fredag 6. mars 2009

On Return of the Crimson Guard.

The last book in my stack of books started on, though this one I had just read like 16 pages of, so it was basically just an excuse to read it before the ones I had to start from the beginning on. Only other book I had read by the author, Ian C. Esslemont, was his previous Malazan book, Night of Knives, and although it was enjoyable, it wasn't a great book as such, so curious to see if the man could write his way out of Erikson's shadow.

The book, obviously sharing the world with Steven Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen series, follows the trend from Night of Knives and most of Erikson's books in that it has one major plot for the book, while having loads of threads and hooks to tie it in with other books set in the whole malazan universe, and generally leaving a lot of stories open and nonconclusive. This time it's about the first civil war in the Malazan Empire; several of the Empress' old partners, and her predecessor on the throne's faithfull henchmen teaming up with various old cities and nations conquered by the empire to get rid of her, while the Crimson Guard comes to take revenge on all malazans, all the while the loyalist imperials is divided politically. It's like the author has watched a lot of Royal Rumble, or played Super Smash Bros Brawl a bit too much, and wanted to do something similiar, having the majority of the celebrities duke it out in one gigantic battle.

And it doesn't take long for the battle to being really, the start of the book being introductions, but unlike most fantasy books, it doesnt use or the best part, doesnt NEED to have 700 pages of building up tension, a mix of knowing loads of the characters from before and just plain good writing speeds up the process of having characters with some depth early on. One thing that is a bit annoying at the start however, is how fast the author switches between the different characters, so when you finally start to get to grips with one, it switches to another, etc. But later on in the book I hardly noticed it, and it worked very well to keep the pace and let you in on what happened everywhere. After that introduction, the action and plot sets an outragous pace; a siege starts that pales Helmsdeep and similiar, and with new factions entering the battle over the course of days, it breaks up into all kinds of schemes, various characters having to deal with each other, alliances gets made and are broken, monsters stalks the night for some horror elements, and the malazan theme with loads of magic descriptions, plus even a tiny amount of amorous adventure. Overall, Esslemont somehow managed to put in more stuff over the course of 700 pages than certain authors did over 12 000 pages.

After finishing the book, I couldn't help but think "how the hell did he manage this?", it's like he put together the enjoyable soldier and mage themes and characters from Black Company, crafted a battle on a LOTR or WOTLK scale, but made it work like personal deep and engaging battles of First Law and Black Company and have character tension for a book ten times it's size. The ONE thing that annoyed me in the end, was the epilogoue, that just added some plot hooks, almost seems like some marketing ploy that that was a bit of a weak thing to add in, honestly.. Like eating the best dinner you have ever eaten at a restaurant, and while you sit back to give out a good sigh, the waiter shows up and starts feeding you reasons to eat there again. Gawd..

And oh yes, true to the malazan style (and a lot of other modern fantasy) it's a huge bodycount here. Everyone is in danger, no doubt about that. And it's funny how much it means; it's like Esslemont and Erikson has some form of competition killing off important characters and see how the readers cope with it. I felt rather cheated of some of the ones I was hoping would stay around and get to know more about was killed off, but considering that there is at least some of those every god damn book they put out, I guess it's just a reading hazard here. Actually, one character's vengeance I hope will feature prominently in the next book, and I wish him all the luck.. And no, not Traveller.

Before this ends up being even more of a wall of text than Wrath of the Lich King, this book is easily one of the best books I have read. It pretty much put in everything I want in a fantasy book, and then some, while being well written and short on crap that a lot of authors want to put in. But the obvious question of "is he better than Erikson?" is one of those questions of "is pepsi better than popcorn?" - they don't make sense and if you try to answear the world will turn pink and then go under while Britney Spears' greatest hits is playing insanely loud.

Rated: 10/10

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