When Tor.com announced that Bill Capossere from fantasyliterature.com and Amanda from Floor to Ceiling Books were doing a reread of the Malazan Book of the Fallen, it was just the kick in the behind I needed to get back to this series. Especially since they plan to be finished just in time for the publication of The Crippled God, the final book in the series, in about a year’s time. I’d originally read the first four books and then got stuck waiting for hubby to finish the then newly published fifth book and never got back to them because, sheesh, those door stoppers intimidated me! So this reread was a good excuse to get back to them and I am glad I did. The reread has fast become a Wednesday highlight. I love getting back into the Malazan universe and am perversely glad we’re also reading Ian C. Esslemont’s books, since that will make it last longer. I’m even keeping my fingers crossed they’ll add the novella’s too!
Gardens of the Moon is where it all began. And it begins with a bang. Thrown in to the story in the middle of a battle, the reader is left to get her bearings on her own. Erikson has to be credited for his shock value, from the massive battle at Pale, to Bellurdan’s grief, to the first assassinations in the book, he never lets up and keeps the reader reeling.
But shock value is not Erikson’s only forte. Combining superb world-building, well-crafted writing, a wicked sense of humour and intricate characterisation, Erikson presents us with a deeply satisfying tale, that doesn’t just let the reader sit back, relax and let the story roll over her, but expects the reader to be on her toes and actively pay attention to notice all the details and clues in the story. It’s exactly this challenge that makes a reread of the work so rewarding, since something new can be discovered every time.
While the cast of characters is quite large, there are two main groups that are followed, with some additional characters regularly popping up in their own threads as well. These main groups are the Bridgeburners and the Phoenix Inn regulars, while both Paran and Lorn weave in and out of their storylines whilst following their own plots. Combined with Erikson’s knack of making even bit players memorable (the demon Pearl comes to mind) these clear divisions make it surprisingly less complicated to keep everyone apart than one would suspect.
What is bewilderingly complicated and mysterious, is Erikson’s magic sytem of Warrens, Houses, Gods and ascendants. They’re all tied in together, but how they tie together and what the rules are doesn’t really become clear in this first novel in the series. Fortunately, I’ve been assured by the more experienced Malazan readers over at Tor.com that things become clearer at some point. I guess I’ll just have to trust them (and Erikson) that at the end of The Crippled God, the final book of the series, I’ll have a clue how it works.
Over at The Malazan Reread in the concluding post on this book we commented on our favourite character and scene of the books and I thought I’d repeat mine here. My favourite character is actually a duo, the sappers Fiddler and Hedge. They’re absolutely mad and provide some comic relief at tense moments. The glee with which they can booby trap an entire city is positively unholy. Besides, I love their loyalty, to the Bridgeburners and each other. They’re just full of awesome. My favourite scene was the sequence where Paran finds himself drawn into Dragnipur. The spookiness of the place he finds himself and the people he finds himself with just give me chills every time I read it. And of course my favourite line of the book. It’s Baruk talking to Crone about the Malazans searching for something in the Gadrobi Hills:
‘Seeking is not the same as finding, and finding is not the same as succeeding.’
It isn’t just apt for the situation it regards, but also for Paran and Lorn and their quest to find Sorry. And it is also true in life, a fact many people in this age of entitlement tend to forget.
Gardens of the Moon is a gripping beginning to the epic Malazan Book of the Fallen. It is amazing, bewildering, confusing, exciting, frustrating and rewarding all in one. The best advice for first time readers (and second, third, etc.) is found in the book itself by way of Toc.
“Out of your depth, Captain? Don’t worry, every damn person here is out of their depth. Some know it, some don’t. It’s the ones who don’t you got to worry about. Start with what’s right in front of you and forget the rest for now. It’ll show up in its own time.”
It’s advice worth taking and I intend to follow it for the rest of this (re)read. I hope when you pick up this book you do too and enjoy the experience as much as I have.