Gardens of the Moon is an oft over-looked book by author Steven Erikson. It is the first in a ten-book series known as the Malazan Book of the Fallen. I just finished the first of the series and am currently working my way through the second and decided I’d share my thoughts on what Erikson has put together thus far. I’d like to start with the things I liked about the book and then progress into what I felt could have used a little bit of work.
First and foremost, Erikson was an archaeologist in his former life. This experience and knowledge really shines through in his writing, particularly with his attention to detail when it comes to elements such as the cultures of his many races and nations. Each group of people is unique and carries the weight of centuries of history behind them, even those fantastical in nature.
As for his characters, Erikson presents a personality for all types of readers. Rogues, soldiers, mages, undead, gods, ancient races and many more populate his extremely rich world. No matter whom you are, there will be at least two to three characters that you end up getting attached to and just as many that you hate. And who you choose, one way or the other, does not necessarily have anything to do with whether they would be considered “good” or “evil”. Erikson’s characters, in fact, are more ambiguous than anything and rarely fall within any easily defined moral space.
The biggest problem that I’ve been having reading his books is that he has entirely too much going on. Just as I get a grasp of one storyline, he jumps to another. It’s not as bad in the first book until it hits the end, when he throws in so many twists and turns that I almost rolled my eyes. Coupled with his minimalistic style of description, I found myself unable to get more than a very general idea of what anyone looked like, what their motives were and what was the point of any set of actions. Admittedly, certain things should be left unsaid to keep mystery. It just seemed like too many plots fell under that heading. The end result was an aimless feeling and I wondered why I should care about what any of these folks were doing since none of them seemed to have any set goals.
Gardens of the Moon was Erikson’s first attempt at writing, and I have been told that the series picks up. So I’m willing to give him a chance and hang on for a little while longer. If you haven’t read any of the Malazan series, I’d say go for it. If you happen to be a fan of high fantasy done in a convoluted style similar to (but better written than) Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time or George R.R. Martin’s books, then Gardens of the Moon might be right up your alley.