Monday, July 9, 2012

The Crippled God

You might imagine that it's difficult to write about the tenth and final book in a series without taking a step back and viewing the entire series as a unit. The inertia of over 3 million words and close to 11,000 pages just does not allow for no retrospection at all.
The Crippled God alone is a difficult book to read since it bears the weight of all the unfinished narratives in the previous nine volumes. In some ways, the nearly 1200 pages feel rushed, moving often from viewpoint to viewpoint sometimes after only a few paragraphs. Needless to say, I cannot with any conscience recommend that someone unfamiliar with the other books even look at The Crippled God; it would simply be opaque to all attempts to understand what is going on.
Nonetheless, The Crippled God typifies what has made the Malazan Book of the Fallen such an entertaining and thoughtful series. Despite the cast of hundreds (if not thousands), each character has a unique voice and backstory that is brought to the fore upon their appearance. And although most of the characters are soldiers fighting for causes they sometimes barely understand, the book steadfastly refuses to become cynical. It's too easy for world-weary fighters to think the worst of people, and Erikson refuses to take that path. Instead, his writing emphasizes the individual humanity of the characters, ticking through their foibles (sometimes with tremendous humor) and ultimately the family-like nature of their companionship as they work and fight for a common cause. The resulting emotion is the opposite of cynicism—it's one of tremendous hope, especially as the human armies gather more and more unlikely allies in their struggle. These allies recognize the strengths of being human—that same hope, but also perseverance and sacrifice—and it causes them to join when otherwise they might not.
Erikson accomplishes this by actually concentrating the narrative more on the individuals in the midst of the struggle than on the global effects of the struggle. Anywhere from a third to half of the novel is interior dialogue, characters thinking to themselves about their circumstances, their histories, and their future. This also has the effect of slowing down the reading, forcing the reader to follow the trains of through that are often more twisty than the action taking place in the physical sphere. It's powerful writing, much the same that endeared the reader to these characters and their stories volumes ago. It's just more than what we usually get.
The Crippled God is a fine capstone to a magnificent series, one that will influence fantasy writing for years to come. My first two reactions upon finishing the series are indicative of its power: for the last 25 pages or so I held back tears until I could do so no longer. These are characters that I have come to know and appreciate, fully realized and brimming with personality. To read the conclusions to their paths was emotional, and to recognize the appropriateness of each was even more so. I wept not just for the loss of the characters as the last book concluded, but for the mastery Erikson used to create and portray them. My second reaction was to go back and start over, to recapture the joys of discovery and to discover more as threads I had lost over the last decade of reading were brought back together. And I am confident that I will reread them all someday, perhaps not soon as my book stack has grown large over the past few weeks. But I'm sure thoughts of the story and the characters will return again and again until I pick the books up for another reading.

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