Title: Gardens of the Moon.
Series: Malazan Book of the Fallen #1.
Writer(s): Steven Erikson.
Publisher: Tor Books.
Release Date: May 12th, 2009 (first published April 1999).
My Overall Rating: ★★★★☆.
Lives and faiths intertwine, destiny prevails, fortune strikes. There is so much left to intangible forces that is taken for granted and so little that can be seized on a whim by the most common of mortals. What if nothing is ever actually arbitrary? What if everything was simply dictated by unknown powers? Leave it to author Steven Erikson—a pseudonym for Steve Rune Lundin—to illustrate this mischievous premise within his epic ten-volume high fantasy series known as the Malazan Book of the Fallen. Unguided and mistreated, readers are dared to embark on a riotous quest counted through a non-linear narrative that rewards the persevering lot who lust after a challenge like none other, especially those conceived within a spectacular overarching storytelling vision and a breath-taking cinematic scope.
What is Gardens of the Moon about? The Malazan Empire craves to rule the continent of Genabackis. With Empress Laseen at the throne and the Claw—a covert organization composed of deadly assassins—by her side, they set their eyes on the most resource-rich Free City, Darujhistan, to further establish their dominion. Although the powerful Anomander Rake and his Tiste Andii remain unpredictable obstacles in their pursuit of absolute power, other players peeking through the threads of manipulation seem to have an invested interest in this war that could prove devastating if not dealt with quickly. As a bewildering power struggle simmers in the horizon, squadrons, thieves, politicians, High Mages, and Elder Races fight to see another day while Gods surreptitiously play their cards behind the scenes.
The cast is irrevocably extensive. Weaving together multiple points of view without warning, the story teleports from one set of characters to another as it surges forward in its exposition of a multi-layered universe scarred by its countless godly figures, complex historical background, and terrifying wars for territory and power. Flexing his indisputable creativity muscles, author Steven Erikson also presents one of the most exhilarating ability of masterful puppeteering in literature as he beautifully pulls the strings at will to tie his characters together in an intricate web of deceit and betrayal. Although they are numerous and endowed with elaborate motivations, they all remain relevant and consequential in their own individual way within the epic scheme at play.
The world is likewise meticulously complex beyond a shadow of a doubt. Left to decipher the intricacies of the magic system—e.g. the myriad of Warrens used to beam one’s self from regions to regions—while surviving the suffocating and bleak beauty of the world conceived by Steven Erikson and Ian Cameron Esslemont, the reader scours the lands of Genabackis, praying that vice and vertu can be distinguished amidst the chaotic and callous plotting of powerful figures and enigmatic characters hiding their true motives behind empty words and deceiving actions. As the story progresses, masks are pulled off and divine beings emerge from the shadows unveiling their machinations as pawns suffer from their pleasantries and further substantiate the illusory possession of free will. While the somewhat muddled execution is notable at first, the tale remains addictive and enthralling, promising a rewarding journey brimming with questions on life and death.
Gardens of the Moon is a visionary tour de force in epic fantasy literature heaving readers into a grim and relentless world where creatures, sorcerers, and gods are playing three-dimensional chess.