The first part of the 10-book Malazan Book of the Fallen series this novel is pretty notorious among fantasy fans for being a complex world to get into. I was warned multiple times that it would “baffling” and “crazy” but to keep going and trust the author because all would become clear. I mean,with warnings like that I was expecting the damned Voynich manuscript (seriously, look it up, it’s amazing). So I put on my big girl socks and prepared myself for an intense reading experience…….
…….……. Seriously you guys, WTF? This isn’t weird or crazy or difficult or complicated. It’s standard drill, dragons and assassins, taken to pieces by Terry Pratchett, epic fantasy. That’s it. All those warnings about complexity are because the author doesn’t really do much in the way of info-dumping, instead relying on you to pick up information through dialogue and descriptions of things that characters see. And without meaning huge amounts of offence to my fellow readers – was that really so difficult for you?
All this should not suggest that I hated the book, I didn’t. I just don’t understand the hype. But let’s move on to a discussion of what the book is rather than what it is is not. Gardens of the Moon is based around the vast Malazan Empire whose massive armies are conquering neighbouring cities and states in a seemingly never-ending reign of terror. We follow a host of different characters who come together in Darujihstan, next on the Empire’s list for destruction. There’s grizzled soldiers, possessed teenage killers, gods, monsters and demons galore. It is, to be fair to all those aforementioned fans, pretty damned epic in scale. And this one book is just a tiny slice of what’s to come. So much is hinted at, so much is set up ready for a vast unraveling plot of wonder, that you can practically feel this giant world unfolding in front of you.
But, my sweet darlings, this promise of things to come is not an entirely good thing. 700+ pages is not a length I find acceptable for a setup. There was action, there were story arcs that arc in a fairly satisfying manner but goddamn there was a whole mess of unanswered questions just left in a big tangled heap. I’ve been promised by those who have read the entire series that many of these things will be answered but too many of them were introduced far too late for me to be satisfied with that as my answer. One particularly grating example came at the denouement when the big bad is (of course) defeated by the appearance of a never before seen or mentioned god tree thing. Fucking deus ex machina. Well, deus ex abore really. You get my point. I have been assured that it is explained in later books but my dissatisfaction remains. Long plot arcs rock, clunky individual parts do not.
I think that the characters and world that have were begun in this book are wonderful in their detail but I’m not sure that the detail can make up for what was essentially a pretty standard fantasy world with some boilerplate characters and settings – assassins guild, night-watchmen, master spy in plain sight, mysterious dark anti-hero, grizzled soldier with true honour and a tight knit crew – did you read Discworld? Yes, it’s likely better written and more complex than metric fuckton of fantasy out there. But writing the same damn fantasy novel in more detail does not a perfect read make.
Maybe I’m being overly harsh, maybe I need to read more of the series to give it a fair go, but this one book didn’t do it for me.
Rating: 2.5 stars out of 5