Well, at least this one felt like a novel. Return of the Crimson Guard by Ian C. Esslemont is supposed to be read right after Steven Erikson‘s The Bonehunters – though as I finished my MBotF reread some weeks ago, I wasn’t able to do that.
The Crimson Guard is preparing to strike at Laseen’s empire and finish it once and for all. Laseen is preparing to fight of her attackers – both externally and internally – and solidify her position for once and for all. Both forces come together at Li Heng, whose walls have only been breached by the previous Emperor Kellanved, and which imprisons a beast that could kill them all if released.
Um…I was at first very excited about this book because we’d finally get more about the Crimson Guard – after we’ve met Iron Bars and his group – and we’d finally get to spend more time with Laseen – whose we’ve only met twice in the MBotF series and once she wasn’t even physically there. And sure enough, we did get to spend time with a lot of people we’ve already met and sort of like (Tayschrenn! Dassem! Nether! Nil! Draconus? Osserc! Memory-Anomander! Cotillion! Shadowthrone! Iron Bars! Corlo! Braven Tooth!), some we don’t like (Mallick Rel, Korbolo Dom, Skinner, Cowl, Possum, Kallor and Kiska) and a whole bunch of “Old Guard” of the Malazan Empire we’ve heard named or met fleetingly (Urko and Cartheron Crust, Toc the Elder! Amaron, Choss and Ullo).
Unfortunately, there are also newer characters introduced, who don’t always get fleshed out a lot. The only ones who did were two sappers and one of them started of as really annoying. Kyle, who is supposed to be one of the main characters, is an annoying teenager who keeps coming to the wrong conclusions and, after being kicked out of the Crimson Guard because of a murder he didn’t commit, decides not to go home, but search for Duke K’azz D’avore. Because being framed for a murder you didn’t commit obviously makes you feel you have to go look for the long-lost leader of said group. He was Esslemont’s version of Crokus/Cutter, but without the intelligence and more emo. And surely, Cutter was emo enough. And the character Ghelel was unnecessary and useless for the entire time she was in the book.
Laseen’s parts were al right, though I got very mad when I saw Mallick and Korbolo again (MURDERERS!!!) and especially the end of the book is going to be unpleasant for many people who hate those characters after what they did to Coltaine and the Wickans. Though luckily we did get to spend some time with our favourite twins Nether and Nil – and a child that is heavily implied to be Coltaine reborn.
Throughout the battles, it’s really hard to root for one side, especially when sides start merging, because you want both sides to win, but also to lose. It’s hard to explain unless you’ve actually read it. It was nice to learn a little bit about the Storm Wall and it was nice seeing the Old Guard, even though they turned out to be a bit disappointing when in action. I was expecting Bridgeburner levels of epic and got….well, you should just read it yourself. Though Urko is the man! He really is.
What did make me very uncomfortable while reading this book is how unedited it felt. There were times where I had to read a sentence multiple times before getting what it really said, because of the lack of punctuation. There were clunky and bloated pieces an editor should have gone through with a red pen and that’s just too bad. The amount of jumping from one character to another also felt a bit much, I mean Erikson does it too but it doesn’t feel annoying with him. Perhaps it was because Esslemont shifted a lot between characters I didn’t really care about. Oh and the spelling inconsistencies! Geez, can’t these guys just decide on one form of a name? Because reading Ameron/Amaron, Cartheron/Cartharon and stuff like that in their books just makes me queasy. Probably just a pet peeve of mine, but still.
All in all, this book has not reached Erikson’s level, yet. But you really need to read this one, unlike Night of Knives, because there are a lot of things happening that have big consequences for the Malazan world. Especially that ending! That was just so….unbelievable! I didn’t think he would go there.