'The Return of the Crimson Guard' by Ian C Esslemont, is the second book revolving around Steven Erikson's original 'Malazan Book of the Fallen' series.
It is my understanding that both Erikson and Esslemont are good friends and are co-operative co-authors of the Malazan world, and both are agreeable to and welcome each other contributions.
I'd like to comment on two different facets...
First, this book...
I was enthralled with this story right from the very beginning. It was well written, fast moving and exciting. There were the usual assortment of Malazan characters both good and evil who are forever plotting against one another, or someone or something. There was magic, treachery and betrayal, interesting event filled treks and voyages and some incredibly exciting battles. Also present was the witty and bantering camaraderie of the Malazan army regulars; a special group of mercenaries reminiscent of the 'bridgeburners' or the 'bonehunters' of previous novels. This book, simply had it all.
In traditional Erikson fashion, Esslemont starts off with several short glimpses involving many different persons or groups, however these stories progressed quickly, resulting in a tale that grabs you and just doesn't let go. The individuals' tales were told serially, but because each tale was so well written and interesting, you hated to see one segment come to an end, only to begin an account of someone else's adventure.
There was an good map of the area where a lot (but not all) of the action takes place. Also, there was an extensive list of the characters' names with their locations and 'occupations'; this was really helpful as there were a tremendous number of individuals from various geographic locales.
Second, Erikson and Esslemont...
This book, 'Return of the Crimson Guard' recaptures the style of writing that made the Malazan series SO great; it's the type of writing that Erikson needs to get back to.
I'm not sure what's going on with Steven Erikson, but, to me, the last book, 'Toll the Hounds' was at times quite confusing; especially some of the dialogue and also certain events and occurrences. I actually found myself skimming areas because it was difficult to follow OR I just got bored with the protracted mundane situations.
A few more novels of this quality and Esslemont may well become the preeminent writer of the future works in the Malazan series.
Conclusion: A true Malazan tale to sink your teeth into; any Malazan fan/addict will be thrilled with this effort. It's got that quality of writing coupled with an intriguing story line what will pull you in from page one. It's a book that will make me read late into the night and have me looking forward to some quiet time to return to the story. (and no fantasy/adventure novel has done that recently since Joe Abercrombie's 'The First Law' trilogy) Easily 5 Stars...more if I could.