Gardens of the Moon is the first book of ten in Malazan Book of the Fallen, and the first in the Genabackis arc. It was released in 1999, and at just over 200,000 words, it is by far the shortest novel in the main sequence — although still a Doorstopper by any definition.
Though still young, the Malazan Empire is already rife with conspiracy. The Emperor and his right-hand man, Dancer, have been assassinated by Clawmaster Surly, the head of the Claw. Surly ascends to the throne as Empress Laseen, from which she maintains the Empire's expansionist policies.
Years later, the siege of Pale is reaching its conclusion on the continent of Genabackis. The city has held out for three years thanks to its high mage population and the help of the otherworldly Tiste Andii, their leader — the Ascendant known as Anomander Rake—and their enigmatic floating fortress, Moon's Spawn. In a costly climactic battle, the Malazans manage to damage and drive off Moon's Spawn and claim victory. The Bridgeburners, a legendary military company, are almost wiped out to a man, and their unofficial leader, Sergeant Whiskeyjack, learns that they may have been betrayed by high-ranking officials.
Laseen's lust for power is great, however, and the Bridgeburners reluctantly find themselves sent to the city-state of Darujhistan, where they will attempt to soften up defences in the event that the city can not be persuaded to join the Empire. Joining them is the young and naïve Captain Ganoes Paran, who remains unaware of the Bridgeburners' intolerance towards poor officers. The Empire is not the only force with its eyes on Darujhistan, however, as most of its enemies seem to be gathering there.
In Darujhistan, a young thief named Crokus Younghand finds himself drawn into more intrigue than he ever expected; elsewhere, Adjunct Lorn, second only to the Empress, travels towards the city with a plan in mind; and in the shadows, the gods manipulate events to their liking.
Followed by Deadhouse Gates.
Gardens of the Moon provides examples of the following tropes:
- Ambiguous Syntax: In one particular scene, Sorry is asked for her name. She replies truthfully, but since she is looking dazed, the other party believes she doesn't remember. Sorry doesn't bother to correct him.
- Armies Are Evil: That's the way the Malazan military is portrayed initially through Rigga. The old seer keeps telling a fisher girl how the Empress is only out to scatter the bones of her soldiers, while the two of them stand by the roadside and watch a column ride by.
- Attack of the Town Festival: The climax of the book happens during the Gedderone Fête, the annual festival of the Lady of Spring and Rebirth.
- Badass Bystander: The major point-of-view character Adjunct Lorn, who is the Empress's personal mage killer with her Anti-Magic longsword, faces off against a random soldier named Corporal Blues who is guarding her real target. He quickly overwhelms her with his remarkable swordsmanship, forcing her to flee. Blues remains a fairly minor character through the rest of the series.
- Born Lucky: Crokus Younghand unwittingly receives the Lady's Pull, which saves his life multiple times. The Twins mostly use him as an unwitting Spanner in the Works for the other gods' plans. Knowing that the Lord's Push often follows the Lady's Pull, Crokus wisely throws the Twin Gods' coin away at the end of the book before his luck can wear out.
- Chekhov's Gun: The injury sustained by Whiskeyjack in the finale will prove critical in a later book.
- Covers Always Lie: Gardens of the Moon has three-ish covers, all of which have some innacuracies, though the first two are glaringly wrong. The first edition featured a man with long hair, a black cloak and a huge sword calling down lightning while standing in front of a desert fortress. Supposedly this is Anomander Rake standing before Darujhistan, but that's neither Rake nor Darujhistan as described in the books (Darujhistan is much larger, and not only isn't in a desert but its opposite side is a giant lake).
Another version has a dashing knight in shining armor on a rearing horse with a pouty-lipped sexy babe in sleeveless, low-cut armor standing near him. That's either Whiskeyjack and Sorry, or Paran and Lorn, but either way the picture resembles neither of them, and neither Lorn nor Sorry dress that way.
- First-Episode Resurrection: Ganoes Paran gets brutally murdered by Cotillion, in the guise of Sorry, before he can do very much at all; when his spirit wakes up at Hood's Gates, no less than five gods show up to bicker over his corpse. At length, Oponn — the Twin Jesters of Chance—point out that as he was killed by a god, any god is allowed to bring him back to life. This, of course, marks the start of the closest thing the series has to a Hero.
- First-Episode Twist: Gardens of the Moon combines this and Decoy Protagonist and gives both a good rattle. It's difficult to describe the plot of the novel to newcomers without mentioning that the closest thing indentifiable as a protagonist at the beginning, gets knifed within pages of taking on his comission as Captain of the Bridgeburners. Fortunately, and similarly spoilerific, he survives, but it's immensely important for the further plot progression.
- For Halloween, I Am Going as Myself: Many people in the streets of Darujhistan are impressed by the great Tiste Andii 'costume' Anomander Rake is wearing for Lady Simtal's party. The laquered dragon mask also turns out to be more of an injoke than a disguise, since he can turn into one. Alchemist Baruk called it, too:Anomander Rake: As I understand such things, the event includes the wearing of disguises. Do you fear I lack taste?Alchemist Baruk: I've no doubt your attire will be suitable. Particularly if you choose the costume of a Tiste Andii warlord.
- Half the Man He Used to Be: The wizard Hairlock gets cut in half in the middle of a battle, and keeps himself alive briefly with magic. It turns out this has been planned for and he is waiting to complete a spell to transfer his soul into a little marionnette.
- Lost in Medias Res: The worst offender in the entire series. The book could easily be the second half of a book in the middle of a trilogy that in turn is a sequel to another trilogy. Word of God states that this was intentional, to ensure that only dedicated readers would stay on.
- Luke Nounverber: A straight example is Bellurdan Skullcrusher, a Thelomen mage.
- Masquerade Ball: The party at Lady Simtal's estate is one of these. Most people seem to choose masks based on desired personality traits. Councilman Turban Orr, for example, wears a hawk mask.
- Oh, Crap!: In the climax, the Bridgeburners realise that the cussers they buried as land mines under the streets of Darujhistan as acts of terrorism will set off the natural gas pocket under the city. As this would cause destruction far beyond what they intended — and would likely kill them as well — they quickly scramble to salvage them.
- Ominous Floating Castle: The armies of the Malazan Empire besieging the city of Pale face a flying fortress called Moon's Spawn, commanded by Anomander Rake, who at first is presented as the antagonist what with titles like Son of Darkness and Mane of Chaos.
- Say My Name: When it finally dawns on Shadowthrone who he's just been negotiating with, he screams Quick Ben's last name just before the latter can escape via warren.Shadowthrone: 'It is you! Delat! You shape-shifting bastard!'
- Scaled Up:
- At the book's final, several Tiste Andii Soletaken veer into their draconic forms to better be able to confront Raest, the Jaghut Tyrant. He chases them off.
- Also at the end of the book, Anomander Rake veers into his draconean form before he attacks a Demon Lord that has been set free in the city of Darujhistan. He eventually sembles back into his Tiste Andii form because he'd rather not destroy half the city with his draconean bulk, though.
- Sealed Evil in a Teddy Bear: The morally dubious mage Hairlock has his soul shifted into a puppet after he is cut in half during a battle. In this form he plots revenge against High Mage Tayschrenn for some kind of perceived slight.
- Sequel Hook: At the end of the book, the Imperial forces defect from the Empire to assist the southern cities against the approaching menace of the Pannion Domin.
- Trivial Title: Gardens of the Moon refers to a story Apsalar's father used to tell her when she was a child. It has no impact on the book's story and is only mentioned by her at the very end once.