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Fantasy Review: ‘Gardens of the Moon’ by Steven Erikson

What is wrong with me?  I have a to-read pile a mile high, am engaged in a project of reading a series with 40 books, and I read the first book in one of the thickest epic fantasy series around.  And I liked it?  So that big to-read pile now has some major door stoppers on it as well.

For those unaware, the ‘Malazan Book of the Fallen’ is known as one of the most EPIC of the epic fantasies out there. Larger than life heroes, earth shaking magic, big-bad villains, and god’s right in the middle of everything is the name of the game.  The opening book, ‘Gardens of the Moon,’ is also known as a troublesome book for first timers to get into.  And to be fair, I failed to get through it once myself several years ago, though I had put it aside for something I was more excited about at the time.

With that in mind I prepared myself to either be blown away or completely disappointed.  When all said and done, I found myself enjoying every page of this book.  It has some flaws, it isn’t subtle, but if one buys into what it’s doing, it lives up to its reputation of epicness (shut up it IS too a word).

Dropping you right into the middle of the story, there is not easing in period.  I couldn’t even begin to give the story a recap, even from the start.  The Malazan Empire is expanding, the Gods are making a play, and something sinister is rising.  This is a book of war and magic, and both are shown in large abundance.

One thing that surprised me; despite a high body count the book wasn’t a typical GRIMDARK affair.  No flying body parts, spurting blood, or sexual attacks.  Don’t get me wrong, the world is dark, things are going wrong all over, and people do die.  But by toning down some of the brutality I spent a lot of time wowed by what was happening, rather than cringing.  Well done indeed.

Characters are hit and miss.  Some are genuinely human at times.  Some are nothing more than avenues to show off major power.  The interference of some of the gods spice things up, giving some characters multiple angles.  The Bridgeburners were out of favor soldiers, and were fun to follow.  It was sad to watch Lorn lose what humanity she had left as she followed her Empress’ orders.  Kruppe’s aura of being simple left the reader knowing he was hiding something, but not how much.

Not everything worked for me.  Despite not being as inaccessible as I feared, even as a careful reader a few things went over my head.  I never figured out why the Bridgeburners worked to save a certain sorcerer, who went on a nice evil rampage through a good portion of the book.  I never figured out just what Crokus was looking for from the noble girl.  And the build up for the release of a major power ended up being slightly disappointing in how quickly it was resolved (though I am sure future books will make me rethink what has been resolved and what hasn’t).
I often mock bad fantasy as being something from a video game, but this book shows how that style could be done right.  It won’t be for everyone (there is no subtle ANYTHING), but if you are looking for fights between gods, armies, and insanely powerful magics, it may be time to finally try this series.  
4 Stars


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