Night of Knives is a gem of a read.
Well... I'd claim to be a prolific fantasy book reader... yet I am one who, for some reason, has never read Steven Erikson. In my defence I do have the series on a shelf but just never quite got round to reading them.
So... a reviewer who has not read anything of the Mazalan Empire starting with Canadian author, Ian C Esselemont. Given all the reviews I have read on the web about this series I know, inevitably, my view cannot take in Erikson's literary achievement.
Perhaps no bad thing for Mr Esslemont.
OK, I found this single night novel to be somewhat of a rollercoaster. It became evident fairly early on that I was in a world that almost needs a reader to have prior knowledge of Mazalan, giving an unsettling feeling that was allayed as I got to the section flashing back to Temper's previous incarnation in that elite bodyguard, The Sword. I had read several reviews that somewhat accurately point out this is a companion novel to the Mazalan series; that a "fair amount of knowledge of the Mazalan series [is needed] in order to place characters and events in context." (A review on sffworld.com)
Yet, I have to say, this stood alone in its own right. I didn't leave the adventure of Kiska, Temper and the assortment of otherworldly, powerful mages, warriors, and kings or read about the Shadow realm with its Warren inhabitants such as Edgewalker, Storm Riders, et al. with anything other than pure satisfaction in fantasy well done. In a curious manner it reminded me - stylistically - of Feist's earliest series, mixed perhaps with macabre of Robert Newcombe. I liked Temper, understood the youthful impetuousness of Kiska, was equally infuriated with the cryptic utterances of her aunt/mentor, was keen to understand more about the Claws, Surly and all the other shadowy figures that silently fought in a town that was the focus for a titanic magical battle on one single night.
By the end, I wish to read more, will move onto books two, three, four swiftly.
And... for now... I'll leave Erikson on my shelves. Perhaps once I have given Esselemont the reading time he deserves I may then turn to Erikson's Mazalan, and read what, for me, may well be just the companion novels to Esslemont.
When Steven Erikson first started writing the Malazan Book of the Fallen series, tales of how it had been conceived were genuinely fun to read. Two friends – Erikson and his best friend Ian C. Esslemont – created the universe for their own role playing game. From there, Erikson desired to tell more stories, and set out to write what is turning out to be one of the greatest fantasy stories ever devised.
Not to be left behind though, Esslemont also wanted to tell stories in the Malazan universe, but from before Erikson. And thus came Night of Knives, the first instalment in what is expected to be at least five books.
Writing in someone else's universe is not necessarily a new concept, but with the Malazan Book of the Fallen, it is as if someone came along and started writing in Terry Pratchett's Discworld. In other words, it's just not like someone writing a Star Trek or Dragonlance book.
So there was a lot of pressure on Esslemont to pull off something brilliant. And he's done pretty well.
The only major problem with Night of Knives is its length, combined with its format. Picking the book up off the shelf would suggest that its mass-market paperback format would suggest that the story would be similar in length to Gardens of the Moon. However opening it up, its only 28 lines to a page, and a massive margin, you are only really getting a short story. It's a bit of a rip-off, but one you can swallow once you start reading it.
Much of the enjoyment that comes (at least for me) from reading Erikson's books, is the fact he a) doesn't treat you as stupid in b) not giving you all the information. One of those “pieces of information” is the ascension of Kellanved and Dancer to rule the High House Shadow as Shadowthrone and Cotillion. Naturally, this is where Esslemont starts.
But instead of just giving us the account of what happens, Esslemont teases us by showing it from the view of two people who – as far as I know – we won't ever see again; Kiska and Temper.
Kiska is a young girl, early teens, who is a spy in miniature for Malaz City. She knows everything there is to know about the city, all the back ways and secrets, and she puts it to good use for the commander of the city. But when a Shadow Moon appears, all hell breaks loose in Malaz City, and Kiska has her chance to escape the island which has been her home and her jail for her life.
Temper, however, has a much more lively background than young Kiska, and I can't really say too much more. But his role in the story continues that back-story flawlessly; making him a character I hope will make subsequent appearances. The well placed flashbacks and historical remembrances make for captive reading.
Esslemont may not have the Tolkien-esque attitude to his writing that Erikson does (which to some people may be a blessing), but his ability to weave a story is just as good. Night of Knives came at a time when I had had to put down Midnight Tides to read other books, but only made me long all the more to continue reading books in the Malazan Universe.
Night of Knives whether you have read Erikson's books or not, is a gem of a read. And if you have read the Erikson books, then this is a book you can't afford not to have.
Joshua S Hill, 7.5/10
Joshua S. Hill talks to Ian C. Esslemont following the release of Deadhouse Landing, the second book in his Path to Ascendency series which further explores the Malazan universe he co-created with Steven Erikson.JSH: In your [...]
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