Review: Night of Knives

Posted: March 7, 2011 by in Books We Like (4/5 single_star) Meta: Ian C. Esslemont, Epic Fantasy

When you read Steven Erikson’s The Malazan Book of the Fallen, often you get a prologue giving you the narrow piece of history needed to understand the story about to be read. History in the Malazan series is an interesting thing. It has supreme importance, but we typically only see what has been built on the foundation of that history (or what was built upon the ruins of a “newer” history that was built upon an even older past). Personally, we love the series that Erikson is writing. It isn’t perfect, but it is awe-inspiring nonetheless.

But even then, there are times when the Malazan reader wants more detail on the larger-than-life figures in Malazan history. Kellanved, Dancer, Surly/Laseen, Tayschrenn…well, you get the picture. Mostly we don’t see these people in action. We don’t get a look into what makes them tick. This is what Ian C. Esslemont (Cam) offers the Malazan reader with his entries into the Malazan world–a world he co-created with Erikson. The first entry in the works by Esslemont is NIGHT OF KNIVES (Amazon).

The first thing you should know about NIGHT OF KNIVES is that it takes place before GARDENS OF THE MOON. The idea behind this short novel revolves around a prophesy of Kellanved and Dancer returning to Malaz island to use the Shadow Moon to attain the goal of essentially becoming gods. Kinda. It’s complicated.

The entire novel takes place over the course of a night, so many aspects of character development just aren’t going to be addressed. That said, the main two characters of the novel–Temper, a war veteran who served with Dassem, and Kiska, a young girl who dreams improving her skills to the level of the Claw–still manage to grow a bit over the course of the novel. Though Temper’s growth is more accurately a recapture of his past, he still is an awesome character. Kiska’s growth is all about potential, and there is a lot of it.

The pacing of the novel is extremely fast. It doesn’t get bogged down in characters reflecting on the meaning of life for a hundred pages. It will likely be a bit of a shock to most Malazan readers. Some will complain about it, and justifiably so. NIGHT OF KNIVES isn’t up to the same standard as the other Malazan novels. But. In a way it was refreshing to have a quick, action-packed Malazan tale. We’ll be the first to admit that it takes effort to get into a Malazan novel. They are dense, deep reads that leave you drained at the end. NIGHT OF KNIVES was more of a romp.

Esslemont’s writing is very different from Erikson’s. He is more direct, less poetic, and less elliptical. His humor isn’t quite at Erikson’s level yet, and neither is the dialogue. The action, however, is every bit as good as Erikson’s. In addition, Esslemont writes some amazing scenes–the flashbacks of Temper and Dassem are completely, 123% awesome.

NIGHT OF KNIVES takes place before GARDENS OF THE MOON and revolves around a prophesy of Kellanved and Dancer trying to become gods. Kinda. It’s complicated.

This is a prequel, sorta, but you shouldn’t read it first. We’ve seen readers recommending it as an alternative starting point to the series. We don’t agree at all. The earliest you should read this novel is after GARDENS OF THE MOON, but you may be best served waiting until you’ve read half the series. There are so many hints to other Malazan happenings here that will be completely lost on the reader without having read any of the series—these hints are what make the novel good.

So is this book worth your time? We think so. It has issues, but it is still a very good addition to the Malazan world. Just the chance to get some back-story to the world makes it completely worth it…if you are a fan of the series. This novel won’t turn someone who dislikes Erikson’s work into a fan. Like we always say, the Malazan novels aren’t for everyone, and that’s OK. But if the Malazan novels are to your liking, you need to read Esslemont’s work…cause it only gets better.

  • Recommended Age: 16+
  • Language: Sometimes. Can be strong at times.
  • Violence: Oh yes. Writing violence and action is one of Esslemont’s strengths.
  • Sex: Talked about, but never shown


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