Thu
Sep 15 2011 11:27am
Firsts in Fantasy: Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson

So, you waited a few years, finished A Dance with Dragons in three days, and now you’re kicking yourself for rushing through it even as you’re jonesing for something else to get you through the next several years until book seven. How about ten books, plus a handful of novellas, plus a promised new prequel trilogy: think that might tide you over? The series is the Malazan Book of the Fallen, by Steven Erikson, and here are a few reasons why you should pick up book one — Gardens of the Moon.

 

  1. The series starts with Gardens of the Moon and ended with The Crippled God this year. Yes, I said, “ended.”
  2. It opens in the middle of the story. You know who else opened his epic in medias res? Homer. You know how long people have been retelling that story? See my point?
  3. There are gods. See above.
  4. It has undead. But not “oh no, some brooding sparkly guy bit me so now I can’t die” undead. No, they made themselves undead on purpose so they could keep fighting an endless war and ensure the utter extinction of their enemy, even if it took thousands of years. Way cooler.
  5. A story that sweeps across years, continents, and both the mortal and immortal planes involving an empire that has conquered numerous peoples but is now struggling to hold itself together. Gardens focuses on the attempt by an elite Malazan army unit — the Bridgeburners — to take a single city.
  6. Larger than life characters, including Anomander Rake — the thousands-year-old, shape-shifting, soul-sucking-sword-carrying leader of the non-human Tiste Andii whose home is a flying mountain.
  7. Characters who are just the size of life. The best characters are not the god-like ones, but the mortals who have to muck around in the day to day without the benefit of immortality. Nobody does the common grunt like Erikson, save perhaps Glen Cook. And nobody has the common grunt tick off the gods quite so much either: “Don’t mess with mortals” is one of the taglines. No “Great Men” version of history here.
  8. Grey is the new black. Good people do bad things. Bad people do good things. Sometimes what/who we thought was good turns out to be bad and vice versa. Or even vice vice versa.
  9. A world in flux. Too many fantasies present a static world or a storyline whose goal is a return to the status quo — the return of the king, say. Here, the entire world of Malaz feels like it’s constantly on the cusp of transformation. The empire is tottering, past loyalties are being questioned, old gods are waking up, new gods/ascendants are entering the stage, alliances are broken and formed, enemies and allies exchange places, “extinct” races re-emerge, immortals die, strange new creatures are birthed. Nothing is set in stone, not even death.
  10. Characters that are actually complex, not the faux complexity that pretends to opaqueness but is eventually, comfortingly explained. True complexity encompasses contradiction and confusion. Like real people, Erikson’s characters change their minds, their personalities, have murky motivations or motivations that remain stubbornly unclear or unrevealed. Most of us, if we were honest, would be hard-pressed to say we truly “know” anyone, or more than a tiny handful of people. Why then should we expect to “fully understand” characters?
  11. A pervading sense of time. Events from days, months, years, centuries, and thousands of years ago have repercussions that ripple through the present action. Myths, stories, and histories are consequential, whether they turn out to be true or wholly false. Some of those thought long dead rise again. Others who stay dead haunt those who knew them for years. Civilizations, cultures, races, gods, religions, and of course, empires rise and fall leaving behind stories, shards of pottery, strange artifacts, flying mountains, rivers of ice. And Erikson examines what happens when that sense of time is weakened by near or total immortality or by the curse of forgetfulness.
  12. Big ideas: The influence of story and myth. What it means to be human. The benefits of civilization and whether they outweigh the negatives. How we treat each other and the world around us. Enslavement in all its forms, literal and metaphorical. The impact of individual choice in an indifferent natural universe or within an indifferent or even inimical human one. The power of compassion and empathy. The horror of their absence. Environmentalism. Imperialism. Inequality. Means versus ends. Native culture. The power of religion (or belief in general). How to deal with the recognition that we live in a world where everything is filtered through a limited point of view.
  13. Technically stimulating or risky: Multiple limited points of view. Non-linear structures. Braided narratives. Unreliable narrators. Wide diversity of voices. Subversion of tropes. Use of simile, metaphor, poetry, echoes of imagery and language, epigraphs, etc. An incredible layering of links and foreshadowings. More than nearly any fantasy work I know, it rewards rereading. It nearly, in fact, demands it.
  14. Humor (admittedly more in later books than GoTM) in various forms: slapstick, surrealistic, wry, situational, ironic, buddy comedy, puns....

Gardens of the Moon is not without its flaws; but it is a captivating, stimulating read that defies the reader’s preconceptions of fantasy. It challenges as well their tolerance for ambiguity, confusion, complexity, unanswered questions, dislocation, uncertainty, and fluidity. In other words, it challenges their ideas of fantasy by confronting them with reality. It also tells a damn good story about characters we come to care a lot about. You should pick it up and start reading. But I’d recommend you have books 2-10 handy; you’re gonna want them when you’re done.


Bill Capossere writes short stories and essays, plays ultimate frisbee, teaches as an adjunct English instructor at several local colleges, and writes SF/F reviews for fantasyliterature.com.

This article is part of Barnes & Noble Bookseller’s Picks: ‹ previous | index | next ›
49 comments
Steven Halter
1. stevenhalter
Good list of reasons Bill. For anyone who is hestitating in picking up Gardens because they have heard it is too complex, then I would recommend looking in the reread here on tor.com also. The chapter annotations and reader comments can really help out a first time readers confusion (I've been told that by first time readers.)
djk1978
2. djk1978
And Bill hasn't even mentioned the books by Ian C Esslemont, set in the same world in the same storyline and which fit in pretty seamlessly with Erikson's.

Esslemont is still growing as a writer and personally I don't enjoy him quite as much, but he fills in holes that Erikson deliberately leaves out, and vice versa.
Jeremy Bruce
3. superjer
Hahah... nailed my reason for starting this series. Although it took me longer than 3 days to read A Dance with Dragons.

Gardens of the Moon is a great read. I'm currently reading Deadhouse Gates and know that I won't stop until the series is finished. And I'm sure I'll read Esslemont's work throughout reading the series proper.
Chris Hawks
4. SaltManZ
@2: Yeah, with Esslemont in the mix, the Malazan canon has (thus far) 13 novels, 4 novellas, and 1 short story, with the promise of another 3 novels by Esslemont, plus 2 trilogies and 5 more novellas by Erikson. If you love the Malazan world, you've got plenty of material to keep you engrossed, but if you're just starting in and the list above overwhelms you, the great part is that you can just read Erikson's 10-book sequence by itself. (Or just the novellas. Or just the short story, for that matter.)
Peter Reen
5. pnr060
If you're a first time reader, keep in mind that Gardens was written several years before the other volumes of the series, as well. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but I really feel that the series improves by leaps and bounds in subsequent novels.
Also, be forewarned: at a few points in the series the narrative focus shifts to completely new locations and sets of characters. Most readers end up enjoying these new settings just as much as the ones in the other books (Midnight Tides is actually one of my favorites now), but I've been told that it's a bit jarring to open a new book expecting the same cast and find that you don't recognize anything.
Edward Morland
6. random_gerbil
Can't second point number 11 enough, while there are many great things about Steven Erikson's writing it's where his training as an
archaeologist and anthropologist really shine through, I haven't read any other modern fantasy where the world feels quite so old. A history has been built up which feels like it really matters, as opposed to have been thrown together to provide the reasons for the plot, and the past has a habit of not staying dead much like in the real world yet moreso what with the presence of immortals and undead.
djk1978
7. I can't think of an alias
Although I ended up really enjoying the Malazan books, they are not a casual read. At times I wondered if the effort was worth it. I personnally feel that the murkiness of the plots goes over the edge at times, to the books' detriment. However, Erikson has truly done something unique and the world-building and charactors (both mortal and immortal) are spectacular.
Todd Tyrna
8. Ezramoon
Great write up Bill! Due to time constraints, I dropped out of the reread during DG, but man you sure are making me want to come back. I think I may just have to read Gardens again!
djk1978
9. Vanye
Uh...disagree on the "no one pisses off the gods" part...The Black Company pissed on by EVERYONE in their world, and comes out on top. They may be battered, bruised and broken, but they win. From petty princelings to immortal mages and demon goddesses, NO ONE messes with the Black Company and lives to regret it.
Chris Hawks
10. SaltManZ
@9: Sure, but how many actual bonafide gods did the BC piss off? Just Kina, near as I can recall, unless you really wanna count the Dominator...
Tricia Irish
11. Tektonica
Excellent points Bill. If you have a hard time with Gardens of the Moon, just persevere. The series takes off with a vengence in Deadhouse Gates, written several years after GotM.

This is by far the best Fantasy series I've ever read. Steve Ericson's prose is lyrical, his dialogue realisitc, his characters are complete portraits, and his ides are big and challenging. AND, the REread is better than the read. So complex and multilayered.

Bill humbly failed to mention that he and Amanda are doing a twice weekly joint post on this series, spoiler free, right here on Tor.....so dive in!

I can not recommend this series more highly.
Fake Name
12. ThePendragon
Funny because this fits me perfectly. I also began reading this immediately after DwD and am almost done. The world and characters are amazingly detailed and deep and awesome. However, the storytelling leaves much to be desired. WAY too much Deus Ex Machina. It's like he didn't plan any specifics and just randomly pulls things out his ass to make the plot move forward and keep characters alive. If this wasn't one of the most amazingly awesome detailed and imaginative worlds I've ever read about, and if I didn't like so many of the characters, I might have given up on it. Hopefully the storytelling gets better and I'm definitely sticking with it.
Steven Halter
13. stevenhalter
@12:That's the advantage of having the whole series is. You will find that pretty much everything is fully planned. What may seem random is really because we are joinging in media res and don't have all the facts at our disposal.
Also, the reread had quite the discussion on the whole DEM issue. Not so much it turns out.
Glad you are sticking with it--it is wonderfully rewarding.
djk1978
14. djk1978
@12: Yes, you really need to read more than just Gardens of the Moon to realize in fact that the scale of planning is huge and those things that look like DEM issues are only such because Erikson has deliberately hurled the reader in off the deep end.
Fake Name
15. ThePendragon
I really don't see how, but I look forward to being proved wrong. I am finishing up right now and will likely move right on to book two later today.
Dave Thompson
16. DKT
I know this is kind of a silly question, but...does this book take place on the moon?
Stefan Raets
17. Stefan
Nice write-up, Bill. I wish I had the time to get back into the re-read!
Allana Schneidmuller
18. blutnocheinmal
@16 No, actually it doesn't take place on a moon at all. The title refers to only one or two lines in the book, and to the floating "mountain" fortress/city Moon's Spawn.

I picked up GotM after reading The Black Company series, and hearing that the Malazan books were sort of like it and A Song fo Ice and Fire. That's not really true, but I see what they meant by it.

I'm glad I did though, and at the time it was still a couple years until ADWD. ...which I still haven't read. I feel like I need to re-read the series, or at least the 4th before I do.
Mikey Bennett
19. EvilMonkey
Been meaning to pick up this series but have been putting it off for one reason or another, can't really tell you why. I think this review has put me over the edge so next time I visit the bookstore I'll definetely be picking it up. Thanx guys.
djk1978
20. jere7my
I have to dissent here. It was a struggle getting through GotM, and I didn't find anything to make me want to pick up the second volume. I admire "murky motivations" in fiction, but when every character's motivations are so unclear that you can't tell what they want or who they're allied with it becomes an addled mess. Nobody has agency — they eddy across the landscape without goals, colliding off one another like billiard balls. Not that it matters, because any time they stray from the author's path they're steered back to it by the gods, to the point of being resurrected (through no merits of their own) if they inconveniently die.

The world itself is deeply detailed, and would probably make a great RPG sourcebook — which is exactly what it is. The series was based on Erikson's RPG campaign. Everybody has an obvious race and class (fighter, wizard, assassin; human, Moranth, Tiste Andii). The wizards have their own specialist schools of magic, straight out of 2nd edition AD&D. The races are...well, what are they? I know what makes a dwarf different from an elf, but what makes a Tiste Andii different from a Moranth from a Barghast, apart from skin color? After the first book, I have no idea. I look it up in the glossary, and find "a race in the Malazan Empire." They're described so flatly, so colorlessly, that I couldn't tell one from the other. Compare them to, say, Miéville's cactacae and khepri and grindylows, which leap off the page in a vivid riot of color.

I understand the standard response: "Erikson throws you in at the deep end. It all comes together after another 8,000 pages." But 8,000 pages is a long time to hold flat, contextless pieces of worldbuilding in your mind. I see him placing pieces on the table, like a DM laying out lead figures and hand-aged maps, and I'm sure he'll mechanically connect them up at some point, but I have other things to read. I don't mind fiction you have to concentrate on — I love Gene Wolfe and M. John Harrison and Grace Krilanovich and John Crowley — but I want a reason to remember all the bits the author's showing me. Erikson seems to be asking me to remember hundreds of bits because he's the author, dammit, and he hasn't set out all his lead figures yet.

That said, Kruppe was genuinely interesting.
Steven Halter
21. stevenhalter
@20:Well, we'll just have to disagree as I had pretty much the opposite reading experience with Gardens as you. I found it had great depth--not flat at all.
I would recommend again that anyone with difficulty following Gardens check out the reread here on tor.com.
Gerd K
22. Kah-thurak
Actually there is a post from Steven Erikson in the Re-Read commentary which - in part - deals with the assumed DEM's and the origin of the title (there are spoilers for Gardens of the Moon though):
http://www.tor.com/blogs/2010/09/malazan-re-read-of-the-fallen-gardens-of-the-moon-chapters-22-and-23#131814

@20
Obviously, Eriksons books arent for everyone. They cant be, and I dont think they are even meant to be. They just dont give you certain information easily and while some people (like me) love how he can setup a character a, a race or whatever as unique and alive without the mass of direct information most authors use, other people perceive this as flat and dull.
djk1978
23. Osyris
@20: I have to disagree as well. While GotM did have its shortcomings, you most certainly do not have to read for 8,000 pages before you realise that the characters, races and worldbuilding is anything but flat. The Tiste Andii for example, are a deeply tragic race and by the time you next read about them you will feel for them. Really feel. Because, in my opinion, that is what Erikson does best with this series. The characters and their motivations may seem random and allegiances may appear murky, goals even more so, especially for new readers. Scratch the surface, read a little further, you will be surprised and perhaps even amazed at the level of layered detail you might find :)
djk1978
24. djk1978
I'd really encourage at least going one book further to anyone who struggles with GotM before you lay the series down. Remember, GotM was written quite a bit before the rest of the series and it's only in Deadhouse Gates and beyond that the full story begins to flesh out, and an understanding of what really happened in the first novel begins to come to light.

I agree that not everyone will like it but I think you can't judge the series on GotM. It's enough to hook you if you like it, but it's not enough to set it aside if you don't. If that makes sense...
djk1978
25. Seamus1602
I love epic fantasy and would love to read and enjoy this series as so many others have.

However, my e-copy of GotM is still sitting on my kindle at 50% completed, and I'm unlikely to return to it any time soon.

When I started the series, I read from various sites that I really needed to get about halfway through book 2 before really becoming engaged in the story. I accepted this, and began reading.

Pretty soon, however, I realized that I was reading it like a school assignment because I didn't actually care about or like any of the characters (except that one guy who talks in the 3rd person, wanted more of him). At the time, I was explaining to my brother in law about the series and where I was at. In an offhand comment, he asked why I was trying to stick with a book that wasn't good or interesting to me. I told him it probably would be by the middle of the next book. He asked if that was really worth it. I thought for little while and realized he was right. Reading should be enjoyable, and GotM wasn't.

I don't say all this to demean those who do love this series, only to offer a counterpoint to the original article and the many fans of this series. As someone stated above, this series is not for everyone. It was not for me.
djk1978
26. jere7my
@23: The Tiste Andii for example, are a deeply tragic race and by the time you next read about them you will feel for them.

Call me a traditionalist, but I want to feel for them the first time I encounter them. Or the second time. Or at least at some point during the first 800 pages. At the end of GotM, they look a lot like anime Melnibonéans.

@22, I appreciate indirect incluing as much as anyone, but after 800 pages I have no idea what makes a Barghast different from a regular human. (Or are they regular humans? I have no idea. Do they have some connection to barghests?) I need some kind of tag or handle on a fantasy concept to hold it in my head; otherwise it's just a word. And if it's not going to produce a vivid image or serve the story, why introduce it at all?
Steven Halter
27. stevenhalter
Taking the Tiste Andii as an example, here is our first meeting (during a battle, Chapter 2, no spoilers, but actual text):


A figure had appeared on the ledge before the portal, its arms upraised, long silver hair blowing from its head.
Mane of Chaos. Anomander Rake. Lord of the black-skinned Tiste Andii, who has looked down on a hundred thousand winters, who has tasted the blood of dragons, who leads the last of his kind, seated in the Throne of Sorrow and a kingdom tragic and fey—a kingdom with no land to call its own.
Anomander Rake looked tiny against the backdrop of his edifice, almost insubstantial at this distance. The illusion was about to be shattered. She gasped as the aura of his power bloomed outward—to see it at such a distance . . . “Channel your Warrens,” Tattersail commanded, her voice cracking. “Now!”
Even as Rake gathered his power, twin balls of blue fire raced upward from the center hill. They struck the Moon near its base and rocked it. Tayschrenn launched another wave of gilden flames, crashing with amber spume and red-tongued smoke.
The Moon’s lord responded. A black, writhing wave rolled down to the first hill. The High Mage was buffeted to his knees deflecting it, the hilltop around him blighted as the necrous power rolled down the slopes, engulfing nearby ranks of soldiers. Tattersail watched as a midnight flash swallowed the hapless men, followed by a thump that thundered through the earth. When the flash dissipated, the soldiers lay in rotting heaps, mown down like stalks of grain.
Kurald Galain sorcery. Elder magic, the Breath of Chaos.



If you don't feel anything after that, well, ...
Chris Hawks
28. SaltManZ
@26: And if it's not going to produce a vivid image or serve the story, why introduce it at all?

Maybe because it might be important later? Really, most of these common complaints against the series seem to boil down to readers wanting the infodump now, instead of piecing things together as they come. Want to know more about the Barghast? The glossary in the back of GotM calls them a "non-human pastoral nomadic warrior society". You find out a lot more about their culture in book 3 and book 9. They're not important at this point, so additional details aren't necessary.
djk1978
29. Seamus1602
@27: That passage is wonderfully written, but why should I feel anything based on that? It boils down to a very powerful wizard facing off against a series of lesser wizards. Tattersail is probably the most interesting character in the book to that point, but I still wasn't a huge fan. And death of soldiers and wizards alike was already commonplace by then. Why would more move me? I'd rather have characters to care about.

@28: I can certainly wait on infodumps, but I don't want to wait for something engaging enough to make me want to read on. Mystery and secrets are interesting, but not enough to make a story on their own. Too many secrets and mysteries lead only to apathy. Don't infodump, but give me a reason to care.
djk1978
30. jere7my
@28, I'm not asking for an infodump. What I'm asking for, in 800 pages of spending time (off and on) with a Barghast character, is for them to do something to distinguish themselves from a human. Suck blood. Blow a barghorn. Offer a mildly inhuman perspective on the day's events. Something.

If an inhuman character can get through 800 pages without giving me a single clue to their inhumanity beyond an inadequate glossary entry, I consider that to be flat and colorless.
Steven Halter
31. stevenhalter
@30:Well, at the first introduction of a Barghast character we have:

A wide-shouldered man whose black hair was braided into a ponytail and knotted with charms and fetishes sat with his back to the room, dealing out the cards with infinite patience.
...
"Barghast,” Paran murmured, his gaze on the dealer


...

The Barghast, he saw, had just finished the deal and was setting down the deck in the table’s center, revealing as he did so the endless blue woad tattooing on his bared arm, the spiral patterns marred here and there by white scars.


So we know they have wear fetishes and have tatoos. Through the story we gradually get the idea they are somewhat barbaric. Note that "inhuman" is a relative term. It is through a gradual accretion of detail in the case of the Barghast. And, even there it is the eye of the beholder. Paran sees him as a man.
djk1978
32. Mr. Glum
I was hooked when Sorry got picked up at the side of the road in one of the first chapters. I got further hooked when the battle between Anomander and the Malazan mages happened.

Having said that, this is one series I would honestly recommend people start in the second book. Deadhouse Gates is leaps and bounds better, and honestly you aren't going to be any more or less confused if you begin there. This is a huge world, without easy answers. Honestly some of the questions on this page, you NEVER really get the answers.

The Malazan Book of the Fallen requires, in my opinion, a different kind of reader than something like Song of Ice and Fire. I can't even recommend it to most people, they wouldn't have the patience for it. From reading #30's posts, maybe he would maybe he wouldn't. There's a lot of good fantasy out there, and he should read the books that speak to him.
djk1978
33. bounded
Just agreeing with a few of the previous commenters - like #25 - that reading GotM simply wasn't enjoyable. I can handle complexity and murkiness if the characters or the plot or the world grab me - but none of these things managed to make me want to read any more. So I stopped about one half, maybe two-thirds of the way through.
Iris Creemers
34. SamarDev
Actually, about 5 years ago the MBotF was my first introduction to fantasy, so I couldn't compare it to any other fantasy. I really didn't understand half of it, but I thought it was so fascinating I couldn't put it away. When I finished I immediately started again (it already made so much more sense then) and hurried myself to book two, three... and the rest is history :-)

What I heard from other readers, is that the MBotF is so different from other fantasy, that I can imagine that if you're used to that, it takes time to adjust to the different style etc, and that some get lost during the way. I can understand that you stop reading when you don't like a book, of course you're reading for your own pleasure. In that case the idea of 9 more books of the same isn't encouraging. But oh, what you miss... ;-)

Thanks to the Tor-read here I've read a Song of Ice and Fire now (nice read, but no Erikson...), and I will start WoT in not too much time. Maybe I will understand the comments about Eriksons style better then. But for me he has set The Standard, so I wonder if any other series - fantasy or not - can ever reach that. I've the habit of rereading good books and series, but I can't remember any series giving the same repeating reward as rereading the MBotF.
Sydo Zandstra
35. Fiddler
Steven Erikson doesn't write Fantasy. He writes Tragedy in a Fantasy setting.

So if you want a happy ending and happily living after thing, don't read this series.

But if you want an emotionally coaster ride in a very good story, with moments that make you cry and moments that make you laugh while all is going bad, pick this series up.

Personally, I think this series is the best that is related to Fantasy. Especially because Erikson is a very skilled writer. It shows in how he names his characters and in dialogues.

But also, after having finished the last book, The Crippled God, I only wanted to read light fantasy for a while. I was emotionally drained there.

So it's gripping. Make your choice...
Tricia Irish
36. Tektonica
Poor Samar Dev! You STARTED with Ericson. I bow in your general direction! You are officially spoiled. Not that there aren't other good series out there, but I haven't read any with the philosphical depth of SE.

I agree with Mr. Glum@32....you could easily start with Deadhouse Gates and not be out of your depth. It is a better written book, a real barn burner. Many details are filled in and you begin to get a feel for the vast scope of this world and the incredible characters, which in this case are mostly the "common" grunts.....amazing dialogue and character depth.

That said, it is probably not for everyone. It demands attention and is never spoon fed. I've just finished the whole series, and am starting my reread. The details of plot and thought are laid out from the very beginning! I just couldn't see it. It is a real treasure hunt. I think that, actually, it's better in the reread.

Start with Deadhouse Gates, if you hated GotM. I think you'll feel differently....maybe.
Sydo Zandstra
37. Fiddler
I disagree about skipping GotM.

If only because we get to see the start of the relation between Cotillion and Sorry/Apsalar, because this is where we meet and get to know Ganoes Paran, and we learn about how emotionally damaged the BridgeBurners are, and especially WhiskeyJack.

Also, this book gives us T'ool. It also gives us a first peek at Anomander Rake and Moon's Spawn and about the awesomeness of Soletaken dragons, and about Silanah.

This book should not be skipped...
Tricia Irish
38. Tektonica
OK..OK....those are great moments.....and shouldn't be missed. Ummmm. Dilema?
Mikey Bennett
39. EvilMonkey
Suggestion. Since the books are not in sequential order anyway, how about suggesting Deadhouse Gates first, then Gardens, then go on with 3-10?
Iris Creemers
40. SamarDev
@ Tek 36
Lol, I guess I'll appreciate other fantasy, but as you/I said, the standard Erikson set is high... Maybe, just as Fiddler suggests, we shouldn't count this series as fantasy, but make a specific category for it? :-)
I have to admit I read the Lord of the Rings when I was in highschool (and highly appreciated it), but that's quite some time ago so I just realised after posting this, MBotF wasn't officially my very first entry to fantasy (although it felt so).
djk1978
41. David DeLaney
One other point: If I had to give a capsule description of the world, it would be something like "Okay, imagine a world where there really ARE Elder Races from the depths of time, and magic and gods. And now humans, who get to interact with their own detailed cultures and histories and wars as well as with ones stretching back into history. And there's a War on... but it's not the one(s) you're thinking of."

Even trying for a short summary doesn't work, you see. I will echo others' comments that it IMMENSELY rewards rereading, as now you see that just about all of the stuff you thought was coming from nowhere was actually foreshadowed and set up chapters or books in advance... and that yes, you could start with book 2, or even with Midnight Tides, rather than book 1. Book 2 does have some greatly depressing and horrifying moments... but you sort of expect that when there's a war on.

--Dave, don't worry, much of the time only the last 300,000 years or so of history is actually relevant
Gerd K
42. Kah-thurak
@26
The Barghast dont really play a big role in GotM, so information on their society is pretty limited at this point. That they resemble archaic humans from a tribal warrior society is made pretty clear in the text and the appendix though. They will play a major role in book three, so it is consistent to introduce them to the reader at this point.

Concerning the Tiste Andii you know as much about them as most of the other characters in the book, which is an interesting perspective in my opinion. You often only get to know what you are told by the thoughts and words of the characters. Sometimes they dont know the whole story. Sometimes they are wrong. Sometimes they lie. If you cant live with that limited information and dont have the patience for the "treasure hunt", as Tek called it, then these books are not what you want.
B T
43. amphibian
You know how there's a concept of "right person, wrong time" for romantic relationships? The same may apply to series like the Malazan one.

For some readers, maybe they should be urged to sojourn elsewhere for a while and then return to Gardens of the Moon or wherever they left off. Yet others may not ever get to the wavelength where they like the Malazan books. It may be about fortunate timing of the read in the reader's overall congery of experiences, knowledge and personality.

I entered the series with an advanced reader's copy of the third book, Memories of Ice, and instantly became hooked. It was super-fresh for a reader like me who'd grown accustomed to (and perhaps a bit weary of) other more mainstream and bajillion-book selling fantasy series. I'd compare it to someone who'd grown up eating American, Italian, Indian and Mexican food and trying traditional Japanese cuisine and/or sushi for the first time.

Damn, now I'm hungry. Off to the fridge for a scoop of peanut butter before bed. Good readings, all. Also, thank you to Bill for a very nice write-up for a series I hold dear.
djk1978
44. jere7my
@42 (and others), it's not a lack of patience that made me put down the series. Honestly. I'm glad y'all enjoyed them, but to me the books are fatally saddled with fantasy cliches (like Elric-as-a-Drow), they're bloated, they read like World of Warcraft play-by-plays, there's nothing in them that didn't appear in RPG sourcebooks 30 years ago, and they are full of indistinguishable characters who achieve nothing the gods don't do for them. The time comes when patience becomes stubborn persistence.
Gerd K
45. Kah-thurak
@jeremy
Really now. This is starting to get ridiculous. "The books" (of which you read... one?) read like "World of Warcraft play by plays"? You are loosing perspective here. There are very few fantasy books out there that even come close to achieve a philosophical depth like the malazan books. If they have a flaw, than it is that they are too complex, while you try to make it sound like they involve nothing but people mindlessly running aroung slaying each other. If you are unable to realize that clichés can be used to overturn them and if you cannot see that in these stories, the gods are nothing but characters themselves (and often not even the most powerful) then it is no wonder, that you dont like the books.

Lastly the thing with the "indistinguishable" characters... is a joke. Could you acually mistake Crokus for Whiskeyjack or Tattersail for Lorn? Naturally, Erikson could have started another fantasy series with all the protagonist beeing absurdly young kids so the reader knows everything about their background and strangely never wonders why they act pretty much the same as adults. Luckily he didnt. His characters all have a background. Even insignificant little Circle Breaker does. But you dont have a chapter discussing it in detail.

As I have said before, not everyone can like these books. They need you to do a lot by yourself and they are not easy bedtime reading. But if you are willing to invest time and effort, they are the most rewarding fantasy books I have yet read.
djk1978
46. Osyris
As a counter-point to @44: In my opinion the Malazan series flies in the face of many fantasy tropes, as was Erikson’s intention at the outset. They are difficult to read, but that is more due to their density in world-building, philosophising and scope. It is something than I grew to love early on. Too many fantasy novels have little depth; an 800 page “epic” can take a handful of days to read and leaves you with nothing of value. This is not one of those. You will probably struggle through a first read, but you will not regret it. Erikson takes a huge risk with GotM, he asks you to trust him based solely on the introduction to the middle of story. Characters may seem flat, motivations may seem murky but if you persevere, you will quickly realise that this is not true. Erikson then, does not just ask you to trust the story, he asks you to alter your perspective, to look beyond the surface. I get the feeling that many readers cannot simply trust, they find the implicit request presumptuous and perhaps it is. The Malazan books are indeed not for you if that is the case. I think you will find however, that you will struggle to find very many readers who have gone beyond two or three books and who still feel underwhelmed or unimpressed by the sheer scope of the world and the power of the writing behind it.
djk1978
47. jere7my
They need you to do a lot by yourself and they are not easy bedtime
reading. But if you are willing to invest time and effort, they are the
most rewarding fantasy books I have yet read.

@45, I don't begrudge your enjoyment of the books, but I am troubled by the constantly repeated implication that there must be something wrong with the reading habits of anyone who dislikes them. They must be unwilling to invest the time, or asking to be spoon-fed, or impatient, or unwilling to look beyond the surface. None of those things are why I didn't like GotM — I love challenging fantasy, unreliable narrators, deeply buried clues, subtle foreshadowing, books that ask me to adjust my perspective. I see exactly what Erikson is doing; I just think he's doing it in a way that I find completely uninteresting. I see that he's laid out clues that won't pay off for thousands of pages — Whiskeyjack's leg is going to come up again, probably leading to his death, because Erikson built a thirty-foot neon arrow pointing at it. Right? That big stone clock will be Very Important. Great.

I've already explained why I didn't enjoy GotM and won't be reading any more. You don't have to agree, but kindly stop implying I lack sufficient patience to enjoy them. I am not missing some authorial trick Erikson is playing; I just think he performs his tricks in a stilted, bloated, cliched, and derivative way. I think his characters are flat and indistinguishable because 90% of them have the same voice, and the rest have been pulled from Central Fantasy Casting, like Elric and The Gruff Commander with a Heart of Gold and The Improbably Muscled Nonhuman Race with Tusks. I think he sets his clues out like game chits instead of working them into a narrative rhythm. It's the triumph of worldbuilding over storytelling. It's a textbook example of why you should never turn your RPG into fiction.
Steven Halter
48. stevenhalter
jere7my@47:

I've already explained why I didn't enjoy GotM and won't be reading any more.


That's fine. Not every book is for every person.

It's a textbook example of why you should never turn your RPG into fiction.


I completely disagree, but since you're just stating how you feel, we'll just have to agree to disagree .
Thomas Jeffries
49. thomstel
jere7my@47:

If that's the case, then I think the Malazan fans can agree to bid you all the best and I hope you find other authors that fit your wants and needs. If so, please do share, as we're all SF fans here.

However, as a most ardent fan of Erikson's works, here's a bit more to go by (and for any others who may feel a bit spooked about the investment of reading another megalithic series):

Gardens of the Moon: In media res! We get very little in terms of background, most of it is unreliable, and are introduced to a plethora of gray characters across several continents in the first third of the tale. All that in a book that most agree is a bit squishy (in terms of continuity) compared to the rest. Yeah, it's tough, but presented in more of a summer blockbuster sort of way. So while you're confused a lot, there's a lot of clear action going on to keep you occupied. Also, Kruppe.

Deadhouse Gates: If you thought you had a good handle on the characters and settings of the first novel, prepare to be wildly confused all over again as Erikson takes us in a totally different direction for this one. The initial story and characters are all new, and while we do get a D&D-ish group storyline going on with some known faces, we also get a lot of other storylines with new, unreliable narrators. If you can persevere through to the final third, be prepared for a very intense (if credibility-stretching) finale.

Memories of Ice: We return to the storyline(s) of GotM once again! This is good if you really enjoyed those characters. This is bad if you really want more of what happened after the finale in DG.While things start out in a rather meandering way, the action stays pretty well focused on the events leading to the Pannion War, just from all different directions. Cohesive, dense, mysterious. You'll still be confused, but there's a few more guideposts to keep you oriented than in GotM, and the narratives all point (after some initial wandering) in the same direction. Again, the finale is magnificent. Also, Kruppe's back!

The remainder: The other seven books begin to tell the bigger Tale of the Fallen. Events and personalities in the first three remain to allow for further development and provide additional guideposts, but the Tale begins in earnest here. The novels are less standalone and require more on the part of the reader to bridge the storylines between them, the continents and realms in which they occur. Also, Erikson spends time on revealing the backstory of his characters here, and how that affects their behavior in the primary Tale. Philosophy, anthropology, history, tragedy and compassion run as themes through the Tale. Challenging and rewarding, they are truly a monumental piece of fiction.

As others have mentioned, the series as a whole requires a larger amount of trust in the author than many other series/novels. The Tale is written as a history, with little regard for the wants and needs of its characters, and with little regard for the norms of fiction. What seems random may have consequences that are felt through every other book, and have a backstory that extends to a time before the races that it affects even existed. Some of that information will be provided to the reader, some will not. Some info will be presented that is wrong, some info will be lies, some will be the truth but bent through the lens of time into something more akin to a legend instead of straight fact. Instead of coming for a normal fantasy epic, come for a world that's been built with a timeline in place, of which Erikson (and Esselmont) will show you a part of the whole tapestry.

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