Malazan Book of the Fallen #1 : Gardens of the Moon — Book Review

Anomander Rake

Recently, I started on what has been described to me as a long, detailed, deep, and in it’s on unique way amazing fantasy series. Titled Malazan Book of the Fallen this series by Steven Erikson is widely considered by it’s readers to be among the best of modern fiction. After only reading the first book in the series, I think I can wholeheartedly agree. Erikson’s style is such a breath of fresh air (or rather a slam to the face) of writing that does something completely different for the genre. He does not pull his punches for the reader and launches you into a complete world without warning. The sheer scope of just this one book is phenomenal. For the first time in a long time while reading a book, I had to stop and think about the plot lines, character motives and magic all swirling around each other at once. As someone who has done a lot of analysis for English classes and so forth, epic fantasy has always been like sort of a “guilty pleasure” thing for me because I know I should be reading Orwell or Stevenson instead. With Malazan I don’t feel guilty at all for picking up these books because they are just as hard and just as deep in prose as other genres.

Because the first book Gardens of the Moon is widely considered the weakest installment in the series, I thought it would be interesting if I could pinpoint some of my main thoughts about the characters, plot, writing etc. that I had while reading. Most of my thoughts are character related so that’s how this is going to be organized.

WARNING: Spoilers for Gardens of the Moon

Captain Paran — I still don’t know how I feel about this guy. My biggest criticism is that he’s a generic character. I also didn’t really enjoy him because I really couldn’t understand his motives. Sure he wants to be soldier but why did he get so offended at Lorn when she took over his mission after she thought he died. It also bugged me how poorly written his relationship with Tattersail was.

Adjunct Lorn — Lorn was probably one of my favorites from the book and I was sad when she was killed. (RIP) All of her scenes were really well done. The one criticism I have is that here main motivation and also her main internal conflict is with her loyalty to the Empress Laseen and that it was only vague. It probably would have been stronger if there were one or more scenes between her and the Empress. Unless Erikson intends to keep Laseen as figure-never-seen then it would have strengthened the main part of her character.

Tattersail — Another well written character except for one thing; her romance with Paran. I mean I don’t think it could get any worse than it was. They literally had one recorded conversation in the book and then the next one were professing their romance. There was one generic line that went like “Paran I’m having feelings for you that I haven’t felt for someone in a long time.” I hope Erikson gets better at this.

Crokus — I actually really liked Crokus. He was one of the better defined characters in how naive he was. My one criticism is again about romance. I think Erikson must have used the line “Then why do I feel so weird about this person” a dozen times.

Kruppe — Literally no complaints. If he gets killed, I’m going to cry for a week. I loved the idea that this guy is really powerful and influential but on the outside he just likes pastries. Murrilio thinking that it’s an act as well was hilarious. I genuinely think that Kruppe loves his food. I probably like him so much because of his varied voice with the rest of the characters. One of my main problems with Erikson is that I don’t think he changes his style enough for each character. Lorn’s thoughts felt like they could be made by Whiskeyjack etc.

Murillio — Great minor character.

Rallick Nom — Just like Paran he felt a little too generic. I guess Erikson is allowed some less-deep characters but for as much screen time he got it felt too shallow. His inner conflicts and maybe background should be more explicit to fix this.

Sorry — Probably my favorite character behind Kruppe. The idea of possession is I’ve not read too much of in fantasy and it was very well done. I would have like to see some scenes of her as Apsalar to see what’s going on inside her head even more.

Kalam/Quick Ben — You can feel the history between these two and part of their characters is how vague their past is. Both were well done. These are the characters I’m most excited for in the future.

Hedge/Fiddler — Love me some pyromaniacs.

Whiskeyjack/Dujek — Similar to Kalam and Quick Ben, part of these guys characters is their history and I thought they were both well done. Excited for the future.

Anomander Rake — Dear god, could you be anymore of a bad-ass. I loved this guy. I’m a sucker for cool swords and the oppressive feeling described every single time he draws Dragnipurake was amazing. As with other characters, you could feel the history and the unknown power he has. I do have one small, petty gripe. I wish he couldn’t turn into a dragon. I love the idea of him just being a bad-ass with a bad-ass sword and sending people to his bad-ass damnation chained to a wagon. Him becoming a dragon made him something different than that. I want his power to be with his sword. I am glad that the Gaylan demon was killed with Dragnipurake and that the end of the book reveals the details of how victims are crushed into the sword. Again, minor gripe, this guy is intense.

Some other thoughts -
Releasing the Jaghut Tyrant seemed like the stupidest way to try and defeat Rake. The scenes with him were cool though.

Wasn’t really sure what Oponn or Shadowthrone were trying to do. As far as I can tell Sorry was meant to advance ranks and kill the Empress or Lorn. I think to most influential thing Oponn did was make Crokus a boss at throwing bricks. Big questions for the rest of the series here.

The deck of dragons is unique.

Hairlock’s motivations were unknown but I felt it kind of fit his character as a power hungry puppet. Reminds me of Ezra from the Leven Thumps series I read as a kid. (he was a power hungry toothpick)

After all those criticisms I want to stress again how much I enjoyed this book for being different. If this is considered Erikson’s worst book I can’t wait to read his best. Thanks for reading my thoughts. I honestly haven’t done something like this for a book before. I want to do something like this for every book in the series and see how my opinions of characters change.

Onwards to Book 2 : Deadhouse Gates!

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