Thursday, December 3, 2015

Night of Knives Book Review

by The Wanderer

Author: Ian Cameron Esslemont
Publisher: Tor Books
Genre: Military Fantasy
Series: Novel of the Malazan Empire Book One
Pages: 298

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Ian Cameron Esslemont’s Night of Knives is the first book in his Malazan Empire series.  If you’re not familiar with the Malazan books, Esslemont is a joint creator of the Malazan world alongside his friend Steven Erikson who wrote the Malazan Books of the Fallen. As Steven Erikson appropriately dedicated the first book in his series to Ian Cameron Esslemont, Esslemont does the same in his first book for Erikson.

The Malazan Books of the Fallen has garnered author Steven Erikson a large following of fantasy fans.  Due to Erikson’s success, Esslemont has been playing second fiddle, so to speak, as Erikson’s series was published and acclaimed first. With Erikson’s success Esslemont has a tall order to climb, and a difficult one too, as anyone who’s read Erikson’s books know there’s a lot to keep track of. Comparing Esslemont to most published fantasy authors, I can say he writes real well, better than a lot of them to be perfectly honest.  Unfortunately, and I hate to make the comparison but I find it’s impossible not to, Esslemont will have to be compared to Erikson.  Needless to say Erikson is a better writer.

Night of Knives goes into depth about the events described in the prologue of Steven Erikson’s Garden of the Moon, which describes the night Emperor Kellanved and Dancer return to Malaz Island after a lengthy absence.  In their absence, Surly head of the Claw assassins plots to secure her rule of the Malazan Empire. A lot of familiar faces return or are mentioned frequently, specifically Surly, Tayschrenn, and Dassem. With a huge cast of characters already in the Malazan world, I have to admit I was pleased that Esslemont chose two new characters to tell the story.

The new narrators, Kiska and Temper, each of whom haven’t appeared in any of Erikson’s books, have straightforward personalities.  Kiska is the more entertaining of the two.  She’s a young thief who has ambitions to become a great fighter, she sets her sights on trying to join the Claw Assassins.  However, her journey sees her unknowingly following some of the major players in the Malazan Empire. Temper allows readers into some important insights about past Malazan conquests.  He was a First Sword for Dassem Ultor and a veteran of the Malazan campaigns in the Seven Cities. His plot arc finally answers some questions about one of Kellanved’s most powerful friends.

I like the narrow focus, which is something that hasn’t been done in any of Erikson’s books.  Taking place within the span of 24 hours and only focusing on a few characters, Esslemont has chosen a way to launch his series in a way that’s different from any of the Malazan books that had come before it.

On the other end, he chose to chronicle one of the most referenced and mysterious events that have been mentioned throughout the series.  While I’m glad some light has been shed on the night Kellanved and Dancer return to Malaz Island, this an event that needs to deliver big, and Esslemont just isn’t able to do it.  It lacks a huge degree of sentiment. The betrayal of Surly, should surely be able to illicit some sort of emotional reaction, but I felt nothing. Little of the intensity or page turning excitement you would find in any of Erikson’s convergences is here either. The end result is convergence that’s kind of … meh.

Night of Knives is worth reading due to its short length – under 300 pages paperback – and because it reveals the outcomes to two significant historical events set in the Malazan world. For people fearing Esslmemont’s writing in the Malazan world would be a disaster, it is not. For people hoping Esslemont could rival or even surpass Erikson, he does not. What we have here is a decent book, and a new author with some promise.

Score: 6.5

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