Review of ~ Ian C. Esslemont – Deadhouse Landing (Path to Ascendancy #2)

This will be posted on Fantasy Book Review shortly. I’m pretty sure I’m the first blogger to review this so decided to post it here early before anyone takes my claim to fame away from me lol.


I received an advanced copy of Deadhouse Landing in exchange for an honest review. I would like to thank Ian C. Esslemont and Macmillan/Forge for this opportunity.

Deadhouse Landing is the engaging and stunning second novel within the Path to Ascendancy trilogy and is set prior to the events of Erikson’s The Malazan Book of the Fallen and Esslemont’s Malazan Empire. We are presented an incredibly detailed world that the two friends co-created and share in their literary endeavours right down to the places, characters, histories, terminology, and magic. If you aren’t familiar with their works then this would be a terrible place to start.

After the finale of Dancer’s Lament the assassin, Dancer, and his mysterious mage companion, Wu fled Li Heng after complications and now find themselves at the shores of Malaz City. Wu purchases a run-down bar called Smiley’s which is found in the worst part of town, employing Napan staff including a barmaid named Surly. The public house will become the duos base of operations as Wu weaves another plot for world domination.

<i>Wu thumped elbows to the desk and set his chin in his fists, frowning in hard thought. ‘Yes. Our plans. No sense tackling one of the corsair captains here – the crew wouldn’t follow us. I’ve never sailed. Mock rules from his Hold, but he probably doesn’t care who runs the streets. So, for now, we limit our attention to the shore. The merchants and bosses who control the markets and warehouses.’

Dancer had pursed his lips, considering. ‘What do you propose?’

Wu raised his head, smiling. ‘Why, our forte, of course. Ambush and hijacking.’</i>

Dancer is still the main character and focus during this narrative. Wu is as complicated, interesting and potentially insane as ever. He often wanders off for days, perhaps playing with shadows to the extent that even his best friend and trusted partner has no idea what he’s plotting or thinking. I found that Dancer’s Lament could be a wise first step into the Malazan world following only 3 point of view perspectives. This book, although not as complex and occasionally confusing as say, The Return of the Crimson Guard, isn’t as easy to read as the previous book and now the narrative features about 12 character viewpoints. The majority of these players are based in Malaz and many of their paths cross. It’s definitely more linear in presentation than the 1000+ page ‘door-stoppers’ and is more story focused because of that. I’m aware that people will be reading the prelude trilogies for answers, however, nothing is that simple in the world of Malazan and just as many interesting questions have been crafted which means I’ll read the follow-up as soon as I can. The points of view chapters include some of Malazan’s most important players including Dancer, Tattersail, Tayschrenn, and Dassem Ultor as-well as new creations to an ensemble that must already be 4000+ strong.

<b>Luel licked his bloodied lips and whispered, ‘Who are you?’ ‘I am Dassem Ultor.'</b>

Esslemont has improved his writing drastically since Night of Knives and in my opinion, his most recent releases have a stunningly flow and swagger. The perspectives switch a few times per chapter giving an overview of all happenings. The majority of these chapters take around 20 minutes to read so it seems the days have passed since you could read a full book in the same time as an Esslemont chapter. The pacing throughout is top-notch and the culmination is brilliantly realised. We get ‘master-assassin’ showdowns, exploration of warrens, finding out more regarding the Azath houses and most importantly – we see scenes and actions that showcase why some of these characters will become legends across the complete Malazan universe and timeline. As mentioned before regarding cast size, the dramatis personae contains around fourty names. A small quantity for this series perhaps, however, the character index omits about half the individuals involved. About 5 times I thought ‘surely they can’t be referring to XXX, what? It’s him. He’s in THIS book! I did not expect that.’ It may just be me. I’m over-excitable.

The finale is fully realised as Dancer’s Lament’s was and introduces within the epilogue the new directions that this tale may present readers next. If you’re familiar with the Old Empire history then one possibility is unbelievably intriguing. Kellanved is slowly making his mark on what we know becomes his empire yet it’s super exciting seeing how he gets there. Deadhouse Landing is a masterclass of Malazan awesomeness, it may be Esslemont’s finest book to date and unlike Dancer and Wu, he is no longer in the shadows.

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