“Ambition is not a dirty word. Piss on compromise. Go for the throat.”
So what’s the book about?
The Malazan Empire simmers with discontent, bled dry by interminable warfare, bitter infighting and bloody confrontations with the formidable Anomander Rake and his Tiste Andii, ancient and implacable sorcerers. Even the imperial legions, long inured to the bloodshed, yearn for some respite. Yet Empress Laseen’s rule remains absolute, enforced by her dread Claw assassins. For Sergeant Whiskeyjack and his squad of Bridgeburners, and for Tattersail, surviving cadre mage of the Second Legion, the aftermath of the siege of Pale should have been a time to mourn the many dead. But Darujhistan, last of the Free Cities of Genabackis, yet holds out. It is to this ancient citadel that Laseen turns her predatory gaze. However, it would appear that the Empire is not alone in this great game. Sinister, shadowbound forces are gathering as the gods themselves prepare to play their hand…
“Every decision you make can change the world. The best life is the one the gods don’t notice. You want to live free, boy, live quietly.”
“I want to be a soldier. A hero.”
“You’ll grow out of it.”
These aspects attracted me the most while reading.
- Steven Erikson, in my opinion, gives the genre of High Fantasy a whole new meaning and takes it to a new level. I have nothing but awe and deep admiration for him. In all my life I have never met a writer who writes with such complexity, intelligence and sophistication. I can’t say it any other way: Steven Erikson is one of the best. His world design is extremely detailed, he offers masses of characters with whom I could sometimes identify more, sometimes less, and on top of that he handles an insanely complicated magic system without ever getting tripped up. Everything seems rounded, in flow and perfectly coordinated with each other – a clear indication of the enormous mental effort the author has already made before writing. The years of preparation are palpable on every page, which probably made it possible for Erikson to construct a plot for this book that is convoluted, unpredictable and absolutely consistent. He gives his readers nothing and demands a high degree of independence and attention from them; even a single moment of distraction can be enough to lose the thread. I was forced to pause at regular intervals during the reading, to sit back and first recap what I had learned about the events in this book up to that point, because Erikson drives his story relentlessly forward. There is no time to take a breath, every scene stands out for its significance for the big picture. I can imagine that not all readers will like this strict, ruthless, extremely ambitious plot development process, but I am unrestrainedly enthusiastic about it. I don’t always want to be wrapped up in cotton wool when I read; I love a challenge and am happy when authors trust me to find my way in their story without presenting everything to me on a silver platter.
- Not only is death omnipresent, but human cruelty is also conveyed in a not at all exaggerated, very realistic way. Readers who are more inclined to read works in which everything ultimately turns out for the better will, to take one example, probably quickly be shaken by fits of tears. Erikson also takes great care in crafting his plots, however; he probably doesn’t want to disturb readers as much as Martin occasionally manages. There are truly people who find Song of Ice and Fire, Martin’s epic work, so off-putting that they stopped reading simply because too many heroes died. That won’t happen with Erikson. However, he conveys wonderfully that good and evil is a moral relative that has no place in his world, because with him there is no side the reader can take because it is the “good” one, black and white painting is impossible. So there is rarely an opportunity for the reader to see directly who is the good guy and who is the bad guy. But this is exactly how Erikson conveys a certain sense of security. One can assume, at least with some characters, that they will remain for a longer period of time. In addition, there are always characters who are extremely bizarre and, precisely because of that, endearing, who help to lighten up the whole plot, which is very dark at times. Thus, there are even wonderfully cheerful moments for laughing out loud, which remain in the reader’s memory.
- The author constantly casts a new light on his creations and brings out new facets that one might never have expected. Often, a beloved character is presented in a different light, which may even make you doubt it. More than once the reader is confronted with the question: “Why now of all times? What plan is he, of all people, pursuing with this action? How can he be capable of this at all?“ The original image of the enemy blurs very quickly and it becomes more and more clear that we are not only dealing with good and evil. The characters described are “real”, and like all people often have to struggle with themselves and their own demons. Morality is very quickly replaced here by the desire to survive and the characters behave accordingly. There are no heroes who seem superior to all others and need not fear any enemy. There are no shining knights in magic armour who sow fear among their enemies by their mere presence. There are people who adapt to situations and make the best of their resources.
“Words are like coin—it pays to hoard.”
“Until you die on a bed of gold,” Paran said.”
What did not work for me!
The book is not for everyone and you can’t understand this book the first time you read it. It simply doesn’t work. Of course, the characters’ actions are comprehensible, and for the most part you understand what they are doing and why. In contrast, however, hundreds of questions remain unanswered. The world structure, in which gods make people their tools, people become gods, gods die, and dozens of different types of magic exist, is literally overwhelming. Along the way, one is confronted with dreams that are difficult to understand, prophecies, nebulous allusions and dozens of names that have never been heard before, which are brought up briefly and then disappear again for the rest of the book. The backgrounds of the protagonists are also often only hinted at and only rarely do you really learn more about the people you are reading about.
“Too many regrets. Lost chances—and with each one passing the less human we all became, and the deeper into the nightmare of power we all sank.”
So what are my final thoughts about it?
A thousand words are hardly enough to adequately appreciate Erikson’s masterpiece The Gardens of the Moon. Where to begin? Perhaps at the detailed description of the world with its creatures, the peoples with their own rites and culture, at the magic, which is unique in fantasy literature as described. Or should we pay tribute to the wonderful characters? You should definitely not miss Erikson, even if you don’t know much about fantasy otherwise. For the story is above all about people, with all their strengths and weaknesses, with all their wishes and desires and their cruelties. In the end, it can only be said that rarely in recent times has such an excellent new fantasy series been on the market. Erikson conveys suspense and a desire for more through his style and through a dense, well-conceived plot. For anyone who wants to break away somewhat from classic fantasy literature of Tolkien’s or Raymond Feist’s calibre, this series can be highly recommended.
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