Saturday, July 10, 2010
Posted by PeterWilliam at 6:41 PM
Return of the Crimson Guard, by Ian C. Esslemont
Format: Hardcover; 702 pages
Copy: Out of pocket
From inside the dust cover: The return of the mercenary company the Crimson Guard could not have come at a worse time for a Malazan Empire exhausted by warfare and weakened by betrayals and rivalries. Indeed, there are those who wonder whether the Empress Laseen might not be losing her grip on power as she faces increasing unrest as conquered kingdoms and principalities sense freedom once more.
Into the seething cauldron of Quon Tali - the Empire's heartland - marches the Guard. With their return comes the memory of the Empire - and yet all is not well with the Guard itself. Elements within its elite, the Avowed, have set their sights on far greater power. There are ancient entities who also seek to further their own arcane ends. And what of the swordsman called Traveller who, with his companion Ereko, has gone in search of a confrontation from which none have ever returned?
As the Guard prepares to wage war, Laseen's own generals and mages, the "Old Hands," grow impatient with what they see as her mismanagement of the Empire. But could Laseen have outwitted them all? Could she be using the uprisings to draw out and finally eliminate these last irksome survivors from the days of her illustrious predecessor, Kellanved?
My first trip down Esslemont Lane, in the Malazan world, was good enough. I know, it sounds like the kiss of death. Seriously, I liked Night of Knives well enough, but not nearly as much as previous Malazan offerings. Return of the Crimson Guard, however, is quite fine indeed.
The style employed, whether it's Esslemont or Erikson, is something of a third-person limited-omnisicient. C'mon, I know it's rather oxymoronic, but bear with me here. The story regularly offers subtle hints and characters nod their heads knowingly, even when the reader is struggling to uncover the point/mystery involved. I'm sure that there are Malaz-oid fanboys (complete with self-drawn maps, timelines, etc.) out there who can, speculatively, tie together all of the hints nicely. I, on the other hand, sit in blissful suspense through each new offering in the Malazan world because I expect the answers will fall into my lap, in the end.
This story follows an implosion, seemingly, of the empire. The empress is forced to make alliances and betrayals, which seem to be pivotal to survival when faced with the empire's arch-nemesis, the Crimson Guard. The Crimson Guard aren't having an easy time of it either, as there appears to be no dearth of covert manipulations employed to advance the agendas of internal factions in their corner as well.
Into this possible implosion come several parties. There are a group of exiled and imprisoned mages from the Seven Cities otataral mines - that end up en route to Quon Tali. There is the enigmatic Traveller, with his companion Ereko - bound in a similar direction, complete with tag-alongs from a parallel plot line. When combined with the Crimson Guard, en route to Quon Tali, the locals who are uprising in hopes of independence once more and, let's not forget, the empire itself, you get quite the stew.
This is my segue into the reason I love all things Malazan, so much. Scope. As in an extraordinarly ambitious and over-the-top scope. When you consider the variety of races, locations, mortals, deities, demi-deities, warrens, etc., it's almost numbing - oh, but I just love it (right down to the cover art - seriously, just look at that). Return of the Crimson Guard, among a couple of other works written within the Malazan world, perfectly epitomizes this.
I will readily admit it - I'm a fan of big, fat fantasy series (BFF). Generally speaking, I like them all. However, the Malazan world is, and has been for some time now, the best (ok, my favorite). Esslemont's Return of the Crimson Guard only further cements my opinion on the matter.