Friday, September 3, 2010

Book review: "Night of Knives" by Ian Cameron Esslemont

The book "Night of Knives" is first book by Ian Cameron Esslemenot, set in Malazan world. He and Steven Erikson developed Malazan world together, starting some 20 years ago. While Erikson published more than ten books set in this world, Esslemont was busy with some other things in his life and started publishing only a few years ago (as is stated in the introduction by Steven Erikson).

Even though this is a stand-alone novel and can be read without any previous knowledge about main "Malazan Book of Fallen" sequence and related world, I think it will be best appreciated by Erikson's fans (or now, better said, Malazan fans). Actually, this book could be a very good introduction to concepts, characters and history of Malazan world, because Esslemont do provides some explanations. Erikson, on the other hand, has a completely different approach to his books, so you start to grasp things when you are already into third book. But that is one of Erikson's best points, so reading first "Night of Knives" and switching to Erikson would be a major spoiling of "Malazan Book of Fallen".

So, I you haven't read Erikson's book and you are into "hard" high fantasy (more-than-complex everything, numerous characters, complicated and developed magic system, extremely detailed history of the world...), leave this book for now and start with "Gardens of the Moon". If you for some reason you think you will never read Erikson, you could read this book as stand-alone novel, but you can find much better short books than this one. Book itself (if you look at it without whole Malazan thing) is moderately good, but it fails to express all potential of Malazan world. If you have read "Malazan Book of Fallen", at least to book three ("A Memory of Ice"), you can read on....

First to say, this is a quite short book. Paperback edition by Bantam Books has mere 450 pages, but compared to regular Erikson's edition, it has quite wide margins and large font. So, compared to other Malazan books from main sequence, it would have some 300 pages. I wish I could do this without constant comparison Esslemont vs. Erikson, but that's just impossible.

Story of the book happens mostly in one night and describes events that occurred when Shadowthrone and Cotillion reached Ascension. Most of the fans know pretty much exactly what happened that night, in some view even better that is described in this book. But it is nice to see this so very well wrapped up in single book. New additions are POVs this book is written from: veteran soldier Temper and Claw-wannabe teenager Kiska. They are both worthy additions to massive collection of characters. What is really new are Stormriders. There are few mentions of them during the books, and of course, we have THAT from "Dust of Dreams", but they remain quite unexplained. This doesn't change after this book; what we have here are mostly teasers (so I expect further development and it better be good).

I must stress this: THIS IS A REGULAR MALAZAN BOOK. I don't mean just in setting; it has the feel and taste of Erikson books. Humor, emotions, morals, dramatics, tension... Everything is here. It lacks Erikson's musings about moral and philosophy, but that was a put-off for some readers anyway (and even the rest won't mind, I think). A bit more stress is put on action, but again, this is not an objection.

Main problem of this book is that is written under limitations. We (or most of us) already know the outcome, know the characters and know the setting. So Esslemont doesn't have room to play here and be completely creative. But that is mostly his own fault; he could have chosen some better place to start with his writing. I have a feeling that he purposely put this limitation on himself so he could play it safe. Still, my opinion is that he has potential for much larger, wider and expressional books. His next book, "Return of Crimson Guard" sounds like much more serious: more than 1000 pages, completely new story-line, good reviews... I definitely plan to read it soon.

So, for conclusion, I think this is definitely an obligatory read for every Malazan fan. Do not expect great revelations or new elements. But certainly a nice book for few evenings, while you are waiting for some heavy reads to arrive.

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