Aug 15, 2010

Malazan: Novels of the Malazan Empire - Night of Knives

Something very strange happened in 2003. Suddenly it was announced that Steven Erikson was not the sole inventor of the Malazan world. He had a partner in crime - the Canadian archeologist Ian Cameron Esslemont. According to what Erikson revealed in interviews, they co-created the world as an RPG setting back in the early 80s. After that they agreed to both write books in it, sharing some story-lines but generally focusing on different aspects of the Malazan tapestry. Currently, Esslemont's Novels of the Malazan Empire are two - the short novella-like Night of Knives and the longer Return of the Crimson Guard - with the third one, named Stonewielder, expected to come out by the end of the year. He states that he is planning at least three other books in the series.

Night of Knives was first published in 2004 as a limited edition hardcover by PS Publishing. I still remember how impatient I was for it to come out. It was a time when I was still madly in love with the Malazan world, and the discovery of another voice telling tales in it was great news to me. The book is set between the prologue of Gardens of the Moon and the "present", within a 24 hour period on the island of Malaz, following the events that saw Empress Laseen ascend the throne of the Empire. There are also some Jaghut shenanigans, some guest-stars from the Book of the Fallen and a few really cool flashbacks showing the First Sword of the Empire - Dassem Ulthor himself. What the book also has, unfortunately, is the annoying cliche teenage heroine Kiska who - we were to believe at the time - would play a part in Erikson's books as well. Thankfully, said "part" represented a half-page cameo in the background of a scene in The Bonehunters, but this doesn't give Esslemont any points for going the way of annoying cliche teenage heroines.

Night of Knives is - honestly - nothing to write home about. It is mildly cool in a spin-off way, but it adds nothing to the backstory of the Malazan world, even though it is set in one of the most important moments of the Empire's history. And since at the time it was marketed as really important to the world-building, some disappointment was inevitable. Esslemont's writing is adequate, but couldn't compare to Erikson's in his good years, and unfortunately Night of Knives was published right after Midnight Tides - arguably the best of Erikson's work - so the comparison wasn't in the new installment's favor.

Still, the book is far from bad. It is just not on the scale of what the reader is used to when dealing with the Malazan world. More of a spin-off novella than the beginning of another epic Malazan story (which was, btw, originally the case - it was years later that Night of Knives came to be regarded as the first in a series, instead of a prologue to one), it just lacks enough focus to deliver anything more than mild entertainment. If you are a fan, you will enjoy it immensely, but if you aren't, this book isn't a good place to start. From what I hear, the following Return of the Crimson Guard is a vast improvement both in terms of plot, and writing style, but I haven't yet found the courage to try it. I will though, at some point, because Esslemont deals with story-lines that I really care about, some of which - like Silverfox and her T'lan Imass army - started in the Book of the Fallen. I can only hope that the Novels of the Malazan Empire will get better with each new installment This world has a lot to offer still, and if Esslemont is able to deliver an epic of his own, than what could be better?


Next: Malazan: The recent books - The Bonehunters

1 comment:

  1. The book IS actually still considered a sort of prologue, since the complementing series was announced to be five books long and there are five following the Night of Knives - Return of.., Stonewielder, [Jacuruku one], [Darujhistan one], [Assail one], according to Esslemont's interviews ;) IMHO Return.. does somewhat eclipse NoK in terms of plot and character development, but style-wise suffers a lot of stumble-upon sentences, terrible editing, and contrived references to the original series. You SHOULD still give it a try though ;)