Book Review: Assail by Ian C Esslemont

            Look at it! It’s so awesome!

Hopefully I was not alone in my giddy excitement when I saw the title of this book.

Assail.

All Malazan fans will know the weight that sits on that continent. Throughout Erikson’s series we have seen some of the toughest characters be chewed up and spat out by Assail. And sometimes they even survive.

We enter the world of Malazan once again as we always do, with some new characters and some old faces, and I think by now with 15 books under most readers’ belts (I’m going to assume that you’ve read Esslemont’s series after you read Erikson’s) we have enough context that we are immediately drawn into the new stories. A young man from one of the tribes on Assail and a sea-captain on his way to the fabled continent are a couple.

Esslemont does a wonderful job of building tension and suspense in the first portion of the book. We are only given fleeting glimpses into what lies at the heart of the continent and what terrible things might happen. Further to this we are thrown a complete curve-ball with the prologue and only left with burning questions.

Esslemont builds on this consistently throughout the entire book and we are given hints, both great and small, about what is happening and important revelations about the world. I could barely put the book down in the first half for all of these hints and questions (I almost missed my stop a couple of times on the train) and then by the time the second half of the book comes around you’re caught up with the momentous plot you can’t put it down then either!

I will say that for some reason around Chapter Six there was this weird explosion of adverbs. As though Esslemont realised that adverbs can be okay sometimes and got a little carried away. It was a little off-putting once I realised he wasn’t doing it deliberately with one character to try and make a statement about their POV, but then after that chapter it dies down and all is well with the world.

Apart from the ‘Adverb Attack of Ch. 6’ Esslemont’s language is diverse and descriptive, and I did note at times how wonderfully creepy he could be (in all the right places). Esslemont’s voice really shines and I think that he has developed wonderfully since ‘The Night of Knives’ way back in 2004. He gives the proper weight and sadness to those characters and scenes that need it but is also a dab hand at cracking jokes. There was a wonderful moment in a climactic fight scene towards the end that did give me a mighty chuckle.

The Epilogue does a wonderful job of tying everything together in a neat little bow. I did wonder whether it was necessary and should have been a final chapter, but perhaps that’s just pedantic of me? Regardless, the Epilogue ties all of the threads of this book together and then shows us some of the paths the characters want to take next. So instead of leaving us with the unanswered questions that we were sometimes left with in Erikson’s work, Esslemont ties everything together and then scatters the seeds for the next round of storytelling. And each and every single one of those seeds should be an epic story in its own right.

By the time we reach the end of the book the world has been suitably threatened, our view on it has been suitably rocked, and we have had our hearts suitably broken. All in all, Esslemont continues to build and improve on his previous work. Every volume increases in complexity, skill, and epic scale.

I absolutely urge any fantasy fan to read the Malazan series, and if any Malazan fans are hesitant to pick up Esslemont’s series after what a good job Erikson did, I can assure you that you will not be disappointed. Esslemont has at least 3 more books to go and I for one cannot wait to read them. 

Assail is released on the 14th August and you can preorder it in hardback or ebook from Amazon, or from the publisher’s website.

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