Malaz: a tale of two authors
When I was in college, I made it six books into Robert Jordan’s bloated Wheel of Time series before its plot ground to a near-halt and I gave up. I read the first two books of Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth and quit while I was ahead. George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire was considerably more interesting, but after the third book I had no motivation to pick up the fourth. Which leads me to Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen, the latest Tor doorstop-series to fall by the wayside. I made it through seven books and enjoyed each one more than the last, but I’ve hit the wall. As I went through my book collection last month I realized that I’ve been sitting on Toll the Hounds for months. I just haven’t been able to muster up the enthusiasm to slog through its 800+ pages, only to wait another eight months or more before I could pick up the next installment.
I don’t remember what prompted me to check out Esslemont’s Night of Knives, but I’m glad I did. It has the same atmosphere and rich fantastic elements that draw me to Erikson’s books — the war-torn landscapes, strange magics, crumbling ruins and ancient races make for good fun escapist fantasy reading. What’s more, it reads very different from the Malazan Book of the Fallen. The pacing is faster, the focus tighter, with the sort of economy of words that, judging from the bloated size of much of today’s fantasy literature, seems to have been forgotten or ignored by many mainstream fantasy novelists. This (dare I say it) “pulpier” approach translates into a book that is a third of the size of one of its Eriksonian cousins — Night of Knives weighs in at a slender 284 pages.
Another thing that’s nice is that I didn’t have to wrack my brain to try to remember all the various powers, factions, and characters of Erikson’s Malazan series in order to enjoy Esslemont’s tale. While there are obvious connections to characters and events detailed in various volumes of the Book of the Fallen, knowledge of those aren’t a prerequisite to enjoying Night of Knives, merely an enhancement. The events described in the book fit into a historical continuum of the shared Malazan world, so technically it is part of a broader series; however, the novel works just as well as a stand-alone. It may prompt new arrivals to Malaz to explore Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen and companion stories, or it may re-inspire burned-out veterans (like me) to pick the series up again…