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Originally posted January 1, 2011 on King Fielder

Stonewielder by Ian C. Esslemont is a solid addition to the Malazan world created by Esslemont and Steven Erikson.  The inevitable thing to do with Esslemont’s Malazan novels is compare them to Erikson’s novels and find them lacking.  After all, most (all?) of the readers of the Malazan novels were introduced to the shared world by Erikson, so Esslemont will always have  the stigma of being the “other guy” writing in the same setting.  Is it fair to compare one to the other, knowing that Esslemont and Erikson jointly created the world, characters, and stories of Malaz?  Fair or not, for me, its inevitable, at least for the time being.

I started to write that Stonewielder is a solid addition to the Malazan world, but fails to live up Erikson’s novels.  But that’s not quite right.  If Stonewielder had Steven Erikson’s name on the cover, I wouldn’t have enjoyed it more or less than I did, but I would have regarded it differently as it compares to the rest of Erikson’s Malaz books.  Its not my favorite, its not the best written, but I’d be hard pressed to say its was the worst of the bunch.  But with Esslemont’s name on the cover, my immediate reaction is to put it behind all of Erikson’s novels.

Why then my immediate reaction that Stonewielder is solid, but fails to live up to Erikson’s novels?  Simply, Esslemont “sounds” too much like Erikson in his writing and can only pale in comparison, even when his writing is a good approximation of Erikson’s.  Stonewielder reads like Erikson-lite, which is both good and bad.  The good is the relative lack of introspective, philosophical interior monologues.  (See Tolls the Hounds).  The bad is that characters, even those not shared by the authors, don’t resonate with the depth that Erikson provides.  Which is not to say the characterization is poor, just that it can’t match what Erikson does.  Many of Esslemont’s characters fall short of three-dimensional… let’s call them two-and-a-half dimensional.  I found myself having to check the Dramatis Personae when the view point shifted between characters… was Ivanr the guy with the army of reform or was he the assessor?  A strength of all the Malzan novels is a refusal to spoon-feed back-story to the reader, but oftentimes, Esslemont is too stingy with the back-story and the characters never develop an individuality so that they can be remembered.  Instead, I found myself remembering the setting and backtracking from there to recall the characters associated with that setting.  Particularly disappointing for me was the return of a much-loved (by me, at least) character from Seven Cities.  I wanted to recognize this character from his actions and words, but instead had to rely on his association with a particular ascendant and his choice of weapons to make the identification.

All that being said, Stonewielder is a good read that builds to an exciting conclusion.  The reader is reintroduced to several characters including Greymane and Kyle and several members of the Crimson Guard following the eventsReturn of the Crimson Guard and meets several new characters.  Multiple seemingly disparate plot threads that are spread all over the previously unseen (to the reader) continent of Fist or Korel are all neatly woven into the action-packed and thought-provoking conclusion.  For fans of “stuff happening” or “stuff being explained” with respect to the overall story of Malaz, they should be happy with details about the Korelri, the Stormwall, and our old friend, the Crippled God.  But, as always with a fantasy series worth its salt, more questions are added or left unanswered than actually get answered.

3.5 stars (out of 5)