Gardens of the Moon (Malazan Book of the Fallen #1) by Steven Erikson: Book Review

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The Malazan Empire simmers with discontent, bled dry by interminable warfare, bitter infighting and bloody confrontations with the formidable Anomander Rake and his Tiste Andii, ancient and implacable sorcerers. Even the imperial legions, long inured to the bloodshed, yearn for some respite. Yet Empress Laseen’s rule remains absolute, enforced by her dread Claw assassins.

For Sergeant Whiskeyjack and his squad of Bridgeburners, and for Tattersail, surviving cadre mage of the Second Legion, the aftermath of the siege of Pale should have been a time to mourn the many dead. But Darujhistan, last of the Free Cities of Genabackis, yet holds out. It is to this ancient citadel that Laseen turns her predatory gaze.

However, it would appear that the Empire is not alone in this great game. Sinister, shadowbound forces are gathering as the gods themselves prepare to play their hand… -Goodreads

My Review

My Rating: 5/5

SPOILER FREE

Gardens of the Moon is one of the best fantasy books I have ever read. The world is rich and its history angry and proud. Erikson’s first book in Malazan Book of the Fallen is a masterpiece: if the books only get better from here – which I hear a lot from fans of the series – then I am in for the ride of my life.

I wanted to get that out of the way before I say that it took me two attempts to get into this book. Over a year ago, I read 200 pages and had to put it down. I was confused by everything and nothing made any sense. Who were these characters and what were they doing? Where were they? What the hell is going on?! I didn’t see the point in reading on when there was no hope of me understanding a thing that happened. I knew I would try again though.

Picking it up the second time, I decided to read very slowly. I made sure that I’d taken in every detail on the page, sometimes reading it twice if I wasn’t sure. This made reading the first third of the book very slow, but it was worth it as by the second and final third of the book I was burning through it – I finished it in two days.

If you pick up this book and feel lost, I suggest reading a chapter and then reading the chapter summary on the Malazan Wiki. Beware spoilers, though! Just keep your eyes to the summary and you should be fine. It helped a lot in consolidating what I’d just read when beginning – by at least the second half of the book, you shouldn’t need it anymore.

Sorry that that section was so long – I just wanted those who have heard that the book is hard to get through and takes a lot of effort wouldn’t feel as overwhelmed by it! It’s actually a pretty easy book to follow once you’ve got the hang of Erikson’s writing style and structure choices.

As I don’t want to talk about spoilers in this review, I’m going to list my pros and cons of the book in a very generalised way.


Pros:

  • The story is filled with mysteries. I love a good mystery in fantasy, and GotM has got a lot! Who or what is the Eel? What are the Gods up to? What are Laseen’s plans? I could list more, but there’s a few. Each thread is weaved intricately throughout the many point of views we experience the story through – this leads onto the next pro…
  • There is a huge cast of characters and many points of view. It’s a fantastic experience – once you get used to it – moving from one person to another (not always a “person” too), seeing a continuation of a scene through many eyes. You get differing opinions and see events in ways unique to that character, depending on their experience and loyalties.
  • The magic system is intriguing. I don’t believe we have been told enough of the Warrens to know if the magic system is amazing, but I’ve seen enough of it to know I want to know more! It’s brutal in warfare but intricate in healing and travel. There are so many elements to the magic in this book that I can’t go over them all here – just know that it’s fantastic to see and experience.
  • The plot is epic. I mean that as both epic in scope, and epic as in “incredible”, but I will focus on scope. As I mentioned before, there are many characters, all with their own motivations and loyalties – not only that, though, but there are Gods, ancient races (yes, more than one), and incredible magical creatures. This is one point that I can’t go into any detail in because of spoilers, so just know that there are many threads to this story and they converge to an epic climax – but there are more threads hinted at that are left alone for now. I’m excited to see where they go.

Cons:

  • There may be a huge cast of characters, but not all of them are well realised. I think that Paran, Tattersail, Kruppe, Crokus, and maybe Lorn, are the most developed characters of this book. Even then, I would have liked to have seen more of who they are beneath the facades they wear in order to push through the plot.
    • Whiskeyjack and Anomander Rake could have been so much better if we’d only seen more of who they are, rather than what they did. Of course, I got an impression of who all these characters were through their dialogue and actions, but there could have been more.
    • Due to the size of the cast of characters we see, it is no surprise that characterisation fell to the wayside in this first book, so I hope to see more of who they are in the future.
  • The first few chapters are hard. Having now finished the book, I’ve flicked through those chapters again and find that I don’t struggle with them at all. I appreciate that Erikson has cut the slow introduction that plagues many fantasy books, however he has done it in such a way that there is nothing there to replace the introductions to the characters, the world, or the plot.
    • This, I think, has led to many people putting the book down and never coming back to it. I feel lucky that I felt the urge to try again – it was worth it! – but with so many books to choose from, and massive fantasy series to try, many readers might not think it’s worth bothering with again.
    • If you are one of these readers, I would suggest you give it one last try! But of course, sometimes a book just isn’t for you and that’s fine – we all have different tastes.

That was a long review to get through but I hope it portrays my overwhelming love for this book! if anyone has read this series before, I would love to hear your thoughts – not only on this book but on how well the story progresses! I have nine books left and I’m looking forward to burning through them all!

If you want to read this book, don’t listen to anyone who tells you that it takes some special intellect to understand it, or any of that nonsense. There is a lot of fear mongering surrounding this book and series which doesn’t encourage people the try it. Give it a go! If you like it, great! If not, there are many other books and that’s okay.

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