Howdy friends, and welcome back to the Racoon Awards, a blog I haven’t used in almost two years because life is very long. I’m back with a hot take slash review today that’s based on my experience as an individual with ADHD. Disclaimer, I am not in any way a psychology expert nor am I going to claim anything in this post is a blanket statement that all ADHD people will process the world as I do. I simply want to talk about my experience and see if anyone else with ADHD feels similarly to me if they’ve read this series. I’ve done my best to keep this post spoiler free, so if you haven’t read Gardens you should still be able to read / follow along with this blog entry. Without further ado, let’s hop into it.
So, Malazan. This series has a reputation that precedes it, right? It’s billed as the most difficult epic fantasy series to get into. People who’ve read it – even those who love it – will almost consistently say that it has too many storylines, it jumps around a lot, you’ll be lost the entire time you read it, and essentially, that nothing in Gardens of the Moon will make sense until you re-read it and even then a lot of it won’t actually make sense until later books. I’ve heard people say that they weren’t even sure who the main characters were until more than halfway through this read. I think most people who’ve read Gardens would recommend first time readers actually buddy read it so they don’t give up.
This reputation is why I actively chose not to read this series for years, until an acquaintance of mine lured me in with “there are fat people” and I went “by god I will absolutely read what is considered the hardest fantasy series of all time if I get body representation.” Gonna be honest, that part could have been better and I continue to be completely unsatisfied by the shortage of fat characters in SFF but what I found in Gardens in the Moon was even better: a book that felt like it was written to be processed by my ADHD brain.
Gardens of the Moon feels like it was designed to overstimulate the brain with constant scene shifts, important events happening without any context to tip you off that they’re important, a massive cast of characters, and more. Things that are seemingly random will turn back up two hundred pages later and turn out to be something the entire plot hinges on. There’s a whole heckin lot to keep straight, right? But here’s the deal: my ADHD brain might as well have been at Disney World with every wristband, VIP ticket, and all expenses included bundle ever to exist. The scenes changed to different characters before I could possibly get bored. Everything got my attention equally, because there was always something new and shiny to behold.
I actually kept track of every secret plot point possibly for the first time in my reading life, not because I had any idea it was important but because my brain is wired to go on tangents and it by sheer coincidence got every single “random” occurrence and went “huh, this seems like a shiny rock of a thing to put in the book,” basically. The best way to describe my ADHD is that everything feels equally important all the time (and therefore it is very hard for me to prioritize literally anything), and Gardens of the Moon reflects and validates the living crap out of that perspective because there really isn’t a priority where one storyline is more important than another. You’d be hard-pressed to say who the number one main character of Gardens is, because there isn’t one. There’s like a cast of 10 characters who all have equal importance. This makes complete sense to me.
One of the main criticisms of Gardens of the Moon (and Malazan as a whole, I believe) is that as a reader you are constantly disoriented, dropped into the middle of a story and expected to just hang tight for hundreds of pages while you figure out what’s actually going on. That’s absolutely accurate. However, as someone who basically has no short term memory, who struggles with paying attention to the main message of anything ever communicated to me, and who has a skewed understanding of the passage of time, being disoriented is a normal part of how I feel pretty much every day. Rather than being frustrated that I didn’t know what was going on, I actually felt more calm and at peace. Having no idea what was happening felt very natural to me.
I also really loved how often the scenes shifted, because I could never get bored. Gonna be honest here, I’ve struggled really hard with reading lately, because I tend to get about 70 pages into any given book before my attention fizzles out never to be heard from again until I accept defeat and stick the book – which may have been very good – into the To Be Given Away pile on my bedroom floor. I can’t emphasize enough how consistent this has been– there’s a good reason this blog hasn’t been touched for two years, right? But Gardens of the Moon felt like it was constantly going “hey, here’s what character A is doing!” “hey, new character!” “hey, no context plot point!” “hey, character G’s back!” “hey, this entire scene is in a lucid dream and I’m not going to explain why” so rapidly there was always something new to grab me and make sure my mind couldn’t wander too far or lose all interest. While I can logically see why this would be overwhelming to others, to me it was 10/10 the best book I could possibly read for where my head is at right now.
One of the interesting parts of ADHD is that most people who have it need extra stimulation to function– we need to have longer to do lists and more limited time, in general, to Get Shit Done. As an example when I’m doing my daily writing I have to set really short limits on myself because if I’m given a full day to do one task I actually won’t do it, but if I’m given less time than I really need to finish it I’ll nail it and stick the landing. There’s actual scientific terms for this but I don’t remember the names of them, sorry. Anyway, all of this to say Gardens of the Moon absolutely feels like a book that looked right at the ADHD tendency to go for Hard Mode and went “ok, bet” in every way it possibly could.
Even going into the sequel, I was warned that Deadhouse Gates had a completely different set of characters, was on a different continent entirely, and that “Erikson does not make it easy on his readers,” to which I was surprised because it seemed logical to me that these characters needed to recuperate for a full book. I was expecting new ones in a new setting even before I’d opened Deadhouse or been told that was the case. It felt like one of those moments as a neurodivergent person where I had to pause, look around, and go “…is this… not… how the normies do?” Apparently it’s not.
So, yeah. While I logically get that this book is “accurate” to its reputation, to me this was not a hard book to read at all. It was pure brain candy, because everything it did Made Sense TM to how I function and perceive the world day to day. I’m really excited to continue the series, and I’m even more interested in seeing what others think if they’ve read Gardens of the Moon / Malazan (but don’t spoil anything for me, thanks!). If you’re also ADHD (or if you aren’t), what was your experience reading this? How were you able to follow it, or were you lost and having a good time anyway? Are there other titles that are equally ADHD-friendly, I guess? I can think of a couple that come close, specifically The Chorus of Dragons series and The Broken Earth trilogy, but Gardens of the Moon feels like a league of its own as far as catering directly to ADHD. Let me know your thoughts!