The books in the Malazan Book of the Fallen series tend to be glamoured by this supernatural complexity that justifies all the negative thoughts and reviews the books get. I read some reviews on Goodreads of the first book – «Gardens of the Moon» just to see the most common adjectives thrown at it by the community, here is what I found:
- rich; and
This is what readers say about the masterpiece of Epic Fantasy. But do I agree with them?
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…
Conceived and written on a panoramic scale, Gardens of the Moon is epic fantasy of the highest order–an enthralling adventure by an outstanding new voice.
If it wasn’t for the read-a-long hosted by Elliott Brooks, I would probably (A) never picked this book up because I’m afraid of its size and committing to a 10 book series, or (B) I would have DNF’d it halfway through. Even during the last week of the read-a-long, I decided to DNF it at approximately 90%, only to go back to it the next day and finishing the final 50 or so pages I had left.
Reading shouldn’t be a chore for me since that’s what I love to do, but every single day of the read-a-long I was dreading the part of my day when I had to pick this book back up. This might sound harsh, but I didn’t hate it. All I felt throughout the whole story was indifference, which is even worse!
Starting with one positive element, I’d like to point out how vast and incredibly rich the world created by Steven Erikson was. This is a huge Empire with many cities, regions, nations, cultures, and people. And the first book only gave us a little glimpse at the events that took place in Darujhistan, one of the few remaining free cities.
1 – Steven Erikson tried to incorporate some lore elements in the story, through the tales of T’lan Imass to Adjunct Lorn, and he tried to give us some information about magic in this world, though Tattersail’s and Sorry’s arcs. But didn’t succeed.
Throwing random facts at readers won’t make them understand the story more, it only added more pages and words to the story that already could be much shorter, and didn’t leave any imprint on me.
2 – Maybe this is my reading preference, but I tend to remember better stories and characters that I connect with emotionally. Nothing in Malazan made me care about vast cast of characters introduced to us. Yes, some of them felt more familiar because we spent more time with them (Paran), or because I wanted to find out more about their abilities (Tattersail) or because they were quirky and different (Kruppe). But I wasn’t afraid for any of their faith. Frankly, I just didn’t care. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
3 – What bugged me the most and probably added to the growing pile of “problems” were the names of the characters. How am I supposed to take seriously a character called Whiskeyjack, when all I imagine is a bottle of Jack Daniel’s? Or connect with a mage called Tattersail when her name conjures an imaged of tattered sails in my mind? Quick Ben, Sorry, Tool, Toc the Elder and Toc the Younger… the list continues.
4 – I understand why fans of the Malazan series often say that new readers need to read 2, 3, 4! books before that addiction to the world and understanding of its lore finally hits them. However, I don’t know if I’m willing to spend my time on the books I don’t particularly enjoy hoping that after 4 humongous tomes I will finally get to the good parts. After all, we have so many amazing series available to us nowadays that this “suffering” seems absolutely unnecessary.
To summarize my thoughts, let’s go through the adjectives one more time:
- complex – yes, the world is massive, as well as the cast of characters. But complexity also comes from the poor presentation of the world by the author.
- unique – no, maybe in 1999 when this first came out it was a unique and new take on fantasy, but nowadays there are so many incredible fantasy books that I wouldn’t call this one unique.
- confusing – no, we just don’t get enough information to understand everything that is going on.
- intimidating – heck, yes! just the length of the books and the fact that there are TEN of them… Brr!
- rich – yes, the lore is very intricate and has a lot of growth potential.
- demanding – yes, if we think about the number of books in the series and time required to read them all.
And the final question is: Will I continue reading this series? I did search at my local thrift book store the books in this series because I don’t want to pay full price for the 2nd book, but they didn’t have it. I might join another read-a-long in the future, but honestly, I think this will be one of those book series I’ll end up abandoning.
Have you read Gardens of the Moon? Do you love the Malazan series? Let’s discuss it in the comments below!