the point of adding the Redmask storyline? Was to fill a thematic arc you thought was lacking in the book or was it to introduce elements that would become important later? Or both? Niether?

I would also just like to thank you, I find your books to have a certain empathy for 'the other' not many fantasy books have and I find it refreshing to read.
The Gunslinger
25. CraigG
Can't wait to dig into the next book.... any ideas on when it is going to get started?
Sean H
26. PorusReign
Darn it I'm too late... lost a bit of time reading Forge and only just caught up with the re-read... Did anyone else notice how little Trull and Seren Pedac actually interact? Over a few books do they meet twice? and both times very briefly? Yet do we don't the veracity of their love? Genius... admist the death, deciteful and the diabolical there is still some good in the world Mr. Frodo and it's worth fighting for.
Sean H
27. PorusReign
Oh and I'm happy with the Redmask story too... I liked the campaign the first time round, although I did feel flat at the conclusion. It was like being lead on at a dance... Now I like it more as a suitable tapasty for Toc! The Heroic feats, the Tragic conclusion. If Redmask was only to serve Toc that would be fine by me...
The Gunslinger
28. Sparts
First time reader here.

Apart from the first book, this one was the least for me sofar. Too many characters without any real purpose for the plot. Plotlines that seem to go nowhere. I appreciate the contrast with usual writing for the questing group and the hero leading noble savages to victory. But Redmask was mostly reading about his two Asterix an Obelix superwarriors mopping up the enemy and Silchas Ruin's group was mostly a boring trip with bickering individuals.

And The ending of the book just didn't work for me. Every other paragraph somebody died. Mostly characters I didn't feel very strongly about, simply because of the sheer volume of characters. By the time, after paragraph after paragraph of deaths, Trull died, this didn't make me feel anything.

Of course, this is also because anybody dying in the Malazan world is bound to come back in a few books as either a god, an ascendant, a ghost, a ghost turned into flesh again, a reincarnation, a vegetable or somebody's pet, so deaths are not very meaningful to begin with.

Don't get me wrong I absolutely love the series, and this reread right here is invaluable for me, but this particular book just didnt work for me at all.

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