Saturday, May 27, 2017

Return of the Crimson Guard (Malazan Empire #2) ★★★★☆

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 Title: Return of the Crimson Guard
 Series: Malazan Empire #2
 Author: Ian Esslemont
 Rating: 4 of 5 Stars
 Genre: SFF
 Pages: 732
 Format: Digital Edition


I believe I counted Double Digit story threads going on, so I'm going to simply mention the overall highlights/plots.

The Crimson Guard vowed to fight the Malazan Empire and the Duke K'Azz was their leader. Due to the nature of their vow, the “Avowed” [the Guards who actually took the vow] cannot die of old age and are becoming superhuman. Once they do die, their ghosts stick around and act as messengers. The Guard was scattered after one particular encounter with the Malazans. Now they are beginning to come back together. The Duke is missing, so the next in command, Skinner, has taken command. But he's apparently in thrall to the Broken God and so has his own agenda that subverts the Guards Vow. The Guard is split between those who follow Skinner and those who remain faithful to the original intent of the Vow.

This is all happening because various commanders and top dogs from the Malazan empire are sick of Laseen's rule and are pulling away and allying themselves with local nationals. A splintering of the Empire that Kellenved began. Laseen comes to the continent with all the hosts she can muster to oppose the nationals. The Guard uses this to plan an attack on her to wipe her out. A phracking huge battle ensues.

A mad mage ends up opening a gate to Chaos and everybody comes together [sing it with me!] to stop him before the whole world is consumed. Laseen dies and Mallick Rel, introduced in Deadhouse Gates, becomes emperor. Treaties and peace negotians ensue and everyone is properly maudlin.

My Thoughts:

That synopsis was the shortest I could make it, honest.

This takes place several books later, chronologically, in the Malazan Book of the Fallen series by Erikson. However, characters from it, specifically, Mallick Rel, Korbolo Dom, Nil & Nether and even the reborn Coltaine, were relatively fresh in my mind from my read of Deadhouse Gates. That made connections MUCH easier to remember. Sadly, the reborn Coltaine gets just a couple of paragraphs before being sent back into literary oblivion.

Lets deal with my gripes first.

Once again, the deliberate with-holding of information about who a character is from the reader. It is not as simple as not telling us, but in several cases characters are thinking/talking about Mysterious Character X and it goes something like this:

No, it couldn't be. He's dead!”
A veiled glance from Mystery Character X to the character talking...
It IS him!”
Mystery Character X nods and walks away into the distance. Talking character is left in jaw dropping awe.

That makes me want to scream. It makes me feel like Esslemont is dancing in front of me going “Nyah, nyah, nyah! I know something you don't know!” It is frustrating and probably my biggest gripe with both Esslemont and Erikson. They seem to revel in spitting in my face with hidden knowledge. Since this whole series is a re-read, I know this will keep on happening. But I don't have to like it and I don't.

On to the good stuff.

If you want complex plots filled with political, personal, religious and psychological threads, this is the schizzle. Like I said in the Synopsis, double digit threads being woven. Pay attention or you'll get lost. Near the end, I DID get lost. Who was fighting who against who all became tangled up as new threats emerged and groups split and groups came together. Because there were Malazans on almost every side, it wasn't even a Malazan Against Others story. It was a big messy group dynamics story.

I couldn't race through this. I am finding that I need to slow down my reading to appreciate what I am reading at the moment instead of thinking about what I'm going to read next. This book was like walking through a mucky swamp; each step was an effort and you had to look right in front of you without looking at those distant mountains or you'd fall into a pit and never get out.

The munitions group, that coalesces around a Sergeant Jumpy is great. It made me laugh. It was a much needed comedic break because almost all the other story lines are of the Grimmest, Darkest Import. Everything else is weighed down by its own Self Importance. Just how they act and think is fun and I wish there had been a touch or two more of them.

Overall, I am satisfied with this re-read.
I had a lot more to say about this book this time around than I did back in '10. Probably getting a bit garrulous in my declining years.


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