A difficult read at first but definitely worth the effort in the end.
Gardens of the Moon is Book 1 of Steven Erickson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen series.
I was recommended this book by an avid fantasy fan friend of mine when I was looking for a new series of novels to engage myself in. After doing minor research I could already tell that the Malazan Book of the Fallen was a series with some serious clout, spanning thousands of years, 10 books in the main series, and a list of pivotal characters that makes the mind boggle.
I am going to be honest – I started reading this book once, got through a few chapters, and then stopped. I picked it up again a few months later and read through. The first time I found it a struggle. There were a lot of characters, with a lot of threads, and so much is left for the reader to discern for themselves. In short, I didn’t enjoy it. Fast forward a few years and I thought I would give it another go. And that is a decision that I certainly do not regret.
I still stand by what I said, there is a lot going on, with a vast amount of characters vying eagerly for your attention, but that does not mean that Erickson lets his character development slip. In fact, miraculously, it is very much the opposite. Every character teems with personality, from the enigmatic entity of Anomander Rake, to the complex “antagonist” of Adjunct Lorn. And if there is one thing that Erickson excels at, it is emphasising the humanity in those characters mired in mortality as they strive for their place in a world of mages and gods.
But it is not just the characters that stand out. The sheer scope of the story is breath-taking. Erickson has created a world from scratch, one that is completely bereft of clichés. This world, its history, its lore, and even the very aspect of the intricate magic that flows through it is rendered in so much detail that you truly feel like you are amongst the characters in their plight. And Erickson certainly knows how to start a story. Rather than hold off and save the great battles for the end, one of the greatest set pieces takes place in the very first act. You can almost feel the waves of power that roll from Moonspawn, decimating the armies below. You feel the plight of the mages as they battle against the floating island’s magnanimous master. And at the same time you wonder, exactly whose side are you supposed to be on.
And that is a theme throughout the novel. The lines between good and evil are very much blurred. You often find that characters who act with such malicious intent do so burdened with noble purpose, and vice-versa. Erickson has completely avoided the pitfall of writing characters that are either intrinsically good or evil, and it is this mysticism behind their intentions, goals, and their motivations that keeps you hooked until the very end. Especially in the last few chapters where it is impossible to predict what is going to happen, with Erickson showing that heroes can be made out of the most humble characters, even in a world where gods roam freely.
If I had to pick a negative about this novel, well it would be that it is not for the uninitiated. To become enamoured by this series, you must have a love for fantasy and a persistence to become enveloped by this new world. It is not an easy read at first. There is a lot to get used to, especially as it all plays such an integral part in the overall story, but I implore you to overcome this hurdle, because in the end the reward is undoubtedly worth it.