Steven Erikson, the author of Gardens of the Moon, found himself—while on site at an archaeological dig in Canada—quite bored with his evenings. In an attempt to liven up the long and cold Canadian nights he and a friend, Ian Esslemont, created a D&D campaign setting and invited some of their fellow archaeologists and anthropologists to play. All the while Erikson took notes on the actions the players made within the D&D campaign. The notes he took would later be turned into a manuscript which would become The Malazan Series of novels, the first of which is Gardens of the Moon.
To the uninitiated, a Ludic Narrative is a story derived from a game. In this sense the Malazan campaign played by Erikson and co. is the game the novels are based off of. A Ludic Narrative is an exceptionally interesting style of writing, because the events written about actually happened, in a sense. The writing style, depth, and tone are all of an individual who is incredibly knowledgeable about the subject matter, and the characters feel exceptionally real: because, in a way, they were real. This degree of closeness can only be adequately portrayed in the context of a Ludic Narrative.
The novel is separated into seven “books”, or sections. These sections follow a cadre of soldiers within the Malazan Empire’s forces as they move from besieging one city to the next. Within we meet sorcerers, soldiers, saboteurs, assassins, thieves, and many more. While the plot revolves around these characters there are definitely higher powers at work. One of the enjoyable things about the novel which is atypical for other genre fantasy, or “high fantasy” novels, is that the events of the various sections all take place within a small section of the map. Book One, “Pale,” takes place in and around the city of Pale. Book Two, “Darujhistan,” takes place in the city of Darujhistan. A cartography degree is not required to keep track of where the events of the novel take place.
This novel is also a prime example of subversion within the fantasy genres. Subversion is simply when a trope of fantasy (the long “Tolkein” info dumps, the stalwart male protagonist saving the helpless female love interest from the dragon, evil jewelry which needs to be thrown into volcanoes to destroy, and many more) are thrown aside. Gardens of the Moon, unlike other fantasy novels like The Sword of Shannara and Twilight, is a fantastic example of self-sufficient female characters. The ruler of the Malazan Empire is Empress Laseen, her adjunct is Adjunct Lorn (a woman). Lorn is often seen as holding the command over, and the respect of, many of the other male soldiers within the Malazan Empire’s military. Furthermore, within the novel Lorn has used her wit, cunning, and prowess with a blade to best opponents who outnumber her. Two of the most powerful sorcerers in the novel are women (Tattersail and Nightchill). While we see very little of Nightchill within the book as a whole, within the first section of the novel she is referred to as a master sorceress. Tattersail is a character who we spend quite a bit of time with. She is the leader of a cadre of mages (all males except for her) and she is a master of Thyr magic. Within the novel we see her doing battle against individuals several times stronger than her both physically and magically, and yet she comes out alive.
All in all the book is an interesting and compelling read. The way Erikson writes places you within the world and close to his characters. The various ways Erikson subverts the fantasy genre are refreshing to avid fantasy readers, and an interesting talking point to readers who are new to Fantasy. All in all I highly recommend Gardens of the Moon.
Edited by: Sabrina Loftus