Gardens of the Moon  - Steven Erikson Update, 7/1/13: I finished listening to the Brilliant Audio version of GotM (ISBN-13 978-1-4692-2570-8) as performed by Ralph Lister. I don't have anything to add to the substantive comments I've made here and elsewhere about the Book of the Fallen but I would like to remark on the quality of the reading. Overall, I think Lister does a pretty good job but some of his voices were just "off." The most egregious of these mischaracterizations is - IMO - Kalam Makhar's. Described as a large man with rippling muscles, Kalam is voiced with a high-pitched, nasal whine that brings to mind a cowering wimp, always wringing his hands and looking worried. In my head, Kalam will always speak with more of a Barry White/James Earl Jones timber than anything else.

Well, I finished my third go-around with this book this week. After four+ years it still stands the "test of time" and I don't regret the 5-star rating. After 9 books averaging 500-700+ pages per, it's impossible to explain the story-so-far in anything less than a novella-length review but for the uninitiated the overall plot revolves around the Crippled God's plans to end to his pain in an apocalyptic denouement that will bring down gods, Ascendants and mortals. Twirling around that common theme is a number of subplots spanning dimensions and enormous time periods but that are all tied together in their common source in the god's plan to end his and everyone else's existence.

In Gardens of the Moon, in addition to being a good story in its own right, we're introduced to some of the major players in Erikson's world, including the Malazans (Whiskeyjack, Dujek, Quick Ben, etc.) and the Tiste Andii (Anomander Rake), as well as its "physics." One of the more attractive features of this series is that Erikson has thought about how magic works. Even though he hasn't elaborated the rules explicitly, you know there're rules, which become clearer as the series progresses.

The top four reasons to read this series:

1. The Malazan Empire and the world it inhabits is utterly engrossing and original and realistically complex. Erikson creates a world familiar enough to readily grasp yet alien enough to be interesting, betraying a well constructed and thought out background that approaches the Tolkienesque ideal.

2. Erikson has created enough interesting characters and story arcs that even if you don't like some (for example, I'm not a fan of the Tiste Andii plot nor that of the Beddict clan), you know he'll get back to a favorite relatively soon.

3. Good writing. IMO, obviously; I know from other GR reviews that others don't share my POV. I particularly enjoy that Erikson assumes his readers are intelligent, and he doesn't get bogged down in a lot of explanatory text or dialog. It does mean a reader can get lost for a while but the ultimate payoff is worth it. And, rereading the series, I'm having fun recognizing the clues the author scatters throughout the text that become full blown plots later on.

4. Each novel is essentially a standalone. True, it helps immensely to have read the previous works but each volume follows a particular tale in the "Book of the Fallen" (which title's significance has become clearer now that I'm in the midst of #2 - Deadhouse Gates - following the Chain of Dogs) and has a resolution. (Book 9 ends in a cliffhanger, I'm told, but I'm willing to forgive Erikson much as the war against the Crippled God culminates in #10.)

The one thing I've noticed (& remember), however, is that Erikson has an annoying tendency of killing off my favorites - to whit:

Tattersail: I carry quite a torch for Tattersail, and though she was reborn as Silverfox, the relationship was never quite the same.
Whiskeyjack: I assume Erikson is aware of where this name comes from: It refers both to a species of jay (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gray_Jay) and is a corruption of the name for an American Indian trickster god (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wisakedjak).
Trull Sengar: I was awfully PO'd when Erikson killed Trull. He figured prominently in several volumes and I had grown to love him like an alter ego.
Coltaine: For me, The Chain of Dogs is probably the most "intense" episode in the series so far, and Coltaine one of Erikson's more interesting creations (the moreso in that we see so little of him, sort of like his men in the Seventh Army). He, too, has been reborn but at the time of his reappearance in Esslemont's Return of the Crimson Guard, he's still a toddler.
Duiker: Yes, I know, he's only dead for a short time but after his return, Erikson seems to have forgotten about him. Disappointing because, like Trull, I had come to know and love him as an alter ego.