Gardens of the Moon

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

9 commentaires:

Sarah said...

This one has also been on my list for a few years now. I've "almost" picked it up several times. I guess now I should! Thanks for the review. (I trust you. You like the ones I like. ;-))

Holly said...

About time! I'm glad you liked it so much. As everyone else at wotmania said, you're in for quite the treat with the books to follow!

David Forbes said...

I've read up through Midnight Tides, but I almost never got there because I was so put off by Gardens of the Moon. Put me in the camp of those who think the book simply doesn't work for more than half of its length. I found it to be borderline incoherent in parts.

That said, I liked it enough to continue with Deadhouse Gates, which, though it has problems of its own, is worth it for the Chain of Dogs sequence alone.

And Pat, after reading about 5,000 pages of Malazan stuff, I still don't really know any more about warrens than you find out in GOTM! ;-) (Well, maybe a little bit, but not much.)

Patrick said...

Well, what can I tell you, Sarah!?!

You've got taste!!!;-)

Gas of Zeus said...

Nice one Pat!

You did go a bit over the top with praise, but in general you are spot on.

The fact that Erikson doesn't spell anything out is a great thing, it took him till Midnight Tides to really bother talking about how warrens act.

Erikson has proven to be the best current fantasy author, even Martin isn't as good.

Anonymous said...

I was quite disappointed with Gardens of the Moon. I had great hopes for it to be another series I could get into like Martin or Jordan. It was nothing but a chore to read. Extremely flat characters who never develop any personality (except for Kruppe that is) and so much magic that none of it seemed very interesting. His lack of description on all counts prevented me from ever really liking GOTM. I gave Deadhouse Gates about 150 pages before I decided to leave the loosely constructed (or maybe better said "poorly communicated") world of Malazan. I guess I will understand fans of Erikson as much as I do fans of Goodkind. If you like George R.R. Martin and love his characters, I would recommend not wasting time with Erikson.

MarC said...

At Anon, I for one thinks that the Malazan Books has the best damn characters in the fantasy genre, even Martin's ASOIAF can't compare. I know that your going to say that at least Martin's characters are more realistic but meh, what do I care if their realistic if their as despicable as they are? Why should I continue to read a book about a bunch of characters I don't even care about?

Kirshy said...

I have to agree with Anon on this one. I managed to get about half way into the book before I gave up on it. I found it to be boring and slow. I couldn't relate to the characters, or the world. It just wasn't a good match for me. I have the same feeling toward WOT. I got through the first two books hoping that I would get into the world but that moment never came.

To each his or her own though I suppose.

Waxahachie said...

When I started Gardens of the Moon, I hadn't heard anything about it, save for the cult of Malazan fans that speak with high praise about the series in various fantasy forums across the internet. I was excited to get into a long series, because I tend to like those.

I still haven't finished Gardens of the Moon, but I'm extremely disappointed that what I hoped would be an epic reading experience has instead turned into a complete slog. Instead of excitedly looking forward to my next opportunity to read the book, I'm at the point where the only reason I read it is because I bought it.

Different people have different tastes, so I suppose this is maybe just not for me, but I can't help but dispute one thing in this review:

"The worldbuilding is of the first order."

I don't see any worldbuilding in this book yet. The reader is given little to no information about the world, the deities, the magic, the nations involved, the cities, previous history of characters, etc. They drop little tidbits here and there, but it's like calling a small bag of goldfish a five course meal.

I want to continue with Malazan, but I don't know if I can. From the various reviews I've read online, even fans of the series have admitted that his writing doesn't really get any better over the course of the books.