Monday, July 15, 2013

Book review: "Blood and Bone" by Ian C. Esslemont

Even though I liked "Return of the Crimson Guard" and even "Stonewielder", after debacle with "Orb Sceptre Throne" my enthusiasm for work of Ian C. Esslemont has dropped down considerably. His new book in Malazan setting, "Blood and Bone" has been out for couple of months. I would usually buy it as soon as it was out, but this time I just wasn't into it. Especially after reading some tepid reviews on Amazon. But in the end, I consider myself a Malazan-fanboy so I just could not leave it unread for long.


As is usual for Malazan books, there are multiple plot-lines, all connected by the fact they are happening on Jacurucu, a continent only mentioned by Erikson and Esslemont until now. Thaumaturgs, a ruling mage-class of largest nation on Jacurucu is on the move: there is another invasion targeting the Jungle of Himatan, which covers whole east half of the continect and is ruled by Ardata, Queen of Witches and Mother of Monsters. Led by Commander Golan, the army will find itself attacked not by enemy soldiers, but something even scarier, the Jungle itself: heat, humidity, wild animals, inhabitants from nightmares, bugs and diseases... But before they even reach the Jungle, on their way they will travel through poor villages between their nation and Himatan. In one of such villages, young woman named Saeng, with unique connections to the dead of Jacurucu, will be saved by her brother Hanu, who was taken some years ago to become Thaumaturg strongest weapon, stone soldier of jakshaka. In the meantime, in south, members of several Adwami tribes, including the young prince Jatal, are gathered by the call of foreign warleader called Grey Ghost, who asks of them a temporary truce and offers a common goal: the greatest raid on Thaumaturg capital ever! And on Stratem, remnants of Crimson Guard have gotten a new contract, by Ardata herself: to get rid of Skinner and his Disavowed.

Somewhere I have read that this book is intended for Malazan fans and nobody else, and I would agree with this statement. Even though is much simpler that Erikson's books, "Blood and Bone" would be incomprehensible to non-fan. There is no real introduction to characters, setting and plots, and it is expected to be familiar with prior events to appreciate all nuances and details. So, if you haven't at least read Esslemonts previous books, don't even try reading this one.

I must say I was pretty surprised by this book, and pleasantly so. The pace is pretty slow, but the book is very interesting. Some would consider it dragged and too slow, but I kind of liked it such. Esslemont even gets philosophical a la Erikson on some occasions. Esslemont is not natural at being mysterious in writing as Erikson is, but here he tries and succeeds most of the times - even though he can get tiring sometimes.

What I really liked in this book were the characters. There are some old characters, but most of them are new. There are even some old hidden as new. In general, Esslemont is much better with his own characters than when he uses and recycles Erikson's. I liked Jatal, who is noble and honorable so much that you know that it will not end well. Pon-lor starts as side-character but in the end becomes one of most important and best. Commander Golan and his nemesis Thorn are simply a great duo. But all other are interesting, too. I can only compliment Esslemont in succeeding making all parties look good and nobody bad.

Even though the book takes place on Jacurucu, you will not found it too revealing about its secrets. I know I am boring and repetitive, but Erikson would be handling it better. Nevertheless, it is interesting as it is. I liked how we get a context of where this book fits in. The descriptions of the jungle and the dangers luring there are pretty good. I was surprised how gritty and even disgusting things became on several occasions, like with the worm-parasites!

All in all, "Blood and Bone" was a pleasant surprise. Again, the book is not on par with Erikson's, but it provides the Malazan fans with an interesting plot and a revelation of new part of setting. So I would recommend it to all fans of Esslemont - though pure fans of Erikson should be careful with it.

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