|Steven Erikson: Gardens of the Moon|
Tor Books (Hardcover), ISBN 0765310015
I just finished a monumental book: Gardens of the Moon, Volume One of the Malazan Book of the Fallen, by Steven Erikson. The story unfolds in the Malazan Empire, ruled by the despotic Empress Laseen. After endless years of campaigning, Laseen sets her sights on the free city of Darujhistan. To conquer it she sends the Bridgeburners, an elite division of 2nd Army soldiers under the command of the legendary Sergeant Whiskeyjack.
But Whiskeyjack faces bigger problems. He receives word that Empress Laseen plots to destroy the Bridgeburners, for they represent the time that came before Laseen's rise to power. Yet if Laseen succeeds and the Bridgeburners fall, the army itself will riot. To oversee the situation, Laseen sends out the Adjunct Lorn and the High Mage Tayschrenn. Whiskeyjack's allies, including the sorceress Tattersail and the noble-born officer Paran, struggle against these agents of Laseen even as the city of Darujhistan struggles against the Malazan Empire. Alliances shift, and not all the players are human.
The extent of the novel is truly impressive. The book comes complete with maps, lists of characters, and a glossary. You will need them. Erikson created a multilayered geography of fantasy as a setting, complete with human and nonhuman races, history turned into legend, and rifts in time for sorcerers to tread. The past lies just as heavily on the plot as does the present, creating a hotbed of political intrigue as dicey as any in our world. Decisions made in the backrooms and bedrooms of Darujhistan carry repercussions for the city, the Bridgeburners and the entire Malazan Empire.
But as nuanced as the plot and setting are, the people make this book. Erikson deserves praise for the multidimensional, entirely adult characters he created. Few villains populate the book. Even Lorn, right arm of a ruthless Empress, possesses weaknesses and doubts that make her easily human. Anomander Rake, Lord of Moon's Spawn and Son of Darkness, leader of an immortal race and enemy to the Malazan Empire, betrays a humor that renders him eerily sympathetic. Heroes, too, come in short supply. Tattersail kills a friend to save a friend. Paran betrays a superior to save an army. The situation continues to grow messier.
The sheer volume of material and the complexity of the story and characters mean that the novel starts a little slowly. Perseverance pays off, however. I read several chapters before I became hooked. Then I kept reading to see if Erikson could pull off an ending worthy of his twisting plots. He does. But don't think the story ends here. The questions continue. Will Tattersail and Paran meet again? What becomes of Whiskeyjack and his Bridgeburners? How long can Laseen maintain power? What will happen to Darujhistan and her allies? I anticipate another book as skillfully plotted and masterfully peopled as the first.
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