I have to admit to having not enjoyed much fantasy lately. I've enjoyed A Song of Ice and Fire, but that's been about it. Perhaps it's because I've wanted my fiction to be more grounded in reality (or, at least, plausibility), but fantasy hasn't been hitting the spot for me. It's probably good for people to know this ahead of this review, as I think had fantasy been doing it for me this review would be very different.
Gardens of the Moon was recommended to me by a friend about 18 months ago and I picked up a copy pretty soon after (second hand, £1.75 - considering that it was in tremendous nick and only a couple of years old I thought I'd got a bit of a bargain there). It's taken until now for me to get round to reading it, which is a bit of a surprise considering that I normally read this kind of book inside a week or two. Perhaps it was because I've had stacks of books on the bookcase unread for the last couple of years and I was just working my steady way through those. Perhaps it was because part of me just didn't fancy the 750-page brick. Either way, I should have read it ages ago.
The wait wasn't really worth it. I can see why people would enjoy it, but these were the same reasons I didn't. Throughout the book the narrative sustains a breakneck speed, whizzing from one bit of the action to another without thought for allowing the reader to gather his own thoughts and take stock of the situation. I can see why this can be addictive and compelling reading, but I personally prefer for an author to have a bit of patience. Breakneck pacing is all well and good, but some explanation as to what's going on in the first place and a bit of a recap every now and then wouldn't go a million miles amiss.
Steven Erikson came across to me as a writer very much bursting with ideas, many of which were original and exciting. I really mean that. Some of his ideas were tremendous, such as the mix of gods and mortals in the cast. But he needed (as of 1999) to learn to slow this all down and reveal his world slowly. I floundered when it came to keeping up with some of his revelations, because I hadn't the foggiest where they'd come from and how it impacted because he'd not explained properly just what this god had to to with that mortal and how it all tied in.
If I described Gardens of the Moon as a 1,200 page trilogy all rammed into a single 700 page volume it would probably best sum up my feelings on the pacing. Too much, too fast.
But then again, it did leave an impression (at the end, when I'd sussed out what was going on). Erikson isn't a descriptive writer, and he has a driving style that, when applied properly to his plot, is compelling. He hasn't got a legion of intelligent fans for nothing, and at some point I may go back to it, if only he drops things like assassins guilds and the street urchins helping to broker power. Seriously - that's been done to death and annoys me so much these days that I've written a spoof meeting of assassins.