Gardens of the Moon, I’ve heard, is not the easiest book to read. I can understand why it has garnered such a reputation. It begins spectacularly with an epic battle, where sorcery is hurled at a floating city in the sky. But then the pace slows as numerous character arcs are patiently spun and then expertly woven in mind-boggling detail and complexity.
Not even two paragraphs into this novel, I knew I had stumbled across something that was so completely outside of my previous range of experiences with epic fantasy that I was at a loss for something to compare it to.
I’m not going to kid you: the book was a slow read. But it needed to be—in truth, it was the density of the narrative that kept me glued to the page. I’d heard once that a short book should have a snappy beginning and move quickly up to speed. A more lengthy book has a longer beginning, middle, and end, and can therefore take longer to build momentum. By the time I was halfway through Gardens of the Moon, I realized the entire novel was indeed a beginning--that the entire series must be so vast in scope and complexity that it would take an entire book to get the story moving and underway.
The moment I realized this, I became convinced that Erikson’s universe was something far more wondrously epic than I’d imagined. From that point, I became an exceptionally patient reader, and began to saver the slower pace. Like a nine-course meal at a fine restaurant, The Malazan Book of the Fallen is not an experienced to be rushed.
From what I’ve been able to glean from friends, Gardens if the Moon introduces many characters who will be important in subsequent novels. The narrative does this in a very vast, unfolding way, allowing each character and setting to receive a very in-depth and nuanced treatment.
There is a very large cast from all walks of life. My favorites were Whiskeyjack and the Bridge Burners. A close runner-up was the ever-intriguing Kruppe, a character so multifaceted that I had no idea what to make of him until the very last chapter. I enjoyed Captain Paran, a son from a noble house who became an officer in the Malazan military. There are assassins, thieves, warring cartels, cabals of sorcerers, demonic hounds...I have not even begun to name them all.
Erikson’s world is seemingly limitless and layered, with unparalleled intricacies of geography, politics, races, magic, cultures, gods and ascendants and elder gods—histories that date back hundreds of thousands of years, worlds within worlds…again, I have not even begun to name it all.
Of significant note, this was also the first time I had the privilege of meeting Anomander Rake, a character whose legend precedes him. I am already convinced Rake might be my favorite character in all of fantasy. And it’s not just because of his sword (which seems to contain a microcosm of the universe within it and is just amazingly cool). Rake is the epitome of an epic antihero – vastly powerful and darkly captivating.
For me, Gardens of the Moon was slow--but it was slow for a reason. If it had a plot that could be told at a faster pace, Erikson’s world would suffer, and be far less breathtakingly immersive.