Dancer’s Lament is the first novel in the Path to Ascendancy trilogy by Ian C. Esslemont.
The walled city of Li Heng has been protected for years by the mysterious Protectress while the minor city states surrounding the city have warred with each other. It is strong, and secure, and protected by not just the powerful sorceress, but also by a cabal of five strong mages. But now there’s war looming, and chaos. And two young men are poised to take advantage of that chaos.
It’s no secret I’m not as big of a fan (well, I’d not even call myself a fan to be honest) of Esslemont’s work as I am of Erikson’s. And that’s a shame, because they built the world of Malazan together. I had problems with Esslemont’s writing style, his knack for taking awesome characters and somehow make them…less awesome, and the fact that he named one of his main characters Kyle in a world where people have names like Tattersail, Quick Ben, Anomandaris Dragnipurake and Cotillion. Sure, he gets better as he writes more books, but the quality went up and down and up and down in my eyes.
So when I heard this prequel trilogy dealing with perhaps the most enigmatic, mysterious and interesting characters of the Malazan world – Emperor Kellanved and Dancer – was being tackled by Esslemont I wasn’t happy. And when I heard that Dancer’s real name was Dorin, I groaned. Not because I particularly hate the name Dorin, but because when I hear Dorin, I’m also expecting a Dwalin, Balin, Bifur and Bombur. And though I love the Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit, they are not the same kind of books as the Malazan Book of the Fallen – style wise.
I went in reading Dancer’s Lament with suspicion and the knowledge that, much like the other Esslemont books, I’d read it because it was Malazan, but I’d probably never reread it. (And as someone who loves to reread her books, that’s not something I say lightly).
Turns out, I was wrong. I absolutely loved this book! It’s was a great adventure romp set in Li Heng, with the teenage versions of three (!) of the biggest players of the Malazan world, none of whom acted like the “standard moping know-it-all teenager”. They all had their goals, they all had their trails, and I loved their interactions with each other. The book has multiple POVs, but only one POV of the three Malazan regulars who are present in the story, and that is Dorin. He’s young, he’s skilled and he knows what he wants. There’s a little of Dancer in him, and a little of Cotillion as well, and I’m eager to see him grow and become the man we all know and love. It’s funny to see the other characters through his eyes, because we readers have the advantage of knowing how they’ll end up, but he doesn’t. His exasperation with Wu (who will eventually become Shadowthrone) is hilarious, especially because we know that never really goes away.
I can’t really give away who else Malazan fans might expect to see in this book; there’s a lot of cameo’s in here, and I loved them all.
All in all, a great book that exceeded my expectations. I’m definitely rereading this one.