I've just finished reading Stephen Erikson's Gardens of the Moon for the second time, and I must say the re-reading was of great benefit.
GotM is the first of ten books set in the world of the Malazan Empire. The setting was derived from a shared fantasy world developed by Erikson and his mate Esslemont during their role-playing years (think for DnD then GURPS) and is a wonderfully intricate and realised world. The scope is awesome: the race of T'lan Imass are 300,000 years old, magical pre- humans preserved by magic; there are ancient non-human races (Tiste Andii, like talk blue kick ass elves ); and a vast history, which given Erikson's background in anthropology are intelligently done.
The book begins part of the way into a story. Prior to the start (and touched on in the prologue ) the Malazan Empire undergoes a coup wherein a former assassin overthrows the old Emperor ( a sorcerer). This change is still in process creating an unstable atmosphere and uncertainty as you read as to characters allegiances.
Although a sticking point for some readers, I like the way that Erikson drops you into it with the characters, the magic, the history and so forth. It's difficult to follow at times (although much easier second time around ) but I appreciate Erikson's desire not to patronise his readership.
Interestingly, although much fuss was made of it, the plot itself isn't too complex. It's constrained slightly by the fact the author wrote it initially as a screen play, making it feel rather odd in its flow at times. There are several key plot lines with essentially four key groups- the Bridgeburners ( an elite unit of soldiers, who felt very cool and very Eighties action movie); the dudes from the Phoenix Inn ( the best being Rallick, an assassin, and Kruppe, a thief and Mage); Paron (a new noble captain) and Lorn (the adjunct to the empire). They all interweave credibly, and the narrative is then made bonkers by about a dozen sub-plots and evolving story arcs.
Some of this is at the expense of character development. Erikson creates great characters, and awesome heroes and anti- heroes ( like Anomander Drake ). He pulls in half a dozen gods and wannabe gods called Ascendants, but in doing so limits his developing characters to a few (such Paron and Crocus). Is that a problem? A little, as sometimes you feel the characters are incidental to plot when development is stagnant or limited.
I'd first read Gardens of the Moon, and it's next two sequels, Deadhouse Gates and Memories of Ice during my early days of writing Darkness Rising. Along with Song of Ice and Fire, The Lies of Locke Lamora, The Dying Earth, and The Painted Man - all books I read at the time- they played a key influence on how I created the world behind my work. Erikson's books showed me that it was ok to create a complex world, with a long history, and not have to info dump everything in the first ten pages (such as the tendency for fantasy authors to have creation myth prologues). His mature characters and plot lines, where not as intricate and adult as George RR Martin, were a big influence - as was the excellent magic system (the manipulation of mystical sub-dimensions called Warrens). I took a lot of inspiration from the first three books, and for that reason more than any, I want to continue the series to its end.
Strangely reading it again has started poking my brain to create a new series, with a more adult tone. I created Darkness Rising with a desire to write a series with interesting characters, punchy modern dialogue, with full-on almost comic-book action and a nod to role-playing games. With the new series I'd like to try moral ambiguity, a more subtle magical system, and a few hints of classic speculative fiction (Jack Vance and Zelazny). So, second Nu-Knights book first, edit DR6, then... a new trilogy.