Book Rview: Gardens of the Moon (Malazan Book 1)
Updated: Jun 6, 2020
So I don’t normally use this format for book reviews, but I found that I was so conflicted about Garden of the Moon, that it was the only equitable way to do so. To sum it all up in a few short sentences would be impossible, simply due to the scope and complexity of the work. Overall I did enjoy this book, as it serves as a launching point into the rest of the massive Malazan Book of the Fallen series, but this beauty is not without its warts.
Why you should read it: the prose (you see what I did there?)
Steven Erikson is an incredible writer. His prose is excellent. His incredible use of language comes across as very poetic, which is rather surprising for such a grimdark work.
The “world” that he (and his co-creator Ian) has created a stunningly deep world. Yes, stunningly. It is rich with its many races, cultures, gods, and its magic system are pretty impressive. As you read it, you really feel like you are exploring a world that has indeed existed for thousands of years.
Erikson is very imaginative using many traditional fantasy ideas and concepts and twisting them into his own machinations. There are dragons, wizards, assassins, and demons all in their own Malazan style.
This book is just the launching point into a massive series of 10 books! That is not to mention the 6 other books that Ian Cameron Esslemont has written in the same world, which are apparently now considered as significant as the original Malazan series. There are also 5 novellas set in the world. All in all, if you enjoy Erikson’s work, then you have plenty of it to consume!
What you need to consider before you jump in: the cons.
Wow, this is the most difficult read I have ever had. The book is overwhelmingly complex because there is simply too much going on, and it does not ease you into it. At times there are so many names, it felt like I was reading the Messiah’s genealogy straight out of the Bible. Goodness, there are so many freakin’ storylines that are going on at the same time, that you can pretty much expect to be confused for at least the first half of the book. I have talked with many other readers, and they have all said the same thing about this book. If you are going to dive in, just understand that this confusion is inevitable and it is just a price you are going to have to pay. I honestly think that the author could have eased into these storylines better, but Mr. Erikson will not be holding anyone’s hands in these books.
Beyond the complexity issue, one of the larger complaints that you will see many readers echo is about the lack of diversity in the characterization throughout the book. You will undoubtedly find reviews that say the characters are too flat. I have to agree. It seems that far too many of the characters just seem…interchangeable. Yes some have tremendous and intriguing powers and talents, but their personalities are annoyingly alike. It seems that everyone in this book is angry, sullen, and either completely hopeless or convinced they can slay gods.
This I think is a major factor in the often lousy dialogue. Why do I criticize it that way? Well, it feels that the dialogue is not very dynamic. It feels as if every decision and bit of dialogue is already pre-determined. Debates and attempts at persuasion rarely happen because the characters just “know” that the other person won’t agree with them, or change their mind, etc. etc. This really makes certain bits of the dialogue just feel like cheap thriller. I can’t count how many times an important piece of information was withheld, simply because,” sharing it wouldn’t have mattered anyways.”
Overall, I think most of the characters are generally unlikeable too. Now this is probably just my opinion, but overall I think out of the dozens of characters you encounter in the whole story, I probably only actually liked maybe five? Tattersail, Kruppe, Ralick Nom, Quickben, and Annomander Rake. I honestly would have been fine if just about every other character in the book would have been disposed of, because I had no emotional attachment whatsoever. Honestly even out of those five, only Kruppe and Rake have really intrigued me. In
contrast, those two characters are incredibly well done.
For such a detailed, deep book, there are some extremely contrived moments, shattering my suspension of disbelief. It really comes back to the lack of depth in the characters themselves. Examples of this are Peren’s love for Tattersail, which developed over what 1 page? Also his fierce loyalty and his desire to protect WhiskeyJack, at the cost of his own life? He doesn’t even know Whiskeyjack, come ‘on man! These DEEP relationships (mainly for Peren) are lame and unfortunately it cheapens what the author is trying to establish.
I also felt that the book had a great climax, but the overall ending was too abrupt, considering everything that we went through just to get to that point. It seemed like it was rushed and lacked resolution. However, there are 9 more books in the series, so this complaint may not be justified.
My last complaint is completely a personal issue that a lot of readers probably won’t face, but the book simply delves into occult things too much for my liking. While I have no problem with the various gods and the magic concepts that are used throughout, I didn’t care for how closely they resemble the actual occult. The “tarot” readings and the possessions seemed a little too real, if that makes any sense.
While the cons do outnumber the prose (I did it again!), the book has tremendous depth and creativity throughout, and you can see that you have just embarked on a huuuuge journey. But if you want to enjoy what is to come, you must be prepared to push through a book that isn’t always fun to read. However, I do believe that it will be worth it in the end. Only time will tell.