Ian C. Esslemont – Night Of Knives

Recently I’ve read the other Malazan novels by Ian C. Esslemont, Return Of The Crimson Guard and Stonewielder. As Night Of Knives (2004) is a more standalone novel and takes places several years before the events of the other two novels I didn’t feel the direct desire to reread it with the others. However, moods take me how they like and so I decided to read it again after all, as it had been several years and I had forgotten most of it. What surprised me, mainly because I had partially forgotten, was that several characters in Night Of Knives were familiar and also play a (minor) role in the other two novels by Esslemont, albeit the fact that they take place a long time later.

Although Night Of Knives has the characteristic style used by Steven Erikson, the other author writing about the Malazan Empire, and Esslemont, it has some important difference. First is the timescale. While the other novels can take place over a span of many months the timescale of this novel is just half a day while the size of the book is still considerable. Second is that it lacks the multiple settings and is focused on one location. And third, and most important, is that the story is mainly told through the eyes of only two characters. This last thing is so important because it allows the characters space for reflection and giving them more of a substance than normally, where actions and dialogue are mainly what the reader has to make use of. As such this novel provides a welcome and refreshing style change while retaining much of what we love about the Malazan world.

Even as the story takes place over a relatively short span of time many things happen and the story itself is complex with new mysteries and revelations that will entice the reader (and fans). Even as events are dark and gritty, it does not become gloomy as the main characters have a no-nonsense approach are not phased by the troubles and struggles on their path. One might say they should, but in the Malazan world strange events are so common in certain surroundings that it is not unlikely that they are able to behave as they do. Still the approach is sufficiently realistic in this very magical universe and after all, this is epic and heroic fantasy. The reader is provided with characters who can make a difference or do so with their actions and are not just stumbling along in the story, advancing with luck or coincidental external forces. I can say that the first thing is a type of fantasy I like a lot, while the second can vary in quality.

With his debut Malazan novel Esslemont took a huge stride into the genre and of the three I’ve read by him it is certainly still his best as it is on a similar level as Steven Erikson’s works. Still it is not easy to compare as the approach is so different. Highly recommended.

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