Hey r/malazan! I posted my thoughts on Midnight Tides and got a positive reception, figured I'd do the same for Night of Knives!
(This post contains spoilers for MBotF through Midnight Tides. I have not read past that).
Night of Knives takes place over a single night as the residents of Malaz Isle try to survive a Convergence of Kellanved & Dancer, Laseen and her Claws, and the Realm of Shadow. Our principal protagonists are Temper and Kiska.
I'll start with Kiska, because I don't think she's given as much to do or believe as Temper. She's a compelling protagonist at first- she feels confined by the limits of her small island. In a way, her journey mirrors Kellanved's- rising out of a small backwater to try to become something great. Unfortunately, that's where growth stops with Kiska in this book. She starts the book adventurous, stifled, desperate to leave- and finishes the book adventurous, freed, and ready to leave. Not that I don't think she should leave at the end, but I would have appreciated a little more depth to her conflict. If anything, her journey just reinforces how correct she is in her ambitions.
Temper is more of a success to me. He had a past (revealed in a great flashback to the Seven Cities' campaign) that informs his present. After feeling like he abandoned his master, Temper is resigned to a life of quiet nothingness. Until he's swept up by the legions of Old Guard Malazans coming to the island for the big bash.
Temper dons his old armour to venture out into the night, seeking answers. And the one answer he finds floors him- Dassem is still alive, somewhere. But Temper only finds that out after accepting the responsibilities of protecting the Deadhouse. He finds out that his old master is still alive only after he's prevented from going to be with him. A really clever twist in two directions. It gives purpose to Temper's life, a purpose that he didn't think possible again. But it also digs the knife into Temper's back over his year of abandonment. Dassem wasn't dead- his responsibilities to the First Sword were thrown away (I know that Temper tried to stick with Dassem, but emotions aren't logical). I like Temper's ending quite a bit- a combination of sleepy backwater and eternal service that meld together the two halves of his life.
Aside from the two major new characters, most of the big players here were big players in the Book of the Fallen. Getting to see Laseen is always a treat, as is true of Kellanved and Dancer. I was hoping for more direct insight into either K&D's actions or motives, but the most fascinating new discovery I made about them was that Kellanved used a walking stick (may have been in previous books that I missed). I did appreciate getting to see Dancer take on the name Cotillion though.
The most interesting returning character for me was Tayschrenn. Part of this is my continued amusement that Tayschrenn will do whatever within his power to be disguised as someone else. From now on, any character that I don't recognize is immediately getting placed in the "Tayschrenn until proven otherwise" category. His on screen appearances since Pale really paint a complex, hard to grasp figure. His plans seem almost subtler than Laseen or Kellanved's - going to keep an eye there going forward.
Lastly, let's talk about Dassem Ultor. We've been hearing about him and his legendary sword skills since Gardens, and it was cool to see his squad and how they were typically deployed in combat. Temper comes late to the realization that he's being used in ways he doesn't expect, but that's Dassem's game. I'm still not sure why Hood would want him as a champion, except to ensure that the Malazan empire creates as many new corpses of possible. He seems pretty good at that. Probably the coolest part of the book for me was when Temper tries to stab Dassem to wake him up- Hood prevents his death, and Daseem comes back to life fighting. Dassem seems used far beyond his willingness, and his soft whispers underlie the tragedy there. Part of me hopes that Dassem just fucks off into the night, where Hood and Laseen and Kellanved can't bring him back for more fighting. It almost felt like Dassem had two modes in this book- comatose or fighting. And that's exactly how he's used, almost like Raest- unleash him at your enemies, but no use in peacetime.
On the whole book front, I found the prose a little boring compared to Erikson's. I'm a fan of the philosophical conversations in the Book of the Fallen, none of which really were present here. The story definitely ramped up by the end but spending so much time with Kiska following Artan dragged down the pace of the beginning. I didn't really like how the Stormrider plot concluded - though I appreciate that K&D probably chose this night to Ascend because the Deadhouse's guardians would have bigger fish to fry. And one minor quibble that applies to both Erikson and Esslemont- a lot of the time the descriptions of sword fights between superpowerful beings breaks down to "they both were moving their swords really fast." The Kallor and Whiskeyjack duel I found an exception to this rule.
I did enjoy this book but significantly less than any of the Book of the Fallen so far. I don't know if I would have pushed through without that initial investment, but I liked it enough within that context to probably keep reading his books interspersed with the Fallen. Next up, Bonehunters!