Steven Erikson’s ‘Gardens of the Moon’
This week I dove headfirst into a fantasy book quite unlike any I’ve ever read: Steven Erikson’s Gardens of the Moon. The story follows a large cast of characters, primarily focusing on the struggles of a hardened war veteran, Whiskeyjack, and a lone mage, Tattersail. Operating as arms of a vast empire, these two warriors will lead respective groups of soldiers on a campaign where survival is not the goal. Immensely distrustful of others, they will have to work together to escape the clutches of a system they helped create, all while being caught up in a divine struggle.
Unlike most fantasy novels, Gardens of the Moon is not a vibrant book. Rarely are there locations bursting with colorful images. This book is, first and foremost, a war novel, and the scenes reflect such. Erikson takes a much more mature approach to the subject, and accurately portrays the horrors of war, which are compounded by the fantastical means by which the battles are waged. Symbolism is abound throughout the entire novel, especially in reference to the various gods. To be honest, I haven’t had a book make me think this deeply in years. Erikson manages to achieve a whole new level of immersion with his prose, as there were multiple times that even intricate, strange contraptions or locations were vividly clear in my mind.
Still, Erikson’s precision in prose and unbelievably woven story comes with a price: the novel, while not incredibly long, is slow to start. It may take some readers the first half of the book to really come to appreciate some characters. Since this is the first part of the Malazan Book of the Fallen series, it is a little more understandable. Regardless, some readers may want to look elsewhere if the goal is a quick pulse-pounding adventure. Written entirely in-lore, the poems and history fragments punctuating each chapter only serve to drive home the sheer depth of this novel even more. Gardens of the Moon stands as one of my best impulse buys ever, and I highly recommend it to anybody who is not averse to the fantasy genre: there is more to take away from this book than just about any I’ve read in fiction.