The Darkness That Comes After

Believe in me and I will give you eternal Salvation, said the Lord. “Can I have Might or Kings instead?” asked the tank.

Review – Night of Knives by Ian Cameron Esslemont

Posted by senseichow on March 23, 2007

The story goes something like this. Back in 1982 some guy called Steven Erikson co-created a fantasy world with some other guy called Ian Cameron Esslemont. They agree to share the rights to the world. Steven Erikson then wrote a little book called Gardens Of The Moon – and that worked out pretty well for him.

In the meantime Esslemont’s been writing his own stuff too. Night of Knives is his first published work, a short story concerning one of the most pivotal moments in the history of the Malazan Empire; the death of the Emperor Kellanved and his partner in crime, the assassin Dancer.

The story takes place over the course of one single day and night on Malaz Island – as forces from within and without the Empire converge upon the Island for reasons of their own. Esslemont makes plenty of references to characters already mentioned in the Malazan Book of the Fallen, but the stars of the show are those of his own making.

The story is told mainly through the eyes of two of those stars. Temper, a grizzled veteran (as they all seem to be in the Empire) who once served in Dassem Ultor’s First Sword, and Kiska, a local would be spy/informant/assassin. We follow them as they investigate the events of the Shadow Moon, and try to survive various encounters with other characters both new and old. Kellanved and Dancer put in an appearance, as does Surly, or the Empress Laseen as she comes to be called. Tayschrenn, the Imperial High Mage, also plays a surprising role in things.

Throughout the novel there are tantalizing references to things that Steven Erikson has only hinted at in the Malazan Book of the Fallen. We learn a little more about the enigmatic Crimson Guard; we find out what really happened to Dassem Ultor; how the Emperor finally achieved his quest for power; and more details about the Empire’s original conquest of Seven Cities.

The whole thing is well written, with likeable characters (although they all seem to have mysterious pasts better left uncovered) and plenty of good old fashioned action in the style of Erikson. In fact that might be a problem for some people, as Esslemont’s style so closely matches Erikson’s that anyone who read a proof copy without seeing the author’s name might think it was another novella from Erikson himself.

Its a minor point though, and anyone who’s already a big fan of the Malazan Empire isn’t likely to be deterred by the thought of more of the same. Anyone who’s not a fan might feel a little lost at all the references to characters and places far, far away – but again, this is nothing new. The Malazan books have a reputation for throwing the reader in at the deep end and letting them figure things out – and so far it seemed to have worked in their favour.

So in summary, a worthy addition to the series. Esslemont is currently working on another tale in the world of the Empire, called Return Of The Crimson Guard (no prizes for getting what its about). I’m not sure about release dates (Amazon doesn’t even seem to have a link for the book, so it must be a fair way off) but I’ll definitely be picking up a copy when its released.

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