The perfect finale to one of the greatest literary achievements of the last hundred years.
Much of what I want to say on having finally completed ‘The Crippled God’, the final book in Steven Erikson’s ‘The Malazan Book of the Fallen’, has to do with my feelings on the series as a whole. Ten books is a long time to be reading, a lot of investment, and I want to take my time to say what I have in my head. So stay tuned to the FBR Blog for my new series, Finishing the Book of the Fallen. I will endeavour, then, to keep my comments restricted to this tenth and final book.
How do you finish an epic-fantasy series? It’s a little like asking how do you end a history book? What exactly qualifies as the “end” of your particular field of study? When you look at the Communist Revolution in Russia, what is the final point of that field of history? Do you push it through to the death of Lenin? Or Trotsky? Or Stalin? Or the fall of the Wall?
The way to finish an epic-fantasy series is to a) give the reader what they want and b) leave them wanting more; and yes, I do believe it’s possible because I think Steven Erikson managed it flawlessly.
The Crippled God successfully wraps up a hundred details from the ten books you’ve been hankering to see resolved, and a good three hundred you had no idea even needed resolution. For a better part of a quarter of the book – close to the end – there is battle after action after battle after action. People die. People you wish would survive don’t, and those you wish would die, well, they died too. The history of the Malazan Book of the Fallen finally comes full circle. Aspects of story that Erikson has been telling all these years rear their heads from depths you had never even considered, while other threads you had been following wrap up completely unexpectedly.
There is something surprisingly sentimental by the way that Erikson has wrapped up this story. For the whole of the series, Erikson has lived by the writers’ adage “kill your darlings”. But come the end of this story, and the funerals are attended by all your favourite darlings, minus the necessary few. However, it does not take on the convoluted effort that some books end up exposing. Erikson hasn’t made a decision based on his own love for a certain character, rather, it is simply the manner in which this historical tale has been told; the focus required to attach the reader to a specific character is almost specifically engendered based on a knowledge of the outcome.
If someone was to dismiss this book as being “convenient” I would be thoroughly unhappy. Describing this book as such is testament to a fundamental misunderstanding of the story being told. Of course everything “conveniently” wrapped up at the right time; that’s how the Crippled God planned it! The whole point of this series – all ten books – is that everything that has happened, every battle and death and intervention, has happened for a very specific reason. The telling of this is therefore all the more impressive, because, in the end, this was the result of one man’s imagination (two if you include Esselmont, though I don’t know how much the two collaborate on their individual works).
Creating a pull-quote is sometimes as simple as having the right credentials and at some point use the word “exhilarating” or “breathtaking” near the book in question. Other times, a pull-quote is a perfect summary of a book by someone who really “gets” it. This time, I’m not even going to bother. The Crippled God is the perfect finale to one of the greatest literary achievements of the last hundred years. It’s as simple as that.
Joshua S Hill, 10/10
And so to and end comes what is arguably the best fantasy series ever written. This is of course subject to personal opinion and fans of Wheel of Time, A Song of Ice and Fire and Robin Hobb's trilogy of trilogies (Farseer, Liveship and Tawny) are quite able to put a very strong case forward for their favoured works but few can deny that the quality and ambition of the ten books that make up A Tale of the Malazan Book of the Fallen are unmatched within the genre.
Savaged by the K'Chain Nah'Ruk, the Bonehunters march for Kolanse, where waits an unknown fate. Tormented by questions, the army totters on the edge of mutiny, but Adjunct Tavore will not relent. One final act remains, if it is in her power, if she can hold her army together, if the shaky allegiances she has forged can survive all that is to come. A woman with no gifts of magic, deemed plain, unprepossessing, displaying nothing to instill loyalty or confidence, Tavore Paran of House Paran means to challenge the gods… If her own troops don't kill her first.
Awaiting Tavore and her allies are the Forkrul Assail, the final arbiters of humanity. Drawing upon an alien power terrible in its magnitude, they seek to cleanse the world, to annihilate every human, every civilization, in order to begin anew. They welcome the coming conflagration of slaughter, for it shall be of their own devising, and it pleases them to know that, in the midst of the enemies gathering against them, there shall be betrayal.
In the realm of Kurald Galain, home to the long lost city of Kharkanas, a mass of refugees stand upon the First Shore. Commanded by Yedan Derryg, the Watch, they await the breaching of Lightfall, and the coming of the Tiste Liosan. This is a war they cannot win, and they will die in the name of an empty city and a queen with no subjects.
Elsewhere, the three Elder Gods, Kilmandaros, Errastas and Sechul Lath, work to shatter the chains binding Korabas, the Otataral Dragon, and release her from her eternal prison. Once freed, she will be a force of utter devastation, and against her no mortal can stand. At the Gates of Starvald Demelain, the Azath House sealing the portal is dying.
Soon will come the Eleint, and once more, there will be dragons in the world.
I am not going to review The Crippled God as such. Anybody reading this review has likely already read the preceding nine books in the series and is going to read The Crippled God regardless of reviews. The one thing that I will say is that this final instalment does actually offer (shock, horror) more answers than any of the books that came before (all of which posed more questions than they answered but such was their nature).
What follows is going to more a celebration of the series (whilst looking into why some simply don't like it) as I honestly do not think that there is anything that I can add that I have already been said. I have run out of superlatives. Luckily, on Fantasy Book Review, alongside the full reviews, there are reader reviews. These help form a far better overall impression of a book/series and so I'm going to spend some time sharing with you what readers around the world think of Erikson's Magnus Opus.
The series began, well over a decade ago now, with Gardens of the Moon, a book that threw you in at the deep end. Many swam, some sank. Daniel from Reading fell under its unique charm immediately, commenting that “Steven Erikson is the best fantasy author to come along since Tolkien. His narrative is spellbinding and the characters are as life-like as you could wish for.”
These thoughts were echoed by Gaz from The Malazan Empire, "Wow, what can I say. Fantasy like this does not come along all that often. The imagination of Steven Erikson is incredible.”
And these sentiments echo my own but, as with all books, Gardens of the Moon was not for everyone.
“These books were the worst books I have ever had the privilege of reading. His writing is absolutely atrocious, vague in the worst way. Steve Erikson switches between countless different POV which even some of the most hard-core fans will say is a major flaw. Hey, maybe it's just not my cup of tea. But then author uses Deus ex Machina to an extreme, almost as if he were writing a soap opera. Eventually I just put it down because of the sheer and utter ridiculousness of the plot line,” said Chance from America.
Jason from Champaign, Illinois agrees, “Gardens of the Moon is one of the worst books I've read in recent years. There is no cohesive plot, the pace is tiring, and the characters are largely one dimensional. The author's idea of world-building seems to involve peppering the dialogue with myriad names, places, etc., that are unsupported by the plot. While I appreciate the focus on mythology and ancient races, it comes off hollow without any hint of how it all ties into the present. Cities seem to be names on a map to serve as different settings for action; there is nothing distinct about any particular location. With few exceptions, the characters are archetypal, with little development to foster any sympathy with them or for their cause."
And I can understand both views. The Malazan books will not be for everybody but if they are, goodness me, you are in for a treat.
I noticed that the majority of negative reviews were coming from the US. Was is possible that this type of fantasy simply doesn't appeal to US readers? (A bit of an over-generalisation I know but there are subtle differences between what US and UK readers generally like reading about).
But then Emily from Seattle said, “This is a perfect start to what may be the best fantasy series I have ever read. Complex fantasy, rich characters, involving story. I found that I had to re-read the book as I felt that I'd missed too much first time around. I'm glad I did, it was even better second time around, Kruppe is a great character".
That put paid to that argument.
But the last word on Gardens of the Moon should go to, like Erikson himself, a Canadian, ”Like Quick Ben from New Zealand said, these books are frustrating... but also incredibly rewarding. They're frustrating because they jump around through dozens of POVs and the enormous scope of the series makes it difficult to follow. Also, the way that Erikson writes is highly ambiguous, but this is not necessarily a bad thing. It makes the story more mysterious and adds a great deal of unpredictability and even a certain poetic quality to the writing. The series is rewarding because it is incredibly creative, there are tons of amazing battles involving powerful characters and even gods, and the climax of virtually every novel is mind-blowing, without fail. Once you make it to book 3 you'll start to see the bigger picture of what is unfolding... and prepare to be amazed,” said Tom.
I couldn't have put it better myself. In fact I never did. Well said Tom.
The Malazan series is a towering achievement: Brave, ambitious and skilfully executed. Yes, it may not be for everyone but that is true of just about every book every written.
And I will leave you with these words from Scotland's finest, Deggsie "Brilliant book, brilliant series. No other fantasy author manages to keep up this level of excellence so far into a series. This is the kind of series that I'd hoped Robert Jordan was going to produce but failed. Fingers crossed, Erikson might see this one all the way through..."
The news is good Deggsie, he saw this one all the way through, The Crippled God is an excellent book and a fitting, exhilarating and poignant end to the series. I highly (think Everest) recommend that you read A Malazan Tale of the Fallen but also suggest you put your toe in the water before jumping in - the introduction of samples on the Kindle are perfect for this – get a sample of Gardens of the Moon, read it and see what you think. Yes, you will probably be every bit as lost and confused as I was but you may also find that there was something unique about the writing, the characters and the worlds, something so special that you will happily put in the dedicated reading necessary to enjoy a series of this scope and majesty.
Lee, 10/10, September 2011 (currently re-reading the entire series)
9 positive reader review(s) for The Crippled God
161 positive reader review(s) in total for the A Tale of the Malazan Book of the Fallen series
Steven Erikson's ongoing fantasy series, the Malazan Book of the Fallen has brought new life and originality into the fantasy genre. Steven Erikson kindly spoke to Fantasy Book Review in September 2009, shortly after the [...]
Dan from England
A fantastic end to a fantastic series. Certainly rewards those who made it to the end. To Tom from Withernsea, I think you need to read back your own review and realise the immense hypocrisy of your statements. Furthermore, I'd place a heavy wager that Ol' Will himself would love many of the narratives in these books!
Anon from UK
The Crippled God was an exciting read...perfectly wrapping up various story threads. I must say that I came across the Malazan series after all the books had been published and I had the pleasure of reading all of them without having to wait for the next volume. Wonderful pace. I love the way the book made me pause and think about the power of words particularly with Badalle. The shock that came with the twist about Kaminsod was crazy and sometimes I wish I just forget about all I know about the series and read over again. Erikson is a great author. If you want a series that will break you down and reconstruct you... just try him out. And don't worry if you are confused by something. Remember it's a world not a single continent. Definitely not all the characters have been throughout the world and Erikson explains things from his characters' knowledge. If they've not seen it you won't. Exciting book. Rated 10
Aaron from USA
Just plain impressive. Like other reviewers, I understand that there are those that may not appreciate the series, no other books I have experienced have been so complex and multifaceted. It was worth the years waiting for each book. Take the opportunity to read a complete series and while not as complex, I highly recommend Ian C Esslemonts companion series that has also just completed.
Chris from Switzerland
In one word: EPIC. And to Tom from Withernsea: You, who ask others to be rational when comparing Erikson to Shakespeare, might want to be a bit rational yourself and read a book before making statements about it and its author...
Isaac from USA
Addressing the guy who said that these books cannot, by the virtue of their being fantasy, live up to the likes of Shakespeare, I disagree. I don't actually read very much fantasy. I like it a bunch, but most fantasy authors are populist entertainers on the level of John Grisham or Michael Crichton. Steven Erikson is not. I've read mostly classic "literary" books in my life: Tolstoy, Joyce, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, yes, Shakespeare, etc. etc. I've read and enjoyed Cormac McCarthy and other more modern "serious" authors, like Thomas Pynchon. Erikson stands head and shoulders with most of them as a prose author, and as a teller of tales that evoke great emotion and increase my understanding of myself and of humanity as a whole, nobody else comes close. I think that, beyond being one of the best works written in the last 100 years, The Malazan Book of the Fallen is one of the best English works of literature. It's a damn shame, in a way, that it's inside of the fantasy genre, because then close-minded purists will never find out what an amazing, staggering, awe-inspiring literary achievement they're missing. I fully expect a day to come when some literary critic from the Times "discovers" Erikson.
Tom from Australia
I can't help but feel people who negatively review this book or series have no idea what they're talking about. I mean, how can you read these and not see their brilliance? Easily the best series I have read in this genre, everything was fresh, exciting and the relevance of his social commentary to the here and now is highly engrossing. I cannot recommend these books enough! To all the haters out there, I actually feel sorry for you. To be unable to comprehend this brilliance is a real shame.
Dave from Stalyvegas
Steven 'Shakespeare' Erikson.....no that doesn't do the author justice, Shakespeare was never this good. Mesmerising, mindbogling, epic, entrancing, moving, funny, frightening, awe inspiring... Thank you for having such an impact on my life. I have spent the best part of 10 years reading and re-reading your books. I like other before me have to pay tribute to many of the characters you created, Kruppe, Icarium Lifestealer, Karsa Orlong, Quick Ben, Whiskeyjack, Fiddler, Adjunct Tavore to name but a few. Hehe when's the film(s) coming out?
Michael from Philippines
This last book has achieved the height of my expectations. All the building-up for the final showdown that happened from book one have indeed been met with probably the most fantastic ending I have ever read. The emotional roller coaster it has given me is unmatched by any other fantasy series. I am still quite confused that other people don't like this series as I am having a difficult time of determining their reasons. With the conclusion of this series, I sincerely hope that people will finally recognize this series for what it is. The greatest series ever. Cheers to Steven for a job well done. Can't wait for the Kharkanas Trilogy.
Erik from Sweden
I don't think I can express in words how excellent and fantastic I found this series to be. I can fully understand that some may not like these books at all, but I do. When I started reading the tenth and last book of Steven Erikson I was a bit afraid. With a bad ending much of his work would fall apart, but oh no. The tenth book was superb. It was a long journey, and I enjoyed every bit.
10/10 from 10 reviews