Fantasy Book Critic

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"Night of Knives" by Ian Cameron Esslemont

Posted by cervantor on PM000000120000000031 1, 2008

Official Malazan Website
Buy “Night of Knives” via Transworld HERE
Night of Knives” Release Date: June 4, 2007

Any die-hard fan of the Malazan novels by Steven Erikson should know of Ian Cameron Esslemont. For the uninitiated, Mr. Esslemont & Steven Erikson are the co-creators of the Malazan world, which was originally conceived as a role-playing game. While Mr. Erikson has just seen the seventh novel – “Reaper’s Gale” – of his projected 10-volume epic (Malazan Book of the Fallen) released, Mr. Esslemont is on his debut, “Night of Knives”, which was originally published as a limited hardcover in 2004 (PS Publishing), then as a trade paperback in 2006 (PS), and now as a brand new hardcover via Bantam Press (June 4, 2007).

Since I’m somewhat new to the blogging world, it may not be apparent how much of a fan I am of the Malazan novels. It was in 2004 that I first heard about the series thanks to the Science Fiction Book Club, which was featuring “Gardens of the Moon” since it was making its U.S. debut. When learning that the first five books were already available in the UK, I purchased them and immediately devoured all five novels, establishing the series as my personal favorite over the likes of GRRM’sA Song of Ice & Fire” and Robert Jordan’sThe Wheel of Time”. From then on, I’ve eagerly anticipated the series’ two sequels (“The Bonehunters”, “Reaper’s Gale”), read the novellas (“Blood Follows”, “The Healthy Dead”), and have had Ian C. Esslemont’sNight of Knives” on my reading list for a while, which, thanks to Transworld is now a reality.

So, is “Night of Knives” worth checking out? Well, if you love any of the Malazan books by Steven Erikson, then I think you’re going to love Ian C. Esslemont. Obviously, both writers are well-versed in Malazan lore, so that’s not a problem. Prose-wise, Mr. Esslemont is pretty similar to Steven, though there are differences such as Ian’s writing, which is a bit more erudite and the characterization feels more intimate. Pacing is a bit uneven, especially in the beginning following the prologue when Mr. Esslemont is trying to establish the book’s two main characters Temper & Kiska. Of course, once events get rolling, the pace really picks up and I thought that Ian did a good job of directing the converging storylines to their compelling apex, which is somewhat a trademark of the Malazan books (convergences and so forth). Personally, while “Night of Knives” may lack the grandiose scope of “Gardens of the Moon” (“Night of Knives” comes in at a succinct 304 pages), I thought it was a more cohesive and better constructed debut. (NOTE: I’ve heard of the editing problems with the original publication, but I don’t know how much was cleaned up or changed between the two versions. I had no issues with the new edition, but it would be interesting to explore.)

Chronologically, “Night of Knives” occurs after “Gardens of the Moon”, but draws on events mentioned in that book’s (“Gardens of the Moon”) prologue. More specifically, “Night of Knives” takes place in the 1154th Year of Burn’s Sleep, the 96th Year of the Malazan Empire and the Last Year of Emperor Kellanved’s Reign. When you should read “Night of Knives” is a topic for debate. Since the book is basically a standalone story – chronicling the night of a Shadow Moon; All Soul’s Fest; the Night of Shadows when Kellanved (Ammanas Shadowthrone) & Dancer (Cotillion, the Rope) ascend to High House Shadow, Surly (Laseen) becomes the Empress of Malaz, and other pivotal events transpire – I think anybody can enjoy “Night of Knives”, veterans and newcomers alike, as both a complementary piece and a worthy introduction to the Malaz world. For myself, I had read the first six novels in the series before taking on “Night of Knives”, so it was pretty cool getting to revisit familiar places like the Deadhouse, Y’Ghatan, Malaz Island, etc.; learning more about Kellanved & Dancer’s ascendance, Dassem Ultor’s assassination and Tayschrenn’s allegiances/motives; not to mention getting introduced to the Stormriders, and recognizing all of the other Malazan references like Claws/Talons, Bridgeburners, the Hounds of Shadow, Warrens, etc. It was especially rewarding to see such characters as Edgewalker, Temper, Kiska, Agayla & Obo in the “Night of Knives”, after reading them, however briefly, in “The Bonehunters”. For those who’ve already started the series, I recommend that you at least read the first four Malazan novels by Steven Erikson, before checking out “Night of Knives”, which, in my opinion would make “The Bonehunters” a more satisfying read because of the connections. For those who haven’t, I think it’s up to the reader’s preference whether to start with “Night of Knives” or wait until later. As I said before, I think either way will work, but since “Night of Knives” is a much shorter read, it’s a pretty good barometer by which potential fans can decide whether or not they’re going to like the series.

In the end, maybe I’m prejudiced since I love the Malazan books so much, but I had a blast reading “Night of Knives” and I highly recommend it to anyone who has enjoyed the Steven Erikson novels so far. While I don’t think Ian C. Esslemont is on the same level as Mr. Eriksonif Steven’s books are the main course then Esslemont’s the appetizer – I understand that we haven’t really seen much from Mr. Esslemont yet, so as eager as I am for the remaining Malazan novels from Steven Erikson, I’m just as excited for the remaining four Esslemont books, the first of which, “Return of the Crimson Guard” is tentatively due out in Spring 2008…


4 Responses to “"Night of Knives" by Ian Cameron Esslemont”

  1. Reanimated said

    Hi Robert,
    Nice review. I was lucky to get a hold of NoK as a limited a few years back and enjoyed it quite alot. At WHC 2007 I was blessed enough to have a beer with S.E. It was sooooo cool. He’s a really great guy.
    Love the Blog.

  2. Robert said

    Hey, thanks for checking out the blog. I’m glad you liked the review. That’s very cool about Erikson 🙂 Hopefully I’ll get the opportunity one day. Thanks again, and I hope to see you around…

  3. Meetak said

    It’s not entirely true that NOK happens after Gardens Of The Moon, although it does happen after the prologue to Gardens Of The Moon,where we see Paran as a boy, but Surly/Laseen is definately the empress already during the majority of the action in Gardens of the Moon.

    Otherwise, a good review.I think it’s a huge treat to have two authors working on such a great work of imagination.If Esslemont improves the way that Ekikson did, then we’re in for another doozy of a series.

    BTW : I read NOK immediately after Reaper’s Gale, and it seemed like the right time to do it.Unfortunately for me, I’ll now have to ration out the Korbal Broach and Bauchelain novellas , which i’ve yet to find in a bookstore,until Erikson or Esslemont releases a new book.

  4. Robert said

    Meetak, that was actually an error on my part 😉 I meant to say ‘before’ “Gardens of the Moon”, but after it’s prologue. Ha, I can’t believe no one has said anything.

    Anyways, thanks for sharing your thoughts and for checking out the review. I STILL haven’t read “Reaper’s Gale” yet, but it’s sitting there in my pile just taunting me 😉

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