Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Book Review: Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson

Title: Gardens of the Moon
Author: Steven Erikson
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Bantam (UK & Canada) & Tor (USA)
Publishing Date: 1 April 1999
Paperback: 752 pages
Series: First of ten (or maybe more) novels of the epic fantasy series, The Malazan Book Of The Fallen.


The story starts with the encounter between a boy called Ganoes Paran and the Sergeant Wiskeyjack during the final year of the Emperor Kellanved's reign. Ganoes, who's in Malaz City with his father, witnesses the raiding of the Mouse Quarter. During their conversation, Wiskeyjack disapproves the young Ganoes' dreams of becoming a soldier.

Then the book fast forwards seven years: Emperor Kellanved and his ally called Dancer have been assassinated. Since then, the Empire has been ruled by the Empress Laseen whose eyes are set on the Genabackis continent. The Malazan 2nd army is besieging Pale, one of the two free cities remaining on this continent. And we find Wiskeyjack and Ganoes Paran among the many characters whose lives are touched by these events.

Don't Judge A Book By It But...

I know that there have been various different covers depending on the editions. Those are my two favorite ones. I really like both and they would be the type of cover that makes me pick up a book and have a look. The first cover doesn't tell much about the martial aspect of the book however it creates a better mystery. From this point of view, I think that the second cover makes more justice to the story. Furthermore, the person on the second cover is Anomander Rake, Lord of Moon's Spawn and the leader of Tiste Andii. He is an extremely cool character.


Wow! I just discovered that reading Erikson is a very fulfilling experience, in many ways. It's like drinking a pint of Murphy's (if you're asking "a pint of what?", it's like Guinness but it's better :). It's a superior stout from Cork, Ireland): It's tasty, it's rich, it has character, it has depth...

Gardens Of The Moon had been on my to-read list for a long while and I don't quite know why, I had always had something else to read. I mean, I don't know why I preferred to read something else but you know how it works. You have a list in your mind and depending on your mood you reshuffle that. Or you have a nice blog that you follow, you read a new review and bang! The list is reordered.

Anyway... I'm glad that I decided to plunge into the Malazan world. After a few dozen pages, I put the book down and I asked myself "Have I missed a few introductory chapters? Was there a book before Gardens Of The Moon?" It seems that it's normal to feel a bit lost in the beginning. It turns out that Erikson tells a story as it happens without constant background information giving. This becomes a very interesting style. On the one hand, potentially boring introductory chapters are avoided and it creates further mystery, and on the other hand the book reads like a real life event. Almost like the reader is a true witness to the story unfolding before her eyes but because she just arrived, she doesn't have much background information, naturally. So, at this point, if the reader is patient enough to follow Erikson's lead, she's rewarded by a window opening onto an incredible universe. I understand, now, what the author himself meant by saying "you either like it or you don't". Luckily I liked it very very much.

My first introduction to fantasy happened when I started to read my uncle's Conan comic books during my childhood. I still enjoy reading Conan, every now and then. The richness and the possibilities offered by the universe and the setting in Gardens Of The Moon reminded me of the Conan universe. Please don't get me wrong. I'm not suggesting that the storylines or the styles are similar. It's just that the world created by Steven Erikson and Ian Cameron Esslemont is so rich with martial action, diverse races, deities, magical warrens, types of magic wielders, demons, armies, long forgotten civilizations, myths, etc. that the comparison came to me naturally, I guess.

The book has parallel stories running at the same time. Jumping from one story to another one is very frequent. And as I've already mentioned, it is rich in characters. My favourite ones are Anomander Rake, Whiskeyjack, the mysterious Kalam and Quick Ben who seems to be so much more than a simple mage. There are so many others: Irritating Tattersail, the confusing Ganoes Paran, the fat Kruppe, the young Crokus, Rallick Nom the assassin, Toc the Younger (I have the feeling that we're going to meet him again in a later book)... there are so many of them who make the whole book a delight to read. Furthermore, I found it was easy to connect with most of the characters.

Despite feeling lost in the beginning, Gardens Of The Moon ended up being a brilliant read. So much so that I had to continue with the second book of the Malazan Book of the Fallen series immediately after finishing the first one. I've never been afraid of ambitious books and Gardens Of The Moon certainly starts like the first book of a very ambitious series. So, if you're like me, you are going to love it.

Rating: 9/10


"Such tears had been shed before, and would be again - by others like her and yet unlike her. And the winds would dry them all."

Question: Why does Steven Erikson never smile on pictures?

Final Note: Even though I haven't been playing for a few years, I played role-playing games for a long time (mostly table-top and on-line – not much video games). I can clearly see the creative minds behind such a rich world and how this whole universe can relate to an RPG world. I believe it would truly be a wonderful experience to role-play in a game GMed by the author.


  1. Great review.

    Apart from The Hobbit and LOTR, I haven't read any fantasy, and in hindsight this book was probably a pretty daunting (re)introduction.

    However, I had read and enjoyed the first two Dune books - and this has a similar feel for me, in the way that you are immensed 100% into the Malazan world.

    As you say it is quite a challenge as it picks up midflow, and I'm not that familar with maps and character lists, etc.

    However, Erikson balances the story arc's well, and you never feel that he has deserted a character for 100+ pages, so the structure uncourages you to follow the story lines and engage with the characters.

    Yes, its a bit confusing at times, but as with life, you work bits out in the end, some of it is going to go over your head, and for the rest you can look it up on the internet.

    Loved this book, Erikson states that whilst much of the concept was around from day 1, he really got into his flow with Deadhouse Gates, which is so true as if anyone made it to the end of GotM and are not hooked then they will be after about 50 pages of the next installement.

    Keep up the reviews and I hope that Erikson keeps this up for the rest of the series

  2. Very interesting that you compared the Dune books to Malazan books. I heard the exact same comparison from a friend of mine who is reading the first book because of my incessant bragging about how amazing is the whole Malazan world :). I should probably re-read Dune.