Return of the Crimson Guard: A Novel of the Malazan Empire (Malazan Empire Novels (Unnumbered)) Hardcover – April 13, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
"Riveting sequel to 2009’s Night of Knives."
--Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
"One can become enthralled with a well-created universe replete with epic heroes, battles and a fascinating mosaic view of the struggles of a world-encompassing empire."
--RT Book Reviews
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Well, I'm impressed. After the disappointment that was Night of Knives I did not think that Ian C. Esslemont was going to draw me in to the Malazan world like he did here. I mean there is a noticeable improvement between the two books in pretty much every facet of his writing; his prose, his plotting, his characters. Now, that is not to say that there isn't room for improvement in each of these areas as well, but I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this book, right from the beginning even. I am also surprised at the flak this book gets in general. I don't know if it's just because I've been away from the Malazan world for so long, and being thrust back in has scratched the Malazan itch I had been feeling or what, but I have to give ICE props on this one.
Return of the Crimson Guard covers many of the events happening in the Malazan world during Book 7 (of the main series) that Erikson did not touch on. It focuses largely on the political upheaval happening on Quon Tali, and, you guessed it, the return of the Crimson Guard from their mass diaspora following their defeat on Stratem at the hands of Kellanved's forces. Having these events fleshed out that were essentially mentioned in passing in the main series was very satisfying for me, and ICE did a good job of it. As I mentioned before he has room for improvement, but I think he has added a worthwhile story here to the Malazan world.
All in all I was very happy to be immersed in this world once again. ICE has plenty of what I like to call 'Malazan Events' throughout, which are essentially when something you either didn't expect or have felt building up for a long time finally comes to fruition. Be that a meeting between two characters that you never though would happen, a sudden fight between massive powers that leaves you floored, etc. Erikson does these moments exceedingly well, and ICE had some good ones here.
The end could have probably been wrapped up a little tighter, but the battles occuring at the climax of this book were satisfying and succeeded in making me second guess who I should be rooting for (since I wanted individuals on both sides to pull through). Clearly Esslemont has a handle on creating ambiguous characters and situations. I'm excited to see where he goes from here. Stonewielder soon.
I'm a huge fan of the Malazan series, but my re-read of the series working up to The Crippled God has been taking longer than expected. I was looking forward to Return of the Crimson Guard, and, for the most part, it doesn't disappoint.
However, this book starts out *rocky*. That rockiness is compounded by the poor editing on the Kindle version... I didn't mark it down for that, but it might have influenced my enjoyment of the book. I really can't say. Anyways, we're looking at a heck of an uphill climb, here... We're given, more or less, six different groups of characters - two of which are brand new easily confused with each other being Malazan military, one of which follows Traveller, one of which is brand new with the Crimson Guard, one of which is kinda dull and doesn't pay off (Ghelel), and one of which alternates between boring and uneventful (the Otataral Island folks). Scattered here and there are also bits and pieces from Mallick Rel's perspective... While interesting, I really hate that guy.
Now, all these threads get together near the end, but it's a rough start. While Erikson often shifts viewpoints within a chapter, it's still pretty easy to figure out where we are; he'll give us some clues right away in the first sentence or two. Esselmont is less adroit at this viewpoint-switching, at least in the early parts of this book. So, you might need to dig a paragraph or three into a new section to figure out where you are, who all is there, and why you should care.
The first 2/3 of the book, as a result, are pretty slow and kinda below-average. There are some neat characters, but many of them are rather faceless. Erikson has a way of giving even minor characters some recognizable traits, but Esselmont doesn't fill those shoes quite as well.
So, given this, you might expect that this book was a disaster. Not so!
The final third of this book is possibly the best military action seen in a series filled with great battles. Once a certain threshhold gets passed, everything picks up and kicks into high gear. I couldn't put it down. The writing becomes vivid and sleek, the characters all of a sudden come to life, and the befuddling plot lines finally have some sort of payoff. This part of the book is five-star, easy.
I understand that a complex book needs some setup. The Malazan series is filled with books following a similar pattern - 2/3 setup, 1/3 resolution. However, the setup in this particular volume wasn't handled as well as it could have been; Esselmont lost my interest more than a few times.
Still, I highly recommend it. I daresay, with the events near the end, it's essential to a full reading of this epic series.
For whatever reason, reading this book seemed to turn into more of a slog, than a read. Perhaps that was due to an inconclusive ending.
Top international reviews
I have to say, that having now read a vastly more expansive tome, the second of Esslemont's forays into the world both he and Erikson have forged prove the man's ability to write epic fantasy. Again I struggled with the opening three hundred pages, but experience taught me to persevere. The main reason was that I was meeting characters from the Erikson novels, trying to figure out politics and alliances that did not make immediate sense, coming to terms with the previous timelines and characterisation that gave insights to the decisions in this book. I found the book never kept track of one thread long enough for me to understand what was going on. Indeed I only figured out the novel occurs about ten or so years after "Night of Knives" when a more vastly experienced Kiska appears as an ex-claw with almost demi-god fighting prowess - and that was nearly half way through this thousand+ page paperback.
But as I skated between the stories of Ereko and Traveller; of the politics in Unta with the Empress Laseen/Surly, Possum and Mallick; followed the growth of Kyle with his powerful sword; wondered if Ghelel would ever realise her true birthright; cantered on horseback with the likes of Toc, Choss, Liss, Rell, and the Seti; found myself in a sodden ditches with the munitions of sapper sergeant Nait and his band of "lost kids"; stalked the warrens of power with the Avowed Shimmer, Skinner, Hurl, Silk, Storo and many others...I came to understand that Esslemont was, in fact, weaving many strands together. That the story was of the struggle of a de facto Talian League coming together to converge on the city of Li Heng to attempt the overthrow of the Malazan Empire that held Quon Tali in thrall after Erikson's invasion by Kellanved. At its heart the novel is concerned with the return of those feared gone...of mythical monsters such as Ryllandaras, of returning Gods like Osserc, of ancient seas like Otataral and, most importantly, of the return of the Avowed and the Crimson Guard.
"The Diaspora ends. The Guard returns. The appointed time has come to us." This intonation by Surat to Ereko is the fundamental core of the book. The rest is a struggle for power fought by mages and by soldiers - both needing the other to succeed. Esslemont displays his command of the epic, his mastery of myth, his understanding of how to weave legends out of historical deeds...his PhD in literature is obvious in his ability to construct narrative, both conversant and descriptive, his grounding in archaeology lends him to provide proof after proof of the story before the reader.
Yes, it took me nearly five hundred pages to understand much of this world; but, having persevered, I broke through into a fantasy world that is a rich tapestry indeed. Two hundred or so pages dedicated not just to a battle but a war has catapulted Esslemont in to the circle of few fantasy authors who are truly capable of generating an epic.
Is it better than Erikson? I have absolutely no idea. Nor do I care. Esslemont is a fine fantasy author purely on his own merit and this book is the proof.
In this hefty story, Esslemont once again returns us to the very heart of the empire, as it comes under assault from threats both internal and external.
There are several protagonist characters this time around, most notably Kyle, a new recruit to the Crimson Guard who gets swept up in their long-awaited return to Quon Tali. He's interestingly written, and his status as a neophyte allows the reader to learn about the group as he does.
We also have several Malazan characers to follow, and for a change they're portrayed as defenders rather than invaders. The battle scenes, when they come, are as exciting and as epic as anything in Erikson's canon.
This book also, unlike the first one, has major ramifications for the setting as a whole; plotlines such as the Wickan betrayal are continued, and there is a development at the end of the novel that promises big changes for both writers' future stories (you'll know it when you get there).
All in all, a vast improvement on Esslemont's first already impressive effort, and an intriguing bunch of characters that I hope we'll see more of very soon.
As ever, like a child at Christmas, the anticipation of the next book is absolutely delicious.
For me 10/10
True escape from real life.