Together with Steven Erikson he has created the world and the legends of the Malazan world while roleplaying during off-hours in their daily work as archeologists. It's a work that winds back and forth between the two authors and their respective stories and timelines, something that might feel a bit daunting taking on if you haven't tried either of the two out yet.
Esslemont is a writer who has grown with the task for every previous novel, and it is true in parts for this book as well. He takes up the torch following Erikson's massively climactic Toll the Hounds, Erikson's eighth book, and the events leading up to its close. The book sets up in the familiar city of Darujhistan and its surroundings picking up on the loose threads of a storyline from the very first of Erikson's books, the mythic return of a great tyrant from the city's past.
We see a host of old acquaintances as Esslemont gives his account of Kruppe the Magnificent, as well as the surviving Bridgeburners and hangers on; Picker, Blend, Spindle, Duiker and Fisher. Further in the Darujhistan crowd we see Torvald and Rallick Nom, Lady Envy among others. And finally, after much foreshadowing and building up, we see a more in depth characterization of the supremely skilled Seguleh and their history. It's an action-packed book that doesn't quite reach the level of Stonewielder which I would consider Esslemont's finest hour so far but it does well in removing - or closing if you will - some of the loose threads that have been left hanging by Erikson and Esslemont both.
He set the tips of his fingers on the two-handed grip of his longsword and walked out to the middle of the amphitheatre sands. Over the years he had lost count of the many Thirds who had come and gone beneath him. The ranks of the Agatii, the top thousand were like a geyser in this manner - ever throwing up new challengers. And this one was an impatient example of a notoriously impatient ranking.
A side-story sees Antsy travel to the crashed and sunken Moon's Spawn where he comes across several new introductions as well as some old ones thrown in for good measure. The two storylines are interlined with Antsy being confronted by Seguleh, Tiste Andii and notorious mages and necromancers which end in the climactic end to the Seguleh vs Moranth conflict. In a way.
As is the case with most of the Malazan books the first third/half of the book deals with a lot of stage-setting and plot-building which, at times, gets a bit tedious. Esslemont does have a more direct style than Erikson though, even as he can draw on the great sweeps of canvas that they've both prepared for these latter parts in the series. The concept of the Tyrant was a great one, with an awesome ominous feel to it, even if the Council chapters and the inevitable ending seemed a bit anti-climactic. You felt a bit cheated with this whole trying to tie together every loose end when you've seen some, at times, great character building that kind of fizz out due to what feels like Esslemont ran out of words. It is very likely that this puts the Darujhistan-storyline to a rest, and focus will now turn towards the mythical continent of Jacuruku with the Crimson Guard and the rifts therein.
I wouldn't say it's the finest work of the novels and novellas in the Malaz world but it's apparent that Esslemont has kicked on and upped his standard a fair bit since the first novel, Night of Knives. Malazan fans won't be let down; with thunderous battles between the Moranth and the Seguleh, legends from the Seguleh as well as great build-up on the Tyrant and his concept. Brief cameos from everyone's favorite necromancers in the Moon's Spawn was a nice touch as well. But in general the book suffers a great deal from it's rushed ending sequences. I can't really motivate a re-read value, I will most likely do it myself but that's because I'm entirely sold already on the Malazan way of life. Others though, I'll excuse you if you go through the catalogue at least once.
READSTER MAGNITUDE SCALE: 5.8
REMINDS ME OF: Acacia by David Anthony Durham. I would say David Anthony Durham has a lot more in common with Ian Cameron Esslemont than he has with Steven Erikson, and their works share a lot of similarities in that they have a decent enough ground to build upon but then, at least in my opinon, they rush through everything towards the end which lends an unfinished air to the whole. It's still good reading though.
The Steel Remains by Richard K. Morgan because in a way they share, to an extent, the same direct writing style. Esslemont has the benefit of a fully developed world beforehand but Morgan is the more technically gifted writer, and slightly darker in tone.