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Reaper's Gale review

The latest Malazan Empire doorstop

Author: Steven Erikson

Publisher: Bantam

910 pages • £12.99

ISBN: 978-0-593-04632-6


Astonishing as it may seem, there are certain rules when it comes to writing reviews for SFX. A number of these concern reviewing fantasy novels, including the following stern commandments, sent out with every commission: don’t bother pointing out that they’re very long and feature lots of people with funny names.

Except what do you say when, at least in part, an author’s schtick is tied up with writing such novels? To borrow an idea from industrial design, form follows function – and if the function of a Steven Erikson novel isn’t to be the biggest, baddest fantasy novel imaginable, packed with the curiously named, then what is its function?

As perfected over seven Malazan novels (and counting), Erikson writes fluent epic. You want a mad emperor, court intrigue, difficult deities, brave deeds, battles, blood, wild magic, a rotten society beginning to collapse, dragons, a quest? They’re all here.

Less welcome is that other trademark of epic fantasy, portentous prose. Take this: “Oh, he had known times of violence; he had walked the ashes of dead empires, but his own sense of destiny was, even then, ever untarnished, inviolate and absolute.” Even said of The Errant, a god whose power to foresee the future has dimmed, it’s a hell of a sentence for any character to live with.

Still, having imparted a sense of doom, Erikson certainly follows through with visceral action, while his ability to tie different narratives together is impressive. There’s much to admire here, but maybe that’s ultimately something of a problem. Unless you’re a confirmed fantasy fan, there’s quite literally too much to admire – about 300-400 pages too much.

Jonathan Wright

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