Gardens of the moon
Gardens of the Moon: Volume One of the Malazan Book
of the Fallen
A scruffy group of hard-bitten, hard-assed soldiers and mages working for a powerful woman whose name is nearly synonymous with evil are starting to rethink their loyalties in the midst of a brutal war on the edge of nowhere.
No, this ain’t Glen Cook’s The Black Company, although there’s no way anybody reading Gardens of the Moon could fail to make the comparison. There are a lot of similarities — the Lady versus Empress Laseen, the Black Company versus Sergeant WhiskeyJack’s Bridgeburners, the Taken versus the Claw assassins, Croaker versus Ganoes Paran, and even, to some extent, the White Rose versus Sorry. But to give the author his due, Erikson brings an epic, high-magic breadth to his debut novel Gardens of the Moon that the Black Company series never sought.
Here there be ancient inhuman races, a bizarre hierarchy of god-dominated dimensions called Warrens, a brooding giant fortress called Moon’s Spawn, and its moody mercenary ruler Anomander Rake, who carries a legendary soul-chaining sword named Dragnipur. And in the city of Darujhistan, precariously located over a pocket of natural gas, the various characters in this 488-page behemoth collide with secret cabals of mages, not-so-secret cabals of assassins, and old gods brought back to life, with the entire show orchestrated, it seems, by a mysterious underworld figure called Eel.
Call it the Black Company attacks Sanctuary, with Elric of Melnibone hired on to protect the city as a mercenary soldier. And frankly, those are three of my favorite fantasy series, so I’m not complaining. Though Gardens of the Moon clearly pays homage to some of the greats in the genre, it’s still a skillfully woven, complex story for fantasy afficionados who like their wars bloody, their magic black, their heroes dark and their politics double-crossed.
But if you’re in the mood for some light holiday reading, just keep moving along. This huge book — the first volume in a projected 10-book series— doesn’t even start until page 25. You’ve got your obligatory one-page map of the campaign, two-page map of Darujhistan, four pages of dramatis personae, and two pages of poetry before you even see the page titled “Prologue.” Then you get the date according to three different reckonings before you hit the first sentence. But that first sentence ain’t bad: “The stains of rust seemed to map blood seas on the black, pocked surface of Mock’s Vane.” It evokes images — stains, corruption, and mockery — that set the tone for the rest of the novel.
Oh, yeah. I really did say 10 books. Each is meant to stand alone, and Gardens of the Moon does that fairly well, although by the last page it's as plain as a dragon at a dinner party that the story ain't even close to over yet. If you want your sequels faster than Tor will crank 'em out in the U.S., you may have to hit Amazon.Com or otherwise order the English editions from Bantam Books. Deadhouse Gates, Memories of Ice, House of Chains and Midnight Tides are available as of this review's writing.
Look, I’ll give it to you straight. Gardens of the Moon ain’t the most original novel ever written. But it’s helluva lot better than most. I like tall, ectomorphic sorceror-warriors who carry giant swords that suck souls. I like continent-spanning warfare that features lots of gory slaughter and evil sorcery. I like decadent cities where the thieves and assassins swagger around out in the open. I like connotation-resonant names like Anomander, WhiskeyJack, Tattersail, Lorn, Topper, Crone, and Challice. I like anti-heroes and double-crosses and characters painted in shades of grey who are never exactly what they seem.
And, dammit, I like this book.