So first off let me apologize to the wonderful people over at Tor. About a billion years ago they send me an advanced copy of Deadhouse Landing, by Ian Esslemont. It is the second book in a three part prequel to The Malazan Book of the Fallen. I was planning on writing a huge mega review on the original Malazan series, which is my #1 favorite book series, but turns out writing an easy to read review on possibly the most complicated fantasy series ever is a larger undertaking than I anticipated. While the Malazan mega review is still coming, I decided to stop putting off this prequel because I was itching to get back into the world. So again, sorry that this took so long Tor, thank you for sending me the books, and let’s talk about the first book in Esslemont’s prequel trilogy: Dancer’s Lament.
For starters, you should only really be reading this if you have already read the core Malazan series. There aren’t spoilers in the review, per se, but a lot of it is not going to resonate with you and despite being a prequel this book is definitely meant to be read after you finish the core series. If you haven’t read Malazan… well, it’s a hard series to recommend simply due to its size and length, but it is worth the time you put into it.
So, Dancer’s Lament. This series tells the story of how Kellanved and Dancer meet, from the “old guard”, and found the Malazan empire. The book puts to paper a lot of old stories that you catch snippets about in the original series, as well as giving an origin story to some of the series’ most iconic characters. The plot of Dancer’s Lament is that a young, out-of-work, Dancer is looking for a new place of employment after finishing his assassin training. He sets up in the city of Li Heng, or tries to, much to the annoyance of the local populace. At the same time, the city goes to war with Itko Kan and is put under siege. While Dancer tries to find a steady income killing people so he doesn’t starve, he keeps running into this annoying (and weird) mage named Wu (Kellanved) who seems to think the two of them are bound for something big – despite being complete strangers.
So right off the bat, I have a bit of an issue with Dancer’s Lament. Despite ostensibly being the origin story of Dancer and Kellanved, we still don’t really get a lot about their true origins other than their nationality. I still don’t really get where either of them came from and Dancer’s Lament doesn’t actually talk about the formation of Malazan at all. Instead it’s a lot of Dancer and Wu faffing about while trying to survive the siege. A lot of what I expected to read in Dancer’s Lament is actually in the second book, Deadhouse Landing, which I will review later this week. This doesn’t mean that Dancer’s Lament was bad in any way, but what I found was not what I expected at all.
Moving past my expectations, Dancer’s Lament is a fun, if somewhat shallow, Malazan side story that I think both holds up as an independent fantasy book and will delight fans of the greater series. There is a lot of star power in this book, with big name Malazan celebrities showing up left and right. The book is also refreshing as it shows a lot of the most powerful and brilliant characters of the core series at a time before they were gods and kings. It does a great job humanizing them and making you feel more connected to people who will become titans in the later series. To me, this is the main appeal of the book and why I would not recommend it before you finish the core series. On the negative side, while there are heaps of grade-A banter, the book is a little light on the series’ signature emotional impact. I had a ton of quality fanboy moments and laughs, but not a lot of heartfelt of profound moments where I put the book down and spent some time reflecting about what I just read (which happened often with the core series).
Dancer’s Lament is good, probably even great. It has a solid plot, decent action, amazing politics, iconic characters, fun dialogue, and a plethora of fanboy moments. However, I can’t help but feel it falls a little bit short of the core series due to its lack of heavy hearted scenes. Still, it is a fantastic book and probably my favorite side novel (excluding Deadhouse Landing, which I will talk about next time) and if you have completed and loved the original Malazan series you should absolutely pick it up.
Rating: Dancer’s Lament – 8.5/10