Stonewielder review

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Stonewielder is Ian C. Esslemont third novel in his take on the Malazan world sagas. Sliding between Erikson's novels, his series is set to span five volumes, the next one being Orb, Sceptre, Throne. Taking that into account, you probably should pick up this novel after reading at least up to The Bonehunters in Erikson's tale of the fallen.

In Korel, under the benevolence of The Blessed Lady, the people look up to the Stormguards and their prisoners to defend the Stormwall against the Stormriders. However, the cult of The Lady is slowly shaking at its core. In Jourilan, an ex stormwall champion is swept by a rebellion to fight against the authority. In Fist, a Malazan landing led by a mythic figure is coming in retribution. In Banith, a local assessor is investigating a curious series of murder. All the while, the Lord Protector Hiam is imploring the Goddess to help him find help in defending the fabled wall. The Crimson Guard prisoner and champion of the wall may not suffice to the task.

You probably have already read The Return of the Crimson Guard if you're envisaging picking up Stonewielder. If you did, you'll feel right at home when reading Esslemont's follow-up. The Malazan marines are back in force (Rillish among them), Greymane and Kyle are right at the center of the action, the Crimson Guards refugees are roaming the land and the wall and Kiska is wandering the warrens. Even though the tale told in Stonewielder is less filled with new mythical encounters directly from the Malazan lore than its predecessor, since the narrative is focused on Korel and its famous wall, there's enough novelty to increase the depth of the Malazan world.

On the Malazan side of things, Kiska's tale is set completely aside from the rest of the novel. To her benefit, she encounters many compelling characters, some nice cameos included and eventually gets some shining and funny moments. Sadly, that is not the case with Greymane. For a character with so much importance, when you're not set as a PoV, one of the goals of the surrounding is to make you feel compelling through your eyes. Therefore, around him is Rillish, still the same unlucky devoted good guy, Devaleth, a new High mage that feels more like a tool used when necessity is critical and his friend Kyle, not much more than a fighter with a godly sword in this case. Interesting bunch but they don't convey Greymane's role grandiosely.

In RotCG, Esslemont introduced Nait/Jumpy, who he used to create funny situations with a redundant aptitude to put himself into danger and getting out of trouble barely with his life. In this follow-up, we welcome Suth, a DalHon soldier who's got his own special aptitude, he can't seem to be able to finish a fight without getting knocked unconscious. Nice addition to the cast. Even though the best moments usually come up with the Marines (kudos to the author again), from the natives of the subcontinent, comes a whole new group of protagonists. From a weird armor wearing thief to an honorable assessor, a mixed group of leaders at the head of a rebellion to the people taking care of the wall, there's plenty of narrative threads to look up to.

Finally, there's the Crimson guardsmen. As far as their storyline is concerned, they do participate in the outcome of this ultimate convergence but their future lays in the future stories that Esslemont will tell. The journey may be more important than the goal and in their case, the journey is arduous. I liked the way the author manages the whole immortal element defining them.

In term of writing, the same style that was applied to RotCG is found in Stonewielder. (too bad for those who preferred Night of Knives). The chapters are very long with a multitude of PoV switches that can become disconcerting at times. The story unveils slowly with so many characters to make progress but a relatively good deal of action is in store. Esslemont's craft is getting better, he comes up with a multitude of "sub-stories" well woven and created a vast cast that he was able to link together.

It seems that the Malazan recipe that was so masterfully concocted in numerous Erikson and Esslemont novels, the multitude of legendary storylines building up toward one hell of a convergence was tried again. However, as a result of this endeavor, I found that one of the ingredients was missing. I was not really taken in by the resolution of this convergence. I didn't embrace the principal goal presented to the protagonists. I grew fond of many of the characters but the whole Lady/Stormwall/Stormriders thing didn't cement into a compelling conclusion. Maybe the author could have given us the point of view of some of the Stormriders. Still, individually, I consider many story arcs to be quite great.

In term of "meta" story, the book present some advancement linked with Erikson's novels. We probably won't see much of Korel in the future but the events which took place in this novel still lead to greater things (I hope).

Would I recommend this novel if it was not set in the Malazan world? I can't be a hundred percent sure. This is a solid book in many ways as I hope I illustrated in my review but with my main problem being that I didn't care enough for the central element of the plot, I will conserve a lesser feeling of accomplishment when thinking about Stonewielder.

Technically, Stonewielder's cover looks beautiful, at least the UK Bantam Press edition. A nice map of the continent of Korel is part of the novel which stands at 632 pages in hardcover. I have to add that I loved the "glassy" feeling of the pages, all the books ought to be printed on a paper of that quality!

Stonewielder review score :

Characterization............. 7.5 /10
World building............... 10 / 10
Magic system................. 10 /10
Story.............................. 7.5 / 10
Writing........................... 7.5 / 10

Overall (not an average) 7.5 / 10


Malazan empire


Greg Sawyer said...

Good review. I felt the level of writing had again noticeably improved, but the story didn't grab me that much, and the ending was a bit muddled.

Also, Stonewielder is really the 2nd of 5, with Night of Knives being prior. And he seems to have plans for more after that, but he currently is contracted for 3 more novels. It seems that it isn't really a series like Erikson's, but more just one-off novels, with a few characters that will normally appear.

Anonymous said...

I was also not convinced by this book's convergence. The rabble army headed by the pacifist was never linked in with the main plot (other than thematically), and the stuff in the warren of shadow had only a tangential bearing on things. It was just -- first we'll have an earthquake, then we'll have a tidal wave, then the seariders will do their thing, then we'll all go home.
It would never have happened if Erickson were in charge...

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