Sunday, February 22, 2009
Gardens of the Moon
This is the first time I have written a review for a book that I couldn’t actually finish and didn’t fully understand.
Gardens of the Moon is the first in the Malazan Book of the Fallen series, which seems to be catching up with the Wheel of Time. In other words, it’s a VLFN* with a cast of characters that has defeated my ability to reel off all the houses, lords and ladies of Westeros from memory. I had to read up about it on both Amazon and Wikipedia just to figure out what was happening in the book.
So why would this be a book worth reading?
I think that if someone can actually get into the story and make sense of all the players, powers, places and politics, Gardens of the Moon would be an enjoyable or at least adequate read. It’s evident that Steven Erikson has put a great deal of thought into the fantasy aspect of the story, and I like the imagination in this book. There are the Moranth – who ride giant flying insects – and the Warrens, which are great winding tunnels of different types of magic. The Hounds of Shadow are cool as well.
By the way, you can probably tell from the last two sentences that there are lots and lots of Capitalized Terms in the story, so if you’re not fond of sentences like “The Deck of Dragons has revealed the Virgin of High House Death” you might want to steer clear.
The plot of the novel is complex, to say the least, but I’ll try to sum it up here. Empress Laseen takes control of the Malazan Empire through assassination and sets out to cement her grip on it by killing nobles and the old guard of soldiers. On the outskirts, the Empire is also battling the last of the free cities, Pale and Darujhistan**, and Pale has engaged a powerful sorcerer called Anomander Rake to stop the army.
Rake commands a floating castle called Moon’s Spawn and a flock of magical Great Ravens, but on the Malazan side are the sorcerers Hairlock (who does things with the Warrens) and Tattersail (who reads the Deck of Dragons). However, the gods have also gotten involved. Oponn, the Twins of Chance, magically heals a young officer called Ganoes Paran while Cotillion the Rope, the Assassin of High House Shadow, possesses a girl called Sorry who joins the Bridgeburners. And if you feel lost… well, join the club.
The difference between this and George R. R. Martin’s novels (which also feature a dramatis personae ultramagnus), is that the first book in Martin’s series started out by planting me securely on the side of the Stark children and Daenerys, who’s hardly more than a child herself when she’s married off to a man who doesn’t even speak her language.
With Gardens of the Moon, I never felt as though I was cheering for anyone. The characters just weren’t fleshed out enough. Even their conversations were so complicated – dealing with politics and magic and other characters whom I didn’t know – that I wasn't drawn in by any simple needs or feelings or personality traits that I could recognize in them.
At the start of A Game of Thrones, the Stark children find a dead direwolf and adopt its pups. It’s impossible not to go awww over that scene, even though the symbolism of a direwolf killed by a stag’s antler has a deeper and darker meaning. The story then follows the children and their growing direwolves. While Gardens of the Moon does begin with a sympathetic character – a young fishergirl forcibly possessed by the patron god of assassins while her entire village is murdered – the story then shifts away from her and on to some other characters. We don’t get another glimpse into her thoughts and feelings until the end (by which time I was skimming mightily).
The style is both detached and scholarly, which meant I didn’t feel as though I was deep in the story. So it was easy for me to get carried away imagining the Warrens and the Deck of Dragons and Shadowthrone’s land. That was fine for the purposes of coming up with my own ideas. I dreamed of at least half a dozen new concepts or creatures while reading this book, so I’m glad about that part of the experience.
But it also means I probably won’t be picking up another book in the series. The mental energy it takes to dissect the plot and to follow all the characters without constantly flipping to the back and start of the book (or consulting the Malazan Wiki) is beyond me. I think this series is a great work of imagination – but it requires an equally great effort in reading.
*Very long fantasy novel.
**No relation to Iraqistan.