Gardens of the Moon (Book 1 of The Malazan Book of the Fallen) by Steven Erikson

I can’t quite believe its been two and a half months since I started reading Gardens of the Moon. Admittedly I have read other books in between but the length of time I spent reading this might give the wrong impression. This is a fantastic book. It’s sprawling and messy and annoying in places but the world and most of the characters more than make up for that.

There is a review on Keeping The Door that is a lot better than anything I could write- it deals with the complex structure, McGuffins and fantasy tropes really well and is worth a read.

So instead of regurgitating much of what Renai Lemay has said, I’d like to focus on a few of the things Erickson does well that make this stand apart from a lot of the other fantasy that’s about.

The system of magic that is used is complex, bewildering and initially almost completely unintelligible. This is great. Part of the thing about magic is that its supposed to be magic. If I’ve been told by the end of the first few chapters how the system of magic works, I’m either reading David Eddings Pawn of Prophecy or I’m reading an author who lacks the skill to deal with exposition without a dreary monologue from one of the characters (hey, perhaps its both). By the end of the book the system of magic based around warrens makes a lot of sense. That’s not to say it’s perfect; there are a few occasions where it seems Erickson drops a new warren or quirky rule in just to further the plot but this isn’t too instrusive. Unlike the demons in vials, which are more irritating.

The system of Gods is also worthy of mention. It’s divided into the Elder Gods, who nobody seems to pay much attention to any more, and the younger upstarts referred to as the Ascendants, who seem to take great pleasure in interfering in a way more akin to the Greek pantheon than via prophets or whatever. Logically the name Ascendant assumes that they have ascended, suggesting they were mortal at some point. There are several clues in the text that make veiled reference to this. Hopefully the next volume or two will make it clearer.

The whole concept of Moons Spawn is really rather interesting too. A city sized chunk of rock with a city on it flying around with a bunch of alien warriors and wizards on it should frankly be crap- it’s straight out of some multi author series but again it is handled very well. Amomanda Rake is an interesting character, as the Ascendant Lord of Moons Spawn he remains somewhat enigmatic throughout and as the individually most powerful wizard its interesting to see the other wizards reactions to what he can do.

Some of the characters such as Whiskeyjack, Tattersail and Crokus are pretty likeable but a lot of them aren’t. Much like a lot of the gritty fantasy that followed in its wake (this book is over ten years old now), Erickson isn’t afraid of writing an unlikeable character and he does it well enough that it isn’t a turn off to any one reading the book.

Gardens of the Moon isn’t an easy read by any stretch of the imagination but it is rewarding. A modern classic in my humble opinion.

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