by Steven Erikson
Review by Abby Goldsmith, 2003
This author, Erikson, is hailed by some as the next Shakespeare or Charles Dickens, so this review will likely attract flamers and hate mail, but what the hey. Let it be known that I consider reading Shakespeare to be a matter of academics rather than enjoyment, and I personally prefer Stephen King over Charles Dickens; so my literary tastes are already questionable.
In spite of having all the proper elements for a compelling fantasy novel, Gardens of the Moon is more of a vehicle for rambling prose than a story. I gave the book a chance all the way until the end. I thought that my inability to comprehend the motives of the characters might be because I wasn't trying hard enough. Finally I had to conclude that the author never explained them clearly. Why do the sorcerers willingly serve an Empress who created a guild of assasins to cleanse the world of sorcery? Why would a Sergeant continue to loyally serve a government that wants to kill him and his soldiers? Why would gods who can appear in the flesh bother to use humans to carry out their plots? Why would a nearly omnipotent being who can destroy anything fear a bunch of mortals? Why did the protagonists tolerate the presence of a murderously insane marionette when they could have easily chopped him into kindling? Why should I care about any of this?
These questions and many others whirled through my head as I waded through scenes of dragons and demons battling each other, between dividers of extraneous fantasy poetry. A large portion of the plot seems to be intended as guesswork. I found it hard to empathize with characters that could walk out of any given bad situation, but chose not to for no apparent reason, only to be suddenly rescued by the inexplicable intervention of a god or demon or magic powder or something. The world magic system is never clearly defined. What exactly is a Warren? What limits the gods? How does a Mage become an Ascendant? I might have enjoyed the book better if any of that had been addressed.
On the brighter side--or darker, rather--Erikson is talented when it comes to imagery and description, and he paints a rich nighttime atmosphere. That talent was probably the only thing that kept me reading. The wide variety of cultures and creatures in the book are pleasantly creative. Another original flair is the elegant dialogue, but the effect is ruined by the fact that it's used uniformly by every character. Common soldiers and tavern patrons shouldn't speak exactly the same as royalty and gods.
In the end, I felt like I had read an amateur novel that needed one or two more rounds of editing in order to make the characters and story come alive. I guess I should have expected this from a book that was recommended by Stephen Donaldson.
Fans of Donaldson: This is the book for you!
Fans of compelling characters and stories: Avoid this one!