The Malazan Book of the Fallen by Steven Erikson

Werthead

Lemming of Discord
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#1
Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson

On the continent of Genabackis the Malazan army lays siege to the city of Pale, which sits under the protection of Anomander Rake, Lord of the Tiste Andii. As the final battle begins, the elite Malazan unit known as the Bridgeburners and several High Mages suffer a calamitous betrayal. Their next mission takes them to Darujhistan, City of Blue Fire, where an even more dangerous showdown awaits...

Steven Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen began unfolding back in 1999 with this divisive novel. Strongly hailed by authors from Stephen Donaldson to J.V. Jones as an important, breakthrough work and found utterly baffling by others, Gardens of the Moon has acquired a bit of a reputation over the years as a hard book to get into.

I've always found this suggestion to be overstated, just as much on this fourth reread as on my first fifteen years ago. Gardens of the Moon is a busy, bustling and striking novel which has little interest in slowing down to providing worldbuilding infodumps. You cling on for dear life and follow the story through or you don't. Still, the benefit of fifteen additional years of books from both Steven Erikson and co-creator Ian Esslemont means there are now other, gentler introductions to this world and this story: you can also jump on board with Erikson's Deadhouse Gates or Esslemont's Night of Knives or Dancer's Lament, which all have somewhat easier opening sections.

Gardens of the Moon opens with a bang and doesn't stop for 700 pages. In that time it introduces a whole, vivid world dominated by a powerful empire, dozens of characters, a whole new (and rather vague, at this stage) magic system, a dozen races, multiple gods, a prophetic Tarot card game, undead Neanderthals, a race of elves who are also dragons and more nods to other authors (from Leiber to Donaldson to Cook) than it's possible to parse in one read. It's a mess, without reasonable exposition or grounding in the reality the characters find themselves in.

But it's also a glorious mess. Erikson's imagination here is bigger than a planet, his prose is erudite and far wittier than any first-time author has any right to be (this was Erikson's second-published novel but was written many years earlier), and through the confusion the chaotic charisma of characters like Whiskeyjack, Anomander Rake, Quick Ben, Tattersail, Ganoes Paran, Kalam, Fiddler, Rallick Nom and Caladan Brood is clear. Yes, Gardens of the Moon sometimes feels like starting watching a movie that's already been on for a film, but that can also be quite good fun.

Once you get through the opening, confusing section at Pale, the action moves to Darujhistan where nobles scheme, assassins plot and thieves fight a clandestine war on the rooftops and things become a lot clearer. From there on it's an easier ride to the big climactic showdown, which is epic, impressive and random (not helped by a deus ex machina resolution, although on rereads when you know what the hell's going on this is much less of a problem).

There are other niggling problems, mainly relating to "GotMisms", worldbuilding and character tics that Erikson put into this book which he changed his mind about in the nine years that passed until he wrote the second volume, Deadhouse Gates. In particular, if the key theme of the Malazan Book of the Fallen is compassion, that theme feels a bit absent in this book as Anomander Rake shows an uncharacteristic amoral ruthlessness (compared to later books) and no-one seems to know anything at all about the ancient races and history of the world whilst later on everyone seems a lot more clued up (one of the more relatable things about this novel is that the characters are often as confused about what's going on as the reader, which is less the case in later volumes of the series). Still, these continuity issues are minor and understandable given the protracted genesis of the series.

Gardens of the Moon (****) is by turns bewildering, confusing, rewarding, exciting and intriguing. It will bewilder a lot of people, but out of that bewilderment will come understanding. The Malazan Book of the Fallen is the most accomplished work of epic fantasy published (predominantly) in the 21st Century to date, and this remains the best place to start, setting the scene as it does for its two successors, which are simply two of the finest fantasy novels ever written. The novel is available now in the UK and USA.
 

BAYLOR

There Are Always new Things to Learn.
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Jun 29, 2014
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12,925
#5
No secret I'm a massive fan of the series, I never had issues with GOTM enjoyed the fast moving pace.
@biodroid I recommend reading the first three before deciding if it's for you.

Memories of Ice blew me away.
The battle scenes in his books are so intense that , when Im though reading them, im tired because it feels like ive been doing fight ing myself. That's how good those actions sequences in his books are . Erickson put's you in the action , he's that good a writer. :cool:
 

Bugg

A Lerxst in Wonderland
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Aug 7, 2011
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1,005
#6
I never had issues with GOTM enjoyed the fast moving pace.
Same here, I loved it from the start - from the very first line, in fact - with the added bonus that it reveals hidden depths when re-reading it after reading the rest of the series, almost like it's a different book.
 

Luiglin

by day Stuart Orford by night Dark Lord's scribe
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Mar 22, 2012
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#7
I read the first book on release and didn't bother with the ones that followed. The whole thing came over as a disjointed mess to the point where I couldn't be sure if it was a combined tale or a series of unrelated short stories lumped together.
 
Joined
Apr 9, 2016
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1,515
#8
I read the first book on release and didn't bother with the ones that followed. The whole thing came over as a disjointed mess to the point where I couldn't be sure if it was a combined tale or a series of unrelated short stories lumped together.
I think it originally started as a screenplay.

I keep meaning to try the second book in the series and see whether that grabs me.
 
Joined
Jan 1, 2018
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#10
The whole thing came over as a disjointed mess to the point where I couldn't be sure if it was a combined tale or a series of unrelated short stories lumped together.

The first book in this series is the only book in decades (maybe ever) I have started twice and didn't finish. I hate that there's a fantasy series out there that so well recognized and I haven't read it. I pretty much read 2 books a week and rarely have trouble getting into any book.
 

Werthead

Lemming of Discord
Joined
Jun 4, 2006
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1,971
#11
Worth noting that Book 2 starts on a completely different continent with a completely different cast of characters with a completely new storyline. It was written 10 years after Book 1 and is a much better, stronger book. You can read it independently of Book 1, and I often urge people to do so.
 

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