Gardens of the Moon (Malazan Book of the Fallen Series #1)

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"Give me the evocation of a rich, complex and yet ultimately unknowable other world, with a compelling suggestion of intricate history and mythology and lore. Give me mystery amid the grand narrative. Give me a world in which every sea hides a crumbled Atlantis, every ruin has a tale to tell, every mattock blade is a silent legacy of struggles unknown. Give me, in other words, the fantasy work of Steven Erikson. Erikson is a master of lost and forgotten epochs, a weaver of ancient epics on a scale that would approach absurdity if it wasn't so ...

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Overview

"Give me the evocation of a rich, complex and yet ultimately unknowable other world, with a compelling suggestion of intricate history and mythology and lore. Give me mystery amid the grand narrative. Give me a world in which every sea hides a crumbled Atlantis, every ruin has a tale to tell, every mattock blade is a silent legacy of struggles unknown. Give me, in other words, the fantasy work of Steven Erikson. Erikson is a master of lost and forgotten epochs, a weaver of ancient epics on a scale that would approach absurdity if it wasn't so much fun."—Andrew Leonard, Salon.com

"Steven Erikson is an extraordinary writer. My advice to anyone who might listen to me: Treat yourself to Gardens of the Moon. And my entirely selfish advice to Steven Erikson: Write faster."-Stephen R. Donaldson

"The author is working so far beyond genre convention you need to measure the distance in light years. We'd sooner attempt to reduce the history of China to a logline than try a plot synopsis in this limited space. Enter Malazan and find a fully-realized universe complete with history, mythology, sociology, and thaumatology. It is peopled with characters who are neither black nor white but patterned of gritty grey and shadows and wade through oceans of blood. There's nothing safe about fantasy like this: intriguing, complex, thought provoking, exceedingly well-written, and, for the intelligent reader, exhilaratingly satisfying."—Paula Guran, Cinemafantastique

"An astounding debut...has the potential to become a defining work."—SF Site

"Gripping, fast-moving, delightfully dark, with a masterful and unapologetic brutality reminiscent of George R. R. Martin. Steven Erikson brings a punchy, mesmerizing writing style into the genre of epic fantasy, making an indelible impression. Utterly engrossing."—Elizabeth Haydon

"The experience of reading Gardens of the Moon is akin to being plunged into a full-immersion course in a heretofore undiscovered realm. Erikson's world is richly envisioned, dense and gritty, rife with magic and filled with complex political and military intrigue."—Jacqueline Carey

"A brilliant book! Exciting, inventive, intelligent—frequently funny. A wonderful book to read and to recommend to others."—David Drake

"I stand slack-jawed in awe of The Malazan Book of the Fallen. This masterwork of imagination may be the high water mark of epic fantasy—-accomplished with none of the customary rifs on Tolkien. This marathon of ambition has a depth and breadth and sense of vast reaches of inimical time unlike anything else available today. The Black Company, Zelazny's Amber, Vance's Dying Earth, and other mighty drumbeats are but foreshadowings of this dark dragon's hoard."—Glen Cook

"Complex, challenging...Erikson's strengths are his grown-up characters and his ability to create a world every bit as intricate and messy as our own."—J. V. Jones, SFX

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
Gardens of the Moon is the first novel of a shelf-cracking ten-volume saga called the Malazan Book of the Fallen by Steven Erikson (pseudonym for Canadian author Steve Rune Lundin) that is as richly storied as J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-earth, as brutally realistic as Glen Cook's Black Company novels, and as thematically intricate as Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time.

Reading the first pages of Gardens of the Moon can be likened to jumping off a cliff into a lake far below; it is sudden and total immersion into a sprawling empire seething with discontent. The Empress Laseen -- who, since the mysterious death of the former emperor years earlier, has solidified her rule with the aid of assassins and spies -- is in the process of expanding her empire. The city of Pale has just fallen, and Dirujhistan, the last of the Free Cities of Genabackis, is next. Leading the strike is legendary military leader Dujek Onearm, a favorite of the former emperor, but the chaotic campaign may just be a means for Laseen to get rid of Onearm and his renowned squad of Bridgeburners. But the leaders on both sides of the conflict are just pawns in a much larger, much more sinister game.

Fantasy fans who are easily irritated by series that stretch on for years without any comprehensible conclusion need not worry here -- although the Malazan Book of the Fallen is by definition a series, according to the author, the ten novels can be better described as historical episodes during the rise and fall of the Malazan Empire, and each can be read as a stand-alone story. Paul Goat Allen

SFX
Complex, challenging…Erikson's strengths are his grown-up characters and his ability to create a world every bit as intricate and messy as our own.

— J. V. Jones

Stephen R. Donaldson
"Steven Erikson is an extraordinary writer. My advice to anyone who might listen to me: Treat yourself to Gardens of the Moon."
David Drake
"A brilliant book! Exciting, inventive, intelligent—frequently funny. A wonderful book to read and to recommend to others."
Elizabeth Haydon
"Gripping, fast-moving, delightfully dark, with a masterful and unapologetic brutality reminiscent of George R. R. Martin. Utterly engrossing."
Glen Cook
"I stand slack-jawed in awe of The Malazan Book of the Fallen. This masterwork of imagination may be the high water mark of epic fantasy."
Salon.com - Andrew Leonard
"Erikson is a master of lost and forgotten epochs, a weaver of ancient epics on a scale that would approach absurdity if it wasn't so much fun."
SF Site - Neil Walsh
"An astounding debut…has the potential to become a defining work in Fantasy."
Cinemafantastique - Paula Guran
"There's nothing safe about fantasy like this: intriguing, complex, thought provoking, exceedingly well-written, and, for the intelligent reader, exhilaratingly satisfying."
SFX - J. V. Jones
"Complex, challenging…Erikson's strengths are his grown-up characters and his ability to create a world every bit as intricate and messy as our own."
Jacqueline Carey
"The experience of reading Gardens of the Moon is akin to being plunged into a full-immersion course in a heretofore undiscovered realm."
Publishers Weekly
In this sprawling fantasy epic of the Malazan empire at war with its enemies and itself, the first of a projected 10-volume series, Canadian newcomer Erikson offers many larger-than-life scenes and ideas, but his characters seem to shrink to fit the story. Perhaps they need to stay small enough for the reader to keep them all in mind. Jumping often between plot lines, the novel follows Ganoes Stabro Paran from his boyhood dreaming of soldiers to his escape from imperial service. Paran travels on journeys of body and soul, going from innocent to hardened rebel against gods and empire without losing his moral core. Other characters may go further, to death and back even, but none is as sharply portrayed. The book features a plethora of princes and paupers, powers and principalities, with much inventive detail to dazzle and impart a patina of mystery and ages past. The fast-moving plot, with sieges, duels (of sword and of spell), rebellions, intrigue and revenge, unearthed monsters and earth-striding gods, doesn't leave much room for real depth. Heroes win, villains lose, fairness reigns, tragedy is averted. Erikson may aspire to China Mi ville heights, but he settles comfortably in George R.R. Martin country. Agent, Howard Morhaim. (June 16) FYI: The first four volumes have already been published in the U.K. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Charles de Lint
And there's no question that he's a strong writer, adept at characterization and capable of a real vigor in his prose.
Fantasy & Science Fiction
Jacqueline Carey
"A brilliant book! Exciting, inventive, intelligent--frequently funny. A wonderful book to read and to recommend to others."
SF Site
An astounding debut . . . has the potential to become known as a defining work in Fantasy.

— Neil Walsh

From the Publisher
"Erikson is an extraordinary writer. My advice to anyone who might listen to me is, Treat yourself to Gardens of the Moon. And my entirely selfish advice to Steven Erikson is, write faster."—Stephen R. Donaldson

"I stand slack-jawed in awe of The Malazan Book of the Fallen. This masterwork of imagination may be the high water mark of epic fantasy. This marathon of ambition has a depth and breadth and sense of vast reaches of inimical time unlike anything else available today. The Black Company, Zelazny's Amber, Vance's Dying Earth, and other mighty drumbeats are but foreshadowings of this dark dragon's hoard."—Glen Cook

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780765348784
  • Publisher: Doherty, Tom Associates, LLC
  • Publication date: 1/10/2005
  • Series: Malazan Book of the Fallen Series , #1
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 688
  • Sales rank: 44,237
  • Product dimensions: 4.10 (w) x 6.78 (h) x 1.13 (d)

Meet the Author

Archaeologist and anthropologist Steven Erikson’s debut fantasy novel, Gardens of the Moon, was shortlisted for the World Fantasy Award and introduced readers to what would become an international bestselling sequence, the ten-book ‘The Malazan Book of the Fallen’ and which has been hailed as one of the finest works of fantasy of our time. His latest novel, Forge of Darkness, marks the beginning of an epic new series: ‘The Kharkanas Trilogy’. Steve lived in the UK for a number of years – most recently in Cornwall – before returning to Canada in 2012. He now lives in Victoria, BC. To find out more, visitwww.malazanempire.com and www.stevenerikson.com
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

The old stones of this road have rung with iron black-shod hoofs and drums where I saw him walking up from the sea between the hills soaked red in sunset he came, a boy among the echoes sons and brothers all in ranks of warrior ghosts he came to pass where I sat on the worn final league-stone at day's end—

is stride spoke loud all I needed know of him on this road of stone—

he boy walks another soldier, another one bright heart not yet cooled to hard iron

Mother's Lament

Anonymous

1161st Year of Burn's Sleep

103rd Year of the Malazan Empire

7th Year of Empress Laseen's Rule

Prod and pull," the old woman was saying, "'tis the way of the Empress, as like the gods themselves." She leaned to one side and spat, then brought a soiled cloth to her wrinkled lips. "Three husbands and two sons I saw off to war."

The fishergirl's eyes shone as she watched the column of mounted soldiers thunder past, and she only half listened to the hag standing beside her. The girl's breath had risen to the pace of the magnificent horses. She felt her face burning, a flush that had nothing to do with the heat. The day was dying, the sun's red smear over the trees on her right, and the sea's sighing against her face had grown cool.

"That was in the days of the Emperor," the hag continued. "Hood roast the bastard's soul on a spit. But look on, lass. Laseen scatters bones with the best of them. Heh, she started with his, didn't she, now?"

The fishergirl nodded faintly. As befitted the lowborn, they waited by the roadside, the old woman burdened beneath a rough sack filled with turnips, the girl with a heavy basket balanced on her head. Every minute or so the old woman shifted the sack from one bony shoulder to the other. With the riders crowding them on the road and the ditch behind them a steep drop to broken rocks, she had no place to put down the sack.

"Scatters bones, I said. Bones of husbands, bones of sons, bones of wives and bones of daughters. All the same to her. All the same to the Empire." The old woman spat a second time. "Three husbands and two sons, ten coin apiece a year. Five of ten's fifty. Fifty coin a year's cold company, lass. Cold in winter, cold in bed."

The fishergirl wiped dust from her forehead. Her bright eyes darted among the soldiers passing before her. The young men atop their high-backed saddles held expressions stern and fixed straight ahead. The few women who rode among them sat tall and somehow fiercer than the men. The sunset cast red glints from their helms, flashing so that the girl's eyes stung and her vision blurred.

"You're the fisherman's daughter," the old woman said. "I seen you afore on the road, and down on the strand. Seen you and your dad at market. Missing an arm, ain't he? More bones for her collection is likely, eh?" She made a chopping motion with one hand, then nodded. "Mine's the first house on the track. I use the coin to buy candles. Five candles I burn every night, five candles to keep old Rigga company. It's a tired house, full of tired things and me one of them, lass. What you got in the basket there?"

Slowly the fishergirl realized that a question had been asked of her. She pulled her attention from the soldiers and smiled down at the old woman. "I'm sorry," she said, "the horses are so loud."

Rigga raised her voice. "I asked what you got in your basket, lass?"

"Twine. Enough for three nets. We need to get one ready for tomorrow. Dadda lost his last one—something in the deep waters took it and a whole catch, too. Ilgrand Lender wants the money he loaned us and we need a catch tomorrow. A good one." She smiled again and swept her gaze back to the soldiers. "Isn't it wonderful?" she breathed.

Rigga's hand shot out and snagged the girl's thick black hair, yanked it hard.

The girl cried out. The basket on her head lurched, then slid down onto one shoulder. She grabbed frantically for it but it was too heavy. The basket struck the ground and split apart. "Aaai!" the girl gasped, attempting to kneel. But Rigga pulled and snapped her head around.

"You listen to me, lass!" The old woman's sour breath hissed against the girl's face. "The Empire's been grinding this land down for a hundred years. You was born in it. I wasn't. When I was your age Itko Kan was a country. We flew a banner and it was ours. We were free, lass."

The girl was sickened by Rigga's breath. She squeezed shut her eyes.

"Mark this truth, child, else the Cloak of Lies blinds you forever." Rigga's voice took on a droning cadence, and all at once the girl stiffened. Rigga, Riggalai the Seer, the wax-witch who trapped souls in candles and burned them. Souls devoured in flame—Rigga's words carried the chilling tone of prophecy. "Mark this truth. I am the last to speak to you. You are the last to hear me. Thus are we linked, you and I, beyond all else."

Rigga's fingers snagged tighter in the girl's hair. "Across the sea the Empress has driven her knife into virgin soil. The blood now comes in a tide and it'll sweep you under, child, if you're not careful. They'll put a sword in your hand, they'll give you a fine horse, and they'll send you across that sea. But a shadow will embrace your soul. Now, listen! Bury this deep! Rigga will preserve you because we are linked, you and I. But it is all I can do, understand? Look to the Lord spawned in Darkness; his is the hand that shall free you, though he'll know it not—"

"What's this?" a voice bellowed.

Rigga swung to face the road. An outrider had slowed his mount. The Seer released the girl's hair.

The girl staggered back a step. A rock on the road's edge turned underfoot and she fell. When she looked up the outrider had trotted past. Another thundered up in his wake.

"Leave the pretty one alone, hag," this one growled, and as he rode by he leaned in his saddle and swung an open, gauntleted hand. The iron-scaled glove cracked against Rigga's head, spinning her around. She toppled.

The fishergirl screamed as Rigga landed heavily across her thighs. A thread of crimson spit spattered her face. Whimpering, the girl pushed herself back across the gravel, then used her feet to shove away Rigga's body. She climbed to her knees.

Something within Rigga's prophecy seemed lodged in the girl's head, heavy as a stone and hidden from light. She found she could not retrieve a single word the Seer had said. She reached out and grasped Rigga's woolen shawl. Carefully, she rolled the old woman over. Blood covered one side of Rigga's head, running down behind the ear. More blood smeared her lined chin and stained her mouth. The eyes stared sightlessly.

The fishergirl pulled back, unable to catch her breath. Desperate, she looked about. The column of soldiers had passed, leaving nothing but dust and the distant tremble of hoofs. Rigga's bag of turnips had spilled onto the road. Among the trampled vegetables lay five tallow candles. The girl managed a ragged lungful of dusty air. Wiping her nose, she looked to her own basket.

"Never mind the candles," she mumbled, in a thick, odd voice. "They're gone, aren't they, now? Just a scattering of bones. Never mind." She crawled toward the bundles of twine that had fallen from the breached basket, and when she spoke again her voice was young, normal. "We need the twine. We'll work all night and get one ready. Dadda's waiting. He's right at the door, he's looking up the track, he's waiting to see me."

She stopped, a shiver running through her. The sun's light was almost gone. An unseasonal chill bled from the shadows, which now flowed like water across the road.

"Here it comes, then," the girl grated softly, in a voice that wasn't her own.

A soft-gloved hand fell on her shoulder. She ducked down, cowering.

"Easy, girl," said a man's voice. "It's over. Nothing to be done for her now."

The fishergirl looked up. A man swathed in black leaned over her, his face obscured beneath a hood's shadow. "But he hit her," the girl said, in a child's voice. "And we have nets to tie, me and Dadda—"

"Let's get you on your feet," the man said, moving his long-fingered hands down under her arms. He straightened, lifting her effortlessly. Her sandaled feet dangled in the air before he set her down.

Now she saw a second man, shorter, also clothed in black. This one stood on the road and was turned away, his gaze in the direction the soldiers had gone. He spoke, his voice reed-thin. "Wasn't much of a life," he said, not turning to face her. "A minor talent, long since dried up of the Gift. Oh, she might have managed one more, but we'll never know, will we?"

The fishergirl stumbled over to Rigga's bag and picked up a candle. She straightened, her eyes suddenly hard, then deliberately spat on to the road.

The shorter man's head snapped toward her. Within the hood it seemed the shadows played alone.

The girl shrank back a step. "It was a good life," she whispered. "She had these candles, you see. Five of them. Five for—"

"Necromancy," the short man cut in.

The taller man, still at her side, said softly, "I see them, child. I understand what they mean."

The other man snorted. "The witch harbored five frail, weak souls. Nothing grand." He cocked his head. "I can hear them now. Calling for her."

Tears filled the girl's eyes. A wordless anguish seemed to well up from that black stone in her mind. She wiped her cheeks. "Where did you come from?" she asked abruptly. "We didn't see you on the road."

The man beside her half turned to the gravel track. "On the other side," he said, a smile in his tone. "Waiting, just like you."

The other giggled. "On the other side indeed." He faced down the road again and raised his arms.

The girl drew in a sharp breath as darkness descended. A loud, tearing sound filled the air for a moment, then the darkness dissipated and the girl's eyes widened.

Seven massive Hounds now sat around the man in the road. The eyes of these beasts glowed yellow, and all were turned in the same direction as the man himself.

She heard him hiss, "Eager, are we? Then go!"

Silently, the Hounds bolted down the road.

Their master turned and said to the man beside her, "Something to gnaw on Laseen's mind." He giggled again.

"Must you complicate things?" the other answered wearily.

The short man stiffened. "They are within sight of the column." He cocked his head. From up the road came the scream of horses. He sighed. "You've reached a decision, Cotillion?"

The other grunted amusedly. "Using my name, Ammanas, means you've just decided for me. We can hardly leave her here now, can we?"

"Of course we can, old friend. Just not breathing."

Cotillion looked down on the girl. "No," he said quietly, "she'll do."

The fishergirl bit her lip. Still clutching Rigga's candle, she took another step back, her wide eyes darting from one man to the other.

"Pity," Ammanas said.

Cotillion seemed to nod, then he cleared his throat and said, "It'll take time."

An amused note entered Ammanas's reply. "And have we time? True vengeance needs the slow, careful stalking of the victim. Have you forgotten the pain she once delivered us? Laseen's back is against the wall already. She might fall without our help. Where would be the satisfaction in that?"

Cotillion's response was cool and dry. "You've always underestimated the Empress. Hence our present circumstances…No." He gestured at the fishergirl. "We'll need this one. Laseen's raised the ire of Moon's Spawn, and that's a hornet's nest if ever there was one. The timing is perfect."

Faintly, above the screaming horses, came the shrieks of men and women, a sound that pierced the girl's heart. Her eyes darted to Rigga's motionless form on the roadside, then back to Ammanas, who now approached her. She thought to run but her legs had weakened to a helpless trembling. He came close and seemed to study her, even though the shadows within his hood remained impenetrable.

"A fishergirl?" he asked, in a kindly tone.

She nodded.

"Have you a name?"

"Enough!" Cotillion growled. "She's not some mouse under your paw, Ammanas. Besides, I've chosen her and I will choose her name as well."

Ammanas stepped back. "Pity," he said again.

The girl raised imploring hands. "Please," she begged Cotillion, "I've done nothing! My father's a poor man, but he'll pay you all he can. He needs me, and the twine—he's waiting right now!" She felt herself go wet between her legs and quickly sat down on the ground. "I've done nothing!" Shame rose through her and she put her hands in her lap. "Please."

"I've no choice anymore, child," Cotillion said. "After all, you know our names."

"I've never heard them before!" the girl cried.

The man sighed. "With what's happening up the road right now, well, you'd be questioned. Unpleasantly. There are those who know our names."

"You see, lass," Ammanas added, suppressing a giggle, "we're not supposed to be here. There are names, and then there are names." He swung to Cotillion and said, in a chilling voice, "Her father must be dealt with. My Hounds?"

"No," Cotillion said. "He lives."

"Then how?"

"I suspect," Cotillion said, "greed will suffice, once the slate is wiped clean." Sarcasm filled his next words. "I'm sure you can manage the sorcery in that, can't you?"

Ammanas giggled. "Beware of shadows bearing gifts."

Cotillion faced the girl again. He lifted his arms out to the sides. The shadows that held his features in darkness now flowed out around his body.

Ammanas spoke, and to the girl his words seemed to come from a great distance. "She's ideal. The Empress could never track her down, could never even so much as guess." He raised his voice. "It's not so bad a thing, lass, to be the pawn of a god."

"Prod and pull," the fishergirl said quickly.

Cotillion hesitated at her strange comment, then he shrugged. The shadows whirled out to engulf the girl. With their cold touch her mind fell away, down into darkness. Her last fleeting sensation was of the soft wax of the candle in her right hand, and how it seemed to well up between the fingers of her clenched fist.

• • •

The captain shifted in his saddle and glanced at the woman riding beside him. "We've closed the road on both sides, Adjunct. Moved the local traffic inland. So far, no word's leaked." He wiped sweat from his brow and winced. The hot woolen cap beneath his helm had rubbed his forehead raw.

"Something wrong, Captain?"

He shook his head, squinting up the road. "Helmet's loose. Had more hair the last time I wore it."

The Adjunct to the Empress did not reply.

The mid-morning sun made the road's white, dusty surface almost blinding. The captain felt sweat running down his body, and the mail of his helm's lobster tail kept nipping the hairs on his neck. Already his lower back ached. It had been years since he'd last ridden a horse, and the roll was slow in coming. With every saddle-bounce he felt vertebrae crunch.

It had been a long time since somebody's title had been enough to straighten him up. But this was the Adjunct to the Empress, Laseen's personal servant, an extension of her Imperial will. The last thing the captain wanted was to show his misery to this young, dangerous woman.

Up ahead the road began its long, winding ascent. A salty wind blew from their left, whistling through the newly budding trees lining that side of the road. By mid-afternoon, that wind would breathe hot as a baker's oven, carrying with it the stench of the mudflats. And the sun's heat would bring something else as well. The captain hoped to be back in Kan by then.

He tried not to think about the place they rode toward. Leave that to the Adjunct. In his years of service to the Empire, he'd seen enough to know when to shut everything down inside his skull. This was one of those times.

The Adjunct spoke. "You've been stationed here long, Captain?"

"Aye," the man growled.

The woman waited, then asked, "How long?"

He hesitated. "Thirteen years, Adjunct."

"You fought for the Emperor, then," she said.

"Aye."

"And survived the purge."

The captain threw her a look. If she felt his gaze, she gave no indication. Her eyes remained on the road ahead; she rolled easily in the saddle, the scabbarded longsword hitched high under her left arm—ready for mounted battle. Her hair was either cut short or drawn up under her helm. Her figure was lithe enough, the captain mused.

"Finished?" she asked. "I was asking about the purges commanded by Empress Laseen following her predecessor's untimely death."

The captain gritted his teeth, ducked his chin to draw up the helm's strap—he hadn't had time to shave and the buckle was chafing. "Not everyone was killed, Adjunct. The people of Itko Kan aren't exactly excitable. None of those riots and mass executions that hit other parts of the Empire. We all just sat tight and waited."

"I take it," the Adjunct said, with a slight smile, "you're not noble-born, Captain."

He grunted. "If I'd been noble-born, I wouldn't have survived, even here in Itko Kan. We both know that. Her orders were specific, and even the droll Kanese didn't dare disobey the Empress." He scowled. "No, up through the ranks, Adjunct."

"Your last engagement?"

"Wickan Plains."

They rode on in silence for a time, passing the occasional soldier stationed on the road. Off to their left the trees fell away to ragged heather, and the sea beyond showed its white-capped expanse. The Adjunct spoke. "This area you've contained, how many of your guard have you deployed to patrol it?"

"Eleven hundred," the captain replied.

Her head turned at this, her cool gaze tightening beneath the rim of her helm.

The captain studied her expression. "The carnage stretches half a league from the sea, Adjunct, and a quarter-league inland."

The woman said nothing.

They approached the summit. A score of soldiers had gathered there, and others waited along the slope's rise. All had turned to watch them.

"Prepare yourself, Adjunct."

The woman studied the faces lining the roadside. She knew these to be hardened men and women, veterans of the siege of Li Heng and the Wickan Wars out on the north plains. But something had been clawed into their eyes that had left them raw and exposed. They looked upon her with a yearning that she found disturbing, as if they hungered for answers. She fought the urge to speak to them as she passed, to offer whatever comforting words she could. Such gifts were not hers to give, however, nor had they ever been. In this she was much the same as the Empress.

From beyond the summit she heard the cries of gulls and crows, a sound that rose into a high-pitched roar as they reached the rise. Ignoring the soldiers on either side, the Adjunct moved her horse forward. The captain followed. They came to the crest and looked down. The road dipped here for perhaps a fifth of a league, climbing again at the far end to a promontory.

Thousands of gulls and crows covered the ground, spilling over into the ditches and among the low, rough heather and gorse. Beneath this churning sea of black and white the ground was a uniform red. Here and there rose the ribbed humps of horses, and from among the squalling birds came the glint of iron.

The captain reached up and unstrapped his helm. He lifted it slowly from his head, then set it down over his saddle horn. "Adjunct…"

"I am named Lorn," the woman said softly.

"One hundred and seventy-five men and women. Two hundred and ten horses. The Nineteenth Regiment of the Itko Kanese Eighth Cavalry." The captain's throat tightened briefly. He looked at Lorn. "Dead." His horse shied under him as it caught an updraft. He closed savagely on the reins and the animal stilled, nostrils wide and ears back, muscles trembling under him. The Adjunct's stallion made no move. "All had their weapons bared. All fought whatever enemy attacked them. But the dead are all ours."

"You've checked the beach below?" Lorn asked, still staring down on the road.

"No signs of a landing," the captain replied. "No tracks anywhere, neither seaward nor inland. There are more dead than these, Adjunct. Farmers, peasants, fisherfolk, travelers on the road. All of them torn apart, limbs scattered—children, livestock, dogs." He stopped abruptly and turned away. "Over four hundred dead," he grated. "We're not certain of the exact count."

"Of course," Lorn said, her tone devoid of feeling. "No witnesses?"

"None."

A man was riding toward them on the road below, leaning close to his horse's ear as he talked the frightened animal through the carnage. Birds rose in shrieking complaint in front of him, settling again once he had passed.

"Who is that?" the Adjunct asked.

The captain grunted. "Lieutenant Ganoes Paran. He's new to my command. From Unta."

Lorn's eyes narrowed on the young man. He'd reached the edge of the depression, stopping to relay orders to the work crews. He leaned back in his saddle then and glanced in their direction. "Paran. From House Paran?"

"Aye, gold in his veins and all that."

"Call him up here."

The captain gestured and the lieutenant kicked his mount's flanks. Moments later he reined in beside the captain and saluted.

The man and his horse were covered from head to toe in blood and bits of flesh. Flies and wasps buzzed hungrily around them. Lorn saw in Lieutenant Paran's face none of the youth that rightly belonged there. For all that, it was an easy face to rest eyes upon.

"You checked the other side, Lieutenant?" the captain asked.

Paran nodded. "Yes, sir. There's a small fishing settlement down from the promontory. A dozen or so huts. Bodies in all but two. Most of the barques look to be in, though there's one empty mooring pole."

Lorn cut in. "Lieutenant, describe the empty huts."

He batted at a threatening wasp before answering. "One was at the top of the strand, just off the trail from the road. We think it belonged to an old woman we found dead on the road, about half a league south of here."

"Why?"

"Adjunct, the hut's contents were that of an old woman. Also, she seemed in the habit of burning candles. Tallow candles, in fact. The old woman on the road had a sack full of turnips and a handful of tallow candles. Tallow's expensive here, Adjunct."

Lorn asked, "How many times have you ridden through this battlefield, Lieutenant?"

"Enough to be getting used to it, Adjunct." He grimaced.

"And the second empty hut?"

"A man and a girl, we think. The hut's close to the tidemark, opposite the empty mooring pole."

"No sign of them?"

"None, Adjunct. Of course, we're still finding bodies, along the road, out in the fields."

"But not on the beach."

"No."

The Adjunct frowned, aware that both men were watching her. "Captain, what kind of weapons killed your soldiers?"

The captain hesitated, then turned a glare on the lieutenant. "You've been crawling around down there, Paran, let's hear your opinion."

Paran's answering smile was tight. "Yes, sir. Natural weapons."

The captain felt a sinking feeling in his stomach. He'd hoped he'd been wrong.

"What do you mean," Lorn asked, "natural weapons?"

"Teeth, mostly. Very big, very sharp ones."

The captain cleared his throat, then said, "There haven't been wolves in Itko Kan for a hundred years. In any case, no carcasses around—"

"If it was wolves," Paran said, turning to eye the basin, "they were as big as mules. No tracks, Adjunct. Not even a tuft of hair."

"Not wolves, then," Lorn said.

Paran shrugged.

The Adjunct drew a deep breath, held it, then let it out in a slow sigh. "I want to see this fishing village."

The captain made ready to don his helmet, but the Adjunct shook her head. "Lieutenant Paran will suffice, Captain. I suggest you take personal command of your guard in the meantime. The dead must be removed as quickly as possible. All evidence of the massacre is to be erased."

"Understood, Adjunct," the captain said, hoping he'd kept the relief out of his voice.

Lorn turned to the young noble. "Well, Lieutenant?"

He nodded and clucked his horse into motion.

It was when the birds scattered from their path that the Adjunct found herself envying the captain. Before her the roused carrion-eaters exposed a carpet of armor, broken bones, and meat. The air was hot, turgid and cloying. She saw soldiers, still helmed, their heads crushed by what must have been huge, terribly powerful jaws. She saw torn mail, crumpled shields, and limbs that had been ripped from bodies. Lorn managed only a few moments of careful examination of the scene around them before she fixed her gaze on the promontory ahead, unable to encompass the magnitude of the slaughter. Her stallion, bred of the finest lines of Seven Cities stock, a warhorse trained in the blood for generations, had lost its proud, unyielding strut, and now picked its way carefully along the road.

Lorn realized she needed a distraction, and sought it in conversation. "Lieutenant, have you received your commission yet?"

"No, Adjunct. I expect to be stationed in the capital."

She raised an eyebrow. "Indeed. And how will you manage that?"

Paran squinted ahead, a tight smile on his lips. "It will be arranged."

"I see." Lorn fell silent. "The nobles have refrained from seeking military commissions, kept their heads low for a long time, haven't they?"

"Since the first days of the Empire. The Emperor held no love for us. Whereas Empress Laseen's concerns seem to lie elsewhere."

Lorn eyed the young man. "I see you like taking risks, Lieutenant," she said. "Unless your presumption extends to goading the Adjunct to the Empress. Are you that confident of your blood's invincibility?"

"Since when is speaking the truth presumptuous?"

"You are young, aren't you?"

This seemed to sting Paran. A flush rose in his smooth-shaven cheeks. "Adjunct, for the past seven hours I have been knee-deep in torn flesh and spilled blood. I've been fighting crows and gulls for bodies—do you know what these birds are doing here? Precisely? They're tearing off strips of meat and fighting over them; they're getting fat on eyeballs and tongues, livers and hearts. In their frantic greed they fling the meat around…" He paused, visibly regaining control over himself as he straightened in his saddle. "I'm not young anymore, Adjunct. As for presumption, I honestly couldn't care less. Truth can't be danced around, not out here, not now, not ever again."

They reached the far slope. Off to the left a narrow track led down toward the sea. Paran gestured to it, then angled his horse forward.

Lorn followed, her thoughtful expression holding on the lieutenant's broad back, before she turned her attention to the route they took. The path was narrow, skirting the promontory's bluff. Off to the left the trail's edge dropped away to rocks sixty feet below. The tide was out, the waves breaking on a reef a few hundred yards offshore. Pools filled the black bedrock's cracks and basins, dully reflecting an overcast sky.

They came to a bend, and beyond and below stretched a crescent-shaped beach. Above it, at the promontory's foot, lay a broad, grassy shelf on which squatted a dozen huts.

The Adjunct swung her gaze seaward. The barques rested on their low flanks beside their mooring poles. The air above the beach and the tidal flat was empty—not a bird in sight.

She halted her mount. A moment later Paran glanced back at her then did the same. He watched her as she removed her helmet and shook out her long, auburn hair. It was wet and stringy with sweat. The lieutenant rode back to her side, a questioning look in his eyes.

"Lieutenant Paran, your words were well spoken." She breathed in the salty air, then met his gaze. "You won't be stationed in Unta, I'm afraid. You will be taking your orders from me as a commissioned officer on my staff."

His eyes slowly narrowed. "What happened to those soldiers, Adjunct?"

She didn't answer immediately, leaning back on her saddle and scanning the distant sea. "Someone's been here," she said. "A sorcerer of great power. Something's happened, and we're being diverted from discovering it."

Paran's mouth dropped open. "Killing four hundred people was a diversion?"

"If that man and his daughter had been out fishing, they'd have come in with the tide."

"But—"

"You won't find their bodies, Lieutenant."

Paran was puzzled. "Now what?"

She glanced at him, then swung her horse around. "We go back."

"That's it?" He stared after her as she directed her mount back up the trail, then rode to catch up. "Wait a minute, Adjunct," he said, as he came alongside.

She gave him a warning look.

Paran shook his head. "No. If I'm now on your staff, I have to know more about what's going on."

She placed her helmet back on and cinched tight the strap under her chin. Her long hair dangled in tattered ropes down over her Imperial cape. "Very well. As you know, Lieutenant, I'm no mage—"

"No," Paran cut in, with a cold grin, "you just hunt them down and kill them."

"Don't interrupt me again. As I was saying, I am anathema to sorcery. That means, Lieutenant, that, even though I'm not a practitioner, I have a relationship with magic. Of sorts. We know each other, if you will. I know the patterns of sorcery, and I know the patterns of the minds that use it. We were meant to conclude that the slaughter was thorough, and random. It was neither. There's a path here, and we have to find it."

Slowly Paran nodded.

"Your first task, Lieutenant, is to ride to the market town—what's its name again?"

"Gerrom."

"Yes, Gerrom. They'll know this fishing village, since that's where the catch is sold. Ask around, find out which fisher family consisted of a father and daughter. Get me their names, and their descriptions. Use the militia if the locals are recalcitrant."

"They won't be," Paran said. "The Kanese are cooperative folk."

They reached the top of the trail and stopped at the road. Below, wagons rocked among the bodies, the oxen braying and stamping their blood-soaked hoofs. Soldiers shouted in the press, while overhead wheeled thousands of birds. The scene stank of panic. At the far end stood the captain, his helmet hanging from its strap in one hand.

The Adjunct stared down on the scene with hard eyes. "For their sake," she said, "I hope you're right, Lieutenant."

• • •

As he watched the two riders approach, something told the captain that his days of ease in Itko Kan were numbered. His helmet felt heavy in his hand. He eyed Paran. That thin-blooded bastard had it made. A hundred strings pulling him every step of the way to some cushy posting in some peaceful city.

He saw Lorn studying him as they came to the crest. "Captain, I have a request for you."

The captain grunted. Request, hell. The Empress has to check her slippers every morning to make sure this one isn't already in them. "Of course, Adjunct."

The woman dismounted, as did Paran. The lieutenant's expression was impassive. Was that arrogance, or had the Adjunct given him something to think about?

"Captain," Lorn began, "I understand there's a recruiting drive under way in Kan. Do you pull in people from outside the city?"

"To join? Sure, more of them than anyone else. City folk got too much to give up. Besides, they get the bad news first. Most of the peasants don't know everything's gone to Hood's Gate on Genabackis. A lot of them figure city folk whine too much anyway. May I ask why?"

"You may." Lorn turned to watch the soldiers cleaning up the road. "I need a list of recent recruits. Within the last two days. Forget the ones born in the city, just the outlying ones. And only the women and/or old men."

The captain grunted again. "Should be a short list, Adjunct."

"I hope so, Captain."

"You figured out what's behind all this?"

Still following the activity on the road below, Lorn said, "No idea."

Yes, the captain thought, and I'm the Emperor reincarnated. "Too bad," he muttered.

"Oh." The Adjunct faced him. "Lieutenant Paran is now on my staff. I trust you'll make the necessary adjustments."

"As you wish, Adjunct. I love paperwork."

That earned him a slight smile. Then it was gone. "Lieutenant Paran will be leaving now."

The captain looked at the young noble and smiled, letting the smile say everything. Working for the Adjunct was like being the worm on the hook. The Adjunct was the hook, and at the other end of the line was the Empress. Let him squirm.

A sour expression flitted across Paran's face. "Yes, Adjunct." He climbed back into the saddle, saluted, then rode off down the road.

The captain watched him leave, then said, "Anything else, Adjunct?"

"Yes."

Her tone brought him around.

"I would like to hear a soldier's opinion of the nobility's present inroads on the Imperial command structure."

The captain stared hard at her. "It ain't pretty, Adjunct."

"Go on."

The captain talked.

• • •

It was the eighth day of recruiting and Staff Sergeant Aragan sat bleary-eyed behind his desk as yet another whelp was prodded forward by the corporal. They'd had some luck here in Kan. Fishing's best in the backwaters, Kan's Fist had said. All they get around here is stories. Stories don't make you bleed. Stories don't make you go hungry, don't give you sore feet. When you're young and smelling of pigshit and convinced there ain't a weapon in all the damn world that's going to hurt you, all stories do is make you want to be part of them.

The old woman was right. As usual. These people had been under the boot so long they actually liked it. Well, Aragan thought, the education begins here.

It had been a bad day, with the local captain roaring off with three companies and leaving not one solid rumor in their wake about what was going on. And if that wasn't bad enough, Laseen's Adjunct arrived from Unta shortly afterward, using one of those eerie magical Warrens to get here. Though he'd never seen her, just her name on the hot, dry wind was enough to give him the shakes. Mage killer, the scorpion in the Imperial pocket.

Aragan scowled down at the writing tablet and waited until the corporal cleared his throat. Then he looked up.

The recruit standing before him took the staff sergeant aback. He opened his mouth, on his tongue a lashing tirade designed to send the young ones scampering. A second later he shut it again, the words unspoken. Kan's Fist had made her instructions abundantly clear: if they had two arms, two legs and a head, take them. The Genabackis campaign was a mess. Fresh bodies were needed.

He grinned at the girl. She matched the Fist's description perfectly. Still. "All right, lass, you understand you're in line to join the Malazan Marines, right?"

The girl nodded, her gaze steady and cool and fixed on Aragan.

The recruiter's expression tightened. Damn, she can't be more than twelve or thirteen. If this was my daughter…

What's got her eyes looking so bloody old? The last time he'd seen anything like them had been outside Mott Forest, on Genabackis—he'd been marching through farmland hit by five years' drought and a war twice as long. Those old eyes were brought by hunger, or death. He scowled. "What's your name, girl?"

"Am I in, then?" she asked quietly.

Aragan nodded, a sudden headache pounding against the inside of his skull. "You'll get your assignment in a week's time, unless you got a preference."

"Genabackan campaign," the girl answered immediately. "Under the command of High Fist Dujek Onearm. Onearm's Host."

Aragan blinked. "I'll make a note," he said softly. "Your name, soldier?"

"Sorry. My name is Sorry."

Aragan jotted the name down on his tablet. "Dismissed, soldier. The corporal will tell you where to go." He looked up as she was near the door. "And wash all that mud off your feet." Aragan continued writing for a moment, then stopped. It hadn't rained in weeks. And the mud around here was halfway between green and gray, not dark red. He tossed down the stylus and massaged his temples. Well, at least the headache's fading.

• • •

Gerrom was a league and a half inland along the Old Kan Road, a pre-Empire thoroughfare rarely used since the Imperial raised coast road had been constructed. The traffic on it these days was mostly on foot, local farmers and fishers with their goods. Of them only unraveled and torn bundles of clothing, broken baskets and trampled vegetables littering the track remained to give evidence of their passage. A lame mule, the last sentinel overseeing the refuse of an exodus, stood dumbly nearby, ankle-deep in a rice paddy. It spared Paran a single forlorn glance as he rode past.

The detritus looked to be no more than a day old, the fruits and green-leaved vegetables only now beginning to rot in the afternoon heat.

His horse carrying him at a slow walk, Paran watched as the first outbuildings of the small trader town came into view through the dusty haze. No one moved between the shabby mudbrick houses; no dogs came out to challenge him, and the only cart in sight leaned on a single wheel. To add to the uncanny scene, the air was still, empty of birdsong. Paran loosened the sword in its scabbard.

As he neared the outbuildings he halted his mount. The exodus had been swift, a panicked flight. Yet he saw no bodies, no signs of violence beyond the haste evident in those leaving. He drew a deep breath, slowly released it, then clicked his horse forward. The main street was in effect the town's only street, leading at its far end to a T intersection marked by a single two-story stone building: the Imperial Constabulary. Its tin-backed shutters were closed, its heavy banded door shut. As he approached Paran held his eyes on the building.

He dismounted before it, tying his mare to the hitching rail then looking back up the street. No movement. Unsheathing his blade, Paran swung back to the Constabulary door.

A soft, steady sound from within stopped him, too low to be heard from any distance but now, as he stood before the huge door, he could hear a liquid murmuring that raised the hairs on his neck. Paran reached out with his sword and set its point under the latch. He lifted the iron handle upward until it disengaged, then pushed open the door.

Movement rippled in the gloom within, a flap and soft thumping of air carrying to Paran the redolent stench of putrifying flesh. Breathing hard and with a mouth dry as old cotton, he waited for his eyes to adjust.

He stared into the Constabulary's outer room, and it was a mass of movement, a chilling soft sussuration of throats giving voice. The chamber was filled with black pigeons cooing in icy calm. Uniformed human shapes lay in their midst, stretched haphazardly across the floor amid droppings and drifting black down. Sweat and death clung to the air thick as gauze.

He took a step inside. The pigeons rustled but otherwise ignored him. None made for the open doorway.

Swollen faces with coin-dull eyes stared up from the shadows; the faces were blue, as of men suffocated. Paran looked down at one of the soldiers. "Not a healthy thing," he muttered, "wearing these uniforms these days."

A conjuring of birds to keep mocking vigil. Dark humor's not to my liking anymore, I think. He shook himself, walked across the room. The pigeons tracked away from his boots, clucking. The door to the captain's office was ajar. Musty light bled through the shuttered windows' uneven joins. Sheathing his sword, Paran entered the office. The captain still sat in his chair, his face bloated and bruised in shades of blue, green, and gray.

Paran swept damp feathers from the desktop, rummaged through the scroll work. The papyrus sheets fell apart under his touch, the leaves rotten and oily between his fingers.

A thorough eliminating of the trail.

He turned away, walked swiftly back through the outer room until he stepped into the warm light. He closed the Constabulary door as, no doubt, the villagers had.

The dark bloom of sorcery was a stain few cared to examine too closely. It had a way of spreading.

Paran untethered his mare, climbed into the saddle and rode from the abandoned town. He did not look back.

• • •

The sun sat heavy and bloated amid a smear of crimson cloud on the horizon. Paran fought to keep his eyes open. It had been a long day. A horrific day. The land around him, once familiar and safe, had become something else, a place stirred with the dark currents of sorcery. He was not looking forward to a night camped in the open.

His mount plodded onward, head down, as dusk slowly enveloped them. Pulled by the weary chains of his thoughts, Paran tried to make sense of what had happened since morning.

Snatched out from the shadow of that sour-faced, laconic captain and the garrison at Kan, the lieutenant had seen his prospects begin a quick rise. Aide to the Adjunct was an advancement in his career he could not have even imagined a week ago. Despite the profession he had chosen, his father and his sisters were bound to be impressed, perhaps even awed, by his achievement. Like so many other noble-born sons and daughters, he'd long since set his sights on the Imperial military, hungry for prestige and bored with the complacent, static attitudes of the noble class in general. Paran wanted something more challenging than coordinating shipments of wine, or overseeing the breeding of horses.

Nor was he among the first to enlist, thus easing the way for entrance into officer training and selective postings. It had just been ill-luck that saw him sent to Kan, where a veteran garrison had been licking its wounds for nigh on eight years. There'd been little respect for an untested lieutenant, and even less for a noble-born.

Paran suspected that that had changed since the slaughter on the road. He'd handled it better than many of those veterans, helped in no small part by the superb breeding of his horse. More, to prove to them all his cool, detached professionalism, he'd volunteered to lead the inspection detail.

He'd done well, although the detail had proved…difficult. He'd heard screaming while crawling around among the bodies, coming from somewhere inside his own head. His eyes had fixed on details, oddities—the peculiar twist of this body, the inexplicable smile on that dead soldier's face—but what had proved hardest was what had been done to the horses. Crusted foam-filled nostrils and mouths—the signs of terror—and the wounds were terrible, huge and devastating. Bile and feces stained the once-proud mounts, and over everything was a glittering carpet of blood and slivers of red flesh. He had nearly wept for those horses.

He shifted uneasily on the saddle, feeling a clamminess come to his hands where they rested on the ornate horn. He'd held on to his confidence through the whole episode; yet now, as his thoughts returned to that horrid scene, it was as if something that had always been solid in his mind now stuttered, shied, threatening his balance; the faint contempt he'd shown for those veterans in his troop, kneeling helpless on the roadside racked by dry-heaves, returned to him now with a ghoulish cast. And the echo that came from the Constabulary at Gerrom, arriving like a late blow to his already bruised and battered soul, rose once again to pluck at the defensive numbness still holding him in check.

Paran straightened with an effort. He'd told the Adjunct his youth was gone. He'd told her other things as well, fearless, uncaring, lacking all the caution his father had instilled in him when it came to the many faces of the Empire.

From a great distance in his mind came old, old words: live quietly. He'd rejected that notion then,- he rejected it still. The Adjunct, however, had noticed him. He wondered now, for the first time, if he was right to feel pride. That hard-bitten commander of so many years ago, on the walls of Mock's Hold, would have spat at Paran's feet, with contempt, had he now stood before him. The boy was a boy no longer, but a man. Should've heeded my words, son. Now look at you.

His mare pulled up suddenly, hooves thumping confusedly on the rutted road. Paran reached for his weapon as he looked uneasily around in the gloom. The track ran through rice paddies, the nearest shacks of the peasants on a parallel ridge a hundred paces from the road. Yet a figure now blocked the road.

A cold breath swirled lazily past, pinning back the mare's ears and widening her nostrils as she flinched.

The figure—a man by his height—was swathed in shades of green: cloaked, hooded, wearing a faded tunic and linen leggings above green-dyed leather boots. A single long-knife, the weapon of choice among Seven Cities warriors, was slung through a thin belt. The man's hands, faintly gray in the afternoon light, glittered with rings, rings oh every finger, above and below the knuckles. He raised one now, holding up a clay jug.

"Thirsty, Lieutenant?" The man's voice was soft, the tone strangely melodic.

"Have I business with you?" Paran asked, his hand remaining on the grip of his longsword.

The man smiled, pulling back his hood. His face was long, the skin a lighter shade of gray, the eyes dark and strangely angled. He looked to be in his early thirties, though his hair was white. "The Adjunct asked of me a favor," he said. "She grows impatient for your report. I am to escort you…with haste." He shook the jug. "But first, a repast. I have a veritable feast secreted in my pockets—far better fare than a brow-beaten Kanese village can offer. Join me, here on the roadside. We can amuse ourselves in conversation and idle watching of peasants toiling endlessly. I am named Topper."

"I know that name," Paran said.

"Well, you should," Topper replied. "I am he, alas. The blood of a Tiste Andii races in my veins, seeking escape, no doubt, from its more common human stream. Mine was the hand that took the life of Unta's royal line, king, queen, sons, and daughters."

"And cousins, second cousins, third—"

"Expunging all hope, indeed. Such was my duty as a Claw of unsurpassed skill. But you have failed in answering my question."

"Which was?"

"Thirsty?"

Scowling, Paran dismounted. "I thought you said the Adjunct wished for haste."

"Hasten we shall, Lieutenant, once we've filled our bellies, and conversed in civil fashion."

"Your reputation puts civility far down your list of skills, Claw."

"It's a most cherished trait of mine that sees far too little opportunity for exercise these fell days, Lieutenant. Surely you'd grant me some of your precious time, since I'm to be your escort?"

"Whatever arrangement you made with the Adjunct is between you and her," Paran said, approaching. "I owe you nothing, Topper. Except enmity."

The Claw squatted, removing wrapped packages from his pockets, followed by two crystal goblets. He uncorked the jug. "Ancient wounds. I was led to understand you've taken a different path, leaving behind the dull, jostling ranks of the nobility." He poured, filling the goblets with amber-colored wine. "You are now one with the body of Empire, Lieutenant. It commands you. You respond unquestioningly to its will. You are a small part of a muscle in that body. No more. No less. The time for old grudges is long past. So," he set down the jug and handed Paran a goblet, "we now salute new beginnings, Ganoes Paran, lieutenant and aide to Adjunct Lorn."

Scowling, Paran accepted the goblet.

The two drank.

Topper smiled, producing a silk handkerchief to dab against his lips. "There now, that wasn't so difficult, was it? May I call you by your chosen name?"

"Paran will do. And you? What title does the commander of the Claw hold?"

Topper smiled again. "Laseen still commands the Claw. I assist her. In this way I too am an aide of sorts. You may call me by my chosen name, of course. I'm not one for maintaining formalities beyond a reasonable point in an acquaintance."

Paran sat down on the muddy road. "And we've passed that point?"

"Indeed."

"How do you decide?"

"Ah, well." Topper began unwrapping his packages, revealing cheese, fist-bread, fruit, and berries. "I make acquaintances in one of two ways. You've seen the second of those."

"And the first?"

"No time for proper introductions in those instances, alas."

Wearily Paran unstrapped and removed his helm. "Do you wish to hear what I found in Gerrom?" he asked, running a hand through his black hair.

Topper shrugged. "If you've the need."

"Perhaps I'd better await my audience with the Adjunct."

The Claw smiled. "You have begun to learn, Paran. Never be too easy with the knowledge you possess. Words are like coin—it pays to hoard."

"Until you die on a bed of gold," Paran said.

"Hungry? I hate eating alone."

Paran accepted a chunk of fistbread. "So, was the Adjunct truly impatient, or are you here for other reasons?"

With a smile, the Claw rose. "Alas, genteel conversation is done. Our way opens." He faced the road.

Paran turned to see a curtain in the air tear open on the road, spilling dull yellow light. A Warren, the secret paths of sorcery. "Hood's Breath." He sighed, fighting off a sudden chill. Within he could see a grayish pathway, humped on either side by low mounded walls and vaulted overhead by impenetrable ocher-hued mist. The air swept past into the portal like a drawn breath, revealing the pathway to be of ash as invisible currents stirred and raised spinning dust-devils.

"You will have to get used to this," Topper said.

Paran collected his mare's reins and slung his helm on the saddlehorn. "Lead on," he said.

The Claw cast him a quick appraising glance, then strode into the Warren.

Paran followed. The portalway closed behind them, in its place a continuation of the path. Itko Kan had vanished, and with it all signs of life. The world they had entered was barren, deathly. The banked mounds lining the trail proved to be more ash. The air was gritty, tasting of metal.

"Welcome to the Imperial Warren," Topper said, with a hint of mockery.

"Pleasant."

"Carved by force out of…what was here before. Has such an effort ever been achieved before? Only the gods can say."

They began walking.

"I take it, then," Paran said, "that no god claims this Warren. By this, you cheat the tolls, the gatekeepers, the guardians on unseen bridges, and all the others said to dwell in the Warrens in service to their immortal masters."

Topper grunted. "You imagine the Warrens as crowded as that? Well, the beliefs of the ignorant are ever entertaining. You shall be good company on this short journey, I think."

Paran fell silent. The horizons beyond the banked heaps of ash were close, a vague blending of ocher sky and gray-black ground. Sweat trickled under his mail hauberk. His mare snorted heavily.

"In case you were wondering," Topper said, after a time, "the Adjunct is now in Unta. We will use this Warren to cross the distance—three hundred leagues in only a few short hours. Some think the Empire has grown too large, some even think their remote provinces are beyond the Empress Laseen's reach. As you have just learned, Paran, such beliefs are held by fools."

The mare snorted again.

"I've shamed you into silence, then? I do apologize, Lieutenant, for mocking your ignorance—"

"It's a risk you'll have to live with," Paran said.

The next thousand paces of silence belonged to Topper.

• • •

No shifting of light marked the passing of time. On a number of occasions they came upon places where the ash embankments had been disturbed, as if by the passage of something large, shambling; and wide, slithery trails led off into the gloom. In one such place they found a dark encrusted stain and the scatter of chain links like coins in the dust. Topper examined the scene closely while Paran watched.

Hardly the secure road he'd have me believe. There're strangers here, and they're not friendly.

He was not surprised to find Topper increasing their pace thereafter. A short while later they came to a stone archway. It had been recently constructed, and Paran recognized the basalt as Untan, from the Imperial quarries outside the capital. The walls of his family's estate were of the same gray-black glittering stone. At the center of the arch, high over their heads, was carved a taloned hand holding a crystal globe: the Malazan Imperial sigil.

Beyond the arch was darkness.

Paran cleared his throat. "We have arrived?"

Topper spun to him. "You answer civility with arrogance, Lieutenant. You'd do well to shed the noble hauteur."

Smiling, Paran gestured. "Lead on, escort."

In a whirl of cloak Topper stepped through the arch and vanished.

The mare bucked as Paran pulled her closer to the arch, head tossing. He tried to soothe her but it was no use. Finally, he climbed into the saddle and gathered up the reins. He straightened the horse, then drove hard his spurs into her flanks. She bolted, leaped into the void.

Light and colors exploded outward, engulfing them. The mare's hooves landed with a crunching thump, scattering something that might be gravel in all directions. Paran halted his horse, blinking as he took in the scene around them. A vast chamber, its ceiling glittering with beaten gold, its walls lined with tapestries, and a score of armored guards closing in on all sides.

Alarmed, the mare sidestepped to send Topper sprawling. A hoof lashed out after him, missing by a handspan. More gravel crunched—only it was not gravel, Paran saw, but mosaic stones. Topper rolled to his feet with a curse, his eyes flashing as he glared at the lieutenant.

The guardsmen seemed to respond to some unspoken order, slowly withdrawing to their positions along the walls. Paran swung his attention from Topper. Before him was a raised dais surmounted by a throne of twisted bone. In the throne sat the Empress.

Silence fell in the chamber except for the crunch of semi-precious gems beneath the mare's hooves. Grimacing, Paran dismounted, warily eyeing the woman seated on the throne.

Laseen had changed little since the only other time he'd been this close to he plain and unadorned, her hair short and fair above the blue tint of her unmemorable features. Her brown eyes regarded him narrowly.

Paran adjusted his sword-belt, clasped his hands and bowed from the waist. "Empress."

"I see," Laseen drawled, "that you did not heed the commander's advice of seven years ago."

He blinked in surprise.

She continued, "Of course, he did not heed the advice given him, either. I wonder what god tossed you two together on that parapet—I would do service to acknowledge its sense of humor. Did you imagine the Imperial Arch would exit in the stables, Lieutenant?"

"My horse was reluctant to make the passage, Empress."

"With good reason."

Paran smiled. "Unlike me, she's of a breed known for its intelligence. Please accept my humblest apologies."

"Topper will see you to the Adjunct." She gestured, and a guardsman came forward to collect the mare's reins.

Paran bowed again then faced the Claw with a smile.

Topper led him to a side door.

"You fool!" he snapped, as the door was closed soundly behind them. He strode quickly down the narrow hallway. Paran made no effort to keep pace, forcing the Claw to wait at the far end where a set of stairs wound upward. Topper's expression was dark with fury. "What was that about a parapet? You've met her before—when?"

"Since she declined to explain I can only follow her example," Paran said. He eyed the saddle-backed stairs. "This would be the West Tower, then. The Tower of Dust—"

"To the top floor. The Adjunct awaits you in her chambers—there's no other doors so you won't get lost, just keep on until you reach the top."

Paran nodded and began climbing.

The door to the tower's top room was ajar. Paran rapped a knuckle against it and stepped inside. The Adjunct was seated at a bench at the far end, her back to a wide window. Its shutters were thrown open, revealing the red glint of sunrise. She was getting dressed. Paran halted, embarrassed.

"I'm not one for modesty," the Adjunct said. "Enter and close the door behind you."

Paran did as he was bidden. He looked around. Faded tapestries lined the walls. Ragged furs covered the stone tiles of the floor. The furniture—what little there was—was old, Napan in style and thus artless.

The Adjunct rose to shrug into her leather armor. Her hair shimmered in the red light. "You look exhausted, Lieutenant. Please, sit."

He looked around, found a chair and slumped gratefully into it. "The trail's been thoroughly obscured, Adjunct. The only people left in Gerrom aren't likely to talk."

She fastened the last of the clasps. "Unless I were to send a necromancer."

He grunted. "Tales of pigeons—I think the possibility was foreseen."

She regarded him with a raised brow.

"Pardon, Adjunct. It seems that death's heralds were…birds."

"And were we to glance through the eyes of the dead soldiers, we would see little else. Pigeons, you said?"

He nodded.

"Curious." She fell silent.

He watched her for a moment longer. "Was I bait, Adjunct?"

"No."

"And Topper's timely arrival?"

"Convenience."

He fell silent. When he closed his eyes his head spun. He'd not realized how weary he'd become. It was a moment before he understood that she was speaking to him. He shook himself, straightened.

The Adjunct stood before him. "Sleep later, not now, Lieutenant. I was informing you of your future. It would be well if you paid attention. You completed your task as instructed. Indeed, you have proved yourself highly…resilient. To all outward appearances, I am done with you, Lieutenant. You will be returned to the Officer Corps here in Unta. What will follow will be a number of postings, completing your official training. As for your time in Itko Kan, nothing unusual occurred there, do you understand me?"

"Yes."

"Good."

"And what of what really happened there, Adjunct? Do we abandon pursuit? Do we resign ourselves to never knowing exactly what happened, or why? Or is it simply me who is to be abandoned?"

"Lieutenant, this is a trail we must not follow too closely, but follow it we shall, and you will be central to the effort. I have assumed—perhaps in error— that you would wish to see it through, to be witness when the time for vengeance finally arrives. Was I wrong? Perhaps you've seen enough and seek only a return to normality."

He closed his eyes. "Adjunct, I would be there when the time came."

She was silent and he knew without opening his eyes that she was studying him, gauging his worth. He was beyond unease and beyond caring. He'd stated his desire; the decision was hers.

"We proceed slowly. Your reassignment will take effect in a few days' time. In the meanwhile, go home to your father's estate. Get some rest."

He opened his eyes and rose to his feet. As he reached the doorway she spoke again. "Lieutenant, I trust you won't repeat the scene in the Hall of the Throne."

"I doubt I'd earn as many laughs the second time around, Adjunct."

As he reached the stairs he heard what might have been a cough from the room behind him. It was hard to imagine that it could have been anything else. As he led his horse through the streets of Unta he felt numb inside. The familiar sights, the teeming, interminable crowds, the voices and clash of languages all struck Paran as something strange, something altered, not before his eyes but in that unknowable place between his eyes and his thoughts. The change was his alone, and it made him feel shorn, outcast.

Yet the place was the same: the scenes before him were as they always had been and even in watching them pass by all around him, nothing had changed. It was the gift of noble blood that kept the world at a distance, to be observed from a position unsullied, unjostled by the commonry. Gift…and curse.

Now, however, Paran walked among them without the family guards. The power of blood was gone, and all he possessed by way of armor was the uniform he now wore. Not a craftsman, not a hawker, not a merchant, but a soldier. A weapon of the Empire, and the Empire had those in the tens of thousands.

He passed through Toll Ramp Gate and made his way along Marble Slope Road, where the first merchant estates appeared, pushed back from the cobbled street, half hidden by courtyard walls. The foliage of gardens joined their lively colors with brightly painted walls; the crowds diminished and private guards were visible outside arching gates. The sweltering air lost its reek of sewage and rotting food, slipping cooler across unseen fountains and carrying into the avenue the fragrance of blossoms.

Smells of childhood.

The estates spread out as he led his horse deeper into the Noble District. Breathing-space purchased by history and ancient coin. The Empire seemed to melt away, a distant, mundane concern. Here, families traced their lines back seven centuries to those tribal horsemen who had first come to this land from the east. In blood and fire, as was always the way, they had conquered and subdued the cousins of the Kanese who'd built villages along this coast. From warrior horsemen to horsebreeders to merchants of wine, beer, and cloth. An ancient nobility of the blade, now a nobility of hoarded gold, trade agreements, subtle maneuverings, and hidden corruptions in gilded rooms and oil-lit corridors.

Paran had imagined himself acquiring trappings that closed a circle, a return to the blade from which his family had emerged, strong and savage, all those centuries ago. For his choice, his father had condemned him.

He came to a familiar postern, a single high door along one side wall and facing an alley that in another part of the city would be a wide street. There was no guard here, just a thin bell-chain, which he pulled twice.

Alone in the alley, Paran waited.

A bar clanked on the other side, a voice growled a curse as the door swung back on protesting hinges.

Paran found himself staring down at an unfamiliar face. The man was old, scarred and wearing much-mended chain-mail that ended raggedly around his knees. His pot-helm was uneven with hammered-out dents, yet polished bright.

The man eyed Paran up and down with watery gray eyes, then grunted, "The tapestry lives."

"Excuse me?"

The guardsman swung the door wide. "Older now, of course, but it's all the same by the lines. Good artist, to capture the way of standing, the expression and all. Welcome home, Ganoes."

Paran led his horse through the narrow doorway. The path was between two outbuildings of the estate, showing sky overhead.

"I don't know you, soldier," Paran said. "But it seems my portrait has been well studied by the guards. Is it now a throw-rug in your barracks?"

"Something like that."

"What is your name?"

"Garnet," the guard answered, as he followed behind the horse after shutting and locking the door. "In service to your father these last three years."

"And before that, Garnet?"

"Not a question asked."

They came to the courtyard. Paran paused to study the guardsman. "My father's usually thorough in researching the histories of those entering his employ."

Garnet grinned, revealing a full set of white teeth. "Oh, that he did. And here I am. Guess it weren't too dishonorable."

"You're a veteran."

"Here, sir, I'll take your horse."

Paran passed over the reins. He swung about and looked round the courtyard. It seemed smaller than he remembered. The old well, made by the nameless people who'd lived here before even the Kanese, looked ready to crumble into a heap of dust. No craftsman would reset those ancient carved stones, fearing the curse of awakened ghosts. Under the estate house itself were similarly un-mortared stones in the deepest reaches, the many rooms and tunnels too bent, twisted, and uneven to use.

Servants and groundskeepers moved back and forth in the yard. None had yet noticed Paran's arrival.

Garnet cleared his throat. "Your father and mother aren't here."

He nodded. There'd be foals to care for at Emalau, the country estate.

"Your sisters are, though," Garnet continued. "I'll have the house servants freshen up your room."

"It's been left as it was, then?"

Garnet grinned again. "Well, clear out the extra furniture and casks, then. Storage space at a premium, you know…"

"As always." Paran sighed and, without another word, made his way to the house entrance.

• • •

The feast hall echoed to Paran's boots as he strode to the long dining table. Cats bolted across the floor, scattering at his approach. He unclasped his traveling cloak, tossed it across the back of a chair, then sat at a longbench and leaned his back against the paneled wall. He closed his eyes.

A few minutes passed, then a woman's voice spoke. "I thought you were in ItkoKan."

He opened his eyes. His sister Tavore, a year younger than him, stood close to the head of the table, one hand on the back of their father's chair. She was as plain as ever, a slash of bloodless lines comprising her features, her reddish hair trimmed shorter than was the style. She was taller than the last time he'd seen her, nearly his own height, no longer the awkward child. Her expression revealed nothing as she studied him.

"Reassignment," Paran said.

"To here? We would have heard."

Ah, yes, you would have, wouldn't you} All the sly whisperings among the

connected families.

"Unplanned," he conceded, "but done nevertheless. Not stationed here in Unta, though. My visit is only a few days."

"Have you been promoted?"

He smiled. "Is the investment about to reap coin? Reluctant as it was, we still must think in terms of potential influence, mustn't we?"

"Managing this family's position is no longer your responsibility, brother."

"Ah, it's yours now, then? Has Father withdrawn from the daily chores?"

"Slowly. His health is failing. Had you asked, even in Itko Kan…"

He sighed. "Still making up for me, Tavore? Assuming the burden of my failings? I hardly left here on a carpet of petals, you may recall. In any case, I always assumed the house affairs would fall into capable hands…"

Her pale eyes narrowed, but pride silenced the obvious question.

He asked, "And how is Felisin?"

"At her studies. She's not heard of your return. She will be very excited, then crushed to hear of the shortness of your visit."

"Is she your rival now, Tavore?"

His sister snorted, turning away. "Felisin? She's too soft for this world, brother. For any world, I think. She's not changed. She'll be happy to see you."

He watched her stiff back as she left the hall.

He smelled of sweat—his own and the mare's—travel and grime, and of something else as well…Old blood and old fear. Paran looked around. Much smaller than I remembered.

Copyright © 1999 by Steven Erikson

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 276 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 7, 2008

    Flat Characters. Poorly described world. Skip it.

    Erikson is definity no George R.R. Martin. Not even in the same galaxy. Here are the problems I found with this book. 1. Needs a prequel. It's easy to get lost and have no idea what is going on since no background is given on the many names, races, places thrown at you. 2. Poorly described topography. I felt like everything was taking place in a barren desert wasteland. I struggled to grasp what kind of world this was. 3. No reason to care for the characters. It was like watching a football game with two teams you know nothing about playing against each other and each having a role to play, but that's it. There was very little personality. Where Martin excels, Erikson fails. I couldn't have cared less who lived and who died. Most were expendable in my opinion. You rarely get into the characters heads. It's mainly following them from point A to point B with very little emotion. Tasks are completed and then it's time for the next one. Also characters could be described in more detail. Erikson is the anti-Jordan here. 4.A little too much magic. Sometimes less is more as in the case with Martin's series. Martin knows how to make magic count. Magic is so powerful and so frequently used, it becomes too commonplace here. All in all the characters are flat and the reader has no emotional investment with any of them. I even saw people who gave this book 5 stars make comments like 'Just don't get too caught up in the details'. You have to forgive quite a bit to try and enjoy the world of Malazan. I would pass this series up without question.

    16 out of 34 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 19, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Awesome Book/Series

    Erikson is an amazing author. This book is a bit of a beast to work through, but when you get to the end (and more-so in subsequent books) its well worth the effort. Amazing characters fully realized in a captivatingly detailed world. I'd recommend this book to anyone, as long as they're willing to put up with learning about a lot of characters going in many different directions.

    One of my favorite authors, and the start to a series that, 9 books in, is still operating head and shoulders above other series in the genre.

    14 out of 16 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 7, 2012

    Highly Recommended!

    While waiting for the 6th installment of the Song of Fire and Ice series I decided to give this series a try. I was pleasantly surprised to find a writing style and story telling ability that renders a picture of the story without bogging the story down with countless details. Too many times I start a fantasy series and the first volume is dry and sluggish due to the over encompassing load of lineage and detail poured down your throat. This book doesn't pit Good vs Evil because the characters remain grey and are faced with moral choices and paths that make them choose between their own best interest and their allegiance to the group they are working with.
    If you are the type of reader who enjoys a book that draws you right into a story line and doesn't weigh you down with over descriptive narrative then give this series a try
    If you are the type of reader that needs to know that the assassin that was just introduced to the story hails from generations before him and need all the surnames and accomplishments of his forefathers and enjoy knowing that the grass he just made camp on was a rare mixture of 5 different types of foliage when none of it applies to the story then you probably won't like this series.

    This series tells you just enough about the characters that they remain light and interesting and a bit mysterious. They are not the all knowing stereo typical maiden in the woods, knights in shining armor or long lost last person of a bereft magical family that must figure out how to use his power to save the world.

    12 out of 12 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 26, 2007

    Fantasy's New Superstar and his first book....

    Have you read Erikson yet? Have you? Seriously, put down that kiddie fantasy novel. Step away from the Harry Potter section. Move aside from the usual dreck that the 'fantasy publishers' seem to be churning out and pick up Steven Erikson's Gardens of the Moon. We've all read the epic fantasy novels. You were all-in on Jordan, until an Aes Sedai tugged her pig-tail once too often, and you realized that the plot had escaped his grasp, and you were doomed to books that more resembled Dawson's Creek. You read and loved George R.R. Martin. You've found Michael Stackpole. You sit waiting for the next J.V. Jones novel. You sobbed as Tad Wiiliam's 'To Green Angel Tower' crashed his series to a car wreck of a halt. But you never read Steven Erikson... And you should. Quickly. You need him. Fantasy meets Apocolypse Now. Erikson's characters don't just find the Heart of Darkness, they live, die and kill in it. As Tarantino does for movies, Erikson does for the fantasy genre...infuses crackling dialogue, dynamite characters, ironic twists and turns, sharp plotting, and even lets his novels lose some control, and yet, once the climax hits and the destruction comes, everything seems to fall together. You will never meet another author who creates so much, only to smash his characters together with the explosive power of an atom bomb. A mad genius from Canada, this series is already 6 books in. Everyone of them a masterpiece. Book 1 throws you into the mix with one hell of a slam bang ending...but Book 2 launches it into outerspace. Book 3 exceeds even that and that is the level of greatness you stand on when you consider this book and author...and I've read all the stuff you have...so I don't say it lightly. Read it. You might even find it startling and not sure if you like it as you read of mages torn to shreds...battles that make Tolkien seem more like Choose Your Own Adventure. But by Book 2, you'll thank me.

    12 out of 12 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 21, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Hard to get into

    Now, I love epic fantasies as much as the quick reads... however this book is almost impossible to get into. It feels like I'm picking up in the middle of a series, rather than just starting it. There's lore and physics that are referenced, but never explained; I'm lost 80% of the time. Sadly, I've put this book down and haven't picked it back up.

    10 out of 16 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 28, 2001

    Awesome Fantasy.

    This is a superb book, and is quite challenging to read. But once you get used to the way the writer writes, you will be surprised. This is a book full of action, there is always something happening, and you don't just see it through one persons view-point but several. There are several characters it is based around, not just one main character. The story is a fantastic one and can be quite complex. You try to work out what will happen or why it happens before you are told. The beginning may be a bit confusing but later on you start to understand it more clearly. I would say this is probably one of those books where there are some people who will get hooked on it and then those who may not like it at all. But I would say give it a try. I had loads of fun reading this book and recommend it to anyone who likes fantasy books and it is a challenging one. I would also recommend it to any other book reader. This is my second favourite book of all time, and I can't wait to start reading Deadhouse Gates which is a follow on from this one. Well Done Steven Erickson, keep the excellent work up. Overall: Fast pace, astonishingly detailed, innovative, powerfully engaging, massive, panoramic and highly intelligent. An author to watch out for.

    7 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 24, 2010

    The New Epic

    This is a must read series for anyone who's looking for an epic story. The world is extremely details and spans a timeline of hundreds of thousands of years. On par with the stories of Dune, this series is has characters you'll love and hate. Keep in mind that if you're looking for an easy read to keep you entertained, this isn't it. You really need to focus on the story to get the full impact of this series.

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 27, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Smoke and Rumors

    While reading this book, I attended a science fiction convention in Lincoln, Nebraska, where the guest of honor author, Brandon Sanderson, distracted me from finishing this first book of the epic fantasy series Malazon Book of the Fallen in a timely manner. In fact, I stopped reading at the midpoint and asked Brandon during a break between panels, if he had read the series. I explained I struggled to stay focused with the novel because the characters lacked depth and pull. He told me he recommends the series, but advises most readers to start with the second book. With this in mind, I pushed on to the end and enjoyed the last half of Gardens of the Moon.

    Not only did the characters suffer from shallowness, but the world building paled to smoke and mirrors and rumors. For such a vast empire pushing for world conquest, I felt only smallness and emptiness, large chunks missing from the puzzle of history and geography. Thus, the motivations of key players revealed late in the game, made little sense and lacked punch.

    For the rest of my review, please visit GoodReads: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/96801577

    6 out of 12 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 5, 2009

    A masterpiece for the senses of your intellectual self.

    Gardens of the Moon starts simple enough, like any other book, however that is where all similarity is abandoned. Soon I found myself not wanting to let go of the book I was currently lost in, with ever changing moods and situations. The vast amount of characters that are introduced throughout the novel, is spellbinding, When you realize most of the characters you meet, have reoccurring moments,not a wave and good by, as with most novels. Gardens of the Moon Quickly has you wrapped up in a completely new world with new meaning to the words, Mage, Magic, and Spells. Steven Erikson's writing is an absolute inspiration and gift, bestowed on the reader. I recommend reading the entire series.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 24, 2012

    I Also Recommend:

    Gardens of the Moon is the first book in a ten book series calle

    Gardens of the Moon is the first book in a ten book series called The Malazan Book of the Fallen. The series is arguably the most epic in scope, the most complex in narrative style, and the most detailed in terms of cultural, sociological and religious aspects. Comparisons to other great fantasy epics will no doubt include The Lord of the Rings or A Song of Ice and Fire or even The Wheel of Time…but a better and more accurate comparison may be to Frank Herbert's magnificent sci-fi masterpiece, the Dune chronicles, and Glen Cook's gritty and character-centric fantasy series The Black Company.

    Gardens of the Moon starts off much like Dune and the Black Company, in that you are literally thrown into the middle of this fully realized world, replete with an ancient but still living prehistory (in the form of the T'lan Imass and the Jaghut), a powerful but aloof alien species (in the form of the Tiste Andii), and a host of elder gods who are anything but passive and who routinely interfere and direct the lives of the general populace.

    I remember when i was a teenager and I had heard of a movie called Dune which was apparently based upon a best-selling novel. The premise intrigued me to the point where I read the book and then immediately saw the movie by David Lynch. I did not see the movie alone. I took my cousin with me. My female cousin who knew nothing of sci-fi or fantasy and who probably was looking for a movie like Gremlins or Ghostbusters, rather than a strange sci-fantasy like Dune. And the movie was incredibly strange. If i had not read the book…i don't think even I would have been able to pick up on all of the subtle nuances and grand scope of things without having read the book first. I can't imagine what it must have been like for my poor cousin, who was so confused and befuddled afterwards that all she could do was ask "What is the 'water of life'? and why did he keep saying 'the sleeper has awakened'?"

    I recount this story only to illustrate a potential problem point: readers who are looking for the standard/typical mode of fantasy storytelling which have become so predictable that many times we're not looking for diversity in narrative, but rather looking at what type of new "power" is being contested or won. No, Gardens of the Moon will be as baffling and mysterious and potentially frustrating for many readers who are looking for something straightforward and simple to explain. Such is not the case with this series. Steven Erikson has created a complex and living breathing world and populated with various races and cultures and countries and thrown them into this story.

    And what is the story? It's hard to say really. There are so many narrative plot points. But I think the fundamental story is something happened thousands of years before, something so terrible and cataclysmic that the repercussions of the action and decision have reverberated throughout history, affecting the elder races and have now culminated into a series of devastating and world-ending consequences that the modern races and their current use of magic must now contend with the here and now.

    I having been reading this series for the past few years now, and am on the last few novels. These books are not easy to read, but they yield so much pleasure in terms of epic storytelling and the range of characters.

    I will point out two things that you may need to know about the entire series:
    First, Steven Erikson believes that all characters, big and small, matter. You might agree with that viewpoint, but if you think about what that really means, it means that each and every little character gets their share of the page, meaning what would normally be a 400 page book could turn into a 1,000 page book because the lives and dreams of each and every character is detailed and told. hence the massive length of most of Erikson's books.
    Second, Steven Erikson's prose style is almost as complex and flowery as his story and settings. This prose is as purple as purple can get.

    But with that said, these books are marvelous. And if you can get through the first book, as dense and complex as it is, then you will be rewarded by the 2nd and 3rd books, Deadhouse Gates and Memories of Ice, which are about as good as anything i've ever read. The book Deadhouse Gates will break your heart with its grueling story about Coltaine's Chain of Dogs. And Memories of Ice will astound you in its scope and power; it is perhaps Erikson's one Masterpiece, though some may argue that the entire series is what constitutes his masterwork. but if one were to give the word masterpiece to any one of his novels, it would probably have to be Memories of Ice.

    But in order to get there, you have to go through Gardens of the Moon, which is not his best work, but the beginning of his greatest work.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 21, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    The start of a phenomenal series!

    Steven Eriskson's debut novel of the Malazan Tale of the Fallen, is the story of the Bridgeburners, a legendary Army of the Malazan Empire. The Malazans are the fantasy equivalent of the Romans. Just like the Roman Legions, their armies are composed of people from all of their conquered lands. They also capture and use the weapons of their enemies, sometimes better than their original owners. I can honestly say the this series is one of m favorites, next to George R. R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire (If he EVER gets on with it), Joe Abercrombie's First Law Trilogy, Raymond Feist's many Midkemia novels, and Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time (With the help of Brandon Sanderson, whose Mistborn trilogy is quite good also). If you are looking for a great, in depth world, a unique view of magic, and deep characters by the score, then this is for you!

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 22, 2006

    Best Fantasy story of the decade... maybe longer

    The start of one of the strongest fantasy series in recent memory - Good ideas, an interesting world, and superb writing. The comparable series are Tolkein's Lord of the Rings, Martin's Game of Thrones, Jordan's early books in the 'Wheel of Time', and Feist's first Krondor series (Magician Apprentice). While it might not displace Tolkein (what could?), this book and it's sequels are probably stronger than any of the other series mentioned. This series never gets lost by becoming a day in the life of 60 characters. It keeps up the action and consistently brings surprises. Things don't move 'lock-step' to an inevitable conclusion, but neither is there discontinuity caused by inane plot twists or the deaths of major characters. A highly enjoyable and recommended series.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 1, 2013

    It has to get better

    Ponderously slow moving with limited character development.
    Fight through the first 300 pages , endure the next 200 , after the next 100 or so really begin to wonder when will the story start?

    Through the 1st book (this book) There is none.
    Erickson is a wonderful dungeon master & campaign setting builder who creates a detailed game enviornment & world that will appeal to dice rollers everywhere. His story telling , ability to capture readers attention & make them feel invested & a part of the world...lacking.

    It must get better , there are 10+ additional campaign continuation books but if your looking for a story to get lost in , to be a part of
    look elsewhere. If your patiently waiting for Martin or Rothfus to complete there epics & have time to burn give it a chance, to this point I am disappointed but will pick up the 2nd in the series while waiting

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 21, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    A great series

    Erickson truly has a great style for good fantasy reading. It is intelligent, with a complex weaving of characters and a strategy that keeps you reading.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 31, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Gift of a New Series

    I was given the first three books from Erickson's series, The Malazan Book of the Fallen, as a gift because I was in waiting for the conclusion of the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan and now Brandon Sanderson. I found the writing style strange at first, but grew to enjoy the jumping between perspectives and storylines. I plan to finish the first three books before deciding whether to take on the whole series. My sense right now is that I'm not overly eager to continue on and learn of the characters' further adventures, but I'm also not returning the books for a refund.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 8, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Good

    I started this series and got to the second book. I just couldn't get into it. It had a well written plot and cast of characters, but it just got to weird for me. Maybe because I grew up on raymond Feist. The idea of a mage turning himself into a puppet/doll was just stupid to me. I didnt care for the series after reading this book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 7, 2009

    AMAZING!

    I WAS NOT A FANTASY READER UNTIL I PICKED "GARDENS OF THE MOON" UP FROM A SHELF AT OUR LOCAL BARNES AND NOBLE AND NOW I'M HOOKED. THIS BOOK WAS SO HARD TO PUT DOWN AND SO MUCH FUN TO READ. THE CHARACTERS, THE EMPIRE, THE WORLD, WAS SO WELL DESCRIBED. THE SERIES CARRIES ON THE SAME WELL WRITTEN AND SUPERBLY CRAFTED WAY, BUT ANYONE LOOKING FOR A GREAT READ HAS TO START WITH THE FIRST INSTALLMENT OF THE SERIES. "GARDENS OF THE MOON" WILL BECOME A FAVORITE TO ANYONE SEEKING ADVENTURE, FANTASY AND DRAMA IN THEIR NEXT READ.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 25, 2009

    New kid on the block ? He certainly made some noise

    I came across the book without referance, as the local bookshop made a great offer> boy !! am i hooked....started off slow, but now i have bought the whole seiries and it has a priveledged corner in my little collection...have not read such a complex and interesting yarn in years...definetely up there with the best of the best...strongly reccomend that readers get past the first few pages that start slow

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 12, 2008

    Worthy of mention with the greats - Martin and Jordan

    The last reviewer made a lot of comments how this work wasn't like George Martin or Robert Jordan, and so on. Well Good! It's nice to have an author out there who doesn't follow the same conventions of everyone else. I read this book partly to hold me over on the epic fantasy front until Martin gets his next book out, and I was very impressed. The world is beautifully set and rendered by Erikson, and his anthropology background really shows in all the nuanced cultures of the cities, and the people. And he accomplishes this with out striding too much into rote exposition. The world is explained well enough when it's appropriate, and he leaves the reader thirsting for more. Magic is very important in the book, and it is a well-imagined and developed system. What makes this book great is that it's so hard to pick sides - everything and everyone has a shade of gray to it. If you are a Martin fan looking for something else to read, a fantasy fan, or even a reader in general, this book is a MUST.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 9, 2006

    Epic Fantasy Lover

    I picked up this book because the cover of the second book piqued my interest, and I never start a series in the middle. This author is a great writer, but this first novel was difficult to wade through, as the first half was somewhat confusing. Once you've sorted out what's going on, its a great read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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