I began reading this novel shortly after downloading The Name of the wind. I was not too keen on getting into it, not after the last book i had wasted my money buying; none the less i would read a few pages in between home and work and every other time that my computer and thus The name of the wind was out of reach. It wasn’t until after i completed The name of the wind and finally began giving it my full attention that i finally realized that, despite the hardships i had faced pushing through the first chapter, i had finally located a book series that i could burry my mind under for the months to come. As far as first novels go, The first tale in the Malazan book of the Fallen sets the bar really high, and as i reap through the pages of the second book, i suspect that Book1was largely set up, almost as if Erikson was telling us, “here, have 600 pages of information, absorb it and remember it, because in another 600 pages in book 2 where the story finally begins, you will need it.”
Note: This review is a little longer than i planned it to be
I will try to keep this spoiler free…
The Malazan Empire is a fearsome machine of war, hell bent on conquest. It has been an age since Empress Laseen assassinated the former emperor (and friend) and took upon her self the full powers of Empress and gained complete control over the Malazan empire. But in the age that has followed, the Malazan empire has had to light one flame of war after another, each battle fought and won in the name of Empress Laseen’s seemingly infinite lust for blood. First came the purges, sometimes surreptitious in nature, sometimes ostensible, the Empress’ attempt to wipe out all that served under and still held onto their loyalty to the old emperor, a purge that included both foe and ally, parties that Laseen her self formerly fought besides in her service of the emperor.
Then came the conquest, with the Empress intent on bringing the entirety of the surrounding continents under the iron grip of the Malazan empire and thus completing Laseen’s quest of achieving total dominion of the known lands.
And now, as the last vestiges of rebellion die out within the empire, Laseen’s sets her eyes upon the ancient continent of Genabackis and its crowning jewel, the city of Darjhistan. With the city of wonder, the Empress intends to begin her campaign of conquest against the entire continent. But the task at hand has never been harder. For as much power as it has amassed, the Malazan empire does not exist alone and among the known lands exists a slew of natural and supernatural entities, some benevolent, some dark and some downright sinister. The world is large and not all that the empire sets its eyes upon will so easily step aside for Laseen’s will.
From Anomander Rake and his tiste Indii, the power that is Caladan Brood and the force that he leads, the many mysteries of the flying fortress Moons pawn and the rumors of the winged flame bound creatures that live within, the ancient will that is the T’lan Imas, the surreptitious herdsmen that are the Rhivi, all those that take upon the name Ascendant and the beings that serve them, an inundation of power, both natural and supernatural will walk the earth before Laseen achieves her objective, and nothing less than contending with the gods them selves will be enough to complete the world that will be the Malazan empire.
Yet despite the best of intentions, all these entities and parties are nothing but elephants, so caught up in their games to take note of the ants , that are the common man, that they will crash in an attempt to quench their individual lusts.
Whiskey jack has been commanding his unit of the bridge burners ever since the days of the old empire. As the most fearsome and effective Bridge burner crew, they served the old emperor with one heart and soul, loyal to his word and ideals. Now, with the old regime dead and a new one rising, whiskey jack is all too aware of what he and his people are, reminders of an old life, remnants of the old guard and whose loyalties Laseen will never truly trust. whiskey jack can read the times, understands what all the suspicious deaths and disappearances among the old guard mean. He knows that in accepting his mission to herald Laseen’s advent to Darujhistan as forerunners of the coming invasion, they stand at the edge of a knife; the empire that they once served and lost many to protect will use them to the end and then cast them aside. Now whiskey jack must ask himself how far he is willing to go for a nation that rejects him, how many times will he walk into missions he knows well to be death traps and which he was only assigned to achieve one objective, his and his crew’s exit from the world of the living.
With the fate of his men on the line, whiskey jack must decide which belief he holds closer to his heart, Laseen’s empty words or Dujek’s promise of a future for his good friend and all others like whiskey jack and Dujek who now find themselves fending of murderous intent for their past service to their emperor.
Tatter sail has always known that within the Malzan empire, gray was the moral color that ruled the day, and that behind every corner was a political scheme waiting to be unleashed, dishonorable deal being struck whose result will bring about the blood shed of many innocents. Tatter sail accepted all that the empire stood for with the knowledge that it served a greater purpose, to bringing unity under Laseen and, hence, peace. God knows she had committed atrocities under the same logic. But how well will she accept this logic when these same schemes and deals that she so easily accepted as a necessary evil are resulting in the deaths of Malaz blood. Men, women and boys that she as a mage and her legion swore to protect with their lives before treacherous intent befell them.
Is the empire really above reproach. Can the deaths of those that the empire claims to be committing atrocities for be justified by the so called greater good that will result? This is the question that tatter sail will have to answer before determining whether or not to accept whiskey jack’s hand of corporation. Is there really a distinction between treason against Empress Laseen and taking hostile action against her greatest mage Taychrenn? Is acting against all forces within the empire that would seek to destroy their own people really no different from renouncing the empire? Because whatever actions tatter sail chooses to take with regards to whiskey jack’s crew, there will be no turning back, no mercy, no future for those that apostate from the empress’ rule.
When Paran joined the Malazan army and accepted the consequence of having to shrug off his nobility and connection to house Paran, he purposed to do great things in the war machine of the empire, great deeds that would reflect well on the nobility that he left behind. When the massacre, the work of one' of shadow throne’s servants, that links his fate to Adjunct Lorne, Laseen’s second in command, strips him of all vestiges of his old life, hopes and dreams, he begins to question his role in the Malazan war machine and how much of his actions will bode well with the rest of the world. The question that lies before paran is a much simpler one than is faced by others whose lives have been upended by Laseen. In the grand scheme of things, will he, captain paran, be the hero of whom of whom songs are sung or the villain that brings death to innocence?
The city of Darujhistan and all who inhabit it are not so ignorant of the moving of the Malazan empire, not after the siege and ultimate chaos that ensued in Pale and the resulting contention between moon spawn and Taycherenn. The empire has began to move and Darujhsitan lies clear in its sights. Yet the chaotic politicking within the city continues, with many parties vying not only for power but the authority to decide the city’s actions; surrendering to the empire and joining Laseen- an action that opposition claims will not change their destruction- or raising up arms to defend their homes.
ON the roof tops, the nefarious assassins' guild continues it shadowy games. Once mighty, subject to all but none at the same time, the dangerous assassins and mages within find themselves embroiled in a mysterious game that brings them kicking and screaming into the world of murderous intent, backstabbing and power mongering, all the traits that they themselves once traded in and incited. A force has infiltrated their ranks and regularly, they will clash on the roof tops, dark against dark, in furious battles the winner of which will drive the will of the guild, which in turn will determine the fate of the ultimately powerless Politian's playing their little political games.
Below, the common man struggles to avoid falling prey to the dealings of those who deem themselves superior. A crew, friends, clocked in ordinary skins, yet so much more than average and emanating from a variety of naturally opposing forces, assassins, mages, master alchemists, seers, fallen nobility, even tools of the gods themselves, though still unknowing, come together to prevent the world in the shadows from spilling onto the streets and taking innocent life. They are citizen of Darujhistan and they will not stand for the empire’s presence and conquest of their city, no matter what the higher ups say.
Yet even they cannot deny an inescapable truth. Power attracts power and forces more ancient that the rock upon which the city stands are converging upon them, and there is no telling whether even a stone of the once brilliant city will be left standing once the dust settles and the Jaghut tyrant’s foot prints fade.
When i first finished reading this book a month or so ago, i found myself wondering exactly how i would describe it, preferably in one or two words. The first thing i thought about is how i felt when i was reading it. The word ‘anime’ kept echoing in my head as i traversed the different stories contained within the 600 pages. I am not sure what about the story elicited such thoughts from me, something about the story and the way it was structured seemed different from anything that i had ever read; the way the plot was paced, the characters described, the battles choreographed, it all seemed to incite memories of the sorts of inventive story telling that i had only seen in anime. It was both surprising and refreshing, and took me a while to get used to.
If i was to focus in on one or two words to describe what gardens of the moon is though, it would be ‘pure fantasy’. That is what this book is. Most novels attempt to bring to us a picture of the world we know; then, using conventional and sometimes unconventional norms and cultures, twist everything we think we understand to recreate the world into something similar to what we knew but with clear differences. Most times, probably in an attempt to enable the story to resonate with us, authors will present to us our own worlds but with one or two unnatural fringe elements.
Gardens of the moon creates an entirely new world. It is the kind of fantasy that casts our own world aside and, with masterful hands, molds a whole new one into being, with its own continental structures, clans, tribes, governmental systems, basically a whole new human and none human society. It’s….different from what i have read, or what i can remember reading. It is definitely no game of thrones, which is almost completely grounded in reality but with the most subtle hints of magic materializing in the fringes of the world. As a somewhat new reader with regards to this kind of fantasy, there were moments were i thought that the material might be overwhelming to some people.
Certainly many moments in the book tended to catch me off guard; one moment i am reading what seemed like a simple conversation between two people, then the next page would start to drop hints regarding both individuals’ appearances and suddenly my perspective would change. These were not human entities in conversation, yet they were a tribe of earthy origin so ordinary in the prevailing society that no one batted an eye that the gentleman crossing the road had six ears of something. Intriguing stuff, if you think about it; the fact that Erikson would go into so much trouble to research and create entire civilizations and cultures, each with its own histories and distinct pathos.
I would conclude that there is definitely a certain kind of person that this book is best suited for. Casual readers of the genre, new to fantasy might find this a bit hard to follow; pure fantasy is an avid description of what exactly a reader would be in for. I for one am enjoying myself.
The structure – Personally i thought Erikson took quite a risk in presenting this story the way he did, mostly because if he didn’t have the masterful ability to juggle so many elements simultaneously while keeping a cogent understanding of all the minutiae littering the story, we would have had one heck of a mess of a plot. Basically Erikson chooses to start telling the story from the middle. Right from page one, you are thrown head first into the deep end of the malazan world. No explanations are given, no hints of who is who and what is what. Military ranks and distinct magical attacks are just words, difficult to pronounce in some cases, with little to no meaning behind them; and all you can do is sit back and enjoy the ride best as you can.
Because rather than tell you straight up, in elongated lectures, about the world around, Erikson proffers you the opportunity to figure things out for yourself. Rather than reveal to you the world on a silver platter, Erikson gives you a mystery to solve. Every piece of information is revealed raw, in a conversation, monologue, maybe written down, and it is used as if you the reader were already familiar with it. That same piece of information will recur in multiple locations through out the story, strategically placed and used in different context, and as you it over and over again, you begin to work out the different variables and facets regarding it. Suddenly what seemed like an impossible mystery begins to open up using the clues littered through out the story. One moment, all you know about warrens is their usage as pathways, yet their is a lot talk regarding magic in relation to warrens.
Until you eavesdrop on two powerful mages speaking about elder warrens and ascendants and at the very least, you are now aware that there are different kinds of warrens with different properties; a journey through a warren reveals a little more about their usage as path ways, and then further journeys through different worlds and dimensions begin to open up the entire topic in ways you thought you understood but had only began to grasp.
The entire story is presented as one big mystery. Even the most mundane character has some part to play in the grand scheme of things; in one form or another, they will enter the story and impact it in a big way, probably turning it on its head. Which is why i speak of the approach as being risky. There were so many ways this story could have gone wrong; its cohesion hinged on Erikson’s ability to remember each and every fact and present it just at the right time, not too late to play its part in the story and not too early that we are inundated with too much information too quickly, most importantly using the right means and tools to show us these important pieces of information, without stalling the story.
It was a clever structure constructed by a creative and dedicated mind and it worked in revealing to us only what we needed to know when we needed to know it to keep us satiated. This is the primary reason i would deny the idea of actually getting bored at any one point in time when reading this novel. Sure, you might come across slow portions of the story, maybe a couple of 5-10 pages chronicling a short fat man walking alone up and hill and basically talking to himself; frustrating if the last chapter you had read had been choke full of exciting plot points. What keeps you hooked however is the fact that this scene and this man, they will all play an important role in the coming plot. You know, from experience that all those rumblings and that asinine character have an important part in the story and, if you are an engaged with the story as you should be, the process of trying to preempt the story and figure out who and what this man is before further events reveal it to you, how he fits into the story and what clue in his rumblings might have blown the entire mystery wide open surreptitiously, will stave off any boredom you might feel.
So i guess that is this story’s most powerful quality; it doesn’t engage you intimately in its plotting. It forces you to engage yourself intimately with the story, to follow each and every detail presented and try to piece the puzzle together. Of course the pitfall is it will not endear itself to those with no patience. The way the book works is that once you read something, it is imperative that you store that information, at least the important bits anyway; because later on, that information will be referred to and explored further and the only way you can keep up is if you can compare what you already know and stored with what has been revealed. Understanding who Anomander Rake is early in the book, before his true self is revealed, can come down to simply considering all that had been said about the warrens and those that had used them prior and comparing that with what was revealed about the warren Rake’s own magic draws upon.
This, in a way, can be a criticism, or rather another reason for the term’ pure fantasy’ and why some might not be able to keep up with this book. if you are the kind that reads a story with little to no focus, then you will arrive at page 200 still wondering what the hell the bridge burners are and how they differ from the claws. Again, this goes back to the book’s ability to force you to engage with it. I am willing to admit that there are still things about Gardens of the moon that i am yet to understand. Up till now i thought i knew what warrens were, until i read further and realized that i only knew a portion, or rather how they work and even then only the basics. There has been no clear and outright description of what a warren is, frankly i am still not able to picture its entire structure in my head, and i can only assume that dead house gates will elucidate on the matter.
Hell, there was a point in time where i couldn’t differentiate between the Tiste Indii and the T’lan Imass. I remember that there was some mention of the undead and a lot of difficult terms and words were thrown out; in the end it came down to me to figure out who was what (there is an index at the end which helped). And Don’t even get me started on the soletaken business. This book has a myriad of mysteries that i will enjoy revealing and stripping away one at a time along with the heroes and villains of the Malazan world.
THE STORY:> It was a brave undertaking, approaching the story the way Erikson did, when faced with the herculean task of dispensing so much information without overloading readers. When i reviewed The name of the wind, one of my praises for it was the unique way it managed to provide us with so much information about the world around the characters, allowing us to form a clear picture of the realm without stalling the story. it was a clever way of using story telling and songs to provide the reader with a clear picture of the world. Now Gardens of the moon didn’t do as good a job as The name of the wind, no where near as good in my view; but it was impressive that they could unload all that information while telling a cohesive story.
With such a load of data to unleash, most stories will go the direct route, simply take up chunks of pages lecturing you about the world, which can have a detrimental effect to the story because for all intent and purpose, the book stops. Erikson was smart enough to provide as much information as possible through the events of the story. Now there were some potions i did not appreciate, places in the book which took too long to provide a specific bit of information or seemed overly complicated just to reveal one or two facts, but they are worth forgiving because, in creating a whole new world, it couldn’t have been easy to figure out a clever way of allaying all the information that i as a reader would need before i could begin to appreciate the world.
The book does one specific task so much better than George R.R Martin’s Game of thrones, and that is its approach to the different characters roaming the book. Like Thrones, Gardens of the moon follows multiple characters on their separate journeys, undertaking different adventures in efforts that will eventually intertwine. But the thing about Gardens is how fast the story moves. The characters are constantly on the move, their state continuously changing and their actions always having a bearing the overall result. No character is ever on screen without having a specific purpose to fulfill in the story.
And that is the one thing i criticize Game of Thrones (the fire and ice series in general) about; a lot of time wasting occurs. Thrones will describe to you a character’s journey from the middle of a jungle through a dessert to a distant monetary a week away, in graphic detail i might add. Gardens will simply tell you in two or three lines that the same character crossed the desert. If anything of worth happened on the journey, it is either mentioned in passing, or a clue is provided that will allow you to deduce the information.
Gardens has a ton of characters but unlike Thrones, their is rarely any down time because of how fast paced the story is. Which means that even when you jump from one exciting character to a duller one, you do not stay with that character long enough to start cursing the author. That was Throne’s problem. Sure it had some great characters to read, but it also had some atrocious ones. I have heard a lot of praise for the Khaleesi character from fans of the game of thrones TV series. if those fans had read the first book, they would know why i hate her character so deeply; George would have the gall to end Arya’s more intruding character chapter in four or five pages, then launch into a 25 page chapter of the Khaleesi and her people doing absolutely nothing.
Ooh i loathed her. It felt like a total waste of time; but that is an extreme case. Sometimes it was simply the fact that you would rather read about Robb than Stannis, yet it would be Stannis that you would get for dozens of pages. With gardens of the moon, it doesn't really matter who you prefer to read or which character has the more exciting plot. Even when the change occurs to a duller setting, the book will only falter in that setting for the two or three pages necessary to get the point across. Erikson doesn’t subject you to characters and plots you have no interest and reading for an entire chapter, and that is what makes this book so awesome.
I remember cursing the first time we left the bridge burner story, which had just heated up (something to do with shadow throne’s hounds, i won’t spoil it) only to suddenly skip to Darujhistan for the first time ever, and worse still, to a seemingly dull and completely uninteresting character. With thrones, you were in for 20 or so pages of yawning. Gardens however doesn’t waste that time. I remember that i originally estimated that their were one hundred pages in each game of thrones book that didn’t need to be there. Then a literature scholar i found on the internet who had actually done the math, corrected me and said that it was closer to 250. George R.R Martin’s detractors complain about how slow he writes. Maybe the problem is that he writes more than is necessary.
Comparisons aside, the story is incisive and on point; there is never a dull moment that isn’t necessary; the characters are intriguing and each has a part to play in the whole, a role that is usually never clear until you move further into the book, whose intent lies in keeping you hooked till you can figure the story out, and that it does well. There is as much action as their is tragedy and heart warming heroism.
Rating – From the perspective of a fan, i would rate this story with a 5/5. When i look at it critically though, it is closer to a 3/5.There were parts of the story that were awkwardly handled, especially with the final villain(s) and one or two of the final confrontations. There execution was spot on, but it felt like the organization and some of the descriptions were…off. It could have been better.
THE CHARACTERS – are handled better than the story. Each is as much an enigma as the story itself. You only know as much as the author will allow you to. basically you are a first person observer. You are the character rather than a third person, floating about, seeing and knowing all while the characters fumble around. There is nothing that Erikson will tell you which the characters do not know, which is why i mentioned above that you learn and explore each mystery along with the characters. When they know, you know, and if they are confused, you are confused. Erikson keeps and approaches each character as a separate entity; each character has his own beliefs and objectives different and sometime conflicting with those of another, even when working as a team. Even in a group setting, more often than not, each and every character, while operating as part of the primary plot, is also constantly slipping away to carry out one or two independent tasks. A primary task will draw these characters together, but it doesn’t hold them to each other. They move dynamically with the multiple story lines that are occurring around each other, each somewhat impacting on the next.
Rating: 5/5 my favorite is whiskey jack, Anomander Rake and crockus; and that is another thing; there are so many of them whose true faces and names we still don’t know. it is a mystery that allows them to operate under an air of intrigue, and it can be great fun to try and work out who a character is based on how those around them react on hearing their true names (which Erikson never reveals to us though).
Magic: The magic is a large part of why this book is so epic. Many novels have come out to claim the title of epic saga; most rarely deliver and even when they do, it’s always over a shorter period of time that you would expect. Gardens of the moon delivers on a largely epic scale and over dozens of pages (another reason why i kept thinking of anime). The magic itself if very complicated and like everything else mysterious, tied to the different warrens and the age they hail from.
The gods: Intriguing in that we still know very little about them. Actually there are two characters whom i can’t tell if they are gods or not. None the less i like the part they play, not simply strolling onto the plane and causing havoc, yet still playing an important but subtle and sometimes earth shattering role in the events of the word.
Criticisms; Yes, i have some problems with this book, not major, nothing that affects the whole, but which i couldn’t ignore. But because they involve spoilers, i will try to be as vague as possible. Chances are if you read the book, you will get what i am referring to.
First of all, i had problems with Captain Paran. He was gearing up to be one of my favorite characters at the start, but he quickly lost his relevance after a while. That doesn’t bother me though, Erikson knows who wants to take the spot light. What i do not get is Paran in relation to tatter sail. This relationship was developed in a very shallow manner; i say that because paran comes to some decisions in the desert because of actions taken by tatter sail, actions that do not make sense.
As far as i am concerned, he was a little too angry for someone he had known for what felt like mere days. I get the attraction, but the way he acted, it seemed unrealistic and unnatural, the way someone would act with someone close to them. And that isn’t what those to were, or if they were, i didn’t see it in the pages.. More importantly, he came off as stupid, with the ridiculous assumptions he made about what had happened to tatter sail and who had done what. Seriously, the man had spent two years with the Adjunct; am i supposed to believe that he was still so ignorant about magic and how the T’lan imass worked. His sentiments were illogical and driven by a very stupid assumption. Even Toc the younger saw something he, a captain couldn’t see.
Second, tatter sail, somehow managed to confuse me even more than Paran; what the hell was that in the desert? As far as i am concerned, Erikson wanted the story to go to a specific place and he chose to use the most illogical means possible to get the outcome he wanted. Admittedly i am still learning about magic and the malazan world, but those actions she took in the desert seem a little too extreme.
There is no way anyone is going to tell that, for a mage as powerful and experienced as her, that action was the only way out she had. it is ridiculous. She cannot be that incompetent. Erikson didn’t do a good job of convincing me that what she did was necessary. And yes, that irritated for a while when reading the book, because her actions weren’t an singular event with ephemeral consequences. She was backing out into a story that would affect the whole, and that wasn’t the way to do it. The consequences were no where near as dire as she made them out to be to justify taking her actions.
Both characters were made to look a little too incompetent for my taste.
Verdict: This is a great book, but i expect that you will have a HARD TIME beginning it. Erikson doesn’t make things easy, and the first 20 pages were extremely difficult to read. Once you pick up speed, the road smoothens, but before, i suspect that many a non fantasy fan might fail to get off the ground. And even later on, there are some pages, or chapters that simply struggle; the words are a little too complicated, especially new terms (some old) that refer to a world that you do not even know. It will not allow you to first understand the world and get your bearings before hurtling ahead into new territory at every turn.
Every time you pick up speed due to the excitement of the story, you hit a road block and stop or slow down to ensure that you read something right. it is none the less commendable work, that i would recommend to any fantasy or even a general reading fan. This is the kind of reading to challenge one’s wits and patience and introduce them to a totally new form of literature. And if you can weather it, you will be in for a wild world of excitement, intrigue and chaos.
OVERALL RATING: 3.5/5. I can safely say that this is one series i am going to see through to the end.