I am a great fan of fantasy books. Let me correct that, I am a great fan of fantasy books that challenge the genre. So, if it is a book that is centred around just dwarves, elves and humans, it may not appeal as much (certain cases may be an exception based on the plot and nuances in the plot), whereas books that take these realms, expand on them further or books that create their own realms will find in me a fascinated reader.
My favourite fantasy writers include – Terry Pratchet, Robert Jordan and of course the original father of fantasy novels -Tolkein. I have recently discovered Steven Erikson who I am now in love with. Steven Erikson’s series is referred to as “Malazan Book of the Fallen” and revolves around the Malazan empire.
The first book in this series is the Gardens of the Moon.
The series has its origins in a role playing game co-created by Steven Erikson and I.C.Esslemont (incidently, the Gardens of the Moon is dedicated to him). While Esslemont has published five novels on the same world in the Novels of the Malazan Empire series, this series by Steven Erikson was what caught my eye first.
Each book in the series has a self-contained plot in that the main war/plot is completed in the book, but the characters and stories are interlinked between the novels and it is a good idea (as with any novel series) to start with the first one.
In the Gardens of the Moon, the story starts with the siege on Mouse Quarters which is watched by a young boy, Ganos Paran whose stated desire is to be a soldier and hero (the military commander to whom he says this answers, “you will grow out of it). The Emperor and his main man Dancer are assassinated by a woman called Surly who then takes the throne to become Empress Laseen. The novel then moves seven years ahead where the Malazan Empire led by Laseen is now busy conquering the Genabackis continent which has only two free cities – Pale and Darujisthan and is assisted by her Adjunct Lorn as well as her elite assassin group – the Claw.
The novel is dark and any fantasy reader who is interested in light reading will find this very heavy to get through, the novel plunges you right into the story and then romps ahead at a non-stop pace. Characters and races blend in different shades of grey, each one at one time making you hate them and then fall in love with them all over again. There is no wrong or right defined in the novel, there is only protecting that which you believe in (and doesn’t that define reality!).
Parts of the novel leave you thinking, parts of the novel leave you gasping for breath. The Tiste-Andii leader Anomander Rake is a definite mention here – he is 300,000 years old and comes across as a cruel man in the beginning, raining down curses and flattening soldiers all around, carries a sword (Dragnipur) that can suck your soul into it and then evolves into a man whose sole dream seems to be one where he can get his people to will to survive and live again. He first enters into an alliance with Pale to fight the Empire, but leaves Pale after a battle damages his Moon (a floating fortress which is the home of most Tiste Andii) and Pale falls to the Empire.
With the fall of Pale, the tale now moves to the last free city – Darujisthan. In the meantime, there is culling within the Malazan army, of all the veterans who were considered loyal to the previous emperor. Of this, the elite group of the 2nd division, the Bridgeburners are targeted and their leader Sergeant Whiskeyjack is now busy trying to keep his men alive while carrying out the commands of the Empress.
In the meantime, the Gods (also referred to as Ascendants) have begun to interfere, with Shadowthrone (God of Death referred to as Hood) and Oppon (Twins denoting Luck – Good and Bad) the main players. The story also involves the Deck of Dragons – a tarot like card reading which can only be read right by true “Adepts” .
The plot is compelling and the writing style brings the images to life in front of you. Writing a review where the entire plot is revealed has never been my style, but this is a book I definitely recommend if you are into this genre. And a definite try even if you aren’t .
All in all, a score of 5/5 for this novel from me.