Steven Erikson’s Gardens of the Moon is Book One in The Malazan Book of the Fallen. The Malazan Empire, ruled by the ruthless Empress Laseen, holds the continent of Genabackis by the throat. The latest maneuver in her campaign of rule, Laseen needs only to conquer the last Free City, Darujhistan, before Genabackis is hers. Sergeant Whiskeyjack and his Bridgeburners, weary of war, have no choice but to obey and continue the cycle of destruction. Meanwhile, a mage named Tattersail and a soldier named Paran become aware of forces that have begun playing their own hand. These are forces well beyond mortal understanding—these are the gods themselves.
Gardens of the Moon is simply the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Steven Erikson’s masterpiece. The Malazan Book of the Fallen is a fantasy series that takes place across multiple continents, follows hundreds of characters, with millennia worth of history. Erikson has created a massive work that redefines epic fantasy.
An enormous world
Fantasy writers always strive to create new worlds for their readers. Governments, countries, histories, flora, fauna and the like are meticulously thought over and brought to life for the story. However, I have never experienced world-building to the degree that Erikson accomplishes.
Erikson creates a vivid, living, complicated world, full of magic, monsters, agendas, history and sorrow. Each character has a long and mysterious past that haunts them and shapes their path. Every city has a memory of glory, and even the monsters are not safe from their share of tragedy. Erikson works in both the now and the distant past. Gardens of the Moon marks the beginning of something huge, and while daunting at first, soon you will barely notice when someone is 300,000 years old.
Erikson’s strengths don’t just end at creating wonderful worlds—he crafts characters that simply shine. There is something so real about every one of them, even the gods. He is able to bring them down to our level and help us relate to them. Every one of them is unique; there are no cookie cutter characters littering this novel. Every one of them has their own agenda and views on things, and every one has a past they bring with them. You will come to treasure every little morsel Erikson gives you about his characters. Their histories are long and varied, and you’re not going to learn everything about them right away. But when you do, it makes it all the more satisfying.
Huge learning curve
One of the great, and yet somewhat distressing, things about this series is that it comes with such a steep learning curve. Erikson does not hold your hand and walk you through his world, explaining all the wonderful things he’s made. He drops you into the ocean and you need to swim. This is an amazing world. It is complex, and in that complexity lies the challenge.
Erikson does not waste his time catching you up; there’s too much story to tell. You will figure things out, and you will fall in love with the book, but you need to focus and pay attention. The steep learning curve has been one of the complaints of the series and it is what originally kept me from reading it. A year ago I gave up after the first thirty pages, but I was young and weak. I came back to the world, I read it meticulously, and I began putting things together myself. After that I was hooked. It requires patience and focus, but it is worth the effort.
Everything is important
Everything Erikson writes has some degree of importance. Erikson can convey a great amount of detail in a very little amount of words, a skill honed from his background in writing short stories. So as you read, remember: everything means something.
So why should you read this?
If you are tired of fantasy novels that set you on a rail-guided car and deliver the plot to you in three easy meals, this book is for you. If you are tired of going on the same journey, meeting the same characters, and glimpsing the same mundane magic, this book is for you.
If you want to challenge yourself to an amazingly beautiful and complicated world, filled with people just as complex and intriguing, working your mind in the process—then Gardens of the Moon is what you need to read. It is the beginning of a long series, and the answers will not come quick. But I promise you, they will come eventually, and you’ll enjoy every step along the way.