When I was looking for new books to try, my friend recommended Morden’s Metrozone series and the Malazan Book of the Fallen series. Of course, the Metrozone series veered off the rails for me, but I am buying what Erikson is selling here. Plus, Canadian!
I started reading this on the plane to Hawaii, and although I had been warned by both my friend and Erikson’s foreword, I was surprised at how this book just drops the reader right in the middle of a very dense world. There really isn’t any introduction or easing in to this story – the reader is expected to pick it up as you read along. Erikson developed many of his characters and plots as part of a D&D style game with a friend of his, and both of them went on to develop a series of books built off those ideas. It’s obviously something he had put an enormous amount of thought into, in terms of plotting as well as about what he wanted to accomplish in terms of storytelling. Erikson intends for the reader to pay attention, to think hard about what they are reading. It’s exhausting but compelling.
Gardens of the Moon is the first in a long series, anchoring the story in the Malazan Empire, an empire riddled with war and betrayal in a way that feels much more dire than Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series. While much of the story seems to centre on one particular storied squad of soldiers, it is spread across several years and continents. There is a lot going on – mortals who can apparently become gods and then meddle in the affairs of humans, infighting and betrayals amongst the Empire’s peoples, and the Empress’ overarching plot to take down one of the last free cities left. The world building in this first novel is impressive, very descriptive and making various landscapes and cultures distinct and vibrant. The plots are complex and carry on throughout the books, although many of course are meant to carry on through other books, with repercussions the reader can’t see the entirety of at this point.
“What frightened Paran most, these days, was that he had grown used to being used. He’d been someone else so many times that he saw a thousand faces, heard a thousand voices, all at war with his own.”
The characters here are interesting, and as the story is written from a few points of view, we share some of their experiences and memories. Ganoes Paran, pawn of mortal and god alike, is one of the most interesting characters as he comes to consider his role in the wars. While he seems to be pushed around a lot in this book, it is obvious that he has a larger role to play in the story at large – a feeling he shares with the reader and is unsettled by himself. There are several really interesting female characters, including a discomfiting young assassin, a powerful mage and the Empress’ Adjunct, Lorn. All of them are intelligent and responsible, and play leadership roles in the larger story. In a refreshing change from A Song of Ice and Fire, the women here do not hold power in relation to their marital and sexual relationships – they are powerful in their own right. I so enjoyed the book that I asked for some of the later books in the series for Christmas – this is a good sign, as I have been trying hard to rely primarily on the library for the past several years. I am looking forward to reading and reviewing the rest of the series.