Book Review: Gardens of the Moon

Gardens of the Moon

My original plan was to get all my summer reading and ARC’s out of the way before getting into Malazan so I can read all of them back to back. However, the constant stream of people posting in various fantasy groups on Facebook about how Gardens of the Moon is so confusing and asking whether they should keep on reading stirred up my curiosity to the point of dropping the WoT #4 and everything else and grabbing this, and I am so very glad I did.

Gardens of the Moon has the reputation for being one of the biggest Marmite books of fantasy genre. I didn’t care much for Marmite, but I totally fell in love with Gardens of the Moon and looking forward to reading the rest of the series. Even Erikson laments about it in the foreword, you can see the pangs of regret between the pages. But I think GOTM is just fine the way it is.

People who are used to reading books with a clear beginning-middle-end and linear story arc where the world and magic and how everything works is explained in detail are going to find GOTM confusing as hell. People who have enjoyed ASOIAF books -preferably more than once- won’t have much trouble. I was warned about paying attention to detail so I watched everything like a hawk from the very beginning. Tiniest details and pieces of dialogues from the prologue comes back to you with a bang later on, but if you miss it in the beginning, you miss out and end up getting lost. This is true for everything else, not only the beginning parts. Just pay attention! Even the seemingly insignificant and unimportant minor characters are there for a reason and serve a purpose.

I have read a number of medieval chronicles and some early modern fiction, so I was no stranger to the format of the book. Erikson doesn’t explain things with infodumps, he doesn’t hold your hand, so you figure things out by paying attention. Some people say Gardens of the Moon requires a lot of effort, but I beg to disagree. It requires no effort other than paying attention. It’s just a book, not some rocket science manual as some folk make it out to be, only it is structured in a rather unusual way. Unusual for the fantasy genre, that is.

Gardens of the Moon is more like the medieval chronicles and early modern fiction. Sort of like Gargantua and Pantagruel by Rabeleis, which I highly recommend to fantasy lovers of high brow tastes (there is some irony to be found here) and I talk about in detail in this post here. Gardens of the Moon structure is quite similar to that. It is also somewhat similar to medieval Byzantine chronicles.

Those chronicles start with the reign of the current emperor, maybe his predecessor, but they throw you right into the thick of things without holding your hand. They don’t explain the state institutions and how things work and how the framework of the whole empire is structured, you are supposed to know it. Those books were written as a record of the history, and after 1000 years many things got lost. Historians were not able to make sense of some of the jokes, alliterations and references. Some they deciphered by cross-referencing other books and documents of the period, but what’s lost is lost for good.

I have read the chronicles depicting the city I was born and raised and spent the first few years of my adult life in, but it read more like an alien city in some imaginary fantasy land most of the time. Only because some of the edifices present in the period still stand today it is possible to even recognize the place. There are footnotes in almost every page, explaining names, terms, references, military terminology, government positions, measurements (they used different reckoning of hours, calendar, distance units, weight units, nothing like the stuff we use today.) For example, they talk about the time of the day like “third hour of the night” which would be roughly 9 pm of a couple hours earlier or later depending on the season. They measure all distances with stades, which is about 1/10 of a mile. You read the footnote where it’s used the first time and do the conversion in your head through the rest of the book. You convert all those things in your head to the modern units you are familiar with, and if you forget, you have to go back to the footnotes. Now this is something that requires effort to read. Gardens of the Moon certainly does not fall into that category. There is no math, no calculations. You only need to pay attention to things and remember them, that is all.

If you are having trouble, there is an excellent read-along guide recapping every chapter of every book. You can check with it after you finish a chapter or few. Here is the guide: Malazan Reread of the Fallen.

But like I mentioned, if you are an ASOIAF fan, you should have no trouble comprehending Gardens of the Moon. There is a big cast of characters, but even if you aren’t an ASOIAF veteran you eventually get used to it if you stick around. Chapters are short and POV changes within the same chapter sometimes, so it takes a while to get attached to any of the characters. But once you start following them, you will find your favorites. Some of the best ones don’t show up or start revealing their badassery until later.

The sheer number of main characters may be overwhelming for people who aren’t used to that kind of setup, so here is an excellent guide made by my lovely friend Laura M. Hughes to help out: Laura’s Guide to Malazan Characters (Gardens of the Moon)

Some of those characters start out as ordinary folk, but they turn out to be hell of a lot more than what they seem. It’s great fun to watch it unfold, I’m telling you!

Now, if you are a big fan of Riftwar books and Elder Scrolls Games, there is a good chance you will totally love Gardens of the Moon (and the rest of Malazan I suppose.) There are thieves, assassins, rooftop wars, heist scenes, alchemists, cool artifacts, and an epic tavern/inn where all the ruffians meet up and hang out. I’m a huge fan of the thieves’ guild and Dark Brotherhood in Elder Scrolls games, as well as the thieves of Krondor in Riftwar books, so all those scenes were more than reason enough for me to love this book to death before even reaching half of it. Oh, and magic. There is awesome, bombastic, kickass magic. The awesomeness of it is slowly revealed, layer by layer.

More than anything, Gardens of the Moon is a political intrigue and military action book. There is a number of political factions and complex political plots. It was hell of a lot of fun to read as a big fan of political intrigue.

Now let’s get to the characters: There are total cunts you will love to hate, as well as some charismatic guys, silly boys, strong women, loveable ruffians, mysterious elder races, funny dudes, sinister politicians and the legendary Bridgeburners. Brigeburners is the elite military squad everyone respects and their enemies are doing everything to decimate them. Those guys are so damn cool and they have epic tricks up their sleeves and some hilarious bickering moments as the icing of the cake. Gardens of the Moon and the Bridgeburners got me so hooked, I ordered a Bridgeburners t-shirt before I even finished reading the book. That should tell you something.

And then there is the glorious Anomander Rake. I didn’t think I would ever fall head over heels for a character and go all fangirl after R. Scott Bakker’s magnificent Cleric character in The Judging Eye, but Anomander Rake totally caught me off guard. He is ambiguous, mysterious, melancholy, supremely charismatic, has a killer magic sword called Dragnipur unlike any magic sword I have ever read in fantasy books, and badassery level off the charts. I’m smitten! Can’t wait to read more.

And then there is Kruppe, who is the funny uncle with the silly ramblings, but he has some neat tricks up his sleeve and some more. That is all I can say to stick with the spoiler free premise.

There is this Deck of Dragons, which is like a magic level +10 version of Tarot cards. If you are into Tarot, you will definitely enjoy it. Another thing I absolutely loved about Gardens of the Moon is the lack of sappy romance and ridiculous love triangles. There is one case of a dude having a crush on a girl, but it’s hilarious rather than sappy. There is no annoying pining and all that jazz.

It might be a bit confusing to some readers who are not used to this kind of structure, but the payoff is massive. Trust me on that! Not only that but there are excellent companion guides to help out if you are having any trouble, which I linked above. If you love fantasy, this book has every element of fantasy without being cliche and derivative. Steven Erikson is a professional anthropologist and it shows in the realism of the cultures and different lands. It’s incredibly rich in detail. If you are a history buff, you will most probably become a fan.
Then again, it’s known as the Marmite book and you might not like it at all. There is only one way to find out!

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Bookshelf show off: The Court of Broken Knives by Anna Smith Spark

Look what I got in the mail! 

*happy dance*

I’m about to finish Gardens of the Moon, expect my review of this beauty next!

Quint von Canon’s illustrations are so stunning. The map is superb, too. 

Late 2016 Wrap-Up and Best of 2016

I’m a bit late to the party since I should have done this on December, but life and chronic illness got in the way. I made a Goodreads challenge for reading 25 books, but fell a bit short. Most books I read last year are old school fantasy classics I’ve made a personal goal to catch up with, and only a couple new releases. Btw this is why you shouldn’t ask me to review new releases. Unfortunately I am not one of those people who read 150-200 books a year, my own writing takes a lot of my free time. Here goes my 2016 top ten list:

1. The Wheel of Osheim by Mark Lawrence

The Wheel of Osheim I had been anxiously waiting for this book, since I’m a huge fan of Mark Lawrence, and his was hands down the best book I have read in 2016. See my review.

2. The Mirror’s Truth by Michael R. Fletcher

The Mirror's Truth I had been looking forward to sequel to Beyond Redemption, and it turned out to be more glorious than I expected. Superb characters, excellent prose and a superb grimdark setting, this was definitely the best grimdark I have read in 2016.See my review.

3. Senlin Ascends by Josiah Bancroft

Senlin Ascends I picked this one up after it made it to the SPFBO semifinals and Mark Lawrence recommended it. I normally read fantasy in pre-modern settings, but I have been curious about steampunk and Senlin Ascends turned out to be quite an excellent choice. It’s very different from the usual genre fiction, leaning more towards literary fiction/magical realism, but steampunk to the core. I can’t recommend it enough. See my review.

4. The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan

The Eye of The World I have been wanting to get into the Wheel of Time and finally managed in 2016. Never too late to read the Eye of the World! I loved it so much I am planning to re-read already after I finish the whole series. See my review.

5. The Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb

The Farseer Trilogy

I will cheat and put the whole trilogy here. I loved these books to death, though it is quite a heavy read and you need to read something funny afterwards to get out of the intense melancholy it gives you. See my reviews for book #1, book #2 and book #3.

6. The Great Hunt by Robert Jordan

The Great Hunt The Eye of the World got me hooked and this book got me addicted to the Wheel of Time. The way Jordan unfolds the world and the characters is truly stellar. The length of the series may be intimidating, but it’s such a great joy to slowly explore the eormous diverse world, you gotta read it to see how awesome it is! See my review here.

7. The Dragon Reborn by Robert Jordan

The Dragon Reborn Book #3 of the Wheel of Time distinguished itself with the non-Rand POV’s and the impressive character development while showing the plethora of diverse cultures and lands. Matt’s slow character development reaches the level of awesomeness I have a hard time describing with words and the Aes Sedai world has the supreme dose of magic all epic/high fantasy fans will love. Character development and depth in general is some of the best I have read in fantasy to date. See my review here.

8. Road Brothers – Tales From The Broken Empire by Mark Lawrence

Road Brothers : Tales from the Broken Empire This indie published collection of short stories from the Broken Empire explores the various side characters in depth and gives a good glimpse to their background stories. I greatly enjoyed this book, it was like meeting old friends again. See my review here.

9. Last Argument of Kings by Joe Abercrombie

Last Argument of Kings I am a huge fan of the First Law Trilogy and this book made a superb ending with fireworks and lots of twists. See my review here.

10.The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula K. Le Guin

Tombs of Atuan I am glad to read the first two books of the Earthsea Cycle, and liked this book more than A Wizard of Earthsea. Perhaps it was the gritty, melancholy atmosphere, or the awesome female protag, but Earthsea is definitely a must read for all fantasy fans. See my review here.

Guest Post by Michael R. Fletcher: To Be A Writer Is To Be A Junkie

When you’re a kid, you can point at pretty much any object, blurt out what it is, and people will cheer and pat you on the back and tell you how smart you are. It’s a great feeling, all that praise. You get addicted to the approval and accolades. But somewhere in your forties people suddenly become less impressed. You can point at a tree, yell, “Tree!” and no one is impressed. Sure, if you know exactly what kind of tree it is (Oak tree!) you might buy yourself another few weeks. But people soon tire of that too. Particularly as it may have been a maple tree.

Eventually you learn to live without the constant praise and adoration of your fellow humans. Yeah, your life is shallow and meaningless and you’re no longer quite convinced you’re as clever as your mom told you, but you soldier on. Maybe you do something particularly clever at work once like remember to label something correctly and your boss says “Good job” but you don’t really care. Maybe if she clapped and jumped up and down and got all giddy about it you might get some small taste of that old rush. But she won’t. And if you ask, she’ll look at you like you’re a nutter.

And then one day you write a book. It takes several years to write, twice as long to edit, and three times as long as that to find a home with an indie publisher. You’re pretty pleased with it. I mean, how often do you actually complete a task like that? In truth, this is the beginning of the end. You’ve started down that slippery slope to soul-destroying addiction.

When you read that first glowing review, a rush of that old pleasure slams through you. You’re three all over again and someone is raving about how awesome you are! More reviews come in and you bask in the praise of the good ones and plot terrible deaths for the fools who wrote the negative ones. Eventually the reviews stop coming in as it’s a tiny publisher and you’ve done a terrible job of promoting your book because you thought that’s what publishers did. You probably won’t clue in until your second book isn’t selling well, but that’s another topic.

You read the old reviews over and over but it’s not the same. They’re nice but you don’t get the same rush. You need a new kick!
So you write another book. This time, because you somehow accidentally learned a ton of stuff during the editing of the first book, this one sells to a big publisher. More reviews come in. Hundreds! You get to pretend you’re three all over again, and for many months you are constantly receiving praise for your efforts. Eventually, even that deep well dries up and you have to write another book. And another. And another.

It’s too late. You’re a junkie.
I gotta go now. I’m jonesing for a fix. The Mirror’s Truth just came out and is still getting reviews. Oh, fresh reviews! Does it get any better?

About the books:

The Mirror’s Truth is the second book of Manifest Delusions. First book is Beyond Redemption, which was critically acclaimed and well liked by the grimdark community. See my review here.

The Mirror’s Truth is even better and the characters and plots are truly stellar. My review is coming soon. Click the images to order the books.

Beyond Redemption

The Mirror's Truth

About the Author:

Michael R. Fletcher lives in the endless suburban sprawl north of Toronto. He dreams of trees and seeing the stars at night and being a ninja. He has a rather insane blog, which can be seen here: http://michaelrfletcher.com/

A Thrilling Announcement

I am very pleased to announce a new project I started with two other fantasy book bloggers. If you like the dark fantasy genre, which is also known as Grimdark, or even just fantasy in general, I invite you to stop by and take a look at (drumroll goes here):

Grimdark Alliance

I, along with Eric from The Grimdark Review and Alexandru from Barbarian Book Club, have come together to create a master Grimdark site which will be a one stop has all portal.

We feature book reviews (mostly Grimdark but we are going to review more general fantasy books every now and then), writing and Grimdark related articles, author interviews (we have some serious names lined up already!) and news about the events such as conventions and book tours.

I will still post book reviews here, but I’ll write the detailed Grimdark book reviews on Grimdark Alliance from now on.