If I could sum it all up in two words, it would have to be "hot damn!"
As Malazan fans, we all know how Steven Erikson enjoys using misdirection to fool us. Every single thread of this convoluted, multilayered plot seems to be twisted upon itself, and nowhere is it more apparent then in this novel. One piece of advice: Expect the unexpected. You think you know where the tale is headed? The author will rapidly disabuse you of that notion! There are more surprises in Reaper's Gale than in the rest of the series, it seems. On several occasions, I found myself closing the book, shaking my head, unable to believe that this had just happened.
Although titanic in size (910 pages), the pace throughout Reaper's Gale keeps you turning those pages, eager to discover more and more. There is no sluggish plotline akin to the Mhybe in Memories of Ice, making this one a veritable page-turner. Still, a few storylines at the very end were, at least in my opinion, a little rushed. It doesn't take anything away from the tale, mind you, yet I would have liked for Erikson to maintain the same rhythm from start to finish, as the pace in this one was more or less perfect. After all, when a book weighs in at over 900 pages, what's 10 or 20 extra pages thrown into the mix!?!
The worldbuilding is, once more, grandiose. No other fantasy series, past or present, can match The Malazan Book of the Fallen in vision, ambition and scope. Steven Erikson seems to delight in making us squirm, offering us tantalizing glimpses that make us beg for more. In a series that already resounds with more depth than anything ever written in the genre, the author still raises the bar even higher.
Most storylines grab hold of you and won't let go. In addition, I felt that many scenes bring a new emotional level that had yet to be seen in the series.
Much like The Bonehunters, this novel contains its share of cliffhangers. With so many different threads interwoven together, I don't believe that it's humanly possible for Erikson to write self-contained installments anymore, not with the action occurring on various continents and realms of existence. Having said that, even though the ending doesn't offer resolution of every single plotline, Reaper's Gale is brought to a satisfying conclusion. Unlike The Bonehunters, which ended with a series of cliffhangers, this one does provide readers with closure.
The characterizations play a major role in this one. Erikson has the damnable ability to introduce us to characters on which very little is known and who somehow become fan favorites. Redmask and Silchas Ruin are two such characters. As for the rest of this immense cast, I must admit that character development made me like Quick Ben, Seren Pedac and Trull Sengar even more. A lot has already been said about the bodycount. As the title implies (Hood is the Reaper of Souls), no on is safe in this novel. There are a lot of casualties in Reaper's Gale, especially toward the end, when several important characters die. I think even George R. R. Martin would be impressed by the number of deaths! Now, everyone is dying (no pun intended) to discover who will live and who will die. Please don't ask me, for I won't say. I'll tell you that one death in particular is as important -- at least to me -- as the one that shocked readers in Memories of Ice. For the rest, you'll have to find out for yourself!
Steven Erikson's broadness of vision fills me with awe. Reaper's Gale is one of the best Malazan volumes, second only to Memories of Ice and Deadhouse Gates. It is definitely one of the fantasy books to read this year. If you only have money to buy a single book this spring, this is the one to purchase!
Call me crazy, but for my money The Malazan Book of the Fallen is the best fantasy series around! I know it's early yet, but unless Jordan and/or Martin release something before the end of 2007, Reaper's Gale could well be the fantasy book of the year.
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