Sunday, October 31, 2010

"Reaper's Gale" by Steven Erikson

Well, I finally finished reading a Steven Erikson book - the first epic fantasy I've read in about seven years.

And, I must say, it was quite unlike the epic fantasy I used to read. "Reaper's Gale" tells many different stories about many different characters, linked by a common - though by no means all encompassing - thread. However, there are no "heroes," or at least no simple ones; and neither are there happy or simple conclusions. It is brutal; it is lush; it is ancient; it is febrile with occultism and darkness. Perhaps the reason I liked Reaper's Gale so much was that it synched so keenly with my own worldview.

In that sense, I would call Erikson's fantasy "mature" and "thoughtful;" but really, I'd just be saying that I agree with the philosophical foundations that seem to underpin his stories (which, obviously, may or may not represent his actual beliefs). Still, I would recommend his work to anyone who likes fantasy, generally, and especially to those who are keen for something less fuzzy - but still incredibly magical and full of immense life.

I haven't read anything quite so long in a long time, either - my brief calculation is that Reaper's Gale clocks at least 300,000 words - but Erikson never bored me, which is something that occurs even with shorter, non-epic works. This may have had to do with the fact that he so brilliantly portrays such a diverse cast of characters.

Anyway, I would now count Erikson among my favourite authors. Why? There are stirrings in the soul that cannot be completely articulated in terms of words and concepts. For lack of a good argument, then, I offer a metaphor: I like the Malazan Book of the Fallen (Erikson's series) because the work reminded me, before anything else, of those really classic black metal tunes that sound like they're wrenched from the maw of some Elder God:

Yes, sir: Beherit would be a High Mage in Erikson's universe, I think.



  1. Are you reading these books in order, or did you just picked up REAPER'S GALE?

    The one thing that has kept me from reading these novels is that I don't want to get caught up in a never ending series. Trilogies I don't mind, but if it's anything like THE WHEEL OF TIME or THE SWORD OF TRUTH, count me out.

    So I guess my real question is this: Are these books self-contained, but part of a series, or do you have to read them in order?

  2. When I was introduced to the Malazan Book of the Fallen, I was told you don't have to read them in order. I actually half-read an earlier book - The House of Chains - and didn't finish it. Thus, when I picked up Reaper's Gale, I was surprised to see one of the characters from House of Chains featuring in it, though in a lesser role than before, since I didn't think they'd be related books.

    Beyond that, I definitely got the impression that things had happened or were happening that I could have known more about. However, there was basically no time when I felt it was so crucial that I ought to put Reaper's Gale down and start at the beginning; Erikson wove the past into the present in a way that satisfied me.

    According to the Wikipedia page, the story is told non-linearly, and so it wouldn't matter if you read them in order, anyway. It is essentially about three major story arcs taking place on three separate continents, which are variously referenced throughout the other arcs.

    I'm not a series - or trilogy - kind of guy. I can't guarantee I'll finish the series - which is supposed to end at ten books - but I will undoubtedly read more, because Erikson is by far the best epic fantasy writer I've ever read. Interestingly, I was more inclined to find out what happened before this story, than what comes after, because the book tied up really well, but a lot of the characters had clearly been formed (emotionally, or whatever) in the fires of previous tribulations.

  3. I'm fine with "loose series". That's just efficient world-building.

  4. David: If you mean by "loose series" stories set in the same 'verse (Dragonlance, Star Wars), then, yeah, I'm totally onboard with that. But I prefer self-contained novels. I don't mind if they're long novels, but I do want some kind of story resolution at the end, not just a big plot point that pushes the story forward.

  5. Yeah... actually, the main reason I wrote that "Ben hates trilogies" post is because I had just finished "Brightness Reef" by David Brin, which had, in my opinion, no resolution whatsoever and was just a big set-up for the next book.

    Reaper's Gale was really different. For one thing, I actually wanted to know more (not so with BR) - which is probably just personal preference - and second, it actually had an ending. The ending did not demand I find out what happens next, either... although my impression is that the series is somewhere between tight and loose.