A lot of people have been waiting very patiently for this and I apologize for how long it took. There is so much that one could potentially say about Gardens of the Moon and the Malazan series in general, and for my first post I want to take a very general approach to how I felt coming into the book and how I feel coming out of it and into the next one. I think this will have a lot of good information for other first time readers and those debating about whether to start the series
Bookish Quick Facts:
- Title: Gardens of the Moon
- Series: Malazan Book of the Fallen, #1
- Author: Steven Erickson
- Publisher & Release: Tor Books, 1999
- Length: 666 pages (MMPB)
- Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ and yes, hard yes, for anyone with even a casual interest in military or regular fantasy
Here’s the synopsis via GoodReads:
Vast legions of gods, mages, humans, dragons and all manner of creatures play out the fate of the Malazan Empire in this first book in a major epic fantasy series from Steven Erikson.
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.
Okay, so anyone with even a casual interest in fantasy has heard of Malazan, and with that knowledge comes the fact that this fandom is completely full of elitist fucks. I let that level of elitism deter me for a long time because I found it intimidating, which is just stupid, because when a book is just this damn good people just need to read it. I get the hype, I really do, but let’s talk about this on an introductory level
First off, the author recommends reading them in publication order which I think is awesome. The series seems super intimidating but it’s really not because the reading order, at least the first time through, is pretty straightforward.
The book itself is written on such an amazing, huge, wonderful scope, that yeah you are absolutely not going to pick up everything on the first read. I sure as hell didn’t. I’m halfway through book two now and learning quite a bit about book one still so do not be concerned if you start reading and go ” holy fuck I have no idea what’s going on” – trust me, you’ll get there.
One of the things that I tend to love about military fantasy is that it’s very realistic in terms of the reader knowing just about as much as the characters knowing. A lot of fantasy holds your hand and explains things and walks you through what’s happening, but in a military engagement this is absolutely not going to be realistic. If the characters know what’s going on, you probably know what’s going on, but even then sometimes you don’t. Eventually in the text things are explained so you kind of have to just keep reading and learn as you go
That said, there’s a very helpful index including people, places, and some of the phrases used in the text. A good example is the word “Soletaken” – you can either look it up in the index, or just wait for someone to explain it.
I think the coolest thing about this book is just how absolutely epic and all encompassing it is. You’ve got humans, non-humans, empresses, mages, gods and other deities, assassins, the undead, dragons, talking giant ravens, hounds, magic weapons, epic sorcery, and just about anything else you could ever want in a fantasy mashed into these pages somewhere. It’s truly and epically impressive and I’m not even scratching the surface.
Another thing that I really appreciate is how Erikson does not mince words. If a character is fat, awesome, if they’re black, awesome, whatever. Burned, missing an eye or arm, whatever. Just about the only thing that makes anybody turn their head is a puppet with devastating sorcery capabilities.
Even the most boring storyline in this book eventually ties into bigger things and gives you a big validating “oh wow!” moment, or six. Even when the text isn’t necessarily exciting you get cool fantasy names like “Despot’s Barbican” to keep you entertained and curious. I didn’t love the Darujistan political storyline until it started falling into place, but it was still cool.
The level of political intrigue is right up there as well, both within and outside of the Malazan Empire. The mages are plotting, the gods are plotting, Dujek is plotting, some of Whiskey Jack’s men are plotting …. Everyone’s got an end game and you have no idea what any of it is until Erickson decides to tell you. Some of the plots carry right over into the next book too.
The sorcery and some of the fight scenes are epic too. So are the characters and interwoven plots. I love the names like WhiskeyJack, Tattersail, Anomander Rake, Topper, Fiddler, Quick Ben – Erikson comes close to Glen Cook in the “fun military nicknames” category – and just smashes him everywhere else. No offense but Cook even admits he was outdone in the book plug 🤣
Some of my favorite themes were … Cause and effect. Luck. PTSD and how war sucks away humanity. Friends and found family. Protecting your own.
Some of the coolest magic – Anomander Rake’s sword, which essentially sucks souls into it and puts them to a hellish task. Also Hairlock’s puppet shenanigans. The shape shifting. At the end it was hard to tell 100% what happened but that was some damn fine sorcery as well with the “house” appearing. One more awesome point of magic is the future telling or guiding Deck of Dragons. It’s not readily apparent how involved and magical the decks are, but when it comes out it’s quite interesting!
I feel like I’m already writing an essay (while hardly scratching the surface).
I want to stress again to first time readers too – just keep reading when you feel overwhelmed, I think the best approach is to let it wash over you without interrupting the reading too much. You’re not stupid, you’re not alone, it’s a LOT to take in.
I am told that this is the least well written of his books as well, so I have high high high hopes for the rest of the series