Night of Knives by Ian Cameron Esslemont

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Night of Knives by Ian Cameron Esslemont

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Category: Fantasy
Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: Natalie Baker
Reviewed by Natalie Baker
Summary: A novel of the events of one night in the Malaz empire. Good characters, but the story is difficult to follow, and lacks sparkle.
Buy? No Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 416 Date: May 2008
Publisher: Bantam Books Ltd
ISBN: 978-0553818291

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Strange things are happening out at sea: frozen ice riders are charging through the waves, destroying anything that happens to get in their way. In the town on the island of Malaz, anyone who has any sense is preparing to stay indoors, for tonight there is a Shadow Moon, about which many legends of dread and evil revolve.

Fortunately for the story, there are plenty of people who either are lacking in sense, or who have an unhealthy sense of curiosity. One of those is a young girl with a talent for being nosy named Kiska, another is an old soldier called Temper who thinks he's seen it all before. Needless to say, he hasn't. There are strange creatures, imperial intrigue, different dimensions, plenty of fights and a whole lot of sorcery.

This book looks good. The cover art is lovely, the blurb is interesting, I wanted to read it. But I just could not get into the story at all. There were several reasons for this: The first was the prologue, wherein we are introduced to a lot of characters, all of whom are dead a few pages later. This wouldn't be so bad, if they hadn't all been given names and character sketches, and then a few pages later - crash. This type of beginning always seems a little pointless, to me

The book continued, slightly, in the same vein. It was very difficult to work out, for a long time, what was going on, who the major characters were going to be, and why all the events were happening. I found it difficult to follow. It wasn't until about page 90 that I read anything that I felt like explained the background of the place or the events, and in my mind, that's rather too late in a 300 page book. After about another ten pages, I idly flicked through to the end, and found the glossary. And at that point, things became a lot clearer - I wish it had been at the front, or that there had just been a small amount of explanation as to what, for example, a 'Claw' was - it's a member or a covert organisation in this empire. Which is fine, but I could read the whole text and be none the wiser. It's difficult to build worlds, and I could see there was a lot of effort and detail put into this one, but I felt like the author was so comfortable within his own world, he hadn't thought about how it might appear to an outsider. Readers don't need to be condescended to, but a little explanation woven into the story would not go amiss, as I spent all too much of the first hundred pages thinking 'why?' and 'what's going on now?' Perhaps this is because I haven't read another book, by another author, set in the same world (Gardens of the Moon, but Steven Erikson), but I can't help feeling that ought to be immaterial.

The story did pick up later, however, and I began to enjoy it a lot more later on, but it failed to grab me for so long, I never really quite got into it. Perhaps it would benefit from being re-read. Sometimes the prose was a little purple, but in general it was a reasonable, if not stellar, read. I honestly wanted to like it. I just couldn't, quite.

On the positive side, the characters were strongly drawn, and I especially liked Kiska, who gets herself into all kinds of trouble, and her aunt Agayla, who is very intriguing.

The problems with this book, I think, are summed up in Steven Erikson's introduction, where he says "I was writing to an audience of one ... and [Ian Esselmont] has reciprocated." While there's nothing wrong with writing to an audience of one, if it ends up incomprehensible to other readers, then there is a definite issue.

My thanks to the publishers for sending a copy of this book to The Bookbag.

Buy Night of Knives by Ian Cameron Esslemont at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Night of Knives by Ian Cameron Esslemont at

Buy Night of Knives by Ian Cameron Esslemont at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Night of Knives by Ian Cameron Esslemont at


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