Friday, January 09, 2015

Mini-Review: Assail by Ian C. Esslemont

Assail by Ian C. Esslemont wraps up a 5 (or 6 depending on how you choose to count it) book story arc within the Malazan world that Esslemont shares with Steven Erikson. The best way to think of it is that it’s a supplement and epilogue to Erikson’s Malazan Books of the Fallen series. And that brings us to what is my biggest problem with Esslemont’s contributions to the Malazan world – he’s not Steven Erikson.

Yes, this is perhaps unfair to Esslemont, but in a shared world, the comparison will be made. It comes down to this – I get Erikson, or more correctly, Erikson’s writing connects with me. The humor, the satire, the cynicism, the commentary on genre, and all the meta stuff that glues the rest together. With Esslemont, all that is absent, or at maybe it’s just that he doesn’t have the writing skills to pull it off. Whatever the specific reasons, Esslemont remains in Erikson’s shadow and I can only describe his books as a disappointment regarding what they could have been (if written by Erkison).

Esslemont has undeniably grown as a writer and story-teller since he entered the Malazan world with Night of Knives. He even pulls off some interesting thematic explorations. But he’s not Erikson. They may have co-created the characters, but time and time again, it seems that Esslemont takes a character made mysterious, interesting, and altogether fun by Erikson and sucks all that right out. Fisher is the prime example in Assail – Fisher’s origins and potential powers have always been of interest, and by the time we’re done with Assail, it’s boring, whatever reveal occurs has lost all its power and Fisher literally limps into what is supposed to the payoff for the series. Another example is the whole Crimson Guard thing – was it supposed to be a tragedy, because I think it was. Words were said to imply as much, though there was no emotional impact with it. I think that ending could have meant something, instead…well, it wasn’t as boring as the last book.

I called this a mini-review, when it may be better reviewed as a non-review. Because ultimately, what I say repeatedly in this review is that the book suffers a lot because it was written by Esslemont and not Erikson. That’s unfair. But that’s also how I felt. A mediocre fantasy adventure that fails to inspire any emotional attachment to its characters is all that the writing of Esslemont will ever be. That mediocrity is only more evident by occurring alongside the writings of Erikson in the same world.

Night of Knives (Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon)
Return of the Crimson Guard (My Review, Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon)
Orb Sceptre Throne (My Review, Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon)


Unknown said...

This is very disappointing - I started my second re-read of the entire (dual) series in November (currently up to Reaper's Gale) because I didn't want to read Assail without remembering all the pertinent details. I am immensely enjoying the re-read though so all good :-)

Linda said...

Thanks for the review, Ken. I agree with your assessment of Esslemont's writing, which is why I stopped reading his parts of the series sooner than you.

Anonymous said...

Yeah...I have to agree with you, too. I don't know what it is about Esslemont's writing either - maybe because it does the Grimdark thing, which is why I find it so damned boring, because there is just! no! fun! in it, just relentless direness. If I wanted relentless direness I'd watch the evening news.

noman rumeral said...

I agree wholeheartedly, I struggled through NOK and must have attempted ROTCG at least 3 times. Some things are better left unread.

Anonymous said...

All I can say is that Esslemont tried to pull off a grand convergence Erikson-style and he fell short. What resulted was a long and grinding 'run' of characters hacking their way through to the final disappointing anti-climax.


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