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Scene-setting on an epic scale
on 7 November 2013
The Bonehunters is the sixth novel in the truly epic Malazan Book of the Fallen series, but is the first one to have fallen foul of "middle-book syndrome".
The first four tomes in the series chronicled the Malazan Empire's struggles in Genabackis and the Seven Cities, which have been more-or-less resolved; and the emergence of the new Empire of the Tiste Edur was introduced in the fifth novel, the virtually self-contained Midnight Tides. The Bonehunters therefore has the task of tying together all the many strands of the plot so far, and setting things up for the following books.
In that, it does work, but it doesn't altogether succeed in being a great read at the same time. Yes, there are some great moments, but they are few and far between, and there is a lot of padding in the meantime.
The Bonehunters starts with the Malazan army in Raraku, tasked with mopping up the last of Sha'ik's Apocalypse rebellion, now led by Leoman of the Flails. This leads to an explosive climax at the siege of Y'Ghatan, which has all of Erikson's hallmark brutality and realism. I may not always like his style of writing, but the man does write a good battle!
My problem with the siege of Y'Ghatan is that it takes place about halfway through the novel. It seems to take an age where nothing much happens to build up to it, and then after it's over, it's suddenly like we're in another book, with the plot meandering all over the place. The Bonehunters feels disjointed and bloated at the same time, with simultaneously lots going on at once, but nothing much actually happening.
Still, apart from Y'Ghatan, there are some other gems. Mappo and Icarium are back, and their friendship is one of the highlights of the series for me. Karsa Orlong is also back - as stubborn, arrogant and violent as ever - and any scene with him in is always going to be good. The final section in Malaz City is also a pretty thrilling climax.
Overall, The Bonehunters is not my favourite in the series (so far) by a long shot. I can see how skilfully Erikson has woven everything together, and I am definitely exited about what's to come in the next couple of books - with the possibility of a showdown between Karsa Orlong, Icarium and Rhulad how could I not be? - It's just that this feels more like a novella (the siege of Y'Ghatan) with a lot of extra padding added just to get all the various characters in the right places for Book Seven.