Jamie's Reviews > Gardens of the Moon

Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson
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Gardens of the Moon is the first in Steven Erikson's gargantuan and oddly named fantasy series, Malazan Book of the Fallen. What's odd about it is that it took me THREE tries to get through this first volume. The first two times I tried, I got one or two hundred pages in and just lost interest, mainly because I was confused and didn't know what was going on. But the third time I tried it just clicked and I enjoyed it. Figuring out why this is the case took some thought, and I believe it boils down to two basic and interconnected reasons.

First, Erikson has an extreme "show, don't tell" kind of style. The very first chapter dumps you head over heels into the middle of an epic storyline full of action, with hardly any exposition at all. There's no narrator saying "Okay, there's this nation called the Malazan Empire, and they've been engaging in a protracted military campaign against a group of allied Free Cities. We're going to enter the story as the Malazan forces prepare to attack one of these cities, which has formed an alliance with this one badass dude who controls a flying fortress. Now, let's talk about the structure of the Malazan military..."

No, none of that. Instead, after a brief prologue where you eavesdrop on a few characters, you get action action action and you're left to yourself to figure it all out by paying close attention and making your own inferences based on what's said and done. This is mainly what put me way off balance on my first two attempts at reading this tome.

The offsetting effects of show-don't-tell style are exacerbated by something else Erikson does: he eschews many of the typical fantasy staples that usually act as guideposts to new readers. There's a reason why not many books stray from the formula of a hapless youngster being apprenticed to an elder wizard or military veteran or adventurer or whatever who guides him through the world that has been opened up to both him and the reader. It allows the author to slyly provide exposition about the world by having the master explain things to the apprentice while the reader just sort of listens in. And going along with all that, other fantasy staples act as familiar sign posts and landmarks so that you don't get lost.

Not so much with Erikson. Sure, his books have wizards and dragons and dudes on horseback slinging swords around, but in general Erikson's world is different enough that you don't necessarily know what's going on, and his staunch adherence to the show-don't-tell method means you gotta figure things out on your own. What's a "warren" and what does it mean when a wizard "enters" one to perform his hocus pocus? That's not explained. Figure it out. Or don't. It's all on you, hapless reader.

But eventually I did figure enough of it out, and in time I began to see both Erikson's style and his kicking of conventions to the curb as good things. I enjoyed the story and the richness of the world that he was building. If I've got one complaint it's that at least in this book Erikson can't seem to help upping the ante with how powerful each character or threat gets. Okay, here's these really frightening and legendarily powerful Hound things and --oh, okay, this even tougher dude with a big black sword just killed three of them. Guess they weren't that tough. But this wizard is really powerful oh, no he just got stabbed in the neck by an assassin chick who's apparently even further to the right on the badassedness curve. Now here's a demon king fighting a dragon while a pissed off demigod is kicking over mountains like they were sandcastles RRRAAAWWWWOOOOEERRAAHH PEW! PEW! PEW!

After a point it borders on ridiculous, but fortunately there are a number of more mundane (and more interesting) characters to tether things down a bit. I look forward to seeing where he goes with it all in the subsequent books.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
April 14, 2008 – Finished Reading
August 1, 2008 – Shelved

Comments Showing 1-10 of 10 (10 new)

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message 1: by Lindsay (new) - added it

Lindsay I think your explanation for why it is hard to get into at first is very insightful. And, I must say, I wholeheartedly agree with the reasoning your provide. That said, thanks for posting such a helpful review. I know almost certainly now that in this point in time, this book is not for me. Maybe at a later date.

Paul Oh my god... your review so nailed this! My review was as follows...

I was very hot and cold on this book. It took me 3 attempts before I made it to the end. I have decided that I did not like the story very much. There really isn't much of it to be honest. I did like quite a few of the characters though. If he can combine these characters with an equally interesting story he will have a hit with me. Since I have been recommended this series from quite a few friends I am going to give the next book a shot.

I am going to amend my review and tell people to check yours out... my question to you is did you read the next in the series? It is in my queue but if you have already done that heavy lifting I would be interested to know your opinion... I suppose I can just go check your books read list ;)

message 3: by Sherryl (last edited Mar 03, 2011 02:32AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sherryl You're thoughts on how extreme Erikson take the "show not tell" rule is spot on. But his writing style does improve greatly on his second book Deadhouse Gates. Despite it's flaws, I did enjoy the book a lot.

message 4: by Tim (new) - rated it 3 stars

Tim Hicks I was also very bothered by the constant power-trumping, starting with the demon that can destroy cities but was taken out effortlessly by the very next character to come on stage. By book ten we'll be blowing up the universe and recreating it. Not that I'll be reading it.

Pavel Surý This review is plain brilliant. I love your paragraph about exaggerating, it's something I have always been noticing without actively wondering about it, but now it's just impossible to unsee.

message 6: by Sarah (new) - added it

Sarah Lol love the review! Especially the part talking of what the book doesn't do..."ok we're going to open with..." I've tried reading it twice as well. Maybe the third time will be a charm.

Troy I don't feel so bad now. I tried and put it down 2x but I guess I should try for a 3rd. Thx

Tian Gao I rather thought that he had a tell-don't-show policy, at least regarding the characters' interior lives.

Robert Smith Your 6th paragraph has a few spoilers. You might want to mark it as such.

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