And so begins the Malazan Read-Along! This is the Gardens of the Moon Prologue analysis and I am assuming that the reader has read up to this point in the book by Steven Erikson. If not, you can read the prologue and come back. It’s a very short section but I still have quite a bit to say!
Before I begin with my Gardens of the Moon Prologue analysis, I want to mention that I have talked previously about this book several times on this site. This series is often offputting for many potential readers as it has a reputation of being too complicated, too big and too much work to enjoy.
These initial responses to Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen are false. Yes, they are large books and there are layers of complexity to the work, but anyone who enjoys fantasy already will be able to sink their teeth into these pages.
That being said, it is easy for some to get lost in Gardens of the Moon, as I did myself on my first readthrough. One of my previous posts is How to Read ‘Gardens of the Moon’ which I hope will help you get through this fantastic book! My other posts on this novel include:
If you would like to join in with this Read-Along, please join us on Discord and follow along! I would love to hear your thoughts on the series as we make our way through it.
Gardens of the Moon begins in Mock’s Hold, where a young Ganoes Paran stands above the Mouse Quarter. He speaks with a commander from the Third Army, expressing his interest in becoming a soldier.
The commander tries to talk Paran out of becoming a soldier after dodging questions about the rumoured death of Dassem Ultor after betraying a God.
We also meet Surley, now calling herself Laseen which is revealed to mean “Thronemaster”. She is also revealed to be the leader of the Claw.
My Gardens of the Moon Prologue Analysis
The First Sentence
The stains of rust seemed to map blood seas on the black, pocked surface of Mock’s Vane.
This is the first sentence of a novel all writers want to be able to craft. It’s the half-rhyme sound that “map” and “black” make when you say the sentence out loud. Try it now and you’ll see what I mean.
The sibilance of “stains… seemed… seas… surface… Mock’s” is beautiful. You can just feel the tension of that moment. Whether it is supposed to be ominous or not, it is clear that we are witnessing a moment of significance.
There is an ominous feeling that comes from not only the imagery of a map drawn in blood but in the sounds that come from the words themselves – the sibilance throughout and the half-rhyme of “map” and “black” – and it all works together perfectly.
We are told right then that the empire is built on bloodshed and death, a stain on the world (the map), and the infection (bloodshed) is still there. The “pocked surface” is at the heart of the empire, Malaz, and this conveys to us just how bad things are. The heart pumps blood to all areas of the body, so all parts of the empire are infected.
Perhaps we will come back here in future books to see either the disease destroy the empire for good or be destroyed.
‘I want to be a soldier. A hero.’
‘You’ll grow out of it.’
Mock’s Vane squealed as a wayward gust from the harbour cleared the grainy smoke. Ganoes could now smell rotting fish and the waterfront’s stink of humanity.
This section of the conversation between the commander and Paran fascinates me. The obvious thing we are supposed to get from this is that Paran wants to be a soldier and the commander sees Paran as a naive, possibly spoilt, child. I believe, however, that there is more going on in the text.
Earlier on in the prologue, we get these descriptions of the setting:
“The winds were contrary the day columns of smoke rose over the Mouse Quarter of Malaz City.”
“With most of Malaz City between Ganoes’ position and the riots, it was hard to make out any detail, beyond the growing pillars of black smoke.”
The smoke, and then “black smoke” cloud Paran’s vision, and being a long way from the action, he hears little of what is hidden behind the veil. The smoke is his naivety. He cannot see past it and instead thinks of being a hero, battling the enemies. He believes this when the truth is nothing of the sort.
This truth is revealed by the commander with his blunt phrasing, “You’ll grow out of it.” After this simple phrase, Paran must know somewhere in his subconscious that the man is correct. The smoke is suddenly cleared by a gust of wind and Paran can “smell rotting fish and the waterfront’s stink of humanity.” Immediately, Erikson is making it clear that the portrayal of war and conquest in this book is not one of heroes and villains but of pointless, brutal, death.
Interestingly, the smell of rotting fish comes before the stink of humanity. Either this was a linguistic choice because “the stink of humanity” has more emphasis at the end of a sentence, or there is more behind this.
Why mention the rotting fish at all? Perhaps it is there to indicate that even when the smoke cleared, Paran didn’t want to focus on the smell of the dead humans, didn’t want to let his dream of being a hero die, so he looked the other way, even for a moment, before he could no longer ignore it.
Are there any rotting fish at all? If not, this would link once again to the naivety. Even when the smoke clears and he can see, it is his sense of smell this time that struggles to sense the true nature of things behind a veil.
This thought is a little unfinished for now so I would certainly appreciate a discussion on the topic – unless I’m rambling about something that doesn’t have any meaning at all!
Thrown in at the Deep End?
This final section of my Gardens of the Moon Prologue Analysis is less literary and more general. I enjoy analysing Erikson’s sentence structure, use of words and images, and his very strong use of “show don’t tell” as it is what I love to do. When you have done Creative Writing Masters and are looking to do a PhD (in Literature and Creative Writing), you have to be a little obsessive about this stuff.
That being said, I don’t want to bore too many readers! So, please let me know, either in the Discord server or the comments below, whether this is the style of analysis you are interested in.
The Final Point: The Learning Curve
Getting lost is half the fun! I know when you are only a few pages in you are probably not struggling. After the first few chapters, however, you might be. I will try to write a post that talks about this point in more detail, but for now a summary will do.
There is a steep learning curve in Gardens of the Moon, but if you stick with it and read slowly when things become confusing there will be a moment when you have gained enough knowledge to understand what is going on. A second readthrough of the book is undoubtedly one of the best ways to enjoy this book as you will have all the knowledge you need to really see what is happening throughout.
Obviously, if the series is not for you then that’s fine! There are many more books to enjoy. All I will say for now, though, is Erikson does tell you what is going on. He gives you the clues and reveals information about the characters, the setting, etc naturally through dialogue and action. It is natural because we are thrown into the deep end and have to work things out for ourselves based on what we see individuals do and hear them say.
Thank you for joining me in this readthrough of Gardens of the Moon and I look forward to discussing the Prologue and eventually a lot more with you in the comments and on Discord!
Previous Malazan Content
Gardens of the Moon (Malazan Book of the Fallen #1) – Book Review
Deadhouse Gates (Malazan Book of the Fallen #2) – Book Review
Memories of Ice (Malazan Book of the Fallen #3) – Book Review