Our Malazan Rereaders Look Back at Gardens of the Moon: Favorite Moments and Tips for New Readers

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As part of the Tor.com eBook Club for September, we’ve asked Bill and Amanda, our intrepid Malazan Rereaders of the Fallen, to look back to the very beginning and discuss their favorite aspects of Book One, Gardens of the Moon, as well as offering some helpful advice to first-time readers…

Bill: So Amanda, here we are, six years and two months after our first post in the Malazan Reread on Tor.com, which has covered (so far!) 15 books, 4 novellas, roughly 400 posts and who knows how many thousands of pages. And now they want us to talk about Book One, Gardens of the Moon again? I confess it’s not only difficult but downright painful to cast my mind back to when I reread Gardens for this blog, picturing that boyish (emphasis on the “ish”) lad I was when we began there all those years ago: Look at those bright eyes! That spring in the step. All that hair! (Let’s not even bring up the even earlier first-time reader me; I may just break out in tears).

I suppose, though, that all that—the challenge of recollecting details, the painful acknowledgement of the inevitability of time’s passage, the constancy of change—is wholly appropriate for this task, since those are after all some of the major themes in this work. But maybe that’s a little deep for an entry point. Let’s start with something a bit lighter and simpler.

Since this is the internet, that must mean a list. So what are the three pieces of advice you’d give to those coming to Gardens for the first time? For me it would be:

  • Patience is your friend: You might have been told Gardens (and the series as a whole) can be frustratingly difficult and/or obscure. And sometimes it can be. But don’t stress over unexplained words/events/statements. Surprisingly often, if you wait just a few pages or maybe a few chapters, you’ll get the answers you felt you were missing.
  • Similarly, let the world come to you. You’re going to get tossed into things in the middle. Names are going to get dropped. Historical events will get referenced. Let it all unfold as background, get a sense of the sweep of things, the scope of time and geography, but mostly keep focused on the here and now (and don’t be afraid to use the glossary!)
  • Remember that Gardens is an early book by a relatively new author, one written about a decade before the rest of the series. It’ll have its rough moments, its flaws. It’s not a weak book, but it is the weakest of the series—even if it didn’t wholly grab you, read book two, Deadhouse Gates (then set aside a lot of time for the rest… )

How about you Amanda? What would you tell newcomers?

Amanda: Gosh, Bill, I remember that bright-eyed young thing! My reread of the Malazan novels has taken me through three house moves and two job moves, so it does feel like it has been a rather major part of my life! That young girl who agreed to sign up to the Malazan reread was a rather brash book blogger looking for more exposure, and with NO IDEA of what she was getting herself into…

So, now that I am a veteran *ahem*, I can look fondly on all those whippersnappers who are about to embark on their own read of the Malazan novels.

What would I tell them?

First, I would reiterate Bill’s comments and then say:

  • You will cover the weighty topics, as well as enjoying lighter moments. Philosophy, history, religion, mathematics, sociology, archaeology, matters of sacrifice, and human mortality, and ambition, and compassion—none are missed. Plus, you will see more jokes about genitalia than you ever expected! See? Weighty and light…
  • Be prepared to invest in these characters—my god, do you become invested! You end up living and breathing their lives, aching with their sorrows and actually exclaiming ‘yes!’ as you celebrate their victories. They get under your skin. And not one of them could be called good or bad. They are bad characters with a core of morality, or good characters, with a nasty little habit of revenge. They are men and women who feel as real as those who surround you in everyday life. You will have a favourite (or multiple favourites) and they become the yard stick by which characters in other novels are measured.
  • Recognise that you are reading one of the true examples of feminist writing in fantasy fiction. Women are represented in all their forms—maid, mother, crone; evil and badass or meek; soldiers, politicians, gods. Yes, women get raped and mutilated in this series—but it is dealt with respectfully, examining the different paths a person might follow after an event of that magnitude. Plus, men get raped and mutilated as well. Erikson understands and represents the fact that we are all born equal.

I could continue on with lavish praise, but it would also be good to hear from others who have tackled this series—what advice would you offer?

Bill: I’d also be curious what advice other rereaders would give. And you’re right about the mix of “weighty and light” themes/topics (or was that another genitalia joke?) Reading your list brings to mind another question—as that now-grizzled veteran, what do you most envy about people coming to GotM as new readers? Your response made me think of that because for me it would be getting to meet these characters for the first time, each a blank canvas to be (slowly, and not always fully) painted in. Who is this aeons-old guy with the big sword and flying mountain? What’s that mage planning now and why doesn’t he ever just tell us? Who’s the funny talking fat guy? Wait, did that character just die?

Just thinking about the journey these characters will take (some going farther than others), the emotional investment we as readers will have in them as you say, almost makes me want to pick up GotM and restart it for this book club (counts to twenty, knocks back a stiff drink, lets the moment pass… ). And while we’re on the topic of things to envy, how about a few actual (non-spoilery) moments/scenes? For me, I’d go with:

  • The entrance of Anomander Rake
  • The meeting of Quick Ben and Shadowthrone: sly vs. crazy (or is it crazy vs. sly?)
  • The scene inside the sword (yes, I did say “inside”)
  • That rooftop battle and that last battle
  • Kruppe’s monologue (pick one)

Yours?

Amanda: Haha, yes, I too am fighting a terrible urge to crack the pages on Gardens of the Moon. After all, I do have a rather snazzy Subterranean Press edition that needs road testing… Do you know something? I think I had such a wonderfully unique first read of this series that what I am jealous about probably won’t happen for other readers. I think about the camaraderie, the wise ass remarks, the thoughtful comments from the commenters on Tor.com—everything that made this joint read an utter delight. I would actually urge new readers to seek out others in the same boat for GotM, so that you can read and discuss as you go along. It opens up the experience into something incredibly special.

I think I am also jealous knowing that these new readers have such layers to descend through—the initial grasping at characters and places and events, until they become the backbone of each new book. It’s not an easy reward, but so damn rewarding.

Okay, scenes for me:

  • That prologue, where we meet Paran and Whiskeyjack (I mention this scene because it starts everything off so beautifully and mysteriously, and, as a reader coming back to the story, it carries such enormous weight. Reading it again actually made me cry, because of knowing what stems from it).
  • That first glimpse of Cotillion and Ammanas, before we know who they are and what they are planning (I love reading back what I said here in the Tor re-read: “What I am sure I won’t be able to figure out for a while is whether these two are good or evil, or some ambiguous version right in the middle.” That makes me giggle, because I’m damned if we were ever completely sure!)
  • The cataclysmic battle of Moon’s Spawn that essentially happens off-stage (mentioned because this first provided the knowledge that Erikson would take an event that another epic fantasist would have front and centre, and relegate it to a beautiful few paragraphs of description because it isn’t the focus).
  • Rake’s first entrance (the walls groaning, the lights dimming). Just Rake. Always Rake. Yeah, I never ever got over *that* character.

I am going to stop there, else I will merely list the book scene by scene and point out which part is my favourite: Erikson’s elegant use of language, or his foreshadowing of events in several books’ time, or his ability to write character duos that just spark to life… Yeah, let’s hold it there!

Bill: Yes, we’d both better stop or we’ll end up beginning another reread before we’ve finished the current one! Which is also a reminder to those joining the GotM book club that here on Tor.com you have 400 or so chapter by chapter responses by Amanda and me (plus hundreds upon hundreds of insightful comments by our readers) to help guide you through not just GotM but the entire series, including Ian Cameron Esslemont’s books set in the same world and involving many of the same characters. In fact, Esslemont’s first prequel novel (Dancer’s Lament), detailing how these characters first met serves as another potential entry into the series. But that’s a whole ‘nother post…

After training and working as an accountant for over a decade, Amanda Rutter became an editor with Angry Robot, helping to sign books and authors for the Strange Chemistry imprint. Since leaving Angry Robot, she has been a freelance editor—through her own company AR Editorial Solutions, BubbleCow and Wise Ink—and a literary agent for Red Sofa Literary Agency. In her free time, she is a yarn fiend, knitting and crocheting a storm.

Bill Capossere writes short stories, essays and plays; does reviews for the LA Review of Books and Fantasy Literature, as well as for Tor.com; and works as an adjunct English instructor. In his non-writing and reading time, he plays ultimate Frisbee (though less often and more slowly than he used to) and disc golf.

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