A few days ago I finished Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson, which is the first book in the fantasy mega-series The Malazan Book of the Fallen. I can't say I loved the book, but I found it highly compelling, and I definitely plan to continue reading the series. Just not for a while.
This is epic fantasy, no doubt about it. Boy howdy, is this book epic. The sense of scale in this book is, to my way of thinking, even more vast than in George R. R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire. In fact, Erikson has given himself a canvas here that is so big that for much of the book, I barely knew what was going on.
So a word of warning: if you like moral clarity in your fantasy, with heroes fighting against all odds against the Horrible and Magical Villain who is firmly ensconced in the Giant Granite And Iron Citadel that squats at the exact center of the blasted region where nothing grows that he has called his own, don't bother with Gardens of the Moon. This ain't that kind of fantasy.
But if you have at least some taste for following characters without knowing just who the good guys are, or if you like not knowing if the 700-page volume you're reading even has "good guys" in any general sense of the term, then Gardens is for you.
There also isn't much plot here, in the traditional sense; the book follows a more "situational" path. There's a continent called Genabackis, which is the subject of a military conquest campaign by the Malazan Empire, and the book follows the exploits of a fairly large cast of characters as they react to events shaped by the Malazan invasion. Some of the characters are military officers, some are soldiers, some are mages, some are assassins, some are thieves, some are unclassifiable, and some are gods.
I mentioned last week that Gardens of the Moon contains almost nothing by way of the traditional infodump, which only serves to heighten the reader's sense of being at sea here. There really is no place in the book where anyone sits down to give a lengthy precis of the history involved, so the reader has to be pretty attentive. In the short run, this makes the book rather hard to follow as the lack of a "big picture" hampers things a bit. But in the long run, as the various details that are handed out piecemeal throughout the narrative begin to fall into place, the tale becomes quite a bit more satisfying.
(My understanding is that Gardens is something of a stand-alone novel.)