Book Review: Dancer's Lament
Dancer's Lament by Ian C. Esslemont, Path to Ascendancy #1
For ages warfare has crippled the continent as minor city states, baronies, and principalities fought in an endless round of hostilities. Only the alliance of the rival Tali and Quon cities could field the resources to mount a hegemony from coast to coast -- and thus become known as Quon Tali.
It is a generation since the collapse of this dynasty and regional powers are once more rousing themselves. Into this arena of renewed border wars come two youths to the powerful central city state that is Li Heng.
One is named Dorin, and he comes determined to prove himself the most skilled assassin of his age; he is chasing the other youth -- a Dal Hon mage who has proven himself annoyingly difficult to kill.
Li Heng has been guided and warded for centuries by the powerful sorceress known as the "Protectress", and she allows no rivals. She and her cabal of five mage servants were enough to repel the Quon Tali Iron Legions -- what could two youths hope to accomplish under their stifling rule?
Yet under the new and ambitious King Chulalorn the Third, Itko Kan is on the march from the south. He sends his own assassin servants, the Nightblades, against the city, and there are hints that he also commands inhuman forces out of legend.
While above all, shadows swirl oddly about Li Heng, and monstrous slathering beasts seem to appear from nowhere to run howling through the street. It is a time of chaos and upheaval, and in chaos, as the young Dal Hon mage would say, there is opportunity.
Finally back to the Malaz at last or is it? If you are an epic fantasy fan the series Malazan Empire of the fallen that was created by Steven Erikson and Ian C. Esslemont must not have escaped your notice. Steven Erikson wrote this 10-volume master piece and Ian C. Esslemont added his own series to the universe, which he finished in 2013 with a grand finale in Assail. With this new addition to the Malaz universe Ian C. Esslemont takes us back to where one very important story line began.
To answer the question above, yes it is. Though Ian C. Esslemont has a reputation among Malazan fans, I liked his stories in general of course there are some wobbles here and there but you just have to learn and live with it that every author has his way of telling a story. And this is also reflected in Dancer's Lament it is a story written in multiple perspectives but in a straightforward kind of way. Ian C. Esslemont spares enough moments to delve into details but there is a definite pace in the story. Don't expect the elaborate scenes as shown in Erikson's stories but this is more faster, I do still have to point out that Ian C. Esslemont does some solid worldbuilding in his own way.
So what is this story about? This is a difficult bit to completely delve into without spoiling to much. Dancer's Lament takes the reader back to the year before the first book of Erikson "Gardens of the Moon". The synopsis mentions a few characters, that if you are familiar with the Malazan Empire books, you should know or will at least ring a bell. The first focus is on Dorin a young assassin that knows his ends of the rope, then you have a young mage that goes by the name of Wu, who comes from the city of Dal Hon. Then there is also a mage named Silk who is one of the five mages from in the cabal of the Li Heng "Protectress" and you have the perspective of one of the enemy troops, the feared Nightblades from Itko Kan that are on the move to conquer Li Heng, featured by Iko. Now this might not seem a very interesting story to you on the first go, as it might sound as a basic command and conquer story between Itko Kan and Li Heng sending there armies after one another. Well you are wrong. Of course the story is in the big lines, but when it comes to Malazan books the true story is most often found in the finer details, the personal storylines that make events happen. If you are afraid of spoilers don't continue.
The title of the new series is Path to Ascendancy, you might have already guessed it but Dorin is Dancer, Dancer's Lament is here to show how he ascended and lays the first steps down for these steps. There is also a good interaction with the Dal Hon mage Wu who walkes with a cane. With who was Dancer again associated? Bingo. The encounter between the two were serious and fun at times, there is a nice vocation given to both of the characters. The same also counts for how Silk and Iko are shown in the battles. They are given there own voices all throughout the book that when you compare them with the other books that they feature in will give a more complete picture.
When it comes to world building Ian C. Esslemont also manages to do a good job. To be honest, it must be harder and harder to have to come up with new surroundings each time in a new Malazan book. A lot of the world has already be told and spoken about. Still Ian C. Esslemont managed to pique my interest with the world that he envisioned in this prequel to the Malazan series. However it did feel as if the focus was more on the characters, Dancer, Wu, Iko and Silk and their stories than on the cities and surroundings perse. Perhaps this had to do with Dancer's Lament being the first book in the series or with Ian C. Esslemont giving the floor to the character to tell their stories.
As I said at the beginning Dancer's Lament is a fun and enjoyable book and moreover a very solid addition to the Malazan universe. Ian C. Esslemont has a reputation among many Malazan fans as being not up to par with Steven Erikson. I disagree, Ian C. Esslemont has his own way of writing the stories and showing what his characters do. Don't go in reading his books with the expectation of reading a Steven Erikson copy. Anyway. I loved how Ian C. Esslemont showed the interaction with Dorin and Wu or should I say the man with the cane, emperor K... there are also many sneak peeks given into what is to come with the Azathani and the Crimson Guard. I think we will be much surprised in the books to come.