Night Of Knives by Ian Cameron Esslemont

Published by Tor
May 2009
ISBN 978-0-7653-2371-2
Trade Paperback 304 Pages

When Steven Erikson’s first book in the The Malazan Book of the Fallen über saga, Gardens of the Moon, published in 1999 it launched what would come to be one of the most popular and fervently discussed fantasy sagas of the first decade of the 21st Century.  When that book was published, few knew the Malazan world was not the sole creation, but the dedication to I.C. Esslemont in the front: “worlds to conquer worlds to share” was a hint.  As each Erikson-penned Malazan novel came out, it eventually was discovered that Ian Cameron Esslemont was the co-creator and that Cam would indeed be penning some novels in their shared world.  So, here we have Night of Knives, originally published in a limited edition by PS Publishing in 2004 and then in 2008 to wider release by Bantam in the UK and finally to US readers by Tor in May 2009.  One wonders what is more complex, the publication life of the series or the series itself.

Right, on to the book itself…In many ways, Night of Knives can be considered a prologue-novel to the entire sequence.  The events depicted in this novel lead directly to the series itself.  For in Gardens of the Moon, Laseen is Empress having killed Emperor Kellanved and his number-two guy Dancer.  This short novel tells of the events on that momentous night when the tides of a world were changed.  

Esslemont focuses on two characters during most of the action – a hardened Malaz soldier named Temper and a young girl named Kiska who gets caught up in the events. Through Kiska Esslemont provides readers with a fly-on-the-wall perspective to all the insanity developing.  Kiska hangs around the periphery of the action in the hopes she’ll be recruited by the Malazan Empire, for she wants to see the world beyond the island on which she grew up.  

On the other hand, Temper gives us the in-the-battle-trenches view point.  In the scenes focusing on Temper, we gain an additional perspective on the Empire prior to Laseen, what it was like during those now-legendary days of chaos when Dancer and Kellenvad are nowhere to be found and are eventually murdered.  Many things are occurring on this night, not the least of which is the appearance of a Shadow Moon which signifies the lessening of the borders between worlds. When these borders are thinned, strange and monstrous creatures come out to play and wreak havoc.  Here, Esslemont keeps the fascination, awe, and terror balanced pretty well – lending a train wreck appeal to some of the chaos.

One of the things that stuck with me is how little page time the three most powerful characters get in the novel.  Granted, Laseen doesn’t get much play in the series books written by Erikson, either.  Here, she is known as Surly and is the third most powerful person in the Malazan Empire, just under the Emperor and Dancer.  Esslemont makes it pretty clear that Dancer and Kellenvad have things much loftier than ruling an empire on their mind.  All told, the events of the novel take place in a 24-hour period and Esslement really maintains a frantic tense, pacing throughout the novel.  

I thoroughly enjoyed the novel and appreciated Esslemont’s focus on one night and a relatively smaller cast of characters.  As a prologue-novel to the entire series, Night of Knives is a successful novel.  At turns gripping and tense, Esslemont’s first true foray into the expansive world he created with his pal Erikson is great promise of things to come.

© 2009 Rob H. Bedford

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