Jacuruku: an island-continent located south-west of Quon Tali and west of Stratem. Separated from the rest of the world by large ice floes, Jacuruku has long existed in isolation. The peoples of western Jacuruku lie under the dominion of the Thaumaturgs, mages of tremendous power, whilst the eastern half of the continent is dominated by the jungle of Himatan, domain of the goddess Ardata.
Now the Thaumaturgs have launched an invasion of Himatan, determined to find the fabled city of Jakal Viharn. But even as their army drives deep into the jungle, so their homelands come under threat from the desert tribes of the far south, now united into a formidable army by an invading foreigner...who may not be as foreign as he first appears. Also newly arrived in Jacuruku are the Crimson Guard, summoned to bring to justice their renegade warrior Skinner and those sworn to his service. For K'azz D'Avore and his Avowed, this is an opportunity to heal a painful schism...but at a cost.
Blood and Bone is Ian Cameron Esslemont's fifth novel, taking us to the hitherto unexplored (but oft-mentioned) continent of Jacuruku. The setting is the key to the novel, with the reader soon feeling the humidity and discomfort of the jungle terrain. It's actually rather unusual for geography to be so integral to a Malazan novel (normally it's incidental), and it's a new approach that Esslemont handles well.
In terms of character, the book has a substantial cast taking in Jacuruku natives, Thaumaturgs, demigods, Malazan mercenaries and Crimon Guardsmen. Esslemont takes the time to establish story arcs which are contained within this one novel (such as Saeng's journey) as well as furthering long-running storylines established in earlier books, such the Crimson Guard looking for a new purposes in the aftermath of the Quon Civil War. There's also some excellent use of the established backstory (Jacuruku was once the site of Kallor's empire, the one whose destruction resulted in the Fall of the Crippled God) to drive forward the storyline. Unusually for a Malazan novel, I felt I had a pretty good handle on what was going on throughout. Newcomers might be tempted to jump aboard due to the main storylines being more or less self-contained in this book, but will likely be lost by references to past and simultaneous events (the novel takes place simultaneously alongside Stonewielder, Orb Sceptre Throne and The Crippled God).
Esslemont's prose is readable and compelling (and more accomplished in this novel than ever before), but a little lacking in artistry compared to Erikson's. However, it's also far more concise and approachable. Esslemont handles his large cast and his complex, multi-layered plot quite successfully. In fact, Blood and Bone just about nudges it as his best book to date.
Blood and Bone (****½) is available now in the UK and will be published in May 2013 in the USA.