Gardens of the Moon is the first novel of The Malazan Book of the Fallen series. The series is an Epic Fantasy in terms of scope, with a humongous cast of characters that makes the likes of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series look tame in comparison. The tale also contains elements of Dark Fantasy since the world is considerably darker than the typical Epic Fantasy series, and there is a lot of moral ambiguity and politics at play within the plot when compared to Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, where the politics is relatively black and white. Instead, the politics is more like from, again, George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, and drives a significant portion of the plot despite magic and gods still playing a large role in the overall plot. In terms of plot the novel is hard to explain since there are so many different plot threads to talk about. However the novel centres around the city Darujhistan and the invasion by the elf like Tiste Andii, as well as the increasingly tyrannical rule of Empress Laseen, the head of the Malazan Empire.
The novel centres around a huge number of characters, too many to name. However the most notable include Sergeant Whiskeyjack, a general, Ganoes Paran, a thief named Crokus to name but a few. The novel initially fools the reader into believing that Paran is the protagonist but it quickly becomes apparent that he is not after he is sidelined in favour of other characters as the novel progresses. This was one of many twists relating to characters in the novel. Another entertaining twist, is one concerning a man named Kruppe, who is initially presented as a moron who frequently refers to himself in third person but is revealed to be much smarter than he appears. Likewise another favourite was Anomander Rake, the leader of the Tiste Andii and the man who at first glance appears to be the novel’s antagonist. However as the novel progresses he is portrayed in a sympathetic light to the point where by the novel ended I realised that he was probably a hero in his own right.
In terms of plot, then novel tends to throw you right into the thick of it. It takes you straight into the action and makes no effort to explain what is going on. Thankfully the book is kind enough to provide a glossary and dramatis personae page which helped me keep track of who everyone was and which factions they belonged to. This was not as much of a problem to me as a reader as I expected it to be, since despite the confusion at the beginning and a few lingering questions towards the end, I found it quite fun to read and a lot of it began to make sense towards the end.
The plot contained a great number of twists and turns, some more expected than others and that was what made if enjoyable more than anything. A matter of particular interest was the involvement of the settings myriad of gods and their various servants, which made the novel more complex and made me curious as to why they were there. Yet the most enjoyable little twist was the Bridgeburners, the primary faction that the novel has focused on, deciding to rebel against Empress Laseen in a twist which seemed inevitable but at the same time promises to change the plot of the upcoming novels in a significant way, though to what extent I have yet to know.
As a whole Gardens of the Moon was a strong start to what promises to be a strong series. The overall picture for the direction the series is going to take isn’t entirely clear yet, though I get the impression that the gods will be involved in it somehow. Aside from that, my only criticism is that it can be a bit too complex at times but the series was never intended for the casual fantasy reader to begin with and if you go into it knowing of the series’ complexity in advance you can still get a lot out of it. I somehow enjoyed this book a lot more than I expected to, in part because of how rich and detailed the world is. I can’t wait to read the rest of the Malazan series and see this humongous series through to the end.
IN A WORD: COMPLEX