Sunday, September 19, 2010

D for "Gardens of the Moon" by Steven Erikson

D for "Gardens of the Moon" by Steven Erikson

I absolutely could not get into this novel when I first attempted reading it. You should note that I am a bigger fan of low-magic novels as there tends to be less use of deus ex machina, but I do also enjoy high magic systems when done well. Perhaps I will try at a later date, but for now I will leave you with another review that pretty well encapsulates my thoughts.

By  Mark Erikson (Australia) on His review accurately reflects on most of the key issues I had with the novel:

"I picked up this book, the first in a projected series of ten, because everyone was giving it glowing reviews. Wherever I looked I saw nothing but great things being said about it. So I bought the first three in the series, intending to read them all while on holiday.

What I discovered was that the book was awful.

I have seen people saying that Steven Erikson can really write. He's not particularly bad, but he isn't fantastic either.

What actually makes this book fall flat, though, is the magic. It's vague (we get wizards killing people with "a wave of sorcery", not fireballs or ice storms or lightning), and it is not explained. There is absolutely no text about how and why the magic works. It's just there, and in massive ammounts.

There's also this vague impression that there's some "normal" mages floating about, but we never get to see them. Every single character who we're introduced to is somehow special. They can access seventeen types of magic, rather than the usual one or two, or they can fight at lightning fast speeds, or they've been altered by a magical object. It's like a comic populated entirely by superheroes, with no ordinary people for them to save.

And finally, there's the gods. Like the Greek Gods, they are driven by entirely mortal wants and needs. However, they appear to be all powerful, and locked in a constant struggle for power. What isn't clear, though, is what many of the Gods wants. Oponn, for instance, is one of the major players in this book, but as the God of Luck, doesn't appear to have any particular motivation except to cause random events. A character who has a massive impact on the plot and has no actual goal? Can you see the problem there?

The result of all this is a plot that doesn't follow any kind of logical pattern. Many of Erikson's fans seem to think that this makes the book somehow pleasantly unpredictable, the way George RR Martin's books are.

But Martin's plot twists occur when characters decide to do things which, while they may not be expected, are entirely believable given those characters' personality and motivations. Erikson's plot twists often involve a supremely powerful character suddenly appearing and using magic to alter events, often for no apparent reason, or at least no foreshadowing whatsoever. Similarly, when faced with problems, his characters usually have some inexplicable magical means to overcome it.

And this happens a lot. A whole lot. The plot doesn't twist and turn, it more or less bounces randomly around.

The ending is possibly the worst part of the book. While everything else is in constant flux, there are two plots that are constant throughout the book. The raising of a terrible monster from it's prison, and the diabolical mission of a possessed assasin-girl. However, at the last minute, the monster is recaptured before it can actually do anything, and the assassin girl is released from her possession, mission unaccomplished.

Instead, we get a completely random demon for some final dramatic action, and an entirely new group of superhero characters appearing in the final chapter to save the day. What?

A year later I tried again and tackled the second book in this series, "The Deadhouse Gates", on the promise that it was far better. It wasn't, it suffered from the same ridiculous plot twists and (still) unexplained magical metaphysics.

I gave up about halfway through when, it the midst of a pitched battle, it is suddenly revealed that the battle just happens to be taking place on the site of some heretofore unmentioned prior battle, and the mages raise the corpses of those long-dead soldiers to provide reinforcements of undead.

That isn't storytelling, that's just pulling something out at the last minute to explain why your vastly outnumbered force of good guys manages to beat the bad guys. "

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