Review: Gardens of the Moon

Posted: August 26, 2009 by in Books We Love (5/5 single_star) Meta: Steven Erikson, Epic Fantasy

Since DUST OF DREAMS (Amazon) is coming to the US soon, we thought we would go back to the series’ roots to both introduce newcomers and invigorate the old-timers. GARDENS OF THE MOON by Steven Erikson (Amazon) is not a simple novel–in fact this novel has, arguably, the steepest learning curve of any fantasy novel to date. This review will be a tad longer than usual, but it deserves nothing less.

GARDENS OF THE MOON is the first tale in Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen series. Currently we have eight novels released in the series (with the ninth out in the UK now–yeah, yeah, we are waiting for our import copy), three short stories, and two other novels written by Erikson’s co-creator of this vibrantly imagined world, Ian Cameron Esslemont. We tell you this so you will understand the investment of time, should you start this series. The best part of all of this? Erikson doesn’t make us wait half a decade between his encyclopedia-sized tomes (you know who we are talking about). A book a year is the pace Erikson has set, which is downright awesome.

When you start GARDENS OF THE MOON, you will be introduced to approximately 9 million characters. In the first chapter. OK, we exaggerate a bit, but you get the point. As opposed to the more traditional approaches to Epic Fantasy, where we have page after page of exposition, Erikson throws us right in the middle of the action. It is possible for even the most experienced fantasy reader to feel a bit… behind. Maybe asking if there was a novel before this. There isn’t, and that is what intrigued us initially.

Of course as with all Epic Fantasy, this world the story takes place in has been around for ages, with its own history and what have you. The difference is that Erikson doesn’t bother going into it all. Despite the length of the series, it comes across as a very day-in-the-life-of. And Erikson makes no apologies for this difficulty, and shouldn’t have to. The story is reward enough.

If reading Epic Fantasy is like diving into the deep end of the pool, this book is like diving into the ocean, with sharks.That may sound intimidating. Our response to that would be, simply, it is. But after the intimidation passes, and you make friends with the sharks, this ocean has infinitely more to offer than the standard deep end of the traditional Epic Fantasy.

This series (which GARDENS OF THE MOON begins) will blow you away, and might make you reconsider the quality of every other fantasy novel you've ever read.

This steep curve may discourage you from attempting to read the books in this series. Simply put, you need to (remember, you should do what we say). Book one is wildly entertaining, if difficult to follow at times. Books two and three will convince you that this is, perhaps, the greatest fantasy epic in print. It is equal parts epic, heroic, and dark fantasy, with an uncanny knack for making you laugh despite the utter horror that is being inflicted on these characters.

We once spoke with Jim Minz–the editor who brought Erikson to the US after other editors thought the Malazan series was too intellectual for our readers here–and he said that Erikson’s novels were like reading a novelization of the classic war movie Platoon… only not as happy… and much more brutal and entertaining.

This series will blow you away, and it might just make you reconsider the quality of every other fantasy novel you have ever read.

  • Recommended Age: 18+. Not because of mature content, but because we worry at the ability of a kid sticking with this first novel, and understanding what is going on.
  • Language: Hardly any. It impressed us that Erikson is able to express so much without using hardly any swearing.
  • Violence: Oh yes, but somehow it doesn't feel over-done or gruesome. Is it Erikson's prose? We don't know, but somehow we get the awful brutality and emotional impact of the violence without being overwhelmed by it.
  • Sex: There are some moments of innuendo, but nothing graphic. Once again, impressive.

Note From Steve: It always scares me to recommend Erikson to anyone, because I want so badly for everyone to love his work like I do. I was introduced to this series by one of my best friends, Ryan McBride, and I feel I owe him a considerable debt for changing my view on fantasy. After I was hired on at the Waldenbooks by Ryan, he asked me what types of fantasy novels I read. Here is how the basic conversation went:
Steve – “I like Terry Brooks, David Eddings, and Robert Jordan–”
Ryan – “What is wrong with you? Take this Steven Erikson novel home and read it by Monday.”
Steve – “But I–”
Ryan – “Do it or I will fire you.”
Steve – “Ok…” (queue sad music from Arrested Development)
I read. I loved. I made it my mission in life to get people to read this series. Just when I thought I couldn’t be more impressed, I read book 2 and book 3. I tell you honestly, that I have never been so emotionally stuck by novels as I was by those two. Ever. Steven Erikson turns me into a simple fan-boy. I bought a BEAUTIFUL edition of GARDENS OF THE MOON from Subterranean Press for $125 (the cover shown in the review). I feel like it was a bargain, and I would have paid the $500 for the crazy 1/50 limited copies if I had the cash on hand. I import the novels from the UK just to get the best looking edition of them, and so I can read them 6 months sooner. Buy this series NOW.

Please go pick up these novels. You may have seen the US cover art and been turned off. We don’t blame you (remember, Steve imports them from the UK just to avoid the US covers). However, it seems the US is re-releasing trade-sized novels (Nick’s favorite type of format) with the new UK covers (Amazon).


Check out the Malazan online community. They are good about explaining many of the confusing aspects of the series.

Finally, go by Subterranean Press and check out the Limited Editions they have. They are of amazing quality, and the care with which they handle the shipping of these expensive novels is impressive.


  • bacaninho says:

    And now I know what I'm reading next…

  • cbh says:

    word. i was waiting for you guys to review this one–and best served cold. good reviews, keep it up, i'm loving the site.

  • Glad you all are liking them! Once my copy of the 9th book in this series comes, we'll get to review it…Amazon.UK is draggin' right now for some reason.

  • Anonymous says:

    Awesome series and Gardens is the least of it… thanks for getting me to read it in May

  • cDubbs says:

    Hmmm.. I'm gonna have to check this one out. Thanks for the reviews.

  • Anonymous says:

    And where is the DoD review?

    But yes, this is the the most complicated and entertaining series I've read. There are constant twists and deaths of the characters you'd assume would last.

    As a warning to any who read this series, read them one after the other or you'll be far more confused when you move on to the next book.

    And about that 18 and up comment, I've started a 12 year old on this series and hes followed it and understand it.

  • Sam says:

    First of all, love the site, thanks for the great reviews. After reading this one back in August, I decided to go back and re-read this series. All I can say is “Wow.”

    I thought I would read a Malazan book once every few months interspersed with other reading; hopefully timing it successfully with the release of the final volume, but I'm getting so much more out of it this time that I've already blown through to Reaper's Gale (oops). I'd encourage anyone taking a stab at this series to read it twice (at least) … it's soooo much better the second time around.

  • Brett says:

    I just finished this… and I have to take the side of the minority. It isn't often that a book can cause me to audibly exclaim in eye-rolling disbelief. Gardens of the Moon succeeded half a dozen times.

    There was lots to like, but this book had a very weak set of characters (maybe because there were so many?). There wasn't one character whose motivations made any sense to me here.

    Maybe this is just a rocky debut and it gets better? I just can't see an author with no apparent understanding of human behavior correcting that kind of problem mid-stream…

    • My personal opinion is that Gardens is a hard first novel. You don't get the novel of boring build-up that most series have. I recommend picking up books 2 and 3 (or library them so you aren't paying money). Read them. If you don't like the series after that, and if you think his characters are still poor (which i disagree with), then don't read anymore of the series.

      Books 2 and 3 are what made me decide Erikson was the best.

    • Anonymous says:

      I have to agree with the awesomeness of Steve. You cannot make an accurate impression of the series from only reading the first book. Starting off as Gardens does, you feel as if you stepped into the middle of the story and not the begging. When I read it, I didn't know if I liked the story or not because there wasn't enough for me to understand. It was well written and thought out but enjoy? no clue! You really cannot make an accurate assessment until, in my opinion book 3. Nearly finished with Toll the Hounds and eagerly awaiting my Dust of Dreams copy.

      Awesome series, Awesome review and eagerly awaiting more!

  • Anonymous says:

    Just got myself a copy. Was intrigued. I'd love to know what you guys think of David Anthony Durham's Acacia series.

  • Jon Sprunk says:

    I heard about this series late, but after reading GoTM I went out and bought the next five books. I'm almost at the end of Deadhouse Gates and loving every minute.

    Kudos to Mr. Erikson!

  • Blicko says:

    I've never been simultaneously confused, amazed, shocked and clueless from reading a book, but GoTM sure did it for me. I've got as far as the next two and stopped to read some lighter fare to give my brain a rest. I'm going to wait until I have the rest of them in hand before I start up again, because like someone above said, it's best to just read them all right in a row so you're less likely to forget what the hell is going on. But one thing's for sure – they are some of the best fantasy books on the shelves today, bar none.

  • Anonymous says:

    I am with Brett on this one. There was very little characterization in this book. Not once did I really care what happened to the characters because I knew so little about them. The reader was never aware of the characters motivations. The setting, while unique, was never… the reader. The book and characters jumped between the real world and dreams and alternate dimension without every really explaining what, where, or how, this was happeneing.

    There were flashes of brilliance in this book but they were few and far between, and it seems to me like this is the first thing the author has ever tried to write. And it is my opinion that any comparisons of Erickson to Martin are the result of too much hash or to little sleep. Hopefully this series gets better.

    It was (barely) good enough for me to try the second book. So we shall see if my opinion changes.

  • Corndog says:

    Yes! The Malazan Book of the Fallen is my favorite series of all time. However, it wasn't that way from the beginning. Through the first half of Gardens of the Moon I had a hard time wrapping my head around everything, since you are bombarded with so much information at once. Once I got to the second half of the book things really started to pick up, and by the time I finished it I had to go back and read it again to make sure I filled in any details I might have missed.

    The second read of Gardens of the Moon put the series right behind A Song of Ice and Fire for me. Then I read Deadhouse Gates, and from that point on it has remained in my top spot.

  • SeanWaller says:

    I'm a little late responding to the arguments in this thread, but I've recently acquired the book and have been reading at a slow pace…

    The first part of the book passed by in kind of a daze and it's only until about halfway that I've become really interested in the story and better at paying attention to what's going on.

    Despite not knowing much about the characters, I disagree completely that they're flat or weak. There's an unseen motivation and history behind each character and their actions and you get glimpses of it. You can tell that they're fleshed out and you can tell that Erikson isn't just deliberately withholding information about them either. He's just unveiling what pertains to the plot as needed. I really like that method of storytelling, it turns out.

  • William says:

    This book taught me one of life's most valuable lessons, everyone can become an addict. Before Erikson, I was the average reader-kinda-guy: Sure, I've read a fantasy book or two, but Tolkien hasn't left me craving for the good stuff like a heroin addict quitting cold turkey. But Steven Erikson changed my views forever: Everyone can turn into a helpless addict, without much hope of ever returning to his pre-addictive state. I can't help to admit it, I'm lost forever.

    Before this series, I could never stand fantasy. Within less than half a chapter you'd know who's who and, even more devastating to my curiosity, the border between good and evil is carved deep into the hardest stone, remaining unchanged for the rest of the book (series?). Sure, there's the mandatory Judas, but you know who to cheer for at every battle. With Steven Erikson, you just don't know.

    What if the hammer strikes, destroying the world as we know it for good, would it matter? Of course, it's a curse for the living, knowing your life and all you value is over, but when you're gone too, would it really matter? Who's there to feel the world's pain, if there's no one left? Even the man who wields that hammer is filled with doubt, doesn't know what to do when. Steven Erikson perfectly illustrates this relativistic subjectivity. In his books, there's no objective truth and history is written by the victor. Judgement comes with perspective, not with objectivity. In life, there's no single godview, no right way to look through the looking glass and observe the world. All that matters, all you have, are point of views and difference in perspectives. Truth is a meaningless word.

    That's what I love about Erikson, without stating it explicitly, he destroys the absolutist view we hold about our own views and truths. He shows us, without delivering a fierce philosophical argument, that truth is ethno- or even egocentric. And whatever we think we are, we just peasants in the greater scheme of life.

  • ritika says:

    I am not even sure if I should post this after a year from the last post. But really i need to gush about these books somewhere, where people would understand my enthusiasm.
    I had picked up gardens of the moon earlier (maybe a year back) finished it and started with deadhouse gates. however I lost the momentum and it had been on my to read list since then. ( had always read only good things about it) I started rereading GotM again a couple of weeks back and I have not been able to stop since then. I have just finished deadhouse gates and I know that this series is going to top my favourite epic list. I especially appreciate deadhouse gates, it being the second book of the series telling a the story from the POV of secondary and new characters and still manage to surpass the first book. can't wait to start memories on ice.. hope it keeps up with my expectations.

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