Book Review: Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson


Book 1: Malazan Book of the Fallen
Published by Tor Books, 1999

Greetings Brave Adventurers,

I have a confession to make. I’ve been reading this book since March (sorry to Meg at Ruminations of a Fantasy Devotee for taking so long to finish it). Every time I’d pick this book up it would be with many sighs and eye rolls. I’d been told it was a good series, so I pushed on.

In the end, the first 200 pages took me nearly five months to read. The other 450 pages took me two days. Like a rollercoaster, it took a while to wind up, but the downwards plunge was well worth it.

Why the procrastination? Erikson doesn’t give you much to hang on to. He head-hops continuously, through both time and space introducing characters and races and settings and politics and concepts at a breakneck speed. The result is that you feel like you’ve been dropped into the middle of a half-finished chess game and you don’t know any of the rules. Now, I’m a fantasy fan, so I understand the concept of abeyance, but really Erikson, if I hadn’t been told what a good series this was I am fairly sure I would have abandoned this book.

Bang on page 200, this book started to get good. Really good. This was about the time that a) we started to see a few of the same characters emerging in several scenes, allowing the reader to actually get to know one or two and b) the characters started to do things other than peruse body parts on battlefields or discuss politics (yes, I know other things happened, but they were so confusing in the early stages of the book that I feel I can lump the occurrences under those two vast headings).

The scope, depth and detail of Gardens of the Moon is quite amazing, and the battle scenes are jaw-dropping. The world is well-envisioned and epic. This is a world of high magic, gods battling across realms, swords that take souls and chain them to giant wagons; it is a world full of prophecy and doom.

Overall, I enjoyed Gardens of the Moon, but wasn’t blown away, mostly because I am a character-driven reader and I found the abrupt chopping and changing of perspective made this a hard read. I’ve already started Deadhouse Gates, and have the same quibble with Erikson’s style.

I’m giving this novel 9 out of 10 Omniscient Dragons
9 dragons


    1. Hi Charles! – don’t get me wrong, stuff did happen in those 200 pages, but that was the point at which it all seemed to click into place for me, and the reading stopped feeling like a chore. It might be earlier for most people – I tend to read in snatches, so its hard to follow a complex plot.

      1. I think I remember reading that Erikson sold this as a 10-book series straight up (anyone correct me if I’ve got this wrong). I guess that gives him a bit of room to build his world, but I still would have liked a few more signposts along the way.

  1. This book has been sitting on my shelf for about three months. Maybe I should pick it up and start reading. I read Icelandic Sagas for fun, and those usually start with information dumps and drop you right in the middle of the action, so maybe the first 200 pages won’t be too difficult for me. 200 pages in an 11,000-word epic fantasy series is like 6 pages in popular fiction, so in perspective it’s really not that much.

    1. Hi Paul, I’m glad I’m not the only one who felt like that! I wish I could sum up the first 200 pages but I’m sure I’d miss something vital – might be worth having a look at the Wiki page for Gardens of the Moon. There’s a short summary of the whole book there (and also some interesting stuff about the mixed reviews this book received).

  2. I’ve had the same experience– Extremely slow to get the story winding up. And that is strange considering that literary agents unanimously keep banging the pulpit with “The story has to grab the reader instantly and force him to keep turning pages!”
    And so, how did this get published? (I’m not saying it didn’t deserve to be published.)

    1. Thats a good question, and it really does beg an answer doesnt it? Especially when it seems that ‘bestsellers’ in fantasy always seem to be breaking all the rules we’re told to stick to.

  3. Yep- This was just another brick in the wall for me against the traditional Houses (and Agents). It looks like they’re scrambling madly to get the cookie-cutter crap accepted. Erikson’s sales are great, so…

    1. Interesting, isnt it? It makes me wonder how much is good writing, how much is luck, and to some degree whether prolific writers have an advantage over better writers. It seems to me that writing is all about brand-building. People purchase books by a particular author, often because they’re well known. Lots of books gives you ‘shelf cred’ – where ppl see a row of your books and think ‘wow – that guy must be good. Look how much he’s had published!’ I can only imagine that publishers want prolific authors – im sure a published author is far less work (and less risk) than a new author in terms of marketing. I could name a dozen frankly awful authors off the top of my head (and im sure you could too) who are published and would support this theory.

  4. Reblogged this on jackconner and commented:
    I gave this book 100 pages or so and couldn’t get into it. The world was interesting, but none of the characters grabbed me, and neither did the plot, or what sense of it I could get in that time. This reviewer seems to have had a similar experience but says it gets much better after page 200, so perhaps I should give it another shot. I have heard excellent things about the series from others. The last time I heard this much unanimous praise it was for GRR Martin’s ASOIAF, and I’m diehard fan of that series now.

  5. Great review of Gardens of the Moon. This is my current read, and I must admit, it’s taking me a very long time to get through the first 200 pages (page 197, to be exact). I started reading during the summer, so it’s been about 6 months now, haha! Well, hopefully, things should start picking up very soon for me.

  6. I completely agree with you. I was completely lost for the first 100 or so pages so I read the wiki and regret it till now. It was filled with spoilers. I am on the forth book of the series now, House of Chains and I am enjoying it just as much as I did the previous three

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