Monday, 22 October 2012

Review: Gardens of the Moon

Gardens of the Moon
Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The soldiers gamble their lives.

The Empress raises the stakes of her rule.

The Gods keep their cards to hand…

Who has the most to lose? Three years past, but the city of Pale has fallen under siege. Sergeant Whiskeyjack and his squad of Bridgeburners have little time to mourn the dead as the Empress commands them on. Darujhistan, the last of the Free cities, still defies the swathe of the Malazan Empire.

There are no signs to an end. The soldiers have given their worth, but the fighting goes on. Will the last of the mortal cities signal the end to the years of bloodshed?

…Or will the gods enter the play?

Steven Erikson’s ‘Gardens of the Moon’ is the first book in his ‘Malazan Book of the Fallen’ Series. The series spans a boastful ten novels, but what’s worth shouting about is the fact that ‘Malaz’ encompasses three million, three hundred and ten thousand words. Chew on that!

‘Gardens of the Moon’ introduces the reader to a vast cast of characters. Well, actually it introduces us to a world of characters. And by world, I mean WORLD. Erikson has crafted a living, breathing universe, and he’s gone to the trouble of populating the four corners with more characters than you can shake a stick at. That’s a double-edged sword, right there. If you like scope, and you can cope with a theatre overrun by actors in the aisles, then this book is for you. If not, return your ticket at the box office before you get trampled by the extras. The characters do suffer for the swollen census – in ‘Gardens of the Moon’ development is shallow at times, and a lot of the cast share similarities or mirror one another. (Note: The rest of the series does not suffer from this so much, seemingly because as a reader we’ve already been introduced to the cast and character development can begin after the first impressions.)

This is where my usual review style falls down. Where I want to explore the deeper sides of characters and plot, I think it’s best I approach ‘Gardens of the Moon’ with a more summative eye.

Erikson isn’t for everyone. In ‘Gardens of the Moon’ the reader hits the ground running. When I say running, I mean sprinting but you’ll have to keep it up for a marathon. And when I say ground…I mean landing from a 100 ft drop onto a rock flatbed. I think the first 20 pages will make or break the experience for a reader. I’ve seen the mixed reviews, as I am sure you all have, and I have to say that I see everyone’s points.

Every page is something of a challenge – or at least it poses a challenge to a reader. It’s not an easy-read, but it’s well worth it. The plot is grand, operatic grand, and easy to get lost in. Again, the characters are many and mixed, but also easy to get lost amongst. The meticulous care that Erikson has taken with ‘Gardens of the Moon’ is (and take this as a compliment, I guess) akin to a god-like hand. It’s HUGE. MASSIVE. I know I keep coming back to this point, but I believe that part of the reason the series is a fall-fast to many readers, is because the sheer size puts them off.

Erikson’s prose is beautiful. That much I will touch upon. His complexity of word-weaving is at once poetic, but also befuddling. Yes, I count myself a high-level reader, but no, I did not find this an easy read at all times. I had to re-read sentences, passages, entire pages…but I discovered something new each and every time. It’s like a 2-for-1 on books.

This isn’t a story for the light-hearted, nor is it for the casual-fantasy-reader. You’re going to have to free up the brain space allocated to our own world history to fully immerse yourself in Erikson’s creation.

It’s epic. That’s it. I’ve mentioned operatic, epic, MASSIVE…that IS the ‘Malazan Book of the Fallen’ Series. Everything else before it? They are claimants to the crown of epicness. I’m not saying to discount them as Epic-Fantasies, but ‘Gardens of the Moon’ and it’s sequels put the fantasy into epic. Sure, even right at the end I found myself more than a little lost and confused, but Erikson has woven so many threads into his story, that when he pulls at one…it all unravels.

Why 5 stars? I’ve yet to justify a rating for one of my reviews, but I feel the need to do so in this case. This could just as easily been a 4, 3, 2, or 1 star review. But, no. Despite its many shortcomings, I believe that ‘Gardens of the Moon’ has set a new standard in fantasy. It’s the benchmark for others to aspire to in scope, world-building, lore… And for that alone, 5 stars is what you’ll get Mr Erikson.

Ever hear about Narnia, the land at the back of the closet? Well, you’d need more than a closet to hide ‘Gardens of the Moon’ in.

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