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Night of Knives: A Novel of the Malazan Empire (Novels of the Malazan Empire) Hardcover – May 12, 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Steven Erickson's Malazan Book of the Fallen series only hints at the empire's distant history, which Esslemont, cocreator of the original world, explores in this dark, powerful novel (first published in the U.K. in 2004) and its planned sequels. On a Shadow Moon night on the Isle of Malaz, dead souls rise and demonlike hounds attack any who dare to leave their homes. Knowing that Emperor Kellanved is prophesied to use the Shadow Moon for his own ends, the emperor's enemies gather on the small island for their own nefarious purposes, starting a plot that spirals into bloody violence. Esslemont nails the feel and flavor of Erickson's books and brings the historical characters to life with a dexterity that will win over even the most skeptical fans. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.
"Esslemont nails the feel and flavor of Erickson’s books and brings the historical characters to life with a dexterity that will win over even the most skeptical fans."--Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
"Enticing introduction to the Malazan series."--Library Journal
“Night of Knives marked the first installment of the shared world we had both envisioned.”—Steven Erikson
Top customer reviews
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The first is that it could have used a better editor. Or more editing. Or a couple more drafts. I don't know if it was just the ebook version or what but there were spelling errors, grammar errors, hell one of the sentences even ended in '.mxpdf' after the period (I bought this straight from Amazon mind you). Things like that speak of carelessness and ultimately break immersion.
The second is the fact that I was inevitably comparing it to the Malazan Book of the Fallen (I just finished this past August). This is unfair because having read that masterpiece in its entirety, its not right to compare it to just the first book in Esslemont's series. And lets also be fair and say that Erikson progressed tremendously as a writer after Gardens of the Moon. Perhaps Ian will do the same. I hope he does because there were some amateur issues in his writing. For example POV issues making it unclear who is speaking because the dialogue will be on the same line, with no break. That happens often. One would think that Steven Erikson or someone could have helped him out with that. I mean, Erikson had seven of his Malazan books out at the time this was published.
Anyhow, complaints aside I really did enjoy the book. I was itching to get back to the world of Malazan and I slid right back in very comfortably. This is a short read, and takes place during just one night (hence the title). Fans of the Malazan Book of the Fallen will be pleased with some flashbacks in this one, as well as some easter eggs and events that fill in a few blanks that Erikson left. Temper is fleshed out and less mysterious after reading this, and I enjoyed Kiska as well, a character that did not appear in Erikson's books. Overall I'm glad to have picked it up, and will definitely continue the Malazan Empire stories. I'm just looking for a little more out of Esslemont moving forward.
My initial reaction is that the world is familiar, but the experience is not the same. A great world in the hands of just any author simply will not do.
On the plus side, I have to admit that it is exciting to read about Kellanved, Dancer, Surly, Tayschrenn, Dassem, the Hounds, and others that you know at least fleetingly from Erikson's series. But Erikson has deftly built up such mystery and intrigue surrounding them that they fall flat in the hands of Esslemont. This story just was not compelling.
There are two main characters. Both are terribly clichéd. One is a grizzled veteran. He was a great warrior who served his time and has now chosen to live out his years in anonymity on the Isle of Malaz. The other is a young girl who wants desperately to get a ticket off that island. Her greatest desire is to prove her worth to the Empire so that she can join its ranks. Nothing new or special draws the reader to the characters. We inhabit their heads, but they are fairly one dimensional.
Over the 280 pages or so, we spend a night with them. The narrative is largely devoted to that one night - the night of the shadow moon over Malaz. We do get a couple back stories from each of the main characters' lives that take up some of the space. Sadly though, most of the space is consumed with overly wordy descriptions of places and things that just do not matter (helmets, armor, architecture, etc.). Even with all the descriptions supplied, I still could not envision much of it or inhabit the story. It was dry and mechanical and overdone. The story could have been told in less than half of the space. Yet with only two main characters, there was undoubtedly pressure to pad the content.
The ancillary characters are just shadows. We meet Bridgeburners, members of the Claw, and cultists who were nothing more than fodder. We do not get to know them or care for them at all. The main characters I mention above from Erikson's series figure centrally in the tale but have modest roles in the story itself - the Hounds do bay and howl a lot (and chew up some things).
Esslemont is a scholar and must possess a wonderful imagination to have co-created this world. One hopes his writing skills improve. Perhaps his second novel is much better - I truly hope so. But "Night of Knives" simply is not worth the money. Right now I am disappointed that Erikson will not be presenting the entire world to us. And though I imagine I will buy "Return of the Crimson Guard" when or if it is readily available, I fear I will regret not being able to borrow it from a library.