February 5, 2011

Review: "The Bonehunters" By Steven Erikson

Well, we've officially turned the corner in this series--there is a dim light ahead that is the end of the tunnel.  The pieces are all on the chess-board now, and 'The Game' has begun.  The Bonehunters is Steven Erikson's sixth book in his multi-layered epic high fantasy series, "The Malazan Book of the Fallen."  I've actually moved far beyond just recommending this series for folks who love fantasy fiction.  This is a complex tale that breathes life into Erikson's fictional world; a world comprised of a uniquely awesome mythology, philosophical examinations, geo-politics, archaeology, anthropology, military tactics, a truly fascinating magical scheme, and character development and world-building that is beyond amazing.

The first five novels in the series (i.e., Gardens of the Moon, Deadhouse Gates, Memories of Ice, House of Chains, and Midnight Tides) carefully, and quite originally, place the reader in the world of the Malazan Empire.  It is an ambiguous and grey world, where sometimes right is wrong, or where wrong is actually right.  Where what occurs, what you see and what you hear is not always precisely is as it ought to be interpreted.  The Bonehunters only reinforces this notion.  

A couple of 'rules' to keep in mind as you read these novels--The First Eriksonian Law--Pay very close attention to every word written; and the Second Eriksonian Law--Not everything can be interpreted correctly initially.  I also cannot stress enough the reliance the reader must place on the maps, 'Dramatis Personae' and the 'Glossary' included in each novel.  I would also encourage the reader to carefully read and think about each of the epigraphs that Erikson leads each chapter off with.  There are always valuable little 'nuggets' that can be gleaned from these bits of prose or poetry.  It is my experience that to fully experience all that Erikson offers, the reader must simply and unhesitatingly yield and immerse themselves in the Malazan world.  And trust me, it ain't hard to do with this series!

The Bonehunters is largely the story of the Malazan 14th Army, under the command of Adjunct Tavore Paran, and its pursuit of the remnants of 'Sha'ik's' The Whirlwind' rebellion on the continent of 'Seven Cities.' The siege and battle at the city of Y'Ghatan is not only some of the most riveting military fiction you'll ever read, but the reception the Malazan 14th Army receives after the battle from the Malazan Empress Laseen in Malaz City is jaw-droppingly suspenseful.  The geo-political events/conundrums and mysteries that Erikson introduces in this novel are really nothing short of amazing and mind-boggling.  There are truly mysteries layered upon mysteries nested in this novel, and I can only look forward to the remaining novels to answer the new batch of questions that I now have.

Erikson, it now seems, has now developed and cleverly woven into the story-line all of the major and minor characters into this massive and clever plot.  While there are very, very many characters, not only in this novel, but each of the previous books; we are now reaching the stage in the series that we can see that convergences are beginning to form.  For this novel, the reader is treated to approximately 700 pages of character and plot development/build-up, and then the novel's pacing kicks into an afterburner and you simply can't put it down (I dare you!).  Fortunately, I had a long (very long) day-trip flight from Burbank, California to Denver, Colorado (and return) for a meeting yesterday, and I was able to plow through the remaining 500 pages virtually non-stop!  It bears repeating, but this series really is some of the most clever and smartest fiction that I've ever encountered.

All I can say is that if you are with the series this far; well, there is then absolutely nothing that I need tell you.  Frankly, for anyone who has read the first five novels in this series, the only question I have is--How could you quit now?  Yeah, I know, you can't.  And I completely agree.  I couldn't stop reading these books even if I wanted to--I must see how it ends, and so should you!  The plot of The Bonehunters is an eye-opener, it answers a ton of questions, and it raises a million more.  Oh, how Eriksonian is that?

By the bye, the first cover shown (at top) is the Tor hardcover edition, and the second cover shown is the mass-market paperback edition, and they're both big-time 'fat-books.'  Happy Reading!

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