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Return of the Crimson Guard: A Novel of the Malazan Empire
Ian C. Esslemont
Bantam Transworld, 1,054 pages

Return of the Crimson Guard
Ian C. Esslemont
Ian C. Esslemont was born in 1962 in Winnipeg, Canada. He has a degree in Creative Writing, studied and worked as an archaeologist, travelled extensively in South East Asia, and lived in Thailand and Japan for several years. He now lives in Fairbanks, Alaska, with his family and is currently working on his PhD in English Literature and writing another novel set in the world of the Malaz, a world he co-created with his friend Steven Erikson.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Night of Knives

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Dominic Cilli

As Stephen Erikson's masterpiece comes closer and closer to completion it has left in its wake a host of people and places open for expansion and further exploration. Among the multitudes, few are more intriguing than the Crimson Guard and their avowed. We have caught glimpses of them throughout The Malazan Book of the Fallen, most prominently in Midnight Tides, but they were never fully fleshed out by Erikson. In Ian C. Esslemont's second novel Return of the Crimson Guard, he grabs the baton and runs with it.

While Ian C. Esslemont's first novel Night of Knives was an enriching and entertaining supplement to The Malazan Book of the Fallen, it did not absolutely have to be read by people trying to keep pace with the series. I still highly recommend you read Night of Knives, but in the overall scope of things its contents do not necessitate its reading. On the other hand, Return of the Crimson Guard contains plot elements so crucial to the Malazan Empire that followers of The Malazan Book of the Fallen have to read it. Furthermore, Return of the Crimson Guard is also significant as it represents the first attempt at synchronizing the writings of Esslemont with Erikson.

The timeline in Return of the Crimson Guard is just after the events in The Bonehunters. In this story, the action shifts to the continent of Quan Tali, the home continent of the Malazan Empire. The empire is in bad shape. It is stretched thin and insurrection threatens to rip the empire apart from the inside out. To make matters worse, it appears that the rumors that the Crimson Guard, a mortal enemy of the Malazan Empire, is returning are finally coming to fruition.

Esslemont gives his readers plenty to chew on that's for sure. He tells a great story. It's complicated, but, in the end, satisfying. Return of the Crimson Guard, like all of Erikson's books juggles multiple storylines throughout and features a massive convergence in the end. Among those various threads, we get up close and personal insight into the Crimson Guard and the avowed, as seen by a new recruit named Kyle. We are also given a story of convicted mages within an otatoral mine and my favorite, the story of Traveller and Ereko. Esslemont also uses several different Malazan squads to tell the story of their army's activity. Readers are also treated to more insight into many characters we only really hear about secondhand with Erikson. Readers will delight when being introduced to Skinner, Toc the Elder, Cartharon Crust and Braven Tooth just to name a few.

Return of the Crimson Guard is not without its problems. The main drawback to this novel, and it's one that plagues the entire Malazan Book of the Fallen, is the sheer scope and size of the stories make it extremely complex. At times this complexity can be exhilarating, but it can also be extremely frustrating and make for difficult reading. Multiple storylines in Return of the Crimson Guard produce dozens of new characters and trying to remember everyone let alone learning and caring about them, is challenging. I hate to criticize someone else's writing based on my own limitations as a reader, but I have no other frame of reference. Furthermore, Esslemont and Erikson both seem to do a lot of withholding in their writing. We all know this tactic of delayed resolution quite well, but leaving so much for the reader to piece together can at times prove counter-productive to a reader's interest.

Overall, Ian C Esslemont's first work, Night of Knives, had the feel of an author just getting his feet wet, Return of the Crimson Guard had the feel of an author that has just leaped headlong into a raging current known as the Malazan Empire. It's a bumpy ride one filled with crests and troughs, but in the end it's well worth it. (If Esslemont or Erikson is looking for suggestions for future writing, I for one would like to recommend a couple thousand pages on the Segulah.)

Copyright © 2009 Dominic Cilli

When asked to write a third-person tag line for his reviews, Dominic Cilli farmed the work out to an actual 3rd person, his friend Neal, who in turn turned it over to a second person who then asked his third cousin to help out and this person whom Dom doesn't even know then wrote in 8th person Omniscient mode "Dom's breadth of knowledge in literature runs the gamut and is certainly not bounded by the Sci-Fi/Fantasy genre. One thing I can say with certainty is that of all the people I don't know who've ever recommended books to read, Dom's recommendations are the best."

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