I fear this review is going to be a little worthless. You see, as a writer or critic we have some experience of the tools of writing: the character arcs, the themes, the worldbuilding, and so on. We’re able to unstitch novels and look at these component parts, judging each on its own merit. Hence we end up with reviews that say “I loved the characters, but the story was weak”.
However, there comes times when books are so enjoyable you just get lost in them, unwilling to unstitch them because you feel that in doing so you’d break the illusion, that it is somehow wrong. Instead, you just want to enjoy them. If we believe that a book could be, as is often said, “not for someone” so must it hold that some books ARE for some people.
I had that last year with Mark Charan Newton’s City of Ruin. There was a book I thoroughly enjoyed, that pushed my specific buttons. Books like that are rare, especially for any Fantasy writer – who, by and large, write because of the absence of the type of books they want to read.
I started reading Gardens of the Moon about a year ago. I’d been warned it was a tough read, throwing you right into the middle of things, and that most people quit after 200 pages. It became apparent within a few pages that this was a book I would love. Dirty, gritty fantasy with epic mage battles in a time in Fantasy literature where the fantasy is understated in order to up the ‘realism’. Don’t get me wrong, I love some of those books, but as I read about mages throwing waves of magic at a floating citadel, huge chunks of rock crashing into the city below, it re-enforced something I believe. Stories can be real and gritty and still have magic in them.
Yet, I too got around 200 pages in and stopped. I was trying to read too many other books at the same time, and here was a book that not only required but appeared to deserve my undivided attention.
I’m amazed not more fuss has been made of Steven Erikson. Here’s a man who has told a 10 book epic, has told his entire story, delivering each book on time. Can the same be said of Martin, Jordan or Lynch? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to start another of those “how dare the author be late in delivering his books” threads, just marvel at the fact an epic fantasist has done it. And it’s in the fact that I do marvel at Erikson’s accomplishment I realise I’ve become a fanboi.
I’m told that subsequent novels get better, which fills me with excitement and makes me want to dive into the next book. I must show restraint. The plan is to read all 10 books over the course of the year, each book separated by a few other reads. I will pace myself, Erikson is not someone whose novels can be raced through.
His worldbuilding is as thick as treacle, his ensemble ridiculously epic, yet with each character having their own arc. It might be possible to question how they manage to cross and intertwine paths so often were it not for the intervention of Gods being made plainly clear. A game of chess is afoot and we can currently only see the pawns. If I’m honest, and this is a hard pressed criticism, the characters were sometimes understated, to the point that it sometimes became difficult to individualise them. I find myself wondering if Abercrombie levels of characterisation would have enhanced the novel or detracted from it. With characters such as Kruppe, the potential is there to turn the character dial to 11. Yet, I found myself loving the characters, so perhaps this is another example of how Erikson demands of the reader.
The plot is also a thing of art constantly twisting and turning, characters crossing paths, to the extent that I found my writerly sense of trying to guess where things were going shutting off. I just wanted to enjoy the ride. And enjoy it I did.
There are so many wonderful moments in this book: from fantasy rocket launchers to dragon battles in the city, all unexpected. I found myself saying “I love this book” aloud every ten minutes or so.
Gardens of the Moon, for me at least, represents the pinnacle of post-Tolkien fantasy. This is the type of fantasy I want to read. For some, it’ll be too demanding. I understand this. This book is not for everyone, but it most certainly is for me.