I was so looking forward to reading Ian Cameron Esslemont's Stonewielder! Not only would we finally get a book that would shed some light on the entire Korelri military campaign, but we'd also learn more about Greymane, one of the greatest military leaders the Malazan Empire has ever seen. Expectations were high, no question, yet Stonewielder truly impressed me.

Here's the blurb:

Greymane believed he'd outrun his past. He now ran a school for swordsmanship in Falar and was looking forward to becoming fat and lazy. With him was Kyle, though the plains youth was not quite so contented with civilian life outside the mercenary company the Crimson Guard. Yet it is not so easy to disappear when you are an ex-Fist of the Malazan Empire, especially one denounced and under a death-sentence from that very Empire.

For there is a new Emperor on the throne of Malaz, and his thoughts turn to the lingering drain of blood and treasure that is the failed invasion of the Korel subcontinent. In the record vaults beneath Unta, the Imperial capital, lie the answers to that disaster. And out of this buried history surfaces the name Stonewielder.

In Korel, Lord Protector Hiam, commander of the Stormguard, faces the potential annihilation of all that he loves as with the blood of his few remaining men and a crumbling stone wall that has seen better days, he labours to stave off the sea-borne Stormriders who would destroy his lands.

Meanwhile, religious war has broken out all across these lands as the local cult of the Blessed Lady, who has stood firm for millennia against the assaults of the Stormriders, seeks to stamp out all rivals; a champion refuses to stand against the alien 'Riders' and takes up arms in rebellion; and a local magistrate innocently pursuing the mystery of a series of murders is brought to the very heart of a far larger and far more terrifying ancient crime that has stained the entire subcontinent.

Although Return of the Crimson Guard was good story-wise, the novel suffered from a number of shortcomings that made it less than it should have been. I was thus curious to see if Esslemont, building on his experience and two yarns under his belt, could elevate his game and bring the house down. One of the facets that left something to be desired in Esslemont's last effort was the sometimes clunky narrative and uneven dialogue. Hence, I'm pleased to report that Ian Cameron Esslemont has obviously matured as an author. The prose's flow is now a lot more fluid than in previous installments, and his improved writing skills allow him to create a more vivid narrative. The same can be said about the dialogue, which feels a lot more genuine.

The pace was also an issue in Return of the Crimson Guard. Not so in Stonewielder, however. To tell the truth, this could well be the Malazan installment featuring the best rhythm to date. Erikson habitually start slow, then he hits it out of the park at the end. But with Stonewielder, I felt that Esslemont maintained a crisp pace throughout, keeping you turning those pages to find out what happens next.

I have always been under the impression that Ian Cameron Esslemont's Malazan offerings would be more or less stand-alone books meant to shed some light and elaborate on events and characters introduced by Steven Erikson in The Malazan Book of the Fallen. Yet I now realize that Esslemont is also working on a vaster and more far-reaching overall story arc of his own. And though it is linked to Erikson's main sequence, there are recurring themes and characters which will be explored by Esslemont alone in his Malazan novels. In the end, even if Esslemont's books are an integral part of Erikson's body of work (adding to as much as they borrow from what has already been established in past volumes), it is now evident that there is more depth to what the Malazan co-creator brings to the dance. And the thought makes me giddy with anticipation!

As always, the worldbuilding is top notch. As expected, there is much more to Korel than just the legendary Stormwall. Things are not going well for the Malazan Empire. Military campaigns on various continents have taken a turn for the worst. The lands of Fist are no exception. It's one of the Empire's best kept secrets, but no military gains have been made on the subcontinent in over a decade. In true Malazan fashion, Stonewielder is a multilayered tale, and various plotlines occur in a number of different countries. Following storylines taking place in Korel, Jourilan, Skolati, Fist, and others allows readers to familiarize themselves with the northern portion of this subcontinent on several levels.

The characterization is yet another aspect of the craft in which Esslemont has improved. As a matter of course, some protagonists are more interesting to follow, but I have to admit that I didn't find one plotline to be of lesser quality. Assessor Bakune's storyline just might be the weakest, but it nevertheless offers a lot of insight in many facets of the cult of the Blessed Lady. Lord Protector Hiam's plotline, so interesting at the beginning, when we discover so much about the Stormwall, the Stormguard, and the Stormriders, also loses steam as the tale progresses. Surprisingly, it's Kiska's storyline that often threatens to take over the entire book which is probably the most fascinating. At first, it seems as though Greymane and Kyle will find themselves in the spotlight time and again, yet they are often relegated to secondary roles as quite a few members of the supporting cast take over. Manask is hilarious in his role as comic relief. Corlo and Shell's POVs give us another glimpse of the Crimson Guard. And there's more. All in all, the characterization was well-done and quite satisfying.

Quite a few secrets are revealed, of course. But again, in true Malazan fashion, for every answer it provides Ian Cameron Esslemont's latest offering raises many, many more questions. Some of which shall be answered in his next work, when he takes us to the fabled land of Assail. . .

So what can you expect from Stonewielder? The truth about Greymane and the failed Korelri campaign. New characters with Toblakai blood, and one of them at the head of a pacifist cult. The Crimson Guard and tantalizing hints about the secret behind their Vow. The truth about the cult of the Blessed Lady and the secret at its heart (with a nice mindfuck of an ending!). Blaming herself for failing Tayschrenn, Kiska embarks on a journey to try to find the High Mage -- a journey that will take her to unexpected places with an unlikely companion. The new Emperor, Mallick Rel, makes Fist Rillish an offer the man can't refuse. All this and much, much more!

Stonewielder is a terrific read and a worthy addition to the Malazan sequence. And given how much Ian Cameron Esslemont's has improved as a writer, I can't wait to read his next book set on the Assail continent!

Impossible to put down! Highly recommended for all fans of The Malazan Book of the Fallen!

The final verdict: 9/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

15 commentaires:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for a great review Pat, this is going to be awesome.

You probably can’t answer, but I got to ask: POV Corlo means a lot of screen time for Iron Bars? Right?

Anonymous said...

really got me looking forward for this one

Anonymous said...

great review i just have one question: does this novel take place right after return of the crimson guard, or like after DOD, or like.... does it say???

Chris V said...

Aah, I see you have finished reading. Feel free to send that pile of A4 paper to me for expert recycling. I think I have mailed my snail mail address to you before.

Patrick said...

It doesn't say exactly where it fits into the Malazan timeline. But the action begins a few weeks/months following RotCG...

Simeon said...

Cool review. Too bad I can't revive my Malazan fanboism, no matter how hard I try... :/

Anonymous said...

I thank you, this is going to be awesome, leaving me awestruck, slackjawed and so much more. Thank you for the review.

-IhM Tayschrenn, from the Malazan Empire Forums

Unknown said...

Wow. A 9 out of ten review. Since I won't get my hands on a new Erikson book till next year. I have no choice but to check this out. =)

Great to hear also that Esslemont has improved his writing skills.

Jeff said...

Glad to hear that he's tightened up his writing. I thought RotCG was good, but could have easily lost 100 pages. Thanks for the review.


Chris said...

Great review! Can't wait to check this out, DoD is almost done!

Hrishi Diwan said...

Pat, thank you for a spoiler-less review. Well, mostly. Good on you!

As one of the "don't sum up the plot-lines in a review" pedants, it warms my heart to see you not do that in a Malazan review.

And the book sounds dang exciting. Kiska! Corlo! Broader arc for ICE too! Yum.

Anonymous said...

No offence, but this review is a joke. The storyline, characters and plot are all "pell-mell" to quote an ICE phrase. This is by far the worst story in the malazan line of novels. Characters are uninteresting, plotlines serve almost entirely no purpose and the integral scenes are forced quickly with no buildup or payoff. I own every malazan story there is, but this one seriously makes me reconsider purchasing anymore from I.C.E.

Jebus said...

Finished it last week and enjoyed it immensely. I was a little confused in places but mostly 'cause I think I've forgotten a whole bunch of what occurred in RotCG.

Anyway, it was definitely his best novel to date (which makes sense since he wrote NoK and RotCG in the late 80s or something and he now teaches creative writing). I enjoyed all the characters and plot lines, wasn't bored once. As opposed to Pat, I really enjoyed Bakune's story line and found it one of the most interesting of the novel, his and Suth's.

I found the reiteration of the timelessness of where Kiska was very annoying - every single time we go back to her POV it's something like "Kiska had been walking/waiting/shitting/masturbating for what seemed like days but could ave been hours, in his realm there was just no way to tell". Yeah I go that the first time it was mentioned.

Apart from that, great book although I do wonder why Greymane needed an army since... well since he did what he did at the end.

Anonymous said...

I always appreciate Pat's enthusiasm for his reviews, but I don't agree that Stonewielder is a 9. For a great many of us, myself included, any Malazan book is a 9 simply because its a Malazan book. In my opinion, Esslemont still struggles with crafting memorable, three-dimensional characters. Maybe its the lack of colorful names I've come to expect in the world of Malaz, but I struggled throughout the novel with keeping Ivanr, Bakune, and Devaleth straight without the context clues of the setting and action occuring around them. I'll agree that this is Esslemont's best effort to date and I think he's got a 9 out of 10 in him, I just don't think this is it.

BlindMan said...

I've just finished reading Stonewielder and I agree, it really is much better than Return of the Crimson Guard. But unfortunately i can't agree with the "matured as an author" description, because RoCG was ... well ... average at best[my review:]. IMHO dialogues are for the most part pretty boring, storyline is overly fragmented and does not allow the reader to sympathize with any of the characters and Esslemont should get over his love for "deus ex machina" endings, because they are boring. So instead of dropping small hints about the nature of the whole "Stonewielder" throughout the book, he simply drops the whole spiel on the reader in one paragraph. Where is the mystique in that.
True enough, Stonewielder is a decent effort, and the fans of the Mallazan world might even enjoy it, but for the most part I/we will still hope for something better to come along.
All that remains now for me is to sit, wait for the new Erikson and keep my fingers crossed that it will be less of a disappointment than previous two.
With all that said, let me just add, that I hope for Esslemont and Erikson to take more than a year between books, and use this time polish functionality of their narration and reintroduce the mystique and human touch I fell in love with.