Friday, December 4, 2015

Gardens of the Moon Book Review

by The Wanderer

Author: Steven Erikson
Publisher: Tor Books
Genre: Military Fantasy
Series: Malazan Book of the Fallen Book One
Pages: 666

Buy on Amazon!

Richly imagined, highly complicated, and brutally violent are just some of the adjectives I could use to describe the first book in the ten installment Malazan Book of the Fallen series.  Gardens of the Moon is as unrelenting in its depiction of violence as it is in being unforgiving to its major characters.

The Malazan series is a highly complicated.  The first book has close to forty major significant characters, many of whom change or switch names during the course of this book.  Many aspects of the series are left unexplained, forcing readers to go with the flow and patiently wait for answers or subtle hints of what’s to come.

The point being Gardens of the Moon is a magnificently realized beginning to a great series, but with its depictions of violence and insistence on the reader being patient may mean this book isn’t for everyone.  If you’re willing to brave the storm then this book comes highly recommended.

The Malazan Empire is the dominant military power in the world.  It has invaded the continent of Genabackis successfully defeating almost all opposition there.  After conquering the city of Pale, it turns its predatory gaze to the last standing free city on the continent, Darujhistan.

As various underground and political forces prepare for the Malazan onslaught in Darujhistan, an elite group of Malazan soldiers called the Bridgeburners is ordered to bring the city down from the inside.  The Bridgeburners begins to question whether or not the Malazan Empress Laseen, is trying to have all of them killed due to their past affiliation with the previous emperor, whom she is believed to have murdered.

While the Malazan Empire and Darujhistan engage in war, the Gods of the world begin to reveal themselves and enter the conflict manipulating the world to satisfy their own ambitions.

Trying to summarize the basic plot of this book is difficult.  Erikson throws plot after plot, and character after character into the story and somehow manages to juggle all of these different stories and characters into one large, and mostly, cohesive novel.  Gardens of the Moon has all the potential to be a giant disaster, yet it never feels like the story is splitting at its seams.  The feeling readers should get from reading this book would be akin to starting A Song of Ice and Fire by reading A Dance With Dragons first.

Malazan bares a lot of similarities to George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series: it’s gritty, morally and thematically complicated, and it contains deep characters.  Erikson’s characters aren’t necessarily as strong as Martin’s, but they are great characters nevertheless.  On the other hand Erikson juggles so many different plots while making it all seem effortless where as it feels like Martin starts to struggle with myriad plots in A Feast For Crows.  The good news with Erikson though, is his ten volume Malazan series has been completed so you know you won’t be waiting five years for the next book.

Erikson is in somewhat of a unique position amongst using magic in his series.  He uses lots of magic with clear limitations, which suggests this is a magic with rules type of fantasy.  However, Erikson never bothers to explain the rules.  In short, Malazan uses an advanced magic system with unexplained rules.  The book also features mages, sorcerers, wizards, high priests, etc. – all different types of magical characters, but the differences between what they can do magically is never explained.

There are many great personalities that inhabit Genabackis- the weary mage Tattersail, the wanna be hero Ganoes Paran, the possessed murdering fisherman’s daughter Sorry, and the human vs duty torn Adjunct Lorn showcase an array of characters with questionable motives and morals.  But personally, for me, the standout character was Kruppe.

Kruppe is a wise mage that acts intentionally dumb to throw people off.  While stuffing his face with pastries and acting like a retarded Yoda that speaks in 3rd person, Kruppe provides many moments of relief from the book’s building tension and frequent depictions of violence.  He’s not just comic relief, he is a relief from the savagery and emotional exhaustion that this book can put a reader through, and his inclusion and significance to the story promises many good things for future installments.

The difference between good and evil in Malazan is paper thin; nearly all of the characters are likeable yet they are all pitted against one another and ultimately come into conflict with one another.  It’s these character conflicts along with the added pathos instilled in each character that ultimately make this book so compelling.  Some characters will inevitably come out on top, but it often times comes at another character’s expense.  Watching one character you like succeed as another you like fail creates a lot of emotional ambiguities and complexities.

In the Malazan world,  it’s nearly impossible to get behind any one large group or organization in the book, and rather the reader is forced to side with individual humans.  The individual humans in Malazan are greater than the various group identities of the regiments, divisions, and nations that make up this story.  This leaves many different emotional interpretations for all of its readers.  Certain people will hate a character that many others will love.

Gardens of the Moon is a heavy read, not just in page count, but in emotionally exhausting content and intellectual stimulation.  Readers must be able to pay attention to the details in order to comprehend the story, if they don’t, it’s very easy to get lost and confused.  The Malazan books above all else requires patience to appreciate, and if you’re a patient reader than this book will be very rewarding.

Score: 9.0

No comments:

Post a Comment