Here we go. This is my first review for Steven Erikson’s highly acclaimed epic fantasy series: Malazan Book of the Fallen.
Malazan Book of the Fallen has been in my TBR pile for one year seven months now. I’ve heard countless amazing things about the series, but the sizes, the fame of the complexities, the need for extra focus, the commitment, and the elitist jerks of the series have made me postpone starting it for a long time. Despite hearing amazing things about the quality of the series, it required me a promise to finally plunge myself into starting this grand tale. I told my girlfriend I will propose to her only after I finished Malazan Book of the Fallen; she has agreed to it and so here we are. It’s safe to say that my expectations for this series are unreasonably huge, and no, I don’t plan to change that for many personal reasons. Did the first book live up to the expectation though? The masterpiece quality aspect remains to be seen but the scope truly lived up to it, especially remembering that Gardens of the Moon is just the introduction to the series.
Gardens of the Moon is the first book in Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen series. Empress Laseen rules the Malazan Empire with an iron fist. After laying siege to Pale, she set her gaze upon Darujhistan, the last Free Cities of Genebackis. This is pretty much all I can say about the actual main plot without spoiling anything. In fact, as a warning, I’ll tell you this. My future Malazan reviews will consist of none or barely of what the plot is about. The main reason behind this is that there are way too many things going on inside the storyline that it would be practically impossible for me to summarize without writing a short story.
This is a GRAND tale, and from what I’ve read, it seems like Gardens of the Moon is merely an appetizer for what’s to come. As everyone said, there’s no benign compromise from Erikson here. Readers are immediately put in the middle of a gigantic war without any proper background given. However, was the story itself hard to follow? Not really. Now, I don’t claim that I understand everything that happened here; I extremely doubt any Malazan virgins can. Reading it for the first time, I noticed that some of the events happening in the book needed the power of hindsight in order to be fully appreciated; I’ve done my reread of this book, and it is so true. Some things just won’t make sense yet, and that’s okay; you’re not stupid. If the elitist of the series call you stupid for not liking the book or not understanding it, you’ll know that they’re the close-minded idiot you should avoid interaction with. I mean it, I have never encountered a more rabid bunch of man-child in any adult fantasy novel series than the one I’ve seen in the fan base of Malazan Book of the Fallen. If anyone said that Malazan isn’t the best fantasy series out there, they have this compulsion to throw insults at the speaker. That said, I will say that I do love the plot and the theme that Erikson put into Gardens of the Moon; there was a lot of themes going on here, but my favorites were the constant decrease of humanity because of drowning in war or power. The other theme is that when gods meddle, humans became pawns in their supremacy.
“Too many regrets. Lost chances—and with each one passing the less human we all became, and the deeper into the nightmare of power we all sank.”
Upon opening the book, you’ll immediately encounter a huge amount of characters in the drammatis personae. This should be able to give you an idea of how big the scale of the book will be. There were more than ten POV characters to follow, and there were more than one hundred names to remember. Once again, remember that this is only the FIRST book of the series; merely an introduction. As intimidating as that sounds, though, this is also where Erikson deserves his praises because despite the myriad number of characters, he managed to make sure that each of them has their own personality fleshed out. Their crumbling of beliefs, their responsibilities, the motivations, and their inner voices were distinct to read. One character doesn’t even have any POV chapter, and he managed to become the main highlight of the book. Yes, you know who I’m talking about; the mane of chaos, the lord of the Tiste Andii, the badass two-handed magic sword wielder, Anomander Rake. Suffice to say that he instantly made it to one of the coolest fictional characters I’ve come across so far. There’s one thing I need to say about the characters’ names, though. This first book alone contained some of the most memorable and ridiculous names I’ve ever heard. Whiskeyjack, Sorry, Quick Ben, Toc the Younger, and Toc the Older; seriously, how did Erikson and Esslemont come up with these names!?
“He’s loyal to an idea, and that’s the hardest kind to turn.”
When it comes to world-building, I don’t even know where to begin other than to say that it’s intricately complex and truly epic in scope. Almost all of these were an introduction to the world of the series, and yet it’s much bigger than most fantasy trilogy already. Hundreds of thousands of histories, many races, deadly and mysterious magic, the Deck of Dragons, the Ascendants; there was a LOT of information to absorb here. Honestly speaking, if you’re not a fan of extremely detailed lore and world-building, this book probably won’t work for you.
“No matter how benign the original rulers, no matter how generous the nobility, the word of Empire, weighted by might, twisted the past into a tyranny of demons.”
Let’s also take a look at one of the action scenes in the book just to give you an idea of how massive in scope the battle was.
Picture: Gardens of the Moon by Marc Simonetti
The scene in the picture above depicts the Siege of Pale, which happened in chapter 2. Sorcerous conflagrations, a floating fortress, giant ravens; the second chapter of this book could’ve easily be compared to the final battle in any other standard fantasy trilogy. Here’s another artwork on what kind of imminent battle and destruction to expect.
Picture: One of the interior artworks inside GotM Subterranean edition. Artwork by Michael Komarck
With all the ambitions and epic scope, it saddens me to say that I can’t give this book a 5 stars rating. For those of you who don’t know, I rate my books based on enjoyment and characters. Unfortunately, Gardens of the Moon was slightly lacking on that part for me due to a few imbalance characterizations. It’s not a surprise really, there are a myriad amount of characters here; some POV characters were just inferior compared to the others. For example, the assassin’s war storyline bored me because I didn’t care about the characters. On the other hand, characters from the Bridgeburners, Paran, Tool, Tattersail, and Anomander Rake deserves a standing ovation. Also, one other issue I had was that some of the battle scenes concluded too quickly that they end up feeling anti-climactic to read.
“Only if you fail at all else, son. Taking up the sword is the last act of desperate men. Mark my words and find yourself a more worthy dream.”
For all first-timer to the series, there’s a good chance that the fanatics, the sizes, or the complexities of the series will intimidate you, and it’s absolutely okay to feel that way. Even if you’re an epic fantasy fan, it doesn’t guarantee that this will be a book or series for you; all those negative and positive ratings were given for valid reasons. It took me a gigantic promise in order to finally plunge myself into starting this massive tale. However, if you’re ready to chain yourself to both Erikson’s and Esslemont’s ambitious tale, Gardens of the Moon will be the first avenue to test your imagination to its limit. I now move forward to open the Deadhouse Gates, a book that every fan of the series said will destroy my soul, make me cry, and I hope it does.
“Ambition is not a dirty word. Piss on compromise. Go for the throat.”- Steven Erikson
On reread after being done with the series, Gardens of the Moon was a better reading experience. There are a lot of things in this book that simply won’t make sense yet until you’ve read further. Reading it now actually felt like reading a different book, in a good way.
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