Night of Knives by Ian C Esselmont
Ian C Esselmont forms the 2nd half of the co-creators of that absolutely delightful world, called the Malazan Empire of the Fallen, which from my previous posts, you are quite aware, is my number one favorite epic fantasy series.
If you paid attention, I think Steven Erikson dedicates the "Gardens of the Moon" to his partner and co-conspirator Ian.
Night of Knives picks up from the richly drawn out canvas that Erikson's already painted, and I consider myself fortunate to have timed this one so perfectly – I finished the first 5 books and the sixth one (from MBotF series) is actually set in the Island of Malaz; re-introducing characters who first come in Ian’s Night of the Knives. So this was a lucky piece of timing, (Thanks, Oponn!!) Anyways, coming back to the book, this one’s a real size zero compared to the hefty tomes that Erikson spins out un-failingly year after year. Probably around 500-odd pages. And all of it recounting events set on the famed Malaz Island over one single night, probably a lot earlier than the events that unfold with Gardens of the Moon.
Ian writes with flair, breathlessly like he’s got no time to waste, packing a lot into that slim book, filling it up with tense action, wheels-within-wheels intrigue, flash backs into the history of the Empire (My favorite bits!). But somehow, all along the way, I missed the familiar comforts of Erikson’s beautiful prose, his sardonic humor (think Bridgeburners or best, Tehol and his manservant Bugg! Rib-tickling funny!) and lovely philosophical ramblings even as the original plot moves on effortlessly. Not to say I didn’t enjoy Ian’s writing, he has it easy if I may say that, as the world is already fleshed out for him and he can take his elements from this beautiful canvas and splash them along into his work. And he does that with élan, bringing his own unique style. I loved his military clash scenes, where I think he really comes into his own and chugs along.
The best part about this book is the fact that the plot is linear and told mainly from the point of view of two major characters, one a novice thief in the streets of Malaz who meddles into imperial affairs and gets swept along( You’ve probably met her earlier in one of Erikson’s works but I can’t remember until I read Book 6 after this one!) while the second is that of the veteran soldier, who is actually not just a simple soldier, but the chosen bodyguard to the First Sword of the Empire, Dassem Ultor and is trying to live out the rest of his days in anonymity. We finally get to meet those great characters from History, who form the major backdrop to all of Erikson’s books but never really have surfaced (at least not until BOOK 6!) and truly, it was a pleasure. Thanks Ian for making those introductions!
It’s a tight plot that races along, unlike Erikson’s where you keep meandering on journeys through deserts ( Warrens, anyone?) and it has enough blood, guts and glory on the battlefield and individual titanic struggles or fight scenes to keep that bloodthirsty animal inside of you happy. Overall, a terrific beginning to the second view point of this legendary world and am happy to have dived in. Looking forward to the next one, the return of the Crimson Guard now.
A full 3 and half stars on 5. Immensely readable, but please keep your Erikson-isque expectations at bay. This is a fresh take and a splendid one at that.