Gardens of the Moon
First edition cover
|Series||Malazan Book of the Fallen|
|Publisher||Bantam (UK & Canada) |
Tor Books (US)
|1 April 1999|
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback) |
|Pages||712 pp (Bantam paperback)|
|ISBN||0-553-81217-3 (Bantam paperback)|
|Followed by||Deadhouse Gates|
Gardens of the Moon is the first of ten novels in Canadian author Steven Erikson's high fantasy series the Malazan Book of the Fallen. It was first published in 1999 and was nominated for a World Fantasy Award.
The novel details the various struggles for power on an intercontinental region dominated by the Malazan Empire. It is notable for the use of high magic, and unusual plot structure. Gardens of the Moon centres around the Imperial campaign to conquer the city of Darujhistan on the continent of Genabackis.
The Malazan world was devised by Steven Erikson and Ian Cameron Esslemont, initially as a setting for a role-playing game while working on his thesis at the Iowa Writers' Workshop. In 1991, they collaborated to create a film script set in the same world, titled Gardens of the Moon. When the script did not sell, Erikson turned the script into a novel and struggled to publish it until Transworld signed a deal.
The novel opens in the 96th year of the Malazan Empire, during the final year of the rule of Emperor Kellanved. A young boy, aged 12, named Ganoes Paran witnesses the sacking of the Mouse Quarter of Malaz City. Paran wants to be a soldier when he grows older, though the veteran soldier Whiskeyjack disapproves.
Erikson skips seven years from the Prologue, during which time the Emperor and his ally, Dancer, have been assassinated and supplanted by his chief of the assassin corps. Empress Laseen now rules with the aid of the "Claw", the imperial assassins. The story opens several years into a series of wars by the Malazan Empire to conquer the continent of Genabackis.
The Malazan 2nd Army under High Fist Dujek has been besieging the city of Pale, one of only two Free Cities left in the Malazans' path in Genabackis, for several years. Pale is holding out thanks to an alliance with the powerful Anomander Rake, Lord of Moon's Spawn (a floating fortress), leader of the non-human Tiste Andii. Pale finally falls when Rake withdraws his fortress following a fierce battle. Even then, the Empire suffers severe losses, including the near total destruction of a legendary infantry unit in its 2nd army, the Bridgeburners. Several characters speculate that someone higher up within the Empire may be engineering the elimination of various people who were loyal to the late Emperor.
The Empire then turns its attention to the last remaining Free City, Darujhistan. A handful of surviving members of the Bridgeburners, led by Sergeant Whiskeyjack, now severely reduced in rank after Laseen's seizure of power, are sent to try and undermine the city from within. Once there, they attempt fruitlessly to contact the city's assassins' guild, in the hope of paying them to betray their city, but Rake has already driven the guild underground. Adjunct Lorn, second-in-command to the Empress, is sent to uncover something in the hills east of Darujhistan, in the company of Tool, a T'lan Imass, a now undead race that once dominated the world before humans. Meanwhile, Tattersail, one of the few mages to survive the Siege of Pale, and Paran, now a captain and the Bridgeburners' nominal commander, head toward the city to determine the reason for the increased involvement of several gods and other magical forces in the campaign.
At the same time, a group of con-artists and underworld figures within the city work to oppose members of the civic government who are considering capitulating to the Empire; while Anomander Rake offers his alliance to the true rulers of Darujhistan, a secretive cabal of mages. The plots collide when Adjunct Lorn releases a Jaghut Tyrant, a massively powerful ancient being, with the aim of either damaging Anomander Rake seriously or forcing him to withdraw from the city. The Tyrant is eventually imprisoned inside an Azath House after a fierce battle with Rake's people, while Rake himself defeats the demon lord that Lorn releases inside the city.
A substantial subplot involves a young Bridgeburner recruit named Sorry, who is in fact possessed by Cotillion, also known as the Rope, a deity and patron of assassins. When Cotillion's fellow deity Shadowthrone, Lord of Shadows, and Rake negotiate the Rope's withdrawal from interfering with the events of war, Sorry is freed and falls in with Crokus, a young Daru thief. As the novel ends, Crokus, a Bridgeburner sapper named Fiddler, and the Bridgeburner assassin Kalam volunteer to take Sorry (now called Apsalar) back to her homeland of Itko Kan (their story continues in Deadhouse Gates).
Meanwhile, Dujek and Whiskeyjack lead the 2nd Army into rebellion against Laseen's increasingly tyrannical rule. Dujek now seeks an alliance with Rake and other Malazan opponents on the continent against the holy war called by the Pannion Seer, whose empire is advancing from the south-east of Genabackis. Elsewhere, it is confirmed that the continent of Seven Cities has begun a mass-uprising against the Empire. These and other plot developments are continued in the third novel, Memories of Ice.
In a 2000 interview with SFSite, Erikson says that a large part of Gardens of the Moon involved the dismantling of various conventions of the fantasy genre. He admits his fascination with ambivalence and ambiguity and says that notion of evil for its own sake, with "good heroes and insipidly stupid bad guys", is boring. Reviewers have noted Erikson's penchant of avoiding "fairy tale distinctions between good and evil", with numerous factions in the novel that cannot exclusively be considered as either. Themes such as history, myth creation and war have also been considered.
The novel was first released by Bantam in UK and Canada as a trade paperback edition followed by a mass market paperback in March 2000. In 2004, Tor released the novel in both hardcover and paperback editions in the US. Both publishers released the novel's tenth anniversary hardcover edition in 2009. It has also been released in the audiobook and ebook formats. Subterranean Press published 500 copies of a signed numbered hardcover edition and 52 copies of a signed, deluxe bound lettered edition, illustrated by Michael Komarck, in 2008.
The novel received mixed to positive reviews from critics. SFSite said that Erikson had created "a fantasy world as rich and detailed as any you're likely to encounter" while calling the novel engrossing and hard to set aside. The reviewer, while calling it an astounding debut fantasy novel with a fully realized history spanning thousands of years and rich, complex characters, notes that the complexity could also be considered the book's greatest flaw. Bill Capossere of Tor said that, though the novel is not without its flaws, it is a captivating, stimulating read that defies the reader’s preconceptions of fantasy and challenges their ideas of fantasy by confronting them with reality.
The Guardian described Erikson's world-building as astounding and also praised the character development, stating "His characters ... feel realistic, and their personalities actually change and adapt through the story." It also praised the deep and complex plot of the novel. In contrast, however, the reviewer criticized the pacing as awful though noted that the climactic finale was neatly done. Another reviewer has praised Erikson for breathing new life into the fantasy genre with his new ideas and creations, calling the novel "a work of great skill and beauty." Salon describes Erikson as a "master of lost and forgotten epochs, a weaver of ancient epics" while praising his realistic world-building and characterization.
On the other hand, Publishers Weekly criticized the novel's characterization and lack of real depth, stating that "The fast-moving plot, with sieges, duels (of sword and of spell), rebellions, intrigue and revenge, unearthed monsters and earth-striding gods, doesn't leave much room for real depth. Heroes win, villains lose, fairness reigns, tragedy is averted. Erikson may aspire to China Miéville heights, but he settles comfortably in George R.R. Martin country."
Gardens of the Moon also garnered praise from well-known authors in the fantasy genre, such as Stephen R. Donaldson who said "Erikson is an extraordinary writer. I read Gardens of the Moon with great pleasure." J.V. Jones praised Erikson's style and his ability to "create a world every bit as intricate and messy as our own." Adam Roberts also praised Erikson's world-building and characterization, calling the novel "fiendishly readable".
After the commercial success of the novel, Transworld signed a publishing deal worth £675,000 for Erikson's next nine novels in the series.
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