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Book Review: Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson

Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson

Title: Gardens of the Moon

Author: Steven Erikson

Series: Malazan Book of the Fallen #1

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: 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. -Goodreads

The Review:

Gardens of the Moon was fantastic… aside from the fact that it took me a whole year to read it.

From countless discussions with book friends, it’s clear to me that Malazan is not just a casual read, it’s a commitment of time, mental energy, and emotion. It stands on a pedestal as one of the most all-encompassing series on the market and I would be doing my passion an injustice not exploring it to the fullest. I genuinely wanted to see what all the hype is about, and GotM book made a strong first impression.

But this isn’t the first time I’ve picked up this book….

Back in 2002 when I first became a bookseller, I was dazzled by the idea that I could check out hardcovers from the store for free. So I snagged a sparkling new copy of Gardens of the Moon off the shelf and started reading. I have to say, I was NOT prepared for this type of unconventional storytelling back then. I expected to meet a handful of characters and stick with them throughout the book. Erikson threw so many characters at me all at once, I quickly lost track of them all and ended up skimming for a while to see if I could find anybody familiar in the text. You know how when you’re disengaged from a book, your eyes can read for days but your mind doesn’t actually absorb anything? That was me. I was in it enough to appreciate the atmosphere of the story, but everything else was a blur.

Oh, how I wish I knew what to expect back then so that I could be standing her today saying “Malazan? I read that years ago.” But alas, I wasn’t ready.

… I still don’t know if I am.

The book requires a ton of concentration if, like me, you want to get as much out of the experience as possible. Perfectionists will have a more difficult time with this series than those who are able to go with the flow. However, the vast majority of people I’ve talked to say it’s well worth the effort (there’s practically an army of Malazan enthusiasts in my Goodreads group, Fantasy Buddy Reads. Even mention Malazan casually there and half a dozen impassioned readers will bombard you with their feels. It’s kind of inspiring). It definitely won’t take most people an entire year to get through it, but it will help considerably if you venture in knowing what you’re signing up for.

In my read, I managed to keep track of all the characters, which in itself is a miracle. The presentation is so unconventional – you’re thrust in the middle of a robust world and meant to navigate it without explanation. You just get a front row seat for all the happenings. This format is partly why I think the book makes you feel like you’re a part of the story, gets you so worked up about the characters, and sticks in your brain long after you put it down. Compound that with world-building that feels almost unrivaled, and you have a guaranteed escape. Everything disappeared around me when I picked it up. GotM is more than just a good read, it’s an EXPERIENCE.

But because of how much of a commitment it required compared to the output of just this first book, I’m saving my 5 stars for upcoming books I’ve been assured are going to rip out my soul. I can’t wait.

Thanks, FBR peeps for encouraging my initial exploration of the series (and for teasing/cheering me on as it took so long to get through… I think Petrik finished the entire series by the time I made it through the first book) and Miche, for the recent conversation that reignited me back into it. Y’all rock. <3

Recommendations: GotM is not for the faint of heart. It’s evoking in every sense of the word and a clear masterpiece of the genre. I’d recommend it highly to hard-core fantasy fans who don’t mind books that require more concentration.

Other books you might like: 

by Niki Hawkes

Notes: comments are welcome, but please be mindful that spoilers can’t be marked in the comment sections and there are still a few of us stragglers who also want the full experience of the series. Thank you!