Posted by: markfender | March 4, 2015

Reaper’s Gale

Do you enjoy books with murder in them?

reapersgaleAfter the disappointing Bonehunters, I was concerned with the direction of the series. Luckily, Reaper’s Gale turned out to be good. In essence, Erickson is telling three different stories on three different continents and this book brings two of those storylines together before the final two-book finale (We’ve still got Toll the Hounds to finish off the story of the last continent). So, in a lot of ways, this book is still more set-up and not much of a conclusion to some storylines. In fact, it defies conclusions.

So, we’re now back on Letheras (from Midnight Tides) and return to those characters. If you recall from the end of Midnight Tides, an unlikely band of people had gathered together to search for Scabandari Bloodeye’s Finnest – Silchas Ruin, Udinaas, Fear Sengar, Kettle, and Seren Pedac. In Reaper’s Gale, they’re still looking. There’s a bit of a timeline issue here, as Midnight Tides took place somewhere in the Memories of Ice/House of Chains time period, which makes it a bit weird that these people have been searching for three years, dodging the Letheras armies searching for them, with no apparent forward momentum in their quest. But, if you ignore that bit, you have Erickson playing with the tropes of the typical fantasy quest story. Here’s an unlikely group of heroes, searching for a super-magic item to right all the wrongs of the world…and they hate each other. This storyline is pretty much all sniping from various characters at other characters. When they’re later joined by Clip (a universally hated character that will probably receive a rant when I get to Toll the Hounds), the antagonism hits epic levels with several in the group even attempting to kill each other. I liked this storyline, even if it does come across as a bit of a downer (Udinaas is really, really bitter). And, while they do eventually complete their epic quest, I don’t think any of them emerge as being happy with the outcome (Well, maybe Udinaas does).

We’ve also got Tehol and Bugg again, which is awesome. Tehol’s plot to disrupt the Letherii economy grows to fruition and involves a new cast of characters, including some pretty terrible stuff involving the secret police. It’s not a happy storyline. Coinciding with that, we’ve got the new-found friction between the Tiste Edur overlords and their Letherii subjects, including the champions from Bonehunters arriving to challenge Emperor Rhulad. And, since two of those champions are Icarium and Karsa, we’ve got old favorites joining the proceedings. I mean, who wouldn’t want to see a fight between Karsa, Icarium, and Rhulad? I have some doubts as to how the whole thing plays out (and Icarium’s story doesn’t really finish off in this book) as I don’t see the Rat Catcher’s Guild hiring town criers as a logical method to elect a new Letherii Emperor, but I can’t complain about their choice.

We’ve also got our old favorites the Malazans arriving on the continent to overthrow the Edur Empire. It was somewhere in the second chapter of reading about the 14th Malazan Army that I realized – the Malazans aren’t actually my old favorites. Maybe it’s just that I tire of Erickson’s “soldier humor” that’s so prevalent with them (and isn’t present in other militaries we see in the books). Maybe it’s that I’m tired of Fiddler, a character I never really liked in the first place. Maybe it’s that I’m tired of Tavore’s stoicism and bad leadership. (Seriously, the Malazans start their war with bad information, splitting their forces with no way to communicate with each other. The Malazan marines are almost all wiped out by Letherii sorcery, except for the intervention by a heretofore unknown mage lurking in their midst – a person Tavore had no way of knowing about. So…she deliberately sends half her forces to their death? And, assuming that they did survive, they had no further orders about where to meet her? Even with Erickson’s penchant for withholding information, it’s overall a pretty terrible plan for invading a foreign nation). Not to say that the Malazans are terrible characters or anything, I’m just a little tired of them. Even if this is the book in which Hellian gets awesome (and includes the quite moving Beak storyline).

There’s three other plotlines about three native groups previously conquered by the Letherii in this book as well and I didn’t like any of them. There’s the slaughter of Bluerose and the small, disparate group of Tiste Andii that survive, there’s the Shake and the arrival of their queen, and the Awl with their new warleader Redmask and his strange allies. I didn’t much care for any of these plots. Most are just set-up for other books and, as is typical for those sorts of plots, don’t really add all that much to the proceedings. Add in the fact that all three plotlines were kind of confusing (I’m still trying to figure out exactly who the Shake descended from) and you’ve got a recipe for who-the-hell-cares?

By the end of the book, there’s quite the body count of named characters. I’m sure other books have had more outright death (I mean, one prologue did have the destruction of an entire continent in it), but this one seems to have taken the body count higher. Which is fine. I mean, every book introduces more new characters and you’ve got to start killing them all off at some point. And, of course, some characters come back to life, so it’s not like Erickson has forgotten his favorite trope.

This book was an improvement on Bonehunters. It won’t rank in the best of the series, but it’s got some enjoyable bits. It’s biggest fault is that it brought together characters that fans of the series have wanted to see together for a long time…and then ignored that storyline. It has some uninspired sub-plots that don’t always work, but at least those sub-plots don’t come out of the blue, like most of the ones in Bonehunters. (I really dislike Bonehunters, is apparently what I’m saying.)

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