Review – Stonewielder

Stonewielder (Malazan Empire, #3)Stonewielder by Ian C. Esslemont
Synopsis from GoodReads:
Greymane believed he’d outrun his past. With his school for swordsmanship in Falar, he was looking forward to a quiet life, although his colleague Kyle wasn’t as enamoured with things outside the mercenary company, the Crimson Guard.

However, it seems it is not so easy for an ex-Fist of the Malazan Empire to disappear, especially one under sentence of death from that same Empire. For there is a new Emperor on the throne of Malaz, and he is dwelling on the ignominy that is the Empire’s failed invasion of the Korel subcontinent. In the vaults beneath Unta, the Imperial capital, lie the answers to that disaster. And out of this buried history surfaces the name Stonewielder.

In Korel, Lord Protector Hiam, commander of the Stormguard, faces the potential annihilation of all that he holds dear. With few remaining men and a crumbling stone wall that has seen better days, he confronts an ancient enemy: the sea-borne Stormriders have returned. Religious war also threatens these lands. The cult of the Blessed Lady, which had stood firm against the Riders for millennia, now seeks to eradicate its rivals. And as chaos looms, a local magistrate investigating a series of murders suddenly finds himself at the heart of a far more ancient and terrifying crime — one that has tainted an entire land.

Anyone familiar with my blog probably knows by now that I’m a fan of the Malazan world.  But I read the ‘main’ series and several of the other books before I started really updating this blog, and so no reviews for any Malazan book made it onto my blog.  Until now.  And in a way, I’m sorry to be starting with Stonewielder, because I didn’t find it a strong entry in the Malazan world.

Malazan books are known for assuming that the readers are intelligent, paying attention, and willing to accept a lack of information.  Both Ian C. Esslemont and co-creator Steven Erikson attempt to make all information appear natural, and both often succeed at this to the point where even a clever reader is left wondering what is true, what actually happened, and what this or that means.  For me, that’s part of the appeal – I like getting to make guesses, to hear multiple interpretations of the same event, meeting unreliable or misled narrators, and not always knowing what the truth really is.  That’s how real life works, and it’s great to have a series with a world and history (and word count!) vast enough to represent that.

But Stonewielder was too ambiguous.  Characters I should have sympathized with felt too opaque, and I didn’t feel anything about their choices, growth, sacrifices, and losses.  In particular, Greymane and Kyle, two of the central characters of this novel, didn’t feel realistic or sympathetic.  I was told of Kyle’s growth but not especially shown it, and his actions were often passive and reactive, not what I expected from him at all.  And Greymane was too distant – we didn’t get his perspective until the final chapter of the novel and even then it was too brief to establish much of any true emotion.

Not just characters, but plot arcs had too little going on.  Part of this was because every single chapter had at least one scene with each plot line.  And that was too much.  I found myself missing co-creator Erikson’s habit of doing one chapter with half the plot lines and then a second chapter with the other half, letting us spend more time with people so that we could get to know them while not over-saturating a reader with characters and plots that are less appealing.

This isn’t to say that the entire book disappointed me.  There were plenty of characters I got to know and love and several plot arcs that remained engrossing and well-paced.  In fact, overall, the course of the book felt very well-paced.  But it came at the expense of certain plot lines and characters.

In final, I’m giving this book a 3.5.  A good book, but not at the level I’d like to see from Malazan books.

If you haven’t read any Malazan book, please don’t start with this one – it picks up in the middle of many plot threads and will make a lot more sense with some background to it.  And for those who have read Malazan books but haven’t read this one – I recommend you try it, but only after you’ve read Return of the Crimson Guard.  It helps fill in more of the Malazan world and provides some background to what’s happening with both the Malazan Empire and certain other plot lines.

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