After years spent gathering dust on my bookshelf, GARDENS OF THE MOON finally found its way onto my nightstand, having fought through piles of work-related and leisure reading materials. A friend of mine had strongly recommended the series three or four years ago, and after the nice hardcover copy that I had immediately ordered arrived, it unfortunately became stalled in my ever-churning heap of books-to-read. Still, this one has been on my radar as a highly-anticipated epic adventure. Always being prominent in real-life bookstores and on Amazon.com, the Malazan Book of the Fallen series has long evoked a sense of postponed gratification and anxiety over my limited reading time. The covers of the books alone promised a dark, fierce, and gritty fantasy that I assumed would take after Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. My friend’s descriptions included phrases like “mind-blowing”, “awesome”, and “Freaking insanely bad-ass”. Well, the wait is over, and I’ve begun my journey through Erikson’s massive saga. And I am very happy to report that the writing, story, and setting are every bit as good as I had hoped.
The most striking aspect of GARDENS OF THE MOON is that Steven Erikson has absolutely no care for the reader’s comfort, dropping you right into the middle of a complicated story that is already well underway. Character motivations are rarely explained, a vast setting is suddenly exposed but not explored, a huge and confusing cast of characters from all manner of races is introduced with very little guidance, and mysteries abound in magic, lore, and history. The general feeling during the first half of the book is one of confusion, where you’ll think you must be missing key information, as every character seems to know more about what is going on than the reader. You’ll find yourself trying hard to remember many details, with the hope that you’ll finally be able to get a grasp on what is behind the intense and deadly story. While this aspect may sound frustrating, and many critics and reviewers have noted it as a negative, I found the abrupt entry into this world exciting and fun. Knowing that there are huge pieces to the story that haven’t been revealed, straining your brain to remember snippets of history, and pondering over the nature of the never-explained Warrens (the source of magic in the series), all gave this book a real and gritty feeling. It was like I had suddenly been transported to this new and mysterious world without the benefit of an introduction. I found Erikson’s intentional refusal to hold the reader’s hand refreshingly unique.
The story itself, which has only begun to unfold with GARDENS OF THE MOON, is incredible. Vast empires, rebel armies, powerful sorcerers, and unearthly beings vie for power in a violent and quickly moving plot that will keep you on the edge of your seat. The magic is very much in-your-face compared to most dark epic fantasies. Battling wizards lead to wholesale destruction, animated puppets and talking war-hounds stretch the imagination, and so-called gods interfering with mortal concerns calls for expecting the unexpected. The setting is absolutely jam-packed with all manner of new races, human-like and not, living and undead, mortal and immortal. Wonderfully imagined characters fill the pages of GARDENS OF THE MOON, with names like Whiskeyjack, Quick Ben, and Anomander Rake. You get the feeling that most of their stories have already been told, but that this newest adventure will be the most desperate and thrilling yet. Other characters like Crokus, Paran, and Sorry take on the mantle of the young would-be heroes just starting on their hopeful, yet disillusioned, adventures. This series tells an incredibly large story that I am excited to have finally begun.
GARDENS OF THE MOON reminded me of why I love epic fantasies, and it made me glad to know that there are still wholey original stories to discover in a field of so many excellent and prolific authors.
Very highly recommended!
Pages: 666 FOA Pages: 28,088