Review: Return of the Crimson Guard
It is now safe to say that Ian C. Esslemont brings some serious excellence to the Malazan world. Perhaps the general consensus of the masses after reading his first novel, NIGHT OF KNIVES, was that his work wasn’t of the quality expected or that was used to from reading Steven Erikson’s work.
We don’t doubt Esslemont at all. He belongs.
RETURN OF THE CRIMSON GUARD (Amazon) is awesome. It is a meaty novel (700 pages hardback) that not only gives us a 200 page climax (WAHOO!!!), but also lets us get to know the “old-timers” of the Malazan world. While the novel does have some issues, it is a must-read for anyone who is a fan of the Malazan world.
Esslemont’s second novel is about, obviously, the return of the Crimson Guard. Nearly 100 years prior to this novel, the Crimson Guard made a vow that they wouldn’t die until they had destroyed the Malazan Empire. If you’ve read the series, you know that vows of this sort are par for the course, and usually lead to treachery and violencce. With Laseen’s empire spread absurdly thin, it is the opportune time for the Guard’s return, and also for civil war. Of course, being that this is a novel set in the Malazan world, all this craziness is just the surface.
If we were to point out the greatest strength of this novel, it is the war sequences. Considering more than half of the novel involves direct war, there is a lot to enjoy. Esslemont just GETS how to write the horror and confusion of war. He also is amazing at making a “hero” stand out from the other larger-than-life figures. There are quite a few times when he does this even better than Erikson. When you get to the final battle, you will know exactly what we mean.
What we mainly wanted to see with this novel was how Esslemont could improve. NIGHT OF KNIVES was a novella pretending to be a novel with very little character depth. It was good, and a much needed change-of-pace in the series, but we wanted to see Esslemont really add some meat to his portion of the Malazan world. Man did he deliver. The main place of notice was the characters. Kyle was fantastic as a young man over his head with the Guard. Jumpy and his saboteurs were absolutely perfect. Esslemont’s take on Laseen, Pearl, Traveler and all the rest of the old guard was great. Toc the Elder? More Temper? Seguleh? Yeah. All here. In typical Malazan style, good and evil are just a matter of opinion.
There are still places where Esslemont can improve. His dialogue can be meh. A lot of times his descriptions will be completely confusing and ridiculously over-blown, and other places he only give three words about something that we need three paragraphs for–he just needs to learn what to describe, and what not to. Some of his humor still misses the mark too.
But still, this is a fantastic novel that pulls its own weight with ease. There is so much promise in Esslemont’s work, and it fits so well with Erikson’s portion of the series. You should probably read this novel after THE BONEHUNTERS, but if you’ve already read ahead of that point then it’s not worry. But new readers? Absolutely don’t read this novel until after THE BONEHUNTERS.
If you are a fan of Erikson’s series, there is no reason for you not to be reading the novels Esslemont is writing. That said, if you don’t like Erikson there’s no point in reading Esslemont. The way we see it is that this second novel is right there in terms of quality with books 5 through 8 of Erikson’s portion of the series. Take from that what you will, but we were EXTREMELY impressed. Here’s hoping that STONEWIELDER is as great as RETURN OF THE CRIMSON GUARD.
- Recommended Age: 16+
- Language: Yep, but not a ton
- Violence: All sorts, and awesomely described
- Sex: Talked about, but not shown