May 24, 2016

Dancer's Lament by Ian C. Esslemont

“If you corner him there will be bloodshed. And I do not like bloodshed.’ 
Dorin arched a brow. ‘Really. You don’t like bloodshed.’
‘No. It’s messy and unsophisticated. There are better ways of doing things.’
‘Such as?’
Wu brightened, flashed his yellowed crooked teeth. ‘My ways. Lying, trickery, deceit, cheating, or just plain patience. He will come to us.” -Ian C. Esslemont, Dancer's Lament

Blurb: Esslemont's all-new prequel trilogy takes readers deeper into the politics and intrigue of the New York Times bestselling Malazan Empire. Dancer's Lament focuses on the genesis of the empire, and features Dancer, the skilled assassin, who, alongside the mage Kellanved, would found the Malazan empire.

Format: Dancer's Lament is the first novel in an all new prequel trilogy set in the Malazan Empire that was co-created by Ian C. Esslemont and Steven Erikson. I am reviewing an ARC I received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review of this novel. The release of Dancer's Lament is scheduled for May 31st, 2016 by Tor and the hardback edition is 416 pages in length.

Setting: The city state of Li Heng is the setting for this Malazan tale. The bustling city's underworld is the focal point of this story as the main character Dorin seeks to establish himself as a professional assassin by carving his way into one of the many crime boss' inner circles where he can begin to make a name for himself. The city comes under siege and over the course of the novel we see the city change from the bustling city with busy streets and merchants to a desolate, war torn and desperate state. The changing of the single setting over the course of the novel was well written and compelling, making the setting an interesting piece of this novel.

Characters: There are three primary character POVs: Dorin the assassin, Silk the mage, and Iko, a skilled bodyguard (sword-dancer) of King Chulalorn the Third. Although the prideful youth Dorin is established to become the character we know as Dancer early on, the mage Kellanved is not so quickly established and I'm still unsure whom that will be. Each character changes in a different way over the course of the novel. The siege that the story is based around does a good job of shifting each of our three POVs main priorities and attitudes towards the world. In terms of character change, I would argue that this is Esslemont's strongest novel. There were several great supporting characters as well such as the Protectress of Li Heng and the cadre of mages that includes Silk and other familiars to fans of the series. There is a Del Hon mage that's a little insane that teams up with Dorin and their odd relationship will surely drive the future installments of this series for me. Overall, the characters were strong, well developed, and had a good amount of change over the course of this novel. 

Plot: Though there are three separate character arcs in this novel the plot was well driven between them and there were a lot of elements that mattered to all three. The fight between King Chulalorn the Third and his siege of Li Heng serves as not only an important setting aspect, but each of the three characters has certain investments in their own stories that will be affected by that outcome. Dorin himself is attempting to establish himself as a professional assassin. He joins up with a minor crime boss to earn his right to make money on contracts. He very quickly finds the penalty of killing without getting paid for it and the ruling party of the city, the Protectress and the cadre of mages that includes Silk, discover his talents and wish to make use and do away with him. Meanwhile on the other side of the fight, the sword-dancer Iko is pushed with her sword sisters to the breaking point in defense of their king and disillusion becomes a very real threat for her.  

My Thoughts: Dancer's Lament is a solid Malazan tale that truly feels like an Erikson Malazan tale. Though the writing between Erikson and Esslemont differs, the tale itself has the kind of story I look for in a Malazan book. The novel provided some key insights to the humble beginnings of Dancer and I look forward to seeing how the young assassin will become the hand of Kellanved and found the Malazan Empire. I would easily recommend this book to any Malazan fan but I would also say this is a good place to start for someone who has not read either Malazan series. The prequel really doesn't divulge any information about future events and the backstory will become useful later on to anyone who gives this one a shot first. I was a compelling read and even though it was over 400 pages, I read the novel in just two or three sittings. Definitely worth a glance!

About the Author: IAN CAMERON 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 wife and children and is currently working on his PhD in English Literature.

Ian C. Esslemont and Steven Erikson co-created the Malazan world in 1982 as a backdrop for role-playing games. In 1991 they collaborated on a feature film script set in the same world, entitled Gardens of the Moon. When the script did not sell, Erikson greatly expanded the story and turned it into a novel.

Author's Website: Ian C. Esslemont's Website

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