BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Darujhistan is the last remaining Free City standing in the way of the Malazan Empire. Seargent Whiskeyjack and his Bridgeburners squad are sent on a suicide mission to take the city for Malazan. It soon becomes apparent that the gods themselves have become embroiled in the humans’s war, but their ultimate goals are unclear.
PROS: Sympathetic, believable, interesting characters. Magic is used as an implement of war, and an extremely powerful one at that. No trolls, orcs, elves or dwarves.
CONS: A ton of characters, places, ‘schools’ of magic and races makes for a confusing read. Complex political maneuvering abounds, dragging the middle story down.
BOTTOM LINE: If you’re interested in a new fantasy world not filled with the same old, same old, take a look at Gardens of the Moon from Steven Erikson.
Its commonly known around the big SFSignal that I am not a fantasy fancier. A direct result of too many Tolkein rip-offs or overblown stories where the idea seems to be word count over plot. However, I’ve recently enjoyed George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire and now Steven Erikson’s Gardens of the Moon, the first book in the Malazn Book of the Fallen series. Both offer a new take on the well-worn fantasy setting.
Gardens of the Moon takes place in a world dominated by humans, but with several ‘Elder’ races still in existence and where magic is a major force, both politcally and miltarily. In fact, Gardens reads somewhat like a Hammer’s Slammers novel set in medieval times, only with more focus on the politics and less on actual combat. This is not a bad thing as the maneuvering behind the scenes for advantgeous positions leads to some interesting results. There are several story threads that Erikson weaves together in this first book. One follows Whiskeyjack and his squad as they attempt to secure the downfall of Darujhistan, another follows Captain Paran, the nominal commanding officer of Whiskeyjack’s Bridgeburners, whose own path is violently changed by the intervention of the gods, and of Crokus, the chosen of the gods of Chance, Oponn. Also, the Empress of Malazan, her assassins, the Claws, and the thieves and assasssins guild of Darujhistan also make their presence felt. Make no mistake, this is a complex, impressive novel.
Erikson has created a world filled with new people, places, races, and schools of magic, called Warrens. He’s done such a good job of world building that, not only is there a Dramatis Personae but also a glossary of terms. However, this leads to the one big negative I had about the book. With the plethora of new terms, I kept finding myself becoming confused over who was doing what and to whom. It probably didn’t help that I didn’t have a serious block of time to devote to reading this novel, instead reading parts of it before bed. The glossary and dramatis personae helped, but I did come across a few terms that I couldn’t find and had to puzzle out on my own. Along with this is the fact that the magical Warrens are all different ‘types’ of magic with different sources of power, but with apparently little to differentiate the users of those Warrens. The magical system just felt odd, as if it hadn’t been fully fleshed out. Maybe more detail will be available in the later books.
All in all, I’d say that this is a definate read for fans of fantasy and if you’re looking for something different from the run-of-mill fantasy prevalent on today’s bookshelves (or browsers for the more internet inclined).
Addendum: It looks like Erikson has been publishing these books in England since 1999, with Gardens finally being released here in the US. Also, this series is a proposed 10 book series. Wow! If they’re all this good, look out. You can find more at the Steven Erikson Tor page, or at the Malazan Empire Official Site.