Book review of Steven Erikson’s Gardens of the Moon
I picked up Gardens of the Moon because of the buzz and success of Steven Erikson’s more recent novels in the Malazan Book of the Fallen series. His ninth novel in the ten book series, Dust of Dreams, is the first to chart on the New York Times bestseller list. Erikson’s work is much more popular across the pond with UK audiences, where he lived while writing the series. My expectations coming into this novel were fairly high: it has been compared to George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. After consuming the first novel in the series, I can say that it definitely draws comparison with Martin’s series in scope, but unfortunately that is also its downfall.
A novel that is truly breathtaking in its ambition is tragically underscored by a simple issue of mechanics. Reading Gardens of the Moon is a bit like driving a car without brakes. At points you feel as if you’re hurling through chunks of story and trying to slow down to get to know the characters, but when you hit the brakes nothing happens, and you eventually drive right by or in some cases plow over characters you wish you had more time to spend with. The true flaw of Gardens of the Moon is its lack of characterization. Characters are frequently thrown at the reader, with absolutely no introduction, and we’re expected to understand the situation in which they’re participating and even identify with them. Add to this the sheer quantity of characters in Gardens of the Moon and even main ones quickly become flat, unidentifiable, and bland. On the upside, I’m glad I now have a better basis for comparison, and can appreciate novels in which I had previously taken for granted quality characterization.
Character flaws aside, Gardens of the Moon delivers some stunning descriptive passages. Its not clear who is participating, or why the reader should care for them, but Steven Erikson can definitely drive those characters in a passionate and engaging fashion. I desired deeply to identify with the characters and situations unveiling before me in the vast world that Erikson paints, because some of the scenes and events taking place in Gardens of the Moon are very entertaining. Erikson definitely has a gift with description.
Another area where Gardens of the Moon is definitely not lacking is the author’s obvious preparation and world-building skills. This is a highly layered, multi-faceted world where the characters are neither “good” nor “evil”, but real people. You don’t know who they are, what they’re doing, or why you should care, but the time spent developing the world and the hierarchy of characters is evident.
The magic system in Gardens of the Moon is extremely unimpressive. After reading Mistborn, its going to take a lot to impress me. I think the magic system suffers from the same non-explanation syndrome as the characters. What I liked about the magic system in Mistborn was that I understood every inner working of the system, it was all explained to the reader, and above all it was believable. When magic just “works because its magic”, I quickly lose interest.
Mechanical issues aside, I may be back for future novels in this series. I believe that mechanical issues are there to be fixed, and fixing them is something that comes with practice. The subsequent novels in the Malazan Book of the Fallen series are rumored to increase in quality with each edition. I just wish I didn’t have to sludge through almost 700 pages of what seems to be background material in Gardens of the Moon to get there.
You can purchase Gardens of the Moon over at Amazon.com.
I felt the same way when I first read Gardens of the Moon. I was like, wait, what’s going on?? Who are these people? I only continued when I found out I was SUPPOSED to be lost and not know everything’s that’s happening. The meaning of the title doesn’t become evident until later books, I heard. It’s certainly a risk to write books like this, just throwing the reader into the action without explanation, but I think it’s definitely deliberate. To be more challenging, more immersive? Maybe, I don’t know. But it’s certainly different. The scope, planning, and just pure ambition of his Malazan novels, I think, are enough to make me trust that Erikson knows what he’s doing and won’t let readers down.
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