“Every decision you make can change the world. The best life is the one the gods don’t notice. You want to live free, boy, live quietly.”
Author: Steven Erikson
Category: Epic Fantasy
Series: Malazan Book of the Fallen #1
I want to apologize in advance for this review as it may be a liiiittle bit rambly at times.
Oh my gosh how do I even begin to rate and review this book? I really enjoyed it but am also kind of conflicted.
So let’s just start here. While this series does get more epic as the series goes on, this book, Gardens of the Moon, is largely focused on a fight over the city of Darujhistan (the spelling of which I almost had right on the first try!). This is a large city on the continent of Genebackis that the Malazan Empress Laseen is intent on capturing. Before the armies even begin heading that way, the squad known as the Bridgeburners are sent to infiltrate the city and make things easier for the Malazan army when they inevitably arrive. That is the incredibly, so short it is nearly inaccurate, summary of what this book is about.
Because there is just so much going on in this one book! This is absolutely one of those books that from page 1 will start throwing names, titles, and events at you with little to no context and you either keep up or give up. The only other book I have truly experienced this was Game of Thrones (yes I know the series is called Song of Ice and Fire but I am actually talking about the first book specifically). At the opening, I had some trouble keeping everything straight but as the book went on I began to understand things better and I was able to grasp enough that I could engage in the story and I really think that the same difficulty will not be present in future books.
However, it was a little late that I was able to engage with this one. This is part of why I am so torn on how to rate/review it. For a good portion of the book, I felt very removed and not immersed in the story or the world at all because I was expending so much energy just trying to keep names and places and events straight. BUT the story is fantastic once I was able to understand what was forming and I loved how well all the various character POVs and plotlines are interwoven. Had I not been warned that this book is one that it is perfectly normal to be confused about at times, I don’t know if I would have liked it.
Really, this is what has me conflicted. Should a reader have to be warned about the nature of a book to be able to enjoy it rather than being able to into it as a perfectly blank slate? The answer will likely vary from reader to reader. Some readers very likely went into this series knowing nothing beforehand and came out loving and that is fantastic! But personally, having to have encouragement that this book/series gets better and the storytelling gets more cohesive as it goes along feels like a major flaw to me.
So what did I enjoy about this book?
Well again, once I was able to keep straight who was who and where was what, I was finally able to immerse myself in this gigantic world that I am positive this book only scratched the surface of. The plotlines of the POV characters weaving in and out and back in again with each others’ stories was fascinating to me. I loved getting to see characters whose heads I had been in previously from the perspective of another character and I thought that this part of it was extraordinarily well done.
And as I did finally get more into the story, I was also able to get a better feel for some of the characters. I say “some” because there were some characters that I honestly could not tell you a single thing about them even after reading about them for over 600 pages. Mostly this is some of the members of the Bridgeburners. I could tell you all about Whiskeyjack, Kalam, Quick Ben, and I guess Sorry if she counts. But others, like Fiddler, I don’t remember a thing about them and the….T’lan Imass? I really hope I am remembering what they were called correctly but really there was just so much information thrown at me that it was impossible for me to keep it all straight without spreadsheets.
That said, I noticed how this book contains a lot of elements really familiar to epic fantasy, like generals and captains and spies and assassins but it also plays with those elements in ways that felt really intriguing and refreshing to me.
All in all, it is plain to see for me that there really is a truly epic story beginning here so I already have book 2, Deadhouse Gates, picked up from my local library and plan on getting to it as soon as I possibly can!