Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Review: The Crippled God by Steven Erikson

It seems everyone loves to complain about books taking too long to get here, that author ___ needs to hurry up and finish their series. The truth is that there is more to the actual end of a series – assuming the series is any good (and you probably think it is if you read to the end), then mixed emotions dominate. Resolution is great, you know the end. However what eventually sets in and tends to dominate is a sense of loss. With the completion of Steven Erikson’s mammoth 10-book series, Tales of the Malazan Book of the Fallen, in The Crippled God (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound), the sense of loss is overwhelming, partly because of all those dark, bitter, yet strangely hopeful characters that I don’t want to see go, but mostly because of the weight of a series that titles itself a ‘Book of the Fallen’. Yes, the ending was everything I could have hoped for – I laughed and cried – but the fallen, literal and figurative, haunt me still.

Now comes the disclaimer I give every time I review one of Steven Erikson’s books. I’m a huge fan of this series, and since this review is a review of the tenth book in a series, things I say may spoil events that happen in the first nine. I don’t reveal anything huge, but be warned. Forget objectivity – for one, I don’t believe that objectivity in reviewing truly exists and I also feel that striving for it is a mistake. I embrace my subjectivity, and in this case I’m a Malazan fanboy.

While Erikson has been building to this conclusion for 10 books, books 8 and 9 (Toll the Hounds and Dust of Dreams, respectively) really start to lay out the true scope of the series. In Toll the Hounds we start to appreciate the price, the toll that is being paid by the everyman and woman in a tapestry of events designed to force a conclusion. In Dust of Dreams the resulting suffering of the price is so overwhelming that nearly all hope is lost. In my review of Dust of Dreams I said: “I can hardly imagine anything close to a happy ending for this series.” Erikson answers this in The Crippled God – he gives us hope, he gives us sacrifice, he gives us salvation. And yes, for some, he even gives us a happy ending.

Erikson is often criticized for being overly nihilistic in his writing. Yes, things can be dark and yes his characters often come to hard times and wonder if there is a point to it. But to call Erikson’s writing nihilistic is to miss the point entirely. As I so often find with Erikson, quotes from the books say it much better than I could ever.

Hedge was waiting, seated on one of the tilted standing stones. ‘Hood take us all,’ he said, eyeing Fiddler as he approached. ‘They did it – her allies – they did what she needed them to do.’
‘Aye. And how many people died for [it]?’
…’Little late to be regretting all that now, Fid.’
‘…They used all of us Hedge.’
‘That’s what gods do, aye. So you don’t like it? Fine, but listen to me. Sometimes, what they want – what they need us to do – sometimes it’s all right. I mean, it’s the right thing to do. Sometimes, it makes us better people.’
‘You really believe that?’
‘And when we’re better people, we make better gods.’
Fiddler looked away. ‘It’s hopeless, then. We can stuff a god with every virtue we got, it still won’t make us any better, will it? Because we’re not good with virtues, Hedge.’
‘Most of the time, aye, we’re not. But maybe then, at our worst, we might look up, we might see that god we made out of the best in us. Not vicious, not vengeful, not arrogant or spiteful. Not selfish, not greedy. Just clear-eyed, with no time for all our rubbish. The kind of god to give us a slap in the face for being such shits.’
…’Ever the optimist, you’
This exchange sums up so much of what the series is about, and it certainly isn’t nihilism – in fact I think you could say it’s the exact opposite. This really is a tale of doing the right thing, saving the world, and finding meaning in life along the way. Only Erikson doesn’t sugarcoat anything – he makes you take a good, long, hard look at yourself in the mirror and face the ugliness in humanity and civilization. And through all the bad, he still sees something worth saving.

At over 900 pages, The Crippled God is a beast of a book. Erikson has become known for being a bit on the wordy side (understatement), and come under a bit of criticism for philosophical ramblings that add to the page count. For me, I often find great enjoyment in those ramblings, but must admit that I’ve only skimmed my fair share of them. In The Crippled God, these are largely absent – there is so much going on there isn’t the time or space. I won’t say this book doesn’t have a bit fluff to it, but compared to some of the more recent volumes in the series, it has much less.

In this series there are endless plots and subplots fans are eager to see through, and this is further complicated by those that will be finished in one way or another by Ian C. Esslemont, the co-creator of the Malazan world who has written three supporting novels with two more to come. Many of these plots do come to a resolution in The Crippled God, many do not. Some of the resolutions don’t appear to be coming, others may be a bit unsatisfying and still others too short or too forced. However, a good many are absolutely satisfying. The ultimate conclusion offers some very satisfying resolution to some of these plots – we know what happens to these guys (alive or dead), others just seem to fade away. And the deaths, well those can break hearts. In the end, we see the beginning – two gods visit the coast of Itko Kan and a weathered veteran gives advice to a child yearning to be a soldier.

A series coming to an end is a complicated thing – on one hand, it’s over, we know the end. On the other hand, the sense of loss can be overwhelming. Erikson’s The Crippled God takes the sense of loss to another level with the sheer magnitude of sacrifice – was the cost to save the world too high, no, but still… The victory is won, but the price staggering. It’s nearly the perfect ending to the series. In a recent message to his fans, Erikson said this:
 I now share something with the Malazan Book of the Fallen: a ghostly presence in the wake of our lives. It haunts me, but in a good way. May it do the same, with a most benign touch, to you all.’
It haunts me too…in a good way. 8.5/10

And now the page before us blurs.
An age is done. The book must close.
We are abandoned to history.
Raise high one more time the tattered standard
Of the Fallen. See through the drifting smoke
To the dark stains upon the fabric.
This is the blood of our lives, this is the
Payment of our deeds, all soon to be
Forgotten.
We were never what people could be.
We were only what we were.

Remember us

Untitled poem at the end of The Crippled God


Related Posts: The Lees of Laughter's End review, Interview with Steven Erikson, Dust of Dreams Review, Toll the Hounds review, Reaper's Gale review, The Bonehunters review, Return of the Crimson Guard review

7 comments:

Adam Whitehead said...

I believe Esslemont has three more to come: the Genabackis book due out this year, with the Assail one to follow and then a final book set on Jacuruku.

Neth said...

Hmm...I though that Night of Knives was considered his first of 5. So now he's doing 6?

boros1124 said...

I love the books, but never considered myself sequences. I bought it as I read. Such as right now I go for this book is:
http://www.konyv-konyvek.hu/book_images/28a/999631228a.jpg

ito said...

I did love the book, but I also am a big fan boy so... :D
The ending, so reminiscent of how GotM starts, was a nice touch. It's sad to say goodbye to so many of them. Bittersweet.

Anonymous said...

Woah a Jacuruku book? How is that supposed to happen? Set in the past? Or is the book set inside the Imperial Warren O_o?

Curious about how the rest of these books are going to play out, and honestly I'm kinda happy that Esslemont is handling the Assail one - just seems like it could be nicely divided from the rest of the series and reduces the chances of having to remember the names to 50 new Imass.
As for Genebackis, I'm shooocked that Erikson won't be the one with the last word on (potentially) Karsa, Kruppe, Traveller, Envy, Kallor, Brood, The Mott Irregulars.. Ah man he left the Genabackis contient STACKED for his boy ICE! Aren't the Moranth there too now? Cripes!

Neth said...

@anon

SE didn't completely leave Genebackis to ICE. We know that his planned Toblakai trilogy will focus on Karsa and such (and will probably have a number of cameos or more of the survivors). So, while Karsa will probably play a role in the Genebackis book (Scepter and Orb is the prelim title I believe), it'll probably have a bit more to it. I know that ICE has mentioned that Kruppe is tricky, so I think we can expect a fair amount of him. And the Moranth come from Genebackis, so we should see a bunch of them. I'm really hoping for lots of Mott crew.

I'm pretty sure that Jacaruku will be in the present. That one will deal a lot with the ascendent Aradata and probably the Cimson Guard (Skinner vs. Iron Bars).

Nelix Q said...

Just wanna say well done on this review, and that this is a brilliant representation of this incredible ending to an in credible series. You've managed to put into words exactly what I've always failed to describe to others about this series- the incredible mixture (and ultimate culmination in this book) of darkness, hopelessness, happiness, loss, fulfilment, emptiness and above all I think, sadness. I agree that the title "The Malazan Book of the Fallen" really embodies these concepts perfectly- it makes me incredibly sad but joyful every time I think of it! Great review- it really does that book justice, thanks.

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