Blood and Bone by Ian C. Esslemont
Synopsis from GoodReads:
In the western sky the bright emerald banner of the Visitor descends like a portent of annihilation. On the continent of Jacuruku, the Thaumaturgs have mounted yet another expedition to tame the neighboring wild jungle. Yet this is no normal wilderness. It is called Himatan, and it is said to be half of the spirit-realm and half of the earth. And it is said to be ruled by a powerful entity whom some name the Queen of Witches, and some a goddess: the ancient Ardata. Saeng grew up knowing only the rule of the magus Thaumaturgs — but it was the voices out of that land’s forgotten past that she listened to. And when her rulers mount an invasion of the neighboring jungle, those voices send her and her brother on a desperate mission.
To the south, the desert tribes are united by the arrival of a foreign warleader, a veteran commander in battered ashen mail whom his men call, the Grey Ghost. This warleader takes the tribes on a raid like none other, deep into the heart of Thaumaturg lands. While word comes to K’azz, and mercenary company the Crimson Guard, of a contract in Jacuruku. And their employer… none other than Ardata herself.
This book took me FOREVER to read. I didn’t want to get back to it because of how slow and plodding it felt, which meant I struggled to read each chapter. And okay, yes, sometimes Malazan books take a while because of how dense they are but this one… I was bored.
But let’s start with what I enjoyed.
There were some amazing descriptions. Esslemont continues to excel at providing locations you believe with evocative imagery. I had no issues picturing any part of Himatan or, indeed, any of the other locales. And the locations and their descriptions so often helped set the mood for the scenes, which was a major plus in my opinion. Esslemont continues to do well with suspense and horror and casual gore. The things that can afflict an army on the move through hostile territory that they aren’t prepared for – oh it was so well done!
Another plus was the expanding mythology of the Malazan setting. This book focused a great deal on Ardata, on the concept of genii locorum (sentient locations), on T’riss the Enchantress, on the shards of the Crippled God, and on Osserc and Light, with a little bit more of a glimpse at the Azath. Every little bit more we uncovered was fascinating and just seemed to fit.
Finally, characters. I found less characters that I liked in Blood and Bone as compared to other Malazan novels but of course there were still so many. Comedic duos like Murk and Sour or Golan and Thorn; individuals in tough, shifting situations like Shimmer, Ina, or Scarza; and, of course, immortals of one stripe or another, namely Gothos, Celeste, and T’riss.
Now for the not so good.
The pace. It felt so slow and bogged down by all of the dreamlike qualities of Himatan. And I get that Esslemont was attempting to have the narrative drive home just what the forest is like. But it didn’t work for me. Especially when it felt like so many of the narrative threads were going nowhere. K’azz’s comment towards the end about Himatan sending what encounters it wishes underscores the way so many plot lines seemed to be chock full of random encounters and that just didn’t work for me. At all.
Add to that a host of characters I didn’t like who had to hold my attention – and their plot thread – and it’s no wonder I didn’t want to keep coming back to this book. Because for every focus character I liked, there’s one I didn’t connect with: Osserc, Saeng, Mara, and Jatal are the ones who come immediately to mind.
Finally, there’s the vagueness. Yes, all Malazan books make you work. But they shouldn’t make you work to understand what’s going on in a scene. And they shouldn’t be vague just to be vague. That complaint is mostly tied to the endings for most of the plots – or the lack thereof for the ones that are clearly going to be continued in Assail, the next chronological book.
2 out of 5 stars. Possibly the only Malazan book I can say I dislike, which is a shame because until now I would’ve said they kept getting better.