Gardens of the Moon – Steven Erikson

This is the first of a ten book fantasy series – the series is called The Malazan Book of the Fallen – first published in 1999, and based on an extensive fantasy role playing environment created by the author and Ian Cameron Esslemont. In this world, there are powerful forces at play, attempting to establish, maintain, or usurp control over people and places, through a combination of awesome magic, military force, diplomacy, and double dealing.

A main protagonist is the Malazan empire (which has its own internal conflicts) seeking victory in its war against Lord Anomander Rake and his Tiste Andii. The empire has just concluded the siege of Pale, but in the eyes of the Empress Lasseen there is no time to pause because Darujhistan, last of the Free Cities of Genabackis, remains outside her control.

On a lower level of interaction, there is Sergeant Whiskeyjack, his Bridgeburners, and the mage Tattersail. They are all that remains of the once might Second Legion, and they are given a mission for the fall of Darujhistan that is expected to be their last. However, there are others who have their own plans, and the interaction and interplay means that there is trouble ahead.

The writing is dense in places, with a tendency to drop in names and terminology for magic and its practice that make no sense at first encounter. However, slowly, more and more is revealed and understood – though it is telling that there is both an extensive list of characters, and an equally substantial glossary. While bits of the book did have me scratching my head, the overall experience was positive.

It’s not a light, easy read, and that may mean I go no further with the series. It’s not that ‘hard’ reading turns me off; it’s more that I have higher expectations when that happens. In other words, I was looking for more of a return from this book than I received. I cannot say, for example, it was spellbinding in its plot, its action, or its ideas – all of these are good, but not brilliant. I can say I found it a richly imagined, and interesting world. Just perhaps not interesting enough for me.