Review of ‘Deadhouse Landing’ by Ian C. Esslemont

Deadhouse Landing is the second book in the Path to Ascendancy trilogy by Canadian author Ian C. Esslemont and continues telling the story of Kellanved and Dancer’s rise to prominence in advance of the opening of fellow author Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen. Yet another great piece from some of the best world builders in fiction, Deadhouse Landing provides some much desired background and introductions of characters to each other set against the backdrop of piracy, gang wars, and the entering of several of the world’s Powers into the story. Loved it.

After the disappointments of Li Heng, Dancer and Kellanved wash up on a small insignificant island named Malaz. Immediately, of course, Kellanved plans to take it over. To do so they join forces with a small band of Napans who have fled a civil war on their own home island. The plan, however, soon goes awry as Kellanved develops a strange and dangerous fascination for a mysterious ancient structure found on the island.
The chaos in the region extends to the metaphysical planes also as a young priest of D’rek starts to question the rot at the heart of the worship of the god of decay. And back in Li Heng, Dassem, now the proclaimed Sword of Hood, finds himself being blamed for a plague which leads him to a crisis of faith – and searching for answers.
During all this, war with the neighbouring island of Nap threatens, recruited allies wonder at Kellanved’s sanity, and powerful entities take more of an interest in the little mage from Dal Hon. Dancer faces a hard choice: should he give up on his partnership? Especially when the fellow’s obsession with shadows and ancient artefacts brings the both of them alarmingly close to death and destruction.
After all, who in his right mind would actually wish to enter an Elder mystery known to everyone as the ‘Deadhouse’?

It’s getting a little tough to review Malazan novels. There are really a lot of them, and they’re not small books at all. The core series is 10 books and clocks in at 3,325,000 words, and Erikson along with Esslemont have added another 10 on top of that. Every single one of them has the best world building I’ve ever seen, solid characterizations, great dialogue, excellent combat, and having reviewed a number of their books so far, I’ve basically said it all. Which pretty much just leaves me talking about the plot, without rehashing that all the elements of the plot are great, or giving a bunch of spoilers. But we shall see what we can do by way of communicating to you why this book is so great.

The thing that Esslemont brings to the Malazan fiction is a service sort of by way of a really qualified and excellent tour guide. Erikson’s core series is very complicated and starts right in the middle with a lot of wheels turning and characters who’ve known each other a long time, and doesn’t really let up to give you room to breathe at all. It’s one of the things I love about the series, it doesn’t pull any punches. It goes, and you can keep up or not. The one thing it definitely doesn’t do is dump a bunch of recollective exposition on you to bring you up to speed. There is a Malazan wiki that is good for just giving you the distilled facts for everything, but with these novels, Esslemont isn’t just giving you the facts. It’s like that guy who was there when it all happened, and when you ask questions, instead of just telling you what happened, says “Well, THAT is a story” kicks his feet up on the table and gives you the first-hand version. He uses novels that are great in their own right to fill in the gaps in and around the larger series, creating a whole that is more fleshed out, and really engages you even more with characters you already loved.

There’s really something about seeing wheels first getting set into motion that you only saw while the cart was moving at full tilt previously that is really enjoyable, especially as regards Kellanved, who was a mysterious figure at the best of times in the main series, and now one of the central figures in the action. It sets up his future actions so much better than reading a little synopsis of these events could have done. I still get a little frisson of joy and excitement whenever a character I know from the series is first introduced by name, and there are quite a few of them here.

I really could go on for quite a long time on the subject of these books and this book, and why I enjoy them so much. There’s just such a craft in the world design that nevertheless really does choose to show rather than tell. The characters are plenty flawed, have real struggles and even knowing what’s going to happen, you still feel the tension and excitement when events start to really get moving. Also, there’s a somewhat subtle presence of the Seguleh in this novel, and while I know Esslemont and Erikson will never ever read this: GIVE US A WHOLE BOOK ABOUT THE SEGULEH. They are my favourite part of this world, and while they did get a much heavier mention in Orb Scepter Throne than in the rest of the series, it’s not enough!

So there you have the best I can do to review a single instalment of the Malazan world, Deadhouse Landing while saying anything new that isn’t spoilers. The series is great. It can be a bit of a hard sell to get into if you’re used to novels holding your hand a bit more, but if you hang in there and trust in yourself to keep track of it all, they’re some phenomenal novels. Those interested in starting the series can start with the first novel by publication Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson.

There’s a reading order floating around the internet that puts them roughly in chronological order by events, which begins with Forge of Darkness, also by Erikson, or you could even opt to start with Esslemont’s Night of Knives which describes the events that end right before Gardens of the Moon starts. Despite the desire to read them chronologically, I strongly suggest reading the full 10-book primary series first, and then moving on to Esslemont’s pretty much in order of which sounds the most interesting to you. The possibility of spoilers for the other novels by reading the whole main series through first pales, to me, beside the benefits of gaining the baseline familiarity with the world and characters that the main series provides.

Dan received a copy of this book from Macmillan-Tor/Forge via NetGalley

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Author: Dan Ruffolo

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