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Interzone Issue 205 Interview and Review of the Bonehunters

Page history last edited by PBworks 12 years, 9 months ago

First published in Interzone Issue 205


Interview by David Lee Stone author of The Illmoor Chronicles


Steven Erikson has returned. The Bonehunters is the sixth episode in the ongoing Malazan Book of the Fallen, a series which, if maintained at the current standard, will undoubtedly become the benchmark for all future works in the field.

Following the defeat of the Seven Cities Rebellion and the death of Sha’ik, the remnants of the rebel force are besieged at dread Y’Ghata. The fortress, cleverly chosen by rebel chief Leoman for its terrible significance to Malazan’s 14th Army, gives the lesser force a psychological advantage in the approaching conflict.

Leaving aside the central siege plot, there are several other ‘meanwhiles’ (a word you tend to think of a lot when immersed in Malazan’s vast tapestry). Here, even the most ardent fan would be well advised to have books one to five on hand as reference points for the many resurfacing denizens of the empire.

One should praise Erikson for his bravery: the plot-strands of Malazan are now thick as tree-trunks, and there are so many of them that you may well expect the author to get tangled in his own colossal web of invention. To his credit, Erikson manages to keep all the plates spinning – just. For a writer whose particular skill has always been his ability to shift scale with dramatic effect (and there are several impressive examples here), Erikson is emerging as a force to be reckoned with; a writer who time and again seems about to fall foul of his own ambitions, yet comes through each test, unscathed.

Conversely, one would hope that The Bonehunters marks a zenith for the introduction of new characters and conflicts, and that the ride down the far side of the mountain will be every bit as thrilling as the arduous climb to the top. There are a few gripes: one or two characters do feel a little lost in The Bonehunters, old legends from previous episodes who seem contractually obliged to trudge the land despite their irrelevance to immediate situations. Also, the endless switching routine, though expertly handled, encounters prob-lems when some sections are not sufficiently developed before the reader is whisked away to pick up viewpoints elsewhere. It doesn’t happen enough to mar the rapid flow of the novel, but is noticeable on occasions throughout the text.

Erikson is an exhausting writer, but it’s the kind of exhaustion you get after a marathon of thrills, breathless with anticipation of the adventures yet to come. Don’t miss The Bonehunters: it’s magnificent.


Each Malazan novel is stand-alone, though the series always feels like a continuous story. Is it difficult to write within the boundaries you’ve set yourself by pre-stating the number of books in the series?

I think it makes things easier. I know where the end is and what’s needed to get there. Of course, there really is no end – life goes on, and the reader should feel that in the same way that they (hopefully) picked up on that sense of continuity with the opening of Gar-dens of the Moon. We edge in to observe a slice of history, then, ten books later, we edge back out. The nice thing about doing it this way is that again and again I see where I could spin off in a new direction, exploring an entirely different piece of the ‘history’.

You have the natural gift of a storyteller. Have you always liked to tell stories?

I’m not someone who can entertain a crowd around a camp fire with some long winding tale – my brain doesn’t work that way. It’s more of a piece-meal creative process for me, and only through the physical act of writing do I begin to weave together all the dispa-rate parts. This is probably why I’m rarely befuddled by the intricacies of my own plotting in the novels. The challenge has to do with timing more than anything else; and so long as I can keep that sense of timing on track, things seem to turn out fine. At the same time, there always has to be room for spontaneity, although generally not with the main story, the things I need to advance for the series. Often, however, the spontaneous stuff isn’t directly to do with plotting; it happens with characterisation. I will have a list of characters among the initial notes. Many will be characters we’ve seen before, but others will be new (based on settings where I plan to ‘stay’ for a while, or new story elements relevant to the novel itself), and they will be simply names. And so they remain until I arrive at the first scene where we’re going to meet them; at that point I begin to invent.

Has there been anything that you set out to achieve within the first six Malazan episodes that you haven’t been able to complete?

I suppose my only regret is the challenge presented by the first 150 pages of Gardens of the Moon. New readers either get past that with sufficient interest to keep going, or they don’t. Seems there’s a fair attrition rate. I remain unsure how I could have done it dif-ferently without compromising one of the main purposes underlying that novel and the way it was written. By that, I mean it was intended to arrive, if you will, at high speed - straight into an ongoing story with people in it who have histories and baggage, and with events still playing out, while for others the dust was long settled, only to be stirred awake again. So, it’s a ‘beginning’ novel that is without a beginning, and that presents serious challenges to the readers.

Bonehunters also felt like a very important book, even compared to the first five. Would you say it is turning point for the series as a whole?

It certainly launches the last major arc but generally, I end up feeling that the most important one is the one I happen to be writing at the time. I know, sounds smarmy, and it’s probably some delusional thing I exercise to maintain momentum, but there it is. So far, Reaper’s Gale has felt kick-ass pretty much from page one…which I take to be a good sign.

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