Dud – “Gardens of the Moon,” by Steven Erikson (1999)

I'll never find out what the gardens of the moon are.

What a mess this book is. The story goes that it took Erikson 10 years to get Gardens of the Moon, the first of a 10-novel cycle called Malazan Book of the Fallen, published by anyone. On a message board I frequent, there’s a big sprawling thread about the Malazan books, which I hadn’t even heard of before. The conventional wisdom, according to the posters in the thread, was that Gardens of the Moon is not a great book at all, and that in the 10 years between finally getting it published and moving on to the rest of the series, things got a lot better. “Stick with it!” people say – or others insist that you have to start first with books 2 or 3. I’ll never know, because I don’t see myself ever picking up any of Erikson’s other works.

Erikson’s background is in playing D&D and anthropology. As such, his created world, the continent of Genabackis, is obviously something he dreamed up as a campaign setting. There’s a theme I’ve noticed with fantasy writers who come into the novel game with a pedigree of also being DMs: the world-building can take center stage, with very mixed results. Here, we’re supposed to be impressed by the fact that Erikson plops you down in the middle of this huge setting, with various races, nations, factions, gods, systems of magic, wars, poetry and intrigue. And it would be impressive if any of it really made much sense.

There is, somewhere, the opportunity for a good story here. It just gets lost in too many characters, too many flashbacks, and horribly cliched writing. I gave up after one scene where one sorceress confronts another over killing her entire family. The scene is resolved through conversation, is over quickly, and I was left almost laughing out loud – seriously, there is no way such a situation would have been resolved like that. (For those who have read the book, I’m talking about the meeting between Lorn and Tattersail.) It was just silly. “Oh, you slaughtered my family, but you were following orders. And I am no longer the person I was when you killed my family. Let us now quaff wine.”

Of all the duds I’ve encountered lately – and it’s been quite a run, no? – this one was quite maddening. Some of the characters are actually interesting; it’s just that Erikson doesn’t spend enough time on anything. He’s busy building, building, building. So 200 pages in I’ve got such a big cast of characters that I have to check with the list in the front of the book to remember who’s who. That’s not good. When you have to check back to a list of your characters, it means your characters haven’t been made memorable enough to stand out from each other. George R.R. Martin’s books probably have something like 75 major characters spread out across 4,000 pages, but anyone can tell you about Tyrion and Littlefinger and The Hound. Suffice it to say the Malazan series will not be adapted for HBO anytime soon, or even SyFy (wince).

As far as plot, Gardens of the Moon seems to be about the Malazan Empire’s wars of expansion, and what happens as they’re about to conquer the last of the Free Cities, Darujhistan. I think what this series eventually starts to hinge upon is the involvement of gods in the affairs of men and wizards, but that is so muddled in this book as to be nearly incomprehensible. The action is split between the goings-on in Darujhistan and the aftermath of the fall of the city of Pale. It’s poorly executed, poorly paced and packed high to the rafters with too much window dressing, and not enough substance.

Gardens of the Moon disappoints because of the supposed potential of the larger Malazan series. For those who have read it, many claim that it’s a great series of modern fantasy, one that stands as its own important body of work. I’m left unconvinced.

This ends my sci-fi/fantasy run for now. I’ve moved on to The Dart League King, which is looking to be fairly awesome, and then I might swing back into non-fiction. I’m still in the stage of reading stuff around the house.


1 Comment

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One response to “Dud – “Gardens of the Moon,” by Steven Erikson (1999)

  1. completely disagree your review. But to each, their opinion. I loved the book. Loved the characters and the theme. This is a adult fantasy. And as the author himself says, you will either love it or hate it. Looks like we are both on different sides of the coin on this one.

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