Night of Knives


Ian Esslemont


Science Fiction / Fantasy


Date Reviewed:

June 20, 2009

have not read any of the novels by Steven Erikson from his Mazalan Book of the Fallen, which is projected to be a ten book epic (with each book about 800 pages!) However, I hope to tackle that giant epic some day, because those books routinely appear on the SF Site "Best Book of the Year" polls. Gardens of the Moon- Honorable Mention in 1999; Deadhouse Gates- #10 of 2000; Memories of Ice- #9 of 2001; House of Chains- #1 of 2002; Midnight Tides- #2 of 2004; The Bonehunters- #5 of 2006; Reapers Gale- #2 of 2007; Toll of the Hounds- #4 of 2008; Whew! Every book in the series is rated as a top ten SF novel of the year. So I am looking forward to reading the Malazan Book of the Fallen, and I thought I would get an introduction to the Malazan universe by starting with Night of Knives.

What a disappointment Night of Knives turned out to be. I expected that this novel, although set in the Malazan universe, would be an independent story that can stand on its own. But nothing is explained. Characters are introduced, events are referred to, history is mentioned, and motives are hinted - but everything seems to assume that the reader is already familar with the background and so details and explanations are lacking.

The novel is set on the island of Malazan. Powerful factions arrive for one fateful night of power struggle. Esslemont does not explain any of the motivations of these factions, and, since I lack any prior Malazan reading experience, it was difficult to fathom what the various groups were attempting to accomplish. Claws? Hounds? Bridgeburners? Cultists? Warrens? Who are all these people/creatures?

Unfortunately, since his novel is set in Steven Erikson's universe, Esslemont apparently decided to stick to the margins, he would allow cameo appearances of major actors, but since those characters belong to Erickson, Esslemont focused his novel on on two minor characters. Esslemont's two creations are Temper, the ex-swordsman, and Kiska, the wanna-be-spy. But since the story is told from the perspective of these two minor actors who do not know what is going on, a reader such as I is left completely baffled about the factions and motivations of the big picture.

I think Esslemont would be much better off if he simply wrote his own material. He does have some wonderfully descriptive scenes - the unnamed fisherman who rows out into the ocean storm, the fighting background of Temper, the battle outside the Deadhouse Gates - these were vividly described, even though I didn't understand why these events were occuring.

I was confused throughout the whole book. In the end, I believe - but I am not sure - that the end result was that the status quo was achieved. In other words, everyone was thwarted. Esslemont took Erickson's characters off of the shelf and moved them around on any interesting game board for a brief while, but he was careful to not damage any of the pieces (sure, lots of nameless Claws and Cultists bit the dust, but in the end all the named characters seem to limp off the stage with survivable injuries.)

I think I will skip any future Malazan books by Esslemont. But I still hold high hopes for Erickson's material.