I realised that I never did a wrap-up for Carl’s Once Upon a Time IV Challenge hosted at Stainless Steel Droppings which is a shame as I read some really good books. As it was only for 3 months (starting at the end of March) and I was swamped with books, I put my name down to read only 1 book. However, since fantasy and fairytales are two of my favourite genres, I couldn’t help but read more, right?

I read the following:

Of Bees and Mist by Erick Setiawan
Angelology by Danielle Trussoni
Night of Knives by Ian C. Esslemont
The Warrior-Prophet by R. Scott Bakker

I enjoyed reading all the titles, especially Night of Knives, my introduction to Ian C. Esslemont who finally joins Steven Erikson in their jointly created Malazan world, and the second volume of Bakker’s Prince of Nothing trilogy. Brilliant and extremely well-written fantasy.

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.

OK, so we’re halfway through the year and the question is, am I halfway through all of my challenges? Let’s see, I’ve put my name down for a lot of challenges this year and at one point I thought my brain was going to spontaneously combust. However, on noting down what I’ve read, it seems I’m on track. Sort of.

Suspense and Thriller 2010 Challenge: 6/12
Flashback Challenge: 1/3
Terry Pratchett 2010 Challenge: 1/5 – I missed seeing Going Postal so will wait for the DVD
South Asia Authors Challenge: 6/5 – but I’m planning to read more
TBR Challenge: 1/12 – not very impressive
Women Unbound Challenge: 4/5
Once Upon A Time IV Challenge: 1/1
1930s Reading Challenge: 0/1

Not as bad as I thought, although my TBR pile needs some serious seeing to.

I’ve also decided that I will allow myself to buy one book with every three books I read from my TBR pile (unless I really need to, of course!) Just to keep the ball rolling.

Anyway, to end on a cheerful note, I received the following in the post:

The Killer of Pilgrims by Susanna Gregory – from the lovely people at Little Brown. Matthew Bartholomew and Brother Michael are two of my favourite medieval sleuths.

24 Hours Paris by Marsha Moore – which I won from Me and My Big Mouth. My whole family loves Paris and it’s got some great ideas about what to do there hour by hour.

The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag by Alan Bradley – from the lovely people at Orion Books. I have belatedly discovered the delightful Flavia de Luce in the first volume The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie and can’t wait to tuck into this one.

And I found this at my library:

Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde – I need a bit of Fforde fiction to tide me over until proper summer is here. I mean it, proper summer. You’re on your way, aren’t you??

I did say I wasn’t going to participate in any more challenges (except for Carl’s RIP V and Bellezza‘s The Japanese Literature Challenge IV later in the year), but how could I resist this? The Once Upon A Time IV Challenge is hosted by Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings and runs from 21st March until 20th June 2010.

I am hoping to participate at the level of The Journey where I need to read one or more books from one of four categories: fantasy, folklore, fairy tale and mythology or a mixture (no pressure) or Quest the Second where I need to read one book from each category (more difficult). As I haven’t really thought of a list yet except for The Clash of Kings: Songs of Ice and Fire 2 by George R.R. Martin, which I was supposed to have read on holiday two months ago but was side-tracked by all the Sri Lankan fiction I found, I’ll see how I go along.

Also on my TBR pile are the following which would qualify:

The Painted Man by Peter V. Brett (fantasy)
The Age of Misrule by Mark Chadbourn (fantasy/folklore)
The Blade Itself: The First Law 1 by Joe Abercrombie (fantasy – but this would be a re-read so I’m not sure whether it qualifies)
The Warrior-Prophet: The Prince of Nothing 2 by R. Scott Bakker

As you can probably tell, I’m sneakily trying to slash my teetering TBR pile. But knowing me, I’ll probably find a dozen new titles from the library. And I seem to have an urge to read a bit of mythology after reading several posts about the Canongate Myth series recently, although I don’t know what. Any suggestions?

I really enjoyed participating in RIP IV last year so I’m looking forward to this one!