Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson is the first book of the epic fantasy The Malazan Book of the Fallen. It’s a lengthy series, so it’s quite an undertaking to read all of it. And I’ve only just started.
This book was a difficult one to rate. It’s Steven Erikson’s debut novel, and I could see some flaws early on. However, my attitude toward the book changed dramatically as I continued to read it.
Gardens of the Moon takes place mostly on the continent of Genabackis amidst a campaign of expansion and domination by the Malazan Empire. The world was developed for a GURPS campaign by Erikson and his friend Ian Cameron Esslemont, and Malazan Book of the Fallen is a novelization of that world. The world is completely original. Unlike other fantasy novels, the cultures and races are unique to this series. There are no elves, dwarves, ogres, and so on. Instead, you get the Tiste Andii, T’lan Imass, Jaghut, and more. Humans are the main race, however. Wizards and gods take a major role, as well, but they’re not exactly what we would normally expect. Overall, the world is incredibly imaginative.
The ensemble cast of characters is vast. Ganoes Paran is kind of the hero, though he doesn’t seem to be very heroic. He’s a soldier thrown into a situation he wishes he wasn’t in. Tattersail is a powerful mage with many insecurities. Lorn, the Empress’ Adjunct is also an incredibly flawed character. Sergeant Whiskeyjack, Kalam, Quick Ben, Crokus, Rallick, Kruppe, and more make some very colourful characters who aren’t always what they seem to be. That’s one thing that made this book so interesting to read, the reader doesn’t know what to expect from the characters. They are very well developed through the book, and we never quite know who are really the good guys and who are the bad guys. With few exceptions, the line between good and bad is blurred very much. While the characters are strong, it was very confusing for the first quarter of the book. There were so many characters that I had a hard time keeping everyone straight.
The story has two sides to it. In the beginning, I found it difficult to follow. I had no idea what was going on. But as the plot moved along, things became clearer, and I could understand what was happening. Basically, it’s a large empire trying to conquer the biggest city on the continent of Genabackis. But it’s not that simple. There are many individuals who change their positions, the “good” seem to ally themselves with the “bad,” and so on. It was incredibly unpredictable. That should be expected, since this was based on a GURPS role playing campaign. That’s what made much of this book so amazing to read. You never knew what was going to happen. Main characters die, sometimes unexpectedly. We never know more than the characters know. It’s like we’re going along with the ride, joining in the action. It makes it much more exciting.
Like I said before, this was a difficult book to read. For the first quarter of the book, I wasn’t impressed. It was maybe going to get three or three and a half stars at that point. But the rest of the book was a solid four and a half to five stars. So, what do I rate it?
Four and a half stars. Recommended to any fantasy fan, especially those who want something new and refreshing.