In his preface to Gardens of the Moon, Steven Erikson dares the reader to give up. There’ll be no gradual introduction to the world he has created. You’re thrown right in the middle of it, with confusing events happening unexplained, and a shitload of characters to get to know. If you don’t like it, go read something else.
I’m vulnerable to reverse psychology, so I accept the challenge. And for the first few hundred pages the story jumps and runs without waiting for you to catch up. Later it slows down. Gardens of the Moon does the opposite of certain sprawling fantasy novels – it begins confusingly, and converges towards the end.
The story is that an empire is invading a city, and the gods interfere. The gods are merciless beings who use humans as tools for their own purposes, and the leaders of the empire are no better. So there’s death and eternal damnation in all directions. Also a mad puppet, a girl posessed by an evil god, and an ancient beast reawakened from its eternal slumber.
So there’s little to be happy about in this world. Erikson says in his preface that his aim was to write an ambitious novel, and, well, I don’t think that it is. It’s an ambitious attempt at world building, but it’s not an ambitious novel. The bleak setting is too restrictive for that.
There are many sequels to Gardens of the Moon, but thankfully they’re self-contained novels. I haven’t decided if I’ll read them.