The Crippled God (Steven Erikson 2011)

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At last, the end of this long drawn out The Malazan Book of the Fallen series. What a pain this has been to read. I swear I am not picking any fantasy series longer than five books now that I have finished reading it. The Crippled God, the tenth and final book in this series, is exactly what you would expect from the last instalment of an epic fantasy series. Adjunct Tavore and her allies are preparing for their final battle with the intent on challenging the gods themselves (as quoted from the blurb). In the process though, the opponent isn’t the Crippled God, but rather the mysterious Forkrul Assail, one of the elder races. They have hijacked the Crippled God’s plan and seek to eliminate all of civilisation, and every human in the process. This subsequently leads them into a final battle for all of creation. Like I said, the usual fantasy stuff. The twist is that they aren’t fighting who you’d expect to be fighting.

Despite this the twist wasn’t too great in my eyes, in part because the Forkrul Assail have spent the majority of the series making no appearance whatsoever, instead being mentioned every now and again as part of the background lore. Consequently I knew very little about them except that they were the bad guys and wanted to kill everything, a rather generic motive in itself. Needless to say I wasn’t too keen on them. They seemed to act as a group rather than having a leader, and although they are elder beings they are still a far cry from the Crippled God as far as villains go. I vastly preferred the Crippled God as a villain and while I feel changing things around was the right way to go about it, with the vast number of gods in the setting they should have had a villain with a bit more divinity behind them. It’s an Epic Fantasy series which has been building up to some big epic battle and I felt that the final villains were a bit underwhelming all things considered.

Like I’ve mentioned in previous reviews, the book was so damn complicated that at times I wonder if there was another villain and I just missed it all under the sea of purple prose and complicated subplots which suddenly become relevant out of the blue with little to no foreshadowing in previous books. Sometimes I actually wondered if the author made it up as he went along because a lot of characters in the series seemed to die without warning and a lot of characters seemed to disappear during the course of The Crippled God, including a lot of my favourites. Rather it seemed that he had so many characters the author couldn’t decide which ones were important to the finale. Even when the end came, I found it be be abrupt and did little to help me understand what just happened.

Point is this book was a bit of a mess to be honest, though this was in part because the series was a complicated mass of plots and subplots to begin with. Some people could argue that I simply could not follow such a complicated series, but if you ask me the only reason the ten books are so complicated is because they were badly written to begin with. I know why it was written as it was. It was an attempt to be realistic, why would you start the story neatly at the beginning and hold the reader’s hand? Of course in real life there would be a number of complex plots at play. Yet, I handled A Song of Ice and Fire just fine and that was the same.

To be perfectly honest I thought the books used realism where it wasn’t needed, that throwing the reader into it with no explanation would somehow enhance the reading experience. In reality all it did was make me feel lost and confused throughout the whole ten book affair and I understand the series no better than I did at the start. I can say I’m glad this long trudge is over. I can move onto better things now, hopefully things with a bit less complexity to them.

SCORE: 2.5/5

IN A WORD: COMPLICATED

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Tales from Earthsea (Ursula K. Le Guin 2001)

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This is going to be a difficult book to review, in part because this is the first time I’ve tried to review a collection of short stories. Some are novella length while others are short stories. Of the stories in the collection there are five in total. The first novella length story, The Finder follows the story of how the school of magic is established on Roke Island. Darkrose and Diamond revolves around the romance of a young couple, the daughter of a witch and the son of a rich merchant. The Bones of the Earth follows Ogion the Silent as he deals with an earthquake. On the High Marsh focuses on a healer arrives in a remote village where there is a livestock epidemic. Lastly is the second novella length story Dragonfly, which acts a postscript of sorts to Tehanu and follows the girl Dragonfly as she seeks to become a wizard despite the wizarding schools only taking male students and thus follows her attempts to shatter the gender barriers prevalent within the school in the process.

The Finder was normal enough, a simple story detailing how events lead to the creation of the school on Roke Island. Given the institution’s role in A Wizard of Earthsea I found it interesting to see how the school originally developed. The use of gender roles and establishing that women played a key role in the school’s founding was a clever way of redressing the gender imbalance from the previous Earthsea novels, where women could only ever be witches as opposed to mages. The fact that these women were later excluded from the school made me feel sorry for him and I liked the novella in part because of how it addressed the issues present within the previous novels in the Earthsea series and challenging notions which were previously not discussed.

Darkrose and Diamond was interesting, in part because of the way it handled the romance between the two titular characters. However I feel like it could have been improved if it followed the female, Darkrose as opposed to Diamond since she was the more interesting character, being an independent female who struggles with being the daughter of a witch, again continuing a trend of independent female characters. The theme of strong independent female characters pops up again in The Bones of the Earth, where Ogion’s mentor learned his magic from a female mage. The

On the High Marsh was somewhat of an odd sheep and for some reason I didn’t follow it in quite the same way as the others, in part because I did not see any connections to the rest of the series and partially because somehow I found the plot somehow unremarkable. Consequently it wasn’t always the easiest story to follow and I must confess I sort of skimmed through it. The only connection to the series is when Ged appears towards the end of the story, revealing that the book was set during his time as Archmage. Truth be told, it just seemed like a weak story.

Another intriguing story was Dragonfly, which acts as a bridge between Tehanu and the next Earthsea novel, The Other Wind. It follows a girl, the titular Dragonfly. The interesting aspect about this is that once again it deals with the idea of independence and the challenging of gender roles, this time more explicitly since the main character seeks to become a mage despite being a girl and seeking to study at a school which only admits male students. The return to the school on Roke was quite welcome and showing the internal corruption amongst the mages was interesting after losing Ged as Archmage and the question is left as to who will become Archmage next.

Overall the theme of independence and feminism features strongly in a lot of the stories in the book, more so than in the previous Earthsea novels. A lot the stories challenge the idea that the way things are in the Earthsea novels are how they should be, rather she makes the reader stop and think about whether this whimsical world of hers as as perfect as she’s made it out to be. In some ways I thoroughly enjoyed a lot of these stories, not as much at the Earthsea novels themselves but still a great read.

SCORE: 4/5

IN A WORD: INDEPENDENT

Dust of Dreams (Steven Erikson 2009)

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First off I should apologise for not updating last week. I was busy and in my rush in the rush to get other things done I forgot about the blog entirely. Thus I give my apologies and without further ado it is time to begin the review. Dust of Dreams is the ninth novel in The Malazan Book of the Fallen series and is also the second to last. Both it and the sequel The Crippled God form the last act of this rather draggy series. The book follows a number of factions but revolves around the exiled Malazan Army, lead by Adjunct Tavore as they make their preparations within Letheras to begin their march into the eastern wastelands to confront an unknown enemy. They stand ready to make a last heroic stand as dark forces threaten to swallow the world whole. The destinies of the various characters are set to become more complicated as they prepare to make one last heroic stand, but with nobody around to witness it.

Interestingly enough the novel begins in Letheras and that is where the finale seems to be set up, since that is where the exiled Malazan Army have taken residence. There we gain insight into the mechanics of the new regime, of which recurring character Tehol has been crowned King. Tehol was a disappointingly minor character in the novel, at least in my opinion, since he never engaged in much action himself and preferred to act through his brother Brys Beddict. The politics surrounding Letheras and the people left within it start to come to a head as things start to heat up.

Most interesting is how factions I haven’t previously paid much attention to, such as the K’Chain Che’Malle, seemed to factor more into this book than they had previously. To some extent this meant the book got a bit complex to me. It seemed to bring a lot of plotlines together but somehow I struggled to understand a lot of this book because it seemed to bring to a conclusion the side plots from the previous novels, which I have long since forgotten about. With a series as big as Malazan it is easy to forget things and this worked against my enjoyment of the book somewhat.

Somehow this book seemed to drag on longer than the others, in part because the book as a whole was meant to be a prelude to the next book as opposed to a novel on its own. This was something which I would have preferred not to happen since the novels are so large and complicated already, it was worse having to read two of these novels before I finally understand what’s going on. Of course by the time I’ve gotten to the end the myraid of plots and subplots mean that the book is a blur of complicated stuff which I don’t understand. This is something I’ve come to expect with the series as a whole but somehow it felt worse in Dust of Dreams.

Overall there isn’t too much to say about Dust of Dreams, it’s mostly a book of set-ups in preparation for the next novel. Not a whole lot remarkable happened in it, although my cynicism regarding this series may be starting to cloud my judgement at this stage. It was no worse or better than any of the other Malazan Book of the Fallen books. I’ll admit that a lot of it just sort of blurred together into this mess of stuff which I understood better at the beginning than I did at the end. Knowing how this goes I don’t know what the last book will have in store for me but I hope that it gives me some sense of closure from all this at least.

SCORE: 3/5

IN A WORD: DULL

Toll the Hounds (Steven Erikson 2008)

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It’s time to review the eighth book in The Malazan Book of the Fallen series. Toll the Hounds is one of them unusual books within the series at least at first glance. The plot takes the reader back to the city of Darujhistan where the first book was set. The plot revolves around the surviving Bridgeburners, who now run a pub within the city, as they contend with assassins who wish to kill them. Meanwhile far in the city of Black Coral the threat of the cult of the Redeemer looms and the Tiste Andii seem oblivious. Meanwhile Anomander Rake, the son of darkness is set to face a challenge of his own.

A lot characters from previous novels make their return, in particular from Gardens of the Moon and Memories of Ice. Since the book shares the same setting as the first book this was natural. A lot of the characters are people whom I have long since forgotten about, with the retired Bridgeburners being of particular note. The return of Kruppe was also a welcome addition. His eccentric glory was something to be witnessed and the book is a return to form in that regard. It reminded me of how much I wished he had a large role within the series as a whole, which made me a bit sad.

The return of Anomander Rake was also welcome as well as the return to Black Coral, their city. That being said, I didn’t find it as interesting as Darujhistan, in part because I was far more familiar with some of the characters there. Black Coral felt new to me because I hadn’t seen much of it in the previous novels, and the few memories I have are very vague. Like a lot of non human characters from the Tiste species I had trouble following the ones which weren’t Anomander Rake. This is in part because I have trouble relating to non human characters, especially when there are so many different species of non human races as there are in the Malazan world. The fact that the Tiste races are essentially stand ins for elves does not help things, since I have a certain distaste for elves in fantasy novels. Consequently I could not identify with those characters well, especially since the Tiste Andii are the most non-human of the three Tiste races.

The novel for the most part seems cut off from the rest of the series, with a drop down in scale. However a few recurring characters from the main part of the series return. The most notable of these are Mappo Runt, who is trying to find Icarium, and Karsa Orlong and Samar Dev, who are continue to travel together after the events of the previous novel. Karsa Orlong’s story arc, while placing back seat compared to the other arcs, continues to be intriguing as he deals with the aftermath of his victory against Rhulad Sengar. As a whole though not a lot seems to be going on there, which I was a little disappointed by even though this isn’t too important of a novel for Karsa Orlong since he spent a great deal of the previous one in the limelight.

Overall I’m not sure what to think about it. One of the one hand I welcomed the return of certain characters, such as Kruppe and Anomander Rake. Yet I had trouble following the plot since I didn’t know the characters central to the novel as well. The problem stems from the fact that the surviving Bridgeburners whom the novel revolves around were characters whom I didn’t pay too much attention to while they were around and consequently I had to remind myself who they were every time they appeared. Regardless the step down in tone was welcome and I was more than impressed when compared to other books in the series. Now that we have finished this book it is time to move on to the last two books of the series, and consequently the final act of the Malazan series.

SCORE: 3/5

IN A WORD: COMPLEX

Reaper’s Gale (Steven Erikson 2007)

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It’s time again to review another instalment in The Malazan Book of the Fallen series, the seventh book Reaper’s Gale. The book continues on the storyline in Letheras and is a direct sequel in some respects to both Midnight Tides and The Bonehunters, continuing from plotlines introduced in both novels. Rhulad Sengar has evolved into a mad tyrant in the years since taking the throne in Midnight Tides. Champions from various cultures arrive with the Tiste Edur fleet from The Bonehunters to challenge him including recurring characters Icarium, and Karsa Orlong. Meanwhile Fear Sengar, the emperor’s brother, seeks the soul of Scabandari Bloodeye in hopes that with his help they may be able to push back the Edur fleet and save the emperor. However he also travels with Silchas Ruin, brother of Anomander Rake, who travels with his own agenda.

The plot of the novel is a lot stronger, with a lot of recurring characters returning, including Icarium, and Karsa as mentioned above. However we see a number of returning characters from Midnight Tides return such as Trull Sengar and the other members of the Sengar family. Characters such as Toc play a role, as does Quick Ben, the latter of whom as played major roles in the plot of the series since the first book. Like in many of the books in which he has appeared, the standout character is Karsa Orlong. Despite his ruthless nature and being far from a “nice” characters he continues to be a scene stealer in every part of the novel he appears in. Karsa does a lot of badass things throughout the novel and after getting to the end I think I can safely say he is one of the best characters in the series so far. Everyone else seems to pale compared to him.

Like the other books, it suffers a lot from having too many characters. The familiar plotlines make the plot somewhat easier to understand, especially since I’ve had time to process both the plots to Midnight Tides and The Bonehunters. However the plot is still complicated and I had trouble following the plotlines of characters who didn’t get too much attention within the chapters. I’ve said this before but I feel the constant switching between characters in the middle of the chapters does not make the book easy to understand. I would have a much better time with the book if instead it was organised into smaller chapters each following one character. This is in part a bias on my part because I am not a patient reader by any means. Thus I process shorter chapters easier than I do long ones.

There were some very awesome moments in the book. Quite a few dramatic deaths as well. However some of them, particularly the people who I considered to be major characters, seemed a bit pointless and contrived. Almost as if the author just didn’t want to continue writing for them any more. Despite this there was one good death which worked, and that was the inevitable demise of Rhulad Sengar at the hands of Karsa. I knew it was coming, Karsa was too much of a badass for this not to happen. Yet the fact that he somehow managed to bring about a permanent end to someone who has up to this point been unkillable was nothing short of impressive.

The main thing that surprised me was how much I enjoyed it compared to the previous two. The last outing in Letheras, Midnight Tides was a book which I originally found quite boring. However since I was used to the characters and the main plot started to to converge there a little I found the experience a lot more enjoyable. Overall the book was still average fair along with the rest of the series but had a lot more memorable moments than the previous two books. There are bits that will stick in my head, which is more than I can ask for with this complex series. Now that we’re in the latter half of the series I can only hope that the books than keep up the pace, and possibly improve.

SCORE: 3.5/5

IN A WORD: IMPROVED

 

Tehanu (Ursula K. Le Guin 1990)

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Yes, it’s time to finally review the fourth Earthsea novel, Tehanu. This is the final book in the four book collection I bought so it might be a while before I finally review the last two Earthsea books. Tehanu returns to the character Tenar, who took up residence in the same village as Ged’s former mentor Ogion. Rejecting magic she married a farmer named Flint and had two children, becoming known as Goha. Now, years after her husband’s death and her children having left home, Ogion dies and Ged returns to the village gravely injured. In the midst of all this she meets the mysterious child Therru, whom she adopts for herself, though there is more to her than meets the eye.

In terms of characters Tenar has certainly matured. This is in part because of the large time skip between Tombs of Atuan and her current appearance. The fact that she has become a mother and experienced the pain of losing her husband, and to a lesser extent ‘losing’ her children to moving out, has become an integral part of her character. She is some respect a very feminist character due to her desire for independence and to continue living the simple life rather than becoming a powerful mage like everyone else wants her to be. To a lesser extend Ged’s development seems to mirror Tenar’s in that he too comes to desire a peaceful lifestyle after losing most of his powers in an offscreen fight of some description. This is an interesting development in part because it is one of the key aspects which brings the two characters together and makes what develops between them believable and real.

I liked the low key focus the novel seems to have. There doesn’t seem to be any world breaking events going on. Rather it focuses strictly on the characters as they try and rebuild their life. One of the best parts for me was the way the novel handled the growing romance between Tenar and Ged and the way Therru’s presence in the novel brought them together. In the end I can’t help but feel like Therru was the key aspect of the novel, the uniting mystery behind everything even if a lot of the focus was on Ged and Tenar and their desire to move away from the conflict in their lives. All in all I was quite intrigued to find out who Therru was and the answers behind her strangeness.

In some ways I like how the novel celebrates the simple life and the desire to move away from the hustle and bustle, such as that brought about while Ged was the Archmage. I liked this in part because I never liked Ged too much as the Archmage to beging with. For the first time in a while he was something more than a mentor character. This creates a contrast between this book and Tombs of Atuan since he and Tenar are now on equal footing. In fact, in some ways Tenar is now wiser and more mature than him in part because of her life experiences. An interesting and overall healthier dynamic than in Tombs of Atuan. Even thought I initially suspected that this would make the relationship hard to believe, especially the part about having loved each other ever since they met, the relationship worked well between them and I enjoyed reading it after that point.

As a whole the novel still moves at a slow pace and seems to have the lowest scale plot of the four books I’ve read so far. Even so I found it to be thoroughly enjoyable because of the way it focused on the simple life. Something about the book and its themes resonated with me even if it wasn’t the most exciting book in the world. I still think that this is one of the stronger instalments in the Earthsea series. If anything this shows that Le Guin can still write untraditional fantasy novels even years after the release of her first novel.

SCORE: 4/5

IN A WORD: UNIQUE

The Bonehunters (Steven Erikson 2006)

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The Bonehunters is the sixth book in The Malazan Book of the Fallen series which I have been reading. It’s been a good few months or so since I’ve read this book so you’ll have to forgive me if my memory of the plot is a bit fuzzy in places. After the previous installment, which took place in the past, this book returns to the present day and a lot of the familiar plotlines. The Crippled God now has a place in the pantheon, causing the rules of the game to be changed. Meanwhile the Malazan Fourteenth Army, lead by Tavore Paran, seek to bring about the end to the last remaining rebel force in the city of Y’Ghatan, lead by Leoman of the Flails. All the while fan favourites such as Karsa Orlong, Apsalar and Cutter return with agendas of their own.

One thing I liked about this book is how it brought the various plot lines from throughout the series together. A staggering number of different plots and story arcs seem to converge in this book, from that of Karsa Orlong to the plot surrounding the rebellion. Perhaps most importantly as well is the plot of the Crippled God entering the pantheon. A lot of complicated stuff goes in here and this is in part the reason why I don’t actually remember a lot of it. The book is a whopping 1200 pages, one of the longest in the series so far, and a lot goes on within it.

Despite this some good characters came back. Ganoes Paran, who is now master of the deck, makes a long awaited return and it feels like forever since he last had a major role in the series. Karsa Orlong goes around kicking ass like usual and overall most of the series’ major players converge into one place during this book. That being said, some seemed to have rather dull slow moving plots, typical of the Malazan novels as a whole. Adjunct Tavore and her associates seemed to have a plot like this, as did the recurring character Icarium. I have always viewed Tavore somewhat fondly so this was a bit disappointing, though with Icarium I have personally always found him a bit dull from the moment he was first introduced. I was likewise disappointed that Tavore never found that she had killed her sister back during House of Chains and I can’t help but feel that the character has been forgotten about. Her death could easily have been milked for drama but instead Tavore simply never learns the truth. This is something true with a lot of family relationships in the book. Ganoes and Tavore are brother and sister yet the matter is never mentioned too much.

The plot suffers from a lot of the same pacing problems as previous books, with the added problem of complexity stemming from the large number of interweaving plots coming together. I understand that the novels have to start doing this at some point since it is now over halfway through the series, with four books left to go before we reach the tenth and final book. Yet this complexity has gotten to the point where even as I read it I found it difficult to actually follow what was going on. I was following a lot of cool characters but as a whole I hadn’t the slightest clue what they were doing or why they were doing it. This may be in part due to my reading style but I feel as though the book wasn’t doing a lot to help out along the way either.

In some ways the novel personifies both the best and the worst parts of The Malazan Book of the Fallen series. There were lots of cool characters and once again the setting is as rich and detailed as ever. Sometimes I wonder if perhaps it is too detailed. So much to put in that it is simply impossible to write a book on it that isn’t going to be horribly complex. There is room for improvement, that much is certain. Yet despite this I feel like the plot is making definite progress. The complexity wasn’t for nothing. I can only hope that now that some of these plots have converged a little, things might start making a bit more sense in the future.

SCORE: 3.5/5

IN A WORD: COMPLICATED