Blood and Bone by Ian C. Esslemont
18 March, 2013
Oh dear. I was seriously looking forward to the fifth volume in Ian C. Esslemont’s Malazan Empire series after what I thought was a triumphant return to form in Orb Sceptre Throne. But alas, the honeymoon was not meant to last. So you know this post is going to be a bit of a grumble.
Blood and Bone is set predominantly in the mysterious continent of Jacuruku where resides the powerful elder god and Queen of Witches, Ardata. Most of the continent is controlled by the Thaumaturgs, a people who prize the mind over the body and whose alchemical studies are at a zenith. They continually stamp out any opposition to their rule and religion and hunt down any followers of Ardata who are mainly jungle folk, living in villages, cowering under the Thaumaturg’s power. But the jungle of Himatan is a force of its own and will allow no trespassers. And it is in this environment that Saeng is born, seeing spirits and slowly acquiring an ancient power that has lain dormant for a millenia. Together with her brother Hanu, who has escaped the Thaumaturgs, they are searching for the Temple of Light. But they are not alone. From across the seas, different groups are converging on Jacuruku to seek Ardata for their own purpose. The Avowed of the Crimson Guard led by K’azz, the Disavowed led by the rebel Skinner and the Enchantress, also known as the Queen of Dreams, together with her Seguleh bodyguard are all intent on reaching the ancient capital, Jakal Viharn. And in the mix is Spite, Draconus’ daughter, who is intent on retrieving a piece of the Fallen God, one of many that is said to be hidden in Jakuruku and heavily sought after.
There is a lot going on here too but the majority of the book is filled with lush descriptions of Jakuruku which seems like a mash-up of Bali, Angkor Wat and the jungles of South East Asia. Esslemont trained as an archaeologist and you can see his love of his subject, but in a fantasy novel, it was a little too much detail making it a rather dry and tedious read akin to a dusty academic travel journal. It just seemed a little too close to reality and jarred with the characters we have become accustomed to in the Malazan series.
Like Orb Sceptre Throne, there is a lot of buildup which fizzled out too quickly and a little too easily and left you wondering why you bothered slogging your way through almost 600 pages which already felt too long. Probably the most interesting bits were about the Thaumaturgs. I love the name and their extreme nature was equally horrifying and fascinating. I would have liked to know a lot more about the indigenous races of the Himatan especially the human animal crossbreeds such as the menacing Citravaghra who are known as the Children of Ardata and are guardians of the jungle. The Crimson Guards were as disappointing as in the previous books, the mad, bad Skinner being the only one who did anything that was mildly interesting. I like introspection in my novels but it’s difficult to keep your interest up if it goes nowhere. None of the characters seemed to have enough depth to keep your interest hooked and they all seemed to be too much in awe of their reputations and this crazy jungle which quickly got boring.
Saying that, the novel is well written and there were flashes of brilliance but it is just so damned SLOW. Comparisons with Steven Erikson’s novels are probably unfair but if you are sharing a world and characters you have both created, it is inevitable. Esslemont’s novels are inconsistent which makes the next novel unpredicatable. But I will be seeking it out although I’ll probably borrow a copy from the library rather than pay full price.
Malazan books by Ian C. Esslemont:
Night of Knives – this one is set just after the prologue of Gardens of the Moon and before the main events so should be read after the first volume by Erikson.
Return of the Crimson Guard – this one is set after The Bonehunters
Orb Sceptre Throne