The return of the mercenary company, the Crimson Guard, could not have come at a worse time for a Malazan Empire exhausted by warfare and weakened by betrayals and rivalries. Indeed, there are those who wonder whether the Empress Laseen might not be losing her grip on power as she faces increasing unrest as conquered kingdoms and principalities sense freedom once more.
Into the seething cauldron of Quon Tali–the Empire’s heartland–marches the Guard. With their return comes the memory of the Empire–and yet all is not well with the Guard itself. Elements within its elite, the Avowed, have set their sights on far greater power. There are ancient entities who also seek to further their own arcane ends. And what of the swordsman called Traveller who, with his companion Ereko, has gone in search of a confrontation from which none have ever returned?
As the Guard prepares to wage war, so Laseen’s own generals and mages, the ‘Old Hands’, grow impatient at what they see as her mismanagement of the Empire. But could Laseen have outwitted them all? Could she be using the uprisings to draw out and finally eliminate these last irksome survivors from the days of her illustrious predecesor, Kellanved?
Return of the Crimson Guard was the first Ian Esslemont book I read upon completion of Steven Erikson’s Book of the Fallen. Although these books takes place in the same world as Erikson with some character crossovers, the main story is entirely its own and does a deep dive into events the main series only glimpses at. I was hanging on every word until the climatic conclusion where I didn’t know what else to do but by more books from this author. I loved this book so much that I will go so far as to say it should be a part of the main series without a doubt.
This novel takes place simultaneously with Book 7 of the main series (Reapers Gale) but on a different continent and following a completely different group of characters. Similar to Erikson, Esslemont has several different plot threads and story lines going on at the same time, but I will highlight the main characters we follow. For the first time since being introduced to the Crimson Guard in Gardens of the Moon, do we get direct representation of this group led by K’azz D’Avore. Our main POV for these group of characters is the new initiate Kyle as he is essentially thrown into an all out war with the Malazan Empire. Friends will be made and lost while Kyle learns his place in this conflict and he will seek the guidance of the legendary outlaw Greymane. Next we follow the Traveller and his companion Ereko. Ereko is a Thel Akai from Jacuruku and the last of his kind. The two engage in conversations surrounding their past and they eventually come into contact with members of the Crimson Guard. The Traveller wishes to stay away from the conflicts of the Empire, but even he can’t avoid the call of war. The final main POV character we follow is Mallick Rel made famous from the battle of Aren in Dead House Gates. Now an assembly member in Malaz City, Mallick has more than a few tricks up his sleeve as the Councilor to Empress Laseen. No stone will be left unturned in the war to come.
Let me state right from the beginning that this book can not be read before reading Malazan Book of the Fallen. The earliest I would say this book can be read is upon completion of Reapers Gale if you are the type of reader whom has chosen to flip back and forth between the series’. Readers new to Ian Esslemont’s work must be wondering how he compares to the writing of Steven Erikson and I can say that Esslemont’s work keeps getting better and better with each book. I once came across a diehard fan who said “Erikson writes a better world and plot for the characters to live in while Esslemont writes a better all around story.” While I don’t 100 percent agree with this statement, I can say that Esslemont’s story does flow better and it is easier to follow. The action, lore, history, and layers waiting to be revealed are still there, but not to the grand effect you would find in an Erikson novel. The story being told in Return of the Crimson Guard is fantastic and it has direct ramifications not only for the rest of this series, but the Books of the Fallen as well.
Each story written by Esslemont stands on its own and apart from the main series but ones I feel could easily be included in it. The characters will stick with you throughout your journey and more questions will be asked upon the completion of this novel. The only Esslemont book left on my plate is Assail and that is quickly coming up on my TBR. The Fallen will be remembered upon the completion of the war to come.