Malazan Read: Gardens of The Moon, Part 1

Spoilers for Gardens of The Moon to Chapter 4| More info and previous posts  |Please no spoilers for future books/events

In my plan to read The Malazan Book of The Fallen, I’m now on book 1, Gardens of The Moon. This post covers chapters 1-4.


Now these ashes have grown cold, we open the old book.
These oil-stained pages recount the tales of the Fallen,
a frayed empire, words without warmth. The hearth
has ebbed, its gleam and life’s sparks are but memories
against dimming eyes – what cast my mind, what hue my
thoughts as I open the Book of the Fallen
and breathe deep the scent of history?
Listen, then, to these words carried on that breath.
These tales are the tales of us all, again yet again.
We are history relived and that is all, without end that is all.

Normally I’m not one for verse (is this even verse?) – especially at the beginning of books, but damn this piece is good. But it appears a work of this scale can’t make do with one opening extract, and so we have another one talking about the Emperor’s death, which I won’t quote because it’s not that good IMO.


Prologue

1154th Year of Burn’s Sleep

Who/What is Burn, I wonder? Must be a big deal for people to measure dates by how long it’s been sleeping. Maybe we’ll get to see it awaken sometime.

Ganoes Paran is overlooking the city of Malaz, where some sort of disturbance is going down. Magic is involved. A soldier comes up to him, whom Ganoes identifies as a Bridgeburner. They chat. Is seems things are happening in other parts of the Empire as well. A famous soldier by the name of Dassem Ultor is dead. Ganoes tells the Bridgeburner that he wants to be a soldier when he grows up. The Bridgeburner tells him he’ll grow out of it, but as the Dramatis Personae told me, that’s not going to happen. Damn spoilers!

Another soldier comes up, and the two have a talk, which doesn’t make much sense to me, but this is Malazan we’re reading so I take it in my stride. They do mention Laseen, who will(has?) kill the Emperor and become Empress according to the Dramatis Personae.

Laseen herself arrives soon after, and orders the fires to be contained. The Bridgeburner is none too happy with her, but Surly/Laseen seems to be all out of fucks to give.

The rather underwhelming prologue ends with some pretty nice writing though.

Hot smoke rolled over the wall, engulfing them. A reek of burning cloth, scorched paint, and stone, and now of something sweet. “An abattoir’s caught fire,” Ganoes said. “Pigs.”

The commander grimaced. After a long moment he sighed and leaned back down on the merlon. “As you say, boy, as you say.”


Chapter One

More extracts, including a mildly interesting history lesson, and we begin the book proper, seven years after the prologue. I’m kinda disappointed that the chapters don’t have titles. It’s not a big deal, but titles add a little bit of flavor to a book.

Anway, two women, one old and one young are watching a bunch of soldiers ride by. The conversation is mostly inane chatter about fishing equipment and complaining about wars, when the old woman, Rigga, goes nuts and enters prophecy-mode, spouting a lot of gibberish. Plot-relevant foreshadowing maybe, but still gibberish to me. Until a random passing soldier smacks her in the head and she drops dead. Wow, that rhymed quite nicely.

Once the soldiers have passed, two mysterious men appear mysteriously, all shadowy and stuff. They tell her that the dead woman was a necromancer, and summon seven massive hounds and set them on the soldiers. Turns out the two are called Cotillion and Ammanas. It seems they harbor a grudge against Laseen. They do something to the girl, planning to use her somehow in their schemes.

Afterwards. It turns out the hounds wiped out all of the soldiers, and of course this has made a big bureaucratic mess. Lorn, the Empress’s (Empress’?) Adjunct, has arrived on the scene. A suitably gruesome description of the carnage follows, and she asks good old Ganoes Paran to show her around. They go to the village the girl was from, and find more carnage. Lorn is so impresed by Ganoes that she takes him on her staff. Lorn tells him that what happened was just a big diversion to hide something, and that magic was involved. She sends off Ganoes to a nearby town to find out about the residents of the village.

Ok, now I’m confused – even taking into consideration the fact that the whole book is supposed to be confusing. So Ammanas and friends murdered all those civilians and soldiers to hide the fact that they took the girl? What’s the point of a diversion that draws attention instead? Wouldn’t it be way easier to just kidnap a random villager? Who would even notice! I mean, yeah, her parents might, but no one in the Empire’s hierarchy would pay attention. Not to mention the fact that it seemed to me that they just accidentally came across her, and decision to use her was made on the spur of the moment. So either Lorn’s assessment of this whole thing is off, or I’m missing something. Moving on…

A girl comes up to a recruitment officers and asks to join the Malazan Army, requesting to be assigned to the Genebackis campaign under Dujek Onearm. She gives her name a Sorry. The recruiting officer notes that something’s off about her. Maybe she’s the girl Cotillion took.

Ganoes arrives at Gerrom to find it deserted, apart from the Imperial Constabulary, which is full of corpses and spooky pigeons. On the way back, the poor guy is trying to come to terms with all the weird shit he’s seen today, when he runs into a man who turns out to be the commander of the Claw, Topper. He’s come to fetch Ganoes, but only after a nice little picnic. I’m surprised that Lorn has this guy running errands.

A portal opens into something called a warren, specifically the Imperial Warren. Warrens, as far as I can gather, are magical shortcuts, and also somehow related to sorcery and gods and whatnot. They make the journey, and arrive – weirdly enough – right in the middle of Laseen’s throneroom. I’d have expected a more suitable place to be set up for this sort of thing. People popping in and out of spooky portals all day must make it hard for the Empress to focus on the job of ruling I think. Surprisingly, she remember Ganoes from seven years ago. She dismisses him after a little chat, and Ganoes goes to meet Lorn.

He gives her his report, which is basically that he found nothing, but she doesn’t seem disappointed. Indeed, she seems appreciative. Lorn tells him that for now they’ll let the matter go, because this is something that demands a lot of caution.

Ganoes returns to his house for a less than warm reception.


Chapter Two

Yet another history extract, notable mostly because it’s written by Ganoes’ sister Felisin.

Two years later, and the scene is the aftermath of a battle. The city of Pale has fallen, though apparently it cost a lot of lives. Would’ve been nice to actually witness all this, but oh well. Our POV character for this one is Tattersail, sorceress. I have to say I love the name. She bickers a bit with another dying wizard, Hairlock. Not nearly as nice a name, by the way. It seems he’s not dying after all, he’s got some sort of backup plan, which soon arrives in the form of a squad of Bridgeburners, led by the famous Whiskeyjack. Dude’s so famous even I have heard the name. His squad includes a mage, and a spooky girl, who turns out to be Sorry.

The Bridgeburners had been assigned to digging tunnels under the city’s walls, a task as unrelated to burning bridges as I can imagine. Unfortunately for them, said tunnels collapsed in the day’s events, and most of them were buried alive. Poor sods. Tattersail goes into flashback mode.

Tattersail and her magical lover, Calot are awakened by a magical summons.On the way, we’re treated to some much needed exposition. There’s a huge fortress floating above Pale, called Moon’s Spawn, and it is this powerful ally that’s keeping Pale from being taken so far. The Malazan forces are losing to the combined forces of the Crimson Guard and the Tiste Andii, whatever those are.

The duo arrive at the command tent. They meet the leader of the army, Dujek, who informs them that they’ll be attacking Moon’s Spawn today. The High Mage, Tayschrenn, is also there. A lot of their talk goes over my head, but the gist is that the Lord of Moon’s Spawn is apparently one Anomander Rake, who is a pretty powerful sorcerer by all accounts, and Tattersail is not at all eager to go up against him, but orders are orders. Tayschrenn seems to be hoping that it won’t come to a proper fight, that Moon’s Spawn will obligingly pack up and leave, like it did once before. There’s also undertones of mutual rivalry. In fact, Hairlock implies that Tayschrenn is part of some sort of conspiracy.

Soon after, the mages and the soldiers are in position for the assault. The first attack is done by Tayschrenn, and it is pretty spectacular, and then Anomander Rake himself appears. I’m kind of surprised Tattersail is able to see him from what must be pretty far away. It seems Rake is no normal magician:

Mane of Chaos. Anomander Rake. Lord of the black-skinned Tiste Andii, who has looked down on a hundred thousand winters, who has tasted the blood of dragons, who leads the last of his kind, seated in the Throne of Sorrow and a kingdom tragic and fey—a kingdom with no land to call its own.

So I guess the Tiste Andii are Malazan’s version of Dark Elves or something. Definitely not human in any case. I don’t really get how warrens come into the spellcasting, but apparently every mage is somehow associated with a warren.

The battle proceeds, to an end we already know. They manage to beat back Rake, who retreats with his flying fortress, leaving behind plenty of wizards and soldiers dead, and the siege is finally over. I do wonder what the hell the soldiers were doing in all this. I mean, it’s not like they helped the mages in any way, just helplessly died to Rake’s assault. Which does lend weight to the conspiracy theory that seems to be brewing.

Back to the present. Quick Ben, the Bridgeburners’ mage, does some sort of ritual to Hairlock, who manages to convince Tattersail that it was Tayschrenn who was responsible for the deaths of her fellow mages. Tattersail enters into a shaky alliance with Whiskeyjack, to look for answers, for those responsible for the deaths of their comrades. They give her some sort of magic macguffin, and send her on her way.Whiskeyjack orders his squad to get ready for their next assignment, Darujhistan.

Tattersail returns to her tent and finds out that the object the Bridgeburners gave her was a marionette, which now contains Hairlock’s soul and consciousness. So, they’ve gone and turned him into Pinocchio. At his urging, she performs some sort of reading from the Deck of Dragons, drawing cards full of omens and premonitions, all of which passes way over my head. She decides to stop after two cards, which pisses off Hairlock royally. I’m getting the sense that this was more than a simple fantasy version of Tarot, but more than that I have not a clue.


Chapter Three

Ganoes is chilling in a ship, when Topper emerges from a warren. Poor guy, commander of the claw, deadly assassin, and being used as a glorified postman. He tells Ganoes that they’ve tracked the girl down, and turns out it is indeed Sorry. He is to take command of Whiskeyjack’s squad, and then off to Darujhistan. Topper also says that Laseen is considering getting rid of Dujek, because he’s way too popular with the soldiers. Ganoes displays badassery and stupidity in equal amounts by pointing out that this is bullshit.

This is before the events of the previous chapter apparently, since the siege is still going on. Excellent, might as well add a non-linear narrative.

Ganoes arrives at the port city of Genebaris, and is met by a claw, who tells them they’ll be travelling the rest of the way by Quorls, some sort of flying creatures, and gives some info on the Moranth people.

Back in Pale, Tattersail runs into Bellurdan, one of the mages, who’s grieving over the dead Nightchill. She tells him that Tayschrenn betrayed them all, and is responsible for the deaths, but he’s not willing to accept that. Tayschrenn tells him to go bury Nightchill, and that they’ll talk later.

The Bridgeburners are discussing their situation. Someone wants them gone, someone very high up indeed. They want to find out who’s involved, and take them down. Except don’t they already know Tayschrenn is involved? And what exactly can a squad do against a High Mage? Although I guess they’re not exactly powerless. Whiskeyjack is way more than a simple sergeant, and they’ve got Quick Ben who’s displayed magic that surprised even Tattersail.

Tattersail is asked to do another reading, by Tayschrenn. This time though, it seems some sort of entity takes possession of her during the drawing of the cards. A bunch of cards are drawn, and their significance is discussed, all of which makes little sense to me, again. Although it is becoming apparent that the cards are not simple future predictors, but related somehow to warrens and actual entities. Once that’s done, Tattersail sends off a message to Whiskeyjack that she wants to talk.

Paran arrives near Pale, and meets his Claw escort. On the way, he lays out the situation in Pale, and it’s not a pretty picture that he paints. At the city, the Claw, Toc, leaves Paran and goes on his way.

Paran finds a pretty hostile reception, which is not at all surprising seeing as what the Brigdeburners went through. He looks for Whiskeyjack, and eventually makes his way to an inn, where he’s told that the sergeant is out, but will be back soon. He leaves a message for Whiskeyjack, and leaves.

And is promptly murdered by a shadowy figure. Welp, RIP Ganoes, Prologue – Chapter 3. As he’s dying, he overhears his killers. I’m guess it way Sorry, and the others are Ammanas/Cotillion. From the little he hears, it seems that even more is going on than Cotillion first realised. Is he referring to the whole Tayschrenn/Bridgeburners thing that’s brewing, or yet another plot afoot?

The last sound that Paran hears is a spinning coin. Said coin has been popping up a lot , but what does it signify?


Chapter Four

Tattersail and her co-conspirators are having a heated discussion about the plot. Hairlock is doing some sort of supernatural sleuthing, using the warrens to find out who’s behind all this. Tattersail wants more explanations before she’s fully on board. So they tell her about Sorry. They know all about the massacre back in Itko Kan, which makes me wonder why they’ve spent the last two years just hanging out with her, instead of doing something about her. They also mention that the Warren of Shadows, with which Ammanas and Sorry are related, only appeared after the Emperor’s death.

Tattersail volunteers some more backstory. It seems Dassem Ultor has some sort of deal going with Hood, the god of death, until he broke it, and swoare vengeance against the god of death. (What?!) Hmm, I do remember someone mentioning his betrayal of a god. And this is what supposedly led to his death, the Emperor’s death and all that mess. And then suddenly they just know that Sorry’s killed someone, and rush out.

High House Shadow, and a knife in the dark. A new game’s begun, or the old one’s just turned.

Enough with the damn games!

Paran, it turns out, is not dead. Not quite. It seems he’s hanging out at death’s gate, stopped by the Oponn twins from going through. Why are they doing this? Because they like uncertainty. So what, are these guys like God Jokers, just doing crazy chaotic stuff for the hell of it? Nope, I don’t quite buy it. Anyway, they negotiate for Paran’s life with Hood’s agent. They leave, and the King of High House Shadow (what is a High House?) arrives with his hounds. And lets Paran go because it’s easier to keep track of him than another random person the Oponn might choose. And so Ganoes Paran comes back to life, thoroughly surprising Picker. The Bridgeburners eventually smuggle him somewhere, presumably to keep Sorry from finishing the job.

Tattersail spends yet more time considering the Deck of Dragons. The Mason of High House Death is mentioned prominently, and a clash is coming between Death and Shadow. Quick Ben comes to bring her up to speed on events.

Fiddler and Whiskeyjack talk with Dujek. They discuss Paran’s disappearance, and their upcoming mission to Darujhistan. Everyone agrees that it’s a stupid plan that’s probably designed to fail, but again, orders are orders. Dujek does say they have his permission to quit, but Bridgeburners ain’t quitters. Honor and stuff.

Back to Tattersail and Quick Ben. Hairlock’s snooping has drawn the attention of the Shadow’s Hounds, who are hot on his trail. This alarms Tattersail quite a bit, worried that this might somehow lead to a bunch of Ascendants arriving and wiping the whole city. And then there’s this little puzzle:

“For Hood’s Sake,” she sighed, “I’ve been sitting on a pillow for the past two hours.” That caught him.

He stopped, faced her, then laughed.

I really don’t see what’s funny here.

They also discuss Paran’s miraculous revival. Unfortunately, while his body is healed, there’s no telling what state his mind will be in when he wakes up. So the Bridgeburners leave Tattersail to handle him as they prepare to move out.

Her squadmates are pissed at Sorry, but that’s about the extent of the repercussions. It seems for now they’ll still keep her in the party. Everyone mounts up on some Quorls and they’re off.

Meanwhile, a Hound has managed to trail Hairlock to the city itself. It’s kinda fun to see Hairlock being all boastful about evading pursuit, until the big ass ancient Hound find him and he promptly hides in his box. The Hound attacks Tattersail, tearing through her magical protection, and is about to kill her when Hairlock pops out and does something to her.

Tattersail stared, then understanding struck a hammer blow to her chest. “Hound!” she screamed. “He’s reaching for your soul! Escape! Get out of here!”

Why on earth would you now turn to helping the Hound, Tattersail?

In any case, whatever Hairlock was trying fails because Paran is back up, and his first act is stabbing the beast, who vanishes soon after. Apparently his sword has gotten magic powers thanks to Oponn.


 

And that’s book one of book one of The Malazan Book of the Fallen. Bookception indeed.

Well usually here I talk about the overall events of the chapters covered in the post, but seeing as how little I understood, there’s not much point. I get that there’s some sort of conflict brewing involving gods, mages, Bridgeburners, assassins and whatnot, but that’s about it.

To be honest, it’s not as bad as I feared, but still, the book’s making me feel like a dumbass. Like I ought to be able to make more sense of everything, but am failing to do so. Frankly if this was any random book, I might well have given up. But this is Malazan, and so I shall persevere.

Although this is not a plea for everything being explained in the comments. I get that it’s supposed to be hard, and that’s part of the experience.

Let’s just hope things become clearer by the time I get to The Crippled God. /s

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6 thoughts on “Malazan Read: Gardens of The Moon, Part 1

  1. I’m at around Chapter 7. I don’t mind not knowing what’s happening because the mystery of history adds to the sense-of-wonder I like about stories like this. Everything is common knowledge to the characters and left up to me to piece together what they already know.

    My only issue is the writing. For me, Erikson is an overwriter — using thousands of words when only a few would make it more concise and move the action along. Maybe this is his charm to readers, but I feel it reflects a style that is more 19th and early 20th Century rather than modern.

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      • The prose gets a bit smoother in later books (as is common for writers moving beyond their early works), but that doesn’t make it any more succinct. Quite the reverse, in fact.

        His style certainly evolves throughout the series, but the idea that GotM is a cluster of problems that are comprehensively fixed in later books is mostly just overblown internet hyperbole.

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  2. Fun summary, thanks! I just started book 9 and looking back I remember being so confused at this beginning (and I forgot some of these details!)… Totally worth it, just remember what you can and it’ll all fall into place later on.

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  3. I didn’t understand anymore than you did on my first read through, but now some of it makes more sense.High House Death and Shadow is pretty obvious in hindsight for example.
    Also I found that reading the poems after the chapter rather than before made some of them make a lot more sense than they did previously.

    I’m on book two now (taking a break waiting for you to catch up)

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I am ¾ through book 8
    they say it gets less confusing that’s not entirely true, you just get used to it and resign to the fact that some things you won’t ever get explained, why does Burn Sleep, ??? She sleeps to dream, what does that even mean.
    And the author has this unusual habit of switching between characters, plots, scenery without a so much as a by your leave, you think you are reading about a particular character only to realise a sentence or two later that you are far away.
    keeps you on your toes

    ~B

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