January 13, 2011

Review: "Gardens of the Moon" By Steven Erikson

By way of introduction to this book review, I have to tell you that I first tried to read this novel approximately ten years ago, shortly after it was first published in the U.S.  Gardens of the Moon is Canadian author, Steven Erikson's, first installment in his ten-volume series entitled, "The Malazan Book of the Fallen."  On my first go, I honestly tried to like the book and was stymied.  For whatever reason, I just never took to it and it languished on my shelf for a couple of years.  Eventually I picked it up again, and gave it another go.  Alas, this second attempt was futile as well, and I then packed it off with a box a books to to my favorite used bookstore.  At the time I was in the midst of Robert Jordan's massive "Wheel of Time" epic fantasy series, and I wasn't terribly distraught at letting another multi-volume high fantasy series slip through my fingers.  I couldn't have been more wrong.  Over the past few months I have encountered so much positive feedback about Erikson and his "The Malazan Book of the Fallen" series that I just knew that I'd have to try again.  Over the holidays I bought the first four 'fat-books' in the series, and made the mental commitment to finally read them and see, for myself, what all of the 'buzz' was about.  So, without any further ado, here is my review of the first volume in the series.

It has taken me a couple of days to formulate my thoughts and impressions about Gardens of the Moon and shape them into this review.  First, I must say to Mr. Erikson, "Bravo! and Brilliant!"  Secondly, I am still rendered nearly speechless after reading this first installment in his hugely fascinating and sophisticated epic fantasy series, "The Malazan Book of the Fallen."  This book hurls the reader into a red-hot frying pan face down!  As it is so darned intellectually creative, the novel requires a significant amount of work on the part of the reader, but it is ever so worthwhile.  While clearly dark, and at times bleak, the plot is stunningly complex but absolutely riveting; and the characters are just about the most original I've encountered in fiction, and feel so damned realistic.  From my perspective, there are also a host of connections to the great literature of the ages in this first book--from the classics of the ancient Greeks and Romans, Arthurian legend, the Norse mythology in the Poetic Edda and the Ragnarok, to the naturalism of Edith Wharton and Thomas Hardy--it is all here.

The plot of the novel, and the series for that matter, in a nutshell is this--the Malazan Empire, ruled by the megalomaniacal Empress Laseen, is a militaristic human society that has ambitions for conquering most, if not all, of its known world.  Erikson's background as an archaeologist and anthropologist shines through in his description of the various cultures and peoples that occupy the various continents and countries of this fascinating world that the Malazan Empire is trying to control, and one can't help but hearken back to the days of the Roman empire at its heyday.  Now throw in mages and their use of some complex and intriguing forms of sorcery, near-constant interactions with gods (good and evil) that take great delight in meddling and influencing the events and actions of the mortal protagonists on the planet, and finally Erikson's creation of several unique non-human races of sentient beings that have been on this world for hundreds of thousands of years!  Altogether this makes for a very potent and heady brew that needs to be imbibed slowly.  Read carefully and just take it all in word-by-word.  There is some seriously scary shit going on here that simply makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up!  I can only bow down and marvel at the imagination of Mr. Erikson. 

My final word--strap yourself in and brace yourself for the ride!  Erikson's "The Malazan Book of the Fallen" is an epic fantasy series that grabs you by the throat and doesn't let go, not for one second.  Honestly, if you like creative and detailed high fantasy that is also amazingly fresh and original, you won't want to miss one word of this series.  For me, now it is on to the second volume, "Deadhouse Gates."

For your information, here is the complete list of the titles in Steven Erikson's The Malazan Book of the Fallen series, and date of first publication:

Gardens of the Moon (1999)
Deadhouse Gates (2000)
Memories of Ice (2001)
House of Chains (2002)
Midnight Tides (2004)
The Bonehunters (2006)
Reaper's Gale (2007)
Toll the Hounds (2008)
Dust of Dreams (2009)
The Crippled God (forthcoming final volume in the series, January/February 2011)

6 comments:

  1. I've decided to try this series out myself. I bought Gardens of the Moon a few weeks ago but haven't started it yet. When I do, I'll remember that it may take me a couple of attempts to get into it.

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  2. Avid Reader, most definitely do try and stick with it as the pay-off is huge! Also, your background reading George Eliot and Dickens will certainly help, as the scope and panorama of this is broad and sweeping. I think you'll love this novel! [I just want you to know that the second book is stunningly good too!] Cheers, and thanks for the visit! Chris

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  3. Christopher, knowing your literary taste, this series must be very, very good to lure you away from Thomas Hardy. Very intriguing. And it is so good to have you back in the blogosphere--you were sorely missed.

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  4. Lisa, thank you for the wonderful comment; and I especially thank you for the acknowledgment that I was missed. I truly missed all of you too. Work, of late, has just been a real bear.

    Let me tell you that this novel (as well as the second one--I'm almost done!) is well worth the investment. One can clearly see Erikson's literary roots, whether intentioned or not.

    I'll stop by and see what kind of mischief you're up to these days too, Lisa.

    Cheers! Chris

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