(2008) Ian C Esslemont, Bantam Books, £7.99, pbk, 480pp, ISBN 978-0-553-81829-1
Ian Esslemont was born in Winnipeg, Canada, has worked as an archaeologist and also lived in Thailand and Japan for several years. Currently living in Fairbanks, Alaska with his wife and children. Night of Knives is his first novel, set in the Mazalan Empire, which you may know from the works of Steven Erikson. You might wonder about this, but Erikson makes it very clear in his introduction to this book that the Mazalan world has been developed by both authors, both independently and jointly since 1982. Initially developed as a role-playing games world, it has subsequently developed into a vehicle for their novels.
The story largely takes place over one night on the isle of Mazalan, now a backwater of the Empire, although the city still appears to be a place of magical significance. The two main characters that we follow are a cynical old war veteran who takes the name 'Temper' (as in the temper of a sword), and Kiska, a young woman and highly skilled thief, desperate to get off the island and see the world. It is a big story with many factions involved from the highest ranks of the Empire in the struggle for power and rulership over this world, and the outer planes that the mages draw their power from. During the night of the story our two main characters stumble from one faction to another, criss-crossing their way across the city, doing their best to survive. Meanwhile, in the background, an even bigger story is taking place, which drags the most powerful mages on the island and from the factions together in what would seem a last ditch defense of everything!. Ultimately the characters are not necessarily motivated by what you would expect as the story unwinds... and the denouement cannot be deduced from the main story.
I felt that, on the whole, the story was very well written and drew you along with a fast pace, with the character backgrounds in short sections, scattered throughout the novel. Working it out as I went along was great fun, and the cast list in the front of the book was very useful.
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