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!

Top Ten Tuesday: Most Recent Books I Added To my TBR

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly blog meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

This week’s theme is the most recent additions to TBR and here goes my list of ten books I recently added to my ever growing mountain of TBR:

Faithless

Swarm and Steel

Godblind

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Faithless by Graham Austin-King has a stunning cover and promises one hell of an epic adventure in the underground mines. I loved his Riven Wyrde Saga books (check my reviews here) and have high expectations of this one after reading the excerpt.

Swarm and Steel is a Manifest Delusions book, I loved the first two and looking forward to the release of this. Michael R. Fletcher has a track record of delivering top notch grimdark, I can’t recommend his books enough!

Godblind is a totally random discovery, recommended by a friend from the FB fantasy book groups I frequent. He showed me the first chapter posted on a giveaway contest page, I absolutely loved it and pre-ordered Godblind. It’s a debut, grimdark as grimdark goes, brutal to the core, and written by a female author if you are looking for diverse books.

 

Valley of Embers

Smiler's Fair

The Glass Gargoyle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Valley of Embers is a SPFBO contestant this year, I grabbed it from the free promo cause the cover is great+I liked the sample excerpt on Kindle store. It sounds like a nice, original epic fantasy with cool battles and magic.

Smiler’s Fair is highly recommended by a friend who told me the cover looks like YA but the book is gritty, awesome fantasy. She knows my tastes more or less so I trust her rec and added it.

The Glass Gargoyle is another SPFBO contestant, the author announced free promo, I totally loved the sample excerpt which features a nice tavern setting and hilarious banter. This book promises a great light reading and funny fantasy experience, plus I like gargoyles and never read any fantasy books featuring gargoyles.

 

A Gathering of Ravens

Assassin's Charge

The Traitor Baru Cormorant

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Gathering of Ravens sounds like my cup of tea since it’s set in a world of Norse myths and features an Orc protagonist, plus Scott Oden is a cool guy and writes cool blog posts waving Orcs into the world history in a clever way. The blog posts sold me on his writing and the whole Norse myths and grimdark Orc protagonist surrounded with morally ambiguous side characters sold me on the book.

Assassin’s Charge was a finalist in last year’s SPFBO, the blog reviews and the premise got me to put it high up in my TBR since I’m a huge fan of assassins, guilds and pre-modern city environment.

The Traitor Baru Cormorant is a book folk speak very highly of on Reddit and Fantasy book groups all over the place, my grimdark fan friends said it’s a grimdark masterpiece and I would definitely like it, so I have quite high expectations from this book.

The Thief Who Pulled on Trouble's Braids

 

Amra Tethys books sound exactly like my cup of tea and some of my friends highly recommended the book. Thieves, rogues, immortal sorcerers, epic artifacts, gods, demons -this book sounds like it will be hell of a lot of fun to read! I’m a total fan of thief fantasy with lots of magic and fantasy elements, so I expect grat fun from this book.

What is in your TBR? Link to your post and let me know!

 

Book Review: The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski

The Last Wish
Genre: Fantasy/Sword & Sorcery
Series: The Witcher
Author info: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrzej_Sapkowski

This is the first book of the renowned Witcher series, which inspired the popular video games. I am a gamer but I never played Witcher cause it was never available on my console, and I didn’t want to crowd my life with another console just to play this game. Reading the book made me consider getting a Ps4 so I can play the glorious Witcher 3 on it.

The Last Wish is a collection of loosely connected short stories, which retell the familiar fairy tales with dark, gritty and bloody twists. I didn’t recognize all of them, but the ones I did recognize were quite twisted and great fun to read.

Many reviewers compared The Last Wish to pulp sword & sorcery classics like Robert Howard’s Conan and Michael Moorcock’s Elric books, and they are right on point. I haven’t read any Conan books yet, but I’ve read a few Elric books and it certainly has the old school pulpy sword and sorcery feel.

Geralt is quite an intriguing and charismatic character, he has legions of fans thanks to the video games, but also many that have read the books. If you head to deviantart and search for Geralt, you will find some fan art by incredibly talented artists. Geralt is a witcher, raised by the Witcher Guild who take kids at young age, erase their memories and mutate them with harsh elixirs, poisons and infections. They hunt monsters for a living, save the people from murderous creatures. Some towns treat them like vermin, some barely tolerate them cause of the job they do, few places show them respect.

Geralt’s friends, high priestess Nenneke and trubadour Dandilion are highly entertaining characters. Their bickering with Geralt is hilarious and adds a bit of good humor to the stories loaded with bloody, brutal fights, plenty of suspense and and hardcore action scenes. Some people find Dandilion annoying as hell but I liked him. He sort of reminded me of the Kender Tasslehoff from Dragonlance, minus the nasty thieving habit. Instead of thieving, he invites trouble with his big mouth and whines too much. He is also a womanizer who eyeballs every attractive female. Geralt eyeballs them too, but doesn’t make it too obvious and acts aloof.

Nenneke on the other hand, plays the nurturing yet snarky mother role for Geralt and patches him up whenever he gets too many cuts on his hide. She also gives hell to Geralt’s enemies who show up at the temple to plague him.

Queen Calanthe is another great supporting character and her banter with Geralt is highly entertaining. Yennefer, Geralt’s love interest I know from all the fan art I’ve seen around is also introduced in this book. She is as dysfunctional and goat-headed as Geralt, and a powerful sorceress with a mercenary personality. She is arrogant and coquettish, and has some hilarious as well as dramatic and violent scenes. I think there will be a lot of fun to be had in the next books featuring her.

I particularly liked the small towns, villages, pastoral settings and Slavic mythology elements. The balance of snarky humor, dark scenes and high-paced action is great. This book makes an excellent light reading material in between intense grimdark books. I am definitely going to read all the rest of them, Geralt pretty much sold me on the whole series.

Naturally the prose Polish friends spoke highly of and a quite a few  jokes got lost in translation, and there are a few rough edges here and there but it is a great read nonetheless.

I highly recommend this book to the fans of Sword and Sorcery, old school pulp fantasy, as well as people looking for settings that are different from medieval Western Europe (it’s Polish setting), ladies who are looking for a bad boy character to have a crush on, fans of fantasy with a bit of humor and hilarious bickering, and people who are looking for a nice light read after nightmare fuel grimdark books.

I sure as hell loved it!

Book Review: Red Sister by Mark Lawrence

Red Sister
Genre: Fantasy/YA Fantasy/Grimdark
Series: Book of the Ancestor
Author info:http://www.marklawrence.buzz/

Release date: April 4th 2017

I was lucky enough to receive an advanced copy of Red Sister from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Warning: This book is going to leave you with severe withdrawal symptoms, but good news is Mark Lawrence is a prolific author and delivers the next books in the series like clockwork, judging from his established track record.

Red Sister completely blew my mind, bringing back the magic school environment I missed from Harry Potter and Kingkiller so much, with a kick and some serious action. It’s not only the magic but the teachers with all kinds of different personalities, friendships, bullies, assassination plots, mysteries, friends sneaking out and cooking up mischief, the whole package. But it’s dark, much darker than any book with magic schools.

Now, I’m a big fan of Mark Lawrence and I’ve read all of his books, but this one is quite different. It’s very much Mark’s style, but written in third person and I think that’s one major element making it different from the others which were all in first person. There is the amazing prose of Mark Lawrence, if you are not familiar with his previous work, let me give you an example from Red Sister:

She left nothing but an echo of her lantern light, soon consumed by a night so ancient that it never truly left such places.

And another:

I have been too young to know, and I have been too old to care. It’s in that oh so narrow slice between that memories are made. So enjoy it.

And my favorite of them all:

A long blade, thin, carrying a slight curve, its edge cruel enough to cut silence and make it scream.

Now if those won’t make you hit that buy button, I don’t know what will! For those who are not familiar, this is the typical Mark Lawrence prose. So beautiful, poetic and magical.

The story is heavily character driven, as Mark Lawrence’s other books, but with an awesome magic system to boot.

The main character, Nona, is the best female lead I have read in the fantasy genre along with Mara from the Empire trilogy. If you love Arya Stark, you will definitely love Nona. Even if you are no fan of Arya Stark, you will still love Nona, cause she is a no-nonsense girl, the kind of character everyone can root for.

Another thing worth mentioning is the friendships between the girls, something that was missing in the Harry Potter books and pretty much every fantasy book I have read except for the Wheel of Time. Friendships, loyalty and betrayal in Red Sister is so realistic, it took me back to the middle school and high school years.

Nona starts off as the bullied outcast but she turns out to be a serious badass who doesn’t take BS from anyone. She had no friends but one until she got sold to a child trader by her mother and village folk, and she values friendship a great deal. I found her reflections on friendship, and her relationship with her closest friends Clera and Hessa quite touching.

Hessa is disabled, left with a withered leg after an infectious disease. She is such a sweetheart and a smart cookie, also incredibly heroic, which made her one of my favorite supporting characters.

One thing I loved about Red Sister was how even the minor characters were fleshed out so well. The teachers all have their distinct personalities, and some of them reminded me of teachers I had in school back in the days of my youth. The classes were great fun to read, but my favorite was the martial training parts.

The magic system is quite original and intriguing as I mentioned. The migrants who populated this world had four tribes with different kinds of traits, and those of them with magic could wield the different sorts of magic powers depending on their bloodline. The tribes had to intermarry and mix their blood to survive the harsh conditions of this alien world. Children showing the traits of more than one bloodline are highly prized by the people who train them as fighters, assassins, battle nuns and what have you.

Another thing I loved was how Nona’s mysterious backstory slowly unfolded along with the mysteries of the strange world Abeth. The curiosity kept me turning the pages well into the wee hours. Last few chapters of the book are outstanding with superb action and plot twists.

Abeth is an alien world, but the characters being so realistic makes you forget that at times. It has its own rules, strange laws of nature, a dying sun and a falling moon, and is covered with glaciers except for the fifty mile corridor at its equator. There are mysterious remnants of an older and seemingly extinct civilization, I suspect we might find out more about it in the next book.

The fight scenes are quite original, though I can’t say much cause it would be a spoiler, but as someone who is easily bored of typical fighting scenes, I loved these since they are from a completely different perspective. Kind of like the special effects in movies, but the book version, which is something very difficult to do in writing. I think that was one of the things where you realize what a master wordsmith Mark Lawrence is.

Another thing I absolutely love about Red Sister is the lack of irritating love triangle cliches and the forced romance plots you see in the overwhelming majority of YA books and coming of age storylines. No sir, no romance here, and no love triangles. These girls literally kick arse left and right and have serious things to worry about, and Red Sister gets the big bonus points from me for the awesome political intrigue with the female villains having motivations stemming from political ambitions not involving shallow romance drama.

There is another kickass thing here which I can’t mention cause it would be a spoiler, but it should suffice to say I enjoyed reading -with a huge grin in my face- how Mark Lawrence upended some of the most annoying coming-of-age cliches and showed the real girl power here.

My other favorite supporting character was Abbess Glass, who is a snarky and sharp-witted middle aged female character. This sort of character is so rare in fantasy -at least the books I’ve read so far. She reminded me of Olenna Tyrell from A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones and queen Alica Kendeth from Red Queen’s War, she’s awesome like them. I have a feeling she will do serious damage in the next book.

And the ending… Gods above, what an ending that was! I really, really hope this series becomes a mainstream hit and they make movies or TV series of it, cause this story with its superb action scenes would be so great to see on the screen.

I highly recommend this book if you are looking for a superb fantasy novel featuring amazing characters -especially female characters!- an awesome magic system, great plot twists, killer action, political intrigue, sans the annoying love triangles and tired cliches. Such a great book with a fresh new perspective and impressive depth.

I really don’t have time to re-read books with my rather massive TBR, but I put this in my re-read list cause it’s the special kind of great. I have to thank Mark Lawrence for bringing back my youth with such a mind-blowing magnificent story.

Luckily I have such a massive TBR, or else it would be painful to wait for the next book, which I know will be even better judging from Mark’s established track record.

Top Ten Tuesday: Spring TBR

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly blog meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

This week’s theme is Spring TBR and here goes mine (though I highly doubt I will manage all of them in spring, it’s more like spring+summer TBR!)

The White Luck Warrior

The Great Ordeal

Ghosts of Tomorrow

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m planning to finish all of Aspect-Emperor before the next one (The Unholy Consult) comes out in summer. And there’s the grimdark new release from Michael R. Fletcher I will squeeze in, I normally don’t read western fantasy but Fletcher’s Manifest Delusions books were so damn awesome, I will read everything he publishes cause he writes some of the most messed up and complex grimdark characters out there.

 

The Shadow Rising

The Fires of Heaven

Lord of Chaos

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m aching to get back to the Wheel of Time world after reading the first 3 books, but some exciting new releases came out and the news of Unholy Consult coming out got me to grab Aspect-Emperor books. I am really dying to read the rest of the WoT!

 

Danse Macabre

The Falcon Throne

Sword of Destiny

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of course I’m ever the impatient one, which means sometimes I get way too hyped up about certain books and I will grab them before finishing the series I have at hand, no matter how awesome it is. I’m bad like that!

Best Served Cold

 

I have been meaning to read the standalone First Law world books by Abercrombie since The First Law trilogy felt too short and left me with a big book hangover. This is the first of the three standalone First Law world books.

What is in your TBR? Link to your post and let me know!

 

WWW Wednesday: 8 March, 2017

WWW Wednesday weekly blog meme

WWW Wednesday is hosted each week by Taking on a World of Words.

What are you currently reading?

The Judging Eye

The Last Wish

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Last Wish, Witcher book #1 and The Judging Eye, Aspect-Emperor Book #1. Both are excellent so far.

What have you recently finished reading?

Red Sister

This was one of the best fantasy books I have ever read. Review coming soon!

What are you planning on reading next?

The White Luck Warrior

This is the second book of Aspect-Emperor, I need to catch up by the time The Unholy Consult comes out!

What have you been reading lately?

Book Review: The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula K. Le Guin

Tombs of Atuan
Genre: Fantasy
Series: Earthsea Cycle
Author info: http://www.ursulakleguin.com/

This is the second book of the great classic Earthsea Cycle. See my review for the first book here.

A Wizard of Earthsea was about Ged’s journey to become a sorcerer and his struggle with the evil shadow, this book tells the story of Tenar, a young girl taken away from her family at the tender age of five to be raised as the priestess of the Nameless gods.She is forced to shed her identity and they call her Arha in her new life.

It starts a story of loneliness and continues as a story of courage. Tenar is incredibly lonely despite the high position she holds, a position which is more symbolic than one of real power. She has no close friends other than the eunuch guardian, and learning the ways of the dark labyrinths where no light is allowed is a daunting task.

This is not your typical epic fantasy full of action, but a beautiful tale nonetheless. Ursula K. Le Guin’s prose is amazing and the imagery is vivid. This book explores the limits of faith, loyalty, trust and tradition. The stark contrast between the unyielding religious devotion and the doubts hacking away the faith, the religious authorities bending the faith to their agenda or lacking it altogether, the courage to question everything you have been taught and break through the dogma is brilliantly depicted.

As it is mentioned in the blurb,Ged shows up later as a secondary character, and the relationship between Tenar and Ged starting with suspicion and turnign into mutual admiration and trust is fascinating to read. Tenar’s character development is stellar.

This is a great book. I think even the people who found a Wizard of Earthsea boring will like this book. I liked it a lot, it’s different from most fantasy books I read and I loved both the worldbuilding and the philosophical aspects. Earthsea books are leaning more towards literary fiction than genre fiction, but I highly recommend this book and its prequel, A Wizard of Earthsea, to fantasy lovers out there.