As a recent Malazan convert, I was eager to sink my teeth into Ian Cameron Esslemont's first novel set in the universe he created with Steven Erikson. Having savored and enjoyed all six volumes of The Malazan Book of the Fallen, I was now ready to discover what Night of Knives had to offer.
Let it be said that Esslemont certainly selected the perfect setting for his first book. By choosing to recount the tale of the night when Surly, the Imperial Regent, plans to assassinate the Emperor, Kellanved, and Dancer to seize the throne, well the author couldn't possibly go wrong. Of all the characters which Steven Erikson has introduced in his series thus far, Shadowthrone and Cotillion remain mysterious favorites to many people. Hence, an opportunity to witness what occurred on the night they ascended was extremely interesting.
As the entire tale takes place during a single night -- during the Shadow Moon -- the rhythm of the novel is quite sharp. It's also chaotic in a way that is reminiscent of Gardens of the Moon. Don't let the length of the book fool you. Night of Knives is as long as it needs to be.
Some will probably disagree with me,but I believe that one must read the previous Malazan volumes to fully appreciate Night of Knives. As for me, I don't think I would have enjoyed it as much, had I not read all the way to The Bonehunters. I've seen threads on message boards with people asking if Night of Knives is a good starting point for the Malazan series. No, it's not! One requires an understanding of the depth of the universe, its characters, and the myriad plotlines which form this unbelievable tapestry, before one can really appreciate all that Night of Knives has to offer.
The story is seen through the eyes of two main POV characters. The first, Kiska, is a young girl dying to find a way to leave Malaz Island. Needless to say, she'll get a lot more than she bargained for on the night of the Shadow Moon. Hopefully we'll learn more about her character in future novels. If you've read The Bonehunters, you are aware that she is now one of Tayschrenn's two most trusted bodyguards.
The second POV character is Temper, a grizzled and battle-hardened veteran of many campaigns. Running away from a past he cannot forget, he settled in the backwater that is Malaz Island, hoping to fade from everyone's memory. Yet the upcoming convergence will force him to take an active role once more. As a former member of the celebrated Sword of the Empire, he fought alongside Dassem Ultor. And through him, we discover what truly happened at the siege of Y'Ghatan. Not surprisingly, there is more to Temper than meets the eye. That much was made clear by Night of Knives and The Bonehunters.
We also learn more about the enigmatic Tayschrenn, which was a pleasant surprise and which helps us understand his neutral stance in The Bonehunters. It allows us to shine some light on some of his actions/inactions in both Gardens of the Moon and Memories of Ice. Add to that a few secrets about Edgewalker and the Shadow Realm, and you have a wonderful mix indeed!
However, even though Night of Knives provides a couple of answers, it raises yet more questions. But I wouldn't have it any other way. This novel is the perfect Malazan companion book. Roll on Return of the Crimson Guard, which will likely demonstrate just how good an author Esslemont truly is.
A very satisfying read for any fan of The Malazan Book of the Fallen.
The final verdict: 8/10
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