January 22, 2013

Review: "Blood and Bone By Ian C. Esslemont (Malazan Empire #5)

Blood and Bone is far and away the best episode in Ian C. Esslemont's on-going series of "Malazan Empire" novels.  For those who don't know, Esslemont and his "Malazan World" co-creater, Steven Erikson, have authored two series of books that are all interconnected and interwoven together to create, in my humble opinion, the finest fantasy series ever written.  Erikson's series is ten books and is entitled "The Malazan Book of the Fallen, and with Blood and Bone, Esslemont has now completed five novels in his "Malazan Empire" series.

Blood and Bone is a tour de force on so many levels--the quality of writing, the plotting and complexity, characterization, and then the sheer significance to the entire Malazan canon.  This novel grabbed me from the first page and didn't let up until the very last page--it really is that good!  Both Erikson and Esslemont are known for Malazan novels that build with tension and a whole host of seemingly incongruous plot-threads, but generally about two-thirds of the way through the book a series of convergences begin to occur.  This typically culminates in the 'mother of all convergences' near the end of the book, with everything coming flying together, usually in spectacular--and sometimes bloody--fashion.

Blood and Bone begins its mega-convergence pretty much from the first page and just builds like a series of monstrous waves crashing on a rocky shoreline.  As I read Blood and Bone I kept thinking about Joseph Conrad's brilliant little novel Heart of Darkness, and I just have to believe that Esslemont must have also been influenced by it as he wrote this book (as well as his anthropological work in Southeast Asia).  Additionally, there is a real cinematic quality to Esslemont's writing in this book that very much reminded me of Francis Ford Coppola's film Apocalypse Now (his take on Conrad's Heart of Darkness).

Blood and Bone is set on the island continent of 'Jacaruku' which is bisected by a great range of mountains that run from the northern end to the southern.  The western half of the island is home to a group of warring desert tribes people and a brutal society of practitioners of dark and evil magic.  The eastern half of Jacaruku is a dense and incredibly dangerous jungle realm known as 'Himatan' that will likely make most readers think of the great jungles in the heart of Africa or the Amazon in South America.  And like Conrad's Heart of Darkness, Blood and Bone recounts the stories of the trials and tribulations of several disparate groups of peoples that are all struggling to travel into the interior of this jungle to a fabled lost city--including one group's truly epic journey up a river through the jungle of 'Himatan'.  I'm not going to tell you why, except to say that it is all about power--gaining it, or denying it of somebody else.

I think that Blood and Bone is vitally important in helping to answer some questions, or shed significant light on events touched upon in the other novels in Erikson's and Esslemont's Malazan world.  If you've been a close reader, you will very much enjoy much of what you discover in this action-packed novel.  You're also going to be delighted to encounter some 'old friends' from previous novels, and you're going to love the 'new friends' you're meeting for the first time.  While complexly plotted, this is a rollicking good read with loads of action, tension, and a goodly number of moments of mind-numbing terror.  As I said at the outset, I think this is Esslemont's best novel yet, and I can't wait to see where he takes us in his next installment.  While I have a pretty good guess, I'll let you read Blood and Bone and work that out for yourself.  I have no qualms awarding this book five of five stars, it is a truly great story!

Blood and Bone
By Ian C. Esslemont
Bantam Press, UK, Hardcover
586 pp.
ISBN 0593064467

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