Aug 23, 2010

Malazan: The recent books - The Bonehunters

Two months after the events of House of Chains, the Malazan Fourteenth Army is moving west, pursuing Leoman of the Flails and the last remnants of the Whirlwind who flee towards the city of Y'Ghatan. Meanwhile strange black ships have begun raiding the coastlines of Quon Tali and Seven Cities - scouts of the new Letherii Empire who seek challengers worthy of their immortal Emperor. But with Icarium and Karsa Orlong the Edur might have stumbled upon champions that even the twisted power of Rhulad Sengar's sword can't deal with. Meanwhile dark politics and shadow games have shifted the powers in the Imperial Court, and all is not as it seems in the Empire's heart.

The Bonehunters is the first book to show a noticeable drop in the quality of the series. Quite a lot bigger than Midnight Tides, it has less than half the plot-development and three times the aimless blabbering. Every soldier in the Malazan army seems to hold a PhD in psychology, sociology and philosophy, and it seems that every soldier does get their own PoV. The pointlessness of existence, the death of dreams, the dust of... uh... dust and other quirky topics seem to be the order of the day, going absolutely nowhere, serving no purpose whatsoever - be it plot or character development - and generally only manage to annoy the hell out of the reader.

The real drama with this book comes with the realization that it is the first one in the series to be a "bridge". There is no distinct story-arc here, like in the previous five books, no self-contained story-line with recognizable beginning and end. The Bonehunters starts at the middle and ends more or les in the same place. Most of its tremendous bulk is dedicated to traveling (and aimless blabbering, let's not ever forget the aimless blabbering), with basically two huge action sequences - one at the middle and one at the end - that take around a hundred pages each. The battle of Y'Ghatan being the supposed focus of the novel, it is a little surprising when that story-line is dealt with halfway through. But then focus shifts to Malaz Isle and the intrigues surrounding Empress Laseen, and the finale is a gigantic city-sprawling convergence where characters are at their most over-the-topness since the beginning of the series. It is not very well structured and with its exuberance it sort of misses the point.

Erikson's style doesn't seem to change noticeably between books five and six, yet The Bonehunters is a much slower read than the previous ones. It is not the quality of style, but the balance of it. Pointless introspection (and as someone practically worshiping Scott Bakker, I hope you will believe me when I say that I actually love introspection when it's done right) takes up way too much space, and suddenly the series stops feeling like it wants to tell a story, instead giving the impression that all stories end with tears and despair, so why even bother telling them. There are some very unfortunate decisions plot-wise (a trend that only worsens in further installments) as characters with a lot of promise meet an untimely demise that does nothing to move the plot forward or make any relevant point. The only argument in defense of this syndrome that I've heard - that we are not all heroes in real life, and sometimes good people die for no reason - is, forgive my French, retarded. The Malazan Book of the Fallen is anything but a representation of real life, and I expect a certain amount of, well, structure and internal logic from my epic fantasy...

The Bonehunters was a huge disappointment to me, after the glory that was Midnight Tides, and even though it is hard to distinguish between it and the two other disappointments that followed it, I think it's still my least favorite in the series. However, the book does have its good moments (especially the Y'Ghatan sequence is amazingly well done and would've made a lot better climax to the book than the actual one was), plus if you've gotten this far, it would be a lot bigger waste of your time not to press forward than it would be reading this book. Besides, a lot of people actually liked it more than I did. Unfortunately, it was the first sign that no, the Malazan Book of the Fallen was not to be the exception to the rule - the one epic series to not drop in quality halfway through. I guess that's what makes disappointment even more bitter.


Next: Malazan: The recent books - Reaper's Gale


  1. There's also the pretty cool Paran sequences though. The Jaghut underworld stuff was pretty neat, despite reviving yet ANOTHER character (how does one type italics in comments anyway?). And the Poliel+Hounds part was awesome to say the least.

    What one really can't forgive Erikson in the BH though (apart from every passage containing Heboric) are those two immensely annoying moments - Hood and Paran striking a deal we will obviously NEVER learn the truth about; and the answer to the life, universe and everything that apparently dawned on Cotillion at the end of the book that we will - of course - NEVER learn the truth about..

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. I think the fact I didn't even remember those two things further proves how much I am trying to pretend the book does not exist.

    As for formatting - it's the same as in message board, but with <> instead of []