Title: Gardens of the Moon
Author: Steven Erikson
Publisher: Tor Books
Notes: First book in the Malazan Book of the Fallen series.
Epic Worldbuilding; Mediocre Storytelling - 3 stars - a book review
First of all, for all the Malazan fanboys out there, let me say this: I get it; I really do. I recognize that many (if not most) of the Malazan cult followers will say that Gardens of the Moon is the weakest of the bunch, and the storytelling gets better and it all starts to come together after the second or third books. I get that. In fact, I am truly glad to hear it. I look forward to those moments as I fully intend to read on and most likely finish the series. In all honesty, I can see myself getting sucked into the Malazan world quite easily, becoming a fanboy who posts in the Malazan forums and awaits the next installments like Armageddon is on the horizon. That is what I do with fantasy series; especially series with fully realized worlds, which the Malazan world clearly is.
The truth of the matter is that despite needing two or three books to “get it,” Gardens of the Moon (and the Malazan Empire world) is not for everyone. Two or three books is a lot to swallow for the casual fantasy reader, given that the first two books clock in at 1400 to 1500 pages combined. That is a lot to swallow, especially if it is tough going for the first 300 to 500 pages. And in all honesty, it is tough going; that being said, one of the virtues of Gardens of the Moon is the fact that the world of the Malazan Empire is epic in magnitude and scope while fully realized in every aspect. The world exists and has lore and history galore; it is truly almost unbelievable. The Malazan Empire is the penultimate Dungeons and Dragons world crafted by the most obsessed Dungeon Master, and then written about in all of its glory. The problem with this incredible feat of worldbuilding is the simple girth of the world and the fact that the reader is literally dropped into the middle of it. I am actually hesitant to call it worldbuilding, since the world already exists and the reader almost awakens in the middle of a war.
Added on to that is the mediocre storytelling. There are countless plot lines at the beginning with no real (apparent) connection until much later in the book. Characters are introduced quickly and left behind abruptly, to only come around later on. There are also some fairly interesting plot devices that were almost a total turnoff for me; and I mean close the book and saying “who is kidding who?”
I can see the Malazan Empire in all its glory and I can see the war ravaged country sides, the battle hardened armies, and the towns that barely survived the individual Cleansings. The city of Darujhistan is unbelievable. However, the beauty and magnitude of these people and this world is interrupted, almost detrimentally by the previously mentioned plot devices. No matter how hard I tried, I could not picture in my head, nor believe that a marionette puppet was running around the countryside such as he was. I could not get past it and it ruined the beauty of the scenes that had been developing.
The overarching plot really comes together about halfway through and makes the book tough to put down. As a freshman work of fantasy fiction, I can already see the improvements from the beginning of the book to the end in the storytelling department. With all that in mind, Gardens of the Moon was certainly a chore to read; but it also introduced me to one of the most remarkable and engaging fantasy worlds. Unfortunately, the story told in this world was weak; but as it has been said, this is not a theme of the entire series. And remember fanboys, I will most likely be joining your ranks in another month or so.
I guess my point is that with a fully realized world (such as the one presented in Gardens of the Moon), anything is possible; and I fully expect Erikson to deliver in future installments.
At least at this time, I can honestly only recommend Gardens of the Moon for the most dedicated epic fantasy junkies.
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