The Crippled God review

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Crippled God, the tenth and final tale of the Malazan Book of the Fallen. With this novel, Steven Erikson's epic project has come to an end. After 3 million 300 thousand words, I can't actually believe that it's over but I'm also glad for it. I remember asking my friend (to whom I lent the physical book while I was starting to read the e-book edition) what were his feelings about the book and seeing him smile immediately. I think I would have the same reaction if you ask me. Erikson has always been a clever writer and he proves himself once again.

The Bonehunters, having survived the battle against the K'Chain Nah'Ruk, continue their journey, led by the still enigmatic but emblematic Adjunct Tavore Paran. The reserved leader has a plan but her allies are still not sure whether they want to follow her or not. Still tagging along are the Letherii army led by Brys Beddict, the Bolkando forces under the command of Queen Abrastal, the remaining Khundryl and the Perish Grey Helms. Facing them in Kolanse will be the conquered armies of human and 'watered' soldiers under the tyranny of several Forkrul Assails. Not too far from her sister, Ganoes' forces are also engaging the Assails. Meanwhile, the scheming Elder Gods Kilmandaros and her son Sechul Lath are still trying to wake up the Otataral dragon, encouraged by Errastas. This could mean the end of many worlds under the attack of a multitude of Eleints coming to stop the dragon before Ti'am is summoned. And on the First Shore, the Shake is finally facing the Tiste Liosans breaking into the Warren of Darkness with Kharkanas as a target. Witness to all of this, the Crippled God waits for his destiny.

While initially looking at the book, I was telling myself that it's quite rare these days that I can read the ending of an undertaking so vast in scope, a tale like no other in epic fantasy, an intelligent weaving of legendary proportions where mighty figures juggle with the fate of the world. I was almost afraid to pick it up and start reading since it would mean the closing of the Malazan Book of the fallen. At least, Esslemont is still writing three more novels (in a slightly less abstract way) set in the same universe and Erikson announced that he would be writing more novels set in the Malazan world, with a trilogy depicting past events concerning our beloved Anomander Rake. Moreover, I knew that it was not a real 'ultimate' book since the final story told by Erikson to complete what he started more than a decade ago was split between Dust of Dreams and The Crippled God.

If you have read most of the Malazan books by Erikson, you know that the author wasn't going to complete all the story arcs that he started and that not all of the characters we grew to love or hate in the past would be present to witness the events portrayed in The Crippled God. And then, for those still hoping for a much more thorough but impossible convergence with everyone or for the readers juggling with the idea of starting to read the series, don't be discouraged by this fact, it was worth all those lines even with this achievement aside. Perfection was not reached but it still a humble try. As I said while reviewing Dust of Dreams, I was hoping for some massive scale convergence and I got it. However, it wasn't the convergence I thought was happening originally or at least not in the same form. It's not strictly about the Malazans, it's about the entirety of the races we discovered during the tale and their heralds, the Malazans at the head of it all. From the simple regular to the divinity enabling magic. But did the story eventually take precedence over the characters? I don't think so.

Steven Erikson likes to write about a plenitude of characters at the same time. It's a fact taken for granted now. However, in The Crippled God's case, he has thrown in together so many of them in any one chapter that it felt a bit overwhelming at times. You know from the beginning that they won't all survive. The convergence happening here was a long road (by the way, as with Dust of Dreams, there's a lot of marching) where many have fallen and where the stake is the very survival of entire races, of magic itself and of parallel worlds all at the same time. Remember that it's a tale of the fallen. I will remember them and in this novel's case, two of them more than others. You will know who when you read of them. But as with every book of the series, the Malazan/Bonehunters marines still shine. They present the best moments and interactions between characters (with a nice kick ass moment).

The book's tone is full of resignation in the face of adversity, sadness when contemplating a sacrifice and blind hope in uncertain individuals. Tavore Paran is at the heart of these sentiments and for the Malazans and for the human race itself, she becomes a reliable but doubtful beacon. I think she could even be called the main protagonist, poor her, enduring responsibility even more so than Anomander Rake but surrounded my mistrust. Then, there's the Crippled God himself who was at the heart of the tale for quite some time but not as an ultimate nemesis for a retributive army. He's a tinkering foreign deity that influenced so many elements by his fall that he became an unwilling centerpiece. I'm not quite certain that Steven Erikson saw the God as the character he ends up to be from the start. I'm pretty sure that that cornerstone role was in his plans but not that he would be modeled that way. I won't spoil but you're in for some surprises.

Hopefully, we are granted with a few comebacks that may have been included simply to please the reader and it's appreciated. Those cameos, always skilfully integrated to the plot are a nice thought. The only exception being Crokus... he only has a simple weird page time. But Whiskeyjack! :) Most of the great protagonists from the previous book (from Quick Ben to Cotillion) return but there was one whose change of demeanor was way too drastic. Aranict felt too different, more so if you think about the two final novels as a whole. Besides, if you were wondering like me what the hell was the Snake about, you won't feel that much clueless this time. Their thread was more connected than it seemed to.

Speaking of threads, one of them that has been going on for a while and has a lesser impact on the whole 'metastory' and is still going strong; the whole Tiste Liosan vs The Shake storyline. It's one of the storylines being closed in the novel and I would have hoped that that writing space could be used to bring a more interesting arc to the table. Even though Yedan Derryg is among a multitude of kick-ass fighters, he's not enough to keep this tale compelling for so long. And with a sheer number of amazing combatants, I would have hoped to see more prowesses in this last opus.

To finish in a concise way, I will add that Erikson writing is still inspired, the world building a strong continuity and the magic system doesn't need any more presentation. Nevertheless, sadly for me and those like me, Fisher Kel Tath is still the principal source of monotonous epigraphs... aside from quite a nice one here :
'He was not a modest man. Contemplating suicide, he summoned a dragon.'
Gothos' Folly
If you're into intelligent, sometimes philosophical, often war centered, surprising and complex series that gets completed in due time, where you will find a score of great characters among a huge cast, one of the most amazing magic system and a large scale world, you really have to pick up the Malazan Book of the Fallen. And even though you might struggle in some passages, you'll probably end up being quite satisfied that you went through the ten books.

In conclusion, I would define the tale of the Malazan book of the fallen with a quote from Hood himself. It's out of context but on its own it resumes the work of Erikson :
Let us call it a wondrous conflagration of circumstance and character, a kind of audacity which made anything possible.
Technically, the Bantam Press/Tor cover by Steve Stone is nice but the soldier has a bit too much of a Roman feeling to my taste... The map and appendix (Dramatis personae included) are as always appreciated. The hardcover edition stands at 928 pages.

The Crippled God review score :

Characterization............. 9 /10
World building............... 10 / 10
Magic system................. 10 / 10
Story.............................. 9 / 10
Writing........................... 8.5 / 10

Overall (not an average) 9 / 10


Malazan empire page


Oceaneve said...

Sounds like a difficult but completely satisfying read.

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