Night of Knives by Ian Cameron Esslemont | Book Review

A novel of the Malazan empire by Steven Erikson’s partner in crime Ian C. Esslemont. Originally developed for use in roleplaying games, Esslemont and Erikson developed the world of the Malazan empire together and later agreed to each write certain parts of the story. Night of Knives is the first of 5 (some sources say 6) novels Esslemont plans to write about the Malazan Empire. This novel was published in 2005, the same year Midnight Tides, the fifth tale in Erikson’s series was published. By that time Erikson had established the series to much critical acclaim. The standard Erikson sets, confronts Esslemont with quite challenge and he deserves respect for taking it on. But while Esslemont’s first is a decent book, on the whole I expected a bit more ambition.

Chronologically the novel is set between the prologue and the main body of Gardens of the Moon. It covers the day and (especially) the night Surly took over the throne of the Malazan empire and Dancer and Emperor Kellanved ascended to the house of shadows. The night covered in the book describes a once in a century occurrence, the shadow moon, a convergence, a time when the boundaries between the world and the magical warrens are particularly thin. Several parties have decided to take advantage of this fact and it promises to be a night to stay indoors for most of the citizens of Malaz City.

We see the events on this blood soaked night though the eyes of two main characters. The first is a young girl by the name of Kiska. She desperately wants to leave Malaz island and find employment with the empire somewhere. The second is a battle-hardened soldier by the name of Temper. Formerly a member of the Sword, Dasem’s personal bodyguard, he has now chosen to retire to Malaz city and has taken on a post with the city guard. Against their better judgement neither can stay inside on this particular night and they witness some events that will prove to be a turning point for the Malazan empire.

The events the books describes are largely known from Erikson’s series. Esslemont just fills in some of the missing parts of the story. That doesn’t make it a particularly exciting novel. People who have read Erikson’s work already know the outcome and will be familiar with part of the cast. I don’t really think it would make a good introduction into the world of the Malazan empire either. The book doesn’t explain a lot about events in the wider world and there are one or two flash-backs that would probably confuse someone who hasn’t read Erikson. For those who have read up to The Bonehunters, Temper’s nightmare’s of Y’Ghatan is probably the best scene in the book. On the whole Temper is a more interesting character than Kiska. It will be interesting to see if Essemont will let her make an appearance in the forthcoming novels of the Malazan empire.

I’m afraid the structure of the book leaves something to be desired as well. It contains 6 rather large chapters that mostly go back and forth between Kiska’s point of view and Temper’s, with a few others mixed in at greater intervals. Somehow I think the book would have worked better if Esslemont had used shorter chapters. The frequent changes switching back and forth in one chapter give me the feeling I am being rushed from one scene to the next.

What Esslemont does get right is Malaz city. When reading the novel, it is obvious that this is not just someone who is very well acquainted with Erikson’s work. This is his own, he knows this world. The atmosphere in the city, the characters Erikson and Esslemont share, the magical system, it all works out. Even when working closely together it is quite an achievement to get two people so perfectly on the same wavelength.

All in all I wasn’t that impressed with this novel, yes it is definitely Malazan but Esslemont doesn’t really add much to the series in this book. I expect more from Return of the Crimson Guard, the next novel of the Malazan Empire, which is scheduled for release in 2008. Enjoyable Malazan fix for the true addict, but you can afford to wait for the paperback.

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