Book Review Conversation: Gardens of The Moon by Steven Erikson (SPOILERS)

So, a friend and I have been reading Gardens of The Moon by Steven Erikson, the first book of the Malazan series. Everyone says if you can get through that first book, the series (10 books) is amazing. Here’s the conversation my friend and I had the other.
AlexCM: So, jeez, where to begin? I’d liked to structure this a little bit, and wrote down some questions that I felt strongly about. Maybe I’ll bring that up and ask you some of them.

Figel 

That sounds like fun. I have a couple of things I’m curious about. I’ll try and think of some more as we go

AlexCM 

Okay, I guess first off, what did you think of the overall book. Like general impression, which seems like a big deal with a series of this magnitude.

Figel 

We are going the whole thing written? Or do you want to VOICE CHAT AS WE GO?
Either way is fine

AlexCM 

Naw written. I’m going to post this as a “review in conversation” on my blog–so sound smart.
pressure is on

Figel 

Aw crap, alright

AlexCM 

haha

Figel 

By the end of Gardens of the moon I ended up really liking it, and I was very surprised by how many characters I wasn’t initially excited about that ended up being my favorites. The first five parts started pretty slow, but I feel like Erickson stayed on each beat just long enough, and my excitement level slowly grew until I really needed to know what was about to happen.
(How spoilery should we be?)

AlexCM 

Whatever happens happens.

Figel 

I was also really intrigugued by how from the start you really buy in to the Malazan point of view, and feel like you are on their side, and several times I felt myself conflicted about who I was rooting for.
intrigued…

AlexCM 

I think that’s a fair assessment for sure. Sadly, for me, the only character I was overtly intrigued in was Anomander Rake, and even by the end of the book I only got through it by telling myself it will be worth it in later books.
I guess what I mean to say is. . .
This definitely feels like a trial by fire book that introduces you to something far larger.

Figel 

Yeah, I would agree with that. I also really liked Rake, and was especially excited when he stepped in as Rallicks second, even though that didn’t really lead to anything. I found Circlebreaker to be my favorite, and really loved the way his arc closed. I also found myself very interested in Paren, but only really after he died that first time.
I love how he, and several other of the main characters. just really have no idea what is going on.

AlexCM 

Wait, was Circle Breaker’s identity ever revealed? I know he works for Kruppe, but never understood who he was–or if he was someone else I already knew.
Because Kruppe is the Eel, right?

Figel 

He was just an agent of the Eel, who never knew his identity. He is introduced as a guardsman spying on Turban Orr, and constantly felt that he was going to die, but decided it was worth it.
He is just Circlebreaker, he isn’t another character that we know of.

AlexCM 

But I thought Kruppe was the Eel. No?

Figel 

Yeah Kruppe is. That was one of my bigger questions. I’m curious how you thought the whole Eel thing played out. I felt it was pretty obvious it was Kruppe, but he made it so clear I started to doubt a bit. I ended up being fine with that, but you also never really get a clear picture of how influential he is. As you only get a glimpe of the Eel’s effect. But most of his power in the story has to do with his dreams, and how central he is to everything.
I just meant that Circlebreaker never knows it’s Kruppe,

AlexCM 

I just don’t know. Kruppe puts a spell on. . .someone who figures it out, so maybe he’s overt because he can just make ppl forget anyway. :shrug:
But I actually didn’t make the connection until later. Probably because I was just trying to hold onto anything of note at all, and got lost a lot.
I am excited about the role Circlebreaker will play in subsequent books. It’s set up for him to take a more active role.

Figel 

Yeah he does make Murillio temporarily forget, but I think that was a device to make the reader get confirmation of what they had hopefully already figured out. As I was feeling like there were a lot of breadcrumbs. But I also felt just a bit like the Eel was the main mystery that never gets a lot of attention intentionally, but Kruppe certainly does.
Yeah, I’m definitely hoping that wasn’t the end of Circlebreaker. He is one of the only people that really doesn’t seem like a huge part of it all.

AlexCM 

Haha. I guess that scene with Murillo was for me. Because I was like, OOOOOHHHH>

Figel 

Hahaha
Maybe he intended it both ways

AlexCM 

Likely, if Erkison’s reputation is earned for being a master plotter.
Speaking of which….
Do you feel the reputation of this book as a “slog” yet essential gateway to this series is well earned? Every time I heard of this book it was with warnings of how “dense” it is. Did you find it so>

Figel 

I was surprised to find that I didn’t. Before either of us had read it we discussed that general opinion several times and it made me hesitant to bite in. But I think, while the main plot took a while for me to get interested in, many of the subplots really caught my interest. Paren working for Lorn, Crokus and Challice (even if the conclusion was a little quick) Hedge and his cards, and everyone trying to kill Crokus with Caladan Brood directly opposing Rake there.

AlexCM 

It’s clear to me that you see the plot points far more clear than I do, but similarly, I felt as though the reputation was a little harsh.

Figel 

I think I also was expecting worse. I had a really hard time getting through Ken Liu’s Grace Of Kings, and I will haven’t made it to the end of the first book of Janny Wurts’ giant series. I think it just felt like an introduction. It took a really long time to understand how the magic worked, and that the Malazan empire wasn’t just going to take over everything, but it all is very interesting. It did feel a little like several Novella’s getting us ready for the story, but I found it to be an exciting ride.
I think the last several years has been full of very complicated fantasy. With those two as well as another ten or fifteen that come to mind, and maybe it’s a matter of what we were used to when the first book was released.

AlexCM 

For sure. and wait. . . you understand how Warrens work? I found the magic rather arbitrary. I didn’t understand what the rules of the magic was at all.
It seemed like those who could use warrens did so. . .whenever, but there wasn’t much difference that I could tell between different warrens other than some were stronger than others–then the Ototaral (sic) powder was cool, and the sword.

Figel 

Haha I feel like the novice of novices, and that may have been an exaggeration. I know that there are tiers of warrens, with Elder warrens at the top, many of which no longer exist. You have to open your warren to use magic, and the kind depends on that, and your understanding of the Warren (s) is what dictates how strong you are. I.E a high mage. But what kind belongs where I have no idea. And while Tattersail seemed to tired out quickly using her magic, and it seemed to tax her, I agree that otherwise their use seems limitless.
Yeah I was very intrigued by Otateral. I’ll assume we will learn more about the warrens later. Hopefully.

AlexCM 

I hear the rules surrounding them does become clear later in the series.

Figel 

I look forward to that.

AlexCM 

Okay, I got one more question. . .

Figel 

Sure. I have one more as well if there is time and space in the article

AlexCM 

So, in a world in which gods are flitting about in mortal dealings and ppl are coming back to life, I had a difficult time understanding what the stakes were in the story. Like what is the consequence if the Empire takes Darujhistan? (sic). I.e. why does it matter?
I guess it’s hard to fear for the fate of the characters when a god might just bring them back to life.

Figel 

I’ve been wondering that too. I mean, we know that Darujhistan is really wealthy, and Laseen probably needs the money to pay her troops? Also if you look at the map, it gives a rather wide area of influence if Malazan were to take that area.
I feel like early on there is something about it being the last bastion of freedom. There aren’t a lot of cities further South, so I don’t know where Rake and Caladan Brood would go to defend next.

AlexCM 

I mean, why is Laseen such an asshole?

Figel 

But you’re right, I’m not sure why the book made it feel so important.
Haha right? From the point she takes power it’s somehow just known that the Malazan empire will spread indefinitely unless someone stops it, but I also don’t feel like it was very clear why she needs to conquer everywhere.

AlexCM 

Ya
What was your question?

Figel 

I mean, things are obviously coming to a head with the Seer, who is the new big baddy to fight against the Malazans. And it will be interesting to see where all of the characters who we have left decide to land.
I am wondering how you feel about the length and conclusion of the Tyrant arc. From the start of part six, I was feeling like the whole next book could be about stopping him, and then it became clear he really wasn’t that powerful without the seed. I was just a little surprised at how fast he was stopped, and by the several characters (dragons) that got thrown in and out of the story during that section.

AlexCM 

I see what you mean. I actually don’t think Raest is dead–but maybe he is, I don
don’t know.
It did seem like the buildup was huge for a relatively small payoff.
But the Galayn demon fight against Rake made up for that

Figel 

That’s how I felt too. And then him being eaten by that…Eldering thing that was never really explained but was obviously some kind of ancient power?
Yeah, that fight was awesomely agreed.

AlexCM 

wait, who got eaten?

Figel 

Raest

AlexCM 

Raest?
For some reason I can’t remember that now. . .
I just know he was defeated. lol

Figel 

Oooooh
He is imprisoned in the house
It didn’t kill him

AlexCM 

Ohhhhh
That’s right

Figel 

I was very confused about the Azath

AlexCM 

I started Deadhouse Gates last night.

Figel 

What do you think of the opening?

AlexCM 

It’s great. Much easier than GoTM

Figel 

Awesome! I’ll have to get going on it.

AlexCM 

I’m not far in but like it.

Figel 

I just want them to go to Otataral, I’m just really intrigued by the anti-magic stuff

AlexCM 

ya. same.
As of today, we have both taken a bite out of the book 2, Deadhouse Gates. I hope to post more conversations as we progress through this series. Cheers.
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Book Review: Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett

Sometimes it’s just totally worth it to go back in time and read some of your childhood favorites. For anyone who isn’t living at the bottom of a bog, then you have at least heard of Terry Pratchett and picked up one of his books in a bookstore, been confused about where you should start his Discworld Series, then put the book back on its shelf. Lucky for me, I discovered the Discworld Emporium which breaks down each Discworld thread into something like chronological order. Before reading Equal Rites I’d read, Guards Guards!, Reaper Man, The Truth, Going Postal, Moving Pictures, Jingo, and The Color of Magic. (Now that I write them down I had no idea that I’d read so many over the years). Something that’s truly amazing about the Discworld Series is that none of them feel stale. None of them rehash old plot points or character development because they are all standalone novels as much as they are connected with each other.

So, Equal Rites. I picked this book up after reading a dialogue between Neal Gaiman and Kazuo Ishiguro about genre. Gaiman, who was a good friend of Sir Terry Pratchett’s and collaborated on books with him mentioned that Pratchett was frustrated by the confines of marketing in terms of “literature” versus “fantasy.”

“You know, you can do all you want, but you put in one fucking dragon and they call you a fantasy writer,” Gaiman recalls his friend’s frustration.

With this in mind, I picked up Equal Rites which is about witches, but it’s actually about women’s rights. It’s about institutions (or a specific institution) made by men for men that excludes and demeans the attempts of women to be a part of it. The university in Ankh-Morpork, Unseen University.

the book shows how the acts of women have always be placed aside from whatever men have deemed “acceptable” and or “worthy of academia” for no other reason than it’s “against the lore,” as many a wizard claims. “Against the lore,” meaning that it is not part of the status quo.

Given a change of scenery and era and, yes, genre, this story could also be told in the 19teens as fought for the right to vote and make their voices heard. Women were only granted the right to vote in 1920. Yeah. Not even 100 years ago. This story could also be told in the business sectors of our current day, or dare I say, in a Presidential Election.

Of course, any of these settings would quickly turn the book away from the humoristic and focus it on drama. Perhaps Pratchett’s stories only work so well and are digestible by the masses because of their “fantasy” status. Perhaps it is this status that enables him to address difficult subject matter without offending.

In the end, the curse of the genre is, perhaps, what makes this book succeed so easily. The subversion of tropes and finger pointing at the injustices the status quo produces is, sometimes, only heard when there are wizards and dragons involved.

Big Ideas: Blackwing by Ed McDonald

Last night I finally got through Blackwing, a gritty grimdark fantasy about a doomed and torn city caught in the midst of a war between two factions of undying wizards. Or gods. or demons. You know what, I don’t know what they are, but one faction is called The Nameless (even though they all seem to have names) and the other faction is called The Deep Kings, though what they are kings of and why isn’t quite clear. There’s no map in the book, so getting a sense of direction is difficult for readers–which I think is the point, as 80 years ago Nall’s Engine was activated and it destroyed one of The Deep Kings, as well as his army, as well as the land it rained destruction down on. But that’s not all–Nall’s Engine also broke the sky, carved slits into the fabric of reality, and now the sky wails and whines and screams at odd moments. They call the place where the sky was opened up: The Misery. It’s an apt name–everything and everyone in this book is miserable. It’s a fantastic piece of pessimistic fiction–at least until the very end.

91pne55s6hlThe main character Ryhalt Galharrow (awesome name) in a mercenary known for taking any job, as long as the price is right. When he discovers a couple of dead sympathizers in The Misery with blood running down their cheeks from their eyes, he knows it’s a Darling that has killed him. Then the tattoo of the raven on Galharrow’s arm begins to burn and squirm and it bursts from his arm, a live raven, in a shower of gore. When the raven speaks (of course it does) it is the voice of one of The Nameless–Crowfoot. Crowfoot gives him a mission he dare not refuse. That’s the first chapter.

The whole piece is in first person PoV, which works to make the world ultra real. Galharrow is likable in the way where you admire him but wouldn’t really want to know him because, well, he’s a bit of a dick and he doesn’t mind doing bad things for the right reasons.

The plot takes lots of twists and turns and it’s fun learning about how magic works in this world. It’s not like anything I’ve ever read before–there are matchlock guns, then a thing called Battle Spinners who use light from coiled batteries they use to blow stuff up. Then there are the wizards who have magic that isn’t explained at all because Galharrow doesn’t understand it either.

The book weighs in at 380 pages, short for a fantasy novel, yet near the end of the book I found the book was a bit lagging and thought the conclusion could have come a bit sooner–not by much, but just a little. In the last 100 pages, I think there was a 20-page span or so in which little happened that was essential to the plot or character development.

Otherwise, this is a really great debut novel of dark and gritty fiction. It’s awesome for anyone who is tired of traditional heroes and dark lords and the like in fantasy. For me–I need to take a break from magic and read something a little more literary.

Next up on Big Ideas is Vurt by Jeff Noon, an essential and classic cyberpunk tour de force. See you next time.