03 January, 2013

Review - The Crippled God (Malazan Book of the Fallen #10) by Steven Erikson

I started reading The Malazan Book of the Fallen just over four years ago, so finishing the final book of this ten volume epic is kind of a big deal for me. It's been a big part of my life in fact and it's odd to be at the end even though I know there are plenty more to go.

So you can imagine this series has had quite the impact on my life. When I go through my books to see which ones to sell or give away I call it "culling the nobility." It's pervasive. :) (wait, are emoticons allowed in Malazan reviews?)

Gardens of the Moon was actually the first present my wife gave me for my birthday. We didn't have tons of money then (and still don't), but I couldn't have been happier receiving hours of entertainment and who'd've thunk how many hours it would end up being. Best. Wife. Ever.

I was immediately drawn in and stunned by the vast imagination that is contained within those pages of even the first book and to come to the end it's even more amazing to see how far the story develops. At the moment, I'm even doing a reread of Gardens, which is like reading a completely new (and easily understandable) book. To see these characters early on and how far they come has been pretty fun already.

The Crippled God [US] [UK] actually has a lot of parallels with the first book and to warn you right now, we're headed into spoiler territory, but I assume if you've read this far, you've probably already read the whole series as it is anyway. 

In Gardens of the Moon, I loved the idea of that the whole plan was to release something of great power that would force your enemy to do battle and then your enemy would be weakened enough for you take on and beat. Yes, that is exactly how Erikson puts it, he's THAT good of a writer. :)

Gardens uses this to weaken Anomander Rake, at least that's the goal and The Crippled God a similar tactic is used by the Gods Errastas, Sechul Lath, and Kilmandaros, but on a grander scale - releasing the Otatarial dragon to weaken Draconus among others.

Both Gardens and TCG focus on the adjunct, although different adjuncts, and TCG mentions lots of events that happen in Gardens - talking about Lorn, the scene in the prologue to Gardens where Whiskeyjack talks to Ganoes, and Moon Spawn among others. We've come back around and I really appreciated these nods to the earlier work.

My one major criticism of this series is that it tends to be a downer for much of the book. Words like "gritty" and "realistic" follow this series and while for the most part it's true, I have a hard time saying something is realistic when it ignores the good in people and society completely and focuses and has a cynical outlook on just about everything. That's not to say this series does, there are moments of awe-inspiring goodness, but they are few and far between. I prefer to think of it as this world and its gods are unredeemable, which is to say it's not that realistic. I don't think Erikson has claimed as such either, it's been the reviewers and fans.

While I have had my difficulties with some of the previous volumes, they fail to take away from the fact that this series is incredible. Everything about it blows my mind and even some of the difficulties I've had I have been able to resolve. 

One of those being the fact that everyone, rich or poor, old or young, seems to have the need to philosophize. It was in a recent interview or podcast (I just can't quite remember which) that Erikson mentioned essentially that those who have been through the most are the wisest among us. This is something I had actually already known, but needed reacquainting with the idea. Not that I am wise, I've lived quite the privileged life even without any money, but I've talked with people who've been through a whole lot more than me, like an African refugee who left his country because his government was trying to kill him, and he and his family could tell you what life's all about. For some reason I didn't realize until then how much it applies to these characters in this book who are really suffering.

There's really not much more to say than what I've said in my article, Why You Should Read The Malazan Book of the Fallenwhere I've attempted to convince people to read the series. In addition, I just don't have time to really get into a good review (yes, I'm studying for the bar...again), especially one that this series deserves, so below are a number of quotes with some commentary here and there throughout.


The humor is still there, at times even Tehol makes "appearances" though not actually in person, which is always a good thing since he's arguably my favorite character in the entire series. Here's one instance I found terribly funny especially in my stage of life (baby twins and two year old):

"'Then I'm going with you. My wife can go somewhere else. She keeps talking about babies but I don't want babies - they get in the way of having fun, and people who end up having them spend all day talking about how great it is, but they look miserable even when they're smiling. Or worse, there're those ones who think their baby is the God of Genius reborn and even its poo smells like flowers, and all they do is talk about them for ever and ever and it's so boring I want to run away...' 
'A rather uncharitable view, Ublala.' 
'I don't give nothing for free, that's for sure. Whole people disappear when a baby arrives. Poof! Where'd they go? Oh, I know, they're crawling around making baby noises. It makes me sick." He ducked the rock Ralata threw at him..." p. 522
But of course, Erikson delves deeper as well, leaving you to ponder your existence, to see the futilities, the baseness, but also very often he leads you to hope:

"I could run until I wear out. Every joint, every bone and every muscle. I could run until my heart groans older than its years, and finally bursts. 
I could damn the poets and make the metaphor real. We are all self-destructive. It is integral to our nature. And we will run even when there's nowhere to run to, and nothing terrible to run from. Why? Because to walk is just as meaningless. It just takes longer." p. 389
This took me a few times, but it's dead on:

"'"When wisdom drips blood fools stand triumphant."'" p. 628 (Brother Diligence quoting Gothos' Folly)
I recently moved from a smaller town to a big city and this one really got me thinking:

"He wondered at all those lives, the way few would meet the gazes of their fellows, as if crowds demanded wilful anonymity, when the truth was they were all in it together - all these people, facing much the same struggles, the same fears. And yet, it seemed, each one was determined to survive them alone, or with but a few kin and friends offering paltry allegiance. Perhaps they each believed themselves unique, like a knot-stone in the centre of the world's mill wheel, but the truth was there were very few who could truly make claim to such a pivotal existence." p. 749
It's sad we tend to look away or even attempt to work things out on our own when it's unnecessary. Why can't we just help each other along through this existence instead of ignoring, judging, and leaving people behind. My wife says that this is why things like the shootings in Sandy Hook happened - people just don't get enough love in their lives. I can't say I disagree.

I fitting summary of the series title and it's meaning:

"In that Malazan Book of the Fallen, the historians will write of our suffering, and they will speak of it as the suffering of those who served the Crippled God. As something ... fitting. And for our seeming fanaticism they will dismiss all that we were, and think only of what we achieved. Or failed to achieve." p. 330 
Here's one I found particularly humbling, I didn't know Erikson even read my blog:

"Gesler took her face in his hands and kissed her hard on the lips. 'Teach these lizards, Kalyth, only the best in us humans. Only the best.'" p. 771
Another very interesting quote that I heartily agree with:

"'It is not enough to wish for a better world for the children. It is not enough to shield them with ease and comfort, to make the future's world a better one, then we curse our own children. We leave them a misery they do not deserve; we leave them a host of lessons unearned.'" p. 783

The Crippled God is a fitting ending to quite possibly my favorite series of all time. It's more epic than I could have ever imagined and the action does not disappoint especially in the end of each book. Neither does Erikson's ability to drag emotions from you whether you want it or not. The Malazan Book of the Fallen will be the high water mark for epic fantasy for years to come, it's brutal, it's genius, it's an experience unlike anything else.

5 out of 5 Stars (A Masterpiece of Epic Proportions!)

Malazan Book of the Fallen by Stephen Erikson (read in red)
1) Gardens of the Moon 
2) Deadhouse Gates 
3) Memories of Ice 
4) House of Chains 
5) Midnight Tides 
6) The Bonehunters (review)
7) Reaper's Gale
8) Toll the Hounds (review) 
9) Dust of Dreams (review) 
10)The Crippled God

Malazan Novellas
1) Blood Follows
2) The Healthy Dead
3) The Lees of Laughter's End
4) Crack'd Pot Trail
5) The Worms of Blearmouth

Malazan Empire by Ian C. Esslemont
1) Night of Knives 
2) The Return of the Crimson Guard (review) 
3) Stonewielder
4) Orb, Sceptre, Throne
5) Blood and Bone
6) (forthcoming)

The Kharkanas Trilogy
1) Forge of Darkness
2) (forthcoming)
3) (forthcoming)

Explanatory Note: If you're wondering where the other reviews are, they don't exist. I started blogging midway through my Malazan reading, but if my reread goes well, there may be at least a couple additions.


Ryan said...

Wow. You did it! Have you read the ICE material? Do you plan to read Erikson's new Malazan world material?

I always struggled with the sense that each MBotF read felt more laborious than pleasurable as a read.

Epic reading achievement! What giant sprawling series will you tackle next?

darkul said...

IMHO this was the best reading experience I ever had. I doubt there was ever something that complex and rewarding as this story concerning fantasy literature.
Definitely a must-re-read to experience the whole unforgettable value.

SE defined a new peak for the word "epic". Some authors whose stories were believed to be epic have to be ashamed by what SE and ICE developed and wrote. Written always with the highest literary standards and in an unbelievably exact timeframe.

I hope there will be more exciting moments in the releases to come. ICE and SE will keep my grin widened.

Bryce L. said...

@Ryan - I know, I can't believe it. Yes, I'll definitely be reading the rest of the ICE books and Forge of Darkness someday. I don't know when that day will be, but some day I'll catch up. :)

I need to catch up on WoT and probably Janny Wurts' Wars of Light and Shadow will be the next really big/very complicated epic to tackle. I guess I'm a masochist.

Bryce L. said...

@darkul - Well put, complex and rewarding go hand in hand with Erikson's books.