Bracing for "Gardens of the Moon"
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Nearly ten years ago I read Gardens of the Moon and didn't think much of it. But so much has been written about this series since then, so many positive things said, so much interesting online discussion relating to it, that I want to give this another chance. In fact I'm fully committed - I have bought the whole sequence, so I'm ready to go. And I'm determined to do everything I can not to regret it, in terms of preparation; starting with reading some of the Black Company novels by Glen Cook, which were apparently an influence.
A couple of notes: I'm only pledging to read the ten volumes of MBotF, with no commitment yet to the spin-offs by Ian or the related short stories, etc. And I'm going to read them in publication order, despite encouragement from some quarters to reverse the first two. I'm familiar with the Tor.com re-read feature and I plan to check in there as I go along for additional insight, at least until I catch up to them.
I felt a bit at sea ten years ago, and wasn't impressed with all the power being thrown around that was always trumped on the next page by something else. But I've been assured many times now that this will be clarified later, and that it isn't haphazard.
So my remaining questions are: what should be my mindset going into this, in terms of expectations around pacing, theme, etc? What should I be paying especially close attention to? What are the reading challenges I ought to be aware of? I'm looking for any tips on perspective that will better help me appreciate and enjoy the ride. I expect by the third or fourth book I'll be able to answer all of this for myself, but some tips from the get-go would be helpful.
You definitely should check out the reading gong on at Tor.com. Two folks there are posting their thoughts as they read the series. It helps me tremendously to keep things straight.
At the moment I'm on House of Chains
Re expectations: Assume that you're going to have a lot of questions. SE throws you into the deep end right from the start, trusting that you can piece things together more or less on your own; by the same token, you need to trust that SE will give you those pieces. Don't get too frustrated; sometimes a new question is answered right on the next page, or the next chapter. Sometimes the answer comes 6 books later. Often times the answer comes long before the question, by which point the answer is forgotten. And, just like in real life, some questions have no answers—and some have many contradictory answers depending on who you ask.
Regarding "all the power being thrown around", SE made a fantastic post near the end of the GotM reread regarding magic. (Warning: the link gets into some sketchy end-book spoilers near the end.)
I speak often of points-of-view and the notion of walking in someone else's shoes. That applies well to this topic. I'm hoping you will recall a photo a few months ago that made the rounds; it was shot from a helicopter, looking down on a bow-and-arrow wielding Amazonian Indian, and the accompanying article related to non-contact policies regarding remote indigenous peoples. The photo made clear to me a number of things: the first being, that is abrave man down there. The second being, in his shoes (bare feet) he is witness to something inexplicable and terrifying. Now, if you care to, think about similar isolated peoples in the jungles of Cambodia in the 70's -- for them the napalm and cluster-bombs raining down from the sky were likely even more terrible; all the worse for that the B2's were flying so high as to be invisible. Stand in their shoes for a while. Then make the switch to the pilot high overhead; he can probably explain the mechanical process whereby the bombs drop when he flips a toggle and then presses a button, and he probably thinks nothing of it, mechanically. One thing he is very aware of, however, is the awesome power at his fingertips. Two very distinct points-of-view, and both perfectly useable when it comes to thinking about magic, efficacious magic, frightening magic. Now, is that just my background in anthropology that gives me that stuff which I can then use? I doubt it. It's all down to being willing to wear someone else's skin.
I'd suggest paying attention to the dates at the beginnings of chapters, sometimes there are gaps and jumps that aren't necessarily obvious otherwise (not that there's every really anything obvious in the books).
Also, pay attention to the small text-fragments at the chapter beginnings, and to whom they are attributed. Many events are foreshadowed by those texts or their authors.
But really, reading the books in close succession alone should be tremendously helpful, keeps the "who's that again?" questions to a minimum.
I think #3 puts it well: "Don't get too frustrated." I've found that the mammoth scale of these books requires me to come at them from a place of a lot more patience as a reader. The "learning curve" of how long it takes me to settle into each book to the point where I disappear into the story is just a lot higher... but once I get over the hump, there's something really amazing about the sheer *scope* of the thing. The huge powers being thrown around become something that just makes *sense* in the larger scheme of things, and the key players start to feel like old friends as they move in and out of focus from volume to volume.
And you've probably heard this from others, but don't expect Gardens to wow you more on the second read-through. It's not until Book 2 that SE seems to get a handle on how to deliver the level of epic-ness he's aiming for.
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