Book Review 2007 #40: Night of Knives

A bit of a departure in the sense that this book (only really available in the UK) was lent to me by one of the Exalted gaming group. This is a Malazan novel written not by Erikson, but rather by his co-creator of the Malazan universe, Ian C Esselmont.

My tagline for Erikson’s Malazan fat fantasy novel series is “The best epic fantasy series that you are not reading”.
Malazan does have it loyal readers, but they seem thin on the ground amongst my social circle. I was the first to find it within my gaming groups, for example. However, nearly everyone who has tried them has been hooked.
This novel, though is not the place to start. Not written by Erikson himself, A Night of Knives is distinctly different. It’s short (~300 pages HC), the time frame of events only takes place over a few days, and the action takes place in a very limited area of the world. Compare that to Erikson’s novels, which often have prologues and flashbacks years, decades, millennia before the main action, sprawl over wide areas, and are doorstop in size.
The writing style is different, too, as Erikson’s jump cutting between characters is not in evidence here, with much smoother switches between viewpoint characters.
With that out of the way, the story itself fills in a key point in the Malazan history which has been talked about and alluded to–just how and why the former Emperor of the Malazan Empire, Kellanved, and his right hand man Dancer, managed to find a throne more powerful than a simple human Empire…
Throw in another Elder Race (Malazan is chock full of races older than humanity, but NONE are anything like the archetypal Tolkienesque elves and dwarves), more warren magic, a night where dark things will happen to many characters, the same grittiness and even dark humor, and while this may not have been written by Erikson, it still has the same sort of Malazan goodness. Esselmont is a decent writer and evokes Malaz City and its environs fairly well (even if not quite as well as Erikson might have done). Fans of the Malazan novels will not be disappointed.
A Night of Knives, though is definitely not the place to start, and I think I myself got spoiled for a Malazan novel or two I haven’t gotten to just yet. Reading this would be like watching the “new” Star Wars trilogy before watching the “old” one. For thematic and dramatic reasons, A Night of Knives probably should wait until you have a few Malazan novels under your belt.
And so what are *you* waiting for? If you have any interest in epic fantasy, you will love the Malazan novels. Start with Gardens of the Moon. Or, you might actually make a go of starting with the fifth book. Midnight Tides., which is set away from the previous four novels and shows Erikson’s increasing polish as a writer.