Night of Knives by Ian C. Esslemont
11 June, 2010
It’s been over a year since I read and was astonished by Steven Erikson’s Gardens of the Moon, the first volume in his ten volume epic fantasy cycle The Malazan Book of the Fallen. I’ve been meaning to read the second volume, Deadhouse Gates, but haven’t gotten around to it yet (too many books, too little time, you know how it is). Also, since I know it’s going to be great, I kind of want to take my time and savour it…
However, in the meantime, I decided to read Night of Knives by Ian C. Esslemont, Erikson’s writing partner and co-creator of the Malazan world. The two met at a creative writing course, were heavily into gaming and created this rich, dense and incredibly detailed world. They had both planned to write separately but in synch and although Erikson began his novels 5 years earlier, Esslemont’s first novel set in the Malazan world was probably one of the most eagerly anticipated offerings in the sff genre. And it’s good. Very good.
Just like Erikson, the writing is tight, the plot never letting up, and you can see that he knows his world inside out. Although the story is less complicated compared to Gardens of the Moon as it is set in a 24 hour period, the cast is large and you can almost taste the blood, sweat and fear, especially when the shadow hounds start prowling. In Night of Knives, we follow the grizzly war veteran Temper who is on the run and the young talent and spy Kiska, who is desperate to escape the Island of Malaz where she has no future, as they wander out into the darkness on the one night when sane people should stay indoors. It is the night of the Shadow Moon when the wall between reality and shadow is at its most transparent, when old scores are settled and plans that have been in place for hundreds of years will finally come alive. Can they survive the night, and in doing so, will they finally exorcise the demons that torment them?
Although I normally zone out a little in battle scenes, Esslemont’s character development is brilliant and you can’t help but like the grizzly Temper, all muscle but whose loyalty to his comrades is unbreakable, and Kiska who is desperate to carve a niche for herself in the wider world. Night of Knives is a sort-of prequel to Erikson’s Gardens of the Moon and tells the story of how the Empress Laseen (formerly known as Surley, Mistress of the Imperial assassin corps, the Claw) comes into power by defeating the Emperor Kellanved and his companion Dancer, so I would recommend reading Erikson’s novel first before dipping into any Esslemont, just to get a foothold into the Malazan world.
Night of Knives is a relatively short book for epic fantasy but is followed by the much thicker Return of the Crimson Guard. I’m eager to read it, however, it is set after Erikson’s The Bonehunters (volume 6 of Erikson’s The Malazan Book of the Fallen) so I should really get going with Erikson’s books first. I’m all about reading books in order. It’s tough being a fan.
You can read an interview with Ian C. Esslemont here but I recommend reading Night of Knives first.
I read this as part of the Once Upon a Time IV Challenge.