Tuesday, April 5, 2011
Gardens of the Moon
To be considered a serious SFF fan these days it appears that there are a handful of ‘must read’ series. One such series is Steven Erikson’s massive Malazan Books of the Fallen. I’d been meaning to read the first Malazan book; Gardens of the Moon, for some time, but had held off for a couple of reasons. One it was a work in progress, believed to eventually complete at 10 books, having been burned by Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time (the author passed away before he could complete the series and it is being finished by Brandon Sanderson) and George Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire (Martin is still alive, but the series shows no sign of being completed any time soon, the 5th volume has been coming since 2005) I was reluctant to pick up another long running incomplete series. The other reason was that the concept had failed to really grab me each time I picked it up, and had a look at it.
It popping up on the list as the last of the E’s when it did was pretty good timing. The 10th Malazan book; The Crippled God, came out earlier this year, so I wouldn’t be forced into a wait between volumes.
Gardens of the Moon does require some commitment from the reader. There’s no real coherent storyline in the first volume, it’s largely about participants in a never ending war for control of the continent of Genabackis. These fighters are not only soldiers, citizens and rulers, some of them are all powerful Gods who have chosen to walk amongst men. For instance my feelings towards Erikson’s beloved Bridgeburners changed multiple times throughout the book. They vaccilated between being on the right side and the wrong side depending on whose story you were reading.
Like a growing number of recent epics Gardens of the Moon is rather noirish in feel. I often felt like none of the action took place in daylight. By the end of the book the reader has seen a lot and read a lot, but has only scratched the surface of Erikson’s gargantuan creation. It’s not surprising to learn that when he and friend and co creator Ian Cameron Esslemont hawked the concept around as a TV show or movie they were told that it was simply too grand in scale for them to even contemplate. This is largely why it became a series of books and not a purely visual spectacle.
Two things tended to stand out to me. One was the similarity between Erikson’s band of hard bitten soldiers and mages; The Bridgeburners and Glen Cook’s company of mercenaries; The Black Company, in the series of the same name. Erikson admits to being a fan of Cook’s and it shows in Gardens of the Moon. The Bridgeburners and the Black Company kept putting me in mind of each other, right down to the nicknames they gave their members. At times I felt as if the Bridgeburners hard bitten sergeant; Whiskeyjack was channelling the Black Company’s captain; Croaker. Erikson and Esslemont were both keen gamers and that’s how they came up with the concept, this too is obvious, with some passages reading as if they were right out of game play.
Despite the feeling that this was 700 pages of setup I still felt strangely compelled to keep reading, and while there isn’t always a lot of action, at other times the action is almost overwhelming. The reader can get lost with the sheer cast of thousands that Erikson has chosen to populate his creation, and as he doesn’t write linearly it can become confusing, which is why despite it’s length the reader cannot afford to skim. I found it hard to connect to any of the characters while reading the book and thought that they may be rather two dimensional. Reflecting on it afterwards I found myself finding that they had layers I hadn’t initially picked up on. I did develop some affection for two of the leads; the mysterious and quite often amusing Kruppe, who refers to himself in the third person and narrates his own action, and the young and somewhat naïve thief Crokus.
Despite it’s flaws, and Gardens of the Moon is most definitely a flawed book, it has me intrigued and I know that in the not too distant future I’m going to pick up the equally thick Deadhouse Gates and keep following Steven Erikson’s vision.