It was a byline from Glen Cook, author of The Black Company series, which caught my attention and convinced me to try this book. It’s a recommendation I don’t regret.
‘Gardens of the Moon’ was published in the U.K in 1999, eventually finding its way into Canada. Only recently has it seen print in North America, which is odd since Steven Erickson is a Toronto born Canadian living in Winnipeg. Such is the world of publishing.
‘Gardens’ is a first-time novel which apparently took six years of labour to produce. It’s the beginning of a projected ten book series, of which five are in release, or close to it. Now, before readers start screaming ‘Jordan’, note that each novel can stand on its own. ‘Gardens’ certainly does. It wraps up the main storyline, though the groundwork is there for sequels. Most importantly, the reader isn’t left waiting on a sequel.
Erikson has crafted an exhaustive fantasy world, populating it with intricate characters, detailed cities, grand magic, dark religions, backstabbing politics and a twisting plot. Like The Black Company, there are no clear cut heroes and villains. Every character is a shade of grey. The difference between right and wrong blurs, casting doubt on perceived alliances and agendas. Unfortunately, this can lead to confusion, especially during the book’s early stages. To the author’s credit, ‘Gardens’ comes with a fair amount of supportive material, including maps and a glossary.
In short, The Malazan Empire is on the final leg of a campaign of conquest on the Genabackis continent. All that remains is the capture of Darujhistan, the last Free City. However, outlying and internal forces conspire to make this far from a fait accompli. The various groups have their own agendas, all in the best Machiavellian fashion.
Laseen, the unpopular Malazan Empress, rules the empire with an iron fist. To aid her she employs the Claws, an organization of spies and assassins, and Lorn, her adjunct and right-hand woman. Dujek Onearm, one of her most competent generals, conducts the campaign on Genabackis. He was a supporter of the assassinated Emperor, and fears he may become expendable. Meanwhile, there is infighting among the military cadre of wizards, and then the gods get involved…
We meet The Bridgeburners, an elite military unit populated with colourful notables like Sergeant Whiskeyjack, Quick Ben, Sorry, and Kalam. In Darujhistan there is Kruppe, a seemingly bumbling scholar who refers to himself in the third person; Rallick Nom, deadly assassin; the not quite human Anomander Rake, Lord of Moon’s Spawn; and Baruk of the T’orrud Cabal. That is a mere sampling of Erikson’s wide range of characters.
‘Gardens of the Moon’ is ambitious, detailed and epic. It offers a compelling story for the dedicated reader who enjoys a descriptive, immersive tale. However, it may be too intense for the casual fantasy fan used to the simple-minded drek passing for the genre today. Either way, Steven Erikson has left an indelible mark with this first effort, and proven he is capable of being a major fantasy talent for years to come.