Book Review: Assail

Assail by Ian C. Esslemont, Malazan Empire #6

Tens of thousands of years of ice is melting, and the land of Assail, long a byword for menace and inaccessibility, is at last yielding its secrets. Tales of gold discovered in the region's north circulate in every waterfront dive and sailor's tavern, and now countless adventurers and fortune-seekers have set sail in search of riches. All these adventurers have to guide them are legends and garbled tales of the dangers that lie in wait -- hostile coasts, fields of ice, impassable barriers and strange, terrifying creatures. But all accounts concur that the people of the north meet all trespassers with the sword. And beyond are rumoured to lurk Elder monsters out of history's very beginnings.

Into this turmoil ventures the mercenary company, the Crimson Guard. Not drawn by contract, but by the promise of answers: answers to mysteries that Shimmer, second in command, wonders should even be sought. Arriving also, part of an uneasy alliance of Malazan fortune-hunters and Letherii soldiery, comes the bard Fisher kel Tath. And with him is a Tiste Andii who was found washed ashore and cannot remember his past life, yet who commands far more power than he really should. Also venturing north is said to be a mighty champion, a man who once fought for the Malazans, the bearer of a sword that slays gods: Whiteblade.
 

And lastly, far to the south, a woman guards the shore awaiting both her allies and her enemies. Silverfox, newly incarnated Summoner of the undying army of the T'lan Imass, will do anything to stop the renewal of an ages-old crusade that could lay waste to the entire continent and beyond.

Casting light on mysteries spanning the Malazan empire, and offering a glimpse of the storied and epic history that shaped it, "Assail" is the final chapter in the epic story of the Empire of Malaz.


For many a fantasy reader the words Malazan Empire of the Fallen shouldn't come as an unknown. Steven Erikson is perhaps the best known for these books, well let me rephrase, EPIC works. But Steven Erikson wasn't the sole inventor of the universe of Malaz, together with Ian C. Esslemont this universe was created. A few years after Garden of the Moon, Ian C. Esslemont published his first book in his own series tightly linked to that of Steven Erikson, his debut Night of Knives focused on the Crimson Guard and has been followed intensively though all the other books. When I picked up Assail is found out that it would wrap up the Malazan Empire series, I actually hadn't anticipated this and wanted to put it down again, having to once again say goodbye to a series, especially a Malazan series isn't something I like to do. Luckily there is still the new prequel series of Steven Erikson and what is to be expected of any Malazan book, in the end there are always answers but many more questions are raised. I don't think this will be the last we have seen of Ian C. Esslemont. 

From the beginning of his Malazan Empire series, Ian C. Esslemont has shown the story through different perspectives than those of the other series. Yes big names made appeareance or reference in both, but he really put his own influence on the world and so far every book for me has been a terrific reading experience. I am a big fan of the Malaz universe and have found the further building on this universe by Ian C. Esslemont a true treat. There have been made many a comparison between the writing of Steven Erikson and that of Ian C. Esslemont and how they interpret the world of Malaz etc, for me they both do a great job. The books of Ian C. Esslemont read differently but well an apple isn't the same a pear now is it? 

The world of Malaz has always intrigued me with the different continents like Genabackis, Quon Tali, Lether and many more. Now for a first time ever Ian C. Esslemont takes the reader to a place that have remained obscure for a very long time. Assail, which lies in between Genabackis and Lether. This place has been rumored to be one the most inhospitable and dangerous places to venture in. But one thing has always made people abandon even the most dangerous premises and that is the promise of riches and untold fortunes. The word is spreading the gold can be found amass on the lands of Assail and this draws with it many adventures willing to go beyond everything to claim their riches. Besides the occasional pirate and mercenary that has set out for his or her riches, there are also other travels that have set their course on the lands of Assail purely for their own reasons, where most of them are to finally find some answers or just to return.

In the beginning of the story of Assail you get (re)introduced to several different characters that each have their own motivation for being on, or venturing to Assail. This should come as a surprise as I think that if you are familiar with the Malaz universe you undoubtedly must know that the character cast is huge. One of the point of views that you follow is that of the Crimson Guard, to whom most of this series is more or less dedicated. Here you will find many characters that featured early on the the series: K'azz, Shimmer, Blues and Bars and lets not forget Kyle, who actually goes by a different name and inhereted a new name after Korel, that of Whiteblade. A different point of view is offered by Silverfox, a T'lan Imass that carries with her more than one soul. Silverfox is the summoner of the undying T'lan Imass army and all she wants to do it put a final halt to an age long battle. A third perspective is added by one of my favourite characters Fisher kel That, the immortal bard and oft narrator of several important poems set in the Malaz universe. Fisher comes to the land of Assail with an Tiste Andii who suffers from loss of memory, vague references in the beginning and all throughout the story allow you to think about just who this "unknown" Tiste Andii is. These characters should need an introduction as they should be most familiar to everyone.

Next to these "old" players in the Malaz universe, Ian C. Esslemont also introduces completely new characters and writes about them with the same amount of determination and creativeness than the other more established ones. To be completely honest, perhaps even more so since they are characters of his own devising. These are the native inhabitants of the lands of Assail, tribesmen and shipmen. The most noteworthy characters here are Jute and Orman. Orman is a tribesman and now when I am writing this, his youthfully character and his quest closely reminds me of another warrior whom we got to meet in House of Chains. Karsa Orlong. Orman's inexperience and persistence drives him to do things that other would easily shy away from. Against the strong backdrop of established character Orman makes a very determined introduction and the way that Ian C. Esslemont builds his character, I am sure it wont be the last of him that we have seen. (I hope so). 

When it comes down to the recurring characters, I do have to say I am a big fan of many of them and having the chance to read again of their adventures really puts a smile on my face. Having followed their journey across many different books and even in both series, really fortifies their characters in the story, it is impossible to not feel connected with them. I really liked how Kyle evolved along the story and grew more into a resolute self. It's like a journey of rediscovery. One element in the storyline of Fisher was the unknown Tiste Andii, though you will undoubtely find out just who this person is and many people say it is to obvious, frankly I liked this part as well, giving an obscure character reference really allowed me to think about it and revisit several of the scenes that might have led up to this.

And what would a Malaz story be without some solid swordfighting and Warren usage! There is a very powerful display of both of them in Assail. The fighting is mostly shown from Kyle and Orman's. Kyle is known as The White Blade and with the sword he wields he wrecks some havoc when push comes to shove. Though Kyle had to fight his way through most encounters, the amount of tension that Ian C. Esslemont brought to the forefront really got me to edge of my seat. Top notch stuff. The Warrens of the Malaz Empire have always been something of intrigue to me, they are so, so, so cool to read about and the whole concept is striking. On Assail there is one Warren that reins supreme, for other mages and even high mages to break it and be able to access their own requires tremendous power and all but a few manage to fail, even several high mages find that is requires a strong exertion of power. This unavoidably led to much more dire and bleak future for several characters; when you have always been able to rely on your power and now all of a sudden you can't... 

Last but definitely not least is the world building of the continent of Assail. It's a first time it is being visited in a book of the Malaz universe and all I can say is WOW. The way that Ian C. Esslemont writes about this new continent really inspires a many good feeling withing me. In his writing he manages to create very lush details surrounding the places visited and you also get the complete overview of the continent in the bigger picture. Also in building this world Ian C. Esslement tells much about the history of several events and explains them in reference to Assail, he goes in on many of the earlier proposed rumors surrounding it. Thereby only further letting the world come to life, once you finish the story you will be wishing that this visit to Assail won't be a one time thing. 

Assail is a great finisher to the Malazan Empire series that started with Night of Knives. In Assail Ian C. Esslemont really pulls all the stops when it comes down to showing the ending. I think many readers, especially in the build up of the series might have come to expect a different kind of ending and for some it might come as a bit of an anti climax but with not proposing a full flashy sword and sorcery kind of display the ending does proposes some other things and might even be set for a point to pick up yet another series. Also by creating the ending Assail got it does answer many questions that were raised earlier on in the series which for me was the reason I read these books. I want answers and coinciding with answers there are always more questions... Luckily! The Malazan Empire series just as it's "Big Brother" the Malazan Empire of the Fallen, is obligatory reading material for every Epic Fantasy fan, don't let the page count be thing to shy you away, they are over in a heartbeat and offer a terrific reading experience. Give me more!  

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