Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Book review: "Orb Sceptre Throne" by Ian C. Esslemont

Few days ago I finished with "Orb Sceptre Throne" (this is the exact title on my book - there was some confusion with right spelling and commas), a latest installment in "The Malazan Empire" series (ah, so this is where is saw it - on the book itself) by Ian C. Esslemont. I had some big expectations from this book, since these two series set in Malazan setting are two of my favorites. Also, from my re-read of "Night of Knives", "Return of the Crimson Guard" and "Stonewielder", I expected this one to be of similar quality - not as good as Erikson's, but good in its own right. Comments that it will involve a great deal of Seguleh (on of peoples much referenced but never fully explored by Erikson) were enough to bring water to my mouth.

There will be some very minor spoilers, regarding who partake in this book, so don't read if knowing this would be a problem.

(First cover without the ships, wow!)

A surprise waited me on first few pages when I started reading "Orb Sceptre Throne", in Dramatis Personae - I knew most of the names. Sure, there are a lot of Seguleh as new characters, but since a biggest part of book is taking place in Darujistan, you will immediately recognize major players. Esslemont has "borrowed" some characters from Erikson few times, which was to be expected, since it is their joint project. But before they were characters introduced by Erikson and only briefly covered, and never POV characters (at least I think so). This time we are talking about some big names: Kruppe, Rallick Nom, Torvald Nom, Barathol Mekhar, Krull Bar's crew; and a lot of others. These are characters that took place in two or three books now, that were written marvelously by Erikson and had a solid base of fans (in case of Kruppe, we are talking about one of the defining characters of series) - so it is only natural that I was being fidgety about idea that Esslemont could take them and ruing them for me (relatively to Erikson's quality).

Regarding story, we have three and a half independent lines. The major one is of course in Darujistan. A knowledgeable fans were probably able to pick this from bare mentioning that the action is taking place there, but I will say it outright here - it extends hints provided by Erikson (some of those are trailing even from the first book, "Gardens of the Moon") dealing with the Tyrants of Darujistan. And as could have been concluded from the "pickled Seguleh incident", it involves Seguleh greatly. The half-part is connected to the first one in Darujistan, but it doesn't take place there until the very end. Second one was a bit of surprise for me - it is about Antsy (another very familiar character, although without much POV coverage from Erikson) and several other companions exploring the sinking Moon Spawn. And third one is one now typical for Esslemont involving Kiska (and Leoman) and her search for Tayschreen.

Stories are all decent enough but I must say I expected more. The one in Darujistan is good - it involves some politics, a lot of action and in its course reveals much, but not all. It had some good element surprises - Caladan Brood and his apparent loss of influence; true history of Baruk and Torud Cabal; dealing with Malazan; re-appearance of Topper in Empire affairs... Antsy's search over Moon Spawn wasn't bad either, but it provided no importance in bigger scheme of things. Mostly it reminded me to some old RPG quest where you have a company that you need to guide over some cave and use their each special ability; or to some Forgotten Realms books I've read. And for Kiska's part, let's just say that it wasn't nearly as good as her part in "Stonewielder" and I wasn't sad because of it shortness.

And now we have come to the biggest problem of this book: characters. I am very sorry to say that Esslemont blew it. Not completely and not too much, but I will not be expecting his next book very much. Most of the characters are written passable: Rallick and Torvald, Blend, Picker and rest of the gang, Malazans. Some are even written great, like Scorh and Leaf, Madrun and Lazan Door. But most important ones were not as good as they SHOULD have been to make this book work. I presume that writing Kruppe and his extravagant speech are hard - but if you can't do it right with a character this important, you shouldn't even try. And Traveller?! With few brief mentions Erikson made him good. With him as a main character in one book, he made him one of the most tragic character in whole series (and isn't this doubly true?). Esslemont did very good with him in RotCG, but here, he made me wonder who this person is? Did someone other took place of Traveller I knew? Few characters that Esslemont did on his own were nice, especially Bendan and other Malazans.

Another disappointment were the Seguleh. Well, not them in general, but in particular. Sall was only intriguing character of them. Esslemont had some great potential with Jan and could have made him tragic and great - instead he took a cheap and easy solution which could be good enough in some other series, but not in one with caliber of Malazan Book of the Fallen.

Also, what happened with Iskaral Pust and Mogora? If I remember correctly, they were both in Darujistan when we last saw them. On the other hand, I am happy that Esslemont missed to screw him also.

Regarding the style of writing, it is typical Esslemont - a lot of action and dialog, much less philosophy and need for reader to think - more straightforward then Erikson in "Toll the Hounds" that can be taken as prequel of this book. This makes it easier to follow and relax into it, but even though Erikson's style was much harder, I think it was one of the things that made MBotF what it is. Although, I am at least glad to say that Esslemont has finally started to take a grip on the humor. All in all, the book was fun to read and I finished it in few days only.

These last three books left me wondering about the future of this setting. With Crimson Guard, Korel, and now Seguleh and Moranth, Esslemont doesn't have much more new unexplored parts of the map to drain. Actually, only one that I can remember that was left unexplored is Jacuruku...

All in all, I am not very satisfied with "Orb Sceptre Throne". With solid weight of MBotF behind it, Esslemont is guaranteed to have a large fan base as his readers - but on the other hand, he has to do his part and keep as satisfied. I presume that most Malazan fans will have the same opinion of this book as mine: a good enough book with occasional brilliant parts, but Esslemont will have to work harder if he doesn't want to lose our trust, if it's not already late for that.

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