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Posted by Steve the Bookstore Guy On Friday, March 11, 2011

We were worried that STONEWIELDER wouldn’t quite live up to (or build upon) the greatness of RETURN OF THE CRIMSON GUARD. Ian C. Esslemont had set his own bar pretty high, so we kept our level of optimism well in check. Turns out it was all needless. STONEWIELDER is awesome.

STONEWIELDER takes place a little less than a year following the events of RotCG, making it fairly current with Erikson’s TOLL THE HOUNDS. Again we follow Rillish, Greymane and Kyle as events in the world begin going crazy, leading to the finale we read in THE CRIPPLED GOD. It’s hard to give a short and sweet summary of this novel. You have Greymane and Rillish being forced to confront their pasts, Kyle struggling to figure out his place in the world, a religious war, and a massive invasion of the Stormriders. We also get to see some of the Crimson Guard coping with the final events in the previous novel.

The first thing we noticed upon reading this book was the pacing. While smoother than and of Esslemont’s previous novels, it is also slower. Whether you take it as a positive or negative is really up to you. We didn’t “take it” one way or the other, we just made an observation. The pacing neither helped nor hurt the novel in the slightest. You may remember that RotCG essentially had 250 pages of war to close out the novel. It was intense, and amazingly well described. STONEWIELDER doesn’t have the same drawn-out war scenes as its predecessor, and we think this is a good thing. Even we like variety in our literary carnage, and Esslemont really focused in on the action of this novel making it more personal. His excellent war scenes are still there, but they aren’t nearly as…pulled back?...from the action.

The great thing about this novel—and really all of Esslemont’s work so far—is being able to see the other half of what is going on around the world. The events in Erikson’s The Malazan Book of the Fallen don’t happen in a vacuum. The rest of the world is in chaos as well. Seeing all these other events is really beginning to fill in the whole story. It’s a lot like that first read-through of DEADHOUSE GATES and MEMORIES OF ICE where you really get both sides of the story. Reading Esslemont’s portion of the series drives home how much effort has gone into the planning this whole giant tale.

The real question is has Esslemont improved his craft with this volume. Easily. His descriptions are better and more focused on the important stuff. His characters have more depth to them (though this is partially due to us getting more and more exposure to them). His dialogue flows SOOOO much better. Humor? Just wait until the character Manask is introduced. Possibly one of the funniest characters introduced so far in the whole Erikson/Esslemont series. It is this level of improvement that makes Esslemont’s such a pleasure to read. You can tell that he is working HARD to improve his craft, and as readers we appreciate this attention to detail.

STONEWIELDER isn’t perfect. There are some cliff-hanger events that we can only assume will be picked back up in ORB SCEPTRE THRONE, specifically with Kiska’s story. This may bother you, and it bothered us a little. Additionally, we have yet to really have that moment that emotionally punches us in the gut. Esslemont can perfectly envision the horrors of war, but we still need some of that deep, heart-wrenching emotion. With the way he has improved thus far, it’s easy to imagine him raising the bar again and addressing these issues.

Look, if you are a fan of Erikson’s work, you should be reading Esslmont—there’s really no middle ground here. The two series feed off of each other and are perfect compliments. STONEWIELDER is Esslemont’s best novel to date. Freaking read it. NOW! (or when it comes out in May...)

Recommended Age: 16+
Language: Some. On par with the other Erikson/Esslemont novels.
Violence: There are some seriously cringe-worthy moments in this novel. Utterly vicious. Completely amazing.
Sex: Talked about a little.


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