Dancer’s Lament (Path to Ascendancy #1)
After reading Deadhouse Landing a few months ago I decided to reread Dancer’s Lament. It took me a month to locate the book in my (small) house, and then I had to finish the annual holiday magazine deluge before I could start.
I really enjoyed the second reading more than the first as I caught a good deal on the second reading that I missed the first time. Names and events that are just mentioned once often loom much larger in later books by both Esslemont and his partner in the Malazan universe Steve Erikson. The same with how people develop into friends and foes. Just as Dancer and Kellanved undergo name changes as they mature and their roles alter so to do the names and identities of people that they interact with in this book as they emerge as allies or enemies.
Overall, just as Kellanved emerges as a more fully developed character in Deadhouse Landing, Dancer is filled out in this book. Originally named Dorin he was the last pupil of the last practitioner of a legendary school of assassins. He has big ambitions, but they are relatively undefined. He has all of the arrogance of someone who is young and inexperienced but very talented.
Just as so many do when they are young some of his actions puzzle him, as they go against what he desires, or thinks that he desires. Even his eventual partnership with Kellanved, named Wu in this book, is mostly involuntary and he cannot quite understand how it comes about. Eventually he gives up and just starts following where Wu leads.
The basic plot is that the two are traveling on the continent of Quon Tali and both end up in the city of Li Heng, which has been shielded from outside conflicts for ages by a might wizardess called the Protectress, who is aided by a cadre of mages in guarding the city.
Close behind the two travelers is a young man sworn to Hood, the god of death and further behind is an invading army from Quon Tali that has been slowly subjugating half of the continent. After the two arrive, separately, they get involved in everything from petty crime to helping to deal with the invaders. We also see Wu’s first steps into Shadow, and a hint at some of the forces behind him leading him there and the potential forces that will seek to thwart him.
I was interested in the degrees of potency that the different mages had, as compared to some of the other characters that inhabit the pages namely the elder races and elder gods. It is much clearer here than in any opf the other books in the series and helped me understand the balance of power between different forces in later books.
Overall once again the one trend that really leaped out at me and greatly impressed me is how well the overall Malazan universe is knitted together. With the huge existing body of work split between two authors I would expect some gaping holes in plot lines and character motivation, and yet if there are any, aside from no doubt some very minor ones, I did not find them.
Originally this series was set to be a trilogy but it now looks like it might go longer, something I hope it does. Here is an interesting read on the creative process from the author given to Fantasy Book Review. If you are a fan of the Malazan novels this is a great read and if you are new to it, it’s also a great place to start.