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

Rating: 7/10

Synopsis

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…

Conceived and written on a panoramic scale, Gardens of the Moon is epic fantasy of the highest order–an enthralling adventure by an outstanding new voice.

Review

“—what cast my mind, what hue my
thoughts as I open the Book of the Fallen
and breathe deep the scent of history?
Listen, then, to these words carried on that breath.
These tales are the tales of us all, again yet again.
We are history relived and that is all, without end that is all.”

I wanted to give a huge shoutout to UnderTheRadarSFFBooks for organizing and hosting this buddy read! If you are not following you should definitely make that happen for some awesome reviews and other bookish content.

The Malazan Book of the Fallen series has a reputation in the Fantasy Community of being one of, if not the most complicated and dense fantasy series that has been written. While I cannot speak to its being the most out of all fantasy, I can definitely say that Malazan’s reputation is definitely earned.

Gardens of the Moon is a book with immense world building. You can tell that this world is inspired by the Dungeons & Dragons sessions that Erikson and Ian Esselmont had while in college together. There are so many wholly unique races, gods, beings called Ascendants and their Houses, nations, cities, and different types of magic. This was the most complex worldbuilding I have ever read and there were many parts of it that were wholly unique in my experience. I give huge props to Erikson for that because I have read a lot of epic fantasy. For this part of the book especially, I highly recommend reading a guide (Malazan Book of the Fallen: An Introduction for New Readers) to help get a basic grip on the world itself before starting this series. Reading this beforehand helped me tremendously in understanding more of the world that Erikson has built.

“I am Crone, eldest of the Moon’s Great Ravens, whose eyes have looked upon a hundred thousand years of human folly. Hence my tattered coat and broken beak as evidence of your indiscriminate destruction. I am but a winged witness of your eternal madness.”

Gardens of the Moon is a very plot driven book. Although it is complex and dense, I also felt that it was often pretty fast paced. There is not a ton of action in this book. However, what this story does really well is intrigue, both political and general. One of my favorite aspects was how directly the gods got involved with the affairs of mortals. In that way it reminded me of some of the Greek mythology I’ve read where the gods are just as bad and oftimes worse than humans, slaves to their own nature. I mention this because this aspect of the gods interacting with mortals so directly adds to the stakes of the story in a big way. You never know who will be favored by a god or who will be targeted by one. Not only that, but the dealings between the humans and other races of the world was a huge part of my enjoyment of this book.

“I want to be a soldier. A hero.”
“You’ll grow out of it.”

One aspect that was a weakness of the book for me was the amount of POV characters. Now, I don’t mind and often enjoy a large cast of characters. The Faithful and the Fallen series by John Gwynne has about 6 POVs per book, many more named characters, and I love that series! However, according to this reddit post in r/Malazan, Gardens of the Moon has 33 POVs in total. That is epic on a scale I have never seen. There is definitely more time spent with “main POVs” versus just one off POVs, but it still made it hard for me to really love and get invested in any of the characters because of the little time spent with them.

However, I will say that Erikson does a great job with the limited time he had with each character of getting me intrigued and I did really like quite a few of them. Kruppe, Whiskeyjack, Sorry, and Paran come to mind as my favorites. Other character standouts include Quick Ben, Anomander Rake, Crone, Adjunct Lorn, Kalam, Cotillion (The Rope), Ammanas, and Crokus. Ultimately though, I am a character driven reader first so it was a struggle for me not being fully invested in any one particular character.

The last thing I wanted to touch on was the action. As I said above there wasn’t necessarily a ton of action for the almost 700 pages of this book, but I did enjoy the action overall. When it comes to hand to hand, up close and personal fights I thought Erikson did an amazing job of describing each and making them intense. However, I will say that the few times that the higher powers were involved in the fights the descriptions started to get rather vague and the scenes were very quick. I feel that Erikson really missed out on some opportunities for some incredibly epic battle scenes among gods, ascendants, and mages. These scenes had huge potential, but unfortunately felt rushed most of the time and were disappointing.

All pros and cons aside, I am so glad I read this book. It’s given me a new appreciation for what highly complex plots and unique worldbuilding can do for a story. It’s also helped me to become a more patient reader. Erikson really throws you into this story and you just have to lean into the confusion and trust that he will make it all worth it in the end. I recommend this book to epic fantasy veterans who love worldbuilding, complex plots, and a focus on intrigue. Overall, I enjoyed my time reading this book and I think I will continue the series to see where it goes from here as I’ve heard it only gets better!

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Bob/Sally says:

    It’s a hard book to get into, and I struggled a bit at first with the way the series leaps around, but book 3 hooked me and I never looked back.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. David S says:

      That’s what I keep hearing! Push through until book 3 to make a decision on whether to complete the series or not. I definitely enjoyed myself in book 1, but like you said it is a struggle to get used to

      Like

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