Ian C. Esslemont – Blood And Bone

It does not happen often that one gets to enjoy two novels of a similar series within the time of two months. While Steven Erikson completed his run with the epic fantasy series of the Malazan Book Of The Fallen and has followed with an origin story, Ian C. Esslemont is exploring the stories that took place around the same time of the aforementioned series but were not essential to the greater story. In his previous novel, Orb Sceptre Throne, he wrapped up some leftover storylines from Toll The Hounds, this time he continues the story of The Return Of The Crimson Guard, his second novel. Does that already sound complicated? His new novel, Blood And Bone (2012), takes place around the same time as his third novel, Stonewielder. The setting is however completely different.

Let us not focus on the details of the story within the greater framework but on the book itself. There are only a few familiar faces in Blood And Bone. Most of the characters are new although a fair number of them thread in familiar setups. One could say Esslemont does these on the automatic. The rest of the charm comes from the new characters which have a rather different background. Esslemont adds two new cultures although the reader gets a limited view on their society as everyone is away on a kind of mission. Nevertheless we see many hints and most of what we do experience is interesting. The setting is different enough from the usual that Esslemont now has the chance to do some exploration that is new and create a voice that is more of his own. Even so, his style remains reminiscent of Erikson’s and as I’ve read Erikson’s Forge Of Darkness only a few months ago, he still does not manage to improve his quality to the same level. I experience his style as Erikson-light. It is still good, but he does not manage to impress.

One cause of this might be the story itself. There are like five, six main threads that are followed besides a few minor ones. While each is distinctly different and well characterized most of them suffer the problem that they all experience a similar journey as their goal is the same. The plot complexity comes from the different paths they have to take before they get there. As the environment has a rather heavy impact this means that they all experience the same things. This is logical and right, but it also has the result that Esslemont describes similar details for each of those threads. Things just get repetitive. Although the journeys are fun and interesting they do lack the real spark. There are few really engaging events. There are mainly minor conflicts and while amusing, they do not really turn the status quo. This does not have to be so for a story, but The Return Of The Crimson Guard and Stonewielder contained many powerful events that were quite captivating and lifted the story up. Things like these are missing here.

Esslemont creates many new fun characters but the cast is large and in the end most of them we won’t see again. As is typical with the Malazan novels they get limited screentime because of the many threads, although like Erikson, Esslemont is able to get a lot out of them. Many of them are three-dimensional and fairly original even if we get to experience barely a few pages of them in the total. That is still a quality that makes this series of novels stand out above the rest.

Overall the plot is quite sound and Esslemont handles the many threads well. He also has to deal with less fallout from the greater story of the Malazan universe which allows him to make the story his own. I enjoyed it a lot and despite the few weaknesses this book is still much better than most fantasy novels. There is one last comment I do want to make. Within the story are some references to revelations from Forge Of Darkness. Because of this those references might feel rather strange for those who haven’t read that novel. Personally I think they could have been left out without consequence, so I didn’t really understand why Esslemont put them in. It makes the novel less standalone than could have been.

 

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