Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Book Review: The Crippled God by Steven Erikson

The Crippled God is the 10th and final book of the Malazan Book of the Fallen series by Steven Erikson. There are additional books in that universe, by both Erikson and Esslemont; however, the main series are these 10 books that I've spent the last few years reading. This particular one took a while do to my recent job/city/country change, but I managed to find the time and it was rewarding to finish. Below, you will find my review of this book. In the future, I hope to write a post comparing this series to other long epic fantasies, notably The Wheel of Time.

As always, I aim to avoid direct spoilers, but given that this is the last book of the series, events prior to this book are considered fair game.

Overall Impression
Like the other Malazan books, this starts of slowly but inexorably speeds up to a massive finale that leaves you breathless. As the final book of the series, it does it job very well managing to tie together so many different threads that I am left impressed at the scope and magnitude of the story. The characters are still the same ones we have come to love (and hate) and the prose is still as intricate as the prior books. Overall, I very much enjoyed the concluding novel of this series.

Plot
It would be very cool to outline the main aspects of the plot, but that would give away too much of the story. After all, it is really enjoyable to read this and figure things out as they happen. Instead, we can examine the various groups and where they were at the end of the prior book, Dust of Dreams. This part naturally contains SPOILERS for the PRIOR BOOKS:
We have the Malazans Bonehunters having survived the attack from the K'Chain Nah'ruk with help from the Khundryl Burned Tears, the Letherii, and the K'Chain Che'Malle. Not far from them is the Snake, a mysterious group of refugee children fleeing the destruction caused by the Forkrul Assail.
The Perish Grey Helms, as led by Mortal Sword Krughava, are also near and headed towards the Malazans. Beyond the coast, we have Shurq Elalle, Princess Felash, and the rest of their group sailing the seas to reach Kolanse and face the Assail threat. Gesler and Stormy now travel with an army of K'Chain Che'Malle as their Mortal Sword and Shield Anvil, respectively.
In the Hold of Darkness, in the capital city of Kharkanas, the Shake, as led by Yan Tovis and Yedan Derrig, set up defenses to hold back the Tiste Liosan at the other side of Lightfall. Other characters, such as Onos T'oolan, Draconus, and Mappo Trell, travel (not together) across the wastelands on their own journeys. This final book in the series ties together many of these disparate plot threads.

An interesting aspect of how the book is written is that each chapter generally focuses on one group of people or setting, broadly defined. For example, we can spend a chapter with the Malazans crossing the desert, jumping from one character to another, but still with the same group. Another chapter may follow Shurq Elalle and company on their sea voyage, while another may switch back and forth between armies fighting in the same area, whether that be at Kolanse or at the Shore. This makes it very easy to keep track of things within each chapter, making them feel focused despite the large cast of characters.

Without spoiling it, I can say the ending was epic and amazing. It spanned a significant portion of the final part and involved many different characters, including seemingly minor characters from way back in the first few books. The scope of it was perfect as it reflected not an ending to the book, but an ending to a series. It's also encompasses a variety of emotions as the endings for some characters can vary from happy, bittersweet, heroic, or even tragic. Like any good ending, a few minor things are left open to the reader's imagination.

Characters
A lot of our favorite characters from the series have their moments in The Crippled God as this is the natural conclusion to the series. Among them are the Adjunct Tavore, leading the Bonehunters; Gesler and Stormy, with the K'Chain Che'malle army; Brys Beddict, with the Letherii army; Mappo Trell, in his search for Icarium; and many more. Old Bridgeburner favorites like Master of the Deck Ganoes Paran, Quick Ben, and the assassin Kalam also appear. There are also plenty of gods and ascendants, such as Hood, Cotillion, and Shadowthrone; and elder gods like Mael, Errastas, and Kilmandaros. There are also plenty of Eleint soletaken, that is, people able to harness Chaos and turn to dragons. This includes many Tiste Liosan and Tiste Andii, as well as key characters like Draconus. The cast is huge and features even minor characters that appear in only a few prior books and that I had personally dismissed as unimportant (and I was so wrong!).

Setting / World Building
This is set in the Malazan universe, which we have seen before, with a variety of landscapes and it's system of magic through Warrens and Holds. This book reminds us of the origin of the warrens and the poison affecting them and the goddess Burn, in case we had forgotten. Some of the key places visited in this book are the Glass Desert, the city of Kharkanas and the Shore, and the Kolansii lands.

A cool aspect of this book is how all four elder races, that is, the Forkrul Assail, the K'Chain Che'Malle, the Jaghut, and the Imass, are all gathered together at the final fight. While their days of glory are long gone, their remnants are still there to fight the decisive battles. A key element is certainly the Forkrul Assail and their revival of their hold, Ahkrast Korvalain. We learn alot about their history, their god, and the power they can wield.

This book also gives us a better understanding of Otataral, the mysterious substance that negates magic. Several characters have Otataral weapons and there is the ever present threat of the Otataral Dragon and the consequences of her revival.

Final Thoughts
This was an enjoyable book. Like other Malazan books, it starts slowly which, in my case, led me to take a very long time to finish. However, the pace picks up significantly and I finished the last 20-30% in short time. As the conclusion to the series, I was glad to see many favorite characters return, even if only for brief scenes. It was also really cool to see the epic scale of the battles taking place. A bit of time is spent of battles and these get quite gory. I suppose that serves as a contrast to the expectations of glory many can naively have of the "soldier life" so it serves multiple purposes.

Overall, if you've been slowly reading the series, I can say that it's worthwhile to push through and finish it. The ending is essential it as it explains many aspects that were introduced all the way back in the first book. If you have not yet started the Malazan books and skipped ahead to this review, I can still recommend the series, but be warned that the pacing can be a bit slow, both by the length of the books and the almost poetic style to the language that is sometimes used. I hope to be able to contrast several fantasy series in the near future to serve as a guide for others who may want to dive in.

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