Gabe and company are back for more banter-filled adventures in this third installment in the Ethereal Earth series. Picking up shortly after Fate Lashed left off, Blight Marked wastes no time hooking the reader and speeding to a satisfying - and epic! - conclusion. Along the way there is plenty of humorous banter, lots of adventure, more puns than you can shake a stick at, and loads of authentic character development. If you haven't started reading Erikson, you should.
There is so much that I loved in this story, it's difficult to know exactly where to start. As I mentioned, there is plenty of Erikson's trademark banter and it continues to be a lot of fun. In fact, there is probably more funny banter in this one than there was in Fate Lashed. There's just something so satisfying about a duo or team that can manage witty rejoinders back and forth while battling with a battalion of elves - or a company of knights. It's a little zany, but without becoming entirely comedic. Blight Marked is an urban fantasy adventure that draws you in with the fun banter and pop culture references. But it's much more than that as well. There is plenty of character development in this novel, and I think we see that most clearly with the main character, Gabe. The story is told from his perspective, and by the third novel in we have a pretty good idea what sort of person he is. But throughout this novel Gabe is forced to confront - and, through him, we're forced to confront as readers - how different he is. The Gabe in Blight Marked is not the same Gabe from Hero Forged. He's experienced too much, and like any living and breathing human, those experiences have shaped and changed him. This isn't really a coming-of-age tale, but there are elements of that here and they're used to great effect. This is particularly clear to see when it comes to Gabe's interactions with Heather. That relationship is definitely changing and growing as both of the characters grow and change. I'm loving it. Another area where Erikson's story excels is with antagonists. This series has always had interesting and engaging antagonists. But in this installment, Erikson knocks it out of the park. I don't want to risk any major spoilers, but I loved how I could easily see the antagonists being the protagonists in another story. There are no mustache twirling masterminds here, no dark lords seeking ultimate power for nebulous reasons. Rather, the antagonists oppose Gabe and his team for legitimate reasons. They disagree fundamentally about the nature of reality, the problem in front of them, and so obviously they won't see eye to eye on the solution. It's very true to real life, and I appreciate that very much. Whether we're dealing with Enoch or with Aka Manah, I loved the antagonists in this one. There's plenty more I could mention - Gabe is beginning to understand his magic more in this story, and I loved that aspect. The world is expanding as we continue to learn more about Umbra and the various organizations that exist. There is a ton to enjoy, and I hope you don't waste any time picking up the book and doing so.
There is very little I didn't like in this one. You could criticize the main plot as being essentially a fetch quest. However, it never really felt like that was the case. The story moves quickly, and there were moments where I felt like it moved perhaps too quickly. This is particularly true in terms of what ends up happening with some of the Igla. Frankly, I could have seen some elements of the plot really taking place over two books. I'm not disappointed that they didn't, because I think what we got in this one is great. But, even so, there were moments when I almost got whiplash from the plot moving from one thing to another so quickly - but again, not in a way that messed up my enjoyment.
Blight Marked ensures that the Ethereal Earth series will continue to be one of my favorite urban fantasy series. The dialog, the character development, the antagonists, the world building, all of these are beyond excellent and I can't wait to see where Erikson takes us next. In the meantime, pick up a copy of Blight Marked - which is currently available for preorder - and enjoy! Or, if you haven't started the series yet, get in on the ground floor with Hero Forged. You don't want to miss these!
Calvin Park, 8.8/10
Gabe is in trouble. Yeah, yeah you say, of course he is. That’s his thing. Except now he’s in TROUBLE. Serious end of the world stuff. More than before. Doubly more. Triply more. Whatever. Trust me, the shit has seriously hit the fan this time. If he doesn’t get hold of the remaining six Iglas, darkness will swallow the world whole, and Gabe is not having that happen just as his relationship with Heather is finally staring come together. His ‘why me’ attitude isn’t cutting it, it’s time to save the planet goddammit.
I always start with a plan. But I almost never finish with one.
Of course, WE know that he really IS the right man for the job, even if he doesn’t quite believe himself. And so what we have in this book is his journey to understanding and acceptance, the final steps on his path towards ‘there is no spoon’. There’s some pretty astute commentary on show, a con-artist’s playbook giving sounder advice than any self-help manual I’ve ever seen. In fact, there are so many relatable moments of self-realisation that I started to worry that Josh Erikson had snuck into my mind and was trying to write me a way out of my own problems. Thankfully, it wasn't mine, but Gabe's. As before, the CONscience chapter openers give us access to Gabe’s reflections on his own story, linking the conflicting emotions directing his inner life and the overarching narrative. They prime the reader for the choices and changes Gabe is going to make, while often giving a sneaky hint about big reveals to come. I’ve rarely seen a format like this used so effectively and here it seemed more vital than ever. It’s one of the most successful aspects of the series and one I really enjoy.
All it really takes to be a hero is to avoid slouching as you go save the day.
The absolute best bit is the comedy though. If you liked the jokes in Hero Forged but wanted more of everything, this is definitely for you. And then some. More pop culture references, more puns, more sly in-jokes, more acerbic wit, more relatable self-depreciation, more bitching with flair. I’m usually a smirk kinda girl, but this made me laugh aloud several times. It’s not just Gabe bringing it either, the whole cast are on top form. Everyone’s got such an attitude and I’m here for it. If you can’t save the world with a quip and a bit of dark-hearted banter, why even bother? I’m not even sure whether all of these characters were actually funny before, but the collective dedication to humour only served to enhance my already sincere appreciation for the complexity and appeal of each of them. Especially Aka Manah, who is excellently utilised. During a significant part of the book, I actually liked him more than the good guys. He easily matches Gabe’s level of repartee and his long suffering ‘look at the shit I have to put up with’ role frequently had me nodding in agreement. On top of this, the way his character is used to highlight the unworthiness of some of the humanity Gabe is working so hard to save is beautiful in its perfection. He’s an ends justify the means kinda god, but Erikson makes it very easy for us to see things from his side. It’s wonderfully unnerving. Particularly as we’re never allowed to lose sight of his unorthodox (brutally violent) methods.
All this humour was the perfect foil for the introspection, not just balancing it but building upon it to reveal the essence of who Gabe really is and why he continues to fight. Comedy, like life, is about connection, it doesn’t work as well if you’re alone. Before, Gabe was using humour as a shield to distance and protect himself, now it’s more of an act of openness. The difference is palpable. Most of this is probably due to his changed relationship with Heather, which was nothing but angst in the past, and here developed into something genuinely moving. It was a to-and-fro between equals that felt real and worthy of the time spent on it. I could see them fighting for each other, to the death if need be. To get that balance right, to make the reader feel and understand that level of connection and emotion, is some skill. Especially cynical people like me who look at romance with more than a little side eye.
All of the above adds up to a seriously epic book that ends with a spectacular finale of world shattering proportions. But wait! Don’t be sad… there’s more. I’m so excited about the direction this series is heading. Promises made. Deals to be kept. Monsters, mayhem, magic. Readers, we are in for something special.
Emma Davis, 10/10
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