Welcome 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 Tor.com 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):
- Ma and Pa Sengar
- Feather Witch
- Hannan Mosag
- Senior Assessor
- Rautos Hivanar
- Sukul Ankhadu
- Sheltatha Lore
- Beak (oh Beak)
- Old Hunch
- Bruthel Trana
- Brohl Handar (presumed)
- Bivatt (presumed)
- Karos Invictad
- Tanal Yathvanar
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.