To my shame, I'm forced to admit that this novel had been sitting on my shelf for about 5 years before I finally decided to read it. The reason? Honestly, I just didn't want to start yet another "ongoing" series, especially since this one was to be a ten-book cycle. But in the last 2 or 3 years, the buzz surrounding Steven Erikson's opus began to make a lot of noise. So much so that the temptation proved to be too powerful, and I ultimately caved in.
If I could sum it all up with one word, it would have to be "wow!" If Gardens of the Moon is any indication, this series will become highly addictive.
Very rarely, you read something that -- just a few chapters in -- rapidly makes you realize that it's the beginning of something truly special. I remember experiencing that unique feeling when I first sat down to read Stephen R. Donaldson's Lord Foul's Bane, Robert Jordan's The Eye of the World, Frank Herbert's Dune, Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman's Dragon Wing, Robin Hobb's Assassin's Apprentice and perhaps a handful of others. Gardens of the Moon belong with that elite group of novels. And moreover, it just might surpass every one of them. I can't quite believe I'm saying this, but Erikson's first Malazan book could well be the best damn debut I've ever read.
The worldbuilding is of the first order. Indeed, the universe created within the pages of Gardens of the Moon and the sequels to follow is vaster in scope than anything else I've ever seen. Steven Erikson writes with a broadness of vision that is unrivalled in the fantasy genre. The Malazan universe is a world that resounds with depth, which should please even the most demanding fans out there.
The characterizations are top notch. The story unfolds through the POVs of several characters. I would be hard pressed to name a more interesting bunch of characters than the men and women who comprise this fantastic novel. Three-dimensional doesn't begin to describe them, I'm afraid. And whether you take the Bridgeburners, the Empire's agents, Kruppe and the rest of the Phoenix Inn's regulars, the T'orrud Cabal, the Tiste Andii, the Guild of Assassins, etc, there is no clear line between good and evil. Erikson proves to be a master at walking that fine line in between, and several characterizations hover within gray areas.
The narrative draws you in and won't let go. The pace is at times brisk, and at times slower. It is a bit shocking to realize with how much ease the author controls the action. Some readers are put off by the fact that Gardens of the Moon drops you smack down in the middle of a very chaotic time for the Malazan Empire. As a matter of fact, many readers complain that they felt lost. Erikson doesn't force-feed you information in the habitual linear fashion. He seems to prefer to let the readers put the pieces of the puzzle together. And this is probably why I enjoyed the book to such a degree. Master storyteller that Erikson is, he simply plows through a vast array of storylines with disarming aplomb, baffling me at every turn with the ease with which he's steering the ship. The rhythm keeps you on your toes, never knowing what to expect next. And he manages to do it with a sense of humor which is a nice counterpoint to the darker dimensions of the tale.
Gardens of the Moon is composed of a seemingly unending number of storylines. Each one is important, but like threads they form a great tapestry. Which, in turn, will likely be only a portion of an even bigger tapestry. In a world as rich and as detailed as you'll find between the covers of this novel, every plotline appears to possess far-reaching importance in regard to the rest of the series.
Erikson's take on sorcery seems rather inventive and it lies at the heart of the story. I can't wait to learn more about the Warrens. Add to that a few tantalizing hints concerning the undead T'lan Imass, the forgotten Jaghut and the mysterious Tiste Andii, and you have me hooked! In addition, the fact that gods have never played such a capital role in a series since Weis and Hickman's The Rose of the Prophet adds yet another dimension to what might be the most multilayered fantasy epic ever written.
Imaginative on a scale that's almost frightening to consider, absorbing, thoroughly complex -- that's Gardens of the Moon in a nutshell. This, folks, is -- in my humble opinion -- about as good as it gets. This book deserves the highest possible recommendation. If you like big books with convoluted plotlines and fully drawn characters, then this one is definitely for you. Forget about the mixed reviews and give the novel a shot. Find out for yourself!
And to think that Erikson's fans clamor that the sequels are even better. . . If indeed true, which I have no reason to doubt now, I have some pretty amazing reading in front of me!
The final verdict: 9/10