Prequels can be tricky things for authors. One obvious obstacle is that being a prequel, the story is robbed of at least some of its natural narrative tension, as readers already know that this or that character will not die, that this or that battle will not be won. Authors also run the risk of having painted themselves into narrative corners via the original work—this character has to do A to end up at C, this thingamabob has to appear because it’s the signature thingamabob of Character X and so on. In weaker prequels, it all feels very mechanical, as if the author just traced the lines backward and dutifully filled in the obvious and necessary plot points, character appearances, and portentous arrivals of requisite talismans. Even the author who successfully navigates all the prequel pitfalls can end up losing, à la an army of irate fans complaining, “Hey, that’s not how I imagined it happening!” Talk about a thankless task.
Well, it’s true that while reading Ian Cameron Esselmont’s Malazan prequel, Dancer’s Lament, I did several times think to myself, “That’s not how I imagined it happening!” And it’s also true that one or two signature thingamabobs (cough cough walking stick cough) make their appearance. But it was all to the good, because those moments are representative of the sort of balance between the familiar and the unexpected that is required of a good prequel. And Dancer’s Lament is just that. Equally impressive is that the prequel works just as fine as an entry point into the massive (and massively complex) Malazan universe. I’m not going to argue it’s a “better” entry point than Gardens of the Moon (by Steven Erikson), the usual starting point, but I would argue it’s a more accessible one.