“Doorstop fantasy” is the affectionate term for a fantasy series made up of thick, weighty books. Robert Jordan and George R.R. Martin immediately spring to mind in this category. British author Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen, a projected 10-book series, has come to the States with the breakout first novel, Gardens of the Moon.
The Malazan Empire has been slowly but surely expanding as the years pass, but this world-altering sequence of events has awakened cosmic forces beyond imagining. A young girl named Sorry is possessed by the assassin’s god’s avatar; a thief named Crokus bears the coin of Oponn, the twin god of chance; and an elder god with no knowledge of why he’s awake haunts the dreams of the seer Kruppe.
Mortals are always desperate to control their own fates, of course, and none more so than Col. Whiskeyjack. Commander of the last of the Bridgeburners, an elite fighting force, he and his men know that the Empress has targeted them for destruction for the sin of being the last of the “old guard.” But no matter who wants them dead, gods or men, they won’t give up easily. Caught between an empire and the gods, their actions may well determine the course of history for all concerned.
Although packed with interesting events and colorful characters, “Gardens of the Moon” requires patience. Readers are dropped into the middle of a vast, sweeping tale with little preparation. Erikson reveals information and connections perhaps a bit too slowly, but the details are intriguing enough to hold our interest, as explanations and connections appear.
Once events are set up, the gods come into play and things become unpredictable. This could have made the story chaotic, but the stylistic technique isn’t overdone and instead adds to the energy and keeps readers guessing. The inclusion of divine influence becomes part of the tale’s use of magic: The old powers are reawakening, and are bound to have a significant impact. The author balances everything with a deft touch.
Dynamic and powerful, Gardens of the Moon begins a massive, engrossing saga of gods and men. Erikson has joined the ranks of fantasy’s best authors.