Kelly's Reviews > Gardens of the Moon

Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson
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May 23, 11

bookshelves: fantasy-and-scifi, fiction, 20th-century-postwar-to-late
Read in May, 2011

If only I hadn’t put on that little black dress. Perhaps that would’ve saved this one for me. I mean, not only did I put on the little black dress, the one cutjusttothere. I did the hair. I put on the heels too. Everyone who has that little black dress or is dating someone who does knows what heels I mean. You guys have been in that mood where you really just want to go out- paint the town red like you’re Sinatra and are just, as they used to say of kings, in the mood to be pleased, right? Whoever your date is that evening will probably have to make very little effort for you to have a good time, and indeed you’re just fine with being the entertainment. I would like to state here and now that I showed up for my date with Steve Erikson with the hair and the dress and the heels in this mood. And it turns out he’s that guy. The one who will manage to irritate you no matter how many times you try to grin and change the subject, no matter how many broad hints you might help him out with. As with most dates you’ve gathered information on solely from the internet and well-meaning friends, he turns up late, it turns out he has lied about his height, is awkwardly insistent on telling you excruciatingly uninteresting stories the entire night while not asking you a single question about yourself, and then is confused when you do not want to see him again.

Seriously, I PUT ON HEELS FOR THIS, ERIKSON. (Somehow that’s always the most insulting part, isn’t it?)

Everyone told me you were great! This was supposed to be my happy fun vacation time with a happy fun book that I could geek out with my friends about and finally have something to talk about with them that did not involve Foucauldian analysis, Marxist delusions, academic drama or a thesis of any kind! But nooooo. Instead someone’s evil twin shows up and now I have to awkwardly tell all these people I like that I do not like their favorite book.

It’s just that this isn’t a good book! And not even that it's not “good” in some literary way. It is clearly not “good” in that way, and it isn’t meant to be. I don’t hold it to that standard. It does seem to me to be trying to be good in a more old fashioned way more typical for fantasy- it just wants to tell a rollicking good story. But I mean… it is a bad story. I like stories. That’s why I read fantasy, in large part- I like that feeling of the archetypal coming to life in an interesting way that shows the inner workings of the recurring characters that I see everywhere in my reading. I like that sensation of a campfire at night and a bard repeating the history of a people, with flickering flames and drama and shadows and pronouncements that you can only take seriously in that setting and which you’d feel obliged to laugh at in the morning. This is a bad story. It’s cool that Erikson doesn’t need to spend a hundred pages explaining every detail of his world to us (and given how complicated it is, thank GOD for that), but the reader shouldn’t have to stop reading many times in order to try to straighten out what’s going on, who are these random people that keep showing up, how does this new demon or magic fit into anything, and most importantly, all important, why on earth should I care?

Erikson definitely did not manage to make me care. It’s largely a function of the fact that there is such a huge cast of characters, and he spends so little time developing any of their personalities. When there is some sort of “inner reflection” by a couple of them, or “feelings”, it seems shunted in there to give his epic quest one of the elements an epic is supposed to have- it feels like he’s impatient with people being, you know, people, and would rather get back to telling me about this super cool magic battle with a demon he just invented that just popped out of nowhere. It was almost like people were necessary vehicles for him to create his fantasy world, but that cool names, and “Houses” and ranks (Son of Darkness, Knight of Darkness, Queen of Light) were the real point of the whole thing. People are there for him to be able to have fights. Honestly? It seemed like it was kind of constructed like an RPG game a lot of the time. Here is an action sequence. After this, your hero may explore this world and pick up coins and treasure to increase his value, there is an epic quest, but you can choose to get sidetracked by a bunch of others that involve various gods and spirits. Then in between each quest there’s that part where the game stops to give you an expository scene that advances the plot and you just watch, and then you take control back and go on to the next action sequence. Eventually you come back to the big quest and kill off the Big Bad and YAY YOU WIN! I can certainly see the appeal of this construction as a game, but I think as a book it doesn’t work so well, at least, not for me.

It certainly didn’t help that in addition to the off putting construction and the poor character development, the dialogue was absolutely laughable (incredibly stereotypically exactly what satirists make bad fantasy writing sound like), the plot was ridiculous, he pulled a new thing out of his ass every five pages because… well.. because... His world building was incomplete, too. It felt like you could never trust it because he could just change it on you a minute later because he felt like it. He doesn’t hold himself to any rules. It’s like when you’re trying to make up an excuse on the fly for why you were late for something: “I forgot my keys, and then I got caught in a traffic jam, and then I passed that and there was some truck that had dumped bunnies on the roadway and I had to help save the poor things, and then I was almost here when all of a sudden Elvis appeared from the dead, riding an elephant and… well that’s why I’m late and its totally okay!” There’s no suspense because the main characters are sure to be resurrected (the alternate dimension rebirth had me laughing so hard I was crying), and the bad ones are either off screen, introduced late, or dumb. There’s some attempt at shades of grey with one character (the Adjunct) but he tells me what the point is, straight out, about five times, just to be sure that I get it, and its not that interesting a point anyway so it kind of ruins it. I liked the climactic end battle, but I swear to you even while that battle was going on, he was introducing new magic and people and not just going with the hundreds he already had after 600 pages of setting things up. If an author feels the need to do that instead of relying on the payoff from the 600 pages he already has… not good news. Not good news at all.

I don’t know, I almost kind of feel bad saying all this. It feels like I’m making fun of someone who’s just so excited to tell me about all this cool stuff he thought of that he forgot to put it in a coherent order. It doesn’t mean that the individual ideas he thinks of can’t be cool, he just hasn’t figured out the other stuff he needs to make it interesting as well as cool. But still… lest we forget. HEELS, ERIKSON. HEELS.

Yeah, still not over that. Next date, if there is a next date (I’m sensing some peer pressure coming my way from my crafty friends), I’m showing up in sweats, half tired and in the mood to watch reality TV. Something tells me things might go better that way.
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Reading Progress

05/18/2011 page 120
16.0% "I don't know you guys. The dialogue is pretty terrible, the magic is confusing, meldramatic and lame, and I roll my eyes every time he names something. I'm told it gets better. It had better." 6 comments
05/19/2011 page 215
29.0% "Just starting Part II. The plot of this one is more my style, but he's really got to stop introducing new gods and magics every two seconds. Come on, man. Write a fucking story."
05/22/2011 page 415
56.0% "There are now assassins falling from the sky. That's not like.. something I made up as a metaphor to show how bad this is.. there are literally assassins falling from the sky. The fuck, Erikson. Come on." 8 comments
05/22/2011 page 500
68.0% "Oh hey you guys, you guys! I think there's a climax coming. I'm not sure- but maybe if Erikson has his characters speak more portentously for another hundred pages about "power drawing power" I'll get it!" 1 comment

Comments (showing 1-50 of 112) (112 new)


Hirondelle what, superpowerful charactes with weird names, a ominous sense of doom and lots of battle-fight scenes not good enough for you? snob!

(just kidding, of course)


message 2: by Tony (new)

Tony Who cares what the book was. The heels were not wasted. What a remarkable review!


Kelly The heels were not wasted.

Excellent! Then it was all worth it. Thanks. :)


message 4: by DoctorM (new)

DoctorM heels and tiny black dresses are never wasted.


message 5: by Lori (Hellian) (last edited May 23, 2011 07:27PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lori (Hellian) Haha I disagree with you on everything you said, but great review! Unfortunately, I think your biggest mistake was in putting on the little black dress outfit. And thinking you were going to have fun, going dancing. And everything would be down to earth and happy.

You should have picked the outfit that you wouldn't get upset about being dragged through the mud, many times, getting stained (blood and gore), a hat that hides your facial expressions of utter confusion, sunglasses to protect you from the violence and betrayals. And perhaps a notebook to try to keep track, but forgotten in your pocket since everything was so murky because you were dropped in a world that has a history, gods, and system of hundreds of thousands of years old. A walking stick would have been helpful to keep up. Then you would have been ready for the last third when after allowing yourself to be swept in the flood you surface and things become SOMEWHAT clearer.

I know you won't bother, but it gets much better.

*waves flag for Erickson*


message 6: by Kelly (last edited May 23, 2011 07:44PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Kelly ....Then you would have been ready for the last third when after allowing yourself to be swept in the flood you surface and things become SOMEWHAT clearer.

The sunglasses and hat thing was hilarious. :) But.. I mean ultimately it wasn't that I didn't understand what was going on (though I certainly didn't get parts of it for awhile). What ultimately mattered was that he didn't give me a reason to care about what I eventually (mostly) understood. I need people. I got spells.

I know you won't bother, but it gets much better.

I keep being told this by friends who read the series. I've heard the rest is written differently. It's not looking good for date #2 anytime soon, and I probably won't be coming back to the series. However, its possible I could eventually succumb to peer pressure if only for my inability to resist the possibility of eventually winning an argument. I know, it's an attractive trait, isn't it? ;)


message 7: by Jon (new) - added it

Jon Excellent review, Kelly, and spot on. Bravo!


message 8: by Ron (last edited May 24, 2011 07:20AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ron I not only agree with your review, but suspect I was being to kind in mine. I was really disappointed; you expressed it well.

That there are now ten books in this series tends to support your hypothesis.


message 9: by Kelly (last edited May 24, 2011 07:55AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Kelly Thanks Ron and Jon. :)

I not only agree with your review, but suspect I was being to kind in mine.

Hey, I understand that. I usually like to give authors the benefit of the doubt when I can. It gets harder after 600 pages of the same nonsense, though. :)

Fantasy is definitely the standout genre of books-that-are-far-longer-than-they-need-to-be, and this series seems like a good exhibit A of reasons why fantasy writers need to get out of this preconception that they must write thousands of pages in order to be the next Tolkien.


Lori (Hellian) I'm with you - if I don't care about the characters, I'm not interested. At all. I'm trying to remember how I felt about the characters after reading #1, but it's hard after all 10 books, and several years. I think I was more hooked by the world than anything else. And that there were just so many characters that most are given short shift. But all I can say, is that I did end up caring deeply about many. To the point of devastation when something bad happened. They became very real for me, and I loved several of them. I do agree that the depth is missing in the first book.

But hey, if this is not for you, well life is too short to read anything that doesn't grab you! But I definitely did not feel that Erickson was writing volumes to emulate Tolkien.


Kelly I'm with you - if I don't care about the characters, I'm not interested. At all. I'm trying to remember how I felt about the characters after reading #1, but it's hard after all 10 books, and several years.

Yeah I was just talking with someone who is on book eight right now, who encouraged me to read these. He says he's not sure he even disagrees with me about the quality of the writing or plotting, but he's so invested in the characters now that he can't stop reading it. I didn't get that after book one, but I can see how after book 8 you'd need some closure. :)

It was probably unfair of me to imply that I thought that he was trying to be Tolkein. I certainly don't know his motivations. I would just say that there are certain expectations and ideas of what a fantasy book should be that most authors bring to the genre- and it being thousands of pages is one of them. I don't necessarily think it's a bad thing (I've read all the Martin books twice.), but nor do I think it should be taken for granted that one needs to create a world that needs all those pages either.


message 12: by Lori (Hellian) (last edited May 24, 2011 11:29AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lori (Hellian) I knew you didn't mean Tolkien himself, I understood what you meant - the notion of falling victim to the never-ending series of books that could easily be whittled down to a trilogy, or even the fact that everything must be a series and not a single book.

But I honestly felt that Erickson had quite a story to tell, a philosophy even, and I never felt anything was superfluous. As I said before, I don't remember 1 all that well, but I thought his actual writing was terrific and evocative. Maybe it got better after 1? I agree that 1 is problematic, but again, it's because he's dropping us in the middle of something, even a battle, where we have no idea of the history or the characters. But because I was so engrossed in trying to figure things, people, out, I was eager to continue. And got completely hooked. Then again, I love Neal Stephenson, who can ramble on in seemingly non-important tangents (Quicksilver and the 2 subsequent), but never lose interest.

As always, we all have different tastes! And I know for me, timing is crucial. For this, I was overseas, had finished my other book and only had Gardens. I might have tossed it otherwise for some of the reasons you mention, but kept on because I had nothing else. I ultimately had a connection with it, enough so that I dove right away into Bk. 2. But I certainly wouldn't have bothered continuing if I hadn't felt anything.


Kelly As always, we all have different tastes! And I know for me, timing is crucial. For this, I was in overseas, had finished my other book and only had Gardens. I might have tossed it otherwise for some of the reasons you mention, but kept on because I had nothing else.

Ah! I definitely understand then. Timing does have so much to do with it, I totally agree. I was just talking with Meredith about how reading something with an analytical mindset because you've been immersed in other things means you're not giving other types of books their fair shot, or reading too much of the same genre at once does the same thing. I was abroad in Paris and I only had Portrait of a Lady left. I never liked Henry James before I started reading a book about a young American girl abroad while I was a young American girl abroad.

Erickson's not for me, but at least we'll still have our shared love of Kay. :)


Lori (Hellian) I think we share a love for quite a lot of other things. :)


Kelly Well, yes. That's just the first one I thought of. It does stand out!


Lori (Hellian) Absolutely! Cause he's that good.


message 17: by mark (new) - rated it 3 stars

mark monday fantastic review.


Kelly Thanks!


message 19: by Nelly (new) - added it

Nelly Was thinking of reading this but after reading your review...I think not! Great review.


Kelly Nelly wrote: "Was thinking of reading this but after reading your review...I think not! Great review."

I mean, I feel a little bad turning you away from this, because a bunch of people completely love this book, and I have heard that the rest of the series is better. But yeah, if you're not so into books about Cool Magic rather than people, maybe give this one a pass.


Lori (Hellian) Noooooo! This series is absolutely all about the people, that's the whole point!

A truly remarkable obsession!

But Kelly we can still be friends. :)


Kelly Glad to hear it. :) I didn't get the impression that the people were what Erikson cared about at all, but you read the whole thing so perhaps it is different in the other books! You would know, I'm sure! :)


message 23: by Lee (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lee Lori told me to come here and stare at the person who doesn't like Malazan.

::staring::


message 24: by Kelly (last edited Aug 25, 2011 06:52AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Kelly Um, you do that then. I will just carry on and decide not to find that creepy/odd in any way Since Lori told you to and all, I guess. :)

Sorry, just wasn't my thing! Perhaps one day I will revisit it.


Derek (Guilty of thoughtcrime) I can't quite understand how so many people think Erikson is the greatest thing since, ever, and seemingly an equal number find this book at least utterly boring.

However, the little black dress wasn't wasted on me! Thanks for the amazing review - but I'm still going to try to read the book :-)


Kelly Well, good luck with that then! Hope you enjoy it more than I did.

I think the difference comes down to wanting different things out of stories. Which is okay. This just didn't happen to give me what I wanted.


message 27: by Todd (new) - rated it 1 star

Todd I loved this review as I felt exactly the same way. I mean, how couldn't one after so many friend recommendations and 5 star ratings? I kept telling myself it would get better, but it never did. Yeah, I don't think I'll be waiting around for another 10 books for it to maybe at some point eventually get better.


Kelly Yeah, I've never understood why I should be willing to read thousands of pages of "warm up" until something gets good. If I'm reading that much, something hooked me early, even if things go downhill.


Lori (Hellian) I was hooked right away. Completely and utterly. If I don't get hooked, I toss! As you say, life is much too short.

But I am so hooked I am rereading the entire series AGAIN! The only books I've reread are War and Peace, Crime and Punishment, and Anna Karenina!


Kelly Tolstoy is very rewarding to re-read, I agree! I just finished my first re-read of AK this summer. The psychological nature of the text means that we're going to process it so differently at different times, I think!

I can't personally class this series with that, but as long as you feel still strongly about a text, then I think books are always just as rewarding to re-read no matter what they are.


Lori (Hellian) Yes I got a completely different spin rereading the above 3 as a mature adult. Our life experiences certainly effect the reading experience. One was my take on Natasha at the end - first time I was disgusted and thought UGH what a waste! Now I think removing oneself from society and being in the moment raising a family can be even more fulfilling, the simple things in life are rewarding - you have time afterwards to rejoin the larger world. I reread shortly after having enough of the "professional" world and deciding I was ready for something else.


Kelly Reading W&P after a big life change makes total sense. All the different choices you could make are basically in there. There are enough pages. :) Tolstoy is so great!


Derek (Guilty of thoughtcrime) Kelly wrote: "Well, good luck with that then! Hope you enjoy it more than I did."

I did, in fact, manage to read this only a couple of weeks after I commented above, but forgot all about this thread until today's updates. As you can see, I loved it. otoh, you can't make me reread War & Peace (OK, you can't make me read it for a first time, either).

Still, I haven't managed to find time to slot book #3 into my reading list.


message 34: by Helen (new) - added it

Helen You are spot-on about RPG - Malazan books are based on GURPS Erikson and Esslemont created long ago. And boy, does it show.


Kelly That is certainly unsurprising information. And there are lots of modes of storytelling and each can work well in translation (so to speak) but I don't think this one underwent enough of a transition, either in emphasis or tone.


message 36: by Nick (new)

Nick The first book is a little rough around the edges, but it still superseeds most of the other books in this genre, GRRMs books included. I'm at book six now, and I will reread the whole series once I've finished it, but it's allready apparent that there is nothing else out there as powerful in scope, depth, or vision. Completely mind-blowing. I hate to say this, but my first reaction to some of the negative comments I've seen, is that the they sipmply don't grasp the vastness of Eriksons vision. And as a fantasy reader since many years, about ready to give up on the genre with all it's stereotypes, it is a relief to not have to go through the 'young boy runs of with old warrior/wizard and meets a girl' scenario. Erikson breaks all the rules, gives nothing away for free, and the reader is brought right into the action. I wish there were six stars...


message 37: by Helen (last edited Sep 10, 2013 02:33AM) (new) - added it

Helen Nick wrote: " there is nothing else out there as powerful in scope, depth, or vision. "

"I'm at book six now, and I will reread the whole series once I've finished it, but it's allready apparent that there is nothing else out there as powerful in scope, depth, or vision. "
I'm sorry, but I don't see how Erikson's scope and vision are any greater than those of Ed Greenwood or Margaret Weis. Or any other moderately successful RPG world builder.

And sadly, vision and scope do not make one a good writer. (They help, but are not enough.)

"it is a relief to not have to go through the 'young boy runs of with old warrior/wizard and meets a girl' scenario"
That's true, but there are more than enough fantasy books before and after Shannara and Wheel of Time that don't follow this formula. I'm saddened this is the first time you ran into a book like that, but look around - you'll find much better.

"Erikson breaks all the rules"
What rules? Rules in fantasy? Doesn't that defeat the point?
If you mean "formula", standard "Hero's Quest" has been considered antiquated for a while. That's where books like Chronicles of Black Company, Thomas Covenant and "inferior" ASOIAF come from. And all of them prove that just breaking away from the formula still doesn't make a great book. It's merely a step in a good direction.

Truth be told, is "formula" necessarily a bad thing? Is there really no way a story about a boy going to find his destiny could offer something new? I'd like to disagree. I just wish writers would provide me with a good example to support this already.


Anirudh "most importantly, all important, why on earth should I care?"

Classic :) Even I felt the same.
Too many confusing aspects to make it a good read. Hated the magic system in this. Reminded me of magic in The Black company. All show and no sense.


Kelly I went with all names and no sense, but either way. The thing I really couldn't get over was the fact that this was just barely a functioning story- the RPG elements and world building were just overwhelming to the narrative. Not in a good way.

And I missed the last couple comments, but I just wanted to say ditto Helen to her response. I don't have anything to add except that I would also recommend Susanna Clarke as an example of a powerful worldbuilder whose skills far surpass Erikson's and who kept her wonderful, wonderful story going despite and because of it. I would also recommend the Long Price Quartet, in that vein. And.. well, lots of others.


Katie I'm almost finished Bonehunters (book 6), but I barely got through the first paragraph of this review.


message 41: by David (last edited Nov 06, 2013 05:37PM) (new)

David Katie wrote: "I'm almost finished Bonehunters (book 6), but I barely got through the first paragraph of this review."

Could you actually put effort into an argument as to why you think this reviewer is wrong. Rather than just being completely dismissive. It doesn't make you look good at all.


Kelly In fact the reason I had not responded was because I felt no need to due to what David suggests. What should I say? "Sweet burn, bro!" "Thanks for your unsupported opinion, you completely unnecessarily rude troll?" Why would I waste my time with that? Been there. Done that. Over it.

Enjoy the books. God bless. Even randomly rude trolls need authors to love, I suppose.


message 43: by David (last edited Nov 07, 2013 10:24AM) (new)

David I was responding to Katie. My comment has nothing to do with you nor your review. This is just a misunderstanding.


Kelly I understood that. I didn't mean to imply that your comment was negative.


message 45: by David (last edited Nov 08, 2013 05:46AM) (new)

David No, I thought that you that thought I was a troll. I didn't read your post carefully enough. I just saw my name and troll. My bad.


Kelly No worries.


Atrophis I wouldn't write the series off until you have tried Deadhouse Gates. People aren't lying when they say it is much better written (obvious from the first page). It's more coherant, the pacing is much better, characters are more fleshed out and its all just a lot more interesting overall. Now it is a big ask to put in the time on something you still probably won't like but then again you wouldn't be the first person to write off the series initially but then come to appreciate it.


message 48: by David (new)

David Atrophis wrote: "I wouldn't write the series off until you have tried Deadhouse Gates. People aren't lying when they say it is much better written (obvious from the first page). It's more coherant, the pacing is mu..."

I think it's completely fair to write this series off by just reading Gardens of the Moon. It's not unreasonable to expect something to be good from page one. You can't blame people for not wanting to continoue after it.


Kelly Yeah, I've heard that a lot with this series. To be honest, I can't see putting any more time in on this series when I have so many other things I want to read. I don't see why I should commit myself to another several hundred pages for the hope that something will get better. I've heard this argument with a lot of fantasy series in general. I think that books have to stand on their own. The writing really was not at all good on that first book, so I don't see why that's not the end of the discussion (at least for me- someone else who liked it, I get that).

That said, my husband loves this series and read it compulsively over the course of a few months. If he ever does a re-read, I could see that being about the only reason I might try it again.


Lori (Hellian) Kelly, did you read the whole book? Just curious.

It's silly to argue whether a book is good or not - people are different and we have to allow for subjectivity! I'm almost done with a reread, and I hardly ever reread anything so obviously I'm in the obsessed, this is the greatest ever camp. But I agree GotM doesn't start coming together until the midway point.


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