Paran is a soldier in the army of the Malazan Empire, chosen by events to play a part in a growing crisis of divinity. He is placed in command of the Bridgeburners, an infamous unit of skirmishers, in their siege of a foreign city. That siege, and Paran’s efforts to consummate it by taking the city, is the focus of the novel. Yet that siege is also little more than a delaying action: a single battle in the prelude to the coming storm, a storm in the form of an army of religious fanatics on the march towards the Empire like a plague of locusts… destroying everything in their path.

Gardens of the Moon is the first novel in an epic fantasy series that has become very well regarded. The series has been available in Canada for some time, but is only recently becoming available in the US. It is epic fantasy in the grandest sense, with a detailed, intricate world of gods, men, and those things in between. From the very beginning, the stability of that world is threatened by encroaching events – events that the reader in this first volume can only begin to understand.

The appeal of this epic lies not in the skillful qualities of its writing, but rather in the intellectual exercise of piecing together the background and the meaning behind the events the author presents to us. The reader is effectively tossed into the middle of events and left to sink or swim on their own; explanations come to the reader only as they come to the characters, and often not even then. This quality makes the novel difficult to read, especially the first time, but rewards subsequent readings as the reader’s knowledge of the world and it’s mechanisms grow.

Later books in the series reveal progressively more about the world, allowing the reader to gain a greater level of comfort, but because each book shifts the central focus to a new set of characters (retaining some of the old ones, usually in a reduced role), the sense of newness remains. The author presents a complex, detailed world of interconnected powers, alliances, treacheries, and races.

Avid fantasy readers who enjoy figuring out the rules of a fantasy world, and who aren’t afraid of an author who leaves vital information to the reader to deduce by implication, will have a great deal of fun with this book and this series. Younger readers are likely to have trouble understanding events, and readers who prefer simple escapism would be better served elsewhere.

I should note that, as a reader, I tried very hard to enjoy this series, and ultimately, after several rereads getting about a half-dozen books in, I gave up. Something about the author’s writing style strikes me as oibtuse. Clarity of meaning is sacrificed to flowery verbiage.